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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Evanston divorce lawyer Joshua Stern.
There are countless websites that promise to deliver traffic to a lawyer’s website. There are some services that go a step further and promise to connect potential clients with a lawyer. In fact, if you have an Esq. after your name, odds are at least one company has told you about the “thousands of visitors” that come to their site every month looking for a lawyer.
Wouldn’t you like to be the one they call?
When I set out to write this post, I intended to discuss a variety of online referral sources by name. The problem is that there are too many of them. Instead, I am offering my rules for creating an online marketing strategy. Specifically, what NOT to do. These are 6 rules I have used since I started my practice:
- Never Pay for Leads; Ever. Companies that promise to connect you with clients are incentivized to acquire as many “leads” as possible and then charge you by volume. It’s your job to convert them. The problem is, as anyone who has watched Glengarry Glen Ross knows, the leads are weak. The company has no incentive to screen the potential clients because then it would lose its unique selling proposition, which is volume. Additionally, many of these companies only give you access to the leads, they won’t pair them with you. That means you will spend your time combing through “leads,” competing against other attorneys to contact these “potential customers” first. To make matters worse, the “potential clients” are the ones who categorize their legal problem. Many of the leads will be miscategorized. Worst of all, these “potential customers” aren’t obligated to use the referral service. It’s distinctly possible that they will have found counsel by the time you contact them.
- Stop Caring about “Strategic Partnerships with Google.” Everyone has a “strategic partnership with Google.” Here’s the link where you can register your business as a partner with Google. It is a ubiquitous, and thereby meaningless, distinction. Don’t pay extra for it and don’t base your purchasing decisions on it.
- Leave Blind Faith at Home. If a company tells you they will get you to the top of Google’s search results, make sure they tell you how. Think of it this way: would you ever hire a travel agent that promised to get you to Paris but wouldn’t tell you how? How about a doctor that gave you a prescription without a name? Of course not. You wouldn’t because you’d be certain that you wouldn’t get the results you were promised or you would acquire them in a less than desirable way. Companies that promise results but won’t disclose their methods will either underperform or will use “black hat” SEO, meaning techniques Google frowns upon. While the former outcome is a waste of money, the latter is even worse. Your site may completely disappear when the next algorithm change comes out. Worse yet, if Google finds your SEO tactics to be in violation of their Webmaster Guidelines, they can impose a manual penalty. Remember the JC Penny fiasco of 2011?
- Don’t Buy What Your SEO Company Has Already Sold. Speaking of SEO, remember: there is only one #1 result in any Google search. Even if you find the perfect SEO company, you need to be certain they aren’t representing your competitors. Otherwise, you and your competitor are paying for the same thing, and only one of you can have it.
- Why Are You Listed in that Directory? For those of you who don’t know, directory submissions used to be an easy and reliable SEO tactic. There are more directories online than you can fathom and many of them allow you to list your site for free or for a nominal fee. Google rankings used to be influenced by the sheer volume of directories pointing back to a particular website. Those days are gone. Directories, generally, have little SEO significance. There are exceptions. By and large, you want niche directories or highly reputable directories. A niche directory would be something like Findlaw. A trusted directory might be something like the Yahoo! Directory or DMOZ (Google it). If you don’t have time to make that assessment, ask yourself this: “is this directory listing likely to result in phone calls or clicks to my site?” If the answer is no, don’t list your site. Also, stay out of bad or shady looking directories. You wouldn’t hire a lawyer based on the recommendation of an intimidating and ragged looking stranger and most users aren’t going to use a directory that looks like some late 1990s Geocities monstrosity.
- Don’t Stop. Online marketing is not something you can do in fits and spurts. You are trying to establish and maintain your professional reputation on the internet. It helps if you enjoy it, but no matter what, stick with it. Don’t underestimate the importance of momentum in marketing.
Online marketing can be confusing, but its importance will only grow. As lawyers, we have a tremendous opportunity to share our knowledge with the rest of the world, helping clients and strangers alike. We are fortunate that there is a demand for our training and that by helping others, we are given the opportunity to improve our reputation and grow our businesses. It’s the perfect marriage.
My 6 rules of what not to do when marketing yourself online should help everyone save some money and will hopefully free up capital to be redirected to more profitable marketing channels. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email.