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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    April 01, 2016

    Avoid the Ditch: Take Control of Your Marketing

    Roadways might be ready for self-propelled cars, but effective legal marketing still requires a human operator at the wheel, preferably the vehicle’s owner.

    Laurence Bodine

    roadside ditchAs a lawyer, you don’t want to find yourself in any of these marketing ditches:

    • There is a mistake on your website that could lead to a disciplinary complaint, and you have no way to fix it immediately.

    • You just received a rosy report from an outside marketing agency, but it doesn’t make sense and there is no way to double-check it.

    • You get half your new clients from pay-per-click advertising on the Web, and the cost has tripled from a year ago.

    • When people search for your practice area online, they see a list of out-of-town law firms. When people search for your name, they see a roster of legal directories.

    All these scenarios turn on whether you have control over your marketing. When you are out of control, the benefits go to competitors, vendors, and companies that harness your marketing assets to build themselves up. You are off the road and in the ditch.

    But when you are in control of your marketing, you comprehend what is being done for you. The purpose behind your marketing is clear. The message you want to communicate matches the new business you hope to get. You are in the driver’s seat.

    Alas, many lawyers don’t have time for or interest in marketing, and they abdicate the chore completely. This is why “done-for-you” marketing services are so popular with lawyers. Hiring a marketing agency is just like hiring a spokesperson. The agency will do a terrific job if told what to say. Without this, the agency will guess at what to say and eventually will start making stuff up.

    Start by Taking Control of Your Name

    Every new client who comes to your office will first conduct an online search. It is no accident that an online search for a lawyer will turn up several legal directories. These companies spend millions of dollars making sure they are prominent in search results.

    Larry BodineLarry Bodine, Seton Hall 1981, is the Senior Legal Marketing Strategist for LawLytics, a Web marketing company. He is also the editor of The National Trial Lawyers website.

    Therefore, it makes sense to claim your listing on Avvo or Justia. Lawyers should also complete a bio on LinkedIn. Regardless of your practice area, you don’t want potential clients to find an online listing that is nearly blank.

    The same logic applies to social media accounts, which now appear in search engine results. Even if you never send a tweet, you should claim your “@” handle on Twitter, create a Facebook page for your practice, and set up a Google+ business page. You might not spend any time on social media, but almost everyone else does.

    Be certain that you own your own website and blog. Make sure you are listed as the owner of any Web address that includes your name and your firm’s name. “Potential clients look at your website as your virtual office, and will judge you on it,” says Dan Jaffe, CEO of LawLytics Web marketing (full disclosure: I work there.) “It should reflect the messages and personality that you want clients to experience.” Visit YouTube to see Jaffe’s webinar “Taking Control Of Your Law Firm’s Web Presence.”

    Take Control of Your Advertising Spending

    Many of us remember the old days when most lawyer advertising appeared in the Yellow Pages. Your senior partner probably had a nifty little ad with a border around it, only to be overwhelmed by a big-budget competitor that bought five full pages in a row.

    This competition has moved online and is dominated by pay-per-click advertising. Today, law firms bid against each other to rank high in search results when a person uses particular keywords. Search for “personal injury lawyer Wisconsin,” and you’ll see four advertisements at the top, three more ads at the bottom, and a map in between showing even more advertisers.

    Of course, this advertising is disposable. Once these law firms stop spending their money on it, it stops working immediately. The smarter move is to avoid being caught in the bidding war and instead to create something permanent.

    The best way to compete with million-dollar advertising budgets is to write a blog. Writing online about your area of expertise creates a lasting asset. The same logic applies to writing for online publications and websites. Your new clients will be attracted to it when it first goes online, and future clients will find and read it years from now.

    I offer myself as an example. Search for my name and you’ll find my blog and articles I’ve written over the years. Chances are that you’ll also see my social media accounts and a variety of pictures (showing how I’ve aged visibly, but then again, don’t we all?).

    Search engines place high value on blogs that present original material and that are updated frequently. Write and you will be found.

    Take Control of Your Message

    When clients have a legal problem, they go online for answers. So when you are writing online, provide useful answers on your website – as opposed to marketing messages. “Imagine that you have all your clients lined up across your desk,” Jaffe says. “If you answer those questions online, you’ve got control of the message and you’ve given people value.” By the time people contact you, they will feel that you’ve already helped them and as if they’ve already had a conversation with you.

    Clients are also looking for your references. Nowadays, business and consumer clients alike are trained to look for reviews, whether they are looking for a plumber, a cosmetologist, or a lawyer. Rest assured that clients will check to see what people are saying about you on Avvo, Facebook, Google, and even Yelp.

    It is important for lawyers to get ahead of the curve with positive online reviews. Favorable reviews by clients who say they are happy with your services are very powerful. Certainly, it’s an imposition to ask a client to post a review about you, but people are accustomed to being asked for them. Good reviews will help you weather an attack on your name, either by an unscrupulous competitor who hires someone to write negative reviews about you or an upset client with whom you had a misunderstanding.

    Take Control of Your Website and Blog

    Many lawyers delegate updates to their “Web guy,” who waits until he has a batch of them and then puts them online. This will be a big mistake when you spot an egregious error on your website. It’s no good if your webmaster doesn’t get around to your correction until she gets caught up in a week.

    The best way to compete with million-dollar advertising budgets is to write a blog. Writing online about your area of expertise creates a lasting asset.

    Lawyers must reserve the ability to make a change immediately, by themselves. Insist on having your own login where you can access your website directly. A website should not be so complex that it requires lessons in HTML code to fix a mistake.

    On the plus side, when you take control, you are empowering yourself to be the editor and publisher of your own online publication. When you see a legal news story, you can immediately publish a comment about it. When a court issues an important ruling, you can explain it. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you can go online and express yourself without having to wait for someone else to do it for you. It’s also a tactic that attracts clients.

    Take Control of Your Data

    Like kernels in a popcorn machine, the Web is popping with search-engine-optimization (SEO) experts. SEO consultants love to cold call attorneys and send them emails, claiming that they can put them on the first page of Google. A lot of these sales calls are vacuous argle-bargle – copious but meaningless talk or writing.

    Once you are a customer of an SEO expert you can expect to get glowing reports that sound great, but may be hard to comprehend. You may be reading pages of online marketing results, but meantime the phone is not ringing with new business. It’s no good to get a lot of clicks but the wrong kind of clients, or no clients.

    This is why it is important to get access to the raw data about your marketing. It’s human nature for agencies to write reports that show them to be highly effective. But by taking control, you will be able to see the original analytics and statistics. It is worth the effort to learn how the data translates into revenue and return-on-investment. For instance, you should insist on having access to the Google Analytics statistics about your website.

    Take Control of Your Own Marketing Assets

    By building your own marketing foundation, you will create assets that you’ll have indefinitely. A good blog post will engage new clients around the clock for many years. But if you spent $200 for a click, and it’s from somebody who’s not a potential client, the money vanishes into the ether. Writing your own material builds a marketing infrastructure that you don’t have to pay for continually, month after month.

    Take control. Sit in the driver’s seat. Enjoy the ride.

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