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What Good Is A Web Site?

By: Susan L. Ziegler, President SLS Consulting

Attorneys often ask that exact question and I am going to attempt to answer that question as thoroughly as possible in this article.

The Internet is the world's largest source of information. It literally puts the world at your fingertips. Whether you wish to reach the world or just consumers in your local community, the Internet can assist you in accomplishing that goal. Many times in the past, attorneys have told me that they don't need a web site because they get most of their clients through direct referrals or spend thousands of dollars in the yellow pages and get all of their clients that way. Statistics show that more than three quarters of the law firms in the United States have a web site. Every law firm big or small needs a web site because if you don't you are invisible to the millions of people using the Internet as their main source of information.

There are no exact statistics on the amount of consumers using the Internet as their main source of information, but there are statistics that show that only 32 percent of the population in the United States uses the Yellow Pages. So if you don't have a web site you are missing out on potentially reaching 68 percent of the population when considering marketing your law firm.

Consumers, attorneys, corporate counsel, law students and even attorney referral services are using the Internet to find lawyers and attorneys in all fields of law. So a web site can assist you in reaching referral sources, new clients, associates, law students and corporate entities you may need your services.

Examples of search numbers from one of the major search engines show the following keyword searches done in one month:

Lawyer     88,434
Attorney     66,765
Law Firm     26,307
Legal Advice     39,088

So if you have been wondering if people actually use the Internet to search for lawyers. the answer is Yes!

A web site can do so much more than a yellow page ad, an ad in the newspaper, a billboard or any other type of marketing media. A web site can give a plethora of information to your target audience. You can design your web site to offer a window to the world into your law firm's history, culture and values.

My opinion is that if you are a law firm - big or small - you can't afford NOT to have a web site. Our society is becoming increasingly web savvy and it is now and "expected courtesy" to have a web site to offer information about your firm and its lawyers. Think of it as a necessary part of your law firm. You wouldn't consider not having business cards for your firm, don't consider not having a web site.

What Is A Good Web Site?

Web sites are as varied as the personalities of the firms they are designed to represent. No two will ever be the same however there are some basic components you should consider.

  • Consistency: Above all your web site should look professional and have consistency with the firm's current marketing or advertising. The design and content of your web site should be in keeping with color schemes, logos or trademarks that the firm currently uses in print ads or firm brochures. Since there are so many lawyer and law firm web sites, using consistency will help consumers to recognize and differentiate your site from the thousands of others.
  • Content: On the Internet content is king. One of the most important aspects of your web site will be the content you include. Many search engines determine when and where to display your web site based on the amount and relativity of your content to a specific keyword. In most print ads the rule is that "less is more", it's the opposite with the Internet. The more content you have, the better chance you have of having your web site found by potential clients and referral sources. Some examples of the types of content you should include in your web site are:
    • Brief but thorough description of the firm;
    • List the firm's lawyers and their affiliations/accomplishments - in a multi-disciplinary practice also set forth each lawyer's area of expertise;
    • Descriptions of the practice areas the firm accepts cases in;
    • Description of the firm's values or mission statement;
    • Clearly set forth the address, e-mail address and contact information for the firm, as well as the names of personnel that should be contacted for different types of inquiries.
  • Some optional content you might consider are:
    • Client and peer testimonials;
    • Support staff information;
    • Recent cases the firm has handled and achieved favorable or outstanding verdicts or settlements;
    • Articles that have been written by the firm's lawyers;
    • Articles about the firm that have been published;
    • Frequently Asked Questions relating to legal issues the firm handles;
    • Firm news;
    • News regarding current legal issues;
    • Links to important information;
    • Employment opportunities;
    • On-Line consultation or inquiry form.
  • The list goes on. For every additional piece of information you add to your web site, you add visibility on the search engines.
  • Ease of Use/Usability: Your web site should be organized and give the user easy access to find the information on your site they are looking for. Have clearly defined buttons or text links to the information on your site and always include a Site Map that lists organized links to every page of your site. Also, make sure that your text is readable on all size computer screens. Hard to read text is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when designing your website. If your user cannot easily read the content on your site you are likely to lose them quickly.
  • Updates: You should keep your web site up-to-date. Make sure that the information on the firm and it's lawyers is kept current. If you lose or add a staff member or hire a new associate or attorney, get that information on your web site updated as soon as possible. Post new case results and firm news to keep the site fresh. Many law firms make the mistake of simply "having" a web site, not using that web site to prominently project their firm.

There are some other helpful hints such as prominently displaying the firm's phone number on all pages. This will ensure that when the user makes the decision to hire your firm to represent them, they don't have to go to another page on the site to get the contact information.

Offer an on-line contact form or e-mail address for general inquiries, as well as a form for case inquiries. Also prominently display the firm's contact information and phone number on the contact information page, thereby giving the user all the options in one place.

My final tip on building your website is to make sure to check your local State Bar rules on web sites and marketing BEFORE you publish your web site. As the popularity of advertising on the Internet increases within the legal community, so too do the rules and regulations. There are some states that are very, very strict about the Internet and there are some states that have not addressed the issue at all yet. A good reference to find the ethics information in your state regarding web sites and Internet advertising is the ethics section of the ABA website here.

To Market Or Not To Market?

Many attorneys are opposed to "advertising" their law firm. Having a web site does not constitute "advertising". Having a web site and marketing a web site are very different things. As stated previously, a web site is an "expected courtesy" in most societies. Consumers and referral sources alike want the opportunity to investigate your firm's history, lawyers and past successes. Even if your firm is 100 years old and gets the majority of its cases from referral sources, you should have a web site.

Marketing your web site once you have it is a personal firm choice. Your web site can be your most cost effective source for new business. If you do have a web site and you decide to market it, the sky is the limit. The Internet can assist you in putting your information at the world's fingertips at any time of day or night, whenever they have time to look.

The Internet offers a smorgasbord as far as marketing avenues. It is truly the least expensive media available to you, besides word of mouth. It is much less expensive than the cost of purchasing yellow page, radio or television advertising. If you have a web site that is built properly and submit it to the search engines under the proper keywords, it can be effective without purchasing any additional advertising. One of the incredible things about Internet advertising is that it levels the playing field for lawyer marketing. If you choose to market your firm's website you can literally choose your budget and stick to it while still effectively marketing your firm.

Is Internet Marketing Cost Effective for Solo and Small Firms?

On-line marketing can be the absolute most cost effective method of marketing your practice. If it's done right and you have the information, the tools and the knowledge to do it, your web site can be the best advertising resource you have. You can reach more people, it costs less money and you can provide your target market with more information than you can through any other media.

With Internet marketing you need to set goals, set a budget and then investigate the types of advertising opportunities available to you. You can literally get a presence on the Internet for under $1,000.00. You can also get a presence on the Internet for $100,000.00 or more. The decision on how much on-line marketing you want to do should begin with what you can afford.

Remember that everyone you speak to who is selling Internet advertising is a sales person. Everyone will tell you their system and their product is the best and that might be true, but beware. Some tips on what you should do before venturing into the Internet advertising arena:

  • Decide whether or not you wish to market your web site and how aggressive you want to be with your advertising;
  • Decide on a realistic low-end and high-end budget for your advertising and make that money work for you;
  • Set goals and expectations for attaining those goals

Most importantly, Do Your Homework! Take the time and search the Internet to see what your options are and what type of advertising other lawyers are purchasing. Use keywords and keyword phrases that you feel pertain to your practice areas and search the Internet to see who your competition might be and which law firms come up on your searches. Call lawyers you see listed on sites you are considering purchasing advertising with and see what their experience has been. Many lawyers who do aggressive Internet marketing have a consultant or staff member who handles their advertising and I have found that they are usually willing to share information.

Obtaining a web site is your first objective. There are literally hundreds of companies who specialize in building web sites for lawyers. There are also many attorney directories that will build you a web site included in the price of the advertising you purchase. There are also directories and other sites where you can build your site in as little as an hour on-line. This is another area where you can set your budget, web sites range in price from free to thousands of dollars and you can't always tell the difference. Don't purchase your web site from the first company you talk to, get at least three quotes before you decide. Check the references and prior work of each company and if they have built sites for other lawyers, look at those sites to make sure you like them.

I personally think that the Internet is the most incredible marketing vehicle available to lawyers today. It completely levels the playing field between firms with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend annually and the small and solo firms.

Many attorney directories offer placements that rotate each time the page is viewed, so that all listed lawyers get the same exposure. You don't have to pay the most or have been listed the longest to get the same exposure.

What Types of Internet Marketing Can You Purchase?

Finding your way through the maze is sometimes difficult. There are hundreds of companies now bombarding lawyers with their products and services. There are many types of Internet marketing options, including:

  • Attorney Directories: Attorney directories are legal portal sites that offer listings to lawyers and are usually free to consumers. There are over 200 attorney directories on the internet today. Their listings range from free to $150,000 per year for an advertising spot. Some work, some don't. Don't assume that because a directory costs more that it will bring you more business. There are more than 50 free attorney directories, this is the best place to start. If you are considering purchasing a listing on an attorney directory ask them how long they have been in business, how many monthly visitors they get to their site and what type of marketing they are doing to promote their site.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is the manipulation of your web site to attain top search engine placement. Whether you want to advertise nationally or you just want to get cases in your community and you want to be aggressive with your Internet marketing, search engine optimization is the way to do it.
  • Banner Advertising: Banner advertising can be purchased on the search engines, on legal portal sites and on many consumer sites as well. Banner advertising has not been proven to be highly effective, but is still an option that some law firms are choosing.
  • Keyword Bidding: There are search engines where you can bid on the placement you wish to have on certain keywords. Many of these keyword bidding sites give you top search engine placement immediately and you can remain there by paying for each visitor to your site.

If you do it right and you do it smart, your internet marketing campaign can improve your image, increase your client base and improve your client relationships, while maintaining your marketing budget. Good luck!

TRIAL, January 2003