Dennis Kennedy is a lawyer and Internet consultant in St. Louis, Missouri. He speaks and writes frequently on Internet topics.
Q: Is Promoting My Web Site with the Big Search Engines All I Need to Do?
Dennis Kennedy (DK): I think we all agree that getting listed on the main search engines is not the be all and end all of promoting your site. An effort that gets you ten thousand hits and no business may make you feel popular (not a bad thing), but I’d rather have fewer hits that lead to paying business.
Jerry Lawson (JL): I call the latter marketing strategy going for “quality hits.”
DK: For most law firms, I’d emphasize search engines only to be sure a search on your name actually returns your URL and also as a response to key words for specific practice areas that you are emphasizing. I’d put most of my attention on figuring out my target audience and finding ways to get links to my site in front of that audience.
Brenda Howard (BH): Definitely. Even if Yahoo generates 11 million hits a month, how many of those hits are looking for legal services? One doesn’t know. You may work very hard to get into each search engine and still not reach your target market.
DK: I like using local business directories, reciprocal links on sites related to your practice areas and other efforts geared toward your target market. Your emphasis should be on getting in front of the eyes of prospective clients. Existing clients, too.
BH: Reciprocal links are VERY important and do two things. When a search engine looks at all the sites in its index under the keyword of bankruptcy, they also take those sites and see “how many other sites” have link to it. The one that has the most reciprocal links gets the higher ranking. The search engines use the theory that the reciprocal links indicate a “higher value” of the content on that site. This is not always true, but that’s the theory used. This is called “link popularity”.
JL: This is critically important. Link popularity is increasingly being used to help sophisticated search engines distinguish good sites from the great mass of sites out there.
Some search engines are taking this one step further, and evaluate not merely the raw number of links to a site, but the quality of the sites that are building the links. Google is a popular new search engine that illustrates this approach.
BH: Many site owners don’t want to ask for reciprocal links because they do not want to link “off their site”, but it’s worth it to create a link listing page for search engine link popularity and for reaching a targeted audience from another site.
JL: The increased importance of link popularity is yet another reason why quality “content” and its cousin, specialization, are so important on Web sites. If you have high quality content at your site, other good sites that deal with the same subject will actively want to seek you out and add links to your site. Further, they will be less likely to want shunt you off to the ghetto of a “Links” page.
Prominent linking from a page that prospective consumers of legal service you provide is a classic way of generating “quality links.” Here is an example of how this works. An immigration law firm in Tennessee supplies a large amount of free information at their site concerning immigration law (http://www.visalaw.com). The information there is so valuable that thousands of other sites have built links to them. These linking sites are in effect referring potential clients to the law firm. Here are a few of these, to give you the flavor:
The “Iran Page” links to the Visalaw forms section.
One Indian’s personal Web site explains: “Idea behind making this site is to help those who are going out of India for the first time. What they should bring with them. What are the things they should take care of etc.”
One of the things the owner believes potential immigrants must know is the URL of the Visalaw.com Web site.
These are merely two of many, many examples. You can see other examples by going to a search engine site like AltaVista, http://www.altavista.com, that supports backwards searching, and entering the search command:
This search request gives you a list of other sites that link to www.visalaw.com.
DK: It’s worth mentioning banner ads at this point. Although I wonder whether law firms can use a banner ad that’s big enough to contain the advertising disclaimer language their state ethics rules may require, I think that banner ads or tasteful sponsorships on trade association sites, local organization site or even local newspaper sites could be quite effective. Law firms tend to focus on their Martindale-Hubbell listing as a way that clients will find them. I don’t think clients will find you that way, especially if you practice in certain specialty areas. For example, if you are looking for environmental work, why not get a banner ad on the sites of relevant trade associations.
Banner ads can be overrated and there are arguments about their effectiveness. Studies, however, indicate that readers are eight times more likely to believe something they read in an “objective” article than they are to believe the same statement in an ad. Placing your articles rather than banner ads on the same key sites may prove to be a very effective content-based strategy. Obviously, including your URL on articles you write that are posted on the Web is essential.
BH: I’m not completely sold on banner ads. Assuming that law firms would advertise in such a manner, my own experience is that one has to spend a great deal of money on specifically targeted banner ads to generate a small return on investment for the cost. I see banner ads as being useful for “branding” purposes and getting your name in front of “eyeballs”, but the “click thru” rates generally do not justify the costs.
JL: Banners, if they are ever effective for most law firms, are very much a niche product.
Again, content is the way to go. Put some of your best content at other sites, so long as they will provide a link back to your site. This is a dynamite method of promotion.
Prairielaw.com is one of the sites that will host content and provide links in this way.
DK: My final thought relates to attorney directories. Don Kramer, an attorney in St. Louis, bought banner ads on most of the major search engines that come up when people use the words “attorney” or “lawyer” in search requests. He then started a directory called AttorneyFind that lists attorneys by geographic and other areas. The site gets the proverbial millions of hits. I’ve talked with Don on a number of occasions and he’s convinced me that, for potential clients, a directory like that is a far better investment than the traditional Martindale-Hubbell approach.
BH: I would agree. If only because the consumer on the Internet is used to the directory approach and isn’t as familiar with the Martindale-Hubbell system of researching a law firm. Search engines and directories work for consumers on the Internet, they are familiar with this system and that’s where they will look.
Lastly, I would recommend doing what law firms do in the “bricks and mortar” world. Writing educational and informative articles for other sites. When an Internet user is searching under the term of bankruptcy, they will use the Internet for research before they contact a law firm. If your article is easy to understand and empowers a potential client, they are more likely to contact your firm for actual representation. This is time well spent and does provide a tangible return on investment of time.
JL: The approach Dennis describes may indeed be better than the traditional Martindale-Hubbell approach on the Internet, but that isn’t saying much. Neither approach is that great.
Most law firms will be much better off with the approach Brenda suggests. People look for solutions to particular problems, not “lawyers” per se. Again, it all comes back to content.