Review: Own the Map, by Conrad Samm

Book Review: Conrad Saam, Own the Map: Marketing Your Law Firm’s Address. (ABA 2020). Available from Amazon for $69.95 or direct from the publisher (discount for ABA members).

Conrad Saam’s Own the Map is an intriguing new book that will cause many lawyers to think about marketing in new—and better—ways. The author’s primary thesis is that most lawyers should concentrate appealing to potential clients near the lawyer’s location. Saam develops this thesis convincingly but many will find his sometimes stunningly useful ideas about other aspects of lawyer marketing, like evaluating marketing efforts, even more valuable.

Mr. Saam has an impressive background in technical and practical aspects of law firm marketing. After a prominent role with Avvo he founded the marketing-for-lawyers business Mockingbird. He authors a blog on marketing topics. With Gyi Tsakalakis, he hosts the lively Lunch Hour Legal Marketing podcast.

Own the Map is a serious book for serious people. The first signs of this are in Chapter 1, on the subject of evaluating law firm marketing success. It is not just the first chapter, it is the longest, weighing in at 36 pages.

Many SEO vendors would rather ignore the key issue: What are you getting for your money? If you don’t keep score accurately how do you know whether you are winning or losing?

This emphasis on the bottom line is welcome in a market where many Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vendors pitch the idea that if you pay them enough money they’ll guarantee your firm will be in the first ten results, or (for even more money) will appear first for searches on a search request for a few cherry-picked phrases. This goal is fool’s gold for several reasons, including the phenomenon known as the “long tail.” This refers to the fact that more specific searches, like “attorney for child custody dispute with alcoholic husband,” “nursing home Covid-19 lawyer” or “non hodgkins lymphoma roundup tort liability” constitute the majority of searches.

Saam provides one related golden tip: Don’t accept metrics generated by consultants using their favorite measuring sticks. Insist on results generated by the most reliable and objective tool available: Google Analytics.

Chapter 2 addresses the mysteries of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). “Organic search” refers to a search engine’s list of the websites most relevant to a particular search, unaffected by websites artificially boosted to the top of the listing by advertising. While some of this material is unavoidably technical, Saam’s writing style conveys the ideas in a way even most lawyers without technical expertise will be able to understand and apply to their Internet marketing.

Saam’s comments on “backlinks” are valuable. Backlinks are probably the single most important factor Google uses in evaluating website quality. All a firm’s lawyers—not just the consultants you hire—need to understand the significance of backlinks in marketing.

Chapter 3, “Local Search,” deals with Saam’s favorite topic: How lawyers should deal with an environment where geography is destiny.

“Pizza near me.” “Honda repair near me.” “Ethan Allen near me.” Today’s consumers, especially those using smart phones, are used to using searches like “pizza near me.” Lawyers are not insulated from this trend. Searches like “personal injury lawyer near me” are popular. A survey by Search Engine Land showed that 82 percent of smart phone users perform “near me” searches.

Further, even if consumers don’t include the phrase “near me,” increasingly sophisticated search engines like Google can detect the potential client’s location and steer them toward local lawyers. This is particularly important since studies of Google (by far the most popular search engine) show that in 2017 show physical proximity was the most important criterion for nearly half of potential clients looking for lawyers. The number can only have increased since then. You may be the best DWI defense lawyer in your state but not many clients will be willing to drive 200 miles to hire you.

Chapter 4 deals with one of the most difficult and important topics: How can lawyers best use online advertising to raise their profile on the Internet? There are a bewildering number of alternatives. Avvo, Google Ads, Yelp, Ad Roll and others all beckon for your advertising dollars. Saam evaluates each and explains how well they suit the legal market. He also provides advice on tactical issues, including:

  • By this time every Internet user knows that once you have searched for a particular topic ads related to that topic will appear when you visit unrelated websites. This practice is known as “remarketing.” It is known to be exceptionally cost-effective in some industries, since it targets consumers who have demonstrated they are interested in a topic. Is “remarketing” effective when it appears in the form of having ads for divorce lawyers follow potential clients who have searched for a divorce lawyer?
  • Bidding on search terms that undercut competing brands. Can and should lawyers take advantage of search engine quirks that can make it tempting to bid on competitors’ brands? For example, Ford can bid to have Ford F-150 advertising appear when a consumer searches for the phrase “ Chevy Silverado.” This raises some tricky issues for lawyers. In Texas the trademark “Texas Hammer of the law” could have significant marketing cloutt. Should competing lawyers purchase the phrase “Texas hammer” so that when potential clients search for it the response “Don’t get nailed” appears and directs potential clients to their own law firm’s website? This slick approach may appeal to aggressive lawyers. Saam provides convincing economic analysis that shows that it is smarter better to bid on the name of your law firm—and the names of every lawyer in your firm.

To his credit, Saam is not afraid to name names: Is Lawyers of Distinction better than Super Lawyers? Is Justia better than Martindale?

Chapter 5 deals with law firm websites. It explains technical issues like page loading speed, the best way to display your firm’s NAP (name, address and phone number) and mobile responsiveness (making a site look good on mobile phones as well as PCs) in a way that will make sense to lawyers who lack technical expertise. Again, Saam focuses on practical financial issues. He walks readers through the steps need to decide whether a website upgrade is likely tot recoup the necessary investment.

Chapter 6 makes the most of its six pages, concisely addressing a hotly debated issue: Does use of social media make sense for lawyers? Saam’s answer is clear: “[I]n general, social media as a direct-to-consumer marketing channel for the legal industry is ineffectual.” He goes on to describe situations where the general rule may not apply and gives practical advice for those lawyers who want to explore the social media option.

The two-page Chapter 7 closes the book with some aspirational exhortations, including: “[N]ever let the marketing tail wag your law firm dog. Put differently, it’s much easier to market an amazing product than an average one.”

Weighing in at a svelte 121 pages, Own the Map has an unusually high good idea to page ratio.

Bottom Line

Greg Siskind’s The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet was a bestseller for the ABA. It demonstrated that Internet marketing is not just possible, it is a necessity. I like to think that my book, The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers, contributed at least a little to lawyer understanding of this topic.

Own the Map is to these books as a Porsche is to a Yugo. It is by far the best current resource on this topic. Any lawyer interested in attracting more and better clients will find this book indispensable.

Posted in: Communications, Competitive Intelligence, KM, Law Firm Marketing, Legal Marketing, Search Engines, Social Media