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Making the most of online marketing

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Lawyers know the importance of first impressions, and a client’s initial interaction with your firm may be through your website. That’s why savvy law firms have begun devoting more resources to presenting a polished online image.
 

andy perkins Perkins

“I think that as a firm, if we didn’t have a web presence – or perhaps even worse, had a web presence that is poor – to me, it’s no different than someone walking into our office and seeing the floors don’t get vacuumed, or seeing that the cleaning services don’t do their job, or that we don’t care enough to type our pleadings on something other than a 1983 dot matrix (printer),” said Andy Perkins, a partner with Peterson Waggoner & Perkins, in Rochester.

Perkins, who doubles as the firm’s webmaster, and other like-minded attorneys say that people expect law firms to have a website. And what firms do with those websites may be the key to winning clients.

Eye-catching content

Leah Potter, business development director for Harden Jackson in Carmel, said that photos are an important component of the firm’s online presence.


leah potter Potter

“We try to do professional photos once a year, to keep the content fresh,” Potter said. “We feel like getting the attorneys’ faces out there is really one of the most important things we can do for marketing.”

Even more important, Potter said, are the firm’s video segments. While the firm has been producing those since 2008, a few months ago, Harden Jackson began filming segments that feature its attorneys explaining some of the most common questions clients have about family law.

“Our thought behind that is that people are going to develop an automatic trust when they see someone on video; it’s a lot different than just looking at a picture of someone,” she said.

Harden Jackson owns the rights to the photos and videos on its website. Perkins said his firm also owns the rights to the images on its website.

Before redesigning the website, Perkins said his firm identified photos as being an important marketing tool.

“We read up on things that are useful for the site, and we wanted to have some nice ones done so we could use them not just on the site but for some other things here and there,” he said.

Jennifer Walker, chief marketing officer for Bose McKinney & Evans, agreed that having uniform, professional photos on the website creates an overall impression of consistency, as do the attorney biographies, which the attorneys and marketing staff write together.

Getting people there

Lawyers know that nowadays, most people find information through Google searches. So if you want to compete with other firms, your site needs better search engine optimization – or SEO. That means picking the right keywords and “tags” so that people searching for lawyers, or services your firm offers, will see your firm in the top search results.

While some lawyers feel comfortable performing their own SEO, others hire companies to do that work for them.

Harden Jackson hired Visual Blaze to perform SEO for the site.

“We are in constant contact with them, optimizing our SEO,” Potter said. “We make sure we’re up at the top with keywords. We have approximately 1,000 visitors a month, I would say, and they come to us from different sources.”

Miles Design optimized the SEO for Bose McKinney & Evans. While Walker was careful to avoid revealing any inside secrets, she said that some clients have reported finding their way to the firm because of a blog an attorney wrote, so keywords and tags in blogs may help drive client traffic to the website.

Perkins said his firm is already seeing returns on the investment in its website.

“We are getting feedback more frequently from clients who saw us via a search-engine search. In the past three months we’ve gotten three to five clients who have originated from out-of-state who would not have known us by local reputation and were able to come to us just by web presence,” he said.

As firms begin focusing more on their online presence, they may be increasingly shifting budgets away from traditional advertising.

Seth Buitendorp, a bankruptcy attorney for the Merrillville firm Genetos Retson & Yoon, has designed his own webpage using software made by The Modern Firm. Genetos Retson & Yoon has a static webpage that provides basic information, but Buitendorp’s individual page provides him a forum to explain in detail the services he officers.

Since 2010, Buitendorp has cut back on his phonebook advertising. He used to advertise in both major phone books in Lake and Porter counties. But he’s dropped advertising altogether in one phone book in each county, sensing that his clients will increasingly turn to the Internet to find him.


buitendorp Buitendorp

“I’ve had some bankruptcy clients – younger to middle age – they may not even have Internet at home, but they have a smartphone,” he said.

What people want

Google Analytics, a free service that tracks interaction with websites, allows firms to determine how visitors find their website, how long they stay on the page and what kind of content they’re viewing.

Walker said that analytics tells her that people visit attorney profiles frequently, along with event pages. Recently, more people have been visiting the firm’s blog landing page.

“Blogs provide value by having an immediate forum for people to access the latest news,” Walker said. “Blogs tend to be very immediate and factual, yet engaging, and sometimes even a little more informal.”

Peterson Waggoner & Perkins includes on its website an online survey for clients to provide feedback about the firm’s performance. Another feature allows clients to make payments online. But the website is designed to be straightforward and user-friendly.

“I think the priority for us is not the technological capacity of a website, I think for us it’s more important that it look nice, that it’s professional, and that the information on it be current and show prospective clients what they need quickly,” Perkins said.

DIY design

Firms don’t need to spend a fortune on a good website. Buitendorp said he paid an initial set-up fee of about $1,500, and he maintains the site himself, paying only a modest monthly hosting fee. And his professional-looking headshot is courtesy of a friend – Buitendorp posed for the portrait in a garage.

Perkins uses Squarespace software, which is easy enough to use that the firm does not need an extra staff member to administer the website.

“The kind of person who’s comfortable updating their Facebook page probably can – with a little bit of exploring and training – be comfortable with managing a website,” he said. “I think what they’ve put together is a real game changer in terms of being able to manage content, because it no longer needs to be filtered through someone who speaks HTML as a second language.”•

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