Content Marketing Tips For Lawyers
Imagine you are a lawyer. You work hard, graduated with honors from law school and don’t understand why your billing this year will be slightly less than last continue a three year trend. You aren’t starving, but you can’t put your finger on why this nagging trend continues.
Google is the reason why lawyers must embrace content and social media marketing.
Instead of spending 500 words to explain WHY Google and the web are behind what’s happening trust me it is. I’ve got good and bad news. Good news is content marketing supported by social media marketing is the solution. Bad news is content marketing supported by social media is the solution.
Since y0u’ve already trusted me to spare you 500 words on the new SEO let me spare you another 500 words. There are many tactical ways for you to create content marketing and none of them matter, at least not in the beginning, save ONE – Questions and Answers.
Start at the Beginning
There are a few important definitions that form the base of all content marketing:
- Blogs – Initially called web logs blogs started as easy publishing tools. Blogs have grown up to be sophisticated enough to be used as fully functional websites now (thus the confusion). Blogs are key for content marketing because their code, right out of the template box, can be more optimized for search engines, they play on QDF (Quality Deserves Freshness a key Google content concept) and blogs encourage conversations with comments and other easy to add User Generated Content (UGC).
- Websites – today’s websites use Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML5) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS3). The most important translation of HTML5 and CSS3 for lawyers is any website code is going to need a User Interface (UI) for you or your staff to maintain your website. If that last sentence sounded like a cash register ringing for my employer Atlantic BT, largest web and software design firm in the southeast, then you are learning fast.Does your law firm NEED a website instead of a blog? Depends on what you need it to do. If you want or need tight client or document security you probably need a website with a blog to create and share your content marketing. If you are a little one or two person firm who uses the web to round up new clients but doesn’t need secure, shared space then a blog could work (for a bit).
- User Generated Content (UGC) – UGC is the content marketing gold you mine. The web is a conversation these days. The more people talking with and about you the better. The more people contributing content the less money you spend on content creation (and I bill at $350 an hour when I have the time which is never).
- Links – Google’s algorithm for search is based on the democracy of links and social shares. One of the reasons you want UGC is because people who leave comments or ask questions on your blog or website may share their post (on your website or blog) with their social net. The more links and shares your website gets the more traffic it earns from Google.
- Platforms vs. websites – Atlantic BT where I am a Marketing Director doesn’t build websites. Websites don’t scale. The old days of “brochureware” are long gone. Today’s websites must make it easy to form community by encouraging and rewarding links and social shares. The difference is not subtle and it can be expensive.Building a website or blog to encourage social can be as simple as TONE, LOOK and FEEL and the RIGHT TOOLS in the RIGHT PLACES or as complicated as advanced gamificaiton (where a site uses game theory to encourage engagement). Let’s keep our lawyer content marketing website simple and assume it encourages UGC and social shares but doesn’t require advanced gamification.
- Social Shares – when someone shares one of your webpages on a social network such as Facebook, Twitter or GooglePlus Google’s algorithm “spider” follows the link and credits your website with a VOTE as Google begins to understand and RANK each webpage within your website. Google ranks every webpage from 0 to 10 with ten the best and rank is directly related to number and quality of your website’s links and shares. Links and shares come from the CONTENT on your website.
- 1:10:89 Rule – Early in my Internet marketing career I read Citizen Marketer. The book explained how 1% of most website traffic is willing to contribute in a meaningful way by sharing UGC, 10% will comment or vote on creations of the 1% and 89% ride free. if this sounds like encouraging and receiving UGC needed for your lawyer website to matter is as hard as law school you win a diploma.
- Q&A Content – One of the most powerful forms of content is when a web page starts with a question and ends with an answer. I’ve researched more than 10 different business verticals and questions and answers are always over subscribed and under published and the mass torts lawyers haven’t discovered this valuable content marketing truth yet but they will.
The Perfect Lawyer Website
Let’s assume our website doesn’t need fancy and expensive client workspace security. In fact we are using our website mainly for content marketing. This means we can keep the cost well below $50,000 by finding a WordPress template we like. Search “wordpress templates” in Google to find tons.
Keep your presentation SIMPLE and CLEAN. Lawyers with too much going on create suspicion and mistrust. Lawyer websites need clear nonverbal communication so visitors know where to go and what to do since clarity in presentation is a major trust creator.
Never walk into a design meeting without an idea of what you want and if you are faithful to that idea and ALWAYS have a sketch of what you want you will save at least $10,000 in design fees. That said, if a designer takes your sketch or example and improves on it be open to those improvements and think about the money you saved by defining the conversation.
I would never presume to be a lawyer. Even though I suggest you always have pictures of designs that work for you be open to new ideas the web design team will bring. I may change your design in ways you don’t understand so always ask.
If I moved your search box from bottom right to top right. Such a design change may be because search is more important for your website than you realize but not so important it merits a REI.com upper left next to the log placement.
I may move your search box knowing it won’t get much actual use, but its absence would be suspicious and hurt trust. No search box = you are going to lecture me. Search box in a conventional location becomes an immediate TRUST factor.
I might also move a search box (or other feature) due to previous User Interface (UI) testing I’ve conducted, recent “best practices” posts by UI experts or to take advantage of the hundreds of eye movement studies teams I’ve managed created or reviewed.
Here is the real rub, no matter how impressive my logic is anything prior to you launch is a guess. Don’t get hung up on guesses and don’t let anyone tell you something has to be in a particular place. Smile, node and then ask about what they are going to test and with what and how fast. If they don’t have an answer such as “A/B testing with Google analytics or a canned testing option such as Optimizely RUN).
The 3 RUN Web Design Responses
When evaluating a web design firm I have three favorite questions:
- If your website isn’t new ask how they would change your title tag.
- If your website is new ask to speak to their UI designers.
- Layout your business case and needs and then ask what they would do.
There is NO acceptable answer to how to change an existing title tag without doing hours of keyword research so RUN if they answer. If the team looks like deer in the headlights when you ask about their User Interface Design team RUN.
If you layout your business needs and ask what they would do any answer is fine but should include a “need more time to review” caveat. Any basic analysis of your position online takes half a day minimum and I do them all the time (so a day or two if someone doesn’t create competitive Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats SWOT analysis frequently).
Web Design’s Right and Left Brain Problem
Web designers think in pictures. Web marketers think in keywords, content and social support. Designers are very right brain creative while web marketers must have visualization skills, but also be analytical
Don’t spend your budget on pretty pictures. Pretty pictures matter, but engagement matters more. Benefit to traffic and conversion from pretty pictures let’s define as a 10. The traffic and conversion benefit from an ever-increasing amount of User Generated Content is a 50. The two working together is worth 100.
Here is another “inside baseball” Internet marketing secret.
Why does a web design firm such as Atlantic BT have 80 people working there? Yes part of it is demand, but another important contribution is great web design and content marketing requires diversity. If you go to a 2 person shop you are going to get a website like they’ve done before. When you go to an 80 many shop you get the website your business vertical demands (or the odds are better).
The Q&A Secret for Lawyers
Want your law firm to get started lightening fast and without spending a fortune? Create an About page that shares your law firm’s creation story. If DAD or GRANDAD created the firm that story is critical, and be sure to TELL IT like a story (hire a writer if needed). If you have pictures from those days more the better.
Bios with emails for every firm member. Use simple non-lawyer language to explain their background and expertise. Around a college town like where I live in Durham a stone’s throw from Duke note colleges early especially if they are DUKE, UNC or NC State. Easy to find bios and colleges with logos attached create TRUST.
Many law firms have complicated services pages. I wouldn’t do that (even if my firm’s practice was complicated). I would present “services” with a simple pie chart on the homepage showing % of divorce, IP, real estate, corporate, or estate law practiced. I know litigators are special fighter pilot lawyers, but define litigation in its understandable classification (corporate, personal injury, medical malpractice).
This is a content marketing lesson with two benefits. Google is keyword based. The more specific and aligned your content is to how people actually search for your services the more traffic (and so billable hours) your Internet marketing wins. The other benefit to being specific is your non-lawyer visitors, the ones who want to pay you for things, understand in a glance and so trust is created.
I can make a strong argument to SKIP the “service” page altogether. Services are intimidating as they are usually full of lawyer-speak and they don’t vary by 10% from firm to firm making the law you practice feel like a commodity (and I’m guessing no lawyer wants that since people pay less for commodities).
Named testimonials with pictures that look variable in quality and location is the other page to add to your “website”. Don’t studio shoot pictures of your testimonial advocates. If your firm serves the Fortune 100 then your pictures will be of execs in suits, but not all with the same lighting and background (since to do so would DESTROY trust you are trying to build).
Each testimonial should have a big picture, a short name, title location bio and a large tease of the actual testimonial with a big READ MORE call-to-action (CTA). When someone clicks READ MORE the rest of the testimonial should pop up in place (don’t move that visitor to a new page).
In the middle of the page include a large SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK link with about 100 points of contrast with your background (so big and red or orange usually works). NO ONE will use that link and that’s okay. The link is there to create trust in the testimonials on the page.
Once you have about 1,000 words of copy on your bios page, your creation page (with pictures and pictures on that page are more important than words) and your testimonials page your “website” is done. You should have social shares on your testimonials and creation page. Few will use those social share links, but that isn’t the point. You will get two or three and even so few creates a tremendous TRUST benefit.
Now find a Q&A Software as a Service (SaaS) like my friend Rick Ross’ AnswerHub.com and tell your designers to create the faceplate for the SaaS. I suggest seeded about 100 common questions and answers your practice is asked and answers daily (or very often). Create a ASK A Question button that fires an easy form that only asks for mail and name and the question in need of an answer.
Facebook has a comment feature I would use it for some kinds of firms since you don’t want anonymous questions. Some anonymous questions are okay, but you need the majority asking questions to share their info. Information about who is asking the question creates a “like me” response in other people with questions. Using the Facebook tagged comment feature is a great way to encourage questions with pictures and links to bios (on Facebook so pop those up don’t EVER send your traffic to a social net you want traffic to COME from social nets not the other way around).
You must answer questions in 24 hours and be sure to STATE that is your goal. Your questions may come drip, drip, flood. If they do GREAT, but make sure you have staff who can handle the volume and quality of answers needed.
Your email subscribe list is BEYOND IMPORTANT.
Make sure everyone who asks a question moves into your lifecycle email marketing. Lifecycle email marketing creates relevant messages to different personas and segments visiting your website and inside your list. Can’t explain email lifecycle marketing more today (since it would easily take another 1,00o words) but about half of your conversions will come after you’ve created a deeper relationship via email marketing.
The other half of your conversions, and “conversion” in this context is picking up the phone and asking for an appointment, will come from a path I bet looks like this about 80% of the time:
Entry via a linked website into a Q&A page.
Click on bios.
Click on creation story.
Click on testimonials.
Time on site will be around 3 minutes and the question page will have half of that time. When you see a conversion funnel like that the conversion happened on the question page every other page was a quick search for confirming signals.
See why I don’t want to clutter up the site with a “services” page. A complicated services page kills the conversion we worked so hard to create. Here is the tricky part for every lawyer still reading this post. Every lawyer bone in your body will say you must do what your competitors do and who the heck am I anyway?
Teams I’ve managed made over $30,000,000 in online transactions and our AOV (Average Order Value) was never more than $62.00, so hundreds of thousands of transactions. How did we do that? By knowing when and how to create TRUST.
Let me be more blunt. If you create the standard lawyer 10 page closed loop (i.e. non-social and no UGC) website then any website I or any of my friends helps your competitors create will beat your website senseless and you will never know why.
BTW every Internet marketing conference I’ve ever attended has a strong group of mass torts Internet marketers there soaking up every latest trick to turn web visitors into class action plaintiffs. Even if your law firm is 100 miles from mass torts, their ability to blot out the sun could hurt your online traffic and traffic = billable hours.
Create a “first mover” advantage by keeping your site simple, design clean and ask for and encourage User Generated Content even if you have to seed that content for the first six months (or so) do. Seeding is fine as long as you don’t do so deceptively (probably don’t hve to explain that one to lawyers).
I could go on and on, but it is after midnight and key ideas for a successful lawyer website are on the page. Keep it simple, make mistakes (something I know lawyers HATE) and don’t be a afraid to start. Read a great Neil Ferree post today that correctly insisted sitting on the sideline of content and social marketing is the most damaging thing a law firm (or business) does.