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  • PCLaw | Time Matters

Could your firm still thrive without a website?

The importance of your law firm's "digital lobby"

Online retailers, general and specialty news outlets, search engines and countless other types of businesses rely on websites for their lifeblood. Some companies sell their products through their websites. Others use sites to provide important information to customers that initiates purchases. For some organizations, their website, and what it contains, is their product and they charge their customers for access.

But what about law firms? In this day and age, can a law firm still thrive without a website, or a solid web presence?

A few statistics about law firms on the Internet

According to the Legal Technology Survey Report from the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center, 86% of respondents reported that their firm has a website. This means, of course, that roughly 14 of every 100 law firms (allowing for some margin of error) do not have websites. Only 57% of solo practitioners, in the survey, reported having a website for their practice.

In this digital age, there are babysitters, dog walkers, local ice cream shops, landscapers, and other small enterprises that have websites. Some owners of such businesses consider them to be vital to their success. Granted, not all small businesses have made websites available to their prospective customers, but many of these entrepreneurs seem to be ahead of some law firms in terms of their digital marketing savvy.

The undeniable significance of the Google search engine for lawyers

In recent years, Market My Market conducted a survey of 500 people asking them, “If you were involved in a car accident and wanted to get in touch with a lawyer afterward, how would you go about doing that?” Sixty-four percent of respondents said they would search on Google, compared with 30% who would ask a friend, family member or coworker for a recommendation.

For the year 2001, Google Zeitgeist showed that the search giant was receiving more than 150 million queries per day, or something in the neighborhood of 55 billion searches for the year. In 2012, Google claimed 1.2 trillion searches on its platform, and in 2016, Search Engine Land reported that Google had confirmed that it handles “trillions” of searches per year, without providing additional detail. Needless to say, it seems the trajectory of search activity on Google continues to move higher.

A National Law Review article, cited a Google Consumer Survey, stating “96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine.” The same article cites a Google Legal Services Study, saying “74% of consumers visit a law firm’s website to take action.”

Some firms with smaller marketing budgets avoid investing in websites

The growth and prevalence of Google and law-industry-related consumer actions make a case for firms to invest in their websites, and in search engine optimization (SEO) to drive new clients through Google search. It also explains why some firms set aside large budgets for pay-per-click (PPC) ads on Google search results pages to attempt to drive new leads.

However, many firms feel they simply do not have the budget to launch and maintain a comprehensive SEO campaign, or purchase PPC ads, as marketing tactics. Unfortunately, those firms sometimes feel that investing in a website, or concerning themselves with any sort of real online presence is unnecessary, or even a waste of resources, since they feel they cannot compete with firms that have larger budgets for online marketing. But a digital presence does not need to be an all-or-nothing concept.

A law firm’s web presence is always important

Regardless of how prospective clients first learn about your firm, or your unique abilities to represent them, many times they would like more information and they will turn to the web for it.

Imagine an individual who is experiencing marital strife and considering beginning divorce proceedings. Suppose this person has discussed these issues with a trusted friend who has mentioned your firm (which for the purposes of this example, practices family law) as a potential option for representation. The individual jots down your firm’s name on a scrap of paper and later searches for the firm using Google.

If the search results lead this person to your firm’s website (which hopefully ranks #1 when searching for your firm’s name) and if he or she has a good experience with it, the chances of landing this new client have greatly improved.

In an extreme case on the other side, if the search results show nothing about your firm, or worse if top results show negative reviews and ratings about your firm, the person will likely second guess your reputation and ability to help, and the chances of signing this individual as a client have dramatically decreased.

Firms that do not have a website, or have one that is not very visible on search engines, hopefully have a prospect-pleasing web presence on social media, an online directory or other platform that drives new business. If a prospect can easily find information about your firm on the web, and that information compels them to contact you, even if it is not on your own website, that can help fuel new business. A custom website of your own, however, offers more flexibility in how you represent your firm online, tell your story, and drive new business, versus many other online options.

What should your law firm’s website contain?

In a way, your firm’s website serves as a “digital lobby,” giving the public a way to meet you without being physically present in your office. Your website should provide important information, facilitate ways for individuals to contact you, and instill confidence in visitors about your ability to help them with their needs.

It is important to remember that many times when someone is reaching out to a law firm for help, they may be:

  • Going through a very difficult time

  • Emotional

  • Contacting a law firm for the very first time

  • Feeling intimidated

Your website may be your first chance to help put them at ease, build rapport and earn their trust, and possibly their business. To transform a visitor into a potential new client, you need to ensure that they find what they are looking for when they land on your homepage. It should convey the quality and professionalism of your firm in its design, content, speed and functionality.

Unless there is a compelling argument to the contrary, your firm’s site should include:

  • The firm’s correct official business name, address and local phone number – This is an important cornerstone for local search engine visibility.

  • Information about attorneys and other staff members – If possible, include photos and some non-business-related information such as hobbies or philanthropic interests. Prospective clients want to see and learn about the people who they will be communicating and working with, and information about personal interests can make legal professionals seem less intimidating and more approachable.

  • Information about your practice areas and specific types of cases you handle – If possible, develop resources for prospective clients that provide them some information about the process they would experience, and answer a few of their questions.

  • Positive reviews, testimonials and case results (as appropriate) – Otherwise known as “social proof,” these elements can show prospective clients evidence of your ability to serve them.

  • Original content written by, or for, your attorneys and staff – Do not copy content from another website. Not only can this cause problems for your site in terms of search engine visibility, but it can seem generic, rather than genuine, to your site visitors as well.

  • A video showing your firm’s people and passion for your work – Studies show that adding quality video to a web page can increase the percentage of visitors who will take action and contact you.

Take action based on your experience, preferences and goals

Put yourself in the position of your ideal prospect. If you are pleased with the results you see when you search for more information about legal services in your area, or for your firm specifically, congratulations. If you are also experiencing the kind of business success you desire, then you must have an approach that is working for you.

If you are not happy with what you see in search results for your firm, your website as a representation of your business, or your success in bringing in new clients, consider taking action to improve your website. Or, if you are among the 14% who do not have a website, consider creating a high-quality site to serve as your firm’s “digital lobby.”

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