In 2020, attorneys have far more ways to attract potential clients than ever before. However, consumers also have changed dramatically. The digital revolution has transformed the expectations of consumers who are searching for products and services. Consumers want to compare their options in multiple ways, and they increasingly seek out testimonials and other forms of social validation. Also, new technology has accelerated everything around us. Short attention spans—fueled by smartphones, wearable technology, and incessant notifications—mean that attorneys have a smaller window of time for capturing attention, communicating trust, and establishing a reputation. To attract clients, law firms of all sizes and practice areas must take these factors into account.
Where to Get Attention on the Internet
This article discusses some key ways for a law firm to gain attention and convert potential clients to actual clients online. We will not discuss the many forms of paid advertising or even the full scope of free media. Instead, we are trying to point out some important items that are easily overlooked. The primary places where law firms receive attention from potential clients are: 1) law firm websites and blogs, 2) Google search results, in particular the result snippets, 3) business directories, especially Google My Business, 4) lawyer and law firm directories, 5) social media, especially LinkedIn, and 6) videos, especially on YouTube.
First, a law firm needs to shape its messaging. To capture consumer attention, lawyers must think strategically about what potential clients think and feel. In this industry, most clients search for legal help to resolve a problem that they are facing. That problem usually falls into one of two categories: defending against an attack or seeking justice for a wrong. Lawyers who target their content and visibility toward resolving the problems that their potential clients typically face have tremendous opportunities.
A law firm needs to have a compelling brand message and an identity that “sticks.” Brands for many law firms tend to fall on the more conservative side, but many bar associations are now allowing law firms to become more aggressive in their branding, using non-attorney names and assertive taglines. Ross Fishman gives some good examples of law firm taglines and commentary on his blog).
For an overview on branding, we recommend Berkeley Business Professor David Aaker’s book Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success. A video presentation covering parts of the book can be seen on YouTube. For branding and identity design, we recommend Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, 5th Edition by Alina Wheeler. And for logo design inspiration, check out the website Brand New for inspiration and commentary.
With so many competing law firms in the marketplace, law firms with brands that are consistently delivered across all channels and media have the highest chance of making an impact. Let’s look at some of those channels.
1. Law Firm Websites and Blogs
You can expect nearly all potential clients to visit your website (and blog), regardless of whether they found you from a Google search or an offline referral.
SEO and Web Traffic: If you do not get traffic to your website, it does not really matter how good your branding and conversion are. Many articles have been published in LPM and elsewhere about how to optimize your website to get more traffic. For a great overview of search engine optimization, see Search Engine Land’s Guide to SEO. As a quick reminder, to optimize your website for Google search results, you should 1) write strong, original legal content, 2) have strong technical SEO, such as schema markup and AMP for mobile pages, and 3) obtain editorial citations (links) to your website.
Moving to design and conversions, here are the important elements that will get attention on your website.
Professional Design: From a design standpoint, make sure that your website looks professional, has quality photos and graphics, has your brand colors, has a tagline, and provides easy access to contact information.
Lawyer Photos: You should provide quality photos of the lawyers at your firm. If your firm has more than one attorney, try to have all the attorneys provide photos in the same style. A newer iPhone or Android phone using portrait mode might work, but if not, you should hire a professional photographer. These photos should include versions with a high resolution for the newer higher-density phone and computer displays. To increase conversions, the lawyers should be smiling. Smiles make lawyers seem more approachable and will lead to more contacts from potential clients in any practice area. Finally, you should use cropped versions (often squared) of these photos for your lawyer directory and social media profiles (see below).
Colors: Your colors should be a part of your brand, and your brand’s primary and secondary colors should work well together. If you are not sure about which color to use, choose a shade of blue. Blue is the color that most people prefer since it indicates strength and trustworthiness. It is the most popular color for top brands, and it is great for professional entities like law firms.
For call to action items, such as click to call or contact form buttons, use a bright red or orange. Studies have shown that these colors attract a user’s attention and have higher click through rates. All your pages should make it easy for a visitor to find your contact information and connect with you, and highlighting this information in red or orange will help
Key Pages: First, your home page is your most important page. The first few paragraphs of your home page should set forth your core messaging about who you are and how you help clients. Make your home page great. Second, have great individual lawyer profile pages. After your home page, lawyer profiles are the most important pages on your website. Detailed profiles with quality photos are a necessity for converting visitors into clients.
Videos: Videos also help convert visitors into clients by showing a lawyer’s personality while discussing the firm or legal subjects.
Chat Services: Many law firms use chat software to help convert users into clients. However, DO NOT have it cover up your header navigation or other contact elements, such as click to call buttons. Some chat software companies do this to get more chat leads, but a chat lead is still not as good as a phone call. Covering up and blocking the header navigation makes it harder for a user to find the information that they want, potentially leading to fewer leads, and it may harm Google search results.
Blogs: Blogs are a great way for an attorney to show expertise in a subject matter. A strong blog will lead not just to consumer contacts, but also to media exposure and lawyer-to-lawyer referrals.
Mobile: A firm should realize that most consumers will view their website on mobile devices. Make sure that your contact information is easily accessible on mobile devices, ideally with a sticky header with a click to call button. You should have AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), especially if you are focused on Google search optimization. While AMP by itself does not lead directly to higher Google search rankings, attributes associated with AMP do. AMP pages are optimized to load quickly. They also can be preloaded onto Google’s content delivery network (CDN). This allows pages linked from a Google search result page to be downloaded to the phone’s web browser before the user clicks on the result, leading to a nearly instantaneous display of the content after the click. Finally, they get a lightning bolt icon on Google mobile search results, leading to more click-throughs.
We could say much more about law firm websites, but the summary above covers some essentials.
2. Google Search Results Snippets
The Google search results page is often the first place where a potential client will come into contact with your law firm. It is important to have your search result be attractive to users to get them to click on it and visit your website.
The organic (non-paid) Google search results consist of four core items: 1) a favicon, 2) a linked title, 3) descriptive text, and 4) the URL. If your website is properly marked up with schema, breadcrumbs of the hierarchy of the page also may appear in the results.
Favicon: A favicon is a small icon that often shows up in a browser web address bar. Google shows the favicon on its mobile search results, and sometimes on its web search results. A favicon could be a firm logo or another symbol, although it tends to be quite small. In any case, you should try to make a favicon that corresponds to your firm’s branding.
Linked Text: The linked text in a Google search snippet usually is the “title” tag for that web page. But Google will sometimes change the linked text to something that is more related to the search term. For example, if you search the name of your law firm, the linked text generally will be the name of your law firm, even if your title tag has other words in it. In most cases, you want your title tag to be the title of the page, with some added descriptive terms and the firm name. For example, “About Us | Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers Jones & Smith” gives the user information about both the subject of the page and the services offered by the law firm.
Descriptive Text: The descriptive text is the text that appears under the linked text. This text may come from the meta description of the web page or from the text itself. What Google shows will again depend on the search term. For the meta description, you can add calls to action, such as “free consultation” or “aggressive representation.” These will increase click-throughs when the meta description is shown. According to Search Engine Land, meta descriptions and branding have had the most influence on Google search click through rates.
Domain URL and/or Page Name: Currently, in its search results, Google is showing the Domain URL of the website, rather than the full URL of the web page. If the search result is an internal page of your website, and you have marked up the breadcrumb hierarchy with schema markup, Google may show the breadcrumbs in addition to either a partial file name of the page (e.g., “car-accidents” as opposed to the full file name “car-accidents.html”) or just the page name itself (e.g., “car accidents”). Having keywords in the domain name, the file name, and the page name may increase the click-through rate.
3. Business Directories
Many business directories contain law firm profiles. Even if your firm did not create a profile on a particular directory, it may still have a profile. You should update these profiles with consistent information and messaging. This will help you with your branding and with the most important “yellow page” directory: Google My Business.
Most business directories allow firms to provide their core information: business name, address, phone number, practice areas, and a short description. Some directories will allow firms to add photos, videos, special deals (such as free consultations), hours of operation, firm updates and news, a description of services offered, and other amenities offered by the firm or the office where it is located. You do not necessarily need to update each directory individually. Third-party services can help you push your information to many business directories at once.
Google My Business: Google My Business (GMB) is the most important business directory for law firms. You should claim or create a GMB listing for each of your staffed offices (but not for your “by appointment only” offices). Your listing should be fully filled out, with your practice areas, description, photos, office hours, and other information. You can also add practice areas as “products,” and you can post updates or offers.
Your default practice area should be the most important. GMB has the following legal practice areas: administrative attorney, bankruptcy attorney, civil law attorney, criminal justice attorney, divorce lawyer, elder law attorney, employment attorney, estate planning attorney, family law attorney, immigration attorney, insurance attorney, patent attorney, real estate attorney, social security attorney, tax attorney, and trial attorney. There are also four non-specific choices: general practice attorney, lawyer, law firm, and legal services. Google does not have a category for business law firms, so they should use civil law attorney, lawyer, or law firm.
Do not create individual lawyer profiles on GMB. Individual lawyer profiles will interfere with your law firm profile, lead to reviews being split among different GMB profiles, and possibly show up instead of the firm profile for firm name searches. Google may also merge the firm profile into an individual lawyer profile at any time, leading to the loss of reviews and other information.
NAP Consistency and Google My Business: Google checks whether the name, address, and phone number (NAP) in your GMB listing are consistent with other business directories and online sources. DO NOT use tracking phone numbers on online business directories, since this will lead to inconsistencies that will harm you with GMB. Even more importantly, DO NOT use a tracking number on your GMB listing itself. The value to a law firm of having their GMB listing rank higher dwarfs any benefit of having tracking numbers enabled for GMB or other directories.
Other Business Directories: Most business directories will have legal practice areas in which you can add to your law firm’s profile. Make sure to add at least one practice area that directly maps to Google’s practice areas in these other business directories. For example, if your practice focuses on adoption, include family law as an additional practice area. For medical malpractice, include personal injury; for DUI, include criminal law, etc.
After GMB, the most important business directories are Facebook and Yelp.
Third-Party Business Directory Update Services: To help you update the business directory profiles, services will submit your information to numerous sites. The two that are used most by law firms are Yext and Whitespark.
Yext is easier to use, since you just submit your information in one place online, and they will then push it to over 100 business directories. For profiles that you have already created, such as GMB or Facebook, you will need to authorize the Yext service to update those profiles. Yext includes some fields that are directory-specific in its advanced settings. This allows you to add more specific practice areas in some directories (such as drug crimes in addition to criminal law).
Whitespark also updates online profiles, but instead of just updating them en masse, it does this by hand and you get the logins to do future updates yourself. You pay per profile that is updated.
If you don’t want to use a third-party service, and are trying to determine where to start in updating your business directory profiles, do a Google search on your law firm name. Fill out the profiles that show up in the order in which they show up. In addition, always fill out GMB and Facebook profiles for each staffed address and a LinkedIn business profile for the firm as a whole.
Having the same descriptions on multiple business directories is usually fine, and Yext is a great service for pushing out the same description to all the business directory websites at once. But suppose that you are trying to push down a Google search result, and you want these individual profiles to rank higher in Google for your firm name. In that situation, you should have unique descriptive text for your profiles, especially in sites that tend to rank well in Google. You can either use a service like Whitespark and log in to update individual profiles, or use Yext but remove some of the directories from its updating service and update those by hand.
4. Lawyer and Law Firm Directories
Many Google searches lead to lawyer and law firm directories on legal portals. In particular, Avvo, FindLaw, Justia, Lawyers.com/Martindale, and Super Lawyers often rank for both discovery search results (searching for a service, such as “tax lawyer”) and name search results (searching for an attorney or law firm name).
Additional law firm directories exist, some of which are focused on larger law firms. These will often rank well in Google for law firm name searches, although they do not tend to be optimized or rank well for discovery searches. These include Above the Law, Best Law Firms, Chambers, IFLR1000, Law.com, and Vault. Also, bar associations in some states, such as California, are now allowing lawyers to add more information to their profiles, which makes lawyer profiles rank for some name searches.
Lawyer Profiles: Lawyers should own their identity everywhere and consistently convey trust, reputation, and professionalism. Most of the consumer-focused directories have profiles of individual lawyers. Even if you are not focused on consumers, you will likely have a profile on each of these directories, and they will tend to rank for your name in Google. You should fill them out with information that is consistent with your website.
The most important item to add to the lawyer directories is a high-quality, high-resolution photo, ideally the same photo that appears on your website. Since these photos show up on listing pages, rather than just profile pages, the photo should be a close-up, cropped to focus on your face. The same photo should be used on all these directories and on social media like LinkedIn.
Most directories include similar information about each lawyer, such as their practice areas, education, legal experience, bar admissions, languages, articles, and videos. You should fully fill out each profile and provide consistent information on all the directories.
If your firm has more than one attorney, each attorney should fully fill out their profile. The messaging, style, and photos should be consistent. Your firm should designate a person to be responsible for making that happen.
Law Firm Profiles: Some directories (FindLaw, Lawyers.com/Martindale, and soon Justia) have both lawyer and law firm profiles. For these, you will want to have the same information and messaging as in the business directories, and you will want to make sure that the lawyers attached to your law firm profile are currently working at your firm.
5. Social Media
Social media profiles, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, also can help reach clients. For Facebook, you should have a page for each office location with your core business information. Instagram is more about branding and firm culture. If your firm does pro bono activities or works with charities, photos of lawyers at these events can help brand the firm as contributors to the community. You might also show photos of lawyers when they are giving talks at conferences or with clients after recent victories.
Twitter is a great tool to reach the media, since most reporters read messages directed toward them. However, lawyers should be somewhat cautious in what they post, given the public nature of Twitter and the tendency for tweets to go viral.
LinkedIn: The most important social media website for lawyers is LinkedIn. First, individual lawyers should use LinkedIn to connect with other lawyers and their business associates. This will lead to two opportunities: 1) referrals from other lawyers and businesses, and 2) job offers from other law firms. The second might not be what law firms want for their attorneys, but it is just a reality of LinkedIn.
A law firm should create one law firm profile, focused on branding and information. For a good example, check out Fenwick & West’s LinkedIn profile. You can also add services and incorporate job postings. A law firm should provide guidelines to its attorneys for the standardization of photos and the firm description. The LinkedIn photo for each lawyer should be the same as the photo in other lawyer directories and on the website. While LinkedIn is more personal than other directories, firms should still try to professionalize the profiles of their members.
For an introduction to LinkedIn, see “LinkedIn for the Reluctant Lawyer” by Elizabeth Munnell in Law Practice Today, February 2019.
We recommend producing informative videos that convey personality, reputation, expertise, and trust. Videos can help lawyers in their branding and help convert potential clients into clients.
We recommend that law firms use YouTube to host their videos, since their platform is fully optimized for playback, and this will help firms with additional distribution through YouTube and Google search. YouTube has great resources on how to use their platform, which should be watched before making videos.
We recommend the following for most YouTube videos: 1) make videos of 1-3 minutes covering legal topics or questions and answers; 2) have the last 15 seconds of the video be marketing about your firm, including a phone number or website URL; 3) have a thumbnail cover image for the video to be displayed in Google and YouTube search results, including a close up of the attorney, text about the video topic, the firm logo, and possibly a background image related to the topic; 4) have closed captions of the text of the video, and include this text in the video description; 5) include your law firm name, address, phone number, and website URL at the bottom of the descriptive text; 6) put the latitude and longitude of the location of the video, or use your office location’s latitude and longitude; 7) turn off comments; 8) hide statistics from viewers; 9) categorize the video as educational, and 10) make the video visible to all viewers.
We recommend inserting your YouTube videos into your website and blog (or both), and adding them to lawyer and business directories. We also recommend reporting the videos on Facebook. If you want to use other hosting or production services, such as Vimeo, that is fine, but we still recommend having copies on YouTube and Facebook.
Obviously, there is more to video production and optimization, but the quick summary above will help you get increased viewership of your videos.
Don’t Fall Behind–Or Fall for Silver Bullets
While lawyers have many new opportunities to attract clients in 2020, there is no single path to success. New tools and platforms emerge constantly, but not all of them deliver results as expected. For all advertising channels, it is critical to measure and track performance to determine whether a strategy is delivering results. Regardless of the approach that you take, your goal as a lawyer remains the same: building a professional reputation and providing trustworthy counsel.
About the Authors
Tim Stanley (left) is the CEO and Chris Skelton (right) is a senior editor at Justia, which provides free case law, codes, regulations and legal information for lawyers, business, students and consumers worldwide. Contact them on Twitter @justia.