According to a February 16, 2009 LawyersUSAonline.com article, almost two-thirds of potential clients begin their search for a lawyer online. The article doesn’t cite the source for that statistic, but even without a source, I’m convinced that many (if not most) clients begin their search for a lawyer online. One subscription service that provides keyword information (and which shall remain nameless here) says that the top 300 searches for the terms “lawyer” or “attorney” generate over 46,000 searches per day. I’m convinced the number would be even higher if you could capture all attorney/lawyer searches (the subscription service I used stopped at 300 searches for “lawyer” and 300 searches for “attorney”). The point of all this is that lawyers, even sole practitioners, need websites.
Why Lawyers and Law Firms Need Websites
This post is really aimed at lawyers who haven’t yet taken the plunge to put up a professional website which can be easily found by clients. Think of your website as your online office–you want to make a good first impression. Even if you don’t plan to use your website for marketing, you need to have a professional looking website for your existing and prospective clients in case they decide to check you out online.
You not only want your website to look professional, you also want prospective clients to be able to find it easily. It’s a waste of money to pay for a website which nobody ever sees. If you have a website, and haven’t checked its Google rank lately, I suggest you run a few Google searches to see where your site ranks for the search terms that your clients are likely to use to find you. If you are a probate lawyer in Mississippi, but you rank no higher than 400 in Google for any probate-related term, you are in need of some help getting recognized.
There are a variety of ways to get ranked on the first page of Google. One way is to use Google Adwords to buy ads when your potential clients search for a particular term. For those of you who have not used Adwords, it’s Google’s way of generating billions of dollars by auctioning off search terms. It’s easy to sign up (click here for Google Adwords), and you create your own ads online. Adwords is a pay-per-click (PPC) service; you bid on certain search terms and only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Clicks are billed to a credit card you use to set up your Adwords account. Some search terms, such as “mesothelioma,” are very expensive. Less competitive search terms cost considerably less. Also, Google allows you to restrict your ad to a particular geographical area, so that a probate lawyer in St. Louis doesn’t have to bid against every probate lawyer in the U.S.
Another way to try to obtain a high ranking in a Google search is by using search engine optimization (or SEO, as it’s often called). There are many firms trying to sell SEO services. These firms use a number of techniques, including the prudent use of keywords, to try to make your site appealing to Google’s algorithm. If you use a search engine optimization firm, ask them to send you a list of clients and the keywords that were important to these clients. Do some homework and make sure the firm you hire knows what they’re doing, and that their price is competitive. If anyone guarantees that they will make your site number one in Google, immediately hang up the phone or negotiate a contract that requires you to pay only after you reach number one in Google. Reputable firms know its impossible to guarantee a number one ranking, and won’t claim they can do so.
When my partners and I began seriously using the Internet in the year 2000, we ran a Google search for “search engine optimization.” The top ranked site belonged to a man in Tel Aviv, Israel. We figured if the guy could optimize a page to rank first for “search engine optimization,” the odds were good that he knew what he was doing, so we hired him, and obtained excellent results. He not only obtained great results for our websites, but he also explained what he was doing so we got a good education in SEO.
For lawyers planning their first website, it’s a good idea to find a website firm with experience building legal websites. It’s also a good idea (for reasons of both client appeal and SEO) to put plenty of useful, substantive information (with appropriate keywords) on your site.