Content Cannibalization

In my ongoing campaign to try to get lawyers to abandon the content content content mantra spewed by inexperienced SEOs… this showcases how publishing for too much content has an overall negative impact on SEO rankings.  Ben Sessions, is one of the more active SEO driven lawyers, but fell into the trap of just publishing as much as possible, in an attempt to “break into the Top 10.”  What he really was doing was creating multiple pages that were all competing with each other – once we handled this content analytically and strategically, in Ben’s own words, “we broke into the top 10 for keywords I’ve been trying on for year, by making one simple change.” 

What the Sunsetting of Google’s Universal Analytics Means for Law Firms


Mark your calendars: on July 1st, 2023 Google will stop registering data with Google Analytics version: Universal Analytics. (Note if you are using Google 360 – you have till October 1, 2023 to make the switch.) While it’s not time to panic (yet), there are very very significant changes coming – primarily around an increasingly lack of specificity with regards to both traffic sources and (more importantly) conversion metrics. Google is making this change ostensibly due to increased privacy concerns by the general public. You may have even heard those radio ads from long-shot Google competitor and vocal privacy advocate Duck Duck Go – whose market share has grown to 2.5% of the US market.  The new version of Google Analytics (unimaginatively titled GA4) is heavily focused on privacy and instead of enabling individual linear tracking, it uses machine learning to model consumer behavior across multiple platforms, devices, and platforms for attribution.  Put differently, Google is going to provide GA4 users with their best guesses of how consumers behave instead of actually tracking (and exposing) that individual behavior. This isn’t the first time Google has reduced visibility into consumer behavior under the veil of increased privacy concerns… if memory serves correctly in 2013, Google replaced most of the very granular keyword data in Analytics with “not provided” – driving internet marketers who had been obsessing over individual keyword performance crazy.

The obvious elephant in the room concern here is that the vast majority of marketers are now going to be fed a steady stream of what Google believes (or would like you to believe, depending on your level of cynicism) is generating consumer interest and behavior across multiple platforms. For example, you may now learn that Google tells you that watching YouTube videos is responsible for driving a portion of your website traffic that formerly was entirely attributed to SEO. This can be viewed as a genuine attempt to inform marketers about the effectiveness of cross-channel promotion and/or a craven flagrant bid to drive more YouTube advertising revenue. This becomes increasingly complicated when you consider the platforms for which Google does not ostensibly gather data. How does the password-protected community on Facebook play into website traffic for example? (See my post on Dark Social for more on attribution issues that already exist and are only going to get more complicated). The less cynical reader may also accept the marketing positioning coming from Google – that seamless cross channel reporting integration will provide greater insights and therefore better ROI. Which, of course, assumes that your advertising uniquely has access to this tool, but frankly, that same tide will be rising for everyone so…

How Does This Affect Marketing Efforts for Law Firms?

In legal, some marketing channels are extremely linear, direct, and trackable – think PPC for traffic tickets as an example, in which users typically search, click, call, and hire in a single session. Other hiring decisions are much more indirect and take place over time – think divorce where many users research options over time through a variety of offline and online channels and referral sources before connecting with (typically multiple) law firms. Obviously, this linearity (or lack thereof) differs dramatically by practice area as well as marketing channel. The less linear the consumer’s behavior, the more real, actionable data is removed from a law firm’s analytical review.

Additionally, the modeling is limited to Google’s visibility into the world, which is (almost) entirely online. How is Google going to model consumer behavior for law firms that rely heavily on offline promotion – TV, Radio, Billboards, etc.?  What of those firms who have a significant portion of their business driven by industry referrals? While the volume of brand searches may provide some layer of online insight into the offline experience, I suspect the accuracy of machine learning in modeling non-machine behavior is limited at best. Finally, I also suspect there will be even further restrictions on retargeting advertisements – making the importance of gaining permission to continue to connect with a prospect during their first trip to your site a huge priority.

What this Means for Mockingbird Clients

To be frank, this switch is going to more dramatically impact Mockingbird clients than most other legal market agencies, simply because we’ve gone further at reporting into the sales funnel, instead of just stopping at leads (i.e. how many consultations and clients are attributed to which marketing channels generating instead of just leads.) My blunt take is that this increases the value of our Full Funnel Reporting because leads-only reporting is going to get murkier and less directionally accurate. Yeah, that’s a back-handed self-promotional statement, but it’s also true. Since Google’s announcement, we’ve added GA4 tracking code to all clients on Standard (formerly Starter) and Full Funnel (formerly Aggressive Growth) reporting infrastructure. We’re currently rolling this out to all clients on the legacy reporting infrastructure and those on our simple hosting/maintenance. This means our clients will have at least a years worth of legacy data populating the new system and we’ll have a solid period of time to explore limitations and find workarounds for the new platform.

Our next step is to see what gaps we have in our reporting that cannot be filled with Google’s machine learning as well as integration problems. The most concerning (for us and many firms) is how this will impact the very personal, private data collected by dynamic phone tracking services such as CallRail, as well as automated source attribution for many of the more sophisticated Intake Management CRMs (HubSpot, Lawmatics, Litify, Clio Grow, LeadDocket, etc.). A known issue is that conversion data (like that from very useful CallRail does not Pass through to GA4. We are actively working with CallRail on how to handle this. We are exploring alternative analytical packages that may either replace or supplement GA4 – Adobe Analytics, Fathom, and Adverity. Finally, some of the CRM systems have analytics built directly into them – including two of our go-to favorites, Hubspot and Lawmatics. Stay tuned, I suspect over the next 10 months dramatic changes from other analytics providers as they seek to swoop in to fill this data vacuum.

Dark Social and Lawyer Marketing

UPDATE: Register for the Webinar – WTF is Dark Social – May 11 at 11:00 PST.

Dark Social isn’t a sinister form of social media; put very simply, Dark Social is everything that happens both online and offline that is unattributable through traditional online reporting infrastructure but still drives Leads, Consultations and ultimately Clients. It is widely championed by Chris Walker of Refine Labs in the SAAS world, where teams of social media marketers, advertisers, and thought leaders combine multiple marketing channels to drive inbound interest among prospects.  Those prospects (Marketing Qualified Leads in the SAAS vernacular) are vetted, qualified and shepherded through the early prospecting process by hoards of Sales Development Representatives with highly qualified, informed and prepped leads eventually landing as Sales Qualified Leads on the desks of eager Account Executives salespeople. In this world, there are a huge number of potential customers and the lifetime value of each of them is high.  Prospects conduct a ton of research, sales cycles are long and touchpoints are numerous. Consider Dark Social for legal SAAS player Clio, whose lifetime value of a client ranges from 4 figures to well into the healthy (for Clio) 6 figure range. Replacing Matter Management Software is a complex, difficult proposition, impacting the very way the law firm conducts business so law firms switch slowly and carefully. Deliberate (and trackable) Clio direct touchpoints to prospective purchasers at law firms are numerous. As are those indirect touchpoints of Dark Social – the YouTube video shared on a firm’s Slack Channel of the enigmatic Jack Newton talking about customer centric law firms, the podcast covering data points from the annual Clio Legal Trends Report (sidenote: read it, every single year), the law school friend’s email vendor who touts their Clio integration on LinkedIn which then shows up in your feed because the LI algo gave it wider distribution because she and two other people you are secondarily connected to commented on it. Last step, an interested lawyer fires up Google, searches for “Clio Matters”, clicks an Google Ad and then calls Clio.  

In the (overly) simplistic attribution world of internet marketing, that last step would be carefully tracked, automagically added to “Source” field in a sophisticated CRM or IMS system and the sale would be attributed to Google Ads. For more complex multi-touch sales cycles (like retargeting followed by a lead magnet, and email campaign), we could have debates around first vs. last touch attribution, or sophisticated attribution weighting models like 40/20/40.  Yet Google Ads and all of these easily trackable online activities did nothing to drive the initial demand. The amazing magic of the marketing required to generate inbound interest is completely overlooked. The firm’s marketing reporting is limited to what is trackable and Dark Social is untrackable by definition.

I’ve long railed against the “and how did you hear about us?” method of identifying marketing channels that are driving not just leads, but actual consultations.  It’s messy, inaccurate, invasive, simplistic and frequently a skipped step by a well-meaning front desk. Yet, with an increasing volume of leads showing up in the ‘unknown’ bucket; my thinking has evolved. Sidnote: expect the “unknown” number to get larger as privacy restrictions continue to make the attribution of leads much more difficult. Tracking Dark Social requires asking that question… aka self-reported attribution. 

To be clear, prospect purchase behavior in the legal field doesn’t regularly follow a typical SAAS sales cycle. That’s why unbranded PPC campaigns and (frequently) SEO often have a much more direct and immediate purchase path than these complex SAAS sales cycles.  And are therefore much more accurately trackable. For example: Walk in on spouse with pool boy -> Google “divorce attorney” -> Click Ad -> Call Lawyer -> Hire. Further, it’s ​​It’s also important to note that law firms are marketing primarily to individuals who don’t want to use their services at all. Consumers don’t want to face catastrophic injury, get pulled over for drinking too much while driving, etc. Yes, in areas like family law and estate planning, more due diligence is usually required, and the client journey starts much earlier and is more complex.  But in both of those cases, Dark Social can have a massive impact on who that end client decides to seek out for their legal needs.

Dark Social plays a part in some (many?) legal purchase decisions. Enter the imperative of recognizing the impact of Dark Social and the importance of the “how did you hear about us question”, which I frankly like to ask differently: “we get lots of referrals from the community and we send them a thank you note for that word of mouth endorsement…. Did anyone recommend us to you?” This positions the firms as a recognized leader, demonstrates a level of gratitude and gives firms an opportunity to send that referral source a thank you gift (a step most firms fail to deliver on, despite the best of intentions.)  You’ll get an answer to the “how did you hear about us?” question without coming across as a craven marketer.  And that answer can and should be tracked in your CRM system, in addition to another field capturing your automated source attribution (SEO, PPC etc.) Frequently the answer to that question is some amalgam of Dark Social tactics which have reinforced the brand of that law firm repeatedly to the end prospect.   

Traditional Social Media Marketing and Dark Social are Different Things

Succeeding in Dark Social for law firms requires a strategic mindset that goes well beyond the facile tactics and metrics deployed by legal marketing social media experts mavens ninjas scorpions consultants. Sharing your “Top 10 Things to Do After a Boise Idaho Car Accident” blog post on Facebook isn’t going to cut it. Neither is posting your “Congratulations to Susan for Being Named Superlawyers 2022 in Lincoln Nebraska” on LinkedIn. Nor your Twitter follower count inflated by thousands of followers from WhoKnowsWhereItIsistan.  There’s so much more to doing this in a way that drives business for a law firm… 

The key for law firms in succeeding in the Dark Social game is to leverage the network-effect reach of technology through in depth, engaged community outreach and  and has very little nothing to do with the practice of law, tips about law, analysis of changes to laws, lawyer directory superlative announcements or law firm settlement amounts. Put simply – connect genuinely and deeply within the community in which you serve. It’s indirect, yet amazingly impactful when done consistently, deliberately and over time. It’s also a long term commitment – not something to test out for a few months. It’s the way Social Media marketing really, deeply and genuinely builds a positive brand. 

There are a smattering of examples of law firms executing on Dark Social very well.  Ken Levison out of Chicago who has leveraged his love of food to profile (and therefore market) local restaurants. Josh Hodges using TikTok to tell the history of the numerous small towns northeast of Cincinnati. Morris Lillienthall, leveraging multiple channels and his avuncular personality to highlight the movers and shakers in and around Huntsville, Alabama.  Each of these brands are built by showcasing others and building a social network by distributing that content widely. These activities (and the focus on others, instead of the law firm) have built genuine positive awareness more cost effectively and genuinely than any TV commercial can. For more on this mindset, I recommend reading Gary V’s seminal book, Jab Jab, Right Hook – perhaps with the lens that Gary’s “right hook” may never even be necessary in Dark Social and the marketing of a law firm, because the jabs generate demand in and of themselves.

The Epic Lack of Creativity in Legal Marketing

During the NHL All Star game  game, we saw an advertisement for Adam Kutner on the Zamboni. Its a classic law firm advertisement – in fact, it’s not that bad – uncluttered, simple call to action (the website), clear branding “Adam S. Kutner” and the classic middle aged white guy in a dark suit. But it’s not exceptional. It doesn’t stand out. It doesn’t make the captive viewing audience think anything other than, “oh, yet another dude chasing car accidents.”

My overly aggressive right-brain asked, “why isn’t this a slip and fall ad – playing off the ice theme”?

There’s a fundamental difference between generating brand awareness (which this wrap of the Zamboni does as adequately as most other lawyer advertising) and creating a brand (or brand experience) that resonates and is memorable to your prospective audience. Put differently, there’s nothing clever, unique or memorable that makes Adam stand out – his picture and name are synonymous with the expected lawyer motif. (And, let’s ignore the fact that the Golden Knight’s lance, cleverly affixed to the Zamboni, appears to perfectly skewer Adam’s right temple.)

And I’m not picking on Adam specifically, I’m picking on the legal marketing industry that churns out banal, interchangeable imagery, “creative” and branding that does nothing to distinguish the lawyers that we serve. Lawyers are trained to be risk averse by nature and the easy, obvious approach to advertising generates a frankly unmemorable result of “last name and last name” + man (and increasingly woman) in suit. Branding and positioning standouts like Byron Brown, the anti-lawyer, lawyer or Luhrsen Goldberg, law powered by women or Hello Divorce, the DIY assist, are fewer and further between than you’d expect from an industry obsessed with marketing.

But back to Adam… yeah the guy is shelling out some coin to be tied to the Golden Knights. How do leverage that money to get the Las Vegas audience to demonstrate that he’s genuinely and deeply involved in the community beyond buying a wrap for the Zamboni? If his agency were to put on the creative hat…

  • Publish a casual video interview with the guy behind the Golden Knight mascot – if you look carefully in the Zamboni picture, you’ll see Mr. Golden Knight headed off to grab a beer between periods.
  • Rabid Fans – speaking of interviews, why not have a conversation with some rabid Golden Knights fans.
  • Ticket giveaway to support a charity – Adam is already involved in charity work, why not merge the two and include a charity ticket giveaway to GK games? (And for now, let’s suspend the conversation about the tactical miss in having his charity work live on a distinct domain Adam Kutner Cares instead of supporting the firm’s SEO efforts.)
  • Sit down with the GK Chief Legal Counsel, Chip Seigel to talk about what its like to be a lawyer in the NHL. (linkbait anyone?)
  • Go deep with the youth – get a final match for a local hockey tourney at the GK stadium sponsored by… Adam Kutner.
  • Get involved with any of the official and unofficial fan clubs – a simple web query reveals, Knights on Ice, Vegas Hockey Knight, VGK Ladies, and even Foley Johnson Wines who held a night for GK fans at their winery.
  • Video ads…. show huge checks by the GK defense with the question “Injured?” or “GK collisions brought to you by….”

I don’t know Adam from, well, Adam; and perhaps he has no genuine interest in hockey and just views this as yet another marketing billboard, in which case, the ideas above are going to be much more difficult to pull off. But the campaign could be so much more effective if it went beyond the traditional, expected and unmemorable positioning and imbued his marketing with some cleverness and deeper community involvement.

FindLaw WordPress Websites: A Cynical Middle Finger to Their Clients

FindLaw has a history of tying up their clients in contractual and technical knots, so I shouldn’t be surprised at their latest technical entanglement.

I’ve been quiet about FindLaw for a few years now. The tales of their dirty tricks have faded: registering domains to themselves, overpriced social media tools, data hijacking, the delightful linkselling scandal, and the abhorrently gross practice of having clients pay to SEO a site only to later resell that site to a competitor: FindLaw Selling Pre-SEO’d Websites. Years ago, in a fit of annoyance, I penned The FindLaw Jailbreak Guide and watched my website explode with traffic from Eagen, Minnesota.

The latest from FindLaw is likewise brazen, obnoxious and self serving. Business models predicated on entrapping clients make me retch. One of those previous tricks in the FindLaw arsenal that artificially tied customers to them, was the use of the proprietary website platform – a website built on a backend that no one other than FindLaw could work on. This made sites time consuming and expensive to maintain, as updates had to flow through FindLaw. It was also difficult to leave, despite the overpriced monthly charges, as sites needed to be rebuilt from scratch which is an expensive endeavor. Over the years, the legal industry finally caught on to these technical handcuffs, opting for the freedom of the widely utilized WordPress instead. And then, back in February of 2018 a little birdie whispered in my ear that FindLaw was moving to WordPress, leaving Scorpion as the only big box legal provider with a proprietary platform. I surmised in a blog post that FindLaw had to move as they were losing clients who preferred the freedom, flexibility and performance of the widely-adopted WordPress platform:

Having spoken to perhaps a hundred FindLaw clients in detail over the past decade, the long term, captive nature of the proprietary platform and contracts is something clients resent. No one wants to be beholden to a vendor, especially when cheaper, better alternatives exist. This has been, perhaps, the primary reason we’ve easily been able to score deals with FindLaw clients.

So three years ago, FindLaw finally evolved to a customer centric, WordPress based approach!  Hold the phone…

Fast forward to a 2021 and law firms are starting to age out of long term FindLaw contracts for their new WordPress website. Some have started looking for new vendors. Now generally, transitions of a website from one agency to another look like this: client uses their WordPress admin account to create a login. Hits send. It takes a solid 90 seconds, access to the Internet and the technical acumen of one of my pet chickens. In moments, the new agency or contractor or in-house marketer or precociously nerdy teenager of one of the partners can work on the legacy site. This simplicity of transferability firmly puts the law firm in control of their site (instead of their vendor) and is one of the prime reasons why WordPress is superior to proprietary platforms.

But not with FindLaw’s WordPress sites, which have been pompously, cynically and deliberately designed to make the transition process painful, expensive and time consuming. Once law firm clients decide they’ve had enough and want to move on, FindLaw’s “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” is best embodied in a FindLaw document entitled “Importing FindLaw WordPress Files How-To Guide” which goes to great pains to demonstrate just how annoying, painful, time-consuming, technical and expensive the transition process is going to be. (And I’ll bet you a bottle of scotch, FindLaw sales staff doesn’t share this file when they are peddling websites through cold calling outreach.)

Let’s dig into some of the specifics:

  • Expenditures – Customers are directed to purchase 6 different themes and plug-ins in order to make their ex-FindLaw WordPress site functional.
  • Content – Much of the content on FindLaw WordPress sites is syndicated directly from the FindLaw directory including the lawyer profile. “Attorney Profile Pages are dynamically driven using the FindLaw Directory, so these will need to be created from scratch.” Beyond the annoyance of rebuilding a standard page type, take a moment to consider the SEO implications of this tactic. FindLaw syndicates content from their own directory to their clients’ website causing a massive duplicate content problem and SEO conflict with themselves vs. their clients on arguably the firm’s most valuable, the Attorney Profile Page.
  • Technical Talk – not scared off yet?  Try this on for size for the average J.D. “In Theme Builder, use one layout and apply to multiple pages. For example, use the Practice Areas layout JSON file and then apply that layout to your practice area page.”  How about, “Sidebars will need to be rebuilt because they are using settings that don’t transfer.”  And my favorite is #5 in the Steps to Migrate Your Website process: “Build out the rest of site as necessary.”  Still feel like you can “get a site up and running quickly”?
  • Divi Builder – This will be lost on almost all lawyers, but Divi-Builder is widely panned among high end developers, especially when compared to the robustness and cleanliness of other available themes. Divi is built for non-technical beginners who want to customize design without needing to code, instead of experts who want full clean control. A comparative of Divi vs. Elementor page builder sums it up: “Get Divi if you are a solopreneur with 1 Website“. And while this may describe many lawyers, it is certainly not what to expect when buying from an established vendor. The fact that FindLaw use the coding equivalent of paint-by-numbers for their WordPress platform is a huge red flag.
  • Sardonic Irony – “Customers will learn about setting up their new website quickly when transferring the FindLaw files and building the new site on their server… the process below is the best way to get a site up and running quickly.” Those are my emphases, but I can’t help but be gripped by the intentional sardonic irony of the author who knows damn well that  “building the new site” isn’t “quick”; especially when considering the alternative of just handing over log-ins to a WordPress site – like every other reasonable agency in the world does.

Under the guise of being a helpful how-to, this document is actually a warning shot regarding the cost, the pain and the forthcoming nightmare for an attorney leaving their Findlaw website; an MBA’s most pathetic, craven approach to customer retention.

Costs of “Migrating” a FindLaw WordPress Website

So what does this mean for a law firm leaving FindLaw for a new agency? Noting that Mockingbird is not necessarily the cheapest alternative, there are basically three options:

  1. Rebuild the site per FindLaw How-To Directives. I asked my web dev team to estimate costs for rebuilding the site to the existing look and feel and functionality of the FindLaw site while following the How-To Guide. These costs include third party expenditures, coding time to”build” the site and pre-launch testing protocol – rough estimate of $6-$11K. This, for a very very rudimentary, cookie-cutter site with generic design.
  2. Replace the FindLaw Template with our Echo Template. Many of our smaller clients use our simple WordPress template called Echo, which enables us to get sites up very quickly and at low cost. Say goodbye to the divi theme. Echo is a modular, fast, cost-effective template and costs $200/month. (For only 24 months – I don’t believe in that gross practice of the perpetual ongoing monthly drip out of your bank account – yet another example of scheming MBA’s putting business models ahead of their customers.)
  3. Genuinely Customized Site – If we are rebuilding from scratch, what would a fully bespoke site look like?  Cost estimates range from $12-$30K depending on our starting point, the complexity and age of the legacy code, content map, design customizations etc. In this case, I wouldn’t recommend this third option as the firm in question is small and should spend more of their budget driving traffic to a good-enough website instead of optimizing conversion with custom design for a site already getting a large volume of traffic.
  4. Stay with FindLaw

Don’t forget, since we started in 2013, the total amount Mockingbird has charged clients for switching to us from another agency running a WordPress site is: $0.

When FindLaw moved to the widely adopted WordPress platform, they went out of their way to use technology to systemically ensnare their customers. Their explanation “FindLaw uses WordPress multisite for hosting websites. We cannot export single website databases…” exposes their true intention. They deliberately selected a technology platform that, just like the old, inefficient proprietary code, makes the switching costs high enough that a few miserable attorneys won’t leave. I’m left with this thought – if FindLaw had spent the same amount of effort building an amazing product as they did in entrapping their clients with technology, perhaps their clients wouldn’t be so eager to leave.

Smart Lawyers don’t hire agencies that trap them. 


Is the North Carolina Bar Killing Google’s Local Service Ads?

The North Carolina Bar has Google’s new ad unit – the Local Service Ad squarely in their sites, and frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long.  I’m not suggesting this is the right move, just that I was expecting a reaction earlier (and probably from Florida).

The Bar’s beef?  The routing and recording of the inbound phone calls to attorneys.  A quick overview – these ad units are monetized via a  pay per lead approach and deliver those leads via a  phone call to the law firm.  Google routes those calls through their own technology which records them, transcribes them and then analyzes them to ensure the inbound call was actually a lead instead of spam – a FindLaw SEO salesman for example. This ensures the quality of those leads for which the firm is pay each time remains high. In addition, law firms can dispute the quality of individual leads and apply for a refund. The recordings help Google with this one off refund requests.

Yes – Google is recording these calls and there is, of course, a notification to consumers buried somewhere within Google’s terms of service.  But, let’s be honest, most of you reading this didn’t know that and it is certain that the vast majority of consumers don’t either.  Enter the NC State Bar which in their opinion stated:

“A third party’s recording and retention of these conversations, as well as its access to and potential disclosure of conversations between consumer and lawyer, raise consumer protection concerns and heighten the need for clear and full communication.”

Now, I don’t really think Google has any interest in getting into the business of sharing these conversations with third parties (as posited by the issue-spotting NC Bar). Nor do I genuinely think most consumers would be aghast at Google’s practices here. Having said that, these notifications buried deep in a never-read terms of service is a very far cry from “this call is being recorded for quality and training purposes” that we’ve become oh so accustomed to. And it was only a matter of time before issue-spotting Bar regulators took this predictable step.  Gyi waxes poetic on the general overreaching approaches Bar’s have towards technology in Lunch Hour Legal Marketing’s July 14th Podcast.

Now, it’s important to note that Local Service Ads, are not a new phenomenon, just new to the legal industry.  They first rolled out to Locksmiths and Plumbers way back in 2016 and have been expanding industries ever since.  This means there’s years and years of recorded LSAs for hundreds of thousands of companies and they haven’t been shut down on these concerns before.  And yes, legal is different, but the law isn’t.  The peeps in Mountainview are pretty smart and they clearly spent a lot of time studying and engaging the legal market at the state regulatory level before launching LSAs. I find it unlikely they didn’t anticipate this obvious eventuality.  But, if the NC Bar persists (nevertheless)… how many lawyers really want to risk bar discipline to protect Google’s LSA pricing framework? (But if you do… find me; it’s a linkbuilding Bonanza and I love lawsuits for linkbuilding).

Hat Tip: Jason (you know who you are) and David Donovan from the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly.

How did you hear about us?

I just bought a Skylight… a digital calendar that syncs each of my family member’s calendars onto a simple, comprehensive touchscreen. It’s a startup led by a bunch of Harvard MBAs who clearly don’t know much about digital marketing – just like many lawyers.

Here’s one of the screens in their checkout sequence:

Ugg – the electronic version of “how did you hear about us?”, the inaccurate, invasive refrain from many law firm intake specialists. Additionally, most (but not all) “Intake Management Software” perpetuates this practice with a database field to be dutifully data entered by a law firm front desk person.  Except of course, most of the time the answer is; “the internet“.  Also – because that frequently underappreciated and undertrained front desk person hates doing data entry – he decides to skip data entry of those truly useless calls; which leads the firm to have a very incomplete picture of the true effectiveness of their marketing.  This is exacerbated by marketing agencies over-reporting on their “leads”.  So while the agency’s report says 86 leads last month, the front desk has only entered… 7.  This leads to debate and friction between agency and law firm about what really is a lead.  I’ve had that conversation hundreds of times over the past 15 years.

Of course, we landed a man on the moon in the 60, so we can accurately and comprehensively report on digital marketing activities today. The law firms that are taking your market share are absolutely doing that.  Because data is power. I’m tired of hearing marketing agencies talking about “data driven design”, yet they don’t have accurate and comprehensive data to make any decisions.  It’s just a nice sounding soundbite in a sales pitch.

Bringing this back to Skylight – I looked through my own personally tracked history and this is what I found: I know I initially saw a skylight ad on Facebook, clicked through, read some more and then forgot all about them. Until this morning when I had a calendar clash with one of my kids and decided to go back to Google and search for “online shared family calendars display”, which brought me back around to Skylight. So this is a long purchase cycle, with zero brand retention and multiple touch attribution modeling. Great data for our team of MBAs if they had the infrastructure to track it… instead they wanted me to tell them how their marketing was working with a checkbox. Boo.

A Skylight costs a solid $150 – lawyers, your clients are much more valuable – don’t you think it’s time to have real, accurate and automated reporting infrastructure?

Why You SHOULDN’T Start a Law Firm Podcast

82% of podcasts fail.

If you are thinking about starting a podcast to market your law practice, stop. Don’t do it. And stop listening to marketers who don’t know what it takes to not only produce but to start and grow a successful podcast.  Let’s face it – if you are reading this post, you also probably have no clue what it takes to really make a podcast successful.

I’m certainly not saying podcasts aren’t an effective marketing mechanism – along with co-host, Gyi Tskakalakis, I podcast bimonthly at Lunch Hour Legal Marketing. It gives me a great opportunity to talk to a dedicated, engaged, regular audience; showcase my deep understanding of digital marketing, and display my rough-around-the-edges, no-bullshit personality in a way that most standard marketing can’t. That’s a huge value. But I also know that Lunch Hour Legal Marketing’s success in podcasting has come at a large investment in time, consistency, money, audio expertise, and leveraged social media equity.  And it’s the latter elements of podcasting that are so easily glossed over by naively optimistic legal marketers who jump on the podcast bandwagon because they listen to Pod Save America on their commute. The same experts who jumped on “content is king”, multiple domains, .law TLDs, meerkat, and Clubhouse. The truth is, podcasting success is often pitched by marketers who don’t understand the Field of Dreams content marketing fallacy: build it and they will come. Write the blog and they will come. Shoot the video and they will come. Tik the Tok and they will come. And now… record the podcast and they will come.

If I haven’t dissuaded or insulted you yet, please read on to see some of the pitfalls of podcasting along with some recommendations of what it takes to make a podcast successful…

Podcasting is Very Very Crowded

The fundamental problem with podcasts is there are lots of them. Lots and lots. And the growth in podcasts has far outpaced the growth in ears listening to podcasts. This isn’t a new marketing phenomenon; way back in 2015 a prescient writer at Wired published this post: If Podcasts Are the New Blogs, Enjoy the Golden Age While It Lasts – the key element in this headline being “While It Lasts”.  Perhaps the entire perspective on my post is summed up in the Wired subheadline:

“Podcasts hold the promise of a great new democratized medium. But how many blogs do you read now?”

Indeed most people aren’t consuming more and more blog content, but does that hold true for each podcast episode (spoiler alert – it does).  While the number of podcast subscribers has steadily increased –  with more than 30% of the US population listening to podcasts monthly, there are now over 2 million podcasts with over 48 million episodes.  Supply went on a date with Demand and the result is not in your freshman personal injury blog podcast’s favor. ListenNotes (a podcast search engine) reports over 10K podcasts covering law – sure, some of them might be about “murphy’s law” or “laws of attraction” but there’s over 2,500 titled Lawyer. You really sure you want to be #2,501? So while the Field of Dreams theory worked for Kevin Costner, it doesn’t really work for content on the internet (and never has).

The practice of Content Marketing is really missing the point. Content Marketing should really be called Marketing Content – because the emphasis (of your time, money, effort, human capital) should be focused on the marketing side of it, yet almost all lawyers and most marketers focus exclusively on the tangible, fun Content part. (It’s especially convenient for lazy agencies who pass the effort on to their legal clients but fail to push their role – the Marketing part…. “yeah yeah yeah, just keep up with that content creation thing and eventually….”)  A very blunt and unscientific rule of thumb for Content Marketing is 20/80 – i.e. you should spend four times as much effort (time and/or money) on marketing the content as you spend on creating it. Now consider recording a half-hour podcast; you spend a bare minimum of 30 minutes on post production and distribution. Are you really up for putting in the additional 4 hours of hard work needed to market it?  Probably not.

Podcast Failures – by the Numbers

While there is much coverage about the explosion of podcasts and podcast listenership, very little has been written or analyzed about podcast failure.  In an interview with Amplifi Media, Blubrry (a podcasting tool) CEO, Todd Cochrane notes that just 18% of podcasts added new content in the past three months. Deeper analysis shows that more than half of all podcasts are abandoned within a year of launch. Put another way, your marriage is more likely to succeed than your podcast. How’s that for a downer on way too many levels?

Marketing a Podcast

So in order to avoid becoming a podcasting statistic…. don’t underestimate the effort required in building a regular listenership of subscribers eagerly anticipating your next audio wisdom drop on Apple Podcasts. Driving listeners requires much more than amazing, engaging content (yeah – you heard that from an SEO dude). It requires a turning of the marketing flywheel – essentially a lot of hard work to build to a level of self-sustaining audience growth where your listeners drive more listeners and your download success keeps you at the top of the podcast recommendation engines. Trending podcast anyone? (And yup…. here’s an entirely new algorithm optimization science to learn). Sure, if you have an existing, loyal, engaged social profile you can add podcasts to the panoply of content delivered to your audience.  But if you don’t, it’s time to start advertising, promoting, cross podcasting, writing, and rewriting titles and descriptions. Time to learn the vagaries of an entirely new marketing channel – how to optimize each episode across numerous podcasting platforms. Learn new KPI’s, master new software, and invest in new tools Veritronic, Podtrac, Chartable.

And don’t forget, while you are marketing that podcast…. that is resources and brain space you aren’t using to directly market your firm.

The Train Has Left The Station

Let’s go back to the Wired headline: “Enjoy the Golden Age While It Lasts”. Marketing your podcast today is MUCH more difficult than it was 5 years (or even 5 months) ago. Just like early adopter blogs, which had a unique advantage in building readership, early podcasts have established their audience and this gives them an unfair advantage of commanding the downloads and ears of your potential podcast audience. Read another way: switching loyal listeners from an established podcast to a new one is difficult and with over 2,000 new podcasts being introduced every week, the math is stacked against you. The first-mover advantage is very real in both blogs and podcasting. Remember that flywheel analogy earlier?  That flywheel is much much heavier today than it was historically.  If you are considering starting a podcast today, that first-mover advantage is so far in the rear-view mirror that you have an uphill battle to climb.

Your Legal Content Is (Probably) Boring

Sorry bloggers and now podcasters – most of your pertinent legal content is not the stuff of podcast success.  “10 Things to Do after you receive a traffic ticket in Minneapolis.” Bleh. I’d rather listen to 10th-grade trigonometry class over Zoom from a bored, underpaid, and under-appreciated teacher. This is further complicated by the temporal nature of podcasts colliding with the evergreen nature of the majority of high converting legal content – i.e. what’s the latest and greatest new information about probate? You may work in a practice area that is more newsworthy and coverable – changes in tax law for example (yawn), but by and large those high converting head terms “car accident lawyer San Diego” really aren’t podcast worthy.

So your dull law firm content must be malleable. The challenge becomes reframing your criminal defense law firm podcast into a more interesting, pertinent, timely, consumer-friendly focus – covering the budding marijuana industry in St. Louis, for example. Or your family law practice into a podcast on celebrity divorces. Or move away from law entirely and talk about your community – your PI law firm’s podcast talks about favorite restaurants in Rhode Island – the Providence Pizza Podcast. But ultimately, given the general nature of law firms, you almost certainly need to spin, shift, pivot, reframe, or otherwise do something to dress up your dull law firm content.

Podcasting and SEO

It seems like every latest marketing shiny object includes the promise of “improving your SEO”.  The push by marketers and agencies towards podcasts is almost comical… a recent marketing expert extolling the SEO virtues of podcasts for lawyers included this gem:

The potential for high SEO value is one of the added benefits of producing a podcast. Your law firm can advance its marketing goals with a podcast that is rich in relevant keywords and phrases, backlinks, social mentions and shareable content.

A podcast rich in relevant keywords…. rich in backlinks? Backlinks? Can someone please explain the HTML code one uses to insert a link into an audio file? And haven’t we put to bed the “social mentions as an SEO ranking factor” theory? It’s not that great podcasts can’t generate links – guest podcasting can drive links to bio pages, episodes that are featured (and marketed) on your own site may drive links, show notes with links, etc., just don’t forget that the vast majority of podcasts are syndicated and most podcasts earned links will go to those syndication sources instead of your law firm website.  For more on Podcasting and real Linkbuilding try: How to Use Podcasts for Linkbuilding, but my meta point remains – the “record a podcast and SEO will magically happen” is a far-fetched Field of Dreams. And yes, I’m still waiting for that link.

Recording Podcasts Well

Actually, recording and post-producing a podcast requires a special talent, background, and experience.  Read differently: while amateur video may lend an air of personality and accessibility to a lawyer, a poorly produced podcast is… just frankly hard to listen to. And this gets increasingly complicated when you include more than one person on a podcast; matching audio volumes and different recording software is far from straightforward.  Additionally, podcasts invariably require post-production from multiple takes due to verbal fumbles, missed talking points, and if you are like me, removing the occasional spontaneous f-bomb. Our Lunch Hour Legal Marketing podcast has an amazing professional recording and production crew who handles all of this, headaches we don’t have to worry about; but you do.

I’m not suggesting podcasts don’t work… just that most people who are mulling, “should I start a podcast” have very little insight into the time, effort, and money required to make them successful. So… if your agency is pushing you to podcast, ask them what the KPIs are, how they configure GarageBand, how to promote a loyal readership, what tools you need, how to generate appealing content, and exactly what it takes to get an episode trending. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying it’s much harder than the marketing experts you’ve been listening to realize.

82% of all podcasts fail – and most of them have more innate consumer-centric appeal than your Atlanta Criminal Defense Law Firm Podcast.  And if I still haven’t convinced you… tune in tomorrow for a post from the producer of my podcast, Lunch Hour Legal Marketing he showcases what it takes to generate an amazing podcast. (Don’t know what a plosive is?….  tune in tomorrow to find out.).

SharpSpring vs. Hubspot

Over the past two years, we’ve had the painful experience of switching CRM systems not once but twice.  In this video I talk about the true costs of a CRM system and why the “savings” from SharpSpring ended up costing my firm a ton of money – in both productivity and lost clients.

The one thing I didn’t mention in this video (as pointed out by the poor guy who had to handle this) was the immense pain in setting up SharpSpring.  While importing data from one CRM to another is always going to be complicated, this effort took my number 1 guy months of painstaking work to complete.  The upside?  Pulling stuff form Sharpspring into HubSpot, much smoother.

If you are looking for information specifically around HubSpot for the legal industry, you can learn more here in our post: Hubspot for Lawyers.