Cute Kittens do NOT Generate Lawyer Business

File this in the stupid social media column.  I thought we had all learned that the number of FaceBook friends, Twitter followers, Google plusses, Snapchat SnapQuantiences and Meerkat Meerkittens had nothing (or so close to nothing its not worth blowing your time on) to do with generating business.  But apparently I’m wrong…. the legal marketing industry is still preaching this stuff, so I’ll keep pushing back, even though I’d rather chew rusty nails then revisit the topic.

But first, let me start with the punchline:  people who “liked” the picture you posted of your Maine Coon kitten sitting in a jack-o-lantern are unlikely to hire you because of it. They also, are highly unlikely to build a good strong personal relationship with you over social media. And they certainly aren’t going to post on Facebook: “I just got a DUI, do you know any lawyers?”

More likely, they just really like kittens. Or Halloween. Or they are 7 years old.  Or they live in Holland. Or they are my mother-in-law.

I didn’t think this post needed to be written, but apparently it does.  I’m taking all names out of the following interchange I shared on Facebook. What follows is NOT tongue-in-cheek irony….

There were a few voices of reason:

Previous comments are absolutely right: paid social for “as needed” legal services like divorce and DUI are unlikely to be an effective use of marketing budget. No matter how good your content is, you aren’t going to convince someone to get divorced or arrested to use your service. And unlike with search marketing, you can’t narrowly target people searching for your service.

And one commenter had it totally nailed:

But why was she “(Kidding!)”? Being Awesome – in law and as a person is the best thing you can do to drive business.  SEO, Social Media and TV ads will never change that.

Now, its possible that over time, through your cute kitten post, you are able to connect with someone who happens to love Maine Coon kittens, who happens to live within 10 miles of your office, who happens to share mutual interests with you beyond kittens, who happens to take the time to build a relationship with you, who happens to have a legal need down that road, that happens to be in your area of practice, and who happens to choose to use Facebook instead of Google to start their search for a lawyer…. but I suspect your time and kittens are better spent on a different marketing channel. Put your kittens down…. and start working harder on being awesome.

 

 

Screaming Into the Emptiness of Twitter

Ahh Twitter…. and the oft mis-understood, oversold, empty promises from Social Media Marketing Consultants.  I ran into the following tweetstream (why is that a word) over the weekend.  Its nothing more than variants of “[insert geography] [insert practice area] [lawyer]” repeated ad nauseam.

And it seems that these tweets are so interesting among a trio of CA based law firms (Eisner Gorin, Furman & Zavatsky, and Cron Isreals Stark) that they all just can’t stop themselves from retweeting and favoriting the awesomeness of each other’s mundane geo practice area marketing garbage. I added a small shot of Eisner Gorin’s Twitter account on the right so you can see just how fascinating this isn’t.

Now presumably no one at any of these firms is proactively doing this. I smell the workings of a low end marketing expert with some program automagically vomiting out tweets and retweets. Perhaps there’s a report at the end of each month victoriously celebrating Social Media engagement – impressions, followers, retweets, favorites etc. And of course, none of this is going to generate an inbound phone call – in fact in the sad event the firm’s’ twitter account shows up in a branded query (a distinct possibility) after an offline referral, I suspect Joe Prospective Client is smart enough to be turned off by this pathetic ploy.

And while I don’t know if this is the inner workings of some bad agency, remember…. just because your don’t understand it, doesn’t mean you should pay for it (or do it yourself). Hopefully these firms aren’t paying some SEO expert to boost their SEO rankings with this by either a)linkbuilding and/or b)build social followers.  Set the record straight. Links in tweets isn’t linkbuilding. The number of twitter followers, retweeters, favorites etc. has NOTHING to do with search algos. Same goes for Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, Blab, Meerkat… the list goes on (and on and on. And then it keeps going some more.). If your agency tells you otherwise, at least now you know why your SEO efforts aren’t generating clients.

 

#Hashtag Idiocy: #JustBecauseYouDon’tUnderstandItDoesn’tMeanYouShouldDoIt

Most of the time, when people drop hashtags all over their posts and tweets, like rabbits pooping in a garden, they are really saying:

“I don’t really know how social media works, but it seems to be a big deal, so I’m going to drop a “#” in front of random words.  #IGetSocialMedia #Really #Hashtag”

Sometimes it means,

“I really don’t get this so I decided to hire someone to do it for me (its, just that they don’t understand it either, but I don’t know that.”

The proliferation of hashtags in legal marketing, without a clear understanding of how they work, has led to the subsequent proliferation of hashtag marketing consultants. This practice, is reminiscent of the SEO “gurus” of 5 years ago, whose primary role was to “tag” content so “The Google can understand what it is about”.  This practice, of course led to WordPress sites with a  massive proliferation of duplicated garbage tag pages – lawyer, attorney, law firm, car accident, car crash, car wreck.  You get the idea.  We’ve spent thousands of our clients’ dollars unravelling these garbage pages, but I digress….

#BackToHashtags

Why?

Why are we so enamored with hashtags? We hear about them all the time. I’m going to go to Wikipedia for the definitional reason:

A hashtag is a type of label or metadata tag used on social network and microblogging services which makes it easier for users to find messages with a specific theme or content.

“Makes it easier to for users to find message with a specific theme or content.”  Remember that.  It means that either a)people are looking for your specific hashtag or b)its part of widespread trend.  So just because you’ve heard about hashtags for #savethewhales or the #superbowl or maybe an #smx conference or a loved brand like #patagonia, doesn’t mean people are looking for #caraccidentattorney with hashtags.  And, in the off chance, people are going to click on your #lawyer hashtag – all they are going to see is a bunch of…. other lawyers who want their business as much you do. Great idea marketers.

In all the examples below, I’m pulling tweets from a twitter search for “car accident lawyer” – and let’s not get further distracted talking about the idiocy of that tactic…. i.e. people don’t start their search for highly personal, highly private issues like an accident lawyer, divorce lawyer, dui lawyer, domestic violence lawyer etc on twitter, but I digress again.

There are a variety of garbage hashtag mistakes:

The Useless Single Word

This is done #simply #by #inserting #a #hashtag #in #front #of #words #the #writer #thinks #are important.

idiocy

#lawsuits #lawyer #litigation?  It does read like those old “tagging” strategies for website content doesn’t it?  The presumption here of course, is that someone is doing a hashtag search for #lawyer…. or there’s some degree of virality to this content.  Right…. anyone else think, all of a sudden, #Litigation, is going to start trending?

The Useless Concatenated Words

The next variant is smushed together words.  Think #BlackLivesMatter – that has a big following and is regularly searched.  But….. probably not #caraccident or #personalinjury.   Sorry #Pribanic&Pribanic.

overloaded-idiocy

And in my example above, note that if someone is looking for #pittsburgh (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility), its probably NOT because they just got rear ended by a Lexus on Main Street, Pittsburgh.

The Epically Bizarre Phrase

If two words are good, what not more?  #doineedalawyerafteracaraccident  This looks like my cat walked across my keyboard.  What possible marketing/social media/google juice/twitterverse explanation can you possibly have for this?

hattag-words

Interestingly “Legal Monthly” describes itself as “The official Tweets of the San Diego Legal Times Monthly”  Except, of course, there is no such thing as the San Diego Legal Times.  And their feed is nothing more than thousands of tweets with #hashtaggarbage from law firms and law firm newsletters across the country.  Now I could be wrong here, but someone is presumably paying for this “social media marketing consulting”.  Like the Porter Law Firm in the example above.

Hashtags and SEO

But Conrad, I was told this will help my Google rankings!

I’ll keep this simple:  The number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends or Pinterest Pins or Meerkat Meerkats are NOT an SEO ranking factor. Same holds for #hashtags. Or #hash #tags. Social media marketing gurus who suggest otherwise understand neither (or they are deliberately bilking you).

Think critically about why you spend money on marketing consultants.  What are they doing?  How does it work? Does it pass the sniff test? And just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that you need to spend money on it – otherwise your marketing dollars are a cost, not an investment.

#StopBlowingYourKidsCollegeFundOnStuffYouDon’tUnderstand

How to Sound Like an SEO Expert (without really knowing anything)

So, this post comes courtesy of a phone call I had yesterday with a prospective client.  It started out like many:

I’m not sure what I actually get for my monthly SEO retainer.

A little investigation and I found a huge mess….. which in turn led to a Facebook missive:

That awkward moment when you have to tell a law firm that their previous agency’s $5,000/month SEO budget didn’t pay for H1s or Title Tags.

Perhaps H1s come with the $6K package.

Now – you don’t have to know what H1s or Title Tags are…. you should be doing lawyerly things; but anyone making a living peddling SEO damn well should.

If you aspire to make a living from (your perceived) deep pockets of lawyers… here’s my guide to sounding like an expert without needing to learn what you are actually doing.  (Some buzzwords courtesy of Gyi Tsakalakis – a professional instigator –  although it was Michael Romano who came up with: <h1>Ripped Off</h1>)

Meerkat/Periscope/Facebook Livestream

Livestreaming started with Meerkat and Periscope and has recently had a resurgence with the launch of Facebook’s Livestream feature. Impress prospective clients with your cutting edge tech savvy, the way I watched a speaker at a legal marketing conference (that was essentially a thinly veiled pay-to-pitch event) Meerkat his entire talk.  Boy was he cutting edge – and by the end of said Meerkating, three audience members proudly stood up to announce that they too had become Meerkaters during the talk and had also Meerkated the event.  (seriously I can’t make this stuff up.)  Lets ignore for the moment, the serendipity that would have to occur for a prospective client to actually be starting their lawyer search on social media, be linked to a specific lawyer and have both of those things coincide with the moment said lawyer decided to Periscope his knowledge to the Persicopeverse.

RankBrain

Back in October of 2015, Google launched their Artificial Intelligence update to algo’s – RankBrain – with much ballyhoo and mystery. Turns out the cutting edge of the SEO nerd community hasn’t noticed a big change; although some have suggested this was going to be the end of linkbuilding as we know it (it wasn’t).  Dropping the phrase will make you sound current and mysterious – it might also defect obvious questions that require actual work to respond to: “what about linkbuilding?”

Blab

Want video conferencing limited to four participants?  Enter Blab.  This is a great word and  can be used in all its forms:  blabbing (verb), Blabber (proper noun), blabber (verb), blabbed (past tense), blabby (adjective). I’ve heard some truly ridiculous blabbery during a Blab.  Justblab to prove Blab’s bleeding edgeness…. check out this buzzword laden description from Mashable.  Be the first to write that post on your blog:  “Blabbing Your Way to Profits for Law Firms, Lawyers and Attorneys.”

“Content is King”

This is a great phrase to use with clients who complain about lack of results – turn the responsibility back on them and yell triumphantly “content is king”…. you need to blog more, post more rewrites of last week’s accident news, expand your FAQs and chase the long tail.  Because, clearly, the web is lacking content about every single aspect of the law. (Learn the truth here:  SEO Regicide – Content the King is Dead.)

GoogleJuiceGoogle Juice

This is an oldie but goodie – the mysterious GoogleJuice farmed in MountainView and harvested by plucky Google nerds that bestows rankings upon websites. This one is dedicated to a former coworkers who once told me “we don’t have to worry about SEO, we have a lot of Google Juice.”  Frequently used in conjunction with PageRank.

Pinterest

Need to up your perceived social media savvy?  Drop “pinterest”, a site many have heard of; although no one has figured out how a collection of pictures of argyle sweaters, or finely crafted timberframe interiors will get people to hire a lawyer. Fortunately your (self)proclaimed Pinterest savvy transfers an overall sense of social media authority – you are the consultant who can figure out how to get clients to publicize their pending nuptial demise by liking their divorce lawyer on Facebook.

Ninja | Maven | Rockstar | Guru

Still feeling like the one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind?  Calm your nerves by bestowing one of these self-aggrandizing “titles” upon yourself – trust me the National Association of SEO Ninjas is NOT going to come knocking asking for verification.  Ninjas, Mavens and Gurus are often described (by themselves) as  “thought leader”, “recognized expert” and/or “bestselling author” in their Twitter and Facebook profiles.

For maximum impact combine terms from above:  this can be a phrase “Meerkat Guru” or an entirely new word: “Blabjuice”.

And lawyers – if you think you are smart enough to hire a good SEO…. consider taking my simple test:  Are You Qualified to Hire and SEO Agency? or purchasing the SEO Consultant Balderdash Translator from the Legal SEO Store.

Moz’s Local Ranking Factors Report

Every year, I get an email from Moz asking for input into their Local Ranking Factors survey.  The survey is conducted amongst a small group of SEO nerds. Due to the competitiveness of legal marketing, be glad to know our niche is especially well represented- I’m joined by legal marketing geeks, Mike Ramsey, Gyi Tsakalakis and Casey Meraz.  This year, the study came out shortly after Google launched the snack pack (catch up here), so the results are particularly interesting.

If you want to geek out, you can read the full Moz study here.

Overall Ranking Factors

Ranking Factors continue to diversify – meaning there are a wide array of things you need to get right.  Vendors who provide just one piece of the puzzle are rarely going to be enough to drive success (and yes – I fully acknowledge this is a self-serving comment.)  The factor consistently gaining in significance is behavioral performance (i.e. click through rates, time on site etc.) – this has been backed up by numerous studies.  In legal, this emphasizes issues like brand, meta descriptions, a site’s look and feel/user interface and accessibility of information.

And despite the ongoing assertions of social media pundits – Social is entirely immaterial to local performance – coming in dead last among all ranking categories.  Joy Hawkins (who is our secret go-to person when we get utterly stuck on a complex Google My Business issues) explains social and search:

I gave social signals 1% for organic impact because I do think it’s possible that they could impact ranking – I have just never seen a single case where they did. I always quote Matt Cutts where he indicated that when it comes to social signals it’s a correlation and not causation. Businesses that are active on Facebook also usually care about their ranking on Google and are actively trying to improve it. One doesn’t cause the other.

David Mihm, the author of the survey, offers his take on the waning (if not entirely dead) impact of Google+ in ranking:

At this point, I view Google My Business essentially as a UI for structured data* and a conduit to AdWords. While Google’s original “business builder” vision may still come to fruition, it clearly won’t be under the social umbrella of Google+.

Top 10 Ranking Factors for Local (now Snack Pack)

  1. Physical Address in City of Search
  2. NAP Consistency in Structured Citations
  3. Proper Google My Business Categories
  4. Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (i.e. physically where is the searcher)
  5. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  6. Domain Authority of Website
  7. Product/Service Keyword in Google My Business Business Title
  8. City, State in Google My Business Landing Page Title
  9. HTML NAP matching Google My Business Location NAP
  10. Click Through Rate from Search Results

Of particular note is the focus on quality including the prevalence of accuracy in Google My Business information (note David’s comment above).

Ranking Differentiators for Competitive Markets (i.e. legal)

My favorite facet of the survey is the focus on competitive markets – essentially almost all of the legal marketing space.  After getting the fundamentals right, this becomes the tactical focus of our engagements and frankly, these are often the hardest components of search – the stuff that can’t be automated, simplified or easily copied.

  1. Consistency of Structured Citations
  2. Domain Authority of Website
  3. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  4. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  5. Proper Google My Business Category Associations
  6. Physical Address in City of Search (in the past month, we have been consulted twice on helping law firms decide what building to move in to.)
  7. Quantity of Native Google Reviews
  8. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Google My Business Landing Page URL
  9. CTR from search results pages
  10. Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (i.e. Newspaper articles)

Note the heavy heavy focus on quality above.  You don’t achieve these tactics through $10 for 1,000 twitter followers or a paid citation campaign.

Non Local Local Results

Heh?  This is really localized natural search – i.e. results for local queries (even those without a geo-modifier) that return typical SEO results.  I don’t want dwell on this, as this is a post about Local (i.e. mapped) results, but for natural search with a local component (which represents at least 95% of legal searches – the focus is on providing accurate location signals through Google My Business and a heavy focus on site authority (i.e. high quality links).  In fact the top 2 signals according to the survey are link related.

Negative Ranking Factors

Of course, no SEO conversation would be complete without a discussion of penalties.

  1. Incorrect business category
  2. Listing at false business address
  3. Mis-Match NAP or Tracking Phone Numbers
  4. Presence of malware
  5. Reports of Violations in your Google My Business location
  6. Mis-matched NAP/tracking phone numbers on Google My Business page
  7. Mis-matched Address on Google My Business page
  8. Multiple Google My Business locations with Same Phone Number
  9. Absence of NAP on website
  10. Address includes suite number similar to UPS Mail Store or other false address.

The negative ranking factors center around incorrect NAP as well and inconsistent information in…. here it is again…. Google My Business.  Given the prevalence of geo spam among lawyers (i.e. “virtual offices” or fake offices shoehorned into your friends insurance office), I expect we will continue to see a greater focus on reporting of non-real offices.   Frankly, the only impact we saw among law firms with the Pigeon roll out was severe penalties on some significant local spammers; so none of this really surprises me.

Snack Pack

Acknowledging that the Snack Pack launched just prior to the survey (and so the following is probably more intuitive rather than based on any studies, Moz asked about change in tactical focus given the snack pack.  Across the board, the increased focus was on quality signals (NAP, Authority, Citations).  The only quantity factor was Google specific reviews (i.e. the more the better but note the focus on Google, NOT reviews across the web – Avvo, Yelp etc.).   Tactical losers focused on quantity (which I read to mean low cost, low value, low authority – easily replicable) links, citations and…. my favorite punching bag…. social shares.

Case Study: How To Do Social For Lawyers

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it 1,000 times: social media doesn’t work in legal. (Seriously – we’ve said it here, and here, and here, and we have a running office joke that we’re going to fix all of our client’s problems by curating Pinterest boards.)

What follows is a tale of extraordinary social media success; the story of a law firm that multiplied their traffic by 1800% overnight with one blog post.

The aforementioned client isn’t new to the Internet – they’ve been doing quite well for themselves for years. Here is their all traffic graph for January through May 2015. Traffic is bumping along at ~1,200 sessions/week – pretty good for a law firm.

graph1

Here is that same graph if you extend the date range to include the first two weeks of June:

graph2

You’re seeing that right – 22,335 sessions in one week.

Here is the social only traffic (broken down by day, this time):

graph3

The high point? 4,295 unique visitors in one day.

As a result of this blog post, the client received over 500 form fills and so many phone calls the front desk literally could not handle the volume. On the third day of the phone ringing off the hook we replaced the phone number on the blog post to send callers directly to a call center dedicated for this purpose.

So How’d They Do It?

  1. Relevant, timely, and interesting content…
  2. Promoted via social media advertising…
  3. Using a very small budget.

The firm is based in the Midwest, and practices personal injury, employment, and class action law. They’ve been regularly writing blog posts for a while now, promoting a select few via Facebook and LinkedIn promoted posts. While many have done well, none have had the incredible success of the case in point.

So why did it succeed? It is high quality, but not a literary masterpiece. It’s well structured, grammatically correct, and contains links to related resources. It provides valuable information that isn’t being published anywhere else and it’s relevant to things happening right now, and it was highly targeted to reach those directly invested in its topic.

Additionally, it was promoted via social media advertising, not just posted on social media. The chances that simply posting an article to your law firms Facebook page will generate clients is next to zero. Those chances are greatly improved if you pay to ensure that that article is put in front of a relevant audience.

Unfortunately for those trying to replicate this success, there is no shortcut or magic pill that can make your phone ring off the hook. This is a classic example of hard work paying off and committing to a plan. The firm could have sworn off blogging after the first 10 posts didn’t result in much, but they stuck to it and always followed the golden rule: produce high quality, relevant content.

Oh, and the total spend to date? $110, give or take a buck.

8 Questions to Determine if your SEO Expert is… an SEO Expert

bambino con baffi fintiWhat follows is an admittedly arrogant post.  And I’m transgressing on a principle I teach my kids – you can’t build yourself up by knocking others down.  BUT… I keep talking to law firms, flummoxed by the lack of results from their SEO experts, only to find some really rudimentary mistakes.  What follows are a few questions to suss out just how expert your SEO talent really is.

1.  My site was hit by a Penguin Penalty – how do I get my traffic back?

Platitudes around the disavow process are often the answer to this question – and while disavow is important (and easy, if not tedious) – it is NOT sufficient.  A Penguin Penalty recovery involves not just removing the offending links, but replacing the value they had previously delivered to your site with new links. White hat linkbuilding is the hard, creative, uncertain, expensive and most valuable thing SEOs can do.  In fact, it is so difficult, that many “SEOs” don’t even try.

2.  How do you use Screaming Frog?

Screaming Frog is an extremely flexible tool used to scrape and analyze key elements of a domain at the page level.  It can identify everything from your duplicated title tags to broken links on competitors’ pages.  As analytics rock-star, Annie Cushing said,

“if you aren’t using Screaming Frog, you aren’t really doing SEO.”

Wait for the awkward silence when you ask this question…

3.  What are the last conferences your staff has been to?  Have you spoken at any?

Technology is ever changing – and agencies have a responsibility to keep up with those changes.  Reading Search Engine Land is a good starting point, but ultimately there is nothing to replace being in the middle of the action, interacting with the experts at geek-centric conferences such as SMX, Mozcon, and Pubcon.  Ideally your SEO expert has spoken at some of these conferences (and I don’t mean pay-for-shill talks, thinly veiled as legal marketing conferences.)

4.  We’re writing about 4 blog posts a week, should we keep it up?

SEO “experts” often quote the tired “Content is King” refrain to answer this question and perhaps delve into the vagaries of long-tail theory.  The reality is, vomiting out more low quality content does nothing more than convince the search engines that your site is full of… low quality content.  This problem was greatly exacerbated by web marketers between 2012 and 2014 who did little more than parrot “Content is King” at legal marketing conferences.

The, “should I keep spewing out more content?” question is best answered by using Google Analytics to review your posts for traffic and links.   If you find that 90% of those pages have no inbound traffic, very few pageviews and that no-one has linked to your rewrites of local car accidents thinly copied from the local newspaper, you might want to switch up your content strategy. Conversely, if you find all of your content is seeing action, then by all means, keep writing.  Read more here: SEO Regicide.

5.  We use Yext, so we don’t worry about NAP consistency.  Right?

Yext is just one tool in the NAP consistency fight (NAP – Name, Address and Phone Number) and while Yext handles roughly 50 major second tier directories, it does NOT manage the top 4 data aggregators; Moz’s Local product does.  Therefore, if you’re relying on tools to improve your NAP consistency, it’s important to utilize more than one — both Moz and Yext, for example.  Additionally, both tools need to be proactively monitored and managed to have a real impact – especially if you are dealing with a name change, address change, cleaning up geo-spam or eradicating poorly implemented tracking numbers.  Finally, neither Moz or Yext handles legal specific directories such as FindLaw or Avvo.  Solid legal SEOs have a list of legal specific directories that require manual management as well.

6.  Are heading tags built into my site’s template?

This is a question you can diagnose yourself.  Just because someone can (poorly) code a website, does not make them an SEO expert.  Review the heading tags across your site to see if a lazy or uninformed web developer has used them to style the template.  We had one site with the H1 tag copied across every single page of his site.  Oh – and it read “original text”.  This issue seems so simplistic, yet I see it repeatedly.  To do this, you can view source and search for H1, H2, etc., install SEO quake into Firefox and use the Diagnosis button for a page by page review, or if you are feeling ambitious (and have a site with fewer than 400 pages), use the aforementioned Screaming Frog.

7.  We want to launch a new website focused on <insert specific practice area>.

This is a favorite request for website developers who pretend to be SEOs.  They’ll churn out “SEO optimized” websites upon request and delivery of a nice fat check.  Of course, they are missing the aforementioned difficult part of SEO: linkbuilding (see question #1).  The reality is, from a linkbuilding, NAP and citations perspective, marketing two sites is more than twice as expensive as marketing one.  And if you go off the deep end with a full blown multi-domain strategy, you’d better have a very deep bank account.  Multiple domains can be appropriate for a firm with disparate practice areas – say DUI and Family law – but note that you’ll be investing extra marketing dollars to push both of them successfully.

And for my bonus question, we get #8 about social media…

8. Will you help us get more Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers to help our SEO?

This goes back to another SEO theory that has been dead for at least 3 years – that social media popularity drives search results.  Multiple spokespeople from The Google have been crystal clear that this is NOT the case.  Note that there can be a correlation between the two – with savvy content marketers using their wide and active social network to push great content to key influencers, which drives links, which drives traffic, but… ignore the social media marketers parading as SEOs who suggest the key to ranking for “Atlanta Divorce Lawyer” is a few thousand more twitter followers from Uzbekistan.

Except for Pinterest.  You totally should do that.  Really – it works.   Trust me, I’m an SEO Expert.

7 Traits of Our Most Successful Clients in 2014

Now is the time of year for legal marketing experts to cement their expert reputation by offering prognostications on the whims of Google in 2015. I thought I’d offer a different take on 2015 by highlighting the traits of 2014, common to our most successful clients.

Last year, we worked with 69 companies – from multi-national firms to part time solos. Some of them were very successful. Some of them (really) struggled. What follows are lessons gleaned from the top 15 of those firms who really nailed it last year.

They Focus on Conversion More than Marketing

(Or more accurately – they know that improving conversion is the best marketing investment you can make.)

While lawyers may not understand the concepts of canonical tags or H1s, they do immediately recognize great customer service. Further, customer service (which begins with an extremely positive intake process) is something a firm partner has direct control over.
Successful firms don’t see their front desk as a gatekeeper to the attorneys’ offices, but instead as a welcoming committee that is professional, caring, available and polite. One lawyer insists on having a prim British accent (and accompanying professionalism) at his front desk. Another (PI guy) evaluates his front desk on their ability to have the prospect agree to an in-home meeting with an attorney who is literally in a Lincoln towncar on the way to that meeting by the end of that phone call.

They Engage With Their Marketing

One of the (many) dirty little secrets about online marketing for lawyers is that our clients can usually do a better job at the hard (at least hard for us) stuff than we can. The clients we saw consistently crushing it in the search engines were very actively engaged with the hardest, most creative, least certain aspects of SEO – content development, linkbuilding and review management. These were hands on clients who leveraged their expertise, network and established position of influence with our direction to deliver very successful SEO campaigns.

They Calculate Marketing Channel Effectiveness

Our best clients calculate marketing effectiveness by channel – and not just by asking prospects “where did you find us.” Through a combination of intelligent tracking infrastructure and onboarding management, they knew their cost per client by marketing channel – enabling us to have rational, math based decisions instead of emotive, theoretical debates. In many cases, we installed this infrastructure and the internal discipline to use it in order to make these math based conversations happen.
For one client we ran two simultaneous campaigns through a creative marketing concept for two very different practice areas. Each required a $20,000 proof of concept marketing investment. One was an utter belly flop – the other a run-away success. Had we been focused on debating the genius (or lack thereof) of the marketing concept instead of the business results, nothing ever would have happened.

They Don’t Have Social Media Consultants

Very successful attorneys recognize social media for what it is: a catalyst for their own personal networking. And they know that outsourcing personal networking just doesn’t work – either online or in person. Nor did they need to hire anyone to teach them to write in 140 characters or less. They never embraced the oft-touted fallacy that social media was going to drive search rankings or that prospective clients were going to tweet out their need for a DUI lawyer or begin their divorce process by announcing on Facebook their impending nuptial demise.

They (Often) Had Never Hired an SEO

There were a sprinkling of firms we worked with that had never ever hired an SEO before and started with old, somewhat dated site. Essentially – their backlink and content profiles were so squeaky clean, just by having done nothing, that a responsive website and a little professional guidance were all they needed to take off. Note that these were firms in niche practice areas (i.e. NOT Personal Injury) in secondary geographic markets – where a combination of simple best practices and white hat implementation were all that was needed to drive significant business.

They Work the Legal Directories

2014 was the year the legal directories took a jump up – specifically Avvo, FindLaw and Nolo – all of which benefited from Google algo changes this year. Successful firms didn’t see this as competition, but instead an opportunity to be leveraged through advertising and/or engagement.

They Don’t Care About Their Ranking

Speaking of search engines – our best clients never ever talked to us about where they ranked for whatever SEO phrase most heavily stroked their personal ego. They understood how search results are personalized and that the vast majority of converting traffic comes from the long tail and local. We deliberately parted ways with a few firms who were myopically more interested in a search engine rankings instead of getting their phone to ring. (And no – these things are not necessarily correlated.)

New Years is always a good time to reassess priorities – both personal and professional – mix in some of these lessons for your firm along with your January gym membership.

Every Social Media Consultant is Lying to You

Lawyers – I’ll let you in on a secret . . . .

Social Media Marketing Doesn’t Work for You

There, I said it.

We’ve done it to you again – the self proclaimed mavens, experts, gurus and (self) published authors who peddle social media marketing to you guys have been lying. Or we just don’t understand how marketing works in legal.  But probably we’re lying – because we’d really like to cash your retainer to help you republish your blog posts on your Facebook page, even though there are plenty of tools that will automate that process for free.  Just like the SEOs did do. And you’ve all fallen for it again.

Now, I’m not the first person to say this, but it seems like no one is listening.  To understand social media marketing for lawyers in soundbite, consider this from Sam Glover’s anti-Facebook diatribe:  

People aren’t interested in a law firm. At best, they are interested in a particular lawyer, but normal people are about as interested in a law firm as they are interested in a proctology clinic, and for similar reasons.

Legal is NOT a Social Issue

With few exceptions, legal issues are extremely private.  I’m more likely to publicly  “like” my anti-herpes medicine than my DUI lawyer.  It’s not because I hate my lawyer – in fact I love her – its that I don’t want anyone to know that I need her because I’m facing incarceration, divorce, arrest, unemployment, deportation, or the IRS.   And if I need a lawyer for one of these private issues, there is no way on God’s green earth I’m initiating that search on anything remotely public like social media.

And this is the mistake that most self proclaimed social media experts (especially those who don’t work exclusively in legal) miss.  Standard social media marketing practice recommends building social media-based relationships with thought leaders and leveraging those individuals to expand the conversation about your brand.  This works for sneakers.  It works for religion. It works for Chevys and Harley Davidsons.  It works for soap and soup and sex toys.  It doesn’t work for lawyers.

If you personally wouldn’t start your search for a plumber on Twitter, why on earth would you imagine anyone initiate a search for a DUI attorney on Facebook?

Classic social media marketing – chasing likes and fans and pluses and followers simply does not apply to the legal marketplace.  Let’s go back to the classic social media marketing strategy – identify key influencers and leverage them to broadcast your message and shower you with likes, pluses etc.  There is simply no consumer social media key influencer built around getting divorced, or incarcerated or slipping and falling or being in an auto accident.

There is nothing more lonely that a DUI lawyer’s social media profile – which may have a few likes from his mom and law school buddies but otherwise is a barren wasteland screaming “nobody likes me”.  And stop sending out those like requests – I get plenty of them every day and nothing does less to “build a relationship with your audience” than begging for them to publicly advertise how much they like your divorce firm.

Everyone Wants Your Social Media Dollar

It seems that everyone is getting into the social media marketing game – even Lexis Nexis is happy to take your money to “Establish a Presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter”.  Bleh.  The Lexis Nexis marketing drivel epitomizes the huge failure of applying generic social media concepts to the very unique legal marketplace:

Half of all online conversations take place on social networks such as Facebook® and Twitter®. And 47 percent of customers say social media sites influence their decision to purchase a company’s products or services.

Join these conversations, demonstrate thought leadership and improve your search engine rankings with social media marketing from LexisNexis®.

You’d think that Lexis, being well, errr . . . Lexis, would have taken the time to survey people about how social media sites influence their decision to purchase a lawyer’s services.   But they didn’t – because they already know the answer and the social media consultants don’t want to admit it.  They’d prefer the legal industry continue to believe in the false complexity and ever falser effectiveness of this latest marketing channel fad.

Even if social media were effective in legal . . . it is simply impossible to outsource the joining of conversations, and demonstration of thought leadership.  And don’t get me started about the suggestions of the links between social and SEO – other than to say that Matt Cutts continuously insists that Google Plus’ are NOT a ranking factor.  But I digress.

The Only Thing You Need to Know About Social Media Marketing For Lawyers

If (and this is a big if) prospective clients use social to vet a prospective attorney – consider what you want them to see.  Let me give you a hint:  what you don’t want them to see is a slew of third party outsourced regurgitations of local news articles thinly related to your practice of law all ending with an identical admonishment to quickly call your law firm – vomited verbatim onto your Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Google Plus.

This is what you want them to see:

Cory Hicks

This is a guy I want to hire – yes he’s a lawyer, but there’s no leather bound books, scales or justice of roman columns.  For the love of all things holy, he’s not even wearing a tie!  He’s a dad and the three most important things in his life are standing right next to him.  Kind of reminds me of me.  The is the kind of guy I’d be happy to spend some money on.  And I bet he’ll never ask me to add this silly page to my “circles.”

Or how about this guy:

Valentine's Day

This is from Jeffrey Lapin’s Google Plus account.  Jeffrey hates abusive debt collectors – and frankly, if I’m dirt broke and being harassed by some aggressive scumbag in a call center who threatens my house at every possible step I probably hate them too.  If I jump with fear when the phone rings, I’d be pretty happy if Bill the Debt Collector got dumped  by his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day and wish Bill a lonely miserable Valentine’s Day sitting in front of the TV all alone.

Jeff gets it.  He gets me.  Maybe I’ll give him a call.

And I’m sure the social media marketing peddlers will disagree . . . they’ll site the impact of social shares in driving links, they’ll mention “authorship” and assure you they can get your little picture in Google SERPs, they’ll convince you that social will improve your rankings.  Sounds like SEO to me, not social media.  There is a fundamental difference. Don’t entrust your firm’s marketing to someone who can’t make the distinction.

Oh – and if your social media marketing consultant mentions Pintrest, run screaming.

Update:  This post is getting a surprising amount of interest – so I thought I’d end it with this picture:  a post of all of the twitter results for the query:  “need accident lawyer”.  The results are embarrassing and utterly devoid of consumers starting their search for a lawyer on this most widely accessible (i.e. not through private connections) social platform.  Try a search for your own practice area here:  search.twitter.com and see if you don’t get similar results.

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