Have you lost control of your law firm’s online narrative?


Posted by Chris Davidson, a director at Legal Futures Associate Moore Legal Technology

Davidson: Leave nothing to chance

I recently read a couple of articles on Legal Futures that got me thinking about the importance of establishing trust and authority for lawyers.

The first article concerned the Bar Standards Board warning consumers about the risks of choosing a barrister based on online reviews. The second was about home owners not trusting law firms referred to them by their estate agents.

The ability to build trust and establish authority from the outset of a relationship with a new or prospective client is of key importance for lawyers and law firms.

Recent studies suggest that 96% of people looking for legal advice will use a search engine and 74% of potential clients will visit a firm’s website before instructing. That being the case, it’s vital that you do everything you can to ensure that you own the conversation online with regards to you and your law firm. Leave nothing to chance.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the key aspects to consider to ensure that your online presence is working for you and not against you.

Google your law firm’s name
The results returned in a search engine results page (SERP) for a branded search (i.e. searching for your firm by name as opposed to searching for a service) should hopefully see you appearing prominently.

If you’re not showing up in Google for your own name, then right away that might set alarm bells ringing for a potential client. This proof of existence is something that needs to be remedied. It will most likely be something simple such as your site hasn’t been submitted to Google for indexing.

Are you represented online fairly and accurately?
Should there be any negative content about you or your firm online, it has the potential to become part of your permanent online reputation.

Old news items, outdated information, and stories from years ago can continue to rank if they’re seen as relevant by search engines.

It’s only human nature that you should want to visit any negative pages relevant to you in your search results. Don’t do this.

Clicking through from the SERP to the page tells search engines that the page is still relevant, thus helping to maintain its prominence in search results.

The best way to overcome any negative sentiment online is by creating and implementing a content strategy designed to overwhelm the negative sentiment with positive, accurate content that focuses on your authority, expertise and all the great work you and your firm does.

Google what your law firm does and where you do it
Even if a potential instructing agent has been given your law firm’s name, the chances are that they will carry out a wider search online to see who else is out there before making a decision.

If you don’t appear prominently in SERPs for service and location-based services while other competitor firms do, what does that say about your firm? That you don’t care, that you don’t deserve to rank alongside the others, that they are better lawyers than you?

We know that’s not the case. Don’t risk poor visibility in search due to a lack of search engine optimisation leading to that opinion being formed.

Including Google AdWords in your marketing mix can help you own your online narrative and dominate SERPs
You’ve Googled your law firm’s name and the name of another business appears at the top of the SERP, above your name. Annoying, isn’t it? And potentially confusing for potential instructing clients.

This is happening because somebody is trying to be clever by running a Google AdWords campaign and bidding on your company’s name as a search term.

It’s frustrating, but currently acceptable in Google’s eyes as long as the other firm in question isn’t using your name in their actual ad, but rather they are using your name in the list of search terms or keywords they are bidding on.

Hopefully you have good visibility in other areas of the SERP, but seeing someone else’s name appear above you, from a search for you, in a paid ad isn’t great from a brand perspective and might be confusing for those searching. To remedy this, you’ll likely need to counter with your own ad campaign.

It’s worth noting that supporting organic and local visibility within SERPs with PPC/AdWords is a great way to help your law firm dominate the online space relevant to your services and target locations.

The more times you appear in a SERP, the more chance you have of being noticed.

Take back control of your Google Reviews
One of the articles mentioned in the opening paragraph discusses how buying legal services based on online reviews may not be a good idea.

In our experience, online reviews can be a useful indicator of trust. As with other elements discussed within this article – such as SEO, content, design etc – Google reviews in isolation aren’t enough to help you succeed online.

We like to talk about the aggregation of marginal gains and, implemented within the context of an overarching digital strategy, reviews can help build up a holistic picture of your law firm’s capabilities.

If your law firm is already asking happy clients to leave Google reviews for you, hopefully this has led to five stars appearing beside your name in the SERP. This in turn will lead to an increase in click-through rates to your site and hopefully more enquiries.

However, if you only have one or two stars and some negative reviews, this obviously isn’t great when you are trying to establish trust and authority.

Whilst positive Google reviews (and reviews from other sources) are great for building trust (and also carry positive SEO ramifications), the downside with going after reviews is that, inevitably, at some point, somebody is going to leave you a negative review. Don’t panic! Here’s what to do:

  • Identify if the review is real or fraudulent (yes, some people really do having nothing better to do with their time).
  • If fake, flag with Google, but remember:
    • Even if the review turns out to be fake, don’t ignore it. Even though you’ve flagged it, it may not be removed. You’re not responding to appease the reviewer, but to show potential clients that you are on top of these kinds of things and that you are open, transparent and confident enough to respond to customer dissatisfaction.
    • In these cases, state that you have no record of them ever having been a client and offer them contact information to discuss complaint in more detail. Chances are that will be the last you ever hear from them.
  • If someone genuinely wasn’t satisfied with your service, then you should address their complaint and offer to take the conversation offline to attempt to find a mutually beneficial resolution. I think it’s also worth noting that, particularly for lawyers providing ‘distress purchase’ type services, clients may view the quality of the service through the narrow prism of ‘winning or losing’, which as we know doesn’t always square with the quality of advice provided. Worth considering when looking at including reviews as part of your marketing strategy.
  • Get more positive reviews!

Local SEO and Google My Business
A focus on local SEO should form an important part of any SEO strategy, and that is a subject that is worthy of its own post. That’s one for another day but, in the meantime, what is Google My Business and why is it important?

When Googling your law firm’s name, your Google My Business information should appear in the panel down the right-hand side of the SERP.

If someone has Googled your business name, it’s probable that they’re looking for information about you, and your Google My Business listing can provide very quick answers, such as address and contact number, a summary of reviews (caution – see above!).

There are images of your premises too, and a link to directions – handy if your visitor is new to town and in a hurry.

Another way your Google My Business listing will appear is will appear is in local searches for particular services. These local listings are given prominent positioning on page 1 of SERPs.

It’s a competitive area of SERP real estate (Google used to show seven local results, but that number is now three as it increasingly focuses on a mobile-first user experience) so if you can get your firm in to these local listings, then you are giving yourself a better chance of increasing organic traffic, which, as we will see later, if your website is doing its job, should lead to more enquiries.

With people becoming ever increasingly internet savvy, users will now be accustomed to seeing these profiles, so it can lend some credibility to your business (or vice versa if you don’t have one).

They look professional and provide key information that helps people to decide whether you’re a credible business or not while reinforcing your presence in search.

Or, at least, they should look professional. If the photo chosen by Google accompanying your listing isn’t in fact your office, but a row of dumpsters (real example!), then don’t worry, you can edit your profile and it’s important you do if you’re not happy with how your listing is presenting you.

We often talk about your law firm’s website being the first impression a potential client might have with your firm. But with Google My Business, a negative first impression may already have been formed before they ever reach your site.

Your website

So, you’re now happy that when you Google your name, or when somebody is making a service and location-based search relevant to your law firm, that you are appearing prominently and positively.

Happy days, job done, right?

Wrong.

You’ve worked hard to get visitors to your site. It’s now crucial that you continue to do everything you can to build trust and establish authority.

To a certain extent you’ve established proof of existence by virtue of being findable. Now back that up by highlighting proof of ability and esteem.

Design
Design is a very emotive and subjective area (particularly if you’re a part of your firm’s marketing committee that has worked hard to get your shiny new site up and running). However, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions, all of which can work to dilute trust and authority if not properly taken care of.

  • Does your website offer a certain level of sophistication in design and user experience that is aligned with the online expectations of an increasingly internet savvy population?
  • Does your website accurately portray your firm’s brand and value proposition?
  • Does your website accurately portray the depth or your expertise?
  • Does your website prominently display indicators of trust?
  • Given that your website will often be a potential instructing agent’s first experience of your firm, are you making a positive first impression?

Content
You know how good your law firm is. The person visiting your site via organic search has no idea and the person visiting your website via a referral has an inkling but would like some more information about what you do and how you do it.

This is where publishing in-depth, authoritative content on your site comes in to play.

For example, if you’re an employment lawyer and your website has a page on employment law that lists all the services you offer under the employment law umbrella, that isn’t really telling me very much.

Don’t just include ‘Disciplinary proceedings’, for example, in a bulleted list. Go that one step further. If it’s a service you wish to promote, have a content-rich, well-optimised, stand-alone landing page for that service, with links to relevant case studies, articles, bios, testimonials etc.

Further establish your authority within your areas of expertise by contributing ongoing content to your site.

Show that you have your finger on the pulse when it comes to subjects relevant to your target audience and that you are enough of a thought leader on a subject to have your opinions put out there for potential scrutiny.

Trust icons
If you are ranked in the legal directories, have won awards, are industry accredited, then these ‘trust icons’ should be prominently displayed on your website – for desktop, mobile and tablet.

Case studies and testimonials
Demonstrate authority and help build trust with potential instructing agents by highlighting to them, where possible, the terrific work you have carried out for others who have been in a similar situation.

Biographies
People buy from people, as the old saying goes. Certainly, across all the law firm websites we manage, the biographies of fee-earners are always amongst the most visited pages, so don’t be shy.

I would caveat that by saying that it’s important first and foremost to appear professional.

I’m sure we’ve all see bios on law firm websites where the fee-earners have tried to appear zany, or friendly, or bohemian etc – one recent example included a digitalised sketch of the senior partner holding a bottle of wine and a meat cleaver. This was maybe a touch too much.

Publications/media
If you have been published in relevant industry publications, or called upon by the media for an opinion, make sure this is referenced on your site (and always ask for a link back to your site from such publications where possible).

If you’ve worked on particularly complex or high-profile cases, try to leverage that as much as possible. In cases such as these, it may be worthwhile supporting your digital activity with more traditional PR activities.

Social
If used properly, social media platforms relevant to your audience can be a great place to highlight thought leadership, knowledge share, debate, network and engage with potential clients.

Next steps

Taking care of all the above will help you to control your online narrative, establish authority and build trust with prospects and clients alike.

It’s worth noting that all the elements listed above shouldn’t be viewed in isolation, but rather considered within the context of an overarching digital marketing strategy that has been carefully thought-out and designed to help you meet your law firm’s particular online objectives.

In an increasingly competitive environment, with law firms all over the world facing significant headwinds, your reputation matters – so don’t leave how you present online to chance.

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