Posted by Ally Thomson, a consultant at Legal Futures Associate Moore Legal Technology 
The internet is revolutionising every aspect of our lives – and the pace of change will continue to increase. All of society is feeling the impact, and the legal landscape isn’t immune. The internet is changing how lawyers work, communicate, win business and retain business. In 2017, how can lawyers and law firms remain relevant to their audience, an audience almost permanently connected to the internet?
The pace of change is so rapid that it can be easy to think that things have always been as they are now – we are used to relentless technological change but it wasn’t always this way. To understand how to succeed online today, it is important to understand the way the online landscape has evolved, and what is now valued and rewarded.
Dateline: The year 2000. As another busy day looking after clients draws to a close, the opportunity might arise for you to take a further look at “this internet thing” people are talking about. You unplug your phone line, take a cable from the back of your bulky desktop computer and plug it into the wall socket. Anyone calling your office will just hear a constantly engaged tone – broadband is years away.
You try to log on, and for the next few minutes you hear strange whirling noises as the computer attempts to connect with the online world.
To pass the time, you look around your desk. A new edition of quarterly case reports has arrived which, factoring in the editorial process, reports on cases that have occurred in the last six months – decisions that directly relate to your key area of work, yet only now are you hearing about them.
Or you could read the brochure for the hotel you are considering going to – it has just arrived in the mail after you called the hotel last week seeking out some promotional literature.
With the connection still not established, you could consider smoking a cigarette as you wait (the ban on smoking in public places lies several years ahead) or you could pop over to the local record shop to buy that CD you didn’t manage to get at lunch time (the iTunes store won’t open for business until 2003).
Eventually, you are connected to the internet. You are likely to start your search via one of the early search engines such as Alta Vista, Netscape or Lycos (Google hasn’t yet established its dominant position in search). Once you find a website that is along the lines of what you are looking for, it’s likely that the site has very few pages of content, and the content that is there is in plain text.
Ability to interact with the site is minimal – there’s nothing to download, you can’t comment and you can’t share any of the content (social media as we know it today doesn’t exist). And crucially, while the site may be along the right lines with regards to what you searched for, the likelihood is that the content on the site isn’t exactly what you’re after.
So, after losing half an hour of your day on an ultimately fruitless endeavour, you close down your computer, reconnect your phone line and get on with your life.
In the year 2000, the internet is in its infancy – the whole experience, both in terms of getting online and being online, is clunky, difficult and often exasperating. Clearly though, once refined and improved, revolution lies ahead.
Think of where we are today and the ways the internet has changed daily life – from your desk you can now wirelessly access information on unprecedented levels through multiple devices including smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
These devices allow you to research and purchase things immediately, communicate instantaneously and find out about legal cases literally as they happen. Changed days indeed.
We now expect quality information immediately. We want this information provided to us in a structured way and from people with authority that we respect – and that is where Google has triumphed.
Its every move has been focused on making it easy for people searching to get search results that provide value. It gives authority to websites that fulfil this central function and rewards them with prominence in search results. And the key to assessing authority is through the quality of the content that features on the site.
So, what type of content does Google want to see?
Unique – the content must be well written and unique. Duplicate content is actively penalised by Google. If their assessment of a site shows that the content is published elsewhere online or is just a rehashed version of other content, the website will be penalised and not show visibly in search.
Current – sites should be kept updated with a regular flow of authoritative, interesting content. A failure to update a site regularly impacts on the authority Google attributes to it.
Relevant – the content should engage the reader and help and inform them. Google is always looking to ensure search results answer the searcher’s query, and to eliminate those sites that don’t.
Shareable – if the content is engaging and of value it will be shared through social media. Google picks up on items being shared and promotes sites that are producing such content.
Different formats – in the early days of the internet, sites only featured text. Now users expect a rich, multimedia experience and find a mix of content to be highly engaging (and shareable). Video and infographics engage readers immensely whereas too much of the written word can overwhelm the reader, especially if the content is being consumed on a smartphone or tablet.
Authorship – we are all looking for authoritative voices, people who know a topic better than anyone else. Content should not be anonymous and content from experts will be given prominence.
So, the online world values content and so do potential clients. Can law firms profit from all of this? Is it worth putting the effort in to create quality content and an effective online content marketing strategy?
The answer, quite simply, is yes. A better question might in fact be, is it worth taking the risk of not developing the online persona of your business?
A multitude of surveys show clients turn to the internet to seek out legal advice in ever increasing numbers. Just think of your own way of securing services in sectors that you perhaps know little about – an online search will usually feature in your research and buying process.
In my next blog, I will look at the many ways that law firms can benefit from this by investing in a strong online presence.