Suffolk Law School Legal Marketing Conference Review

Suffolk Law Marketing ConferenceJohn McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Hi, I’m John McDougall. I’m here today with three other Johns that work here at McDougall Interactive, and we’re going to be discussing our recent trip to the 2014 Suffolk Law School Legal Marketing Conference. If you’re wondering if we really have four Johns that are all legal marketing experts, the answer is yes, it’s true.

We’d all like to share our knowledge, and so we welcome comments, and questions. John Cass, let me start with you. What are a couple of takeaways that you found helpful from the conference?

John CassJohn Cass:  The big thing for me John was the state of the industry. A number of people at the conference were talking about the over-abundance of students in the industry, and what effect that has in terms of the ability for companies to market themselves. They’ve got to work harder.

One interesting fact that was from the conference was that in 2010, the largest number of students applied for college, whereas in 2013 we’ve some changes since 2010. The smallest group of students applied for law school since 1975, so it just shows…

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Whoa.

John CassJohn Cass:  Yeah. It’s amazing, isn’t it, the dramatic changes that have happened? What it means is that the profession’s changing, and the profession has to really think about how to market themselves successfully, and that’s what this conference was all about. The event really provided attorneys with ways to think about how to successfully market themselves online, and the importance of that.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  What other takeaways did you have?

John CassJohn Cass:  I attended one of the sessions, which was hosted by David Morris and Brian Payea from TripAdvisor. That was all about how to set up a site review management response. Basically what that meant was TripAdvisor’s all about hotels, but there are other review sites like Avvo out there for attorneys.

David and Brian were giving tips on how to go through the process of managing reviews. Specifically, they also said for attorneys, the engagement of an attorney is really unique, so they’re obviously going to have fewer reviews. It’s much more important for an attorney to give a response, and how you reply to a review really affects both the response of the person that you’re replying to, and then also how the audience is looking at that response that you give.

For reviews for attendees though, they’re a little bit more complicated than hotels. It’s really important according to the team there to give an actual response.

John MaherJohn Maher:  This is John Maher, and I was at that session as well. One of the stats that they mentioned was that 80 percent of users say that a good response from management improves their attitude toward the site.

As you said, it wasn’t just talking about law firms necessarily, but what that says is that even with a negative review posted on one of these review sites, the firm or the company can negate that to some extent by having a good positive response to that negative review.

That, in fact, helps people to feel better about working with the company and saying, “OK. You’re not always going to get positive reviews. You’re going to get some negative reviews from your customers or your clients.” The way that the company or the firm handles that negative review, in response to that, can really improve the way that you look in the eyes of the users.

John CassJohn Cass:  Yeah. It’s just not the response to the individual user, but also the audience in general.

John MaherJohn Maher:  Right.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  Jon Cahill here. My general observation of the conference was there were a lot of solo practitioners in the room, and soliciting online reviews seemed to be a tactic that was within everyone’s reach.

It was suggested that online reviews are the new word‑of‑mouth. If you can ask your clients, especially if you got a very favorable result, or verdict, or settlement for them, ask your clients, “Can you please give me a review on Google local, Avvo, Yelp?”

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yelp, you can’t. Yelp is the one where technically they have a very strict policy, where you can’t ask for reviews.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  I have it down as an important review site.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  I was just with Yelp the other day at the Mass Restaurant Association Conference. They gave the same feedback that you guys were just talking about. If there’s a negative review, respond to it, and that response is going to make you look great.

But Yelp, the guy from Yelp, the Marketing Director of the Boston Yelp location, said, “We basically treat it as spam if you go and get your own reviews.” Anyway, that is all true, except on Yelp, which I think is a bit crazy.

Google, when they were at our office the other day via video streaming, they were saying, “Yeah. Encourage people to get reviews.”

John MaherJohn Maher:  What’s the difference really between saying, “Hey! By the way, did you know we have a Yelp page,” and saying like, “Hey! Would you mind reviewing us?”

I think that where the problem comes in is when you’re saying, “Hey! Could you go give us a positive review on Yelp?” or only approaching the customers who you know who have had a good experience and saying, “Please give us a review on Yelp.”

If you’re doing it in a way where, say, at the bottom of your…and this is more for maybe a restaurant or a retail kind of company…but you could put it at the bottom of your sales receipt, “Check us out on Yelp.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yeah, that’s what he said.

John MaherJohn Maher:  Because you’re giving that to everybody, not necessarily just the people who you know like you.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  The guy from Yelp said, “Yeah. The way to do it is to encourage people to check us out on Yelp.” Anyway, I don’t want to get super negative, because I could easily go that way. Yelp is under investigation for fraud, for filtering negative reviews. There’s a whole issue there.

Jon Cahill is absolutely correct that for the small business, Google Plus and Avvo, you know great places to get reviews. I guess you’re supposed to cross your fingers and hope that people will do it.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  Also not just client reviews either. How about referring attorneys as well? There’s an opportunity if an attorney referred you business, and you did a great job on that referral, a good review from referring an attorney can make a lot of sense as well.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yeah. I think that’s great. That’s a good tip. John Maher, you had some takeaways. What were some of your things?

John MaherJohn Maher:  On the reviews idea, again this was actually from the analytics session that we had. The takeaway here was that if you’re going to spend some time on trying to get reviews, where do you get those reviews from?

Conrad Saam in the analytics session said that he would put 80 percent of his focus on getting Google local reviews, because the Google local reviews seem to affect your organic rankings in the search engines.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  The local listings, yeah.

John MaherJohn Maher:  The local listings in the organic ranks, a little bit more than some of the other ones. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean don’t pay any attention to Avvo, and Yelp, and Bing local, and those. He said that’s fine, but he would put 80 percent of his focus on getting Google, especially if you have limited time.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Because given that you really can’t go after Yelp, so then you’re kind of down to asking for Google reviews, Bing reviews, and Avvo. Avvo being legal specific. Was it Leigh, the woman from Avvo?

John MaherJohn Maher:  She was from Avvo, and she was in that conference. She agreed. She was like, “Well, yeah. Focus on the Google local, but Avvo is definitely still important.”

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  The one thing I thought was a good point on her behalf was that Avvo ranks well. Avvo is a massive website with a lot of great content. If I remember correctly, her point was that you get reviews there, and you go and answer questions.

I had interviewed Mark Britton, the Founder of Avvo, and one of his number one tips was, “Go on the Q&A section on our site, and answer customers’ questions.” Because that’s going to popup in the search results in Google, with Google Hummingbird, with natural search content.

It’s Barnacle SEO. You’re latching on to the fact that Avvo ranks. I think that was part of her point was that Avvo has the potential to…A little bit different than the Google reviews are going to help your site rank, but you could get rankings, you’re popping up, because of an Avvo page that is coming up.

John MaherJohn Maher:  My other takeaway, again from that analytics session was that law firms should be checking out their Google analytics traffic. Specifically, look at your Google analytics traffic over the last couple of years, say from 2011, or the beginning of 2012 until now, and see if your organic search traffic, your non‑paid traffic drops off on a particular date.

This would be really obvious as you’re looking at the graph. The graph is going along, and maybe it’s creeping a little bit up and to the right, and all of a sudden on a particular date, it’s just dropping off to half or a third of what your traffic was previous to that, and then continuing on like that for a while.

So that can be a really strong indication that you were hit by one of these Google algorithm updates. Panda, Penguin, they do different things and we can talk about that. But Panda was targeting content on your website, not light content that’s not good quality content, and then Penguin of course going after the bad links that you have to your site.

If you see this sharp drop‑off in your traffic and it correlates to one of these dates when Google has updated their algorithm, that can be a really strong indication that you have an issue, either with the content on your site or with the backlinks to your site that you need to address.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  There are places where you can see those release dates. The simplest one for Penguin is to think about April of 2012 when it launched, and then every six months after. So spring and fall, April, September, October. If you have sharp drops at those time frames, spring and fall basically, you are potentially affected by Penguin.

If you want to look at the real specific dates for Panda, et cetera, you can go on SEO Moz or Moz.

John MaherJohn Maher:  If you do a search for “List of Google algorithm updates”, I know that it pops right up.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yeah, good. And Jon Cahill, you had some things in regard to email marketing I think, right?

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  Yeah, email marketing still very effective tactic for attorneys as well. One of the big takeaways in that session was attorneys share their knowledge and that’s how they make a living. Some attorneys are proprietary about their knowledge, and rightfully so.

In the case of email marketing and certainly email marketing in general, the suggestion was give away the content that’s in your head. Give away your knowledge. Show people that you’re a thought leader in your space. Show potential clients that you’re knowledgeable and do that on a consistent basis.

That was interesting because it’s counterintuitive for a lot of attorneys to share their knowledge, where perhaps they’ve been trained to share their knowledge only when they’re getting paid by the hour. But again, from a marketing standpoint, especially with an email list which is private to a certain extent, it’s your list, it’s your email list that we’re talking about here, so share your knowledge with the people on your list. That was a big take away from that session.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  There was another from that Constant Contact session as well?

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  Yeah. The importance of video and pictures in your email. 50 percent of people read their email on their phone now, and engaging by watching a video or seeing an image just gets the information to the user a lot more efficiently than, for instance, a long written blog post with prose or a long email that has prose in it.

Use video. Use images in your email marketing to get greater engagement.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  That’s interesting because you have to be careful as well about load times and putting images and video in email because of the load time part of it. But it’s interesting that they made that observation, and Constant Contact is certainly a solid email marketing platform. So interesting to think about that. Anyone else have thoughts on that or email?

John CassJohn Cass:  It makes sense when everybody has a smartphone. It’s easier to watch and review a video compared to reading email.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  But it sounds like John was saying that they had indicated to put to embed the videos actually in the email, whereas going way back I remember when online video first started to be popular. We got all excited. I don’t know if you remember this, John Maher, but way back maybe 10 years ago when we were doing email marketing.

It was like, “Oh, how can we get a video embedded right in the email?” It was so exciting. It was like this big new thing. We were going to figure out how to make it nicely embed and be playable. But from my perspective, and maybe Constant Contact has some data that I’m not aware of, I would almost just assume in the body of the email.

You could put a picture or put a contextual link to a video and then just click and have it pop up so it’s loading separately from making the email download the video file or whatever. Just a thought. I’m assuming maybe they’re streaming it, using the embed code of YouTube.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  YouTube, yeah, I think that was the assumption that it was an embed YouTube code. That’s a pretty seamless experience.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  So in terms of my takeaways, I thought the conference overall was very similar to the legal marketing conference in Orlando recently, the national LMA conference, where it was largely about content marketing and SEO, blogging, et cetera and very little talk about paid search.

This one did have some paid search. Conrad Saam mentioned that it’s a good idea to have even $300 bucks a month in Google AdWords running and maybe, say, $100 in Bing just to hit all those long‑tail keywords in paid search. But it was good to see because, for the most part this conference, really focused around the changes in the law, as John Cass said, and they mentioned some books like “The End of Lawyers” and “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” by Susskind.

But overall, again, about content marketing, social media and probably more so around SEO; Conrad mentioned that he was concerned for small law firms and solo practitioners because Internet marketing is now so complicated. You have to have all your ducks in a row. You’re going to need to be doing link building, SEO, social media, analytics as John Maher was talking about, blogging. There are just so many moving parts, and email marketing.

To do that all right and have quick response times, unfortunately it is rather complicated and that can favor the mid to larger firms rather than the smaller ones.

John MaherJohn Maher:  Complicated if you’re going to do it yourself and expensive if you’re going to hire an agency to do it.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Right. So for the solo practitioners where SEO used to be, there were so few bigger. The larger companies weren’t really hip to it yet, so you could just whip up some keyword research, do some title and meta tags and make a few pages and you would rank well. That was amazing. I kind of miss those days, ranking number three in Google for golf clubs with, I don’t know, within the first year of working with one of our clients, Rock Bottom Golf, and number six for mesothelioma law firms.

We’ve had some great results.

Now, ranking for those head terms is so difficult. FindLaw had a great stat. They said that 1.3 percent of their clients ‑‑ 10,000 clients that they surveyed ‑‑ are getting significant traffic from head terms, meaning “personal injury lawyer,” something like that. Maybe three percent of the conversions are coming from head terms.

A lot of our clients, and a lot of people in SEO are saying, “Oh, I have to be number one for personal injury lawyer.” A, that’s going to be really hard to do. We don’t give up on that. We like the idea of ranking for really tough things. We love the challenge.

But given that long tail, meaning, “How do I find a good personal injury lawyer for dog bite law?” or whatever it may be. A longer tailed search term, or even natural search, such as how you might say that to Siri or voice recognition on your mobile phone. All of that is an important part of it now.

In terms of being able to rank, organically, the other thing Conrad said is link building. He would put 40 to 60 percent of his budget, of his clients, into link building. We’re not seeing a lot of clients doing that. To rank, organically, for head terms, without doing much link building is probably not going to happen.

Small firms that aren’t blogging regularly, with a lot of content and doing much link building, really you have to focus on the long tail. It’s good to focus a lot on the long tail for any size firm, but certainly maybe one piece of good news would be for the solo and small firm law firms would be to really get good at long‑tail marketing. Don’t over‑obsess about, “Do I rank for personal injury lawyer?”

Any thoughts, guys, on that situation?

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  A natural extension of that observation is that, if you’re a small law firm or solo practitioner, saying that you practice equally in 17 different practice areas, from an online marketing standpoint, is not practical.

We’ve been telling our clients this for some time now. You have to pick your battles, when it comes to marketing the practice areas that either you’re very good at, or are the most profitable for you. You need to pick your battles here.

This didn’t actually come up at the conference, but I just thought of it when you said that. Again, especially for the small firms and solo practitioners, trying to do Web marketing around 17 to 20 practice areas…We’ve seen this. We’ve seen websites that try to do this. It’s virtually impossible

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  I don’t think it means you have to take every other practice area off of your site, but it does mean that you should put a greater emphasis, at least in my opinion, in picking your shots, like Jon Cahill said, and really develop thought leadership around a particular topic.

It did come up at the very end, in the tips and panel session. I forget the gentleman that said it. I think it was Adam Camras, the CEO and founder of Legal Talk Network. He had talked about thought leadership and writing a book. We’re big proponents of law firms writing books on niche topics.

We helped a mesothelioma firm write a book on “The Family Guide to Mesothelioma Lawsuits.” They did other things, as well, but having that niche blog and book around that topic can really help.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  I don’t think we’re saying turn away cases that are in practice areas that you might not be marketing strongly. That’s not what we’re suggesting. What we’re suggesting is, with limited resources, don’t try to market all of the practice areas that you may be capable of handling.

Devote resources in a strategic way to those areas that make sense for you, either because you’re an expert in them or a thought leader, or because they’re very profitable. There could be a number of business reasons that factor in your decision‑making.

John MaherJohn Maher:  I think that also plays into…the latest Google algorithm update is Panda 4.0, and it seems to favor sites that really have a lot of good quality content on their sites, that are devoted toward one particular topic. By having a lot of different articles on your site, or blog posts or pages, about a particular topic, you’re showing your thought leadership. It’s those sites that seem to be doing well with the new Panda update.

Like Jon Cahill said, if you have a practice that has 17 different practice areas on it, and you’re blogging every other day, even, which would be great if law firms would blog that much or even more. If you do a blog post every couple of days on a different practice area, trying to hit all of your practice areas, you’re only going to have one a month on a particular topic. That’s just not going to cut it.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Thematically, you’re spreading it too thin. Google’s looking at the keyword density of your site, as a whole not just a page. What is the theme of this website? If you really do want to have multiple practice areas, where you’re maybe a midsize firm, there would be a more advanced SEO technique called siloing.

You could take a personal injury category or a family law category, or a criminal defense category, and you could make defense, or /family law. Within each folder, you would make a lot of additional subpages to create a deep bucket of content around that, and then write blog posts around those topics and link up into the main/family law, for example, services, practice area, page.

That said, you might have a smaller site that’s just family law that’s, as John Maher was saying, hyper‑focused on that one topic. Even with those advanced SEO techniques, they might beat you, or at least be ranked top 10.

Google sees that Lee Rosen, for example, someone that was mentioned at the conference, who does an incredible job with a divorce law radio show, and has all kinds of podcasts and content about just divorce law.

That type of person, Google is looking for, they’re trying to vet if he’s a legitimate author around that topic, and they like to make those sites pop up, rather than the people that are trying to be all things to all people.

That was one thing that came up, where Gyi Tsakalakis, I’m not sure how to say his last name, [laughs] but he was excellent. He’s from AttorneySync, if I remember correctly. He talked about trends, where Google is headed.

That got a little bit of a debate going around the panel, around Google authorship, and the search engines and social media sites trying to really figure out who’s a real authority, who’s a thought leader, versus people just gaming it or black‑hatting their way to the top. I personally think, in conclusion, that moving forward it’s going to be harder.

You have to have your ducks in a row. You have to be more of an author, with legitimate content. John Cass talks a lot about, in social, the same thing. Not just pumping out thought leadership content, like links to content, but what about engaging people? How can you engage people as a thought leader, if you’re farming that off to some subcontractor?

John CassJohn Cass:  It’s impossible, John. I don’t think you can. It’s about building relationships with people, just as people build relationships with people in the offline world, you can do that in the online world. But to do that, it has to be a sustained effort.

It’s not just about creating content, and then sharing it, but actually reaching out to people, answering questions, sharing their content and actually having an interest in their content and building a relationship over time.

It might be creating a piece of content that gets quotes from other people in the community, as a result of that. It’s sometimes difficult to do that with attorneys, but there are ways that you can do it. You can look for the right content that’s going to work.

Engagement strategy really requires an engagement calendar, if you will. In the same way that you create a content calendar, you can create an engagement calendar. What’s interesting about all this is that it really speaks to having individuals in those attorney firms, where they’re creating their own thought leadership, or are creating their own brand, and creating a bunch of content that’s really on one topic.

Don’t fear to do that. If you find one or two people in the company who are really prolific, encourage them. Give them the tools and support to create all of that great content.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  I’m going to end with one close thought that this just inspired. We’ve been talking a lot about small firms and solo practitioners, and how they can get a leg up. Maybe engagement is that leg up that they still could stand a chance to be a bit of a David and Goliath scenario.

It’s going to not really be easy, but if I were a small firm back in 1997, say, I could tell a small firm, “Just write a bunch of new pages for each practice area, and pop up some title tags that have good keywords on them.” That’s not going to make you get anywhere these days. You need a lot more than that. You need deeper content, blogging, backlinks.

But, for the small firms, where we see a lot of even midsized firms not being able to sustain an engagement calendar, as John Cass pointed out, if you could, you might just convince Google, even, that you’re really someone.

Rather than doing a bunch of spammy techniques and just splattering out blobs of content like some people are doing, maybe think smarter, not harder, and start picking individual people who want to engage and getting them to re‑tweet you and doing podcasts with them, interviewing people.

That’s good engaging content and getting people to really start a conversation. If you can do that, you may not need a million blog posts. You may get ahead with a smaller effort.

John CassJohn Cass:  That’s a good point, John. It’s not just producing a lot of content, but how you produce that content, whether it’s social content, whether it’s content that works for the wider community. I’ve had many circumstances where I found good writers, but they don’t always know how to write the content in such a way that it’s social content and it’s going to get picked up.

Whether it’s writing content that is going to be of interest within the community because it’s based on some keyword research, because that’s actually what people are searching on, both within the search engines and the social channels. Or including content from other members of the community, whether that is fellow attorneys, or other thought leaders in the industry.

You’re much more likely to get it picked up if you share content that’s going to be more valuable, and then shared by those contributors.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  I can give you an example that came, a specific example on this, which is a great one I think, is Tom Goldstein’s blog on the Supreme Court.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  I was just thinking that.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  That was a really good one. His firm does happen to litigate cases in front of the Supreme Court.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  You’re talking about SCOTUSblog. It’s SCOTUS and Tom Goldstein.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  Yes, his firm does litigate cases in front of the Supreme Court, but his blog is…He’s really a journalist in that blog. He’s covering the Supreme Court in a more general way, and it’s been hugely successful. I think you’re right, John.

A way to maybe get a leg up for a smaller firm, or solo practitioner, is to think a little bit outside of the box when they’re creating their content, and show that you’re an expert in an area that, yes, is related to your practice, but it doesn’t have to be directly related all the time. That was the big takeaway on that.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  You just need to pick some really interesting topic, and just be the person for that. You are the lawyer on SCOTUSblog, that’s…

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be a big topic like the Supreme Court necessarily, but it can be…

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  If you nail it on one topic, people will take notice.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  The theme here is niche.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Where Google is heading is not “Oh, we want to find the people with ‘size matters’, the biggest website.” A lot of content’s important, but even more engaging content that you connect with other actual people.

This was a great conversation. Glad you could join us, and we look forward to the next one soon. Signing off with the four Johns from McDougall Interactive.

Jon CahillJon Cahill:  Thank you, John.

John MaherJohn Maher:  Thanks, John

John CassJohn Cass:  Thanks, John.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  No problem, Johns.

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