John McDougall: Hi, this is John McDougall, and I’m here today with Kimberly Hafley, direct of marketing, and recruiting at Foster, Swift, Collins, and Smith PC, and we’re talking about influence, and thought leadership for law firms, and their websites. Hello Kimberly.
Kimberly Hafley: Hello.
John: Hi Kimberly, how are you?
Kimberly: Good, how are you doing today?
John: Good, nice to meet you.
Kimberly: Nice to meet you as well.
John: OK, great. How long have you been the director of marketing, and recruitment at Foster, Swift, Collins, and Smith?
Kimberly: A little over four years.
John: OK, great. We appreciate you taking the time to come on today.
Kimberly: Well, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
John: Excellent. We’re going to be talking about thought leadership for law firms, and law firm websites. How important is it that an attorney is an authority in their main practice area, versus trying to be good at too many areas of law, in your opinion?
Kimberly: I think it depends. I’m sounding like an attorney here. It really depends on who the target audience is. For example, if you are a small law firm in a smaller town, by nature you’re probably going to wear more hats in multiple practice areas than if you are an attorney in a larger firm in a larger municipality.
For a firm like ours ‑‑ we’re about a 95 attorney firm, and we have a statewide footprint ‑‑ most of our attorneys’ practice areas are limited to three or four closely related areas.
John: That makes sense. Do people generally hire based on a law firm’s brand or individual attorneys? How much influence do attorneys of substance in their website bio pages have on hiring decisions?
Kimberly: Again, I think it depends on the marketplace and the nature of the legal problem at hand. For example, I think that, first and foremost, no matter how wonderful a law firm’s web page is, or an individual attorney’s bio page is, and how closely it matches up to their LinkedIn page and maybe some other social media types.
The bottom line is that if somebody knows an attorney, or has a personal relationship or knows somebody that’s making that referral, that still has a tremendous impact.
I think the thing that’s really different, and what I’ve seen change over the couple decades I’ve been involved in law firm marketing, and with the advent of the law firm website, is that how important it is changes.
People like to still ‑‑ even if they get that personal referral ‑‑ they like to go online.
They like to look at that attorney’s bio. They like to know what type of experience. They get a certain level of comfort in going out there and checking out what it is that that attorney does. What their history is.
I think there’s so much more information out there for purchasers of legal services to look out there and really try and make a better, more informed hiring decision. At the end of the day, if there is a personal referral of someone that you trust, that will still trump the website.
John: That’s interesting. Good insights. Certainly, the website has become more important over the years. It sounds like you’ve been doing legal marketing for a long time, with a lot of background, right?
Kimberly: Yeah. I find it humorous. I remember in the mid‑’90s, I was one of the first law firm marketing directors in our area that launched a website. A couple of my partners at the time thought that was the worst investment in time and money, that this web thing was never going anywhere. When I see them on the sidewalk at lunch, I continue to tease them about that.
John: That’s awesome. I sometimes tell a story how in ’95, when I switched from media planning to Internet marketing, my father’s ad agency was the sixth largest agency in New England, McDougall Associates. I was out on the road with a laptop, doing sales pitches about websites.
I would dial in with AOL, and a modem, and a phone jack. People thought it was totally crazy. One guy said, “You look like the latest snakeskin oil salesman, and this Internet thing is not going anywhere. Get out of here.”
A couple of people just thought it was too much. Too goofy. Literally, when you said that, it reminded me of the guy that told me, “This Internet thing is not going anywhere, kid.” [laughs]
Kimberly: I think a good case in point is that my first year here ‑‑ like everybody else, we’re trying to track statistics ‑‑ we were able to show that we had four new clients that came to us as a result of a Google search.
In the first four months here, just four years later, so if we look our stats from January to the end of April, we’ve had over 120 this year.
John: 120 leads?
Kimberly: No, those are new clients.
John: Wow. 120 new clients from the web, from Internet leads.
Kimberly: When we ask the clients to fill out the new client setup form that are marking “How did this client first hear of you?” they’re marking “Internet, web search, Google.”
John: That’s amazing. What a difference. Four leads in the first year, four years ago. Now, just in four months, 120 new clients. That’s amazing. Good job.
Kimberly: It does matter.
John: Internet is very powerful. Just to get a little off‑topic of our questions, a lot of people say, “We don’t really get our business from the Internet, as a law firm. We mostly get it from referrals.” I often have to say, “It may be because you’re not doing Internet marketing, really.”
I think you’re a really good case in point in that, whereas the first year, you weren’t super‑focused on Internet marketing, but now that you are, 120 clients, not leads. That’s fantastic.
Kimberly: I think the other thing, and it goes with your name, as well, interactive. The Internet is a very important marketing tool, but like I tried to tell our attorneys, it is one tool. You have to make sure that all your other tools are sharpened and working in sync, too.
If all you focus on is Internet marketing, and you don’t have all the other tools lined up, ready to provide excellent service to your clients, you’re just going to get them in the door, and they’re going to leave just as fast as they come in.
You have to have the whole program, client service, processes, everything in place. Even though the Internet is a great tool for recruiting clients, unless you deliver that outstanding service, unless you have those other components in place, ultimately, word will get out there.
There are so many websites. You have Avvo and all these other things now, where clients can write reviews. Martindale, Bessler’s. Just as important as the law firm website is, you have to manage your presence in other forms.
You have to make sure that you’re still delivering great legal advice and good client service so that you keep those clients, and so that when people ask them about you, they have good things to say.
John: Absolutely. My book is titled “Web Marketing on All Cylinders.” That’s because I’m a huge believer in strategy, and figuring out how all the tactics go together. That includes, if you’re doing Internet marketing, tying it to your larger marketing strategy and, really, your business goals, is what I think I hear you saying.
Where you’re headed as a company, as a brand. How you treat your clients. It’s all part of the big picture. When you first look at an attorney website, how do you know if their firm are credible and can be trusted? Any cues when you first go to a client’s website, you think? Or when a client goes to your firm?
Kimberly: Being involved in marketing for years, I’m probably a little biased on that point. I’m always looking for something that loads very quickly, that’s clean, that’s professional.
If I’m looking as a client, is it easy for me to find what I’m looking for? For example, where is the search box? How easy is it to find the search box? How easy is it to find professionals?
I look for a few things like that, but again, I think some of that’s going to depend on…It’s easy for me to say that as a marketing director, but I think one of the things a marketing director has to do, when they’re looking at their website, is look at their target audience.
What are going to be the primary goals of their target audience? What are they going to be looking for? What’s going to be of most importance to them? You have to make sure that, as they enter the site, from whatever point, that those are the things that are first conveyed.
As we all know, there are a lot of options out there, and when you look at your bounce rates, you can quickly see “Are you accomplishing that goal? Are they sticking around? Are they going deeper into other pages?”
John: That’s a great point about bounce rates and using either Google Analytics or HubSpot or different tools to really see, “Do people trust you enough to dig deeper?” An excellent point.
What are a few of the most important thought‑leadership activities for attorneys, such as blogging, PR, being an authority, bio pages, client alerts, newsletters, and or social media, et cetera?
Kimberly: It, again, depends a little bit on the practice and the market. There are a few things that are becoming pretty mandatory. One of those is LinkedIn. Attorneys need to have a LinkedIn profile.
It needs to complement their individual bio page on their website. It should not be a cut‑and‑paste copy job. It does need to have some correlation.
I think their LinkedIn page is an opportunity to show a little more personality. When people go to an attorney’s website, they want to see a level of professionalism. Some of the personal interests, the opinions, are probably not quite as appropriate. Those are appropriate in a LinkedIn bio.
What’s appropriate leadership activities for attorneys are going to vary, again, on a practice area. What a family law attorney needs to be doing is going to be a little different than a corporate attorney.
Hence, I think that you’re going see more public relations efforts being really appropriate in some of the corporate law areas, some of the litigation areas.
The other thing is client alerts and newsletters are becoming increasingly important. I think the other thing to remember there is they really need to be pertinent. To be publishing information that is just simply news that’s been repackaged isn’t going to be valuable to the end‑user unless you have something of value.
What are you providing them that they didn’t get from the news, or that they didn’t get from somebody else’s blog? What is that nugget that you’re giving them, so that when they see that email come in, or they have an opportunity to subscribe to your blog, they go, “He or she always has a worthwhile nugget, so I’m going to subscribe. Or I’m going to continue to get this email.”
Otherwise, it’s very easy. There are a lot of competing sources to get information, and if you’re just simply regurgitating the news, people, ultimately, will opt out of your email.
John: Absolutely. What about client alerts and newsletters versus blogs? Are those complementary? Is one more popular than the other?
Kimberly: It’s interesting. We have five blogs, and we have about seven client alerts and newsletters. We find that the blogs are helpful in introducing the firm to people in the industry that may not be aware of us. We find that client alerts are important in keeping our name in front of our clients.
It really depends on what the goals of the particular practice group are, who your current clients are, and who your prospective clients are. It’s like any other marketing strategy. You really need to look at “What’s the end goal?” And then, “How can I use these tools to help me get to that end goal?”
John: Absolutely. If a law firm comes up frequently in natural search results versus being paid ads, does that say something about their authority? How important is Google, in general, to attorneys?
Kimberly: [laughs] It’s interesting you ask that.
John: Writing at Google’s everything.
Kimberly: Google is important. Google is something that you certainly have to be aware of.
However, again, it’s an important tool in the toolbox, and you certainly don’t want to ignore it. But you could also spend 150 percent of your time trying to cater to always being number one on every single, potential organic search. That’s not going to do you a lot of good, either.
I think, between using your analytics, and looking at your goals, and looking at what other tools you need to use to accomplish those goals, many of those online tools you need to do a balancing act so that you, in your key areas you’re there and you maintain that presence.
But realizing that it is virtually impossible with an algorithm that changes on an average of once a month to always be at the top of the organic search everywhere. [laughs]
John: For your key practice areas, you’d like to think that if you’re really a thought leader in a certain area, that you’re popping up. You can’t control Google 100 percent. There’s no question.
Kimberly: You can’t. I’ll agree with that. I think in those areas, absolutely. You really do. You pick three or four areas, and you really focus on those. You pay attention to them every week. You’re very strategic in all of the tools that you’re using to do that.
You’re in your link‑back strategies, in your content management, and the presentation you offer in the webinars that you do and the videos that you maybe post on YouTube. All of that. You look at all of that, and how that’s going to come back around and help your Google ranking.
John: Absolutely. Are you aware that Google, with its authorship program and various social media sites like Clout.com have patented algorithms to determine if someone is a trusted author and influential person?
Kimberly: I have read a few things on that. I have to be candid. I have not had the opportunity to explore that as much as I would like. It’s certainly on my radar screen to spend some significant time over the next six weeks getting up to speed on that.
John: You’ve heard of Google Authorship or Author Rank, but just hasn’t been high on the radar.
John: That makes sense.
Kimberly: It’s high on the radar.
John: I haven’t been super‑active, following Clout, but is that something you’ve heard of, as well?
John: The reason we ask this question and we’re talking about it is because Google has to get better at ‑‑ and they are, significantly, after Penguin ‑‑ they have to figure out who the fakers are. The people just blogging for just to rank versus the real authorities. The same with social media.
Duane Forrester of Bing did a webinar and he showed, for Bing, when they look at the social activity, they can see if you bought your likes on Facebook, for example. Or you go to Fiver and buy likes and shares and followers, which people do, amazingly. Just totally gaming it.
The issue is for Bing, for Facebook, for Google, everyone’s trying to get…Those larger companies have to. It’s their business to be able to weed out the fakers from the people that are more serious. I think those are somewhat newer tools.
Certainly, Author Rank isn’t totally high on the list for everyone. It’s just interesting to survey what people are thinking. That was part one, and in just a second here, we’re going to move into part two. We’re going to be talking about…Just hang on one second.
Kimberly: Thank you.
John: Good, thank you.