Liz Boehm on Personal Branding And Thought Leadership For Law Firms

Benesch Law Firm internet marketing

John McDougall interview photoBenesch Law Firm internet marketingJohn McDougall:  Hi. I’m John McDougall. I’m here today with Liz Boehm, the Senior Marketing and Business Development Manager at Benesch. And so Liz, today we’re going to be talking about “Influence and Thought Leadership for Law Firms and Their Websites.” How important is it that an attorney is an authority in their main practice area versus trying to be good at too many different areas of law?

Focusing Your Practice

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Hi! And thanks for having me today. I would say that it’s important. At least, we tell our attorneys here at Benesch that it’s important that you really think about focusing your practice in a niche area.

So, thinking about, “What is it about your practice that makes you unique and that sets you apart? And what is the reason that people are really going to pick up the phone and call you as opposed to calling any other attorney?”

So, if you are a litigation attorney there are obviously, many of them out there. But if you’re a litigation attorney, who focuses in transportation law, and maybe even more specifically, and maritime law, or some niche area of that, it really does help to set you apart.

And aside from setting you apart, it also — personally, I think helps you enjoy what you’re doing a little bit more because you can hone it on that area of law that you practice, that you really get the most enjoyment out of, where you really enjoy working with that type of client, and doing that type of work.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. That’s good advice. I like how you said to basically, niche it down to say, transportation law, but don’t stop there if you can niche it down one more level deep.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Yes. And again, here at our firm, for example, we do have a transportation group. But then, within that group, all the attorneys have different facets of that industry that they specialize in. And so, when they’re working with clients, they help us as a firm to identify who is the best person to hook up with this potential client, based on them having that really, finely tuned area of focus.

Do people hire individual attorneys or firms based on brand?

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. So, 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?

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  So, this is a question that I’ve heard a lot. My thoughts on whether or not people are hiring individual attorney versus hiring a firm is that I think out in many cases, clients are hiring the attorney. But I think, and most all cases, the firm behind that attorney is important to the decision of their client is making to hiring that person. So they maybe hiring an attorney based on that person’s reputation.

Maybe they’ve heard about a specific deal that the attorney has completed. Maybe they’ve gotten a referral to that specific attorney. But I think having a really strong brand of the firm as a whole behind that person could ultimately be the factor that will sway the potential client to go ahead and hire that person or not.

So I do think it’s important to have your personal brand, but to have that strong brand behind the individuals is also equally as important. And then, considering bios of the attorneys, I think it goes the same way.

I think it’s important for them to have a really strong bio on a website that shows all of their credentials and specifically good experience and all of that. And at the same time then, to have the pages throughout the website that just reinforce the fact that this person is not only excellent and in/of him or herself. But they also have a great team behind them.

They have a firm who has a good reputation, with good values, and all of that. So, I think that it is the individual that can bring the client in and get them interested. And then, the firm behind the attorney that can just help seal the deal.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. I like how you phrased that. There’s an eBook I read recently called “Visible Experts.” It talks about the concept of the halo effect. So when there’s a personal brand and whether it’s a law firm or other professional services firm, when an individual has a good, solid, personal brand, and essentially a halo is created around them. It rubs off on the main brand. So, yes, both are important. They play on each other and strengthen each other.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Yes. That does make sense. Just another thing I would add is that here at Benesch, we really focus a lot on doing work for our clients as a team. And so, we’re always trying to look at our clients, especially some of the bigger ones, the more institutional type clients.

And say, “How can we expand this relationship? Who else at the firm could we put in front of them to help what that client know that we can do more for them?” And so, I think that does go back to the relationship they have started with one attorney initially.

But then, it’s important to have that whole firm relationship behind them, whereas, the client may have hired us because of one person at the beginning. But going forward now, they could have relationship with 12 people at the firm. And so, now, it’s not just a one-on-one relationship, but a team relationship with that client.

How can you tell if a firm is credible from their website?

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Okay, good. When you first look at an attorney website, how do you know if they or their firm are credible and can be trusted?

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Probably, one of the main things that you can look for is solid examples of representative work that they’ve done. And I hear that again and again from my colleagues at other firms too. It’s always an obstacle to keep up with all of those good examples of work that our attorneys have done.

But I think it’s so important to have that information on current solid examples of things that the attorneys have done up on the website because I’ve heard from the people that we work with on our website and others in the industry that, that’s one of the first things that clients or prospective clients will look up when they’re browsing through your website is who have they done work for, have they done work for companies like me, have they done work in an industry like mine. That’s how we’re making ourselves credible to our prospective clients out there.

And they’ve always talked of — do thing, like chambers and bus lawyers, and all of those rankings that are out there. Do those make us more credible as a law firm? Do those honors make our individual attorneys more credible and more –? I guess [laughs] — I don’t know what the word I’m looking for.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  More trusted [laughs], yes.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  People who are looking at our website. I don’t think that it hurts obviously to have those things. But I don’t think that that’s necessarily your one thing that’s really going to make or break you as far as credibility goes.

I really think it’s more about studying the tone for who your firm is, that you’re talking about your values, talking about your leadership and the people there and all that, and then also, having those solid examples of the things that you’ve done.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. I would agree. I study what we call, “Conversion Rate Optimization.” There’s a guy, Flint McGlaughlin from MECLABS and MarketingSherpa. He talks a lot about specificity. So, when you make the headlines and the bullet points for your website, try and avoid vague things, like “We’re an excellent law firm” [chuckles] and “A law firm that’s different.”

There are so many statements that attorneys make and website’s make in general that are vague and not really expressing a value proposition and not very influential. So those are good points that you’re making. It goes along with that line of thinking of specificity and drilling into relevant experience that you have and whether it’s vertex and settlements or business situations that you’ve done that have been successful to make you extremely relevant to particular people.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Right. Yes, absolutely. You feel you’re thinking of your website content in terms of keywords. And not only it’s good for search engine optimization, but just in general, for your content. I would start to look at our website and think, “Do we say in the first paragraphs on this page everything that we would want the person to see,” if they only look at the page for 20 seconds. So, we try to make sure that we have those distinguishing words in there and catch their eyes with the content that’s right at the top of the page.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. Good combination of keywords, but with those value propositions and specificity —

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Yes, exactly.

How important is Google for attorneys?

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:   — as opposed to one or the other because it’s easy to fall into the trap of overdoing it for the search engines. And then, the user comes and it just says personal injury law firm MA or Boston, so pretty lacking in influence. What about Google, in general? How important is Google for attorneys? How much influence is there if you’re at the top of the searches, et cetera?

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  I do think it’s important. I sometimes feel that maybe it’s perceived as being even more important than it is to come up with potential attorney. So, we’ve always gotten questions from our attorneys as far as why aren’t we number one, and Labor and Employment Law in Columbus, or some specific type of law in whatever city, and that kind of thing.

I do think it’s important obviously to be up there in the search rankings, but I don’t think it’s always everything. And just like with anything else, with content marketing, we see that we have much more success in the Google search ranking when we go about doing things very specifically.

So, if we really do a big push around like for example, recently we got a content marketing piece on union organizing, and NLRB advancement, and various topics related to unions. And so, we were sending out all of these client alerts on that topic. And we had a lot of things on our website related to that.

And so, we saw our search results specific to that topic go up. And so, I think the way that we go about it is if we want to have really good search results related to specific practice area or specific topic, then we just really try to put out a lot of content related to that. And generally, that will help us get up there.

So, we’ve been finding influence about the content that is I’d permanently, I guess, housed on our website, such as the practice group narratives and more about those alerts and goal tends and social media posts and that kind of thing that help us get up there in the search engine results.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. That makes a lot of sense given some of the recent changes or reemphasizing that Google is doing around what we call “supplemental content.” So, it’s good to have a practice area page, of course, not just a page for each — that lists all of the practice areas, but the page for each practice area.

But to go beyond that, you want to have blog post and/or different pieces of content, like you mentioned, that then link up to that main practice area page hopefully to also help rank that, not just the supplemental content.

But all of that is good in the long tail, those various ways that people search, not just for Labor and Employment Lawyer Columbus, but “How do I do XYZ,” or like you said, something about union organizing and XYZ.

Those longer tail key phrases make up for a huge amount of the Internet. There are six billion searches a day done in Google. There are certainly a pretty, healthy amount of searches for things, like labor lawyer, and unemployment lawyer, or mesothelioma lawyer.

But if you just focus on those, you’d be pretty boring [chuckles] actually.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Right.

Attorneys and Content Marketing

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  There’s a lot of attorneys that do that. They just have their practice area page. They slap up those main keywords on the top of the page and think that they’re done. But I think your point is excellent that additional content and having the main keywords there is important. It’s a prerequisite to ranking. But then, some people just get so tied up in just the heading tags of an employment lawyer, Boston or whatever, that they don’t really appreciate how much people are really struggling with issues. If you can answer those issues with content marketing, you’ll have better success. So, you’ve been doing a lot of that?

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Yes.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Or some of that?

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Yes. And just to add one more thing on the point of the Google search, another thing that we try to remind our attorneys of is that most of our clients are not calling us. We’re not getting clients because they’re finding us on Google necessarily. We get most of our work through referrals and through clients, who are recommending us to other business owners they know and that kind of thing.

So, although it would be nice if we were coming up as the top three law firms in Cleveland and coming up at the top of every Google search and what not, it’s not necessarily directly impacting the amount of new work we’re getting in the door, if that makes sense.

So, we try to just keep in mind that a lot of what we’re doing through content marketing and through our website is more of reinforcing the fact that we have knowledge in this particular area as in reinforcing our attorney’s thought leadership and that thing, and building the brand behind them for clients that they’re already working with, or people that they already know in that community.

So, I guess, we found that content marketing, in that way, has done more for us as far as getting us out there in the electronic world than focusing so much on our search engine results.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Right. So, if someone comes to you because it was a referral, then your website and you’re having a blog and active content, even if it’s not from a direct Google search, but someone directly typed in your domain name because they heard about you through a referral, you want that content marketing to backup your thought leadership. So, yes, I commend you on that because some people are unsure whether, “Oh, I don’t really want to do it because I don’t really need –” A lot of B2B attorneys will say, “We don’t really need Google as much.”

But yes, it’s not just about that. If you get some extra Google energy as a B2B firm, then great. But if you did it only for that, you might not do it. But because it’s so powerful in terms of influence, there are two good reasons to do it.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Yes, absolutely.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. And so, are you aware that Google and various social media sites, like Klout have patented algorithms to determine if someone is a trusted author and influential person?

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Yes. I have heard about that. I’m not overly familiar with the topic. But it’s very interesting, for sure.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. So, Google recently killed its Google+ authorship program. So, they used to have this mechanism, where originally, your face would show up in the search results, if you plugged in — you made a personal profile, Google+ personal profile for each attorney. You link that over to your blog, and your website, and show Google that “Oh, look. I’m a trusted author. I am affiliated with this website and company.”

They’ve since killed that, but they started with one of their patents in 2005. They applied for something relating to what they call “agent rank.” An agent rank is about scoring authors. And so, Google has a history through various patents and in the authorship program. And now, I believe it’s more invisible behind the scenes. But they have these mechanisms to judge who the people writing your content marketing and blog and website are.

So, to value them and to try and figure out if they should be valued above the next law firm. So, it’s just interesting for me to hear how much people are aware of that when they’re doing their content marketing. You’re doing it to build your thought leadership. You’re not necessarily aware of those things behind the scenes, but it’s probably comforting to know that Google will love you for that essentially they’re —

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  No, that’s very comforting to know and very interesting.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. With six billion searches a day, and so many people trying to fake it to gain their way to the top, they need to figure out who the real people are, apart from the scammers and fakers. There’s certainly a lot of law firm websites out there that are just put up by people that get leads and then sell it to law firms. So, they need these systems. Have you heard about Klout?

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Again, I’ve heard of it, and I personally have not had much experience with it.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Yes. I’m not a huge follower of Klout. Basically, it determines if you’re influential in social media – LinkedIn and Twitter and Google+ and Four Square and LinkedIn, and how much activity you’re doing, and how much you’re engaging with other people, and having conversations, et cetera. But I think it probably can be gamed a little too much. But you might be able to, for example, buy likes or tweets on Fiverr for 5 bucks. And then, your Klout score might go way up.

So, I’m still researching that one, but that seems to be a potential flaw in it. But in the background, there are these companies like Google and Facebook and Klout. They’re all trying to figure out who the real thought leaders are.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Yes.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  All right, good. So, what’s your firm website, the web address?

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Our web address is www.benesch, B-E-N-E-S-C-H,

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  Okay, great. So, we’re going to end this first part. And then, we’ll come back in a minute and do part 2.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  That’s great. Thank you.

John McDougall interview photoJohn McDougall:  All right, good talking to you.

Liz Boehm Benesch LawLiz Boehm:  Thank you.

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