Online Marketing and Thought Leadership with Philly LMA President Andrew Laver
Niche Focus Vs. General Focus
John McDougall: We’re talking today 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 areas of law in your opinion?
Andrew Laver: That’s a good question John. I think it’s important to have both actually. A lot of firms, especially larger firms, have multiple practice areas, and industries that they serve. At any time an attorney may be asked by a current client if their firm handles so‑and‑so type of work, at least know a little bit about what your firm does, and if you can handle a specific type of case, or a matter.
Does your employment group handle ERISA? Does your IP group handle generic pharmaceuticals? Even if you’re just a straight out litigator, or a healthcare attorney, knowing that information about your firm generally, and then just a little bit about the other practice areas you serve is always great because you always want to be cross selling not just yourself, but the capabilities of your firm. You can go to back origination and all those types of fees and everything that happens in the back rooms that no one really likes to talk about or think about. But knowing a little bit about a lot can get you really far.
John: Having a niche focus is really important, but don’t be so drilled down into your area that you’re a bit of a robot and not able to understand the different components.
Andrew: Exactly, if you stay within your silo, you’re never going to leave your silo.
Law Firm Brand Vs. Individual Attorneys
John: 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?
Andrew: A lot of information in that question there. Brand is important. You like to know what you’re hiring, what you’re paying for.
A lot of people are more comfortable buying a brand name cereal compared to a generic. Same thing for medication and cars, anything along those lines. Brand name, logo recognition, all of that prestige that may come along with it, carries some weight.
Is it true? Is it worth it? Is it overvalued? Possibly, but having that brand recognition is always great.
Where individual attorneys and their individual influence comes into play, to go back to your first question, it comes into play for referrals and cross‑selling, all that kind of stuff. A lot of smaller attorneys, may be solo practitioners, boutique firms, they’re going to work off a lot of name recognition of themselves, not their firms, per se.
Their industry experience, how recognizable the cases they have handled may have been which segues into the next part of your question, as far as website bio pages. I’m actually starting at a new firm next week, but I know that the firm that I was at prior, we had run metrics always in the back end of our website. One of the most visited pages, or the most visited pages of our website, wasn’t our diversity stats.
It wasn’t our pro bono. It wasn’t even our practice areas. It was our individual attorney pages.
Having that information about the attorneys you’re hiring or the group that you’re looking to do a certain type of work for is so important because the hiring decision will come into play to a degree, to the first part of the question where it comes in the name recognition of the firm, maybe the footprint of the firm, stuff like that.
But do they have the experience because at the end of the day, if they can’t handle your work, there’s no point in hiring them and paying the fees that may be associated with it? Having that information on your website, your individual attorney bios, I have handled these types of cases.
Maybe it’s important to see where they went to school. Maybe someone only wants to hire someone that went to a recognizable school or the own Alma Mater, or they read them in certain publications. It’s an industry specific publication that the attorney can be a thought leader in.
Again, using the IP example, such a niche area like generic pharmaceuticals, in the IP realm, maybe a lot of your IP attorneys write for a certain publication that a generic or a branded pharmaceutical company would recognize. All that information is going to appear on your bios.
If the website is searchable for a key term or if you can use the individual drill downs on the attorney pages, like you said, all that’s going to come into play. It’s better to have too much in that fence than not enough.
Optimizing Lawyer Bio Pages
John: I’m going to ask a mildly technical question because I heard you talking about analytics and that got me real interested. Have you seen anything or any attorney’s bio pages getting visited more than others?
Could you attribute basically if people have a really good bio page? When you look at analytics are there more visits to a particular page because of maybe a longer, better bio or, like you said, maybe putting certain keywords and experience in a bio page?
Andrew: To a degree, absolutely. It really depends on how they got there. If you go to the firm’s website and either types in an attorney’s name or specifically drills down to them from the “Our Attorneys” link, for example, that’s one way to get there.
But clicking from an outside publication, clicking from any variation, LinkedIn, for example, it’s the way they get to those pages. Those attorneys that have more experiences outside the four walls of their office, whether it be speaking publications, thought leaders in their own sense outside the firms, those are the ones that are going to get more clicks because, using that example of a generic pharmaceutical article, if you’re reading in that specific publication, especially electronically, and you see so‑and‑so attorney works for such‑and‑such firm, most times, it’s going to have a link that hyperlinks back to their bio or the firm’s web page.
A lot of the clicks come from outside. Or, even if they have a blog, whether it’s personally hosted or hosted through the firm’s platform along those lines, it’s not necessarily coming to the firm’s website and finding that attorney by chance or by keyword. It’s coming from the outside.
That’s the most interesting part. If you’re more active, in turn, you’re going to have a longer bio and then you’re out there more.
It’s your Google search. It’s how far to the top you rise. If you’re an active Twitterer and if you have a big LinkedIn profile, all those things come into play.
John: Those are great insights. Authors and thought leaders tend to do speaking engagements and be more active on social media and get more backlinks, I would agree.
Those are all great insights. It’s not just jacking up the bio page with keywords or something, or making it longer that’s going to help. It’s the actual work of influence by your activity in the world even, like speaking engagements and seminars, and things like that.
Really, really good insights and good to know that you look at that from an analytic level. Really insightful.
What makes an attorney website credible or trustworthy?
When you first look at an attorney website, how do you know if they or their firm are credible and can be trusted? Any typical things that should be cues to a potential customer?
Andrew: That is so hard because how can you legitimately trust anything that you do on the Web these days? Not even thinking about just privacy and safety of specific information, whether it be health information or credit information, but how do you know?
We were speaking about this earlier. A lot of the information that you’re going to get about a firm or an attorney is going to come from a referral source of some sort.
Using the LinkedIn example, does this person have a lot of connections? Do they have referrals? Do they have anything along those lines that makes them seem legitimate?
Is it a name you recognize, to go back to an earlier question? Do they have an active website? Has it been updated recently?
You can tell even as small on the bottom of the page by the trademark on it. If it says, “2009,” maybe no one’s touched it recently.
Do they have nothing new posted as far as new cases, new publications, thought leadership in a larger way where they seem like an active firm? Try the phone number. Does the phone number work?
A lot of this speaks more towards a smaller firm, a boutique, a solo practitioner. A lot of the larger firms, you’re going to recognize anyway and they’re going to have a team working on the back end, updating those things or, at least, they should.
I guess that’s one way to really know because there is no really good way to know if anything or anyone is legitimate these days.
John: It’s certainly a challenge to weed out the more credible and trusted people.
Andrew: Most attorney websites are not going to be like that prince in Africa who’s offering you a million dollars if you cash this check for him…
Andrew: …like some of the spam and phishing emails we get, but it is very similar along those lines.
Do outside law firm ranking sites add to credibility?
John: Very briefly on that note, what about the law firm rankings sites, Best Lawyers, and all these, Super Lawyers and things like that? Any trust in this? Does credibility pass through those, a small amount?
Andrew: They can have some credibility in that it’s a symbol or a logo or a shield you can put up on your website to give legitimacy. Chambers is probably your most recognizable, on our side of things at least, of the most legitimate.
Not to say that Super Lawyers or USA Top 1,000, number one best attorneys are not legitimate, but as far as the process to get ranked or recognized, their names, Chamber is probably the most intense and the most in depth of all those systems. To a degree, some of them, you can fill out a form and say, “Yes, I am super.”
They’re like, “You know what? You are super and we’re going to send you a cape and you’re going to be a “Super Lawyer” and you could put that on your bio after this embargo date.” To a degree, it’s legitimate.
Chambers is the most legitimate. I know a lot of firms, when we rank them as which ones do we chase after, which list, which survey do we spend our time answering? Chambers is probably the top of the list because a lot of that comes from client interviews, where the Chambers’ people will call your actual clients or references or referrals that you give them and ask certain questions.
That goes into their ranking system, compared to others, where a marketer, secretary, depending on where you are, an assistant can just fill out a form and you’re the person that’s on that list. Not much goes into it.
John: That sounds like Chambers has a more thoughtful way to…
John: More in depth…
Thought Leadership Activities for Attorneys
John: …really bringing the client into it. That sounds much more powerful. What are a few of the most important thought leadership activities for attorneys, such as blogging, public relations, being an author, bio pages, client alerts and newsletter and/or social media, et cetera?
Andrew: Yes, I think the answer, it’s all of the above really. To what we saying before, if you’re an author, if you blog, if you speak, if you write alerts, it’s getting yourself out there so the Google Analytics of things.
When you type in a certain type of law, a certain case name, a firm, whose going to rise to the top? The more active you are in doing those types of things and speaking or thinking about or writing about a certain topic, whether it’s a hot law, a congregational bill that’s been passed, something new with HIPAA that’s going to affect everybody, ObamaCare, anything along those lines, something that’s on the front of everyone’s mind that someone may search on.
Some person could type in ObamaCare and maybe the first three sites that pop up on Google may be an actual government‑based website that has to do with healthcare for everybody, but maybe number four is a firm that is sending out a lot of alerts and blog postings in reference to that topic.
Being a thought leader in that sense is very important. Like we said, it can go on to your website, social media, the Twitter stream. Depending on how many followers you have or how many people you’re following actually, someone tweets something, five minutes later, you’re 10 scrolls away from being seen on someone’s screen.
Either they’re sitting on Twitter all day or getting a notification that you have said something in 140 characters but, again, you’re out there. It’s all about branding yourself.
If you brand yourself by being that thought leader, speaking on these topics and trying to rise to the top of that Google search, they’re all very important.
John: I couldn’t agree more. Nicely put, basically. [laughs]
I like the, “Yes,” answer to all of those.
Andrew: Move on. Next question, yes.
How important is Google for attorneys?
John: That was great. If a law firm comes up frequently in natural search results versus ads, does that say something potentially about their authority? How important is Google in general to attorneys?
Andrew: Personally speaking, if I were to type in a website or a Web name or a keyword in Google. I know the first two or three things that pop up, especially because of the way they code them, are an ad.
I’m going to go straight to the website, two or three ticks down. If I typed in a hotel name, for example, I know the first two may be an ad. One that the hotel paid for directly or a third party travel site, but I’m going to go right to the hotel’s web page.
That might just be me. I don’t know how many firms actually pay to reach the top of that list, like you reference, but there are some analytics that are very important that Google has assigned to these searches.
Which firms spend tens of thousands of dollars on search engine optimization to figure out how they can rise to the top. It’s very important to many people.
Some don’t get it and that’s fine. It really depends on how you’re marketing yourself and how you think you could or would or want to be found on the Internet.
The ad question’s tough. Each jurisdiction, each state’s going to have different ethical issues along with those lines. As far as attorney advertising, I don’t personally know how that falls into line state‑by‑state.
If that’s something a firm was considering, they should probably investigate that with their local bar association. I don’t know how legit ads are compared to making sure that you would legitimately come up in a Google search.
Again, back to what we were saying, blogging, speaking, newsletters, alerts, et cetera, have it come up holistically. Make it seem like you’re not paying for yourself to come to the top.
Come to the top for a reason.
John: It’s more like a magazine where there are articles and there are ads in the magazines. Certainly, people generally, even if it’s subconscious, they know that the ads can be bought by anyone whereas, to some degree, the search results, people pay, of course, to get there.
But Google has some smarts to it, obviously, within reason. They’re not perfect.
Andrew: They’re doing something right. I’ve heard they’re doing something pretty good down there.
John: I think with the advent of Google Panda and Penguin. Panda being around relevant, unique content as opposed to copying everyone else’s content and having good engagement and usability.
The Penguin being, not just gaming it with fake backlinks, but having legitimate content, being a speaker, having good social profiles, as you were saying. That gets people to link to your bio page.
The more legitimate of a content plan that you have, the more likely you’re going to pop up naturally and people will notice that.
John: Are you aware that Google with its Authorship program and various social media sites, like klout.com, have patented algorithms to determine if someone is a trusted author and influential person?
Andrew: Not that I’m personally aware of. It sounds legit. That’s something that Google would do.
I guess, again, it falls into the whole trusted person, trusted site ad versus holistically rising to the top of the Google search. How necessary is it?
At that point, if you’re really skeptical of someone you’re trying to find on the Web or learn more about, maybe they’re not worth it.
John: A lot of people are still getting used to Google’s Authorship and Author Rank program and Klout has gone through some stages where, is it credible? Is it real?
But it has some nice new features and things. We’re curious what people think about it and law firms, in particular, I’d appreciate your thoughts on that.
Andrew: I know a lot of firms are trying to…they try to outsmart Google, try to make themselves rise to the top. I don’t know if that’s working.
Google quickly caught onto it.
John: Google and the various social media sites have to weed through the fakers and gamers and get to the actual thought leaders. It’s interesting that things like Author Rank and Klout and different algorithms and concepts of trying to weed out the fakers, it’s interesting to see how those are all developing.
Then while they’re developing and while a lot of them are new, who’s actually taking part in that? Google may develop something, but if nobody followed it, it certainly wouldn’t work perfectly.
But in Google’s case, they have a lot of money and they have a lot of passion for Google+, they have over half a billion people on Google+ now, maybe not so active like Facebook, but a lot of people are on there. That is where you get your Google Authorship from.
You have to create a Google+ personal profile and connect it through some little bits of code to your website essentially and then Google will understand that you’re a trusted, credible author. Not everyone’s going to do that, but part of this exercise, for us, is trying to survey and see what the temperature is on those things and if people are actually doing it.
I haven’t heard so far in our survey, a ton of attorneys having already jumped on it and using that extensively, but we’ll see that change over the years.
Andrew: Yes. From what I know, and it’s very little, it seems very immature and in the early stages. It will be interesting to see, like you said, how that continues to grow and be more popular or not.
John: Yes. Exactly. You never know. Like MySpace is an example of things take off and then they disappear. Who knows? Google+ has grown very quickly, there’s certainly a share of people that just think it’s a ghost town and isn’t going to go anywhere. It may not, but then, again, it might surprise and be a reverse of MySpace.
The amount of people that have got onto Google+ is pretty staggering over half a billion people in a relatively short time for a new program. It remains to be seen. It’s still in its early stages.
We’re going to wrap up this part of the program and then, after a brief little bit of music and a pause, we’re going to come back shortly. Hang on if you could.
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