Welcome to episode 8 of The Josh Gerben Show. This is the show where we talk about how to be a better business-person. I’m just such a huge believer that if lawyers would spend a little bit more time focusing on the business side of our profession, we would all have much more fulfilled legal careers.
This episode covers digital marketing and how you can get clients from just having a digital online presence. In today’s world, acquiring clients through the web is just critical. The vast majority of law firms have already started doing this but could be doing a much better job. Whether you’re just starting out or running an existing practice, there’s a lot that can be done to acquire clients through the internet.
When I started my practice in 2008, I had zero clients and the only way that I got the practice off the ground was by acquiring clients through digital marketing. This was mainly pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) at the time. Social media wasn’t as big, there weren’t other platforms that you could use to try to acquire clients. So, it was solely through pay-per-click and SEO. Over the years, not much has changed. Sure, I have networked a little bit better and I have people that refer me business, but the vast majority of new clients still come in through these efforts 11 years later.
The Four Digital Marketing Pillars for Law Firms
There are really four main pillars of a digital marketing effort in today’s world.
- Pay-Per-Click (PPC)
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Social Media
- Service Platforms (like UpCounsel and LegalZoom)
The very first place you need to start with any digital marketing effort is going to be pay-per-click marketing. This is for a couple of reasons.
The most important is that it’s going to help you define your keyword strategy. What this means is that you need to find keywords that will convert when people search for them for your law practice. So, for example, when I started out, keywords like trademark registration, file a trademark, how do I obtain a trademark, trademark attorney, trademark lawyer, and many other keywords could be bought on Google and send traffic to my website.
What pay-per-click advertising is really good at doing is showing you which keywords convert better than others. So, if somebody was searching for, “How do I obtain a trademark?” or somebody else just searched for “trademark registration,” and those people came to my website, I could see who converted more often. Was the information seeker on “How do I obtain a trademark?” somebody that converted? Not all the time. Was someone who was looking for a more specific thing, like “trademark registration,” did they convert pretty well? Yes. You look at all the different keywords that you can think of and do some research to determine which ones are converting better. Then, that will eventually lead to where you focus your SEO efforts. But, not to get ahead of ourselves here.
Let’s focus on pay-per-click a little bit longer. Pay-per-click is the easiest and most instantaneous way to obtain clients online. And this is because, on day one, you can become the number one listing on Google for any particular keyword- if you’re willing to pay for it. But you have to be careful. While you can pay to be very high in a Google search, you can also burn through a ton of cash because you’re going to pay maybe $20 or $30 a click for highly competitive keywords. And you don’t just want people clicking and spending $20 or $30 of your hard-earned money without some kind of science behind it, without understanding where those people are going on your website, what they’re doing when they hit your website, and being able to then handle the lead that may be generated in an effective manner.
So, when you’re starting your pay-per-click marketing efforts, here are some simple steps to follow to avoid overspending and trying to diagnose what is going to work for you or what is not.
- The very first thing you have to consider is your website. I have a whole separate video dedicated to creating a website for a law firm that you can find here. But, when you’re talking about pay-per-click, if you’re going to pay for someone to come to a very specific page on your website, it needs to look nice. It needs to have call to actions meaning how are they going to get in touch with you? It needs to be inviting. It needs to provide information. Really think about the page that somebody is going to hit after they click on one of your ads.For example, if I have an ad that’s running on the keyword for “trademark attorney,” I need to make sure that whatever page I direct that ad to is relevant to the topic. As for the ad, it should talk about a trademark attorney, most likely myself, and what I can do for them, what I’ve done in the past, or provide some information about trademarks in general. It should also have an easy way for them to get in touch with me.Not only that, but the website needs to look nice and professional. When somebody hits the page, they shouldn’t just bounce right off of it and go back to Google. That would be called a bounce. So, if somebody clicks your ad and comes to the website, we want to have things that are going to capture them and keep them there as long as possible. Part of the reason here is that Google is going to track how long this visitor stays on your website and if they don’t stay for very long, they’re going to charge you even more to come up higher in the pay-per-click listings. So, have a very engaging website. Have a lot of good information. We’re talking videos, pictures, spend some money on the page or pages that you’re going to direct your traffic to, because ultimately, if you have very little there, you’re going to spend a ton of money to generate traffic and none of it’s going to convert to a lead.
- The other piece of infrastructure you need to have in place is how you’re going to handle a lead that comes in through your website. Again, we can send the traffic to your website and it could generate the lead, but how are you going to convert that lead to a client? Somebody has to be available to answer the phone and somebody has to be available to answer a contact form. If you want to be really high tech about it, you can have an online chat function for your website that somebody is monitoring and answering questions on. The most important thing to know is that your prospective clients are not going to care if you don’t answer the phone or get back to them quickly because there are five other lawyers that will.So, if your firm gets a call, you need to have somebody who can answer the phone. This could be an internal person or you can use a service like Call Ruby, who we’ve used over the years to answer the phone live, and make sure you capture the lead. Be sure to find out why the person’s calling, what their number is, and what time a lawyer could get back to them. If you’re just starting out, you need to answer the phone yourself. You know, 2008, 2009, 2010, when I was starting, I answered the phone when it rang. Was it possible to get every call? No. But did I get 80% or 90% of them? You bet. Because I knew every time that someone called, I was spending money to get them to call me. And I wanted to have the best chance to convert that lead and make my money matter.
Once you’ve thought about your infrastructure, and you’ve got the website and you’ve got how you’re going to handle leads and get back to them really quickly, the next thing you have to think about is your ads. With Google AdWords, you’re going to look at not only keyword selection, but then the creative on the ad. What words are you going to use? What offer are you going to provide? In today’s world, Google has all these little ins and outs. You can have call to action buttons on the ad. You could put phone numbers, addresses. All these different things to help your ad stand out and you need to learn about all these things. I could spend an hour on a video just going through all the little ins and outs of how to set up an ad on Google AdWords. That’s not what I’m here to do today. But what I can tell you is that if you’re going to use Google AdWords, you need to spend the time to learn it. And this could be buying books, watching tutorials online. Just spend a day, at least a day, watching and reading and learning. When you go to start experimenting, make sure you understand that you don’t know anything yet. So, if you just assume you’ve watched everything and when you get in and actually do it, you’re going to find it’s totally different. So, don’t spend $500 right away, start with small spends and see what’s happening to the ads. Watch how they’re performing and see what happens to the traffic that they’re generating. But definitely, definitely educate yourself because it’s going to be very expensive once you turn the switch on and you don’t want to be throwing money down the drain.
The other thing you can consider in AdWords is their services and there are agencies that will help you develop AdWords accounts, and will help you write ads, pick keywords, and more. The suggestion I have to you is that none of these agencies, even if they claim to be working with law firms, really know as well as you do how your practice works. And I can tell you that as someone that learned Google AdWords and got dangerously good at it, any agency that I brought in to try to manage it always ended up causing all sorts of problems. My spend would go through the roof and my conversions would go down because nobody’s going to watch it and take care of it as you will, especially when you’re paying $10, $15, $20 a click, you need to be on it. So, my strong suggestion is that when it comes to AdWords, you know how to handle this yourself, or somebody internally is really good at it that understands your law practice and can monitor it on a daily basis. Otherwise, you’re going to spend thousands of dollars a month to have somebody else manage it and you’re not going to get as good results as opposed to if you knew what you were really doing.
Overall, pay-per-click advertising is hands down the most effective way to get your phone to ring in the law firm. When somebody is coming to Google and running a search to solve a problem and your ad comes up, they are very likely at a stage where they’re looking to hire somebody. So, what we’ll talk about with social media in a moment is that you can’t direct an ad to someone on social media that’s actively looking for your product or service. But with Google AdWords, or for that matter, Bing or Yahoo, you can.
So, if somebody’s online looking for a trademark attorney and I can serve an ad while they’re doing that, there’s a very high probability that if my ad, website, and offer are effective, they’re going to give us a call, and then I have an opportunity to close a lead. The biggest problem with pay-per-click that you will find when you get into it is that the cost continually goes up as more and more competitors come into the marketplace. In 2008, I was probably one of three trademark attorneys that were heavily focused on AdWords. There were three positions at the top of Google for the ads. Very convenient in the sense that you could tell somebody would bid a little bit more one day and jump on top of the other person. But it was costing like $2 or $3 a click for some of the major keywords that we needed to hit.
So, it allowed me to deliver the services at a very effective fee because my advertising was costing, let’s say $2,000 or $3,000 a month, and that could generate anywhere between $10,000, $20,000 a month in sales. So, you have the margin there to make it work. Now, in today’s world, those same keywords could cost $15 or $20. So, you’re talking about thousands of percent increase in fees from Google in order to be able to run the same campaign I ran in 2008 to the campaign I can run today. But I’m not running the same campaign I ran in 2008 today for that particular reason, but also because of our next pillar, which is SEO, or search engine optimization.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is your best defense against the rising rate of AdWords- if you can do it right.
However, SEO is far from the instantaneous results that AdWords are. It can take months and most likely years to get effective results. In 2009, about a year after I opened my practice, I started investing in an SEO plan. I spent about $3,000 to $5,000 a month depending on where we were. It took at least a year-and-a-half to two years to get to a place where our website was ranking high enough and generating traffic that was producing business. So, I had to invest $50,000, $60,000. And in today’s world, I would probably have to invest a lot more to start seeing the return.
Here’s the kicker though. It’s not like pay-per-click where I spend a dollar and it goes away. I get that click and then it’s the end of the transaction. With SEO, if you’re doing it right, you’re going to be consistently there. So, all the investment adds up over time.
If you look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we’ve invested in SEO over the years, every single day, that’s producing upwards of a dozen leads for our law firm. So, that investment is, we’re just reaping the rewards of it at this point and it’s going to be very difficult for someone to catch us because we’ve been doing it for 10 years. So, if you’re going to start today as a trademark law firm, its’ going to be very difficult for you to overtake me in the rankings because of how long and how hard we’ve been working on it. And Google doesn’t reward somebody that just comes in and throws a lot at SEO, whether it be links or content. It matters how long you’ve been there, how natural you’ve built things. So, it is not possible to fake SEO. It’s something you need to invest in for the long run, and you need to have a budget for it.
So, whether it’s $1,000 a month, $2,000, $3,000, this is where an agency is helpful. I know I just railed against agencies when it came to AdWords, but when it comes to your SEO, you probably need to outsource that. Unless you are a super technical person, there’s so much that goes into it. And I’m going to make another video on SEO for law firms because there’s a lot that goes into it. But, the thing I will mention here is that you must hire someone. You probably need to spend a minimum of $3,000 a month to have an effective campaign, and you need to work with an agency that’s not going to give you the runaround and say that links don’t matter. Links have been very hard to build lately and that’s a huge part of SEO. A lot of agencies say, “Oh, just develop the content and you’ll naturally get links.”
No, you need to find an agency that knows how to build links. That is the most critical thing you can ask somebody when you’re hiring them. That’s just my tip for today. And remember, with SEO, it’s a long-term investment. You must be patient. It is literally going to take years to have the rewards come in. It’s also why you need to be educated to know if the agency you’ve hired or the people you’re working with know what they’re doing because if they’re headed in the wrong direction, you may not know for a year. You may take an entire year before you realize, oh wait, none of that was working. So, you need to understand what they should be doing. Become proficient in the language of the profession of SEO so that when you talk to your SEO professional, and you’re hiring someone, and you’re looking at what they’re going to do and how much they’re going to charge you for it, you’ll know what you’re getting and you know it’s going in the right direction. Constantly make sure that you’re checking in. At the end of the day, we only get what we inspect and not what we expect. So, when you hire an outside agency like this, you really have to be on them every month. Make sure you know what’s going on, what links are getting built, what content’s getting created, and that investment, in the long run, should reap significant rewards.
The third pillar we want to talk about is social media. Social media is kind of the hot and sexy thing these days, but I will tell you this, with the advertising dollars you will spend as a law firm on Facebook or Linkedin, it’s going to be very hard to match the effectiveness of the advertising dollars that you’re going to spend on Google pay-per-click. That’s just because of the fact when you go on Google, you can direct an ad to someone who has a particular need in a particular moment. It’s a much different ballgame in social media.
I think social media is most effective for local law firms because you can own the territory. In other words, you can create a video about wills, trusts, and estates. You can create a video about your criminal defense practice, about your personal injury practice, about your local corporate practice and things you can do. And you can confine the social media ads to a very specific geographic area and to the very specific demographics that you’d like to attract to your website or to your practice. When doing it on a very local level, and doing it daily, what happens is you start to build brand awareness and someone will say, “Oh yeah, if I ever have this need, I know who to call.” If they’ve seen your ad over and over and again, they’re going to then probably give you a call. But that type of brand awareness is something that builds over time. It’s also something that’s pretty expensive to do and doesn’t typically lead to instantaneous results the way that pay-per-click does.
So, I highly recommend that you’re on social media and you have a presence organically. Be on Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, or any other platform that you think might be helpful for your particular practice. Post content, be active, try to acquire followers and things like this. And mess around with the paid advertising. The hardest thing with paid advertising on social media is creative. In other words, you need to have something that’s engaging. On Google pay-per-click, we can, you know, do a text ad. That’s all it is, is coming up with fun text, which is hard enough. But on Facebook and on Linkedin, you need to have video, or you need to have pictures, you need to have something that’s very engaging, and this kind of content very hard to create. So, if you’re good at it, you can probably very well succeed on those platforms or you can hire an agency to help you again. But, that’s going to be, again, a longer-term investment in brand building around a community than it is going to be instantaneous calls to your law firm. It’s something to experiment with on every law firm level but will not be for everybody.
The final pillar of digital marketing is sites like UpCounsel, and now even LegalZoom, that allow you to go on and create a profile and basically bid on work. People come to that platform and try to find an attorney.
I’m going to be really honest with you here. I do not think you should use these platforms. I think it just means you’re being lazy. And the reason I say that is because it’s really easy to go create a profile and start to try to bid on work that’s coming in through a website. But a couple of things. One, you’re going to be bidding against other lawyers and it’s just going to drive down what you’re going to be able to charge. And you need to set your rates. If you’re a good lawyer, people should come to you because you’re a good lawyer, not because you’re $100 cheaper than the other guy. But on these websites, you’re going to find that it’s a race to the bottom on pricing.
The other thing that you have to consider is that now you have a middleman between you and the client, and that’s a horrible place to be. I liken these service platforms to Amazon. We have Amazon sellers that will sell millions of dollars of merchandise and all of a sudden Amazon makes a change or a competitor comes along and they go from moving millions to thousands. And they freak out and I get calls, “Oh my God, somebody’s doing this or that, or Amazon’s changes. How can they do that? That must be against the law.” Amazon owns the platform. You’re playing in their sandbox. If you want to play in your own sandbox and set your own rules, make your own sandbox. Don’t play in somebody else’s. But, if you’re going to go to Amazon, you’re going to ride and fall with what happens there. So, you can go to one of these websites and you can start to get a ton of clients, but then they change something and that all goes away.
So, if you’re going to use UpCounsel or LegalZoom as referrals to your law firm, use it sparingly. Make sure it’s no bigger than 10% or 20% of your practice. Because if you’re ultimately playing in someone else’s sandbox, they can pull it out from under you at any time.
This true for SEO too. You could work really hard on SEO, Google can make an algorithm change and there goes all your listings. That’s happened to us. We’ve had years where we’ve gone down and come back up in the rankings and things like that. But that’s the reason you can’t just rely on any one form of advertising. But especially don’t rely on a form of advertising where somebody is between you and the client. Don’t be lazy about it. There are so many ways that you can digitally market your law firm that if somebody goes online, whether they’re on Facebook, Linkedin, Google, Bing, wherever they are, they can find you and you can do it by just learning about these different techniques and executing on them.
I hope you enjoyed this primer on digital marketing. Now let’s try to get a discussion started so we can share our experiences and see how accurate my experiences have been compared to you and your law firm. Let’s help the general community here figure out the best place to start for them.
So, here’s today’s discussion question. What has been the single best thing you’ve done from a digital marketing perspective, and what is your area of practice? So, for example, if you’re a family lawyer and you find social media has been highly effective, let us know. If you’re an attorney that does general corporate work, and you find that AdWords has been the most effective, let us know. Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can just leave a comment on the YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn pages, and leave your feedback there. If I can get enough questions together, we’ll either answer them on social media or even make a video that goes through everybody’s experiences.
I’m always looking for new show topics, comments, suggestions, so please send it my way. If you haven’t yet, go to the YouTube page and subscribe to our Youtube channel, tons of content there, or go to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast. The podcast is the same as the video. We just grab the audio and make the podcast so you can listen to it, watch it, however you like to consume our content. Thank you, and I’ll see you for the next show.