So your firm has a website what now?
By Andrew Z. Adkins III and Travis Yates
Legal Technology Institute
Internet marketing has become today's hottest topic in business. It seems
to be on everyone's mind and finds its way into every business person's
conversation. It's rare when you see a television ad or a magazine ad
without a website address. This is quite understandable due to the rapid
rate at which the Internet is growing. Recent reports indicate net use is
doubling every 100 days.
In the early stages of the Internet, the perception was the Internet would
only be beneficial to those businesses which had the need for a global or
national presence. Businesses that focused on a local level didn't see the
need or purpose for having an Internet presence. Obviously, our society
has proven this false. More and more businesses are realizing the Internet
is the new marketing frontier and is here to stay. In 1996, the Internet
boasted more than 45,000 networks accessed to the net. In 1998, it's
estimated more than one million networks are connected to the Internet.
More than one billion users are expected to access the Internet by the
year 2000. In addition, the number of e-mail addresses is estimated at
twice the number of personal or business websites combined.
Law firms are no exception. Even though lawyers practice law, they also
operate a business. The Internet is changing the way business is done
and law firm clients are demanding their lawyers have Internet e-mail. The
Internet is changing the way law firms communicate with current clients
and prospective clients, both with e-mail and with Internet websites.
The Internet is a remarkable marketing tool, but not an end in itself.
Neither can it be approached from the same angle as traditional
marketing. Successfully marketing your law firm on the Internet has
similar characteristics of traditional advertising and marketing but also has
its own unique features, techniques, and tricks. It seems too often firms
make the mistake of using only traditional marketing methods or believe
the great fallacy: "Build it and they will come!" This unfortunately causes
firms to fall short of their goals and marketing potential. An important point
to note is that the Internet is not a replacement for your law firm's
marketing it is a supplement.
For many firms, the whole concept of marketing is also new. Traditionally,
law firms relied on reputation, networking of senior attorneys, and current
clients to bring in new business. But, with the increased use of technology
and the Internet, small firms are becoming more competitive with larger
firms it seems clients are shopping around for legal services that are less
expensive (or, at least perceived to be less expensive). Larger firms are
having to become competitive and legal marketing is one area that is
quickly becoming a boutique industry.
There are a few behind the scene "tricks" that are imperative to implement
in order to obtain maximum exposure and success on the Internet.
"Stacking" these techniques helps to ensure your firm will have every
opportunity to push its way to the top of the search engine lists which is
the number one tool used by potential clients to find your website.
"Search engines" search and rank sites by two methods: alphabetical and
relevancy. Alphabetical ranking can often be the tie breaker which will
decide which firm is listed first. With this in mind it's always best to
attempt to put an "A" in the title of your firm's web site. This doesn't mean
you place an "A" in the title such as "A Blake, Cates, & Sons." Just
placing "AAA" or "AAAAAAA" is not going to work either. Search engines
are becoming more and more sophisticated and may automatically dump
your site or put it at the bottom of the stack when this is discovered. A
smarter approach is "Accounting by Blake, Cates, & Sons" or "Advertising
the Law Offices of Jones, Baker and Cohen," or "American Accounting
Offices of Blake, Cates & Sons, etc." The point is to use the title for more
than just the obvious name of your firm by itself. It may seem like a small
thing, but by constantly stacking various techniques your chances of
staying at the top of the search engines are greatly increased and that's
the name of the game.
This brings us to "meta tags." It is estimated that 80 percent of business
sites don't even use them. There are three main meta tags: title (see
above), keywords and description. Keywords are words used to describe
your firm or legal services. It's important to note keywords should be ones
you suspect your clients would use to find your firm through their search
efforts. Common keywords for the legal profession are: law, lawyer,
attorney, law firm, tort, and litigation. There are dozens of others, but you
get the idea. Make sure the words are relevant to what your firm does; be
specific in addition to general. Again it helps if you can place these
keywords in the title heading. For example, "Advertising the Law Offices of
Tate, Cohen and Marks: Lawyers and attorneys practicing criminal law,
family law, real property law, divorce law, and trademark law." The
advantage of this method versus, "Tate, Cohen and Marks" is extremely
significant. Note the common term, "law" was used seven times. Some
search engines will count the word lawyers because law is part of the
word's makeup. Be creative.
Geographical keywords are becoming extremely important. This narrows
searches by country, state, region, and city or county. The following
keywords also play an important part in ranking as well:
- how to
"Free" is the most commonly used keyword of all. This is why it's good to
offer something for free and use the keyword "FREE." Offer free tips, free
advice, free clip art, free something.
Your last meta tag will be "description." Description is a phrase or short
paragraph which describes your firm's services. This is very similar to the
paragraph that is used on your first page. It is important to place your
keywords as often and early as possible. Search engines only search, as
a rule, the first few pages. Relevancy ranking assumes this is where the
important information will be.
Some search engines have an ability to count the links on your site. They
assume that the more links that are on your site, the more it is visited,
thereby the more popular it is. The more popular, the more reason to place
it higher in the rankings.
Another trick is called "invisible text." We don't recommend this trick
because it's considered cheating (technical term here) and when
discovered by the search engine, your site may be dumped. We include it
here for educational purposes only. Invisible text is when you place
keywords or phrases on the first page of your site and use a font color the
same color as the background. This causes them to appear invisible.
The last item worth noting is called "keyword advertising." This is when a
firm or business pays a search engine company for a "keyword." If a firm
buys the word "lawyer," each time someone uses the bought word to
search the firm's advertising banner shows up on the search engine results
page. This wasn't a problem until recently. Estee Lauder and Playboy have
taken the issue to court because search engine companies are selling
their brand names as keywords. They claim it is an infringement of their
trademarks and copyrights and are suing the search engine companies
that use them. They also claim some companies' banners that show up
are not relevant and in Playboy's case, the banners are sometimes for
hardcore pornography which goes beyond what Playboy claims to do. This
trial is being watched closely because its outcome could drastically
change the way some current types of banner advertising are done on the
Search engine submissions are a meticulous and time-consuming
enterprise. They need to be monitored and resubmitted when needed on a
regularly scheduled basis; monthly, quarterly, or semiannually. Anything
less is too little and too late. Monitoring and resubmissions are part of the
marketing ritual which has to be performed in order to maintain any
measurable success. There are several products available to handle
submissions for you, usually for a fee. Several others, such as "SubmitIt!"
have a "free" submission and a "for fee" submission. Most free
submissions are to search engines you've probably never heard of.
Keep in mind there are more than 500 search engines on the Internet. But,
take into account when you do legal research on the Internet, which
search engines do you use? Most likely, you use one of the following
search engines. You can bet your clients use the same ones. So, an
important fact to note is that when submitting your Internet Web site to
search engines, you should include these:
The reasons for law firms having an Internet presence have changed
drastically over the last two years. It wasn't long ago the legal profession
thought it "chic" to have a website. Now, if law firms don't have one, clients
are wondering what's wrong with the firm. It's no longer "let's keep up with
the Jones"; now it's imperative for law firms to have a web presence and
even more important to keep it updated, including continuous marketing.
Don't let your website become roadkill on the information superhighway.
Andrew Z. Adkins III is the director of the Legal Technology Institute at
the University of Florida College of Law (352) 392-2278. Travis Yates is
the director of web development services at the Legal Technology Institute.