You Can’t Rely on the Yellow Pages Alone: Success Strategies for a New Era of Law Firm Marketing

Years ago there were two ways attorneys and clients found each other — referrals, and the Yellow Pages book that was by everyone’s phone. Times have changed, and while word-of-mouth is still one of the best practice-development tools out there, usage of the print Yellow Pages is declining in many parts of the country. Today, we’re in a new era of law firm marketing and there are many additional marketing channels that law firms can consider to reach new clients.

Why is ad spending on the print Yellow Pages down and expected to decrease another 39 percent over the next five years, according to Borrell Associates1? This is partly because for you as an attorney, it’s not an ideal way to promote your law firm anymore. New varieties of Yellow Pages books appear in the mailbox every month it seems due to large books splitting into smaller books or new entrants to your particular market. This makes it increasingly difficult for law firms to determine in which book(s) to advertise. Plus, the format of the books makes it tough to separate your firm from your competition, as the advertisements tend to look similar and offer limited space in which to share your firm’s unique attributes.

More importantly, like other printed information the Yellow Pages have been eclipsed by the Internet, which offers the legal industry much more in terms of information quantity, quality, and creative flexibility. In a 2008 survey about local search user behavior, search engines (e.g., Google) have pulled ahead of print yellow pages as the leading source for local business information.2

Consider that today 80% of us have home computers3, and 55% have high-speed Internet access4. If you need a lawyer, going online allows you to make smart, well-informed decisions. If you are a lawyer, the power of the Internet to reach prospects and provide them with compelling information about your firm can’t be beat. But as Web-savvy attorneys know, it’s not enough to simply launch a Web site. In this new era of law firm marketing, it’s important to think critically about all the ways you connect with consumers — Yellow Pages, the Web, and others — and how you can communicate better, distinguish yourself from competitors, and bottom line, attract and gain new clients. Here are nine law firm marketing keys to success for your firm to consider: #1: Stay in the book, but be strategic. Keeping your contact information in the print Yellow Pages can still be worthwhile for prospects who are hunting for your phone number, or who just aren’t comfortable using the Internet. This is particularly true for non-metropolitan or rural areas. But is a color ad in every print directory really differentiating your firm — or are you better served with a simple, black-and-white listing in a few select books, and channeling the savings to other diverse marketing tactics? Cast a wide net to catch more fish!

#2: Consider bundling, but as a limited solution. To capitalize on the Internet’s popularity, most Yellow Pages providers now offer print and online directory advertising bundled together. That can be an effective way to expand your reach, but note that an online directory listing is only one piece of an effective Web presence, not a complete strategy. Legal marketing is unique, and your marketing plan should encompass not only directories but also a Web site complete with search-engine optimization and tailored content and design that has the unique needs of legal prospects in mind.

#3: Invest time in your site. You have a law practice to run, but even a few hours a month can go a long way in keeping the content on your Web site fresh, relevant and visible. Adding a newsletter, commentary or blog posting on a current legal topics or cases, or even an automated news feed (which many online providers can arrange for you) — all are effective, non-time-intensive ways to avoid becoming just another Web site that collects virtual dust. Why is that important? Updated site content appeals to both of your key Web site audiences: potential clients and leading search engines, such as Google. Search engines factor in the freshness and relevancy of your information to determine search rankings, so frequent updates are important.

#4: Own your niche. Online, being all things to all people is a great way to reach no one. Instead, differentiate your firm by zeroing in on what makes you unique — your approach to cases, background in law enforcement, Spanish-language expertise — and communicate it in the same keywords, phrases, and visuals online that you would use to connect with prospects when they’re in your law office. One good option: maintain a practice page on your site devoted exclusively to one of the firm’s key areas of expertise. Focused Web sites are more likely to succeed, and the same applies for the other channels you use to promote your firm.

#5: Make a strong first impression. Consider a potential client who gets three referrals and goes online to check them out. Realistically, you’ve got 5–10 seconds to hold that prospect on your site and potentially convert into a client. A Web site filled with informative content is great, but to keep prospects from clicking away to the competition, you must ensure your site is also well-designed for search engines, and most importantly, is easy to navigate for people with all levels of Web experience and legal knowledge.

#6: Reach prospects in new, high-impact ways. Online video and blogs are examples of fast-emerging law firm marketing tools that consumers love. They’re interactive and personal and they dispel the intimidation factor people feel when considering to hire an attorney. Nearly 60% of consumers, for example, say online video makes them more likely to contact a particular firm5. To take full advantage of a technology like video, however, it’s key to work with a company that knows the legal industry and how to effectively disseminate your message to search engines and popular third-party Web sites.

#7: Use pay-per-click selectively. With pay-per-click, you select a search term relevant to your practice, then pay for a link ad to appear when prospects type in that term. If they click your link, you get charged a set fee. These links are grouped together on results pages, separate from the free (―organic) results. 5

Pay-per-click can be useful as part of a well-rounded online strategy, particularly if your practice is highly specialized. But only 1 in 7 Web users click paid links, so it’s clear there’s not yet a high level of acceptance. Keeping your site updated, providing strong content and design, and adding compelling information tools like online video and blogs should be your firm’s main focus.

#8: Choose the right online provider. You want an online presence that works, but you don’t want to spend all day working on it. If you’re considering partnering with an online provider, the key questions to ask are: 1) does the company provide local representation, so you can get someone to stop by to help you if you need it?; and 2) do they focus exclusively on the marketing for law firms, so you don’t have to settle for a generic, one-size-fits-all solution?

#9: Expand your network. Write articles for your bar association journal. Create a newsletter, or buy one from a company that will create one for you. Get involved in online communities like LinkedIn or FaceBook. Disseminate your message and firm value in many and varied ways rather than relying exclusively on the Yellow Pages or even a Web site to get your message out to potential clients.

Sometimes, it’s a numbers game, so evaluate how often you’re promoting your firm through creative ways your competitors may not be. There are many options to choose from. Attorneys that use them strategically, and don’t allow their marketing effort to stagnate, have a terrific opportunity to generate leads and earn more well-qualified new clients, ultimately delivering the firm a steady stream of revenue.

1 Borrell Associates, "Say Goodbye to Yellow Pages, July 2008
2 http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Tmp-Directional-Marketing-908381.html
3 http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0908456.html
4 Pew Internet & American Life Project, July 2008
5 FindLaw Consumer Online Study, 2007 6 Jupiter Research; Esquiro "Inside the Mind of the Searcher"

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