Business of Law

Customers are relying on web searches, but some lawyers aren't prioritizing SEO and social media marketing

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Photo illustration by Sarah Wadford/Shutterstock.

Michelle Creeden, the practice administrator for National Legal Center, a law firm in Candia, New Hampshire, always relied on business referrals rather than advertisements.

It had never been a problem—until the pandemic arrived and obliterated those businesses, drying up the referrals seemingly overnight.

So two years ago, Creeden turned to search engine optimization and social media to market the law firm.

“It is definitely a long game and a work in progress, but we’re starting to see success with this strategy,” Creeden says.

Prior to implementing the SEO strategy, in which the firm improves its website so that it’s more visible and listed higher by internet search engines, the vast majority of visitors to their site were existing clients and offline referrals. Since focusing on SEO, they’ve seen their impressions increase by more than 1,200%, and organic traffic now accounts for about 42% of visitors (it was previously around 7%).

“The unexpected short-term benefit we hadn’t anticipated is the B2B relationships we’ve been able to form as a result of an improved online presence,” Creeden says.

Law firms are slowly but surely making the jump from email marketing to social media and SEO advertising—but they’re not all on the other side yet. According to a December 2021 survey from CallRail, a marketing analytics and business communications platform, nearly half the firms surveyed snag business via social media and internet searches. But only 17% make SEO or social media advertising a priority. The survey says email remains the most popular means of digital marketing for law firms, with 61% of respondents relying on email lists to keep in touch with leads that haven’t been converted to clients. Despite that, the survey found that respondents listed email marketing as their second-worst performing channel.

This comes as more consumers are relying on online searches to find attorneys. A March study from Martindale-Avvo reveals that 70% of participating legal consumers look at online content, such as profiles and reviews, to guide their decision-making when it comes to hiring a lawyer.

Why the disconnect?

Seth Price, a founding partner of Price Benowitz Accident Injury Lawyers in Washington, D.C., says many law firms don’t use SEO or social media because they’re stuck in an older mindset when it comes to marketing, and they don’t believe that change is necessary.

“As a result, they think there is no need for other forms of marketing because what they’re doing has worked well enough so far,” Price says. “But newer law firms are recognizing the gaps when it comes to digital marketing, and this is allowing them to grow quickly and therefore secure a more competitive position within the industry.”

Price says if law firms put effort into SEO, then potential clients will find them when searching online in their area. SEO also pushes firms to improve their websites, ultimately creating better experiences for site visitors, which impacts conversion rates, he says.

Needle in a haystack

Allison Mundy, the owner and managing attorney with Mundy Legal Services in Tomball, Texas, says understanding SEO is overwhelming and intimidating initially, but the returns are worth the time invested. She had been relying on networking and paid phone ads for business, but she also hired a social media manager to optimize her SEO when she started her law firm.

“Without proper SEO, no one was even finding my website,” Mundy says.

During the firm’s first few years, she would also run Facebook boosts. “Each time we would run a boost, the number of calls would increase. Six years later, I am No. 1 or 2 on Google’s list, and over 60% of my clients come from Google reviews and searches,” she says.

Ryan Reiffert, the owner of the Law Offices of Ryan Reiffert in San Antonio, uses SEO and social media, depending on his needs at the time. For example, a probate client will skew toward middle-aged and older, so he or she will be less likely to be on TikTok; an LLC formation client will most likely be younger, so getting good brand exposure on social media will help, Reiffert says.

Some firms will outsource the task. Kia Roberts, the founder and principal of Triangle Investigations, a group of lawyers and expert investigators performing misconduct investigations, says a large part of her firm’s success since its 2019 inception has been due to focusing on its SEO efforts—which she outsourced. Her SEO conversion rate is 50%, she says.

Roberts says the concept of successful SEO is hard to articulate and explain, which may be why few attorneys are willing to invest in it. The practice of law, on the other hand, is a very concrete and methodical realm of work, involving countless laws, statutes and regulations, many of which are applied in a black-or-white manner, she says.

Still, Roberts says she realized that as a brand-new firm, clients gained by word-of-mouth would only go so far until they had established themselves as a trusted firm. That’s where SEO was essential, ramping up the firm’s launch and expanding its client list quickly and methodically.

“We have gotten countless clients who have found us via Google search due to our SEO rankings,” Roberts says. “I have become an SEO evangelist and am thrilled that we committed to this path as a growth strategy.”

This story was originally published in the June/July 2022 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Optimal Advertising: Despite consumers relying more on web searches, some lawyers aren’t prioritizing SEO and social media marketing.”

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