Once upon a time, the idea was to get clients to a law firm’s brick and mortar office through print advertising. Now the name of the game is to draw potential clients to a firm’s virtual real estate, its website. Key to doing this is boosting a site’s ranking in search results through search engine optimization (SEO), and a whole industry has grown up to help website owners improve their rankings.
But according to law firm marketing expert Conrad Saam, attorneys are getting "intimidated, overcharged, confused and downright lied to by marketing consultants and self-proclaimed search gurus" who see dollar signs but deliver "little (if any) value."
In a recent ElderLawAnswers webinar titled “Truths and Lies of Internet Marketing,” Saam spent an information-packed hour separating fact from fiction regarding what works and what doesn’t in online marketing. Saam is the founder of Mockingbird Marketing, an agency whose exclusive focus is on helping members of the legal profession improve their online marketing. Prior to Mockingbird, Saam was at Avvo when it had only eight employees. He was the sole marketing person and played a key role in Avvo’s ascendancy from concept to legal directory market leader through advanced search engine optimization strategies.
(This is part one of a two-part article covering Saam's webinar. In part two he discusses, among other things, why content is no longer king, and what has replaced it.)
Myth: Websites Have to Be Expensive
Saam began his presentation by exploding the prevalent myth that websites have to be expensive. Most sites, he said, are in the $3,000 to $6,000 range. Saam said his firm, which he acknowledged is not cheap, builds sites starting at about $5,000 and “it’s pretty hard to do anything over $6,000 or $7,000 for a one-off website.” One way vendors try to wring extra cash out of a site is to have the customer pay a subscription fee, and in many cases that fee can be expensive and lock you in for a long time. For example, the fee might be $1,000 a month with a four- or five-year commitment, meaning that you’re spending a huge amount of money for the site. Saam said monthly website costs should not exceed $29 a month, and if they do, it’s a problem. Check your monthly bill to see what you’re paying for.
Another myth is that it’s acceptable to rent a website. Some vendors will build you a site and register the domain name for you but they maintain the domain’s ownership. In effect, you are paying the vendor to build up an asset (for example, by improving SEO) that you don’t actually own. You can research the ownership of any domain name by going to Whois.net, and Saam said you should “panic if you find out that your vendor actually owns your domain.” It is not uncommon, Saam noted, for a vendor to announce that its monthly fee is doubling, and if you balk the vendor will threaten to turn the domain over to your competitor across the street. “This sounds really shady but it has been done many, many times,” Saam warned.
WordPress, WordPress, WordPress
What platform should you use for your site? Saam said that his “very strong bias” is that WordPress is the only platform that firms should consider. It is free and open-source, meaning that the software isn’t copyrighted and is openly shared so that people can improve its design. “If you’re on a proprietary platform,” Saam said, “you are absolutely beholden to that vendor and you need their help to make changes in content in many cases.” By contrast, Saam said that “you can do almost anything on WordPress” and if you need help you’re backed by the WordPress community consisting of thousands of developers. “If you guys got through law school, you can learn how to publish on a WordPress site. It is not that hard,” Saam declared.
But he said the big advantage of WordPress – its ubiquity – means that it is also very vulnerable to unauthorized access. “If you have an unprotected site and you don’t regularly upgrade your version of WordPress, you are going to get hacked,” Saam said. The way to avoid this is to have a WordPress site hosted by a managed WordPress host -- a hosting provider that specializes only in WordPress and that can deal with security issues, such as by backing up the site every day and upgrading to the latest version. (Saam noted that ElderLawAnswers offers its members WordPress sites managed by a WordPress hosting service.)
Observing that more than 50 percent of website traffic is now coming from mobile devices, Saam said that firm sites must be mobile-optimized. Google is now taking mobile-friendly design into account as a factor in ranking search engine results, meaning that fewer users are discovering your site if it’s not optimized for mobile devices. Saam recommended Google’s easy-to-use Mobile-Friendly Test to check the mobile optimization of your website.
Saam stressed that the firm’s phone number should be in the website’s header, and that ideally it is what’s called a “sticky phone number” that will follow mobile device users around the site. “When you navigate the site,” he said, it should be “insanely easy for someone to say, ‘Hey, this woman seems to know what she’s talking about, I’m going to call her, and, by the way, I’m holding my phone and I can call her right now.’ ”
But Saam said he personally dislikes chat screens popping up on mobile devices because it covers up the content and site visitors want to talk to an attorney or no one.
Saam’s webinar is part of an ongoing series of webinars titled “The Elder Law Marketing Funnel.” For more information about the funnel and upcoming webinars, click here.
To view Saam’s webinar, click here. You can follow Conrad Saam on Twitter @conradsaam