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Written by Willie Peacock

Willie Peacock is a dad, QDRO lawyer, and marketing consultant that loves lead generation, lawyers, and great content.

In a nutshell

In this guide, you’ll learn about the good (Local Service Ads), the bad (newsletters), and the ugly (legal directories) of law firm marketing. We’ll go through the top strategies one-by-one and talk about why they may or may not be a good fit for your firm.

At the end, I’ve included a bonus section talking about a new strategy—one I used to get my law firm’s website listed on the front page of Google for phrases like “NYC speed camera defense.”

Buckle up and let’s get started.

Strategy 1: Branding

One of my favorite pastimes is watching lawyer commercials.

These advertisements run the spectrum from the buttoned-up lawyer standing in front of a bookcase speaking in a deep, somnolent voice about getting you “fair compensation for your injuries” to the cherry-faced, about-to-pop-a-blood-vessel lawyer threatening to "punish them, pound them." And who can forget that lawyer who bought a Super Bowl ad that had something to do with bullies, his late brother, tombstones, fire, and some bird?

All of these are examples of branding. Your firm can be many things, but if you want your marketing strategy to be effective, your firm has to be something:

  • The aggressive firm

  • The caring, nurturing firm

  • The boutique, high-quality firm

  • The flat-rate, “fair pricing” firm

  • The old-fashioned town lawyer with a rocking chair on his front porch

  • The kickass female "think pink" firm

You get the point. Think about who you are as a person and who you want your clients to see. Authenticity is important: if you try to portray the friendly, fun lawyer and invite clients into an office that looks like a 1970s courtroom, the branding whiplash is going to make closing prospective clients difficult.

Think about how you stand out from other attorneys advertising in your market.

Branding extends to every part of your marketing and business. It dictates your color scheme (see “think pink”), your website content, and yes, if you decide to go there, your television commercials. That’s why, if you are about to embark upon the launch of a firm or a revamp of your digital marketing efforts, branding must come first. It guides everything.

When brainstorming your brand, consider everything from your ideal clients to your competition and place in the market to the legal services you want to offer. Use the following checklist to get an idea of where your brand fits in the marketplace:

Law firm branding checklist

1

Who are your ideal prospective clients?

This may seem like a simple question at first blush: we all want the high-value clients, right? Maybe not. Some people may prefer to run a firm that caters to underserved markets, small businesses, or maybe they just run a volume practice where they help a lot of people with smaller values (and less risk) per case.

2

Who do I want to be as a lawyer?

Some people could never pull off the courtroom warrior shtick. And many people just don’t want to. Ask yourself what role would make you the most comfortable on a day to day basis. If you try to be someone you’re not, or someone you’re not comfortable as, you will turn your fun, entrepreneurial experience as a lawyer and small business owner into a stressful job. So, who are you: the hawk, the shark, the best friend?

3

What is the competition in my market?

Highlander said there can only be one. Though that was a show about some immortal dude stabbing other immortal dudes with a sword, he had a point. If someone in your market is the “motorcycle lawyer who rides motorcycles” you probably can’t pull off a Sons of Anarchy jacket. And if someone else in your market has been running ads where they scream about disemboweling the opposition, there probably isn’t room in Clinton, Missouri for two warlords.

Think hard about the local market. If you are new to the area, start by searching Google for your practice area and see what the other firms’ messaging is.

4

What is the competition in my market?

Highlander said there can only be one. Though that was a show about some immortal dude stabbing other immortal dudes with a sword, he had a point. If someone in your market is the “motorcycle lawyer who rides motorcycles” you probably can’t pull off a Sons of Anarchy jacket. And if someone else in your market has been running ads where they scream about disemboweling the opposition, there probably isn’t room in Clinton, Missouri for two warlords.

Think hard about the local market. If you are new to the area, start by searching Google for your practice area and see what the other firms’ messaging is.

5

How can we be different?

If your market has a warrior, a hawk, a hammer, and a bulldozer, where does that leave you? All four of those sound like testosterone-fueled courtroom bad boys. Can you be different? Is there a brand that will cater to anybody who isn’t enraptured by testosterone? Maybe you are the lawyer that will visit clients in the hospital and fast-track their claim to get them compensation as soon as possible. Maybe you are the approachable lawyer who they can text 24 hours a day. (For your sake, don’t be that person.)

However you do it, when formulating your brand, try to pick something that is easily distinguishable within a couple of seconds from the many other voices that are out there throwing money at advertisements. Otherwise, brand confusion is going to be a massive obstacle.

For example, a firm I once worked for had an old website that they never updated, targeting “dad’s divorce.” No work had been done on content or digital marketing, nor was the site ever really updated. And yet, it would continually bring in just enough leads to make it worth running. How? I grilled a few of the incoming callers and started to notice a pattern: they had all seen our billboard along the freeway.

The funny thing is, we didn’t have a billboard. A solo attorney did, and his website and phone number on the billboard were so small that people were simply googling “dad’s divorce Riverside” and getting our website. His website, by the way, didn’t mention “dad’s divorce” at all - it was just a generic lawyer website from a big agency.

6

Is my ideal brand realistic?

The 26-year-old law school graduate cannot pull off the expert practitioner of family law brand. A yoked, bearded and tattooed lawyer bearing a strange resemblance to Conor McGregor probably could not pull off the empathetic bleeding heart vibe.

Once you’ve found a niche in the marketplace for your brand to fit into, ask yourself if you fit into the brand. Stretch that fit too far and you will live constantly in stress, suffering from imposter syndrome, and wondering when the next client will discover that you are living a lie. Or, if the lie is too obvious, they may not even call at all.

6

What are my colors?

How important are brand colors? And is it as simple as just picking your favorite color?

Your favorite color is a great place to start, as your brand should reflect you. However, that can’t be the deciding factor. One of my favorite lawyer clients of all time was a husband-wife couple that had gone to Michigan and practiced near the university. They had redesigned their law firm’s website two years earlier and picked their favorite colors, blue and gold, the colors of their alma mater. The problem was: so did pretty much every other lawyer in town. I found at least four competing area lawyers using the exact same colors, for the same practice area. The law firm’s colors are now red and gold.

Another factor to consider is the underlying meaning of colors. For example:

  • Green conveys nature and money

  • Blue conveys trustworthiness and communication

  • Orange conveys energy and youthfulness

Related tools and resources

  • Palette generator: Generate a palette of colors to use based on your favorite color.

Strategy 2: User-Friendly Law Firm Website

A wise man (wait, I mean me…) once said “all roads lead to home.”

Home, meaning your homepage. Every “road” connecting people to your online presence—every Google Maps listing, paid ad, social media post, Linkedin profile, even your print advertisements—will reference or lead directly to your law firm’s website. Once you have your brand concepts in hand, it’s time to take those to a web designer and build a high-quality website that reflects you and your brand to your target clientele.

What’s the latest advice on successful law firm websites in 2021? The same advice many of us have been preaching for a decade: speed. Speed is the name of the game, as much or more so than a great visual design. 2021 is the year of the Google core web vitals update, which is SEO nerd speak for websites that perform well: fast load times and stable layouts are key factors this year if you want your website to rank well in organic search.

In addition, us nerds have preached speed for years because studies have shown that even a half second delay can cost you a ton in terms of prospective clients actually clicking through your site and contacting you. We’ve all been on the frustrated end of a slow mobile website, waiting a few seconds for it to load, and then angrily swiping back to the search results to click on the next link.

Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to do a quick check of your website’s speed.

Beyond speed, appearance is obviously important. The above discussion on branding and coloring is a great place to start brainstorming before you even go find a web designer—though keep an open mind, as their design sensibility has often been honed by years of studying user experience.

Photography is a common pain point for lawyer websites. Stock images scream low-budget and low-quality. I don’t know how many lawyer websites I’ve seen that have been built with the same readily-available free stock images that I’ve seen all over the internet. (If you have to use stock photos, Unsplash is probably the least bad option.)

I recommend using some of your marketing budget to hire a local photographer to take great images of your firm. One of the best law firm websites I’ve ever seen prominently featured a photograph of the firm’s partner in a suit and trench coat, walking down a leaf-covered Brooklyn street, talking to someone who looked like a client. His entire brand as the accessible, neighborhood lawyer who helps everyday people with their Workers’ Compensation claims was captured perfectly. Long story short: the return on investment for good website photos can be quite high.

Websites like Fiverr make it easy to hire affordable freelance photographers.

Another rookie mistake I see a lot is people deciding to build their own websites. They go on Squarespace or Wix or WordPress and start building away. At best, these DIY projects end up looking exactly like the template the user started with—and exactly like 100 other lawyer websites. At worst, the website looks like something a high school kid built as a hobby. If you are strapped for cash, the answer isn’t to spend dozens of hours of your time on a DIY project that could instead go towards billing clients—the answer is a cheap freelancer off of Upwork or Fiverr. Literally, you can find someone to build you a website for $50 that will look better than what most of us can build DIY. It probably will not be spectacular, or great, but it will be a decent start.

What about website content? Online content, as we’ll discuss in more detail in the section on Strategy 9 (Content Marketing), is everything. Start with your attorney bios: these are the most viewed pages on pretty much every lawyer website I have ever worked on. Your ultimate goal with your law firm’s website is to get prospective clients to hire you. Even if they initially discover your website because of a sexy blog post on “move away orders in Ohio family courts,” once that gets their attention, the next page they will click on is your attorney bio. And yet, almost every lawyer bio is generic and painful to read:

Jim Johnson is a seasoned attorney that graduated summa cum laude from the West Virginia University School of Law. He was admitted to the bar after passing on his first try. He has practiced exclusively in the field of bad faith insurance claims for the last 23 years and has been named to an obscure lawyers weekly award list 48 times in a row. He has written for the Cuyahoga County Bar Association magazine and presented continuing legal education seminars at the small firm conference in Ashland for the last five years.

Have you fallen asleep yet? Do you want to hire that guy? Sure, it’s impressive that he has managed to not die of boredom practicing his obscure practice area for the last 23 years, but as a human being I feel no connection to him whatsoever. Put in information on why you practice law. Put in information on your most emotionally impactful cases or verdicts. Put in a little bit on your family and hobbies. Pepper your law firm website content with little bits about you, and I promise you will get more people calling you because the content resonated with them than you ever would with the soulless generic copy produced by most marketing agencies.

True story: on average, at least once a month, a client or potential client brings up the content on my website where I told the story of my father’s lack of estate planning, or my mother’s seven divorces, to illustrate legal concepts and why I practice law. My content, written by me and personalized to my brand and personality, gets the user connected with me as a human being before they even submit the contact form or pick up the phone.

Related tools and resources

Strategy 3: SEO - Search Engine Optimization

I could write a book on search engine optimization, but it would be outdated by the time it was published. Plus, nobody would read it. SEO is kind of boring, unless you are the kind of guy that gets jazzed by learning that you generated 355 leads yesterday and your search traffic drove 27% of those leads. (Guilty!)

Let me put this scary law firm SEO topic in the simplest terms possible: write for humans, in a way that makes it easy for robots to tell what you are talking about, while citing your sources to back it up. Do that, and you will be 80% of the way there. (Here’s the source for that, by the way.)

SEO is the art and science of ranking on search engines like Google and Bing.

The content on your website should address the things that you think your target clientele will be searching for. The type of content you create should vary by the type of law you practice. If you are a family law lawyer, you have plenty of topics to choose from, including child support, move-away orders, retirement division after divorce, real estate issues, domestic violence—the list goes on and on. If you want to really kill it, take each of those topics and write every single last thing that your clients have ever asked you, wondered about, or should know in order to survive and thrive during and after their case. Write it, revise it, and dumb it down to a junior high school reading level. Link to additional resources or authoritative websites that back up what you are saying. And keep the content updated: perhaps once per year, review the pages on your website and update for any changes in law.

That, my friends, is basically the hardest part of search engine optimization. Write amazing content. If you do so, people will link to you. Backlinks have always been one of the most important factors in search rankings because backlinks are the Internet’s equivalent of citations. Quick trivia fact: Google was modeled off of term papers and academia. See the connection there to links?

And please, for your own sake, cite your sources. Studies have shown that websites that consistently cite authoritative sources to back up their content rank higher. This goes contrary to much advice I heard from so-called experts when I first started writing content a decade ago—they would advise against linking out because you would “lose juice” (juice is a myth) or you would lose users (easily mitigated by checking the little box that says “open this link in a new tab” when adding the link to your content).

There are also a few tricks and hacks that may work for a few months, but are not nearly as reliable and predictable as writing great content.

For example, one of the most popular tricks for a long time was to launch a small scholarship competition (say, $500) and spread the word to every university or high school you could possibly think of. Most would link to the scholarship, with the intent to help their students get that lovely award. And you would instantly generate a ton of links. Except, now, Google has probably caught onto that trick for most markets. The links should be relevant to the service that your business provides. A scholarship for high school students is not relevant to an employment lawyer.

Another trick isn’t much of a trick at all. It’s actually a rather good strategy to get backlinks and make a positive impact: Use your legal knowledge to build a tool that actually helps people. For example, when immigration laws changed dramatically under the last administration, one enterprising immigration attorney built a series of apps to help immigrants navigate complex topics like travel bans and public charge rules. The apps helped thousands of people understand their immigration situation better—and, in the process, generated dozens of backlinks from other websites. Another attorney built an online tool that nearly 50,000 (!) people used in the last year to apply for protections under the CDC’s eviction moratorium. In addition to providing an amazing public service, the tool received backlinks from local and national media outlets (including the New York Times).

Creating helpful online tools like this is a great way to generate backlinks.

You may be asking yourself: “That sounds great but how am I supposed to build an app myself?” Funny you should ask! I’ll walk you through exactly that in the New Strategy section at the end of this blog post.

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention a little bit on the technical aspects of search optimization. Keywords are a deceptive focus of many supposed content writers. The keyword is the thing that you are trying to rank for, the thing that someone might type into a search engine and hopefully find your website. In the oldest of Internet days, people would stuff that keyword as many times as they could into the content, leading a user’s eyes to bleed after reading the keyword personal injury lawyer or personal injury attorney 85 times in a 70 word paragraph. That trick probably never worked, and definitely has not worked since the modern search engine was invented.

Free keyword research tools like Moz.com can help you pick a blog topic.

Think of a keyword as your writing topic. Of course, if you are writing about a topic, you should probably mention it near the top of the article, and perhaps in the title, and in one or two subheadings. That should suffice, and any efforts to use a keyword with a specific “keyword density” will probably lead to your content sounding painfully like a robot wrote it. Seriously, if any marketing agency ever talks to you about “keyword density” when writing your content, fire them and figuratively slap them across their faces.

If you are writing your own content, and especially if your website is powered by WordPress, you can use an SEO plug-in that will check the content as you write it for best practices such as using headers, using your keyword a few times, and writing a meta title and meta description.

Wait, meta what? Don’t be freaked out by the technical terms. A meta-title is the suggested title for search engines to use when showing your website on search results. A meta-description is the blurb beneath that title. While you should use the keyword in the meta-title or description, mostly to make sure that the user knows what you are writing about, the important thing with these is actually writing them to entice the user to click—not so much to affect search ranking.

Related tools and resources

Most SEO tools out there are going to be overkill and will do more to stress you out and waste your time than to actually help. However here are a few that actually might help.

  • Moz Keyword Tool: This will give you a few free searches per day, and with your search will give you an estimated search volume, competitiveness score, and priority rating. This means you will have a vague idea of how many people search up that exact term and how hard Moz thinks it will be for you to rank for it.

  • Frase: This budget-friendly tool will take your keyword that you are targeting and run through the top 10 or 20 search results, comparing them for common topics that they address, statistics they cite, and even the average number of words they wrote. If you are trying to write comprehensive coverage of the topic, better than anyone else who has written about it before, this is a key tool to make sure you hit every aspect of the topic.

  • Google search console: This is probably too technical for most lawyers to want to use or understand, but it is a vital tool for anyone who is managing your website. If you are doing the entire thing yourself, you will need this. It will tell you if there are errors blocking the search engine from accessing your website, it will alert you to issues with slow pages or broken links, and it will give you some insight into rankings and search performance. Most major third-party tools provide better insight on tracking rankings and performance, but Google’s own tool is free and a vital first step towards making sure that some tiny technical error isn’t keeping you off of the search index entirely.

Strategy 4: SEM - (Paid) Search Engine Marketing

A lot of people think of paid search marketing—otherwise known as search engine marketing (SEM), paid search marketing, or Pay Per Click (PPC)—like it’s a water faucet: turn on the ads and the leads will flow. That’s not exactly true.

At a 10,000-foot view, SEM boils down to this: Advertisers pick out terms that they think their ideal potential clients will be typing into search engines. They then “bid” on how much they are willing to pay per click by a user on those ads. On the user’s end, they may see this paid ad at the top of the search results, in the maps section, or occasionally on another website. The two biggest search marketing players are Google and Microsoft, which have very comparable platforms, though Google has about 90% of the market share. For lawyers, the best place to start getting quality traffic is usually on Google search, whereas Microsoft ad traffic (from Bing, AOL, and Yahoo! Search engines) tends to be a bit cheaper since there is less competition.

Paid ads help you get your website in front of high-intent searchers.

While technically pretty much every ad format on Google and Microsoft Ads is run on a “pay per click” bid system, today, many advertisers are moving away from setting manual bids. In fact, if you are manually setting all of your bids in your account, you are probably falling far behind the competition. Instead, if your account is set up properly with conversion tracking, you can use bidding powered by machine learning to set a target cost per lead or to tell the bidding algorithms to set your bids in order to get you the most leads for your budget.

Personally, I think the closest comparison to paid search advertising is daytrading. You invest in your business by paying for these advertisements. You get nerve racking line graphs at the end of the day showing performance in terms of clicks and leads generated. And return on investment can be so variable and small mistakes can cost you so much money, that at times it feels like you’re staring at meme stocks.

True story: yesterday a spam site cost me about $8,000 in paid search clicks. Now, the odds are pretty high that Google will return that money to me because the account I manage spends close to $6 million a year. With that $6 million a year, I generate about $10 million a year in revenue, almost entirely off of lead generation. To get there, we had to test dozens of different digital marketing strategies, multiple ad networks, and multiple lead partners, and have the patience to lose money for years before ever turning a profit. But now, we generate over 200 leads per day, like clockwork, at a 30% profit margin.

How does this apply to the legal industry? Most solo and small firm ad accounts that I see are not set up properly on the technical end and can’t even tell if their paid ads are leading to actual leads (potential clients)—the law firms just assume that since they are spending money on these ads, that the phone calls that come into their office are coming from those ads.

If you are running paid search, the first thing you need to do is to ensure that the technical end is set up correctly. This is called conversion tracking. Conversion tracking, when set up right, can tell the ad platform what phone calls and contact form submissions on the website were generated from what advertisements, down to what keyword was triggered by the user search. This is the bare minimum. You need this because you cannot optimize your account and pause ads that aren’t working, add more marketing budget to the stuff that is working, and capture as much new business as possible, without knowing if the ads are actually generating these leads.

Every ad you run should have a clear goal you are tracking.

For tracking of phone calls, Google offers a free service—it only requires a little bit of code to be inserted on your website and visitors who come in through the paid search ads will have your actual law firm number swapped out with a temporary call tracking phone number that registers as a lead if a call lasts more than, say, 30 seconds. There are also third-party call tracking platforms, such as CallRail, that will do the same thing but more reliably. And these third-party platforms will also work with Microsoft Ads, which does not have its own built-in call tracking.

For tracking of contact form submissions on your website, that is also a simple snippet of code. For a firm that I took over recently, it took me about 48 hours—with the help of its excellent website team—to take the firm’s conversion tracking from zero to fully functional.

The next thing you want to think about with your paid search marketing plan is targeting. When you pick your keywords (search terms) to target, there are a number of “match types” you can choose from, from narrowest to widest:

  • Exact Match: [family law attorney]

  • Phrase Match: “family law attorney”

  • Modified Broad Match: +family +law +attorney

  • Broad Match: family law attorney

Predicting what these match types will do in the real world is actually surprisingly difficult. sAnd they’re constantly changing. New for 2021: Google decided to stop supporting “Modified Broad Match” (though Microsoft still supports it), while expanding “Phrase Match” to include searches that mean the same thing, but may have words in a different order.

Take the search query lawyer for child custody. Will any of the above match types trigger it? Maybe broad match.

What about lawyer for child support arrears? That’s an even tougher call.

Google Adwords offers a free tool for researching keywords.

For high-volume accounts with large profit margins, you can do crazy things like broad match, but most lawyers will be best served with a more conservative strategy: phrase and exact match as many terms as you can think of that are tightly matched to your practice area. Tread lightly on broad match, which simply means allowing Google search algorithms to match your advertisement to anything even slightly related to your target keyword. One family law firm I managed ads for had “yield to horse law” show up in their account. Why? The former ad agency had broad matched the word lawyer. That’s it. The word lawyer. Any search for anything related to a lawyer was going to trigger advertisements. That’s a terrible idea.

The last note on keywords: please do not forget negative keywords. You can enter these negative keywords using the same match types as you do for your targeting keywords (broad, modified broad, phrase, and exact) and ads will not show if the negative is included in a person’s search query. At least in paid advertisements, most lawyers would agree that they want to block any searches that include “pro bono” or “free.” Another example that comes to mind is entering a negative keyword for the phrase “real estate” when you are an estate planning attorney.

It’s important to exclude “negative keywords” when creating an ad campaign.

Guess what? We haven’t even gotten to creating the actual ads yet. On the search networks, writing ads is actually relatively simple: provide a few headlines and a couple of longer descriptions, along with where you want the ads to point (a page on your website and a phone number for calls direct from the ad). There are also responsive search ads—a newer ad format where you can enter a dozen headlines and a few long descriptions and the ad networks will actually mix and match these against each other in live tests to find the combinations that perform the best.

Finally, we need to talk about where you are pointing your ads. Most lazy marketing services agencies will simply point the ads at your website. A law firm website, generally, isn’t set up with the right psychology and user interface to drive the user to do exactly what you want them to do — call or fill out the contact form. Instead, all of that distracting navigation at the top with links to attorney bio pages, practice areas, blog posts, verdicts, and disclaimers distract the user from “converting” to a lead.

If your ads are underperforming, or you want to launch your online marketing efforts with the best set up possible, do a quick search for “top landing page examples 2021” and just skim through a bunch of them. Notice a lot of commonalities:

  • 'Hero' Banner: A large attention-gathering section at the top. This might be a wide banner image that fills the entire screen, or it may be an eye-catching icon or logo on the left side of the screen with a contact form on the right side. We call this the “hero” section.

  • Streamlined: Zero navigation at the top of the page and no links to anywhere except for the contact form or phone number.

  • Contact form: A contact form near the top of the page.

  • Call-to-Action: Throughout the page, including near the top, short “calls to action” that tell the user to call now or sign up for a free consultation.

  • “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO) or urgency language: The text of the site warns the user of upcoming time deadlines to pursue their claim, or other messages of urgency that make it imperative that they call the firm right now.

  • Trust badges: These can include all of those silly lawyer awards, Bar Association logos, and client reviews, or testimonials

No discussion of paid advertising would be complete without at least mentioning a couple of intake best practices. Why? Because there is no point in spending obscene amounts of money on PPC advertising if you are not going to answer the phone. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Track your referral sources: Track where your leads are coming from. And this doesn’t mean asking the callers how they heard about your law firm. Most of them are just going to say something like “the Internet.” Again, call tracking is a huge part of this. You can also add tracking parameters (junk at the end of the link that begins with “?utm_source=yourad”) to your advertisements and listings on third-party sites to make sure you know where the user came from.

  • Measure your answer rate: Use call tracking to not only track the sources of calls back to your paid advertisements, but also to give you a log of how many calls you are actually answering. Nearly every firm I have ever worked with that has set up call tracking has been dumbfounded by the number of calls that they actually miss. At one point, I had 15 lawyer clients in my portfolio. One, only one, had a call answer rate above 90%.

  • Don’t be afraid to cut bait: One firm I worked with ran tens of thousands of dollars of “Avvo-tising” every single month. I put tracking parameters on incoming email leads, website traffic, and phone calls, just to see how many leads we actually generated from that immense amount of spend. The answer was two. Two leads in one month. It took me another three months to convince the firm to cut back on their spend on Avvo. That same tale was told with other firms and directory sites—they were always shocked how little those expensive directory listings brought in.

  • Experiment often: If you are sticking to only the obvious advertising places, like Google Ads, you will pay top dollar—the competition is high there. Fewer lawyers take the leap into Microsoft Ads. Or into running paid social media advertising.

Related tools and resources

  • Adzooma: free PPC management tool that will alert you when you’re missing some basic strategies (add more ad variants!) and will provide easier reporting, especially if you are running ads on both Google and Microsoft.

  • CallRail, WhatConverts, and RulerlAnalytics: Three platforms that track calls and form submissions a bit more seamlessly than the solutions provided by Google. CallRail and Ruler both also allow you to send case values back to Google to provide that missing revenue data that will empower the bidding algorithms to find you better leads, rather than more leads at a fixed cost.

  • Nichesss: A weird A.I. text and ad copy generator that does some really cool stuff, including drafting PPC ad copy using artificial intelligence. It’s a cheap fun toy that can help you get past writer’s block.

Strategy 5: Google Local Services Ads

This strategy is a short but sweet one. Looking for the hottest new channel for business development? Want to have some guarantee of lead quality and limited risk of junk leads blowing your marketing budget?

I absolutely love Google’s new Local Service Ads for lawyers.

They are a bear to set up, but they are absolutely worth it. The process is a little bit involved:

  1. Fill out a profile.

  2. Pick your practice areas and set a budget.

  3. Go through the very lengthy background check and license verification process. This is how Google ensures that you are a licensed attorney and earns you a “Google Screened” or “Google Guaranteed” badge.

  4. Let Google handle the bookings.

You are charged if you answer a phone call and it lasts more than a few seconds. There is transparency on the cost you pay per lead. And at least in my experience running a limited test of these, Google was extremely forgiving when it came to refunding leads that were unqualified (people calling for the wrong practice area). Really, the big key to success with these ads is to simply keep on top of answering the phone and marking every lead as qualified or disputed, if it wasn’t qualified.

Related tools and resources

Lawyer directories stink. They are, in a nutshell, competition for you and ranking for the exact stuff you want to show up for on Google. For example, search for “personal injury lawyer” and you will probably find a directory or two at the top of the search results, followed by one or two law firms.

How do you get into these directories? You pay them.

You have to pay to get priority listings in lawyer directories like Findlaw and Justia.

I wish there were some secret advice or deep strategy to lawyer directory advertising, but there really is not. Look up your practice area and your geography on Google (“equine lawyer Los Angeles”) and see which directories are showing up consistently. Try a bunch of variations on your practice area. Whichever ones show up, those are the only ones you should consider. And you will need to check this every few months, as search rankings can be volatile. For example, Avvo used to be king. Even as recently as a few years ago, they would show up for every legal search query I could think of. Many times, they would show up two or three times on the same search result.

Now? Crickets. I have not seen Avvo show up for a competitive lawyer search term in years. Coincidentally or not, they disappeared right around the time they were bought out by Martindale. You might remember Martindale from those books that existed before the Internet was a thing.

As we mentioned in the SEM Strategy section, it is vital that you track what leads you get from these directories. You should be using call tracking, tracking parameters on the links from those directories to your websites, and maybe even a tracking email address to make sure you can measure the ROI on these ad placements.

Related tools and resources

  • I Search From: A custom location, language, device & personalization Google Search tool to preview ads & results.

  • Legal Directories: FindLaw and Justia and SuperLawyers, oh my.

Strategy 7: Social Media

I truly hate social media advertising. I especially hate it for lawyers. Why? Nobody goes on Facebook or Twitter to look for a lawyer. And while the old rant of “I’ve never heard of someone getting a client off of Twitter” is absolutely false—I’ve generated a ton of new business by networking on Twitter, and I know a few lawyers who have picked up clients off of silly things like chatting about BYU football on Twitter—advertising on social media is like throwing a thousand darts into the ocean and hoping you spear a fish.

The reason why social media is so terrible for generation of leads is simply the psychology of the user. People who go on to Google or Bing or DuckDuckGo and search for something are what we marketers call “intent minded.” If they are searching for “divorce lawyer,” they are looking for a divorce lawyer and want to hire one. They just need to see the right ad to make them feel like they have found someone they can connect with.

On social media, they are scrolling through videos of cats and Antifa. In between those two things, they might see an advertisement for a blog post about some obscure legal topic that they probably have no interest in. See the problem?

You may want to cross Facebook and Instagram off your list of advertising channels.

That’s not to say that all social media advertising is junk, or that it doesn’t work. It’s just that it is insanely more difficult to generate valuable leads on social and to track it.

A social media marketing campaign could be good for brand exposure. The idea behind brand exposure marketing is just to get your name out there enough times that you are psychologically in the back of your potential client’s mind. Maybe, if they see your ad in passing 35 times, they may decide to call you someday when they get around to realizing that they need your products. An ad on Facebook or LinkedIn is like a billboard in the outfield of a minor-league baseball stadium. How do you measure the impact of these ads? It’s nearly impossible.

One step closer to ads that actually generate leads are the lure ads. These ads promise the user some sort of valuable guide to solving their problem. Maybe the guide will tell them how to make $1,000,000 while working from home. Maybe the guide is on legal marketing. Or maybe the guide is on everything you need to know about your car accident claim so that you don’t get screwed by insurance companies and terrible drivers who are uninsured. These are a little more actionable, and a little more trackable. The idea is that the user clicks on the ad to get that lure, turns over their email address or phone number, and downloads the lure. If that doesn’t convince them to call your law firm and hire you, the barrage of emails and phone calls that follow hopefully will.

Social media advertising is so frustratingly indirect and inexact. And yet, there are people that swear by it. And, the clicks on social are a heck of a lot more cheap than the clicks on search.

But the bottom line is this: for nearly every lawyer, competing (on search sites) for the people who are ready to hire a lawyer is a better idea than blasting through someone’s monkey videos (on social networks) with passive advertisements that may lead to them thinking about possibly hiring you someday in the future. If you have maxed out your paid search advertising budget, or just simply can’t afford to play in that arena, maybe social media is worth a go, but be prepared to struggle with measuring a return on your investment.

Oh, what about just sharing things on Facebook, like unpaid posts? Sorry, but that hasn’t worked in about a decade. Many years ago, Facebook went “pay to play” for businesses. This means that the unpaid “organic” reach of your posts is typically somewhere in the neighborhood of 5.2% of the people connected to your page. That means that out of those 100 relatives and friends of yours from school who you convinced to click the like button on your law firm page, only fiveof them will probably see your unpaid post.

Now that we’ve (mostly) ruled out using brand marketing and lure ads, let’s talk about what may actually work on social media: being social. Go out and make genuine connections to other human beings. Join neighborhood groups, chat with people in industries you want to provide legal services to, and share your knowledge. In other words, use social media for good old-fashioned networking.

Related tools and resources

  • Buffer: An easy tool for scheduling social media posts across all the major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.).

Strategy 8: Client Reviews and Local Search Engine Optimization

Gun to my head, what is my favorite form of advertising for lawyers? Google My Business reviews, also known as the reviews you see on the map in Google search results. 90% of search traffic goes through Google, and any searches for a specific type of lawyer will bring up the “map pack.” In that maps section, you get a list of 2 to 4 lawyers with their reviews emblazoned next to their name in bright yellow stars.

The best part is: it is free. And it only takes about 15 minutes to set up, plus the time it takes to harass former clients into leaving reviews.

Maps listings are one of the most underrated marketing channels for law firms.

After moving from California to New York a few years ago for my wife’s medical residency, I was faced with the task of basically relaunching my law firm. I did so by putting up a simple Google listing and getting a few reviews from former clients. Less than a week later, I signed two clients while on vacation in the Philippines, and finished one of their cases before I even made it back stateside. (Yes, I am a workaholic.) If you are not advertising on Google My Business (the maps) for free, you are missing some seriously low-hanging fruit.

Setting this up is easy: go to google.com/business and set up a new listing. Once you fill out your name, address, phone number, and business information on your firm, Google will mail you a postcard to make sure your address is actually real. Once you receive that physical postcard, you can enter the serial number on the card online and that will make your listing live. Call up a few old clients and have them leave reviews. Then, every single time you close a file, ask yourself if that client would be ecstatic about their experience with your firm. If so, ask them to leave you a review. Is it shameless? Perhaps a little bit. But this is how Internet marketing is done today.

You may have heard this process of pumping your maps listing full of reviews referred to as “local SEO.” In truth, client reviews are a very large part of local SEO. But that term is actually a bit broader and refers to two separate concepts: ranking in that pretty maps pack above the normal search results and ranking in those normal search results for local search queries, like “Los Angeles County Retirement System pension division lawyer.”

For the maps, some of the biggest ranking factors include proximity (Google obviously wants to find you a lawyer that is geographically close to you), client reviews (they want to reward the best lawyers), and keyword spam.

Did I say spam? I sure did. For many years, marketers have known that if you stick the desired case type into the title of the business on Google My Business, you are way more likely to rank for that term. If you read the prior section on search optimization, where I decried keyword density and keyword stuffing, forget all about that when it comes to naming your law firm. All other things equal, a firm called “car accident lawyer near me” is more likely to show up in the maps than a firm called “Benintendi, Taylor, and Isbel LLP.”

This is also why you so often see spam in that section: lead generation companies, rather than lawyers, with addresses at the UPS store and a website that was created in 15 minutes, outrank real lawyers using spam tactics, then sell those leads to law firms. I would predict that Google would do something about this obvious tactic, but it hasn’t, and we have known about this for many years.

The other type of local SEO is more about the content on your website. This is mostly based on the same factors as normal SEO: great content, some links, etc. It also helps to make sure that you have a local physical address on the website and some schema (nerdy coding) on the backend that tells Google that you are located at that address.

What about other review sites? Well, Yelp increasingly is disappearing off of the search results. But its reviews do show up on Bing and in results from Siri and iPhone (Apple Maps) navigation, so you can’t overlook it entirely. Beyond that, most of the other review sites are slowly dying. If you have a bad review on one of those sites, you might want to point a few happy clients over there to bury the bad review with more good ones. Otherwise, just focus your attention on the biggest player where you will get the most attention: Google.

Related tools and resources

  • Google My Business

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system: A tool to track closed cases and send out emails asking for a review. Depending on your needs, there are lots of off-the-shelf options, or you can build a CRM yourself.

  • Podium: A tool for automatically following up with clients via text message to collect quick reviews.

Strategy 9: Content Marketing

Most lawyers I know can’t even be bothered to write a blog post. A blog post should be anywhere between 300 words to a couple thousand words, depending on how much you feel like writing about a topic. But, if you’re one of those people who loves to write like I do, blogging and writing content are not the problem. It is getting people to see that content and getting the people who see your content to become new business for your law firm.

This is content marketing.

Here’s a hard truth: it is extremely difficult to rank for competitive search terms in a large market. Until recently, I did not think there was any chance I would ever rank for any major legal search term in New York City. I had an outside shot at showing up for New York QDRO, because there are literally no other lawyers in New York City that do these that I can find online. But besides that, nothing. (I do, somehow, rank on the first page for “fight a red light camera ticket NYC” but that’s a hilarious and enlightening story that I’ll share in the New Strategy section.)

Even ranking for a niche practice area like “QDROs” is difficult in large markets.

So what do you do with all that magical content once you have actually written it? Not only do you share it in the obvious places, like social media, but you also should repurpose it. The biggest mistake that content creators make is to just set it and forget it. They draft a blog post and then hope it magically gets backlinks from other websites and drives website traffic.

Instead, recycle, baby!

Take that mega blog post, those 10,000 words you just wrote on interstate spousal support, and break it up into smaller infographics. Maybe turn it into a podcast. Or, expand it a bit more and turn it into a book. Take a handful of blog posts, bundle them together and turn them into a downloadable e-book—remember we were talking about lead lures?

Here is another idea: take your most popular blog post, or the blog post that most resonates with the questions that you are asked all the time by your clients, and turn them into flyers. When you get a new client, set up a drip campaign that sends them one of these flyers each week. If the client asks one of the questions in your FAQ, just reply with an email saying please see attached and attach the PDF.

Are lawyers a good referral source for you? They are for me. Divorce lawyers send a ton of cases to QDRO lawyers, as we are basically the cleanup crew that comes in after the divorce to divide the retirement accounts that divorce lawyers were too scared to touch. I’ve created a number of flyers that these divorce lawyers can hand to their clients. These flyers are, of course, branded to my law firm so that not only does the client get a very useful checklist for retirement accounts, but they get my contact information at the bottom of the sheet.

Writing great content is hard. It really is. Most lawyers cannot write for humans. They write legal briefs and then when they try to go back to that more casual writing style, it just isn’t there. Everything they write is overly technical and cold So, if they do strike gold and write something good, it is a darn shame to just leave it on a blog post. Take that content, repurpose it in 25 different ways, and make it do work.

Related tools and resources

  • Canva: For creating infographics or flyers

  • Fiverr: Hire a cheap freelancer to turn your content into flyers

Strategy 10: Email Marketing

Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to read your law firm newsletter. If you think email marketing means that you send a law firm newsletter to the six people who felt guilty enough to subscribe to it, that is not an unusual mistake. But it is an absolute waste of your time. Email marketing instead should be a tool to get people who are interested in your firm, but haven’t gotten the courage to sign the retainer, to finally cross the line.

Is that dry toast or your law firm newsletter?

How? Lures and drip campaigns.

Think about all of those random e-books that were so enticing that you willingly filled out some form and provided your email address in order to download it. That is called a lure: make some freebie product so enticing that the user is willing to sacrifice their personal information in order to get it. It could be an “Insider’s Guide to Winning Your Divorce,” a “Checklist for Fighting Evil Insurance Claims Adjusters,” or as I’ll discuss in the New Strategy section, an app that helps someone with their legal problem—whatever it is, it has to be something that the user feels like they need.

Once you have captured their email address, this is where the drip campaign starts. The user will receive an email immediately confirming that they have subscribed to your list and providing them with the lure that they were promised. A few days later, they get another email giving them a couple hundred words of education about their legal issue. A couple days after that, maybe they get a link to an article or another downloadable guide. And once they’re warmed up, you might sprinkle in an email that offers a discount if they sign up today, or remind them of an impending deadline with a link to schedule a free consultation.

Email marketing to people who have opted into it is an insanely powerful tool to capitalize on the marketing dollars that you have already spent elsewhere. If you have driven traffic to your site from social media, or through content on search, email is the tool that keeps you in their brain and slowly convinces them to sign the retainer.

No other medium gives you the reader’s undivided attention, other than perhaps text messaging (SMS) and messaging apps, which are slowly creeping into lawyers’ toolboxes.

Related tools and resources

  • MailChimp: A free, easy-to-use tool for email marketing

Strategy 11: Marketing Metrics and KPIs

As a lawyer, I should hate math. In fact, I do hate math. But the more time I spend working in marketing, and the longer I have had my own firm, the more I realize that data rules everything around me. You cannot be successful in business or in marketing if you don’t have clear data.

Most lawyers spend some money on marketing, either with a marketing agency or with some random freelancer—their cousin’s daughter who makes websites. They probably get some referrals. And they just assume that any case that doesn’t come in as a direct referral comes from their online advertising efforts.

Some of the most important metrics you can track are:

  • Cost per client acquisition: If you know how much it costs to get each client through paid sources, that gives you a baseline for how much you have to charge. It also gives you a comparison point between channels so that you can decide whether that more expensive channel is worth it (Is it bringing in more valuable cases?).

  • Cost per lead: This is a more accessible metric, and nearly every ad platform will provide it. Usually they will call it your cost per acquisition (CPA) or your cost per conversion. While this is a more readily available metric, it is also a less helpful one, as not all lead quality is the same. Some ad providers and marketing agencies even consider any call or email from a new source (including pro bono or spam calls from other marketing agencies) to be a lead.

  • Cost per qualified lead: This is a far better metric than treating all leads as equal quality. Instead, track the source of all of your leads and only calculate the cost per new lead that isn’t junk.

  • Ad spend RO: Take your case value and subtract what you spent on ads and this is the return-on-investment for your paid ad spend. One of my favorite paid search marketing strategies is the “Target RoAS” automated bidding strategy—for high volume accounts, with a ton of data, you can actually tell the ad networks what profit margins you want to get and this strategy will hunt out the most valuable leads in order to maximize your volume and get you as close to the desired profit margin as possible.

You’ll notice I did not include website traffic on that list. I also didn’t include bounce rate. And seriously, if your paid search manager is using impression or click counts as some sort of metric of success, slap that person hard. The truth about all of these metrics is that, while they are a very rough indicator of exposure to your brand, they are a very terrible indicator of whether or not you are actually going to be getting paid clients. You might write a blog post that drives a ton of eyeballs—but zero paying clients.

And as any business or law firm knows, the only metrics that really matter are the leads and clients.

Related tools and resources

  • Google Analytics: This is the go-to free tool for tracking engagement and conversions on a website.

New Strategy

Market your law firm by building a legal product

I have this wife. She’s a magnificent wife. She is chief resident of her medical program. She is an amazing mother. She can wire up a two-way light switch just as well as she can play a Bach sonata on her violin. Or her guitar, piano, harp, or ukulele.

She is also a terrible driver. In the first three months we were dating, she had two major accidents. She (thankfully) made me drive everywhere for the first three years we were together. For the first year that we lived in New York City, she did not drive—at all.

When the COVID pandemic hit, she stepped up and volunteered for COVID duty, which meant she was rotated in and out of hospitals and worked long and unpredictable hours. And while schools, businesses, and most of the city were shut down, she was driving back and forth, all day and night.

During that time, she got a number of speed camera tickets. In New York City, you can get one of these for going 36 mph in a 25 mph school zone, even for a second, even when there are no cars or kids around (cough, cough… like during a pandemic, in the middle of the night).

It was incredibly frustrating for me especially, because the car is in my name and the registered owner gets all the tickets. “They’re not my tickets baby. See? They have your name on them,” she’d say menacingly.

In a fit of rage, I built a legal app using Afterpattern that cited recent cases that require the law enforcement agencies to notarize their tickets. In fact, the statute clearly says as much. NYC had not been notarizing tickets. Had it not been for a questionable ruling by a trial court judge, a class action would have wiped out every single ticket that the city had ever handed out. Instead, we’re fighting these tickets one by one.

I built that app thinking that it would not get any traction, but I’d get some catharsis. But here’s the crazy, amazing, have-to-see-it-to-believe-it part of this story…

I rank on the first page of Google for so many variations of “camera ticket” in the biggest city in North America.

You see that screenshot above?

That’s little-old me on the front page of Google, listed for the phrase “dispute camera ticket new york city”. My website ranks right after the official website for disputing traffic tickets, and above listings for the city DMV and a legal tech startup with millions in venture funding. I get literally thousands of people visiting my blog post about the app every month and tons of people using the app to generate dispute letters. (Unfortunately, the city is rejecting many of these dispute letters despite very clear court decisions and the plain text of the legislation... but that’s a topic for another day.)

The punchline to all this is: I don’t even practice traffic law.

I have literally stumbled across SEO and marketing gold, but for the wrong practice area. But now that I’ve discovered this digital marketing gold, I’m busy scheming up ways to apply it to my own practice area.

What’s the lesson for you? Here’s a step-by-step playbook on how to implement this new digital marketing strategy:

How to Build and Market Legal Products

1

Brainstorm

Think of something that’s very useful to your potential client base, but non-monetizable for you and your competition. Remember the immigration attorney who built an app to help people understand if recent travel bans affected them? Or the legal aid attorney who built an an app to help people protect themselves from eviction? Those are textbook examples.

A great place to start is by doing some basic keyword research for legal topics that you are knowledgeable about, with the goal of figuring out what terms have high volume and aren’t super competitive. For example, a little research will show you that your product idea should probably be limited to state or local laws and regulations because ranking for search terms like “Naturalization” or “Social security disability” is next to impossible.

2

Build

Based on that idea, build an app using Afterpattern. Afterpattern is free to get started with, easy to use, and lets you create an app in literally minutes or hours, instead of the usual weeks or months that software development takes.

For example, you could develop an app that generates a simple set of documents like LegalZoom or helps someone quickly determine their eligibility under a certain law. The possibilities are endless. If app building sounds too daunting, you can even hire an affordable Afterpattern developer to help turn your idea into a reality.

3

Explain

Make sure the first page of your app clearly explains who the app is for, how it helps, and how long it will take. This sets expectations for your users and gives search engines the context they need to determine if your app is relevant. I also recommend you do what I did and write a blog post on your website that talks about the app and very prominently links to it.

4

Brand

Brand the heck out of your app and any documents it generates, so the people using it see your name repeatedly. This builds brand loyalty and raises the odds prospective clients will think of your firm when they have a legal need that requires hiring a lawyer. This is also a great opportunity to throw in a question asking the person if they want to sign up for relevant emails from your law firm (see the Email Marketing Strategy section for more on that).

5

Share

Spread the word about your free tool to your network, on your website, and by reaching out to media. The best way to spread the word about what you built is going to depend on what audience your app is aimed at.

If it’s a helpful legal resource for startups, maybe post about it on HackerNews or email a reporter at TechCrunch. If it’s a tool for helping nonprofits understand a new change in tax laws, reach out to websites that curate resources for 501c3 corporations and send a Twitter direct message to a BloombergLaw tax reporter.

6

Monetize… maybe

If you’re using an app for marketing purposes, you probably want to offer it for free. The magic word “free” makes it way more likely people will click on your app when it pops up on Google, that reporters will want to write about it, and that other websites will want to link to it.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t look for opportunities to monetize the traffic to your app, even if it’s indirectly. For example, you can offer users the opportunity to upgrade mid-app session to get the document they’re generating reviewed by your law firm. There is a little legal tech company called LegalZoom that uses this exact model to great effect: offer a legal product for no cost or a nominal fee but give users the ability to upgrade to have an attorney review whatever documents the app produces.

Many apps that are good ideas for marketing your firm won’t have obvious paths to monetization and that’s OK, too. Every new visitor to your app is building your brand, and every backlink is building your website’s SEO profile.

As for my current digital marketing efforts?

I’m working on a few miniature legal apps that I can give away for free: calculators, notices of divorce litigation that can be sent to retirement plans, joinders for retirement plans that can be used in California, etc. I doubt any of these will be as successful as a red light ticket fighting app, but that’s the beauty of Afterpattern:

With my knowledge of the law, I can build a useful app with just a few hours of elbow grease. That means even if the next app I build only performs 1/10th as well as my ticket app, it’ll have been well worth the investment.

Conclusion

Speaking of investments, you’ve made it all the way to the end of this monster guide on law firm marketing! I hope you found it useful and maybe just a little bit entertaining.

Do yourself a favor and reward yourself by scheduling a free call with my friends at Afterpattern so they can strategize with you about marketing your law firm with a legal app.

Or you can just start building one for free right now by clicking here.

If the whole app thing is too much too fast, no worries. You can sign up for this newsletter to keep tabs on what other law firms are building and what the new face of legal marketing looks like.

Happy digital marketing!