We work with attorneys everyday as they begin the process of starting a new law firm. Even the most experienced attorneys can make little mistakes that end up hurting their internet marketing strategy. Both solo-practitioner and small law firms tend to make the same mistakes when taking those first steps right before they open the doors. Many of these issues will have a big impact on their internet marketing efforts for years to come.
We have compiled this checklist on opening your law practice to help attorneys make a few key decisions that are critical to the success of their internet marketing strategy. We believe you should “do it once and to it right.” In many cases spending a small amount of money now can save you a large amount of money down the road when you realize the real cost of correcting that mistake.
At Internet LAVA we do more than just build websites. We work with the attorneys every step of the way to make sure their internet marketing strategy translates into an excellent return on their investment.
The Google Basics – Name of the Firm, Phone Number, Physical Address, and URL Address
Many attorneys make decisions about starting their law practice without ever thinking about the implications those early decisions will have on their internet marketing strategies. You should read this checklist before you choose the name of your law firm, your local phone number, your physical address, or the address of your websites URL.
All of the major search engines, including Google, have a few key ways of determining how your website should rank for different key terms. The search engines are increasing identifying your law firm by the following pieces of information:
- the name of the firm;
- the physical address;
- the location of your particular office or set of offices within that building;
- the local phone number; and
- the URL address for the law firm’s main website.
Therefore, it is important to look at each of those decisions from an internet marketing perspective. Think about it this way – an effective internet marketing strategy requires not only a great main website but also hundreds of quality back-links and profiles from other websites.
Those other websites will identify your business by the name of the business, a physical address, local phone number and the URL of the main website. If any of those things change then you will physically have to go back to each of the outside websites and either change the information yourself or convince the webmaster to change that information for you. If all of this information is identical across the internet then the search engines will begin to see your business as being more trustworthy and reputable.
1. Pick a Local “Advanced Call Forwarding” Number Wisely
One of the most important decisions you will make from an internet marketing perspective when starting your law practice is choosing a local phone number that will belong to you (and only you) for the rest of your career. The importance of this small detail is often overlooked by attorneys.
a. The Phone Number Should Never Change
Ideally, you will have this local phone number for your entire career. The phone number will actually become very valuable to you over time. As your law firm grows, the local number will stay the same. Even if you move from one side of town to the other, you want the phone number to stay the same.
Ten years from now, you want a former client who comes across your business card, letterhead or old marketing materials to pick up the phone to call you at the same phone number. Also keep in mind that individuals tend to store phone numbers in their cell phone or other electronic platforms. When an old client needs an attorney or needs to refer a friend to that attorney, the old client may have your old phone stored electronically. If your phone number does not change over time then your former clients will have a much easier time finding you and referring you to friends or family.
b. Google and the Other Search Engines Identify Your Business By That Phone Number
All of the major search engines are beginning to identify businesses not just through the URL address of the main website, but also through the local phone number for the business. For a long time, Google would rank websites higher based on the age of the websites. Older websites tended to have a higher Page Rank which often translates into higher rankings as new content is published.
Now the search engines are becoming more sophisticated. The search engines now look at other factors such as the length of time a business has maintained the same local phone number and physical address. Once you start your practice you want your local phone number and physical address to stay the same for as long as possible because changing either of those items will be inconvenient and detrimental to your internet marketing strategy.
In fact, the stability of the law firm’s phone number and physical address are factors that Google can use to determine how the business should rank in Google Maps. If the phone number changes a few years from now you will have a taunting task ahead of you when it comes to going into hundreds of on-line profiles and manually changing that information. Then the search engines will also be able to see that your phone number has changed which is confusing to the search engines and could be an indication that your business is not stable or well-established.
c. Flexibility in Forwarding Phone Calls
If your internet marketing campaign is successful then your phone will begin ringing with calls from your ideal potential clients immediately after you open the doors. How you handle those calls will directly impact whether you actually land any of those potential clients. If the goal of an effective internet marketing strategy is landing your ideal clients then finding a qualified person to answer the phones is the most important factor in the early success of your law firm.
By having “advanced call forwarding” options you can easily transfer the calls from your office phone to your answering service or cell phone. In fact, in the early days of your practice you may be transferring those calls often. Easy to use advance call forwarding options are critical.
d. Pick a Number that is Easy to Remember
Ideally, you want a number that is easy to remember with as many 0’s or repeated numbers as possible. For example: 350-3500 might be better than 549-2376. When you call the phone company to get that advanced call forwarding number spend some time picking the best number.
2. Picking a 1-800 Phone Number
1-800 numbers are becoming less important as more people are relying on cell phones and don’t mind calling a long-distance number. Additionally, for internet marketing purposes, the search engines recognize a local phone number as an indication that the business should show up higher for local searches.
Nevertheless, you may also decide to invest in a 1-800 number as a secondary number. The same factors discussed above also apply. Choose a 1-800 number that you can have for your entire career and one that is easy to remember. In your marketing material you can emphasis the 1-800 number but your webmaster should help you use the local number as the main number for other purposes to assist with local search engine marketing.
3. Finding a Quality Local Answering Service
If you can’t afford an assistant to answer the phones then get a quality local answering service. The internet is 24/7. Your ideal clients may be searching for an attorney on a weekend or after normal business hours. Therefore, you need an answering service for calls that come in on weekends and after normal business hours. Ideally, the answering service should be local so that the person who answers the phones is aware of the names of area cities and counties and their proximity to your office. The potential client can often tell if the person who answers the phones is familiar with the area or not.
Secondly, the answering service can forward the calls to your e-mail or even text you the message. All you have to do to return the call is hit the number on your smart phone screen. Another benefit of using an answering service is that it also gives you a written record of exactly who called and how to reach them.
The answering service should answer the phone call within three rings. If anyone hangs up, you should get that information and call back any hang up numbers.
If your internet marketing campaign is successful then your phone will ring. However, if you do not have someone to answer the phone you will not land any of that business. Your potential clients may not be willing to leave a message and wait for a return phone call. Your potential clients want to leave a message with an actual person who can confirm that you are experienced handling that particular type of case, that you are willing to speak with them, and that you are willing to quickly set a phone or office consultation.
The way you handle these issues depends largely on your practice area and the expectations of your potential clients.
4. Location, Location, Location
Your physical address will make a huge impact in your internet marketing success because Google Maps will equate your law firm with a physical address. Pick that address wisely. Moving from one address to another will put a big dent in your internet marketing so find a location that you can ideally stay at for years to come.
Just like your phone number, you want your physical address to stay the same for as long as possible. The search engines, including Google, will use your physical address to identify your law firm. If your law office is in a larger office building you will need to go to “Google My Business” to map out your office location within that building. Ideally, your internet marketing company should help you with this task because the more precise your location the easier time the search engines will have confirming that location. Do it once and do it right.
5. Scheduling the Google Virtual Tours
As soon as you get your office set up, the next task is scheduling your Google Virtual Tours. This is perhaps the best way to spend your marketing budget. The images are taken by a trusted photographer in your area shown on a list maintained by Google. The photographers aren’t employed by Google and you pay them directly, but the cost is usually less than $500.
Uploading the tour will enhance your online visibility and draw traffic to your business with a 360 interactive experience. The photographer will upload the images for you and those images are shown on Google maps. You can embed the virtual tour on your website. It helps customers explore your firm before they make an appointment.
At Internet Lava, LLC, we help our clients set up and optimize everything on their “Google My Business” listing.
6. Deciding on the Name of Your Law Firm
More and more attorneys when naming their law firm are moving away from naming the law firm with the phrases such as “______ and Associates.” More and more legal practices with more than one attorney are moving to phrases such as “_______ Law Firm” or “________ Law Group.” Even niche firms are choosing niche names such as “_________ Criminal Defense Group.” There is a good reason for such a shift. The name of your law firm will make a huge difference in how people find you on-line.
a. Keywords in the Name of the Law Firm
Google Places will require that the real name of your law firm is listed. You are not allowed to use key works unless those key words are actually in the name of your firm. “_______ Law Firm” or “___________ Criminal Defense Group” has more SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) value then “_____, _____, and Associates” which could apply to other types of practices such as accounting firms or engineering firms.
Also, other websites will link to your site using the name of your law firm as the “anchor link.” If key words are including in the anchor link it also provides some SEO value. Although SEO should not be the main factor in choosing the name of your law firm, it should certainly be considered as one factor.
b. How Common is the Name?
Unusual names work best. Naming your law firm “Smith Law Firm” is a huge mistake because it will be difficult for your clients to find your law firm using the name of the firm on-line. As you come up with proposed names for your law firm, type that name into Google and the other search engines to see how many other law firms are showing up for that same name. Ideally, the name of your firm will be totally unique or at least totally unique to your particular practice area and state.
7. The Website URL for your Law Practice- Choose Wisely
Attorneys often make mistakes in choosing the URL. The URL is the address used to find the website. (For example – www.NameofLawFirm.com or www.TypeofAttorneyinTown.com). When deciding on a URL you have two main choices.
a. Pick a URL Address that Uses Keywords
For a new law practice, we usually recommend picking a key word based URL address. Although your law firm may start off as a solo practice you may eventually hire associates or even join in a partnership agreement with another attorney or group of attorneys. If you base the URL off of the name of your practice keep in mind that the name could change. Even if the name of the firm ultimately changes the URL should never change.
If you choose keywords, keep the URL as short as possible. When uploading your URL, you only get so many spaces on some platform. A shorter URL is easier to add to marketing materials and looks better.
If you are a personal injury attorney you can choose a URL that includes keywords that are important to marketing your practice. The key words can include terms like “personal injury” and “attorney” or “lawyer” and then the name of the town, city, county or the state in which you practice.
b. Pick a URL Address that Uses the Names of the Attorneys in the Practice
Larger law firms often make the mistake of using a string of names in the URL or the initials of the partners. This is a mistake because the name of the firm and/or the list of partners at the firm can change over time. If you choose the name www.SmithJonesandAssociates and then Smith and Jones decide to split up, the URL essentially becomes worthless.
The URL actually becomes valuable over time. If you change the URL you lose that page rank. Also, when you are ready to sell the practice or even just the website, you will receive more money for it if the URL can be transferred to another attorney. For example – www.DUIAttorneyinNameofTown.com could be purchased by any other DUI attorney in town while a URL that is specific to a particular attorney such as www.LawOfficeof_____.com is less likely to have any value to another attorney in the future.
8. Pictures, Photographs and Images Matter to Your Law Firm’s Marketing Strategy
The website can benefit from nice pictures showing the outside of your office, the receptionist space, conference room, and even a few shots of you in your office with the diplomas on the wall. Hire a professional photographer to come to your office and take pictures of you, the building, your office space, and your staff. It even helps to take pictures of local courthouses or government building that you will be discussing on your website. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The same holds true for internet marketing. The search engines love images and reward websites that have quality photographs that keep the viewer’s attention.
Those pictures can also be used in thousands of on-line profiles, blogs, and other marketing material. Qualify professional photographs will provide you with a big return on your investment for years to come.
Contact Internet LAVA to Discuss Your Internet Marketing Strategy
When you are ready to start your own law firm, contact Internet LAVA to discuss the services we provide. Many of our clients tell us that investing in our services has been the best investment they will ever make. The website becomes more and more valuable over time. For many law firms, the website is the most valuable asset owned by the firm. We help solo practitioners and small firms find their place at the top of Google for their particular niche.