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Few law firms fully exploit the business potential of an effectively developed Web site. A dynamic Web site will bring in clients. An ineffective site will simply join the thousands of law firm sites that collect electronic dust on the Internet. Telephone directories are a foundation of small law firm advertising, but the Internet has begun to challenge that tradition. Consider: When was the last time that you looked for a phone number using a phone book? Wise firms are beginning to refocus their marketing budgets on ads that drive visitors to their Web sites. To bring in clients, two factors must be in place. First, potential clients must find your site. Second, the site must be compelling. This article will focus on ensuring that clients find your Web site. Develop a search-engine-friendly Web site. Search engines develop ranking algorithms in an attempt to provide quality results — that is, to make sure that the sites that are most on target will rank higher on the search results list. It has been our experience that law firm Web sites with the highest rankings obtain the majority of search engine clients. Because savvy Web site owners understand the value of high rankings and work hard to obtain them, achieving a top rank is not a simple matter. Search engines are as secretive about their ranking algorithms as Coca Cola and the Colonel are about their secret recipes. However, the following principles can help you develop a site that will rank well: � Provide descriptive, keyword-heavy metatags. Metatags are hidden text tags that are placed in the programming code. The most important metatags are the “title” and “description.” The title typically consists of 60 to 100 characters such as, “New York family law firm — Smith & Jones.” � Provide valuable content and segregate topics by placing them on different pages. For example, if yours is an estate planning firm, you should have an overview page, a frequently asked question (FAQ) page, an estate planning page, a probate page and, if applicable, an elder care page. � Obtain links from other Web sites that rank well in the search engines and are related to your profession, e.g., other law firms. For example, you might exchange links with a firm in another state or city that does not compete with you. These links are often called “popularity” or “backward” links. Search engines assume that if a site has incoming links, it has value and is well established. List your Web site in affordable directories. There are a surprising number of directories for most areas of practice. To find them, perform a search engine query for your practice areas and add the word “directory” at the end, e.g., “personal injury directory” or “[your city] personal injury directory.” Type your competitors’ names into the major search engines and see where they are listed. Review the directories and request listings in the free and/or affordable ones. Try the same query with “free listings” at the beginning, e.g., “free listings personal injury directory.” Many of these listings will add “popularity links” to your total and increase your visibility. Typical listings are $295 per year. Obtain sponsored ads. Google, Overture and LookSmart offer sponsored ads, typically on a “bid” basis. The highest bidder typically receives the most prominent ad. Other factors, such as activity (the number of times an ad is clicked on), sometimes play a role in the ad ranking. Internet search and ad sales fueled a 43 percent increase in Internet advertising in the second quarter of 2004, over the same period in 2003. Usually, sponsored ads appear at the top or on the right-hand side of search engine results. Some of these services require that ads generate traffic and will drop inactive ads lower in the listings or eliminate them completely. Choosing competitive phrases such as “personal injury lawyers” can cost as much as $100 per click. However, if you choose similar phrases for a small town, e.g., “smalltown personal injury lawyers” or “smalltown estate planning attorneys,” the ads can be as little as a few cents per click. By focusing on niche areas, you can greatly reduce your sponsored ad investment, while targeting certain types of prospective clients. Sponsored ads obtain considerably less traffic than the “free listing” area, but a few well planned phrases can pay off for you. Sponsored ad services help you set daily budgets and let you block certain phrases that may not apply to your practice or locale. For example, if you are an attorney in Charleston, W. Va., you can block your ad from appearing when someone searches for Charleston, S.C., attorneys. If you have to prioritize which of these processes to put into place, sponsored ads are currently the least important. Another option: outsource. If you do not have the time or interest to learn or manage your Web marketing campaign, you can contract with a legal Web consultant for all or part of the process. Many Web marketing consultants provide both search engine optimization and sponsored ad management. Web marketing campaigns are priced based upon the competitiveness of the phrases and locales. Campaigns can range from two thousand dollars to six figures per year. You can often pay for such consultation on a monthly basis. Be careful when choosing Web marketing consultants. Many pretenders advertise services that they cannot deliver. It is best to use a legal consultant because they will have experience that will save you time and will have linking affiliations that can quickly improve your rankings. To evaluate consultants, perform searches for your practice areas in your city and other cities. Determine which law firm Web sites consistently rank well. You can usually find their consultant’s name at the bottom of their site. If not, you can ask the firm whom they used. If you aren’t successful using that method, perform Google searches for “law firm Web consultants,” “law firm Web marketing consultants,” etc. If the consultants can truly deliver, they should rank well. Reputable consultants typically list their clients on their Web site or will be happy to provide a list. Do not talk to one or two favored clients — contact several law firms to measure the consultant’s performance. However you decide to develop your Web site, it can tell your story in accordance with your wishes and in as much detail as you desire. Additionally, your Web site investment will carry forward to future years, changing and evolving as your market dictates. Dale Tincher is president of Consultwebs.com, Inc., of Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at [email protected]

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