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These are the facts: � 85 percent of users first discover Web sites through search engines. � 120 million Americans use search engines monthly. � 50 percent of all searches in the U.S. are commercial searches, where the user is looking to purchase a good or service, such as legal advice. Often, they are using the Internet to research a law firm they plan to retain locally. � Consumer use of high-speed broadband Internet connections has grown rapidly. These statistics were cited by Geoff Stevens, a manager with Pasadena’s is4profit Ltd., which offers Overture “pay-per-click” online advertising. Stevens spoke at a recent conference on business development, sponsored by Thomson’s Findlaw, and held in Las Vegas. Joining him at the podium were Ross Kodner, president of Milwaukee’s MicroLaw Inc.; Russell Jackman, owner of CLASS (Community Legal Automation Systems & Software) Consulting in Los Angeles; Erik Bratt, of San Diego’s WebSideStory; and Dan Goodman, of Dulles, Va.’s America Online. The panel focused on small and medium size law firms, and discussed what’s “in” and what’s “out” in online legal marketing, in a seminar entitled “Web Marketing: How to Hit the Jackpot.” Here are some of the highlights: IN: Search engine optimization: “If you have a great Web site that no one can find, do you exist as a business?” asked MicroLaw’s Kodner (The implied answer is “no”). “If a prospect Googles your firm and you don’t show up on the first hit page, you’re invisible. If a prospect Googles your area of practice and your location and you don’t show up on the first hit page, you’re not getting hired or ever considered. Search engine optimization is no longer optional, it’s absolutely essential, says Kodner. “The object is to skew hits to your site. Your firm needs a professional search engine optimization consultant if you expect to get top results in your promoted practice areas.” OUT: Using metatags, title tags and other coding tricks. Search engines have gotten wise to all the behind-the-scenes coding tricks and don’t pay attention to them any more, reports CLASS’ Jackman. Coding tricks include standard techniques such as beefing up title and metatags in a Web site’s HTML code, and sneakier ploys, such as hiding keywords in invisible text (like black text on a black background), automated software services that spam search engines with information, buying links back to your site on link farms, or creating mirror or gateway sites to your site. “Many search engines abandoned use of metatags, because this approach would cause search engines to be fooled — especially by the porn and spam industries,” Jackman says. They won’t get fooled again. IN: Geographically localized searches. America Online and Yahoo now allow users to search for a law firm nearby or in a specified location. AOL’s Goodman says a search on his company’s site for “lawyers” will yield a list of local law firms, sorted by proximity, complete with phone numbers and distance from the user’s location. Yahoo allows users to add geographic modifications to their searches, so they can search specifically for “Las Vegas divorce lawyers,” targeting on a regional, state or city level, says Stevens. Law firms can buy listings that will lead clients directly to them when they conduct local searches. “You can spot-target where you want your customers to come from,” advises Stevens. “It’s a spot media buy, which is not new offline but is new in online advertising. And it’s very cost effective.” For example, a potential client may search for “Mountain View attorney.” Stevens explained that his company’s Overture product identifies the location of the searcher by his or her IP address. “We receive the search, compare it to where advertisers said they want traffic from, and then serve up the results,” Stevens said. OUT: Animated graphics. “Having Flash and Shockwave animated graphics only are valuable if they help direct visitors where they want to go, Jackman observes. “If a visitor can’t tell what your firm is all about within 30 seconds, you don’t have a good Web site.” Flash may also have the undesired effect of bouncing away search engines, which cannot index the text embedded in Flash graphics. IN: Online Yellow Pages. “Online Yellow Pages are like print Yellow Pages on steroids,” opines Goodman. “You can reserve a particular position in the Yellow Pages.” Goodman reports that AOL is targeting attorneys, apparently with good reason. There are more than one million searches each month for lawyers nationwide among all the various online Yellow Pages, he asserted. “There are more than 2,000 monthly searches in Los Angeles alone for personal injury, medical malpractice and trial attorneys.” “More and more people are going on the Web to find lawyers and it’s only going to get bigger,” he says. Goodman cites these top online search categories for lawyers: 1. General law 2. Family law 3. Personal injury, medical malpractice and trial attorneys 4. Criminal law 5. Estate, probate and estate planning 6. Real estate law 7. Bankruptcy law 8. Employment law, including workers’ compensation IN: Client portals. “Law firms should create a private storage area on the Web for their legal documents,” Kodner argues. “Put it on the Web and give clients a user ID and password to get to it. Don’t charge clients for it; show them the love. That’s what they’re going to tell their friends at the Rotary Club and their church about, and that’s what will bring you new business. You’ve saved them time.” IN: Web analytics. “Web analytics scrutinize Web site visitor behavior for the purpose of making improvements in your marketing,” says WebSideStory’s Erik Bratt. “On-demand Web analytics will tell you, live, where visitors are coming from, what campaign they responded to, what pages or content they viewed, how they navigated your site — and what the optimal paths are to a sale.” For example, Web analytics will display a dashboard on your computer that will measure the results of all of a law firm’s digital marketing — which keywords are performing best, and which newsletters or banners are generating the most leads. He cited the example of a company that got a threefold increase in leads after employing Web analytics. “It will allow you to analyze how visitors make it through the purchasing processes, identify and clear away road blocks, and examine failures like form completion abandonment,” he says. Law firms will be able to track two key performance indicators: � Conversion rate: the number of leads generated divided by number of site visitors or visits. � Cost per lead: the cost of an online marketing campaign divided by total number of leads. OUT: Web development on the cheap. Kodner observed that many law firm Web sites look the same. “They all have a gavel in the top left corner. The firm probably had the senior partner’s 16-year old daughter’s boyfriend who was supposed to be a Web wizard create their first site.” Kodner doesn’t mince words: “They’re awful. It’s a really bad idea. It’s better not to have a Web site than to have one that makes you look amateurish. That image of unprofessionalism is what you’ll be tainted with.” IN: Pay-for-performance search advertising. Overture, Google and other online companies sell key words that people use when conducting online searches. When a person uses a keyword your firm has reserved, a listing for your firm appears at the top of the search results. “Clients are searching for your services,” says Stevens. Pay-for-performance-search helps lawyers attract clients cost-effectively, he asserts. “A lawyer, as the advertiser, will know whether the reserved keyword is working. It is the perfect marketplace for the little guy,” he said. Larry Bodine, a new member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board, is the regional director for North America of the PM Forum. Contact him at [email protected].

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