Five things your law firm can do today to boost your online presence

December 16, 2015 by Sophie Gillfeather

Online presence. You want it. But what is it? And how do you get it?

Online presence is crucial to building brand awareness, but 'online presence' can mean many things. The what and how of your online campaign will come down to your business and audience. And even then, what online presence means to you today may change by tomorrow.

For this reason, it's easier to start with why. Why do you want to be more visible online?

Let me hazard a guess: leads, conversions and profits.

It makes sense. More traffic to your site should mean more calls, more emails and better conversions.

So how do you boost your online presence - when everyone else is trying to do the same thing?

Let's start thinking about the options

The concept of online presence is more complicated than many would like to admit. Many digital marketing agencies will tread out the same tired methods for every new client. It doesn’t matter if you're a fashion label or a GP, their go-to models – Social! Infographic! Social! – are harnessed to your business, for better or for worse.

But you need to be strategic. And strategic digital presence is about acknowledging your business' points of difference; and, at the same time, the ways it mirrors other brands in your industry.

In other words, your business is a unique and delicate flower but it's just one bloom amongst a species of businesses. And your business' species is just one amongst a genus of businesses.

This is good. This means that when you are thinking about building your online presence, you should start by looking at what your direct competitors are doing; and then, you can start looking at what other businesses in your industry are doing (maybe the ones with the bigger budgets), in order to get some inspiration.

Many business owners come to us with the notion that online presence means social media. This concerns them.

Isn’t social media stupid and for young people? They ask.

Isn’t social media expensive and ineffective? They tremble.

Social is time consuming and prone to risk! They declare.

Is social the right amplification strategy for you? Maybe. Maybe not. You’ll need to find out.

But social is definitely not the only way to put your online presence in first gear. If you're a law firm thinking about make your first real splash in digital then you're going to be budget wary. We get it. How do you measure the ROI on something you've never done before and can often take a while to wield results?

We've worked with law firms wanting to increase their online presence before. We tried out these digital marketing strategies; and, guess what? They worked! So let's take a look.

What is an online presence?

We define online presence using the following metrics:

  • your search engine rankings
  • your backlink profile
  • brand or name mentions in the media
  • how many people your content reaches and how they engage with it

No component is individual from another. Instead they are constituents of the digital whole. Creating your online presence relies on combining each of the four into a strategy for increased visibility. But we warn you. Every single one requires leg work. There is no room for automation.

So where and how do you start? The five things you can do today.

Number 1: Do your competitor research

I tell anyone looking to increase their online presence, to first figure out what they're up against.

What content are your competitors publishing? Where are they getting backlinks from? How are they ranking for broad and long-tail search terms that you’d like to be ranking for? Are they being interviewed or quoted in the media?

That sounds like a lot of work. But don’t stress. There are plenty of tools to help you with this task.

The best tools for competitor research

Ahrefs Site Explorer: Use this tool to do a full backlink analysis of your competitor’s websites. Find out the kinds of links they’re getting (.org.au, .edu.au, or regular links from websites with a high domain authority).

Moz extension: On that note, you’ll also want to be able to know the domain authority of your competitor’s websites. Download the Moz Bar browser extension to get an automatic grading when you land on a website. The Moz Bar will tell you the DA (domain authority) and the PA (page authority).

Spreadsheets: Download the Ahrefs Site Explorer report into an excel csv. Delete all columns except: Total Backlinks, URL Rating, Domain Rating, Referral Page URL, Referral Page Title, Link URL, Link Anchor and Type. This way you can quickly look at what websites are linking out to your competitors and what content they're linking to. The higher the domain authority the juicier the link. (For example, The Sydney Morning Herald has a DA of 89.)

Brains: While there are great tools to help you crunch numbers and data. There is no tool to help you assess the quality of your competitor’s content.

I highly advise you sit down and read the words on the website, look at the imagery, and get a feel for the user experience. Then, encourage your colleagues to do the same. Get them to write down what they like and what they don’t like. If your business targets an audience outside your staff demographic, go find them. It might be your mum, your dad, your mates... find a few people who represent the kind of person who'd seek out your services and ask them to review your competitors. Because they're external to your industry, their opinions (like what makes for good content) may differ wildly from yours.

Note: Link Types - NoFollow Versus DoFollow

A NoFollow is a HTML attribute value telling search engine bots that a hyperlink should not influence the link target's ranking. In other words, it's a way of telling the search engine bots that this link shouldn't positively or negatively influence the way the target website appears in the search results index.

Its intention is to help decrease link spam by rendering the process void of benefit. Humans who click the link will end up on your site, but a search engine bot will not. These links have no 'link juice'.

A DoFollow link will be crawled by a search engine bot. It's meant to represent a valuable connection between the content on one page to content on another. These links do have link juice. The higher the DA of the page linking back to yours, the juicier these links will be. Search engine bots consider these links valuable. And having them is a sign to the bot that your content is worth a better ranking.

Number 2: Find a niche

Competitor analysis is a little to do with data mining and a lot to do with familiarity. Like a sporting team watching replays of their opponent’s past matches, your mission is to study the opposition. Find out what moves they pull time and time again. Find out what they're good at. And what they're not so good at. This will help you carve out your niche.

If you're a small family law firm and your direct search competition is killing it in divorce law, then the onus is on you to target something more viable.

For example, we had a client who wanted to rank on the first page for key search terms. Their big online competitor was a national firm, who had written everything there was to write about divorce. So we focused on 'child custody'. Now, Australian legislation doesn't talk about 'child custody'; we talk 'parenting arrangements'. But when single parents head to their search engine of choice, they type in 'child custody.'

We decided to write a series of articles using the terms under the child custody umbrella. Our legal client now ranks in the top-five results for 'child custody laws', 'child custody laws Australia', and 'child custody.' Our synonym results grew too. Terms like 'parenting arrangements' or 'child support payments' went from nowhere to the first page or page two (this is over about a three-month period). Now, for the big ticket items. Like 'how to get a divorce' we're still lagging way behind. But we're up over 70 places.

You see. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) isn't about fast results. It's about good results. Sustained growth is key, but when you're competing against huge websites, with massive backlink profiles, you need to start with targetable objectives. These seed the bigger picture. Don't be afraid to take it slow.

Number 3: Create an identity

Lawyers aren’t always painted in the fairest light. Lawyers are expensive. And if you're contacting a lawyer, it's likely you're not in the throws of life's joyous ecstasy.

So how do you overcome the industry image problem? You differentiate yourself.

When creating client personas for our family law client we discussed what kinds of emotions are weighing on a lead’s mind. We came up with words like stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, fear, angst and confusion.

No one on this wonderfully diverse planet wants to read through legal jargon when they’re confused and upset. No one wants to see Shutterstock images of a woman with a clipboard and glasses smiling at them from a banner while trying to figure out which firm is going to give them the best outcome. No matter what the circumstances are.

So we opted for sympathetic language, got rid of the suits and said goodbye to jargon.

Clarity will make you stand out. So will having a distinct message that you can relate to the media.

Saying, 'we’re experienced when it comes to same-sex property settlements and child agreements,' as opposed to, 'we’re experienced divorce lawyers,' gives you a genuine edge.

You become an authority. You can actively promote yourself as one; but, if you latch on to something that’s in the public discussion already and craft your angle towards that, you can get your content ranking in the search engines for that niche and you’ll start to see journalists seeking you out. All you need is one major news outlet to feature you as their source and suddenly you're the go-to talking head on (enter subject).

Number 4: Get by with a little help from your friends

If you're just starting out one of your biggest assets will be your own network. Your LinkedIn followers. Your Facebook followers. Your Twitter followers. Your mates in business. The people you've worked with before. The people at your entrepreneur's network. Whoever and wherever they are, get them to start working for you.

You should start publishing great content on your site as soon as possible. But don't expect traffic to start rolling in. What you can do, however, is wait a few days. Then re-publish your content on LinkedIn Pulse where your followers can see it. A lot of people worry that search engines may see this as duplicate content. But after doing a bit of research, we're pretty confident this isn't going to do you any harm. If you wait a few days search engines won't get confused about which content was the original. They'll make sure your site content gets the credit it deserves.

You can also share your content from your website on your social media platforms. And, while you're at it, talk to your mates in business and see where the opportunities for content sharing and cross-promotion may lay. As long as the content is good and relevant, this is a great way to set about building your online presence. For instance, if you're a family law firm you probably have a lot of business friends working in financial planning. Now, when you're getting divorced one of the things it's recommended you do is seek the advice of a financial planner. So if you wrote an article about the process of property settlement and gave it to your mate to put on her site and she gave you a post on financial planning before filing for divorce, you're both benefiting and both your audiences are benefiting too.

Number 5: Do some good within your community

Up above I spoke a little bit about link authority (NoFollow/DoFollow). And the effect DoFollow links to your website have on your rankings in any search engine index. One way you can start to build incredibly valuable links back to your website is by getting out there and doing a little good.

Become a corporate sponsor. Partner with a charity. Provide a grant to a college or university. These are some of the things we've done for clients to help them create better backlink profiles. AND they're doing something good for the community too.

Choose wisely and don't just join any bandwagon. Make sure the causes align with your brand and community values. We had a legal client whose firm was located in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville. A suburb with great diversity. So we felt it was important to embrace and help foster that diversity. Our client became a supporter for Marriage Equality Australia (gay marriage still isn't legal in this country!) and also provided scholarships to university students studying law.

It helps your website rankings, yes. But it also helps to establish your brand within the community. And you also get the genuine benefit of doing something good.

Have you used any of these strategies to build your online presence?