Why Online Presence Matters

How do you look when potential clients are researching you on the Internet? Digital marketing expert Gyi Tsakalakis and attorney Jess Birken explain how to put your best foot forward.


About the episode:


The way clients are seeking legal representation continues to evolve—in fact, in 2019, it’s estimated that the average consumer will require 6-8 digital ‘touches’ before becoming a prospective client. Does your firm know how clients are finding you, and are you controlling the information they’re encountering along that journey?

Search engines, review sites, social media, online legal directories, and your website are all touchpoints that your potential clients are looking at as they determine whether to hire you or not—and each one can impact whether they choose to retain your services or hire a competitor instead. In this episode, legal marketing expert Gyi Tsakalakis of AttorneySync and Minneapolis-based attorney Jess Birken will cover the basics and benefits of managing your law firms’ online presence.

Our Guests:


Gyi Tsakalakis: Gyi Tsakalakis (@gyitsakalakis) founded AttorneySync because lawyers should expect more from their marketing agencies. As a non-practicing lawyer, he's familiar with the unique considerations of ethically and effectively a law practice online. He's a proud contributor to Moz's Local Search Ranking Factors survey. He's passionate about coffee, whiskey, the 9th Amendment, and Stoicism, not necessarily in that order. If you like what you hear here, please also check out the Lunch Hour Legal Marketing and Clienting podcasts.

Jess Birken: Jess is a solopreneur lawyer and owner of Birken Law Office, where she helps nonprofits solve problems so they can stop worrying and get back to their mission. When she's not lawyering she's helping other lawyers change their lives and their law practices through her "Hack Your Practice" project. Connect with Jess on Twitter, @JessBirken.

Host bios:


Teresa Matich is the Content Strategist at Clio, where she’s responsible for educating the legal industry on market trends, best practices, and important issues impacting law firms. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, snowboarding, and traveling to snowboard. Email her at teresa.matich@clio.com or tweet her at @TeresaMatich. 

Andrew Booth works within the Business Operations department at Clio as the Learning Media Specialist. He is best known as the voice (and sometimes face) of Clio’s training videos, and the voice and tweets behind the @JackNewtonsShoe Twitter account. Andrew received his Broadcast Communications degree from BCIT, and has produced work for such broadcasting outlets as Global News and Roundhouse Radio. Email him at andrew.booth@clio.com or tweet him at @JackNewtonsShoe. 

Derek Bolen is the Senior Manager of Customer Marketing at Clio, which means he gets paid to build relationships with the greatest customers in the world. When he isn’t working, he’s tweeting, reading, writing, podcasting, running, obsessing over fantasy football, or hanging out with his 5 year old son. Email him at derek.bolen@clio.com, or tweet him at @hurrrdurrr.  

Show notes:


  • Gyi and Jess explain how the search for legal representation starts online
  • How to find a reputable Search Engine Optimization specialist
  • Gyi explains how your online presence can complement your offline presence
  • Gyi and Jess discuss why some lawyers are still resistant to online marketing
  • Jess talks about the benefits of investing in her online presence, and how she's measuring impact
  • Gyi explains the three pillars of SEO for law firms
  • Gyi discusses the importance of reviews for law firms
  • Jess explains how she built a law firm website that catered to her clients
  • Jess gives advice on hiring a marketing agency or contractor
  • Conclusion 

Resources:


Podcast #001: The State of Small Law, with George Psiharis


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Transcript:


Gyi: When I started doing this in 2008—in fact, this is the story I tell a lot is when I was actually practicing, this is like 2005, when I talked to lawyers they would say, “Uh people will never use the internet to hire a lawyer.” And that’s still 2005, so it’s not like ’97 or anything. The example that I always use though, is that no matter how somebody hears about you, they’re going to look you up online and most people are going to start that journey with Google.

Jess: You know it’s 2019 and unless you’re arrested in a jail cell, I don’t think anybody’s actually looking through the Yellow Pages to find you anymore. So having a seriously credible online presence becomes really important. You know, I talk to other attorneys and they’ll say, oh well I get all of my business through word-of-mouth referrals. Well yeah, me too, but the first thing they do is whip out their smartphones and Google my name. You know, you just, you have to be online at this point in life.

Derek: I’m Derek Bolen. 

Andrew: And I’m Andrew Booth. And this is Matters. Matters is a podcast presented by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based technology provider. Where we look at small changes that can make a big impact to your daily life and practice. In this episode, we’ll be talking about your online presence and why it matters.

Derek: When you’re looking to buy a new product or service, what’s the first thing you do? If you’re like most people, you start with a little online research. You might want to compare offerings, look at which service provider is closest to you, or read a few online reviews. As it turns out, your legal clients are the same. They’ll look you up online, so how you appear online and whether or not they can find you at all, matters for your law firm growth.

Andrew: If you want potential clients to be able to find you online, you need to know about SEO, or search engine optimization. SEO means optimizing your website so that it shows up when your potential clients use search engines like Google or Bing or DuckDuckGo, to look for a lawyer in your practice area and location. Search engines are basically massive databases that take an inventory of everything on the internet. When you use a search engine to find what you’re looking for, whether it’s a lawyer, a new kitchen appliance or dating advice, a number of ranking factors determine what pages show up at the top of the list. Knowing how to get your site at the top of the first page of results makes you highly visible to the types of people who are looking for you. Initially, there were a number of popular search engines including Yahoo Search and Ask Jeeves. But today, over 90% of searches go through Google, which has essentially defined the industry around search engines. 

Derek: Beyond SEO, it’s important to think about the client experience, which we discussed in our first episode. How a potential client sees you online is really the first step. This means your online presence won’t just influence whether or not they choose you, it could shape their overall impression of you. So, it’s worth investing in how your appear on the internet. 

Gyi: SEO. So, you know, SEO’s been really abused as an acronym, but it stands for Search Engine Optimization. I look at it as anything you can do to improve your business’ visibility in organic search results. 

Derek: Gyi Tsakalakis is founder of the digital legal marketing agency, AttorneySync, and is widely regarded as an SEO expert within the legal industry and beyond. When asked about why some lawyers might still not be taking SEO seriously, he’s got a few ideas.

Gyi: Depending on who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about, it comes with a lot of negative connotations, right. So, a lot of the quote on quote, SEO snake oil folks will say things like, “Oh we can get you to rank number one overnight,” and people spend a lot of money on it, and then nothing happens, and then they’re like this internet thing doesn’t work.

Derek: Lawyers are marketing experts, but have a tendency to not invest in SEO because of bad experiences with online marketing and SEO “gurus”.

Gyi: Old habits die hard. You know, I think lawyers tend to pit traditional notions of like relationships and reputation against the internet and they don’t recognize that they really complement each other, right. So like, providing great service, doing great work, developing a great reputation, building relationships in the real world, the internet is just a, a supplement to all that stuff. And so, to me it’s like so obviously go hand-in-hand, but I think because they’ve been sold a bill of goods about the magic of the internet and it’s the secretive black box and they can’t really understand it, they, they tend to harbour these—these ideas about it and they’ve got—they’ve been burned. I mean, frankly they’ve been burned by a lot of marketing people that are promising them the world, not delivering, not being transparent, not holding themselves accountable. And so, I think that that in their defence, I think that they’ve, they’ve had the bad end of the stick in some respects because they’ve been taken advantage of.

Andrew: There’s also, to some extent, a lack of education around SEO in the legal industry. Why? Lawyers simply don’t have the time to educate themselves on even the basics of SEO. And with the online landscape evolving every day, this only becomes more difficult.

This problem is something we saw in Clio’s most recent Legal Trends Report. Lawyers are busy. They’re spending just 2.4 hours per day on billable tasks, but are spending several hours per day on billing, firm administration and business development. And 75% work outside of regular office hours as well. 

Gyi: There’s a couple things that always seem to come up. One is, and I think this is a reflection of they are—you know, lawyers are very busy in general. You know, I think the—every year the Legal Trends Report shows utilization, productivity, and time issues that lawyers are facing. And so, they don’t have the time to learn and do the research and so, you know, a lot of times, I’ll come in just thinking like, you know, a lawyer’s—these are lawyers, right, they probably spend some time getting like the basic language down if they’re going to buy something, but unfortunately, they really don’t. And so, you know, they, they tend to be not as sophisticated for legal marketing, as legal marketing consumers. And so that’s one of the things that we’ve really tried to take the approach of is like, let’s get the information out, let’s help educate people so they can make informed decisions when they’re trying to hire somebody to help them. But yeah, I guess I think that, and then, of course, you know, this is the historical, the resistance into the idea that people would actually use the internet to hire a lawyer. There’s, we still face that even 10 years into this, where people will say, “Well my clients don’t use the internet like that.” And I’m like, “I bet you they do, you just don’t know how they’re doing it.” And that’s the thing is, you never know what your next client that doesn’t call you, would have done, because you never hear from that person.

Jess: I think reality for a lot of attorneys, right, it’s like, it does feel like a black box. You just sort of hope for the best. You do what your marketing people tell you to do and then you hope that it works.

Derek: That’s Jess Birken, owner of Birken Law Office, a firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that specializes in serving the nonprofit sector. She believes in the power of a good website and has invested in making hers unique, clear, and easy to navigate. But she can see why other lawyers haven’t done this. Why invest in something if you can’t directly measure the impact?

Jess: I mean it’s hard to say, and that’s what is I think frustrating for attorneys because SEO and marketing, unless you’re really good about tracking back like where everything came from, it feels like, oh, I spend all this money and I’m not exactly sure where things come from. Because even if you have like a form that people fill out that says, you know, how did you find me? Which I do. And they say, online search, you’re like okay, you know, like what is ...? You can’t really always trace it back.

Derek: Jess solves this problem by doing her best to approximate where new potential clients are coming from. 

Jess: I know, anecdotally, that it’s working for my firm. When I meet with someone in a consultation and they say, “I loved your website. You website was awesome,” or “I watched your You Tube video about X, Y, Z and I really liked it.” So, it’s just those like, the little nuggets of information about what they were looking at before they actually made a decision to contact me, that tells me the online stuff is working.

Derek: Either way, the numbers don’t lie. Whether lawyers want to believe it or not, presenting yourself well online is critical to whether or not potential clients choose you in 2019.

Andrew: In fact, it’s estimated the average consumer will require six to eight touches before becoming a prospective customer. This number is likely higher when dealing with a high risk, high emotion hire, like a lawyer. If you’re avoiding educating yourself on SEO and digital marketing best practices, you could actually avoid providing clients the information they need to make a decision to hire you.

Jess: Somebody quoted a stat somewhere that I used in a CLE I was doing recently that said like 97% of all people use the internet before making a purchasing decision. That’s crazy, right, like 97% of people look at reviews when they’re making a purchasing decision, I think it was. And 85% of people say that they trust online reviews more than they trust recommendations of their friends and family. So, the credibility that’s seen from having an online presence, I think it can’t be overstated.

Andrew: So, you want to level up your online presence. How do you know where to start? Framing your focus and decision-making around SEO can help you zero in on what’s actually going to be most useful for your clients on your website and it will help more clients find you in the first place. Specifically, you’ll want to make sure people living in your area can find you.

Gyi: I basically break SEO down into like three big buckets, right. So, there’s technical, which is like the stuff you can do to your actual pages. So that’s like, title, tags and robots and that kind of stuff, the stuff the machines actually read. There’s Around the Web, which is primarily links and shares and other signals like that. And then I think in—in a, it’s probably more on-page, but you got to focus on local, right. So, if you’re a consumer-facing practice like, personal injury, criminal defence, bankruptcy, Google’s going to show local pack results. And so the biggest thing that you can do there is getting your business information consistent across the web, making sure your name, address, phone number’s consistent. Making sure you’ve claimed your Google My Business Profile like. In fact, if you’re going to do nothing else for SEO, just go to Google My Business and claim that profile and provide great service to clients and when they’re happy and they want to do something nice for you, tell them to go Google My Business and leave a review for you. Because that—that’s—that’s going to be the lion’s share of visibility in organic.

Derek: Reviews are extremely important for your online presence. They act as a sort of risk mitigation for your potential clients. A positive review means someone else used your services and was satisfied with their experience and result. So, it’s more likely that the potential client will be too. Without this social proof, your online presence might not be giving prospective clients the confidence they need to hire you.

Gyi: Yeah, so, you know, just like we—lawyers hate this, but just like consumers do when they go to Amazon to shop, like they want—consumer want to know—legal services, consumers want to know what other clients have to say about you. So, if you have no reviews, that’s, sends a message to that person that’s reviewing you. If you have abun—all five-star reviews and they all look like they’re fake, that says something about you. If you have a one-star review, you know, there’s, there’s an example I always use that this is gentlemen is a big TV spender, and he’s driving all this TV advertising money to his website. And so people are going searching him online, and he’s got one—he’s got one—he’s got like 10 one-star reviews on Google. It’s like think about the money you wasted to actually harm your reputation by sending people to go see what all of your unhappy clients had to say about you.

Derek: Reviews may also help you show up in search engine results. Since they’re a signal that your firm provides the desired level of service that people searching for a lawyer in your area are looking for.

Gyi: There’s kind of two ways. In the local pack, one, the three major factors in local are relevance, distance and prominence. And so reviews, according to Google’s documentation—you always got to take what Google says with a little grain of salt. Remember, they’re, they got to make money too. So they can’t give away all the secrets. But, reviews are part of the prominence factor in local. So, having reviews that people use contextual language. So, if they’re using words in their review that—talk about your practice, it’s more likely that you’re going to show up in searches for those kind of listings for those searches. And there’s also, there’s talk of this sentiment analysis. So, Google, in theory, wants to show law firms and their results that are providing great service to clients because otherwise people are going to be frustrated, they’re not going to go to Google if Google’s sending people to bad lawyers.

Andrew: In the same vein, it is also important to be genuine online. When clients are looking for a good lawyer, they’re looking for more than a legal deliverable, they’re looking for a legal experience that meets their needs. Does your website show that you provide that?

Gyi: I think branding plays a role in it. But, at the end of the day, it really comes down to providing great service to clients and finding ways to motivate them to go and leave reviews and sing your praises online. Because that’s really what the next potential client cares about is is like how do you treat your clients? Like, are you providing a good service? Are, you know, a lot of the issues that lawyers help people with, are some of the worst times of their life. And so, are you empathetic? Is that coming across in your search appearance? You know, do you have video testimonials of clients? Do you have videos of you talking about why you practice law, like why it’s important to you? Because that stuff matters to people, right, that like that’s, that’s the relationship aspect that the web supplements that I think a lot of people overlook when they’re so focussed on, like the direct response, non-branded SEO.

Andrew: If you’re ever curious to see what’s making successful in terms of their online presence in your area, Gyi has a suggestion.

Gyi: I’ll tell you what, here’s the really easy way to do it. Go search in your area and see who comes up. Because guess what, those from an, a strictly tactical SEO standpoint, those are the people that are winning because they appear in the organic results.

Andrew: So, we know that it’s important to optimize your firm’s website so that you’re found via Google and other search engines. But it’s also important to create an online presence that resonates. It’s about providing a positive client experience right from the start of the client journey. Bring this mentality to building your website, and you’ll make it easier for your clients to find and connect with you online.

Derek: For Jess, the decision to improve her firm’s website was an obvious one, though it took some time for things to come to life. She started out on her own, but soon made the decision to hire expert help, which she found by chance, via her co-working space.

Jess: Yeah, like most attorneys that are solos, I basically, you know, wore all the hats when I first started out. So I definitely, you know, knew that I needed to have a great website, so I worked on building my website and and I worked on that with a guy who could do the coding that I wasn’t capable of doing, but I didn’t have any marketing person at that time or, you know, anything other than the Google search engine to really help me try and figure stuff out. So, I, I definitely was on my own in the beginning. 

When you are first starting out, your, your website is basically, almost like invisible to Google because Google’s like oh that’s new. That’s nice. That’s not really relevant. We don’t give that a lot of credibility. And, so as a result, you don’t get a lot of traffic because you know, you just don’t have any gravitas to your website. There’s nothing associated with your law firm. There are no important backlinks or, you know, anything pointing to you. So, deciding to work with a marketing person, once I kind of got my feet under me, I started to think about the bigger picture of marketing, like strategy and SEO and what should I be doing, and I knew that I was—you know, I went to school to be a lawyer and I basically have an MBA for non-profit, but I still am not a marketing expert. So, I really just wanted to get somebody’s professional advice and in my co-working space where I office, there happened to be a marketing strategist who I became friends with and I would listen to him talk and it just sort of started to rub off on me that it was like, oh you know what, I really need to think about this. I need to do this. And so I ended up hiring him after the first six months of being in practice.

Derek: Hiring expert marketing help has definitely helped improve Jess’s website and online presence. But according to Jess, creating an effective online presence doesn’t have to be that complicated. It’s largely about showing clients that they’re in the right place and being clear about what kind of lawyer you are.

Jess: One of the most important things you can do with your website, but all of your social accounts and other online things, is really help clients know that they’re in the right place. Right. The goal is, anyway, when someone looks at my website or watches one of my sort of promotional videos, that they’re going to understand who I am as in a person and what kind of lawyer I am. Like, I’m the kind the lawyer that might wear a hoodie to the office once in a while. You know, I’m the kind the lawyer that will work with you to solve a problem. That I’m very approachable and that I’m business-minded. And that helps people figure out like what your sort of like work ethos is and I think that that’s super important so that the expectations are clear and that they’re getting what they are expecting.

Andrew: Beyond initial communication factors, Jess also talked about the importance of the client experience on your website. 

Jess: And likewise, I think it’s also super important to have all of those client experience things like someone being able to like pay their invoice by clicking a link on my website or find my phone number or be able to find my online scheduling. Just making all of those things available online to the greatest extent possible so that my clients have a little friction as I can possibly create.

Andrew: Again, clients aren’t just looking for your legal services. They’re looking for peace of mind, reassurance and knowledge that their legal matter will be taken care of in a way that they’re comfortable with.

Using your website to set expectations from the get-go, can help you attract and work with more of the clients that fit well with your firm and make the service you provide more than just a commodity.

Jess: So, when my clients hire me, they’re not just hiring me to produce the work, right, they’re hiring the experience, they’re hiring the sense of security, they’re hiring the relationship. If they just want somebody to fill out a form from them, they can go to a document filing service. They’re definitely buying something different when they’re deciding to hire me. Trust me, my clients are very thrifty. They’re people that run non-profit organizations, they’re always trying to do more with less. There’s no shortage of information on the internet if you just want to start googling and looking for sample documents to write a grant agreement or whatever you’re trying to do.

Derek: If you’re looking to hire a marketing consultant to update your own website, Jess has some advice to help ensure your website doesn’t turn out looking just like everyone else’s.

Jess: You know, it, what, it’s interesting because I get a lot of credit for my website and I don’t think that everybody is necessarily like as creative or visually-oriented as I am. And I don’t think my website’s that fancy, but just compared to other lawyer websites. I did it on a fairly shoestring budget and I think that the biggest trap that lawyers fall into is they just get sucked into, oh, I need to fix my website, so I’ll just throw money at this problem and I’ll get sucked into to some marketing thing with some firm that claims to do all these law firm websites and they’ll make it better. And a lot of times what they do is just end up in some other factory that just makes fancier websites with eagles and gavels and flags. 

And, they don’t know any better, so I would really encourage people to like back up three steps and think about like who are you and what makes you unique? Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you want to do your job? Why do you do what do? Why do your clients like you? And like really back up and think about like who your ideal client is. What motivates you to do your job? And then get outside of the whole like legal marketing sphere and look at what—what are like non-lawyer websites that you love that you think are beautiful. You know, just get outside of the bubble a little bit.

Derek: Jess and Gyi shared a few more tips to help make sure that you and your firm are putting your best foot forward online. For Jess, it’s about showing potential clients you can offer what they’re looking for, sharing a bit about yourself and making it easy to contact you.

Jess: So I think the top things that a law firm website needs to communicate is really, and I’m a Seth Godin fan, so it’s like, are you in the right place? Are you—you know, Seth Godin likes to say, “People like us do things like this.” So, I really think your website needs to communicate to clients on some level that they’re in the right place. 

Then I would say number two is you’ve got to have a great bio page and your—your bio, your About Me section should be written in first person because you’re talking about yourself. You don’t do that in the third person in reality, so don’t do it. There’s great content out there and articles about how to write a good bio, but that’s like the number one page that people will go to to on your website is to read about who you are. So I think you really have to have a good bio page. 

And then the third thing, I-I think would be that you’ve got to have, you got to reduce the friction for them to get in touch. So, you’ve got to like have a clear call to action, have a clickable phone number, have a really easy to find contact form. Those—that whole like reducing the friction to get them to take the next step and inviting them to take the next step is really important. 

Derek: In addition to creating a knock-out website, you’ll also want to make sure your firm is listed on other online platforms and directories, where applicable, as well.

Jess: You know, there’s the big ones. Like they’re the big places that you need to be. Like, you should have a profile on Linkedin and maybe you should have a Facebook page and you should claim your profile on Avvo and those sorts of things are sort of the obvious. You know, you should be listed with your bar association if you can, with the Better Business Bureau. But then there—you know, there may be like niche-specific places that you want to be. So, for me, as a non-profit focussed attorney in Minnesota, there’s this organization called The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and they have a, basically like a vendor list that tells non-profits like, hey, this is the directory of people that work for non-profits in our community and I’m listed on there because that makes a whole lot of sense and people call and they say, oh I found you on the directory at the Council of Nonprofits website.

Derek: Finally, Gyi recommends getting feedback on how people found you online so that you can improve your representation in those areas.

Gyi: I think the best thing that I would tell any lawyer is ask your clients, be like how do you—put them on in front of a computer. If you needed to find a lawyer like me, what would you do? How would you start your search? Would you go ask friends? Would you look them up online? What would matter to you? Like, those are the questions, you know, you guys talked about this today, get feedback from your clients. Get feedback about your own service, but also get feedback about how they found you. How they formed an impression about you. Because those are where you can find your blind spots and where you can improve and then use content to fill in those gaps so that the next person who is looking for that information, you’re supplying it for them and they’re more likely to give you a call and hire you.

Derek: If you’d like to learn more about SEO and how to create a strong online presence, Gyi recommends checking out MOZ, that’s M-O-Z dot com. And Clio’s Guide to Marketing your Law Firm Online. And if you’ve listened this long and you’re still not convinced about the power and importance of a strong online presence, Gyi has a few words that might convince you.

Gyi: I’m also interested to hear lawyers that have opinion. And I do think that there are practice areas that, you know, their clientele isn’t online as much as, you know, the average consumer. However, I would—I would try to educate them that no matter how people are looking for them, at some point they’re going to go online and want to know something about what it’s like to work with them, what their knowledge, skill and experience is, what their reputation is in the community, who they know, who their mutual connection... I mean, there’s nothing more validating than going online and saying, oh hey we’re actually mutually connected to these other people I trust. Because at the end of the day, people still hire lawyers based on the people that they know, like and trust. The internet and SEO and social media are all just more tools to help reinforce those connections.

Andrew: As humans, we crave connection. And while the internet can be a crowded, frightening place, it can also be a place where the legal clients who need your help, connect with your firm, get a good impression and get the services they need. With consumers and businesses alike, regularly using the internet as part of their buying process, an online presence is crucial to your law firm’s growth and success.

Derek: But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Make it clear that potential clients visiting your site are in the right place. Tell them a little bit about yourself and make it easy to contact you. Ask for online reviews and claim your profiles elsewhere online. And, if you can, get feedback regarding how your clients are finding you. 

Andrew: Finally, remember that the internet is a tool to augment the relationships you build and the word-of-mouth that brings you business. It won’t replace the good old-fashioned community-building that connects lawyers with clients. In fact, it will make it stronger. You can find more information to help you build a better online presence for you law firm in the resources section of this podcast. 

Derek: Thanks for listening to the fifth episode of Matters. Matters is produced by Andrew Booth, Teresa Matich, and Derek Bolen. And by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal technology provider. Be sure to subscribe to Matters to ensure you never miss an episode. If you’d like to learn more about Clio, please visit us at Clio.com.

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