I think one reason is the economy -- a better economy begets more optimistic thinking and thus a willingness to think proactively (instead of defensively).
A second reason is competition. Law firms find themselves confronting a "new business landscape" that's far more competitive. That’s forcing them to reconsider the value of marketing. Because the website has emerged as the most important marketing tool a law firm has, it's impossible to have a conversation about legal marketing without considering the firm's website.
Another reason has to do with meeting the needs of a firm's new and changing business goals. Law firms are changing. Consequently, their websites need to change too.
For example: Firms are increasingly aware that they need to not only brand and market the firm, but also help their attorneys to brand and market themselves. To do that they require websites that include new structures and technologies that may not have existed just a few years ago, such as "Attorney Microsites" -- an approach that we pioneered that transforms a lawyer bio into a flexible platform for developing new business.
I agree with Robert. A better economy has lead to more firms investing again in branding and websites. More law firms are starting to realize the necessity of marketing their firms and their attorneys. Also, as clients have started to look more closely at budgets and fees structures, differentiation – which can be difficult amongst firms – has become key. A firm’s website is the place to tell that story – it reaches a far larger audience than other forms of traditional marketing.
Law firms websites are moving away from “brochure” sites as firms are positioning themselves as thought-leaders. One way they are doing this is by producing content that is more relevant to clients’ problems – it’s now less about the firm and what we do, and more about what is keeping our clients up at night – how we can solve our clients’ problems. Websites have thus had to change – now a tool for housing various types of content produced on a regular basis, law firm websites now require both social media sharing capabilities and updated technologies for housing and updating this content.
As Brandie said, gone are the days of brochure-ware websites -- successful firms look more like online publishers than old marketing content and practice descriptions. We have clients that are updating their websites 30, 40, even 50 times a day in a handful of languages, with contributors spread around the globe. Firms are now getting the digital marketing tools and teams to support their business development efforts, and are able to show the ROI for it all thanks to improved analytics, defined metrics and goals, and the measurable effects of online engagement.
Differentiation is certainly the name of the game -- firms must differentiate to survive, and the way more and more firms are doing that is via branding. Defining a brand, and then effectively communicating that brand through every channel, is essential to a firm's growth and future success. And, that brand must be honest and authentic. The way firms convey brand online is through the content and user experience of their website. This has led many firms to reinvent themselves online to support their brand.
And, finally, mobile. There's no getting around it, if your website is not mobile optimized you are losing visitors, and potentially business. Our clients in the legal profession are seeing 15-20% of their visitors coming from tablet and phone devices, and clients outside of legal are seeing as much as 40%. That's a complete paradigm shift from 5 years ago, and it requires firms to update their technology for mobile optimization and employ responsive web design and mobile optimization techniques. Firms can't effectively market online without a mobile-optimized website, and to further enlarge their mobile footprint many have turned to mobile Apps. Morrison & Foerster is a leader in this area, with numerous award-winning mobile initiatives, including MoFo2Go, Advance@Work, and MoFo Mobile Money.
All Great answers!
So as law firms seek to re-launch their websites, is there a process they should embark on? How do firm's begin this process and what are the things they need to consider in order to be successful?
I’ve provided a brief overview of the website planning process based on our experience – these are the steps prior to visual strategy and development – to ensure the best user experience. Don’t be discouraged if this process seems daunting! Your design and digital strategy team can help guide you and keep the project on track. Keep in mind that some stages can move concurrently and collaboration amongst teams is key!
Consensus building. Throughout the process, you need to gain buy-in and build consensus from key stakeholders within the firm. This allows everyone to have a voice and makes the approval process much easier as your project gains momentum and moves forward. Develop a method for consensus building at the start of your project. Consensus is most certainly critical to success!
Brand Strategy & Positioning. Outlining your firm’s positioning and marketing/business goals is the next step in embarking on your firm’s website redesign. Uncover and define as much as possible about your firm – hold workshops with key stakeholders, conduct interviews, perform a competitive analysis and review site analytics… This stage is key in determining what differentiates your firm from others.
Content Strategy. Establish a clear tone and voice for your website. Determine the needs of your audience – both clients and prospects – and determine how content will be developed. Keep in mind that content is not just the copy that appears on your site but also refers to images, video, rss feeds, blogs, etc. Develop a strategy for keeping content relevant and fresh, and don’t forget social media links and sharing functionality!
Determine the site structure. A clearly defined sitemap will outline the pages on your website and establish navigational requirements and hierarchies of information. Page wireframes (for both desktop and responsive components) will structure each section on the site and establish page-types for templates to be designed and built in the development process.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Consider your SEO strategy at the start and develop a plan for optimizing once the site is up and new content is actively posted. While an investment upfront, SEO pays off – our clients have seen 78%+ increase in traffic due to a clearly defined SEO strategy.
After this stage, the visual strategy/user interface can begin to take shape!
Whatever you do, please do not start by issuing an RFP. Why? Because they almost always result in the selection of a mediocre agency that’s the “lowest common denominator.” If you want to work with a dynamic agency, ditch the RFP, and consider this path:· Write down a simple, one page list of your key objectives for the website.· Send the document to the various website design firms that you’re interested in working with.· Have a conversation with them. And be prepared for them to change the way you look at the project.
What are some of the latest trends with law firm websites? Is there a specific platform or technology that they favor?
Are they creating separate blogs and microsites or integrating them into one global site?
How are law firms optimizing their sites for search engines and social media?
In terms of technology platforms, this depends on the client and their needs. To reiterate what Robert said above, it’s important to have a conversation with prospective design and digital agencies so they have the opportunity to ask questions and make recommendations that are appropriate for the firm. I can’t tell you the number of RFPs that come through where we are unable to have a direct conversation… this leads to certain assumptions that may not always be accurate.
I am also seeing an increase in firms branding individual practice areas and creating separate microsites and blogs. I see this happening more with medium and large law firms. This provides great flexibility and opportunity. Within these microsites and blogs, we are also seeing an increase in search engine optimization and social media. Because microsites and blogs are often more flexible, attorneys are more actively using social media. This trend will continue as firms start to rebrand and redesign their overall firm sites.
The next big trend: lead generation.
Many law firms – even large ones -- are now asking that their websites play a more direct role in generating business. So, websites are in the process of evolving from being brochures – to becoming the most important cog in the firm’s lead-nurturing ecosystem.
So, what exactly is a lead nurturing ecosystem? It’s a combination of marketing tools (website, CRM, user tracking) that work together to generate and nurture new business leads. We were just invited to speak on this topic last week at the LMA Technology Conference – West. Here’s a link to an article we wrote on the subject: The Demise of Traditional Law Firm Websites, And the Rise of Lead-Generation Ecosystems.
I firmly believe that lead-nurturing is the future. Many legal marketers will probably spend the rest of their careers figuring out how to make this happen.
Guy, regarding your question about optimizing sites for search engines – I think we need to put this subject to bed. It’s rare for an attorney at a large firm to be hired as a result of a search engine query. It has happened, but it’s extremely rare. That’s why we do not often recommend that firms dedicate their limited marketing resources to an SEO campaign.
Rather, law firms should seek to create websites (and enhanced attorney bios) with content that demonstrates the expertise of the firm and its attorneys. Today, lawyers have an unprecedented opportunity to win new business from people located anywhere on earth – provided that they have made a compelling case that they have special expertise not available elsewhere. You make that case by writing and sharing compelling content.
Do that, and SEO will take care of itself.
I couldn't agree more with Robert's comments above regarding the RFP process. I realize that for many firms it's a necessary evil, but there's no better way to remove value from the equation than issuing a high-level RFP and distributing it to a dozen firms you've heard "do websites". This wastes everyone's time, not the least of which your own, and results in overall weaker RFP responses from the industry. And, please don't hand this process off to your purchasing team -- without the direct contact with the project's leaders and stakeholders, you're nearly completely eliminating any actual value from the process.
Instead, do a bit of research to shortlist a few top firms (ideally 3 - 5, but the fewer, the better) that you think would be a good fit for your project. Talk to your peers for their recommendations and to hear firsthand their experiences with those firms, look for teams with experience working with firms of your size and type, with proven track records in and out of the legal profession, and the expertise to deliver the type of site you're looking for. And then reach out to these firms for a conversation. You will learn more in this process than any traditional RFI or RFP process will ever deliver. The most successful engagements we have with clients happen via this process. And, be sure to give the firms feedback based on these conversations -- what worked, what didn't, and what drove your decision. This is the only way we can collectively learn and grow and better support the sector going forward.
Regarding Guy's question about "the latest trends"... I think that's the absolute wrong thing to look for. Your firm's website won't be made great by "mega menus" and "microsites" and "3-D holographic imagery with augmented reality experiences". That's not what online marketing is about. To get the maximum value, you need clarity of your brand and identity, to define and target your audience online, and to define your firm's goals for the site. Some firms want to generate leads. Others want to establish thought leadership. Still others want to engage their clients and prospects with a fantastic user experience. Perhaps you need it all. Your Web design and technology partners will help you through this process, but this is what you should be thinking about, not about the latest trends that others are doing or you hear vendors pitching.
While I believe blogs and microsites have their place in the world, and we've built our share of both, I believe far too many firms in legal are using these as a crutch to get around the fact that their current website and back-end technology are insufficient for their needs. RubyLaw supports blogs within the main site, as well as the ability to manage and support microsites, external blogs, and internal feeds. In most cases, firms would be better served by centralizing all of their content publishing within their main website. That's optimized with RubyLaw, but perhaps not as much with other offerings. If you must create a blog or microsite, consider the questions above when starting, and be sure it stays on brand for the firm.
Regarding SEO, I completely agree with Robert there as well. We follow best practices for SEO implementation in all of our projects, and train our clients on the best ways to maintain that SEO. A full-blown Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaign is rarely warranted for the larger firms we work with. Your are better off spending that budget on internal (or external supplemental) resources for content strategy and production. And, with that content, creating shareable content that you can then utilize in your social media strategy.
Guy, what kinds of tactics have you found most effective in driving business for firms via social media?
To answer your question Jaron, in order for firms to be successful in driving business through social media, they must focus, first and foremost, on their content marketing strategy.
A firm's content marketing strategy begins with an exploration of who the firm's target audience is. For a large firm, this usually means that there are different target audiences for each individual practice group. That is why I strongly believe that large law firms need to have individual content marketing and social media strategies at the practice group level. One size does not fit all.
Once you determine who your target audience is, then it is important to determine the different types of personas within that target audience and to figure out the issues and problems those personas are trying to solve. The issues a general counsel might be facing can be very different from the issues a business owner or an HR director may have. It is important to develop a content strategy that provides value to each of those personas.
Once a firm has figured out its content marketing strategy, then, and only then, can they go ahead a develop their social media strategy. The social media strategy will include figuring out where the different personas "hang out" online and what the best way is to present and disseminate content to those audiences in a way that is engaging and will cause readers to go back to your website and learn more.
Here is another question for the experts:
In your estimation, what is the most important element of a law firm website? If as Robert wrote, websites must become lead nurturing ecosystems, then what can legal marketers do to insure that their firm's website is equipped to nurture and generate leads?
Jaron - We're on the same page regarding the question of whether blogs and satellite sites should or be part of the firm's website. In most cases, firms would be better served by centralizing all of their content publishing within their main website.
The problem of having separate blogs and/or satellite sites is that they inadvertently set up barriers that prevent visitors from seamlessly accessing content. People just don’t like clicking from one website to another. It compromises their user-experience, and consequently, hurts engagement (and tracking).
For this reason, we expect that we will be seeing more law firm blogs and other satellite websites become absorbed within the firm’s larger website. We call this the “nest” model.
And you’re right on another point, Jaron. A lot of these blogs and satellite sites exist because the firm’s main website lacks the technology to manage this content. It’s functionality that is not common, but law firms should have. (Luckily, agencies like yours and ours provide it.) :)
Robert -- I think we're supposed to disagree more, to incite riot and more colorful commentary ;-)
Regarding Guy's latest question... the whole point is that, "the most important element of a law firm website," is going to vary from firm to firm depending on their audience, their goals and objectives for their website, and their brand. Although our team's focus tends to be more on the overall website user experience and innovative content management solutions to support that experience, if I had to choose one single element it would be the content.
For many firms, the most important part of their website is their attorney bios. Those are often the most trafficked element of the site, and Robert's Attorney Microsites concept is an innovative way to maximize that experience.
Alongside bios, some firms may put a priority on their Services or Practice Areas, others on demonstrating industry expertise at every level via thought leadership content, industry tools, references, and/or aggregated content focused on topics.
Firms that have a more evolved content marketing strategy and the resources to produce that content are often focused on creating, managing, and curating firm content centered around news, publications, blogs, and thought leadership. Video (and audio) content is certainly becoming more prominent as firms hire or contract the resources to support video production and make that a focus for their firms. The site we recently launched for Perkins Coie was designed by Right Hat to build on that firm's commitment to unique, well-produced video content, and it leverages some of RubyLaw's video capabilities to provide a flexible Video Gallery for their desktop and mobile audience. For the right content and the right audience, video has emerged as another medium for content marketing and effective communications.
Hi Guys, I’m a bit late to this conversation!
Don’t want to be redundant, but to reiterate Robert’s point on providing your short-list with feedback during the RFP process, this can be very helpful. We always ask for feedback but many prospects are reluctant to provide it. Sending a blanket RFP to dozens of firms also results in a great deal of work on the firm’s part. We are hesitant to reply under these circumstances because a firm hasn’t done their due diligence in establishing a short-list of firms they are interested in working with and feel are a good fit at the onsite. It’s also a major investment on our end when the firm hasn’t committed to more thorough research!
In terms of separate microsites and blogs, we are also finding that many law firm sites are not built to support the technical requirements a particular practice area needs and thus they choose to have separate microsites/blogs. This may or may not change as firms rebrand and build better functionality and flexibility into their main sites. I think it will depend on the firm and the specific content and social media strategies at the practice group level. However, I do support separate entities where appropriate. For example, we worked with Patterson Belknap’s Tax-Exempt Organizations group on a microsite developed for the sole purpose of providing legal resources to nonprofits. We felt strongly that this was the best approach. It also allowed us with the opportunity to provide additional insight into the attorneys as individuals through the use of photography and content, and were able to create a knowledge center that required very different functionality than what is currently available on the main site.
Great question, re: the most important element of a law firm website.
There are four things that comprise a law firm website; Technology, Design, Content and Strategy. Of those four, the most important is Strategy. Everything stems from strategy. It will dictate what technology or specific functionality will be required, what the design should aspire to achieve, and what content should appear.
So how can a firm craft its website “strategy”?
Start by asking one question: “How can our new website be crafted to help our firm achieve its business goals?"
Regarding "Lead Nurturing" -- it begins with having a content strategy.
There are lots of fancy technologies that can help you nurture leads. But these tools won’t add much value if you don’t have a focused, well-executed content strategy.
We advise our clients to craft their content strategies around a particular area of focus, such as a hot, “emerging issue.”
Why emerging issues? Because they’re exciting. Big change that has the potential to alter entire industries is exciting. Turmoil is exciting. And if there is something new, exciting and poorly understood, prospective clients will be seeking out information on that topic.
If you can consistently produce compelling content around a hot emerging issue, you’ve got a workable content strategy – and you’re on your way to generating and nurturing leads. Then, you can start thinking about using complementary technologies like Marketing Automation, CRM and advanced analytics to create a lead nurturing ecosystem.
Thank you all for your input. This has been a great discussion and I hope our readers derived some value from it. I hope to have another one of these discussions in the near future.
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