If you were a law firm or attorney who wanted to pay for leads, a variety of websites are happy to offer this service. Both Nolo.com (now owned by ExpertHub) and AVVO.com offer such programs, among others. Usually, the site will direct potential clients your way via phone call or e-mail. If you sign up for one of these programs you might think you are getting potential clients looking for an attorney.
Sometimes, “leads” may not be what you think they are. You might think of a “lead” as a “potential client”. Would you consider someone who called your firm seeking free legal advice a “lead”? I Wouldn’t. Nolo.com apparently does.
Below is a screenshot of
one of Nolo’s web properties, LawQA.com (See update, below). This website offers users the opportunity to have their legal questions answer for free; presumably Nolo’s answer to AVVO’s popular free legal advice service. The difference here is that Nolo is charging you for every question it sends your firm, billed as a “Lead”.
Note that LawQA is not Nolo’s only web property where lawyers get leads from. While we do get mostly legitimate leads, and Nolo says it will refund the cost deducted from your account for any solicitations, it should be noted that the firms we have worked with in the past have not had good luck converting these leads into clients. Apparently, we are not the only folks not 100% satisfied.
Here’s the data we compiled from one of my clients, We’ll call them “The Firm”. The Firm averages 2,000 unique visitors per month, and wanted to try some of these programs to increase their leads. During the 3 month time period from Dec 1 2012 – Feb 28th 2013 we had the following “leads”;
Traffic to the firm’s website (according to Google Analytics) :
AVVO : 10
Nolo.com & Lawfirms.com : 7
CityGrid / CitySearch : 0
Nolo.com (ExpertHub): They asked for $600 upfront and estimated that would be used up over 3 months. We actually used less than half of that budget. Our leads cost between $15 – $20 , depending on county and practice area (apparently lead costs went up between $1.50 and $2 today). Nolo includes the cost of a premium listing, and allows you to publish content on their network of websites. The content we published take a few weeks to be reviewed, but did get decent Page Rank. While not all Nolo leads work out, it is nice that they do only bill per actual lead; not monthly, and not based on profile views.
Service: Nolo had attentive customer service, replying to my emails within a day or 2.
AVVO: They bill monthly, no matter how many leads you get. In our case we were billed $100/mo. Your cost will depend on your area. (Another client of ours is billed $300/mo. ). They publish our content without reviewing it, but it gets little to no Page Rank. In the firm’s 3 months with AVVO, they had 49 views of the content we published, and just 23 views of the firm’s listing in their directory. It should be noted that AVVO shares it’s leads among 3 or 4 attorneys; so If you are seeing a lead from AVVO, chance are other attorneys may have already called them.
Service: I had very little interaction with avvo customer service because their interface is quite good. However, when one of my attorneys could not access her account , I emailed our rep (after we had cancelled) and she called me and reset the password within an hour or so of emailing her.
CityGrid: They run a “cost-per-contact” program and set a minimum budget. These are not really leads; they just charge $3 per click-through OR phone call OR Listing view. If someone views your listing, it costs you $3. Our Analytics showed no traffic to our website. They use a call tracking number to report how many calls you get. In the firm’s case, we had 0 calls; ZERO. This means all our “leads” or “contacts” were simply viewings of our directory listing, billed at $3 per view.
Service: CityGrid had by far the worst customer service. Our rep sold us on trying CityGrid for one month. We agreed. Low and behold, hidden in the fine print on the checkout page, it says you will automatically be re-billed (or so they tell me; the page is no longer available after agreeing). In our case, we were re-billed just 22 days in. The rep did not reply to questions after initial sign up. We would suggest avoiding CityGrid; there was zero benefit whatsoever.
After three months of testing third party lead programs, the firm cancelled AVVO and CityGrid. This example is similar to many of my clients who want to try these programs.
What has been your experience with legal lead services programs? Leave us a comment, below.
As Mary from Total Attorneys commented below, nolo.com (nor Experthub) “own” LawQA.com. According to updated information from our rep, Nolo.com buys leads from LawQA.com to pass on to it’s customers.
Filed Under Marketing | Comments Off
Doesn’t the title just say about enough?
I rarely.. perhaps never…have recommended newsletters to law firms as a method of marketing. What can you say in a newsletter that you can’t say in a blog? If I want to read what your firm is up to, I’ll come on by your blog or follow you on twitter to read about your latest hire or company Halloween party. My little brain hurt just thinking of an instance where a newsletter would be a good idea. Don’t waste time with a newsletter. Newsletters are usually boring and uninteresting. I especially don’t want your newsletter if I DIDN’T ASK FOR IT. Do not send your newsletter to everyone in your contacts. Do not automatically subscribe everyone who has ever contacted you. Unsolicited emails are spam.
Don’t get me wrong; E-mail marketing can be a useful tool. I would encourage clients to carefully track, organize and curate emails from clients and potential clients. There are lots of programs or software available to help you facilitate email management (none of which I’m willing to promote here).
I would also encourage clients to have a pre-populated checkbox on your quick contact form that allows the user to decide if they want to get follow up emails specific to their legal issue or subscribe to your newsletter if you have one.
If a client inquires about your Valentines day divorce special, but fail to complete the transaction, it’s a FABULOUS idea to categorize this lead into the “potential leads, Divorce” pile. Follow up with the client directly and address the specific concern of the client.
The difference here is that the potential lead is not auto-subscribed to your newsletter and getting a notice of every new promo you are running. They are (hopefully) receiving a specific email or call prompting them to complete a transaction.
Let me paint a picture for you. You have a small child, a baby perhaps. That baby is sick; you take him to your local trusted pediatrician, Dr. Doe, who was recommended highly by your neighbor. While in the waiting room, you Google the good doctor, like we tend to do nowadays with any important purchase. What do we find on Doctor Doe? He has a blog and writes all about how much he hates women. Does this change your perception of Doctor Doe?
Doctor Doe hating women is just one example to highlight how a small business person such as a doctor or attorney might potentially isolate a percentage of potential clients by airing his personal views. You are entitled to you opinion, of course. But why tell the world, and risk losing clients?
Keep your online presence professional. Your name is your brand. If people dislike you , they won’t call you. Apparently this needed to be said.
What exactly should attorneys refrain from saying publicly?
- Don’t show hate or distaste for any race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age group or really anyone at all. Especially your clients.
- Don’t voice your opinion on politics, religion or anything controversial.
- Don’t be rude, condescending, and don’t talk trash.
General Rule: Don’t say anything online that you would be (or should be) embarrassed to say to the face of a potential client; even in the comments section of your buddies’ blog. It will be found out.
Some Personality is Acceptable.
If someone is going to hate on you for talking about how much you love your kids and spouse, they don’t deserve to be a client. Keep it neutral; tell the world about your family, your hometown, where you were born and / or where you went to school . Have a photo of yourself on your website (never a stock photo). Showing potential clients a bit about who you are and what makes you different from your competition can help you connect with clients in a positive way.
*Doctor Doe is fictional for this story. Please don’t sue us if you are really a doctor with the last name of “Doe”.
Filed Under SEO | Comments Off
For upwards of five years, the first pages of Google results have been completely overtaken by law firms who have an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy in place. The recent updates (dubbed “panda” and “penguin”), changes all that. I believe attorneys will need to become more involved if they want to have a thriving internet presence.
Google has been making a concerted effort to target sites that ‘over-do’ SEO, and I believe they have finally made an impact. Until now, attorneys websites have benefited from paid links, obvious anchor text (repeatedly linking the term “Philly bankruptcy lawyer” to your URL), and cheap content. In the past, sites would rank first on Google simply because they had one link from LPIG.org or other high page rank site. These days are changing, and attorneys are going to have to start getting their hands dirty if they want to be successful at internet marketing.
Cheap Content, cheap links and unnatural “Natural SEO”
Google latest update to their search software is trying to help weed out useless and repetitive content, paid and crappy links and general spam; which has always been their goal. This time, they are actually succeeding. One of the biggest problems with legal marketing is that lawyers aren’t writing content; writers are writing content, and in many cases, foreign IT workers are writing about the U.S. Law. Writers who know nothing about the law have very little to contribute that’s worthwhile. Attorneys practicing law can almost always provide more insightful, unique content that attracts attention and gets links; this is the kind of unique, original content Google likes to return to its users.
This latest update from Google may be overreaching; they seem to have de-indexed or knocked down some useful law firm websites that have been playing by the rules for years. Just because Google changes the rules of the game doesn’t mean those who have been compliant up ’til now should be punished. I suspect Google will be refining their filter in the near future to ease up on some sites who may have been wrongly punished with this update; they’ve already created a feedback form in the event you feel your website was unnecessarily targeted.
Google’s Take on “Individual Branding”
Social media has played a prominent role in the internet marketing industry for a few years now, and that won’t be going away anytime soon. Social media has played a strong role in helping Google to identify you and build a brand around your business or name. Google has been pushing for us to self-identify; by networking multiple accounts (twitter, facebook, linkedin) to your google account, it helps Google to differentiate the “Smith Law Firm” in Miami, FL from “Smith & Smith LLP” in Chicago, IL. This helps search engines return better results to its users.
To help identify your brand, keep your firm’s name the same when submitting to directories, on google local pages, and on your website; if your firm name is “Myburgh Law, P.C.”, don’t use “Albie J Myburgh, Esq” on twitter ; be consistent across the web. Don’t create duplicate websites, and DO at least claim your twitter and facebook profiles, even if you don’t “tweet”. We agree; it’s a bit creepy that google wants to know who we are, where we work, and what our phone number is; but unless you plan to go off the grid and retire, it’s time to get onboard.
So what can you do? Become an active part of your SEO program. Write like you’re talking to your college-age nephew – not your law school professor. Talk to your SEO firm about what they can do to bring attention to your articles and build links to your content. Submit your articles to industry specific websites for publication consideration, and make sure in your credits you get a link to your website. This is the kind of “natural” SEO Google wants to see; not cheap content and directory links.
I was recently asked by a client what i thought of lawyers.com for SEO purposes. Full disclosure: I used to work for LexisNexis, the owners of Lawyers.com. In my experience, attorneys got very few leads from lawyers.com – one client had less than 10 click-throughs in a year. But does lawyers.com have any SEO value? In my opinion, it does a little – but not worth it for the hundreds of dollars per month they charge. Instead, spend that money on a business.com or BOTW listing ($300/yr each), or hg.org (from $190//yr). Better yet, many attorneys can get a basic SEO package at Sequoia Legal Marketing for a similar investment.
Last week, Google announced a new feature for Google Plus – pages for businesses and brands. Google Plus “pages” is similar to Facebook’s pages for businesses; so what is the point in joining a new social network so similar to Facebook? I quickly created a page for each of my clients, in hopes of gaining an advantage in Google’s search results. Facebook is more established and already has millions of users; chances are your friends, family and clients are using Facebook and probably haven’t taken up on Google+ yet, so don’t worry about having yet another website to keep up with on a regular basis…
By creating a business page, you can add link to your website and create a profile about yourself and your firm. In the future, I expect Google to incorporate Google+ pages into their search results, much like that already do with local business listings and Google profiles. Getting in early with Google+ pages costs nothing and can only increase your exposure online, so why not create yours now?
The American Bar Association has recently published an “Issues Paper Concerning Lawyers’ Use of Internet Based Client Development Tools” to examine the legal ethics issues of social networking on sites like twitter, Facebook and on blogs. The paper attempts to recruit comments on inadvertent attorney-client relationships, offering legal advice without disclosures via blogs and internet forums, and to establish a line between personal commentary and legal advertising (with the latter requiring attorney advertising disclosures) in blogs, tweets, and other means of electronic communication.
Inadvertent Attorney-Client Relationships
In social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, attorneys are often unable to post disclaimers warning prospective clients against posting information that could trigger ethical obligations. To maintain a safe distance from ABA ethics scrutiny, Consider the following recommendations;
- Professional and personal contacts should remain under separate accounts.
- Post ‘attorney advertising’ disclosures on blogs & websites.
- Above any submit forms on your website, notify potential clients about what kind of information should not be submitted online. Contact forms should not solicit Social Security or other ID information if it is not secured by a SSL certificate and received by secure email – to be safe, it’s just best to avoid this information being transmitted online at all.
- Be sure to review and certify that all information posted on your website and blog is factual and accurate. Any content written by non-attorneys, including assistants and marketing firms or writers, should be reviewed.
- Do not respond to specific questions asked by individuals on the internet. Hypothetical or general questions may be answered so long as they avoid addressing a potential client’s specific situation, which could be construed as legal advice.
- Be very careful when answering legal questions on sites like Yahoo Answers, LawGuru.com or even on your social media (Twitter / Facebook) account. While it can be tempting to use these services to enhance your reputation or gain new clients, it can be easy for a potential client to assume that you have offered legal advice or that you are or will be their attorney.
One point I would like to reiterate and stress; it is your responsibility to ensure the internet marketing firm or individual SEO specialist has your content reviewed by you before posting it online. At times e-marketers have found it easier to go ahead and post a ghost-written article on your website or blog – or a third party website such as HG.org – without your review and approval. It can be hard to get a moment to do this review, but make it a priority in order to ensure you are not offering incorrect information. Incorrect legal information has been widely disseminated in the name of internet marketing (or in the name of your law firm) due to non-lawyers writing legal articles with little or no factual basis.
Throwing money at any kind of marketing or advertising is a completely worthless exercise when you cannot convert leads.
I recently had an experience with an client/attorney who closed his practice in a major metro area, but didn’t want to lose the many leads coming through his website. He decided to send these potential clients to another law firm, with the understanding that any leads converted would result in a referral fee for the client. This attorney had a thriving practice based on this somewhat generic website, and could not understand why the new law firm wasn’t getting any “decent leads”.
The problem was not with the leads, needless to say – it was with the firm. I personally called this firm and spoke with the receptionist, who served little more function than an answering service. The attorney at the new firm – who didn’t know me – took more than 24 hours to return my call. No wonder they weren’t converting leads!
Potential clients don’t care what law school you went to, or how many cases you have won. When a potential client calls, you have one chance to leave a good lasting impression on them. If you cannot personally answer calls, the second best solution is to train the person who answers calls to be empathetic, understanding, and to make the potential client feel like they made the right decision to call you.
It’s easy to forget these simple things. It’s hard to forget what you know about law and to put yourself in your client’s position. Your potential client may not “know the routine” and it may be their first time hiring an attorney. If you are a divorce attorney, a criminal lawyer, a personal injury law firm – chances are your client is under stress and this isn’t a fun process for them.
Even if your receptionist isn’t a lawyer or legal assistant, they can be trained to covert leads.
- Most importantly, listen to the caller. Don’t interrupt.
- Tell them you understand – if applicable, be sympathetic – and assure them they called the right firm and that your attorneys can help.
- Take the client’s information. Give them an estimate of when they can expect to hear from the attorney.
- Have an attorney call them back within the hour, whenever possible.
When potential clients call you without being specifically referred to you (ie, from the Yellow pages or internet), they are calling because they want to hire you. If they get a machine, or a receptionist who merely functions in place of a machine, they will call someone else.
In 2007 i invested a considerable amount of time and money and I got my Real Estate license. I scored 97out of 100 on my final exam, and I thought I’d be awesome at real estate. I quickly learned that technical ability had very little to do with success in the world of real estate.
In the world of real estate, the top producers are generally those who know the most people. They have a good reputation and people refer them, because lets face it; you’d rather have an agent someone you know has already ‘test driven’ for you. When you don’t know people in your community and don’t have these pre-existing relationships, you’re screwed.
Not only are referrals the best kind of leads in Real Estate, they are the best kind of leads as clients in general. How does this apply to SEO? Currently, Google looks at links back to your website as ‘votes’ for you. However, it’s easy to ‘game’ the system by buying links or hiring an SEO agency to find them for you. In the future, Google will rely more on a relationship-based sort of way of ranking in order to ‘better qualify’ links back to your site.
Social media is definitely a part of that. The friends you have on Twitter, on Facebook, and whatever social platforms we see in the future will help Google determine your ‘community’. The ‘Important People’ in your networks / ‘community’ who ‘recommend’ you (via Re-tweets, posting your links, etc.) will play a bigger role in determining how important you are – or will become – online.
Hotel California Findlaw.
…you can check in any time you’d like, but you can never leave…
I don’t usually take on my competition so directly, due to the fact that they are a multi-million dollar company who could potentially sue me just to keep me busy for a few years…also because its not so nice. However I want to address a concern that I find myself explaining to attorneys who call me, disillusioned with SEO. I find it somewhat un-ethical for Findlaw to call their product “SEO”.
Findlaw already knows they can take advantage of their wide network of high PR, high traffic websites. However, they appear to be relying on their network of Findlaw-owned websites for optimizing their clients websites. To a degree, this would not be a major issue IF these links were from practice relevant pages and they stayed there after the client stops paying for SEO.
However, Findlaw is not limiting their linking to content related pages, they are removing links once the client stops paying, and they are using paying client’s websites to promote other customers. They have simply set up a network of links on each paying clients websites to link to other paying clients.
Not only does this create a tiny neighborhood of links, where one infected or bad site could infect many, but this is FAKE SEO. It’s temporary promotion. Once a client stops paying for SEO, the links are removed and your rankings, PR and traffic will drop.
Here’s an example of a paying client providing links to other Findlaw clients;
On Findlaw’s New Jersey Lawyer Marketing Website, they promote a number of firms as ‘representative clients’. It’s easy to tell which are current client and which are past clients; current clients have many findlaw websites linking to them, and past clients do not. Using URL trends and Link Diagnosis, it is clearly evident that attorneys do not benefit from Findlaw’s SEO efforts after services have been rendered – Something the client likely does not expect.
As a side note, FindLaw’s website should be updated. Of the 23 representative clients, at least 10 have clearly taken their business elsewhere.
Is this ethical SEO? Essentially, paying for the privilege of having high PR Findlaw links to your website (which findlaw owns anyway) and losing that investment when you unsubscribe to their services?