Connecting with clients through your website

May 8, 2013

NetworkingLast week’s post discussed the importance of maintaining consistent telephone and email communication channels.  This consistency is important because, once your contact information enters the worldwide information network, it’s very difficult to update, should your information change.

However, a related, perhaps more important, issue that attorneys are concerned with is getting your information out there to begin with.

There are a variety of methods to accomplishing this, but most new clients will fall into one of two categories.

The first category is “referral.”  This is when your information was given to the prospective client by someone that you already know (e.g. friend, family, former or current client, another attorney, etc).

The second category is “non-referral,” which, as you may have guessed, is when a client approaches you after finding your information online, in an advertisement, or (in rare instances) in a phonebook.

Both of these categories are essential to building your client base.  Today, we’ll be covering the latter category, and subsequent posts this month will focus on the former.

Right at the outset, I’m just going to say that two of the three “non-referral” methods listed above aren’t going to yield many results for small and solo practitioners.  Most of the time, advertising is prohibitively expensive for small and solo firms, and a listing in the phonebook of any size will simply not get you enough attention since very few people actually use them anymore.

Thus, the most effective and cost-efficient method for generating clients from “non-referral” sources is making sure your information is available online.  And the best way to do this is with a website for your law firm.

A few pointers on the basics:

First, the website should have a simple domain name that clearly reflects the name of your firm (e.g., “www.<name>legal.com” or “www.<name>lawoffices.com”).  This makes it easy for prospective clients to remember, and it appears more professional than “sites.google.com/yourfirmname”.

Next, make sure the website layout is simple and user-friendly.  You have some flexibility here as long as your website is well-organized and easy to navigate.

Also, it’s beneficial to have a photo of you and any other attorneys at the firm.  Prospective clients will respond much better to seeing a human face when they first visit your website instead of stock photography of a gavel or scale.

Third, your contact information needs to be readily accessible, potentially from several different pages (if you can pull it off without it looking like high pressure tactics).  If nothing else, dedicate a separate page to your contact information, and make sure that it’s prominently labeled as such.

These are just the basics of effective website building.  And although these points are important when starting out, the ongoing struggle is ensuring that your website doesn’t sink to the bottom of Google’s search results.   A page will sink lower if it gets stale – i.e. it isn’t updated very often.

Thus, one of the most effective ways of keeping your site higher up on Google is by making changes to it on a regular basis.

Obviously, it doesn’t really make sense to continually do things like change the layout or add new photos, so how do you update your website?

Blogging.

Blogging is a great way to keep your page up to date so that it moves higher up on Google search results.  We’ve already put out a few posts on this subject, so I won’t retread the same ground.  Suffice it to say, though, that effective utilization of search engine optimization can help you stand out from the numerous other attorneys out there also trying to leverage the Internet to gain clients (and if you don’t feel entirely confident in your writing abilities, there are services, such as Thomson Reuter’s own FindLaw, that can professionally create and manage your online presence).

Aside from SEO considerations, it’s also important to understand the potential of blog-writing to effectively connect with potential clients.

This goes beyond simply presenting accurate and valuable legal information.  Yes, this is important, but any attorney can do this.

Instead, your blog posts should reflect parts of your own personality so that the reader feels as though he or she is getting to know you.  This can mean something as explicit as adding in your own commentary about a legal issue, or something as subtle as your writing style.

Either way, it’s important to be aware that clients will be making judgments about you, for better or for worse, based on what you write and how you write it.

Think about this from the client’s perspective: if you were looking for an attorney to help with an emotional divorce or an embarrassing misdemeanor, would you just contact some faceless name?  Nearly every client’s response to this question is “no.”

This is why it’s so important to put a little bit of yourself into everything you write for your website: prospective clients want to feel like they know you personally before they decide to retain you to help them with problems that are often very sensitive and private.

And truly, your personality is your most important distinguishing characteristic.

Any attorney can regurgitate legal principles, or tout their X years of practice experience.

What will make most clients choose one attorney over another in a “non-referral” situation is the attorney’s personal appeal to the client.