Is It A Website—Or An Interview?
Is your website merely a marketing-like object? Or is it a conversation with the person you'd most like to have as a client?"
Marketing-like objects plague the landscape. Some look like websites. Others seem like advertisements. Still others are social media posts. They all read like they want money for something. But the thing about marketing-like objects is they don’t matter. They aren’t making a case. They lack persuasion. There’s no clear voice. They’re devoid of anything resembling a resonant message.
Welcome to a symptom of the overcommunicated culture. Everyone knows they need a website. They just don’t know what it’s supposed to say or how to say it.
You know what to do in an interview, right? You’re not likely to sit with a prospective client and speak in bullet points or empty advertising phrases. “Good to meet you. I can handle your business law, tax law and estate planning needs. I’m dually qualified as both a business attorney and tax accountant.” (Most of that verbiage is from a website I visited just for the purpose of this exercise. It's on Google page one. How much do you think that helps?) In an interview, you speak conversationally. You’re interested and interesting. You make sure your words matter to the person opposite you. You make points with relevance and resonance. You are you. You do not behave like a placard that says, “For all your legal needs.” So...does your website reflect that?
You know what one thing is missing from so many lawyers’ websites? The lawyer. The expanse of high-priced real estate at the top of the home page is often given over to a photo of Lady Justice or the Constitution or a court building or a gavel or some other anonymous stock photo speaking to the idea of, “Law.” The writing is often stilted, uncomfortable contortions of lawyerly language that boil down to three words: “I do law.” On one website home page, the first sentence is 58 words long. And those 58 words might as well say, “You need an estate plan and I do that.” It’s unfortunate. This lawyer is obviously better than what is a failed exercise in keyword stuffing. It will not appeal to Google, and will probably be penalized for lack of relevance. And it will not appeal to the prospective client, who will penalize it for the same thing.
But then, there’s always the About page. That’s where the website shows a glimmer of hope. In the bio, that lawyer comes to life for a brief, shining moment. There’s a glimpse of the person one might meet in the interview. Then, in stumbles a contorted, 43-word gymnastic sentence about discovering a passion for helping the client’s compliance boat navigate the complex and dangerous seas of compliance, assisting businesses of all sizes and of various industries in establishing and maintaining regulatory compliance. Instead of all that, how about saying: “Man, I love the puzzle of regulatory law. ” It might not sound like a lawyer. But remember: Nobody wants a lawyer. They want a relationship.
The website is a place for the lawyer to be the human who chose law. That’s who the prospect wants to hire. The prospect is a human who has come to your site, most likely as the result of a referral. This human has a problem to be solved. The only person who can solve it is you. So, your persona can hide behind generic keywords and generic writing about generic things law. Or, your website can portray you as The Answer to the age-old question, “Should I talk to this lawyer?” And the only way to get there is by entering into a human conversation that your prospect is already having.
An attorney recently said to me, “I’m not happy with my website.” I asked why. “It doesn’t bring in what I desire.”
That’s an interesting phrasing. I liked it. “And what do you desire?” The desirous lawyer replied, “More estate planning.” So, I looked at the site.
The most obvious thing about the home page was the scales of justice. Then, a generic headline about life’s challenging moments. That was followed by a sentence (that might as well have been bullet points) about practice areas and geography. Finally, a click for a free consultation.
So, above the fold, it's a gigantic Post-It note. It says: “I’m a lawyer and I’ll talk to you. Click here.” Who is this lawyer? What is the lawyer’s focus? And why should the prospective client care?
“If you could have only one client ever, who would it be?” That is one of the questions Firm Appeal asks when we’re working with someone new. In this case, the answer is, “An estate planning client.” We’d always ask more questions and drill down. But for the sake of this exercise, let’s be satisfied with wanting estate planning cases.
Why isn’t that the first thing an estate planning prospect is seeing? When landing on the website, why are they seeing scales of justice? There’s no estate-planning focus, no feeling, no difference, no brand. And this is a common challenge. It’s not just this website. It’s many websites.
Part of the problem is this lawyer’s site looks like a good website. That’s a challenge. As a website, this is a marketing-like device. It talks about things that seem to matter. The colors are good. It looks nice. It says many nice things.
But at the end of the day, this website doesn’t matter. And that’s a shame. Because someone who needs an estate plan matters. They deserve a pro to ensure the family’s future. And you know who else matters? This lawyer. Everything I’ve learned about this lawyer is honorable and admirable and excellent.
And that’s why this lawyer’s desires are not being met. The website isn’t offering a message that meets the desires of the prospect. And that prospect is the most important person being discussed on that website. If the website treats the prospective client as important, the prospect and the lawyer both win.*
*This is a fictionalized account based on many true stories. No one website is actually represented here because so, so many of them share this problem.
That might sound strange from a guy who’s written branding books. But the reality is that never have more gurus been banging the drum for branding—without ever understanding it or explaining what it is.
Branding for lawyers is especially challenging. Unless you’re a DUI or PI attorney, it’s difficult to see how you’re going to brand yourself.
In reality, it's a simple concept to understand and embrace. But it is difficult to execute, especially for oneself. In fact, the Firm Appeal brand took months—purely because we are branding consultants trying to brand ourselves. A self-portrait in branding takes longer. Once you think you’ve got it right, you then have to show it to objective pros—who tell you it’s wrong and where it needs work.
But it’s worth it. Done well, branding helps the prospect make a decision. A good brand is emotionally evocative. And emotions drive decisions. Emotions inspire action. Intellect? Intellect leads to conclusions. But a brand that makes the prospect say, “This feels right” is what leads to choosing you over another.
But what is brand? Brand as we define it at Firm Appeal is: The one way your core client should feel about your firm.
For a lawyer, a better way to consider brand is as persona. Unless you’re the “Top Gun DUI Attorney” (a Los Angeles brand) or “The Law Tigers” (a national brand) or “The Attorney Who Rocks” (an Austin PI brand), you’re not likely to dress up in a catchy suit of branding clothes and bang the drum for your brand of law. Persona is subtler.
Think of persona is a 10% sliver of your personality magnified 10 times. It doesn’t have to feel tricky or unclean. It doesn’t have to make you feel like a carny. Persona lets you bring focus and feeling to your website and marketing materials. You can let your core client feel one way about your firm. You can be decisive and evocative without bringing the hat and cane. You can be all business—but smart business. And that ends up being money in the bank.
Blind kid? What blind kid? It's an expression in internet marketing (as well as the name of a San Francisco SEO firm) that search engines are like blind five-year olds. That's your baseline for simplicity. Handle your SEO elements in such a way that you're understandable to a blind 5-year old. Do that, and you attract the right attention from the web crawlers determining your relevance.
Are you selling widgets? If it's mass retail your after, this kind of SEO makes perfect sense. However, there are no widgets in your world. You're selling a high-priced professional service. It's not a commodity. And Google shoppers are usually seeking the lowest price. (If you wish to sacrifice yourself on the altar of price-per-pound shoppers, have at it. But it'll be expensive.)
What about being a vision for the sighted adult in the room? We like to joke about SEO vs. HBO--Human Being Optimization. Since the higher-quality client is typically coming to you as a referral, you want your website to appeal to that person on a level that search engines may not care about.
There's a level of emotional engagement required for a human being to make a decision. (Yes, this is real science. Decisions are made emotionally, then rationalized. See also: anything that gets a couple into divorce court.) Emotions lead to action. Reason leads to conclusions. And the kind of appeal that you need is the human kind.
That's not to say you don't want SEO. There are all kinds of grizzly little SEO details that need to happen under the hood of your website. But what you're not interested in is chasing the dragon of a six-figure annual SEO budget to compete with a firm for whom those six figures are paper clips, and their marketing budget dwarfs the GDP of some third-world nations. Like the man says, there's only so much room on page one.
Why is HBO emotional appeal better for you than SEO blind child appeal? Because that's a battle you can win. And just as a case in point, you've read all the way to the end of this blog post. And you know what? Google will never list it for someone searching for what you do. You know why? Because this post never uses any one of the specific words that refer to what you do and the service you provide. And that much you can bank on.
IT IS PRESENTED AS A TRUTH THAT "Without SEO, lawyers die." What if you defy this ostensible truth? In a business where referral is king, SEO is useful. It just isn't a silver bullet. Instead, be human. Be evocative. Be the best part of you. A search engine can't understand that. But your client can.
Blaine Parker writes good words for good lawyers. Learn more at Firm Appeal.