At the ABA Techshow in Chicago, I got a lot of knowing smiles and nods. I was often asked, “What’s a writer doing at a lawyer tech event?” My reply: I write websites for lawyers who don’t care about being found on Google.
For some, that seems like a radical position. But then the conversation would come around to how Firm Appeal’s core client is a lawyer with no website who realizes they need one. That’s the part that inspired the knowing smiles and nods. Lawyers who have websites know: having no website is expensive.
Does the high cost of no website seem counterintuitive? If you don’t care about getting clients in a Google search, why even have a website? In fact, this question was just asked by a PhD who consults to big pharma about oncology meds. (Surprise: he also has no website.) This points to the conflation and confusion. There’s a difference between having a) a website and b) an SEO marketing plan.
An SEO marketing plan is about paying big bucks to chase the elusive butterfly of Google page one. But having a website means having a conversation with a prospective client, no matter how that client finds you. SEO costs money. Websites save money. But, again, why?
Two words: Evocative Efficiency. A good website makes the prospective client feel good about your firm without any one-on-one, non-billable time. In a world where 80% of a lawyer’s time is spent on things other than billable hours—including business development—it stands to reason that there is a more efficient way than telephone to handle referrals and other prospective clients.
One of the easiest ways to handle the prospect is to own internet real estate. Build an online location that answers basic questions and evocatively reflects your client’s experience inside your office, and you’ve solved a couple of problems. 1) The people who would normally call you to use up your non-billable time now have a place to go that’s better for both of you. And 2), there’s a device in place for capturing leads that might otherwise evaporate because, let’s face it: When you have no website, you don’t exist.
How many phone calls does that save? How many hours do you get back? How many prospects do you capture who otherwise went away because they couldn’t find you? How many referrals already know what you’re about by the time you get on the phone with them?
Better yet, how many prospective clients do you stop losing simply because there's no website? It is shown that most people, especially Millennials and Gen Z, probably want to check out your website before calling you. A survey conducted by Verisign shows that 93% of consumers research a purchase online, 77% believe that a website makes a business more credible, and 84% believe a business website is more credible than just a social media page for the same business.  Research by Epsilon also shows that those Millennials and Gen Z'ers are influencing the tech use of the older generations with whom they live.
The culture is wired. The youngest users are influencing behavior of older users. And everyone wants to know about you before contacting you. If they can't find a convincing case for you, odds are good they just move on...
With apologies to Oscar Wilde, there’s only one thing worse than having a website. And that’s not having a website. The website is an interview. You enter into a conversation the prospect is already having. And your Evocative Efficiency—making them feel good about you before you ever speak to them—yields all kinds of benefits that make your life easier and more profitable.
Writing this is a struggle. I so don’t want to be the knucklehead branding himself as The SEO Curmudgeon. SEO works. It really does. But it’s a zero-sum game. There are limits. And those limits are well illustrated by a web developer with whom I was speaking last week. We were talking about bundling SEO services for lawyers who want the full Monty when it comes to duking it out for the 17% of survey respondents who say they would use a search engine to find a lawyer. (That number from the Clio 2019 Legal Trends Report.)
My web developer said, “I will never promise a lawyer that I can get him organically on Google page one.” And this is a problem, especially when coupled with the realities of buying SEO. He went on to say, “There are so many big firms spending so much money, it’s a jungle. If a lawyer has 10-12 thousand dollars a month to spend, I’ll get them results. But more than half of that budget is going towards ads.” The rest will be content. And still, he refuses to guarantee the elusive butterfly of SEO results: living and dancing organically on Google page one.
I repeated these figures to a new, small-firm client, who replied, “10 to 12 grand a month? Forget it.” And this is why we do not encourage the small firm or solo to chase the dragon of SEO. It’s unwinnable. There’s only so much room on page one.
But, you know what the small firm can win? The small firm can win in the soft and squishy world of conveying customer experience. “Customer experience” is the new marketing buzz phrase. (Frankly, the "buzz phrase" thing is annoying. Customer experience has always been part of delivering on the promise of your marketing messages.)
Now, if only 17% of prospective clients would use a search engine to find a lawyer, you’re probably asking, “Where do the other 83% come from?” To which I ask: Does it even matter? Once they hear about you, what’s the likely place to check you out? Your website. And that is where their client experience begins. Not on the phone. Not in your office. On your website.
FOOTNOTE: Survey says, “Referral!” According to the Legal Trends Report, that’s where a lot of the other 83% are coming from. Over half of prospective clients seek a referral. And in the brave new world of endless thumb typing and mouse clicking, your website is likely to be found not in a search for “lawyers near me,” but in a search for “INSERT YOUR NAME HERE.” And that is where your prospective client is first likely to meet you: in a search for you. That’s why paying $120,000 a year for SEO matters less than conveying the client experience on your website.
Not that I have an opinion on this.
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.
“I’m not interested in getting found on Google. I just want a place to send people when they ask about my website.” In all the years we've been working with attorneys on their websites, this is the most common refrain we hear.
Isn’t that crazy? Why on earth would you not want to get found on Google? Well, it’s pretty simple: The lawyers saying this don’t need the kind of business Google is going to send them. They don’t want tire kicking price shoppers who see lawyering as a commodity. “I’d like half a pound of divorce law, please. What’s your best price?”
Many of the lawyers we serve thrive on referrals. And at this time in the 21st century, even for a referral, having no website means you don’t exist. It’s the problem Descartes didn’t have to grapple with: "I have a website, therefore I am."
Also, a lot of these lawyers know the cost of competing with the 600-pound gorillas of law-firm SEO. “I can spend six figures on SEO, or I can buy a house in Belize. Hmm. Decisions.” They know that spending a quarter million bucks to compete with a big firm in a market like New York or San Francisco is a losing proposition. Much smarter is to put fewer marketing dollars into more tactical media.
When a referral does come their way, they want a website that improves the odds of converting that referral into a client. Also, they want to have the same appeal for the prospect who finds the website through other avenues, like social or video or blogging or traditional advertising. They want a website that makes it clear who they are, what they do, and how a client should feel about them.
That doesn’t mean there is zero SEO. There are SEO fundamentals. For instance, when someone searches your name, your website should appear in the search. That’s Website Building 101. But at the end of the day, you are not Baker McKenzie. Your game is about being efficient, nimble and cost effective. There’s no reason to try and compete in the SEO arms race with the superpowers. You are a marketing guerrilla. Approaching it that way is how you thrive.
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.