By Mark Homer
“We’ve invested a lot of money in marketing, but do we really need to keep spending?”
I was speaking with a lawyer about our services and their law firm marketing challenges when this question came up. I was struck with déjà vu. I’d been asked that same question, just earlier that month.
I was thus spurred to write this article to address this seemingly common thread of thinking. These lawyers felt they had already invested a decent amount of money in their online marketing campaigns. However, when they compared themselves to their competitors, they were not seeing enough movement in the search results. In these discussions, I had to remind each of them that just as they are investing in work to move up the search engines, so are their competitors.
In other words, online marketing has become the new norm for law firms.
If you want to get ahead in today’s market, you have to stop thinking of online marketing as a one-time investment. That’s simply not how this thing works. If you’re not seeing a return on investment, you’re most likely investing less than your competitors. But quitting your online marketing investments cold-turkey? Well, that would be a sure-fire way to drop off the map completely.
We have all fallen into the trap of thinking that the world is static and that we just need to adjust a few things we are doing in order to move ahead. You would think I would be more immune to this mistake, as by trade, I am in marketing and spend the majority of my time in the ever changing online world.
Nevertheless, I have implemented some marketing strategies in the past based on assumptions of other competitors’ marketing strategies that, once put into place, did not work out as expected. In hindsight, of course, I realize they didn’t work because I had underestimated our competitors. Many of them are also smart and strategic, and why should I assume they are always going to do things the same way?
“To stand still is to fall behind.”
This is a quote by the great and witty American humorist Mark Twain. It was as true in the late nineteenth century as it is today. Being a lawyer is a noble profession, and you have the ability to help many people. Word of mouth and referral-based business growth is critical and will remain important; however, in 2016, unless you are utilizing marketing, fewer and fewer people will find out about your ability to help them. Just remember this quote by Mark Twain. When jumping into marketing your law firm online, don’t assume that everyone else is going to market based on the same old referral-focused methods. Many other law firms are also jumping online.
The first step many law firms take is finding someone to ‘build a website’ to get them online. This is similar to getting your first office and having your name on the plaque in the lobby. But just having an office and a business card is not enough to grow your business. When you first staked out your office space, you and your partners probably spent time networking. What you quickly saw was that other lawyers were also out networking to market their businesses, too. Suddenly, going to “chamber” events and networking was no longer moving forward but “standing still and falling behind.” You had to find other ways to get noticed by your future perfect client. Sometimes it was as simple as doing more creative networking—figuring out where your perfect clients spend their time and finding them there. For others, it was starting to dabble into advertising via bus, radio, TV, etc. That may have gotten the phones to ring a little more, but if you just kept doing the same things over and over, you started to notice a diminishing return. By not mixing things up and keeping abreast on the latest marketing strategies, you were standing still and falling behind again.
Even as we move into this digital world of unlimited potential, nineteenth century maxims still apply. Doing the same thing over and over is eventually falling behind. We have seen many law firms that feel they are investing in their search engine optimization, content marketing, or pay per click strategies on a regular basis, but they are realizing that they are either losing their rankings or are not able to move up to the top spots on search terms they care about. Upon a very deep and competitive audit, we see that the firms at the top of the search results have likely invested more. We may see a significant amount of new content, growth in amount and creativity of inbound links, extensive and/or recent positive and broad press coverage, or other things that blatantly indicate a growth in effort or spending.
A few years ago, doing some basic onsite optimization of about fifteen or more pages on your website and getting some core links from consistent directory sites and maybe some press releases was enough to get ranked and grow your traffic on lower competitive practice areas. Throw in some regular monthly content, a few videos, some great online reviews, and a little bit of onsite engagement and that was enough to be on page one for even more competitive practice areas.
However, if you continued to do that, while you initially were ahead of the pack, suddenly everyone else started doing a little bit of content, a little backlink work, some videos, etc. and the next thing you knew, sites were coming out of nowhere and challenging your rankings. Some of those competitors started doing more than the basics—maybe producing longer, niche-focused content; working with a PR company and SEO agency to get press mentions and positive links; and increasing backlink acquisition through strategies such as visual, linkable assets or scholarship campaigns.
Here’s what I recommend.
Every six months or so, you should be challenging your agency to take a look at your competition and make sure that you are investing enough to stay ahead of the marketing strategies of your competitors. As a rule, if you always want to remain at the top, your agency must be testing some of the newer ideas in the industry. They may not all work, but at least the ones that do will guarantee you are not standing still and falling behind.