How is your law firm doing in search? Where do you rank? What does your meta data look like for organic results for your main legal services? What do your PPC ads look like? Don’t know? Don’t care? Over the next ten years we’ll be seeing more and more businesses, not necessarily law firms nor solicitors, advertising alongside you in organic (whether in the local block of results or otherwise) and paid Google search. And it probably won’t be the same competitors you may have expected to appear there in the past. In today’s blog, I look at the forces that are driving such unexpected competitors to appear there, how you could be missing out on significant amounts of new business and what you can do to take advantage of the opportunities the internet still presents law firms and solicitors who deserve to have an outstanding online presence.
Background to the pressures in the modern legal sector
In a recent blog I outlined what appear to be some of the biggest threats and opportunities in the modern legal sector in the UK. If you are a solicitor, you’ll probably be (or at least should be) even more acutely aware of these than us. One of the main ones threats (and opportunities, for some) are the new types of legal service and new forms of delivery of legal services.
Author of today’s seminal work on the future of legal services (“Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future”) and many other publications on the future of law, Richard Susskind explains that such new online entrants to the legal services market shouldn’t really come as any surprise. In the screenshot above, look at the way the services and pricing are advertised on some of the circled features, then consider what Susskind says is one of the main things the modern legal consumer is going to be looking for: “I believe the more-for-less challenge, above all others, will underpin and define the next decade of legal service. The more-for-less challenge will, I expect, irreversibly change the way that lawyers work.” And that should irreversibly change the way solicitors advertise their legal services online too.
Even this week, we’re seeing more solicitors (rightly) rallying against legal aid cuts in the UK, which are threatening to remove access to justice for many who can’t afford it. But even in the face of continued legal aid cuts, what can solicitors do to help those in need of legal advice? Susskind argues that one of the answers is in online legal services. He says that “while most lawyers are arguing for smaller cuts in legal aid, I argue we should be exploring and implementing alternative ways of providing legal guidance, not least through online legal services”. And it’s these online legal service providers that are beating many traditional law firms when it comes to Google search results for many types of legal services.
Beating your new competitors in Google – is it even worth trying?
Many lawyers tend to be somewhat pessimistic (indeed it’s in their nature to consider all potential outcomes to any legal issue or situation, especially the negative ones) and technologically averse. It’s not a great combination when it comes to thinking about how to dominate Google and leapfrog new competitors online.
Just how bad is the current situation? We’re not the only ones noticing that it’s no longer just law firms leading the way in some Google search rankings. Recently, Mike Nolan owner of Nolan PR published his own blog post “Unregulated advisers beat law firms in Google rankings”. Mike references new Legal Services Board research recently published which illustrates that many law firms are missing from the first page of Google in response to certain basic legal questions. As he notes, “The analysis concludes that the unregulated sector accounts for some 20-30% of total sector turnover, raising questions for regulators about the boundaries between the regulated and unregulated sectors.”
Why are so many law firms being overtaken? Mike notes “a failure to embrace the different ways people shop for legal services now is behind many problems the high street lawyer faces...Web searches and social media recommendations are now major avenues for businesses of all kinds, including solicitors. If these traditional firms are to survive they have to polish up their act. The good ones are engaging on many levels- and this means investing in marketing. The help is there for law practices. PR, marketing and communications advice has never been so relevant for an industry, which has to quickly move with the times. The future remains bright for the practices willing to adapt. We hope this LSB report will make many more sit up and take action.”
This is absolutely right – it’s more important than it ever has been that law firms invest in a great online strategy. From our experience we’re pleased to see many of our law firm clients dominate search results for many of their target practice areas and sectors. It’s also worth noting that many of the really broad search terms, like the one illustrated above (‘make a will’) will, may not be as profitable as more precise, solicitor-based local queries, for which see my other recent blog: “Do clients search for a solicitor locally or nationwide? This blog could get you many more online enquiries.”
So yes, it’s worth trying to beat your new competitors in search, and certainly possible…
How to improve your law firm’s search rankings?
It’s never best to try to game search engines so that you rank for just one or a handful of search rankings – modern SEO for law firms is to a significant extent about writing, publishing and sharing high quality legal and practical unique content to provide value to your online audiences. As we note:-
“Good Search Engine Optimisation isn't about 'tricking' search engines, or trying to boost your rankings artificially. We put in place a layered, multi-faceted, organic approach to raising your rankings in a way that will deliver consistent results and continue to improve over time. Some SEO companies can promise 'quick fix' solutions and promise to boost your rankings in a short space of time. In our experience, these strategies work for a while, but stop bearing fruit and even become harmful over time.
This is because SEO best practice is constantly changing, as search engines update their complex search algorithms to improve the quality of their service. When choosing a company to advise on or manage your online activities, it's important to choose one that stays up to date on the latest search engine and online developments, and that can change strategy accordingly.”
Online legal guidance – publishing great legal and practical content
Susskind also notes that one of the main disruptive legal technologies is online legal guidance, systems that can provide “legal information, legal guidance, and even legal advice across the Internet.”
While there are now so many to count (although note some like leading legal directory publisher Delia Venables have done a great job of collating a useful list of free online legal information resources), it’s worth looking at some of the most successful ones that Susskind references, namely US-based LawHelp and RBS’s MentorLive. Note that Tom Hiskey’s Probate Wizard (that was also referenced has now taken a different business shape).
Another such online legal guidance provider is our very own UnlockTheLaw (developed and supported by Moore Legal Technology, Curated Media, Network Legal and others from within our group of online legal strategy businesses), which provides free access to clear, straightforward and practical guides on the law. Essentially legal consumers are helped to understand their legal problem, solve it, save unnecessary legal fees and find the best lawyer for them if absolutely needed.
Susskind summarises the main impact of these online legal guidance providers on the legal market:- “The threat and disruption to conventional lawyers here is clear: if clients can secure legal guidance and legal documents on an online basis, then this may come to be a low-cost competitor to lawyers whose living is made from traditional, consultative, face-to-face advisory service. And…if robust and reliable legal help is commoditized and available at no cost to users, then it is hard to imagine, at least in some circumstances, why clients would prefer to pay good money to traditional human advisers.”
So over the next few years, we’ll undoubtedly be seeing more forms of online legal service providers setting up and, consequently, aiming to appear highly in Google search results to try to get their share of new clients. There will also be unregulated businesses that are unfortunately targeting the same searches, but since Google’s policies are nowhere near as strict as those of the Law Society (or Law Society of Scotland), they’ll have freedom to target certain terms within their advertising (such as the term ‘lawyer’).
For other more traditional law firms, one positive to be taken from this is they don’t have to take on the form of a complete online legal service provider (indeed if you look closely at the screenshot above you may see one of our reputable law firm clients appearing! However, they must pay attention to the trends in the online publishing of more comprehensive legal information. As our legal content marketing expert Dave Kerr notes in his Complete Guide to Content Marketing for Law Firms:-
“Content has never been more important for law firms marketing themselves online (which, of course, all firms should be!). At the heart of any marketing plan should be the creation and dissemination of focused, in-depth, authoritative, valuable content. Such content attracts business by demonstrating knowledge, expertise and thought leadership in your particular practice. Not only that, but there are a number of benefits with respect to search engine optimisation and your social media marketing.
Good quality content, aimed at your target market, attracts profitable, desirable business and provides cross-selling opportunities to encourage existing clients to spend more money on more services with you.”
Improve your Law Firm’s Search Engine Rankings and Presence – Get the results you deserve
If you take one thing from this blog post, it’s that your biggest competitors in the online context are probably not those you’ve been used to in the past. The legal market in the UK will keep getting flooded with new entrants, whether or not regulated, and indeed whether or not based in the UK. What can you do against the onslaught? Keep providing first class legal services – that’s a given. But that won’t protect your share of the online marketing pie. You need a first class online strategy. And that’s where we come in. Fill out our online enquiry form here or give us a call on 0808 278 8066 and ask for Chris.