The 2020 State of U.S Small Law Firms report by Thomson Reuters, brings into focus, yet again, the challenge that law firms face with that all-important aspect of running or growing a business: Acquiring new customers.
Although the report speaks of several challenges that small law firms face, of particular challenge is “acquiring new client business,” which 26% of respondents rated as a significant challenge while a further 50% said it was a moderate challenge for their practice.
This revelation should come as no surprise. It is a well-known problem to most businesses no matter their industry or market, and it begs the question, What exactly can law firms do to solve this challenge?
Although there are numerous methods and mountains of advice to address this question, I argue that one of these methods is generally accepted by most professionals in the digital marketing industry to be the most sustainable, yet often the most overlooked: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), or simply leveraging the way your online presence is used for maximum effectiveness.
Sustainability, generally speaking, refers to the ability to maintain or continue to do something for as long as possible and at the current rate, while getting the same level of output, or preferably more. Thus, sustainable growth for a law firm can mean getting more prospects or leads, traffic to your website, calls and email inquiries, or foot traffic into your office while using the same or a lesser amount of resources.
Options to grow a small law firm
Television and radio ads, billboards, physical mailings, billboards, and ads in the Yellow Pages all predate the internet, yet remain common advertising media for many law firms today. It is not too difficult to see the limitations that are inherent to each of these media, including exorbitant costs, limited reach, inability to properly measure their effectiveness, and more.
And in today’s online world, whole new varieties and types of resources have come into existence that have drastically and dramatically improved the ability of law firms to gain new clients, including through social media. Indeed, social media definitely has the potential for enabling viral campaigns, increasing brand trust and visibility, growing traffic to your website, and becoming a good source of referrals and new clients. Yet, this modern option also faces the same challenges at its old-world competition of high cost and low conversion rates, especially if you are going the paid-advertising route.
So, how can smaller law firms optimize their online marketing efforts while minimizing their costs and time?
With social networks, there also are organic methods through which this resource can be leveraged to grow a law practice, often referred to as SEO, which may be the most sustainable among all available methods to grow your law firm. Proper SEO allows firms to maximize their exposure on their website, social media channels, and other online venues, often simply by being conscious of words, phrases, and images used on these platforms. Properly managed SEO allows firms to better measure results and its return on investment (ROI) and enjoy better conversion rates. Most importantly, SEO strategies can be one of the most sustainable options you can pursue.
Let’s expand on that last point of its sustainability. Recall that I described sustainability as the ability to maintain or continue to do something for as long as possible and at the current rate while receiving the same level of output or more. A few ways in which SEO meets this sustainability test include:
Content lives forever — SEO is inextricably linked with content marketing, and therefore, any content that you produce can, in theory, live forever and, consequently, can continue to generate web traffic. As a result, people may continue to call or email you about your legal service long after the content was created without you needing to do anything. This is the very definition of sustainable.
Search engine rankings last longer — A high search ranking is almost always guaranteed to bring in a steady stream of web traffic, and consequently, a steady stream of prospects and leads for your law firm. When such a high ranking is achieved, you theoretically could stop performing any SEO activities and your website’s rank will still be maintained for some time into the future. The smart thing to do, however, would be to continue doing what is already working.
Pairing with search engine marketing — Search engine marketing (SEM) is paid advertising that either happens on search engines or various websites. For example, this might be the paid ads that you see at the top or bottom of a search engine’s results page, or it might be the banner ads you see on various websites across the web.
SEM could easily take the top spot for the fastest way to acquire new clients, but it would not be the cheapest or most sustainable way. Yet paring SEO efforts with a limited SEM effort could super-size your ability to gain the attention of new clients.
SEO, for all its benefits, is not without its disadvantages, including that it can often take a long time to see results, you often have little to no control over the type of exposure your business might get, and you are never guaranteed the specific type of results you might want.
As small law firm leaders attest, one of the main challenges small law firms face is growing their business and bringing in new clients. And it does not matter what type or practice or area of law in which your firm operates, sustainable business development practices are essential.
The sustainability of a properly managed SEO strategy can help your firm acquire new clients — cheaply, and regardless of your firm’s size or area of expertise.
Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.