Google dominates the UK search marketplace, delivering more than 90 per cent of all search results, and it rates as one of the busiest sites in the world.
But Google is much more than just a search engine. If also offers a range of office productivity tools which can make your information management more efficient, improve your business processes, and save your firm or chambers money. From YouTube to Patent Searches, Picasa to Gmail, Google offers more than 50 different services in addition to its familiar search engine.
Underpinning all of these services is a free, personal Google account. Your account acts as a single gateway to your subscribed Google services. This single point of access raises issues, however, in the view of human rights watchdog Privacy International, who rank Google at the very bottom of their Privacy Rankings of internet Service Companies. Access to the services mentioned in this article requires you to have a Google account, but first you might want to read the article “Race to the Bottom?” at tinyurl.com/3xzde2.
Google Alerts is a free tool which will notify you if your personal name, your company name, your competitors, or a key phrase of your choosing gets mentioned on the web. It tracks your professional interests on the web, and then emails you of changes that you need to know about. Your Google Alerts are easily configured to send weekly email summaries on a range of searches such as:
- Your personal name or your company name, to see what people are saying about you, and to monitor your online reputation. Just put your name into the Alerts box in quotes, eg “Susan Hallam”, and Google will automatically alert you whenever there is a new mention of your name on the web.
- The names of other firms or legal professionals, to keep an eye on the competition and the coverage they’re receiving. This is a free competitive intelligence tool that could help you to keep track of developments relating to their firm.
- Key clients’ developments.
- Keywords describing your interests or professional responsibilities.
To create an alert, just log on to the Google Alerts website. Then enter your search term, remembering that placing your phrase in quotes means you will get more accurate, relevant information.
You can limit your search to certain types of information on the web, such as blog articles, news articles, or web pages. I recommend “Comprehensive”, meaning all of the above. You also choose the frequency with which you want to receive updates: as they happen, once a day or once a week.
iGoogle is your personal internet desktop, providing instant access to the information and websites you use frequently. You define what goes on your desktop:
- Gadgets, such as driving mapping tools, weather forecasts, currency converters, the Tube map.
- News feeds from the web, such as Law News from the Times Online, BBC News, or hundreds of other news services.
- A convenient place to organise your reading on the web, including Blog and podcast feeds from the UK legal community.
Google Apps is a head-on competitor to Microsoft Office. Google Apps comprises a word processor called Google Docs, a spreadsheet, calendar, email and other software tools that run on the internet.
More importantly, Google provides a free private network within the internet, with no need for technical resource to manage hardware of software. Known as an “extranet”, users can have access to their documents, email, instant messaging and other information from any device that has an internet connection.
Google Docs is fully compatible with the Microsoft Word. I can work on the document on my own computer and then put a copy onto the company extranet to be shared with my colleagues.
Solicitors and barristers working (for example) at home can access their documents securely in their firm’s or chambers’ private Google environment accessed over the internet. As amendments are made to documents, the revised version is saved for other colleagues to collaborate or make contributions. In much the same way, calendars, videos, spreadsheets can all be accessed and shared via the internet.
Firms could also use Google Sites to create secure areas for clients, making client information and reports available. The information is hosted securely using your own domain name, and the branding and layout can reflect your own firm’s requirements.
Organisations like the Telegraph Media Group are moving away from Microsoft in favour of Google Apps. Their decision was influenced not only by cost, but the benefits of working in a collaborative, mobile and flexible way using the internet.
Google Apps has both a free and a fee-paying version. The free version is subsidised by the appearance of advertising on the pages, whereas the fee-paying (“enterprise”) version has the advertising disabled, as well as additional functionality, particularly in the areas of security. At a cost of $50 per user per year, it could worth firms investigating Google Apps as an alternative way of working.
Tools for promotion and sales
In addition to its search engine, Google has a number of other marketing tools available. New forms of rich media content are very appealing to your target markets, whether personal or corporate clients.
Many firms are publishing videos on YouTube; for example, see Kyriakides & Braier’s “how to” videos at tinyurl.com/3no6s5.
Your clients want information presented in a number of different ways, including leaflets and fact sheets, but internet TV is a new and compelling, and low cost, way of communicating with potential clients.
For customers who want the convenience of paying fees online using a credit card, a number of firms are offering the option to pay using Google Checkout. Like PayPal, Google Checkout is a secure online credit card processing service. Unlike PayPal, Google only charges a 1.5 per cent plus 15 pence per transaction.
And finally, in my previous article in the September/October 2008 issue, I discussed using Google AdWords, and how a Pay Per Click campaign can improve your visibility in search results.
Susan Hallam is Managing Director of Hallam Communications Ltd. Hallam provides specialist internet marketing services for the legal profession.