We all know that people who come to your website are impatient and want information straight away. If you don’t get their attention fast, or the information they want quickly, they go looking elsewhere. There are plenty of other options to be explored on the web, whatever you are looking for. But there’s more to it than that in the increasingly sophisticated world of internet marketing, where most law firms have only just begun to “engage” browsers.

Law firms taking this seriously will track, know and care about how long a browser spends on their website. Without this, it’s impossible to know what is working and what is not, so this is the starting point. Begin to track and evaluate this if you don’t already.

Learn from experience

Many of the basics of marketing in this virtual “web” environment are not that much different from the traditional “bricks and mortar” approach to marketing and promotion. Personal injury lawyers, for example, have become familiar with the impatience of claimants. If they don’t get out to the client and get them signed up immediately, they will soon check out other options. The solution there is to send an agent round: what is the equivalent on the web? In conveyancing, if a caller doesn’t manage to speak to someone who can help them on the phone, they will probably pick up the phone to someone else who they feel can do just as good a job. In employment, if they can’t get enough advice or assurance today, they will go to someone else who can. It’s the same on the web. Get them before they go somewhere else.

Why is this critical now?

  • Approximately 70 per cent of households (18.3m) now have internet access. 63 per cent of these have broadband access – up from 56 per cent in 2008.
  • Use of the internet by those aged 65 and over has increased 15 per cent in past year (2008/9), compared with 3 per cent for 16 to 24-year-olds.
  • Back in 2006, 20.1 per cent of respondents booked their last holiday online compared to 16.8 per cent in 2005 and 12.4 per cent in 2004. This has continued to increase, so the public are getting the habit of researching and buying online.
  • Both private and commercial clients are using the web as a way of identifying and making first contact with solicitors.
  • Increasingly SMEs will use the web to find a potential regional law provider.

How to convert browsers to business

We use the “AIDA” steps in many areas of our approach to selling legal services:

  • Attention – get their attention
  • Interest – generate interest
  • Desire – arouse their desire to buy
  • Action – prompt action to start the buying process

This applies just as much on the web as, for example, in selling legal services when “giving a quote” for conveyancing. How does it apply on a website? Have lawyers learned the lessons? For most, I don’t think so, although some firms are doing it, or moving in this direction – and the rest will suffer as they get better at what they are trying to do; so the sooner you get started down this track the better.

Following are the key steps we advise clients to focus on.

Get Attention

Make headings interesting and compelling. You have approximately 2 seconds to persuade a visitor to read on once they land on your site. Start with a “killer” statement – be it about what you can do for the client, or an interesting legal fact. For example, “Did you know that”¦?”

Put a video on your site that gives a visual insight into what you are offering. This not only grabs attention and panders to curiosity and (currently) novelty, but also helps improve your search engine rankings dramatically.

Tell clients and introducers about it. Existing clients are inclined to stay longer and are more likely to come back, so think about how they are informed about the site day-to-day. How many lawyers or support staff think to tell or remind clients about the website when they are talking to them when they open a new matter or during the progress of a case?

While they have their attention, this is the time to suggest they go there and sign up for the firm’s really useful newsletter or check out the blog that is updated regularly with good information. Maybe the best way to get these people to the site is to tell them about how they can get to updates and progress reports on matters any time of day or night; or even a shared work area if you are moving towards interactive solutions? Maybe even suggest that they add the site to their “favourites” and then back this up with some follow up having sown the seed.

Two telling questions for you:

  • Is there anything on your new client and new matter forms or screens that would prompt your lawyer to mention the website when they are talking to a client at this stage? Do they know what they should be saying about it?
  • Do you always send an email to your new clients (having gathered their email address on that new instruction form or screen if they are happy to communicate some of the time by email – do we ask that question?) with a link to your website shortly after they have instructed you on a new matter? The easier you make it for them to link into your website the better – and this is the easiest way. Sending a link is better than sending a letter.

Generate Interest

The traditional tools that still work well include easy to read factsheets, FAQs and newsletters. Make them easy to find, concise, easy to read and focus on the burning questions clients need answered.

Implement a search facility to let your browser search for relevant information quickly. There is also another valuable research side to including this facility; it provides you with additional insight into what keywords and topics people are looking for when they arrive on your site, which can help you improve your use of keywords to optimise your site for search engines.

Encourage subscription to your content. This can operate in a number of ways:

  • Include an RSS feed service from your blog, so that browsers can choose to receive new updates online from you automatically. (This is not a well understood area yet.)
  • Personalisation is becoming more and more popular with the average searcher, allowing browsers to customize their view of the website pages to match the areas that are important to them.
  • Twitter has become a national obsession, even for non users, with plenty of lawyers getting followers on legal and non-legal content that keeps them in touch with prospects. You can create a link on your website to enable browsers to “follow” topics or people.

These social subscribers can provide a lot of insight into how people are engaging with your web properties and with your brand online.

Arouse Desire

Focus on the benefits working with your firm brings rather than just factual information A potential client might be interested in the fact that your practice was established in 1850 and has been based in the same offices ever since. A potential client will be much more interested and more likely to do business with you if you make it clear what you can do to help them.

Create personal connections. It depends what kind of services you provide, but generally “people buy people” to some extent, which is why personal profiles are usually good – lack of them (particularly for firms reliant on local business and connections) is surprising. Options for improvement here range from just including personal profiles of key people and making them more interesting to the addition of options to subscribe to social networks such as LinkedIn. You can then choose to carry on a discussion from that point forwards once you are connected.

Prompt Action

Don’t forget to tell people to contact you. It’s amazing how many sites don’t tell or invite potential clients to get in touch. Internet browsers do not want to have to look too hard for information. So make it easy for them! Finish every page with a ”˜call to action’ statement – including the phone number and link to the ”˜contact’ page.

Online subscriptions. Allow browsers to sign up online to newsletters and alerts in areas that are relevant to them so you can bring them back in future, making sure you give them the option to tell you what is of interest to them. Also, to join events, making sure you respond quickly to their booking. Online newsletters and webinars are increasingly popular and cost effective ways of delivering good information to the online community.

Interactive online communication and “virtual receptionists” are perhaps a step too far for most firms just now, but are coming and can be very effective! If you are using a call centre, where people can be available to answer questions immediately, include a chat option on screen to allow browsers to enter into a relevant dialogue immediately.

Taking this a step further in relation to your internal organisation, it would be possible to have the facility for the operator to “hotkey” the browser through to someone in your practice more qualified to deal with the enquiry once their needs have been established. Why not head in this direction, with unified communications increasingly available?

In this area, make a start by checking out Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 which could be adopted by any firm as a hosted solution; so all of this is feasible for most law firms.

Allan Carton is a Director of Inpractice UK Limited which advises law firms on all aspects of business development. He is also Director of Managed Services Consultancy which advises law firms on IT outsourcing and managed service options.

Email acarton@inpractice.co.uk.

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