Many solicitors provide free legal information on their websites. Is this good marketing or just giving away valuable information?
I maintain a section on my website called Free Legal Information for Individuals provided by Firms of Solicitors at www.venables.co.uk/individtopics.htm. This covers accidents, benefits, business, car crime, consumer, conveyancing, crime, divorce, death (probate, wills etc), debt, dental claims, discrimination, disability, education, employment … and so on, listed alphabetically.
When I recently carried out a major check of these entries, I found that many previous free legal resources have been removed or seriously reduced in scope. It seems that many firms of solicitors, having originally been keen to be part of the new and exciting World Wide Web have eventually decided that it was not really worth the effort.
Their reasons for removing this content include these:
- It is a lot of work to keep the information up to date – and this work is not easily subcontracted to less experienced lawyers or to non-lawyers;
- If you get something wrong, and despite whatever disclaimers you may put in, there is always a danger of a legal claim from someone who has followed your (implicit) advice and come to harm – or at the very least, some bad publicity!
- By the nature of describing legal content, your material will often link to other, possibly more detailed, resources, somewhere else. In other words, you are sending your viewers away from your own web site, possibly never to return!
Before going any further with the current pros and cons of providing “content” (and there are some very strong pros in evidence, as can be seen from the contribution, below, from Mindy Gofton), let’s consider a really good example of original content provided by Roddy Tyrrell of Tyrrell Solicitors: Guide to the Law in Ireland, at www.lawyer.ie. This address is for the firm’s website as well as for the Guide; indeed, the two are one and the same. The site offers over 100 pages of content covering many different practice areas including family law, personal injury, medical negligence, defamation, employment law, taxation, property law and many more.
A brief history of lawyer.ie
By Roddy Tyrrell of Tyrrell Solicitors
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
This is commonly and wrongly attributed to one Winston S Churchill. There is no reliable record of him ever saying this and indeed, as he was a gentleman to the manor born, “making a living” was hardly something he could have talked about without some irony!
Those of us who are more lowly born solicitors do have to make a living. The currency we trade for this is our expertise and knowledge. So why give it away for free on a website? This is a question I get asked occasionally by others and it’s one I constantly ask myself.
The domain lawyer.ie was registered way back in 2000 just when Ireland’s country code top-level domains became available. It seemed like a good idea to bag the “category killer” generic domain and use that (such domain names became all-important for search engine ranking subsequently albeit those days are past).
Our first website went live in 2001 and the site has been constantly under revision since then. Rather than just having it as a brochure website for the practice, we slowly started adding some more useful informational content; there was then a dearth of Irish legal resources on the web (the likes of the early pioneers such as BAILII.org and of course the redoubtable venables.co.uk excepted!).
The “freemium” content model
The “freemium” model has been popularised in recent years by tech startups and is essentially analogous to the Pareto Principle or the 80:20 rule whereby one indulges a whole lot of freeloaders in the hope of getting enough paying punters.
Building Audience. There is no doubt that if getting eyeballs on your law practice website is the aim, this is a good strategy. After all, the best way to fill a pub on a wet Tuesday afternoon is to give away free pints!
Building goodwill. As Churchill might have sort of said, “when you give, you get.” In our case we have got many contributions gratis from the community (eg Kieron Wood, formerly Legal Editor of RTE television was a prolific early contributor and we have just posted an excellent 17,000 word guide from barrister Karl Dowling on Irish probate law).
But there are disadvantages:
Raising expectations. People who browse a website which exudes an information-sharing ethos (eg helpful, free, even do-it-yourself-type content) often have the supposition that when they contact the practice that they will get free legal advice. This can be tricky to manage but goes with the territory I guess.
Sorting the wheat from the chaff. The site now gets well over half a million visits per year but the 80:20 rule alluded to above is closer to a 99:1 ratio or even worse when it comes to conversions to paying clients. Whilst hosting and bandwidth costs are more reasonable relatively speaking nowadays, keeping a busy website up to date from both a technical and content standpoint requires ongoing effort.
It is impossible to know whether a more conventional sales and marketing-led content strategy over the last fifteen years would have yielded more business. However, the next two to three years will surely see further disruption to the online landscape, particularly with regard to purely textual article-type content which most all law practice websites currently rely on. Technologies built over voice platforms, AI and chatbots are already here and this will shake up the way the public access legal information online.
Is it worth it? Yes, it is now, having amassed content over the last 16 years which brings in ‘free’ organic traffic. If one were to start from scratch in 2017 there are probably other routes to take with emerging technologies beyond web content.
Do I do it as a public service? No, but it feels like it sometimes!
Other major resources
This type of substantial content is certainly very rare: I would guess that only 1 in a 100 of firms, on their sites, provide resources of any similar depth. Here are a couple more examples:
Lasting Power of Attorney, at www.peacock-law.co.uk/lasting-power-attorney, is covered in considerable detail by Solicitors Peacock & Co – when and why you might need to set one up and how this relates to your own mental capacity, the forms and processes involved to register it, how to terminate it if you change your mind, or how to add another attorney (you cannot – you have to start again), the role of the Court of Protection, and how a solicitor can make the whole process easier and more reliable.
Employment Law is covered in detail on the website of Ashby Cohen at www.ashbycohen.co.uk. The content for Employees provides a Guide to Principal Employment Law Topics with a special emphasis on Employment Law Rights and Obligations. I asked Alain Cohen whether it had been worth the effort from a commercial point of view and he said, “Yes, I believe so, since by providing the information there is more chance of engaging the visitor. In addition, the information would in all probability help with relevance as far as Google searching is concerned.”
To provide a different angle on this topic, following is the view of a digital marketing expert.
The importance of providing content
By Mindy Gofton of I-COM
The Content Marketing Institute recently published a statistic saying that brands who do content marketing well get 7.8 times more website traffic than those that do not. The same article explains that content marketing costs, on average, 62 per cent less than traditional outbound marketing and drives three times as many leads as well as website conversion rates that are 6x higher than competitors.
These are pretty compelling statistics supporting the importance of having detailed, free content available on your website. In fact, according to new and original research conducted by I-COM, 47 per cent of people expect businesses to provide them with “useful content” on social media – whether this is in the form of engaged conversations, shared, curated content or through links back to content on their own websites.
The modern consumer has become pretty savvy to marketing, and when you couple this with having 24/7 access to an internet where people expect to get any question answered on demand, if you are not providing as much information and guidance as you can online, you will lose out to competitors who will.
By having a content-rich site, you will appear more often to searchers using Google or Bing for more things and you will make people more aware of your business and your expertise.
Offering information that helps potential clients also demonstrates your willingness to assist them. Providing this type of guidance, especially to people in need of complex legal advice, can help them develop positive emotions in relation to your law firm, which in turn makes it far more likely that when they reach the point of deciding they do need a solicitor, they will choose to instruct your firm.
To back this up, the law firms we work with that provide a wide range of detailed information on their websites from long form services pages, to active blogs, to FAQs, videos, articles and guides, have far more success online, and drive much larger volumes of the types of enquiries they want through the web. How much content you need, however, very much depends on the size and nature of your firm – a small, niche practice will not need to produce the same amount of content as a large, full-service firm that needs to appeal to potential clients across a wide range of service areas.
While creating useful content does take huge time and effort, and at times may feel as though it is taking people away from the business of fee earning, the end result should repay you for the time spent.
Mindy Gofton is Head of Marketing Strategy & Innovation at I-COM in Manchester, a full service online marketing agency specialising in web design and digital marketing for the legal industry. Email email@example.com. Twitter @I_COM.
Final thoughts from Delia
How important is the provision of in-depth “content”? Questions not really answered in my mind include these:
- How much content counts as “content”?
- Can it be a casual blog or a series of occasional articles just including key words?
- Is the type of in-depth content provided by Tyrrell Solicitors, Ashby Cohen and Peacock Solicitors more than would be necessary to get the benefits from SEO?
- Is it currently worth any other law firm putting in the amount of effort required to produce a coherent body of information on a particular legal topic?
I would say that the jury is still out on the question, certainly until we can define “worth”.
Final thoughts from Mindy
Delia presents some interesting questions that solicitors need to answer in order to ensure they get the most from their content efforts. From a search marketing perspective, when our legal clients ask similar things, it always feels very straightforward – but we’re optimists by nature who believe that anybody can create great content and see the benefits. Reality for our clients is often quite different as they struggle for time – writing articles for the web is hardly a bigger priority than managing their caseloads and bringing in new business.
What I would say is that “content” is anything that answers the question at hand clearly and thoroughly – you don’t need to be verbose, but don’t shy away from it if what you have to say is useful.
I wouldn’t worry about having content which answers the same questions as your competitors. Instead focus on ensuring that the content you create is better than what you’ve found elsewhere, or takes a different approach. Whether you find worth in this exercise depends on whether you are able to effectively use that content to drive leads.