Further to my experiences over the past 8 months with LawCloud as SEO and social media consultant and given my new role as Search and Social Media Manager with Moore Legal Technology Limited, I thought it would be useful to share some insights on the correlation between social media, SEO and business development. The bulk of the ideas below have already been posted on my guest blog post for Connectegrity, although, I have expanded upon some of the reasons why search marketing remains an important weapon in the arsenal of every marketing department in every law firm across the world.
Do Clients Use Search Engines to Find a Lawyer?
Do clients use search engines to find a lawyer? Brian Inkster of Inksters Solicitors has considered this question of whether clients use search for a lawyer recently. Brian’s post is to be consulted for further in-depth discussion with sharing of useful web analytics from his own law firm.
To illustrate, I have a short story from personal experience, which I’ll expand upon at the SYLA conference on 24 June 2011 alongside Brian Inkster and Phil Knight and in a blog post before then. Last year I posted a short article I had written on an international private law subject, namely issues of jurisdiction and sists of proceedings. A couple of weeks later, I got a call from a business owner in my home town, who had an action for damages in a Scottish court which had been sisted in favour of a foreign court. He was already a client of a large law firm and was in regular touch with litigation partners. Nevertheless, he had, via Google, read one of my articles posted on my website, which had held me out to be knowledgeable in that area and had phoned me via the phone number I had left at the end of that article. After around forty minutes on the phone and chatting through his legal problem generally, I could have developed a potential business lead, although in that case, in line with professional and indeed general ethics, I suggested he should speak with his current lawyers regarding his concerns and get in touch should he require an expert opinion from someone else I could put him in touch with.
To expand further upon the question of whether clients search for a lawyer, it is best to hear from Stephen Moore, one of the leaders in SEO and legal web design for law firms . As Stephen noted on the Time Blawg,
We work with a range of law firms & professional services companies helping them to make the most out of their online activity. In addition we provide an outsourced service whereby law firms lease online shops fronts from us and we ensure that they deliver enquiries. My comments below are based on experience, are factual and can be backed up by reports and statistics.
Bizarrely enough lawyers are uniquely placed to make the most out of internet & search engine marketing because the general public, in general, trust them. Where they rank well in search and have a well designed site with clear calls to action they will generate new business and potentially lots of it. Jon will no doubt be cynical about my reasons for posting this here, but if he spoke to any of our customers he would find out why almost all of them end up spending more on internet marketing once they begin seeing the results.
Last month http://www.familylawliverpool.co.uk generated 100 enquiries for our partner firm and the equivalent employment law site generated about the same. Our partner firms are happy to pay our fee and have asked for proposals on what else we can do for them. Simply put, effective internet marketing is a game changer for law firms willing to embrace it.
As far as blogging is concerned our view is that a firm should work on creating as good a site as possible on a well optimised search engine friendly platform. A routinely updated, social media friendly and integrated blog will drive the longer tail traffic which will help to grow visits on an ongoing basis. If this blog is integrated into the site as well as social media channels, as opposed to being on a standalone platform, then the benefits will be even greater as a result of existing page rank and domain history.
In addition a search engine friendly indexed blog will help increase rankings for keyphrases as well as for longer tail keyphrases. An example would be if you type in the phrase ‘Family Lawyers Edinburgh’ into Google. Our site takes up the top three organic (free) spots and we attribute this to the integrated blog.
I would be happy to chat through this further, but we simply do not persuade law firms to do more online anymore. If they can’t see how important the internet is becoming as a potential source of business we are not going to waste time trying to persuade them.
CubeSocial, Connectegrity, Social Media and SEO
Returning to the topic of how social media fits into this picture, I met Connectegrity’s founders, Linda and Mark, at the Lex 2011 Tweetup, having engaged with them previously on Twitter and Linkedin.
While I had heard much of the Connectegrity brand and had even managed to pronounce it properly without assistance, I wasn’t entirely clear on its business model. It wasn’t until that meeting that I learned that Connectegrity was actually a start-up and that there was to be a launch of a new social media product specially designed for professionals to be able to focus on information and conversation on social media that is relevant to them, without the irrelevant noise.
Given that I use various social media tools for my own blawging and, indeed, my work as a Search and Social Media Manager, I was immediately interested. I thought that Connectegrity’s business model is bound to succeed – because of the growing influence of social media on Google’s and Bing’s search rankings, which, to some degree, influences the number of enquiries to a professional organisation through the web.
An Evolution in Search
Google and Bing have always had a challenging time trying to weed out irrelevant websites from search results. Previously, search engines worked by giving enormous value to websites with many links pointing back to them regardless of their content. One comical example of this was when George W Bush was subjected to a “link bombing” campaign, when many people directed the words “failure” or “miserable failure” back to his official webpage, despite the page having no relation to such a statement. The former president then ranked very highly for the word “failure”. The search engines have managed to get around concepts like this, e.g. by sharpening up link relevancy.
Now, following many further changes to their algorithms, the major search engines have started to give growing importance to links shared on social networks.
The Effect of Social Signals on Search Rankings
It is, therefore, useful to question, first, precisely which social signals are relevant for search rankings and, second, how much weight those signals carry.
Those two questions are the focus of leading SEO company, SEOMoz, in their recent blog post Facebook + Twitter’s Influence on Google’s Search Rankings.
SEOMoz concluded that, while almost one year ago, the biggest influencers were exact match .com domain names and number of linking root domains to the page in question, the leading influencer now appears to be shares of a URL on Facebook in addition to traditional backlinks, with shares of URLs through Twitter also being recognised, albeit with slightly less significance at present.
In light of these findings, it is clear that start-ups like Connectegrity, with state-of-the-art social media technology, will be able to add a great deal of value to professional organisations. At the same time, it will be interesting to see just how much value Google can foster from its continued foray into social search.