Recent research shows that over half of consumers who search for an attorney online will eventually choose their lawyer this way—translating to over 30 million new clients annually. Lawyers without an online marketing plan in 2012 need to be making one for next year if they haven't already started. Online marketing plans can help to guide your firm's strategy as you navigate the ever-changing blend of trends and regulations that guides internet marketing today.
Key Media and Platforms for 2013 Online Marketing Plans
Social media is going to be the key to having a successful 2013 online marketing plan for most law firms. Businesses that really understand how to use social media—not just the basic techniques of posting and interacting, but that also “get” on a fundamental level how to interact with users—have one of the best sources of referrals possible today.
However, your online marketing plan needs to take into account who you're generally marketing to. Business to consumer law firms will want to focus on B2C havens like Facebook, Twitter, or even smaller and more niche friendly sites like Pinterest and Reddit. However, if your firm mostly markets to businesses, there's still only one real contender. LinkedIn is still the place your online marketing plans should focus on, at least for the foreseeable future.
“Return on Influence” or “Return on Investment”?
Over the last few years, as social media has come to dominate conversations about online marketing plans, “ROI” has come to sometimes mean “return on influence,” a more nebulous concept than the traditional “return on investment.” The change is supposed to acknowledge that the returns on your social media investments may not always be immediately apparent, and that gaining influence and reputation in the market is also worth something.
While return on influence is perhaps a term better left behind, it's reflecting something very important that needs to show up in your online marketing plan. If your online marketing plans make it seem like you're afraid to spend money or time on social media and other new ways of doing internet marketing, you may not be saving money in the long run. You should be willing to spend some of what you make this year in your online marketing plan for reputation building and growth.
Competitor Research: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
You should always make sure you know the basics of what your competitors' online marketing plan for last year was. You can investigate where a competitor's inbound links are coming from and get a good sense of where they're spending their time when they create online marketing plans.
Good competitor research takes your competitors into account when determining your budget and the audiences you want to reach. However, bad competitor research happens when law firms do the research, then ignore the results—leading to a less than impressive competitive presence. Then there's the truly ugly thing some law firms do: copy everything their competitor does, right down to using the same inbound linking sources. Understanding how someone else's firm works doesn't mean you should try to be just like them. Have your own brand identity, and be a little different—don't just copy your competitors' techniques, improve them!
Online Marketing Plan Mistakes Lawyers Make
Attorneys today often make the mistake of thinking that their online marketing plans can be set completely at the beginning of the year. While it's a good idea to have some overarching guiding principles for how you want your 2013 online marketing plan to look, don't get too set on specifics. Keep in mind that because the internet is changing rapidly, you need to make online marketing plans that can be adapted to adjust for minor or major contingencies.
Online companies can go out of business suddenly, or very significantly change their policies in a way that either greatly benefits or greatly harms your firm's online marketing plan. When this happens, don't blindly move on without looking to see how your online marketing plans have been affected and what you need to do to prevent financial losses.
The Benefits of New Platform Research
You should also be prepared to invest some of your time and money into finding new places to market your services. Because new online platforms for content marketing are being developed all the time, it's a good idea to include experimentation with some of these platforms in your online marketing plan. Online marketing plans don 't need to latch onto every fad, but there's nothing wrong with trying out something new and seeing if it works well for your firm, especially if you think you have a winning idea to use.
Early adopters of technologies often get additional benefits from them that people who only jump on the bandwagon later don't get. For example, if you're part of a new platform when it's just being started, you learn community norms as they develop, instead of having to risk violating unwritten rules when you come into an already-established online community.
The #1 Thing You Aren't Spending Enough On
The vast majority of law firm online marketing plans don't spend enough money or time on analytics. While this may not seem like the most glamorous part of an online marketing plan, it's one of the most critical parts if you want to see your returns on your online marketing growing throughout the year and beyond.
Analytics help you understand when something you've experimented with has been successful, and what parts of your online presence are working or failing. Using analytics, you can find out when users “drop out” of reading your website to go back for browsing. This can give you valuable feedback about which pages you need to improve your content for first.
The only way analytics can help, though, is if you're willing to listen to the findings. Data doesn't lie, and if you find out, for example, that a much-lauded site redesign is resulting in fewer people getting past your splash page and lower conversion rates, you may want to abandon the redesign. But you can also check for other reasons. If fewer people are coming through your splash page, it may be that many people who would never have contacted you anyway got a clearer view of your firm's niche specialty area—saving them time and you a bit of bandwidth.