A hundred years ago, if you'd wanted to find a lawyer to resolve a legal dispute, you'd have asked your friends and relatives if they could recommend one to you. Fifty years ago, and even twenty, not much had changed—word of mouth was still the most important factor in finding a new attorney. Today, the legal landscape has been changed forever by the internet. Attorney websites have become the single biggest marketing tool for most law firms, and online referral has become one of the biggest ways for people to find their lawyers today. Keep reading to find out how you can maximize your online referrals and expand your reach through online marketing efforts.
What's So Special About Online Referrals?
When someone refers a client to you in person, that's great, but it's not as good as an online referral. Why? Because any time an in-person referral happens, it's over in an instant, and chances are that nobody heard about it except for the person the referral was intended for. Online referrals, on the other hand, offer something very different: the chance to have a referral seen by a large number of people, including people that you wouldn't normally have a direct or indirect connection to.
Because online referrals extend your reach so much, it's worth cultivating a presence on online referral websites. Without them, you'll be giving your competitors a great opening—and that's something you can't afford to do in today's hotly competitive legal business world.
Building Profiles to Get Online Referrals
The first thing that you need to do if you want to increase your online referral traffic is to start building profiles on websites. Building profiles is generally the first step to making it easier for people to find your law offices online and refer clients to you, so it's the best place to start. Try building profiles on a large number of websites, including social networking sites, social bookmarking sites, review websites, and attorney directories.
In many states and metropolitan areas, the state or local bar association also offers online referral services through its website. Usually, the way this works is basically identical to a phone based referral from a bar association: the potential client calls, details their problem, and someone is trained to refer them to an attorney who specializes in the appropriate area based on their concerns.
By getting onto the list of attorneys who receive online referrals and phone based referrals, you can significantly increase the number of new clients you receive from referral based sources. In some cases, you may have to pay additional money to your bar association in order to receive this service, while in others you will only need to agree to accept a free or reduced fee initial first consultation with each online referral you receive.
Online Referrals Through Social Networks
Social networking through LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter is some of the best value you can get for your search engine marketing time. Using these sites helps your website in myriad ways, not the least of which is by giving you yet another origination point for an online referral. People talk on these websites about everything interesting to them, and as long as you make sure you have a profile on the appropriate websites, you'll get online referrals through your existing clients who are on Facebook.
You can also boost your online referral numbers by sponsoring a post and telling your Facebook friends to give you reviews. Sponsoring posts on Facebook is now easier than ever, after an update released on October 11, 2012 allowed any person (whether or not they were affiliated with a business marketing page on Facebook) to promote a story at relatively low cost. Because sponsored stories are seen by a larger percentage of your total friends, sponsoring stories can be an effective and cheap way to build your online referral business.
Online Referrals Through Review Websites
Online reviews for attorneys from websites like yelp.com and avvo.com have become one of the biggest sources of consumer information for people looking for new lawyers. If you're not already signed up on these websites, you probably aren't receiving the online referral traffic you could be.
What's more, having profiles on these websites can help you to actually solidify and improve your practice. If you notice similar criticisms being levied at your firm by several different former clients, don't get defensive—get proactive about changing the climate at your office before you get another mediocre review or worse. By monitoring review pages, you can also make sure that the reviews you're getting contain a genuine online referral and aren't just placed there by competitors to make you look bad.
Often, if you ask people on your social networks whether they'll post reviews for you on these sites, they'll say yes. Their testaments to your ability can be the best source of online referral traffic for your site for months or even years, if the reviews are good enough.
Online Referrals Through Attorney Link Exchange
One of the other ways to build an online referral base is to start exchanging links with some of your fellow attorneys. You don't do tax law, but one of your best friends from law school does, just across town. You do criminal defense, and he doesn't. This is a perfect situation for a link exchange. Both of you can benefit from this, and you won't be taking any traffic from each other's websites that the other person could have successfully handled on his own. Make sure to check with your state bar about ethics rules pertaining to these link exchanges before you do them—no need to get in trouble because you didn't ask about the rules for your specific area.
Tracking and Analyzing Online Referrals
Once you're getting some online referral traffic, you should think about doing some analysis of it. Analyzing your online referrals can help you prioritize your time and decide which aspects of your referral generating strategy still need work. Using Google Analytics on your website can help you learn where your web traffic is coming from and where it's going to, which in turn makes it much easier to decide which of your referral sources work and which ones are less than optimal.