A recent report released by LexisNexis has revealed some amazing statistics about internet marketing in the digital age. The report analyzed the results of a survey conducted in February of 2012. 4,000 total adults, weighted by demographics including age, sex, and race, were asked questions about how they use the internet and offline sources to seek information when they have a legal problem. With 58 million Americans trying to find an attorney in just 2012, the stakes couldn't be higher. Learning more about this report can help you tailor your legal practice to the ways people use the internet now.
Where Do Consumers Look For Lawyers?
Even a decade ago, people who weren't able to obtain the name of an attorney from friends or family were often confined to looking through the Yellow Pages. Some more savvy consumers would use hotlines sponsored by state or local bar associations. The new LexisNexis survey shows that these methods have fallen nearly completely out of favor.
In total, 76 percent of people seeking an attorney had looked for information on the internet. Only 24 percent used exclusively offline methods to look for a lawyer. For the first time in such a survey, LexisNexis found that slightly more people used the internet than referrals from friends and family. Only 73 percent consult family or friends at any point during their legal search. Over 60 percent of total internet users have looked for a lawyer online at some point during their adult lives—33 percent in just the last year.
What Do Consumers Use the Internet to Find?
The biggest reason that consumers start looking online for legal resources is that they want to gather information. This is one of the greatest strengths of web searches, and many people initially simply want to know whether they might have a case that an attorney could help with. At the next stage—finding attorneys who might be able to take their case—61 percent of internet users turn to online resources.
The next two stages involve narrowing down the field of potential attorneys. 53 percent of internet users have used online sources to validate an attorney—to make sure that they seem well qualified and are as experienced as they claim they are. 44 percent use websites to make their final decision about an attorney.
What Do Consumers Do With Information from the Internet?
One of the most surprising results of this survey is the number of consumers who converted after searching for attorneys online—in other words, how many people actually hired a lawyer as a result of their search. The survey shows that a staggering 57 percent of consumers who had searched for an attorney online said they had actually hired a lawyer because of information they found during their online search process.
Of course, that still leaves 43 percent out—what did those consumers do? Six percent of them ended up hiring a public defender, which means that they may not have been able to pay for the services of an attorney. Eight percent decide, after looking at legal information online, that they would prefer not to pursue their case and they stop looking for any legal representation. 13 percent continue their search offline, and 15 percent decided to use online services to help them resolve their legal problems on their own (for instance, people who decided to self-file for divorce or print a legal form instead of consulting an attorney).
What Websites Do Consumers Use Most?
Search engines tend to be used most by consumers who are in the earlier phases of searching for legal information and representation. Google is the most commonly used search engine among the adults surveyed, which is in keeping with findings about Americans' search engine use habits. Smaller percentages use Yahoo, Bing, AOL, and MSN.
However, not all of the searching for attorneys happens on search engines. Social media sites were used by just over 20 percent of overall internet users who searched for a lawyer. If you're not already creating a social media presence to get these consumers, you need to act fast—these numbers were much lower just a few years ago, and in a few years social media could easily be the dominant way that people look for attorneys. The most common social sites for people to look for legal information and lawyers were Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, Twitter, and legal blogs.
The Importance of Ratings
A full 57 percent of the users surveyed also mentioned that they looked at one or more websites that contained ratings and reviews for attorneys. 28 percent of those who looked at these results said that they were extremely influential, while just 3 percent said they were extremely uninfluential. Attorneys who have not yet created profiles on ratings websites may end up behind in their internet marketing.
The Mobile Web and the Desktop Web
While laptops and desktops were the most common way for people to do their legal research, smartphone devices are rapidly gaining ground, as are tablet PCs. Over one fifth of consumers doing legal research already use these methods, and if current rates of growth continue, that could be over one half by the time 2014 comes to a close.
What this means for you is that as an attorney, you should be working on having a mobile presence. If you're not already thinking about buying app advertising as part of your ad strategy, you should start thinking about it now. Geo-based apps like Foursquare can help you get connected with the ultra local consumers most likely to be ready to schedule an appointment today.
You should also work on your law firm's website. You don't want to have a website that is Flash-based any more (if, indeed, you ever had one), because Flash players won't work on iOS devices. Making sure that your content is at least visible—preferably beautiful—to both desktop and mobile users is one of the biggest things that will set your firm apart from the competition in the rapidly-changing web world.