Guest post by Ethan Stanislawski

Law firms have a variety of online marketing methods to choose from, in addition to traditional methods like television and print. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) certainly has buzzword appeal in the business world these days, but such an appeal make make some lawyers unsure of SEO’s effectiveness and hesitant to apply their marketing budget to a newer method of marketing. Yet for law firms, especially small firms, SEO may be the most efficient and cost-effective marketing strategy available today.

If you are a new firm looking to get your name out there and acquire new clients, consider your options: You could spend money on television ads, which regularly cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce, and even more thousands to circulate regularly on cable television.

While television ads guarantee eyeballs and can be segmented based on audience demographics, the main problems are 1) it is exceedingly difficult to track the effectiveness of television ad campaigns, and most relatively effective methods require small law firms to spend even more money, and 2) depending on your area of practice, television ads can work nightmares for reputation management. Just check out these two videos about lawyer ads. One is from CurrentTV’s infoMania, which caters mainly to an under-30, media savvy audience who has seen multiple local business and lawyer ads before:

Or consider this clip from the movie Deconstructing Harry (1997), which caters to an older audience with a very different set of assumptions and standards for lawyers and television ads:

For both audiences, the reputation of television advertisements for lawyers are seen as unethical, irritating, and avoidable. Unless your practice works in an area like mesothelioma where the law is relatively well-established and based purely on awareness, a television advertising campaign can dampen a small firm’s reputation.

However, to run an effective SEO campaign, the basic cost is the time of qualified, experienced SEO consultant, a handful of paid directories and services that that consultant would recommend. Spending $10,000 a year on an SEO campaign is considered a premium price, and can regularly get lawyers into the top search rankings for their location and area of practice, especially in markets where SEO competition is less well established.

I used to provide SEO services through the marketing arm of LexisNexis, where the demand for services for local practices across the country was at such a high pace that the company could barely keep up. I currently work freelance, and provide consulting services for a personal injury law firm in the Bronx, a rather competitive market as far as SEO is concerned. Yet we regularly receive top rankings for popular search queries directly related to the practice area.

Additionally, an SEO campaign is generally able to attract a much more targeted audience than a television ad: while cable companies can provide businesses with general demographics and sizes of audience, people who find your website via a search engine are often directly looking for your services. It is also much easier and cheaper to track the effectiveness of a campaign using SEO: while television ads may require further audience outreach services to tell which viewers are interested, all your website needs is a basic free analytics tool like Google Analytics to see who is reaching your website via search, and who is contacting your firm because of search engine optimization. To make up the cost of an effective television ad campaign, you would need multiple clients who you could verify found your law firm via an advertisement. For a search campaign, one client can often make up the entire costs of an operation, and you can immediately track where that client came from.

With multiple options for spending publicity money, it’s difficult for any business to establish a reliable strategy for ROI, giving the cost structure, cultural forces, and revenue streams associated with a law firm, SEO is such an effective strategy that it’s a wonder you still see ads for law firms anymore.

Ethan Stanislawski is a writer and freelance online marketing consultant with a specialty in Search Engine Optimization. He has worked with AOL, LexisNexis, and Sony Music, and has worked with over 20 law firms, including managing the current campaign of The Law Offices of William A. Gallina. He will be enrolling in the master’s program at Indiana University’s School of Journalism in the fall.

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