How to: Consider hiring help for Web strategy

 Nancy Crotti, The Daily Record Newswire

At year’s end, many lawyers’ thoughts turn lightly to ... budgeting. They may be considering how to spend down some of the firm’s money for tax purposes or how best to spend it in the New Year. For some, a new marketing plan may be the key to bringing in more money to work with.

Tom Atkinson, a workers compensation petitioners’ attorney, learned the hard way how not to spend marketing dollars. About five years ago, he switched from representing an insurance company on workers comp appeals to representing those who sue insurers to get or keep their coverage. Before he hung out his shingle, Atkinson did a Google search for attorneys doing similar work in the area. He read the websites of the ones whose sites came up first, scrolling down each one’s cover page to see who had built the sites.

Atkinson researched those Web designers’ prices and balked. He opted for a less fancy website, and got what he paid for — no business.

“It’s like opening up an office and nothing’s happening,” he said. “I found myself having to do a lot of my own marketing, which took a ton of time.”

Because time really is money for a lawyer, Atkinson reevaluated his strategy. Three years ago, he contracted with FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters company, to build a website and maximize his online presence. For the past three months, he has been working with FindLaw consultant Victoria Stromme.

“My job is to figure out what are some of their business goals and how do we leverage that online,” Stromme said. “Our goal is to get our attorneys visible online so they can get all sorts of searches.”

One way to do that is with a blog enhanced with search engine optimization. Attorneys can write their own blogs or have FindLaw employees do it for them, for a fee. Atkinson enjoys writing his own twice a month.

“It’s really, really, really easy to choose a subject,” he said. “I can just read about a case. I can read about something in the paper.”

Atkinson keeps his blogs to 500 words and relies on FindLaw’s service to assist with SEO so prospective clients will find him through it. He also blogs independently on blogger.com, and writes articles for other publications to generate back links, which refer the reader to his website. Atkinson said he has found that writing for nonprofit or educational websites (which end in .org or .edu, respectively) generate more interest from back links than writing for for-profit sites.

When a prospective client finds his site online and emails or calls, Atkinson said he tries to call that person quickly rather than risk losing the business. He maintains an answering service to relay messages when he is not in the office.

“The chase is on to return a phone call,” he said. “People who call are so impatient, they want an answer immediately.”

Atkinson said his phone has been ringing a lot more since he decided to boost his online presence. How to go about achieving that boost depends on what the lawyer wants and how much she or he is willing to spend, according to Stromme.

Someone who wants to be the top personal injury lawyer in a metropolitan area can expect to pay top dollar, she said. Stromme said she relies on a frank, compassionate approach to help a lawyer discern what is ideal and what is reasonable to expect from online marketing.

“If they want to dominate, we have got to look at who their competition is and what they’re doing,” Stromme said. “The market determines what they need to do, not me. ... The biggest thing is if there’s not content developed around the practice area that they want, they’re not going to be found for it.”

Depending upon what they can afford and want to accomplish, some FindLaw clients spend $100 a month on its marketing services; others $8,000 a month, Stromme noted. The average is about $1,000, she said.

“Trust in the process and start something, build equity and grow,” she advised.

Atkinson said he is glad he did so.

“I started with the Buick Le Sabre (of marketing plans) and now I have not the Corvette but maybe the Audi A6 program with them,” he said. “I’m very, very happy. I don’t even wince anymore when the bill comes every month.”

Atkinson does not put much stock in social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.

“I believe that when someone has a work injury, they’re either going to talk to someone or they’re going to do a Google search for someone who knows about their injury,” he said.

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