2016 Legal Marketing Challenges and Opportunities with Russell Guest
Legal marketing can be tricky, and there are many challenges that present themselves whether you are doing online or print marketing. However, there are also numerous opportunities for legal marketing to bring new clients into a law firm. Russell Guest discusses legal marketing challenges & opportunities for 2016.
John McDougall: Hi, I'm John McDougall, and welcome to the Legal Marketing Review show on National Law Review. Today I'm with Russell Guest of the Law Office of Guest & Brady, a personal injury law firm in Greenville, South Carolina.
Russell Guest: Thank you John. It's good to be here today.
Biggest Legal Marketing Challenges for 2016
John: Likewise. What are your biggest legal marketing challenges for 2016?
Russell: People are increasingly going online to find services they're looking for, and this is true for legal services as well.
We're growing up in a culture that's so attuned to finding things [online]. [They find solutions for] their needs, wants and their desires, such as what they want to participate in and what kind of services they want to get through the Internet.
Legal marketing is increasingly becoming online and digital.
John: Does that change the idea of millennials being someone you're targeting? Has that changed with the Internet?
Russell: It's recognition that certainly millennials are part of the equation for legal marketing. They are not the only ones that are more adept. I believe even the baby boomers are coming online and using their smartphones to simply speak into it, without it having to type anything.
John: You’re describing me exactly. I am so bad with my thumbs [when] texting, so I love Siri on the iPhone. My searches got longer when I realized I could talk to my phone.
Russell: I think that that's common. Not just with someone like yourself, who might be more digitally inclined, but also for those who have no familiarity with [texting].
Smartphones in particular seem to become so common nowadays, even in the hands of older people. I don't think that age is necessarily a deterrent to the issue of finding services online.
Legal Marketing Opportunities for 2016
John: I would agree with you there. What about opportunities for 2016? What do you see on the horizon?
Russell: We’re obviously trying to predict that. It's a very tough and ever-changing environment that we are in. Clearly, the online searches are increasing in volume.
Then the challenges are trying to determine which avenue of presenting yourself online would be most effective for you.
Not just your website, [because] that's clearly not going to work or win you cases or new clients anymore. You've got to be multifaceted and have many tentacles out there. Reaching out and trying to attract attention to your particular services and make people aware of them.
You may be the best trial lawyer in the town, or the state, or the region, but unless you can make [people aware of you] your services, it's going to be very difficult to get the cases that you'll want to have.
John: It sounds like you're talking about the idea of web marketing on all cylinders, as I like to call it.
The whole variety of tactics, whether it's search, social, paid, organic, writing, blogging, email, or mobile. If you're really out there and have a full digital presence, it's better than just a website.
Russell: Yes. I agree with that completely. If you ever go online and you begin to explore what's happening in the legal marketing realm, you'll see that all those tactics are being used by the biggest competitors that you have out there.
As it becomes more complex, it becomes a necessity to hire someone who can help you with that complexity. Because as an attorney, as we're trying to work through the various legal issues and the ever‑evolving and changing world, it becomes very difficult to try to keep up with all the complexities of legal marketing.
Having a person to team with that, [who] would have that kind of experience to help you through all that is essential, I believe.
Digital Marketing Tactics That Hold the Most Promise
John: Yeah. What type of digital marketing tactics, specifically, do you think hold the most promise moving forward, such as SEO, social, and paid search? I know you said it's the whole thing together, which I totally agree with, but are there any that stand out to you?
Russell: Having [your website be present at the top of search listings] through SEO is an important tactic. That's been part of the equation for a number of years, for sure, but it continues to be into 2016.
Also, being an authority or an expert in your field of practice. As we know, many attorneys are not covering a broad [variety] of services. They begin to specialize into certain segments of the law, and it is important to hold yourself out as an authority.
It appears that Google's [algorithms] makes that an important aspect of their ranking. I mentioned Google, but obviously there's Yahoo and there's Bing. We know that the big, dominant player in the search world is Google.
[Google wants] to provide the most relevant responses to the searches that people are making. It appears that authority content marketing is an important part of their ranking algorithms.
In the SEO world, [it’s important to have] blogging out there to make sure that you are presented as an authority, [and that you’re putting out fresh content.] It can't be stale. It can't be some that you may have generated last year, or 8 months or 10 months ago.
[It’s important to appear] that you are continually providing fresh updates and content, as far as Google's concerned.
John: Well‑put, really well‑put. I just launched a quiz on my site, authoritymarketing.com. If anyone wants to check that out, it’s http://authoritymarketing.com/quiz/.
A bunch of the things you just mentioned are right in there. We're actually trying to increase people's awareness around not only SEO, [since it] is one of the most powerful tactics as you just said, [but also for] blogging and thought leadership to really position yourself.
But you know what's great? You can actually take that up a notch and start doing public speaking and really use that authority marketing to make your marketing a little more advanced.
Russell: That's true. Now you're blending in the marketing that you might be doing in the community with what you're doing online.
John: Yeah, because your level of authority extends well beyond [the Internet]. The Internet is important, but you don't want to lose out on ‑‑ as you were saying earlier ‑‑ really being out there completely.
John: For example, [what about] some print [marketing], [such as] magazines and newspapers? Are there certain things that you read regularly, like legal‑specific trade publications?
Russell: Certainly, there are the local community bar association publications and the state publications that I do read, and also the Trial Lawyers magazine and the ATLA Margin magazine as well. Also, there’s online content that I'll read, in terms of news and latest updates, including trial techniques and different books that are published in regards to those things.
There are people that are creating and marketing themselves, obviously, through books that are being sold through various publishers. I'm sure that the reason for that is to make awareness of their particular skill or expertise.
John: [That’s] even more important with law, where you're looking for referrals from other attorneys and B‑to‑B law, or trying to impress a general counsel. Certainly [it’s important to get yourself] in these niche publications.
[It’s] a little more challenging for personal injury. If someone got hit by a car, they're not going to read the niche law publication, necessarily. They're searching Google.
A big part of it is where you go for that.
Russell: Yeah. There is a little bit of a challenge. You do have people that you clearly don't know are looking for services, and they don't know other attorneys that they're looking for.
The best way to capture those people appears to be through an online marketing campaign, to reach them and make [people aware] of your services.
You need to have a website that's attractive to them and content they're interested in. [You want them] looking and diving into that content to understand that you're the authority on that particular subject. We find that there are many that don't take that time to really study the issues.
They're looking to someone who immediately appears to have knowledge, and then they click the button to call.
That kind of attractive website is important for that, and to be found is important, but also the other part of it is continuing to try to raise the awareness outside of online marketing, or if you can, through online marketing, to our past client base.
We attempt to do that, and have found success when we do that, in [appealing to] past clients. [They might call us again] for their own personal issues, [or might recommend us to] extended family and friends who might need personal‑injury services.
Addressing that and making sure [past clients are aware of your] services when those are needed, is an important aspect of legal marketing, as well.
John: Also in that realm, email marketing is good if you can get people who want to be on a legal list. Certainly, if you have niche content about, say for example, mesothelioma or dangerous drugs or medical devices, you might have alerts and updates on certain health concerns. People might want to be on that type of an email list more than just the law firm's happenings every month.
Then [getting on] social media, getting connected in their world, and getting them to follow you on Twitter, and e‑books. If you have an e‑book about auto accident law or drunk driving law and they can pop that in their glove compartment, [it keeps them aware].
There are certainly ways to extend it beyond the first sale.
Russell: Yes. It's important to try and continue to do all those avenues. While online digital marketing in 2016 is critical, the other avenues of advertising, like you just discussed, [are important too].
Legal Compliance Issues
John: What about compliance issues? Do you find it a challenge, whether it's even an ad in a magazine or online? Do you find the compliance issues a burden, or is it manageable?
Russell: You're meaning through the professional responsibility code that we have in each of our states?
Russell: Some states are more liberal than others. Typically, South Carolina has a more conservative advertising restriction than others. In that regard, it's easy to remain compliant.
You can look it up and decide whether to either try to stretch the boundaries or not, and that's what the problem is. Not with our particular type of marketing, [it’s not difficult to stay] compliant with it. But there are others that are competitors of ours that are really stretching the boundaries in terms of what is compliant or not.
Some have had their hands slapped and they've had to be reined back in, but others are continuing to not necessarily be compliant and yet argue that they are. That becomes a question of ethics from an advertising standpoint.
[You need to decide if] you want to extend yourself out there that way or not, or present yourself in the light that some are. So it becomes sometimes a personal choice [to remain] compliant to the actual laws.
John: It's not that dissimilar in a way to Google and people doing black hat. If people are scamming their way to the top of Google, Google needs to clean that up so it's a fairer playing field.
What I'm hearing you saying is, "If there are these rules out there, it's unfortunate if some people are going around them and not being curtailed or told not to do that." Hopefully they'll keep a good eye on that so that people that are following the rules aren't held back.
Russell: Right. Those that are watching and holding people accountable to the compliance [are twofold]. [There are] other attorneys helping to monitor them and turn them in if they're not, but the actual agency that's responsible for that themselves is limited in resources and staff and they can't really do that.
They're reliant on others in the community to help them do that. That's a tough thing, but as far as individual compliance with the rules, it's fairly easy to do. Not a burden, either. That's not what keeps us from getting clients at all.
John: That's great to hear. That's the right attitude. We've had some customers that get overwhelmed by it and others that just go for it and do it smartly. I think you're more successful if you're able to get that content out there.
Paid Search Marketing
John: With paid search, do you feel that it’s a good alternative or thing to do in addition to content marketing?
Russell: Certainly it's not something to leave off the table. It should be explored and understood whether it works in your particular situation.
We’ve been working with that ourselves, and the question becomes how much [money] to put into that particular bucket of your budget. We really haven't understood the complete return on the investment there, although we are continuing to explore that and will into 2016.
I don't believe it's something that you can leave off of the table, in terms of your tactics that you're going to explore.
John: [It’s] definitely challenging, though, for attorneys who have the most expensive clicks. HubSpot recently came out with an amazing infographic that showed the top 100 most expensive keywords in Google paid ads.
The most expensive was relating to auto accident law, $670 a click. We were running mesothelioma legal marketing, and the clicks were around $600 a click, at times.
We thought, "Wow, we've got the most expensive cost per click here," and lo and behold, another legal practice area overtook the $600 a click, and now it's $670 a click and it's auto related.
That doesn't make it too easy. It means, to me, you have to get really tight with your landing pages and your authority marketing, as we were discussing. It does pose a challenge at 600‑and‑some bucks a click, in some cases.
Russell: Good question. It's important for whoever you partner with to be able to make sure that whoever is searching is finding [your page] specifically for what they’re searching on.
Otherwise, if it's too broad and people are searching for something that might be related to that particular specific issue, like “mesothelioma” is very specific, but it could be something very closely related to that that they’re finding you for.
All of a sudden, people are clicking on that particular banner, and charging you at $600 a click, and they don't need you, or they might be using it as a phonebook.
I think that happens pretty regularly, and that's why tightening in on the actual, where that shows up, is critical as far is the effectiveness of that ad.
John: Another example of that is “mesothelioma symptoms”. If you have the budget for it, you can do that. It's such an early stage of the process term that if they're searching for symptoms, it doesn't mean that they're going to hire you.
It doesn't mean that they're not. If they're looking for mesothelioma lawsuit and case results, or a little more down the funnel, they might be more along the lines of becoming a lead more quickly.
Again, it depends on your budget. It makes the whole idea of doing paid search one that you have to be conscious of. As you said, [focusing on] the landing page and what keywords [to use] depending on your budget that you think will actually turn into leads.
Russell: That's an interesting example you gave on mesothelioma symptoms. We know that there's the idea that ads can follow you wherever you might go as you search on other things.
Again, I think it's appropriate if you have the budget or for that. If somebody who has a family member or themselves has mesothelioma symptoms and even has a diagnosis of that, if that ad continues to follow them wherever they go, even in later days and weeks, then perhaps it will prompt them to say, "Maybe I do have a claim and I need to call the attorneys that are following me around here."
When searching mesothelioma symptoms, they may not be thinking, like you suggested, about whether they have a legal claim. They're just simply concerned, appropriately so, about their health. Then they begin to realize that, "Wait a minute. I need to do something about this and get some help with it from a legal standpoint."
John: It may not be immediately productive, but if you use retargeting or if they keep seeing you over and over, they may actually become a customer. That's where it just depends on your budget, because if that's $200 a click, and you can spend $100,000 a month, or even $100,000 a week on those type of terms. You just have to be real careful.
It's a bit of a chess game on which keywords, and what pages, and what things customers will react well to, [in order] to trigger them to believe in you.
Russell: That just speaks to the complexity of it. I do believe as you, it's like the chess game you're talking about. Not only trying to make sure that you target appropriately to spend your money wisely on the customers that might be searching, but also trying to compete against others who are well‑financed in those same practice fields as you are who trying to do exactly the same thing.
You've got to partner with somebody who understands that and help you to navigate that digital online presence.
John: Lastly on the paid search thing, I would say that way back, going back towards 10 years ago, the keywords for automobile accident attorney, those type of keywords, were a lot less. It has changed quite a bit over the years, so it does help to have people that have seen it over time.
Legal Marketing & Blogging
John: What about blogging? Do you think that there are great opportunities or challenges with blogging?
Russell: Yeah, there's no question. First of all, blogging has gained momentum over the years. It appears to be more and more important to do that in terms of Google and even Bing. Thinking about that as attorneys, or many professionals even outside of the attorney field, there's just no time in order to be able to create blogs of any significance in terms of length or frequency.
In order to do that, it's important to find someone to partner with that can help you create that content and to present it to the web in an efficient manner. That means in terms of the time that it takes in order to give that presentation online, and to record it, transcribe it, and make it available. Like McDougall has figured out.
It was just really interesting, because we were trying to figure out the blogging and do some of this ourselves. We would commit some time to that. As we were doing it, we realized that the time, editing, and trying to do that ourselves was not necessarily very effective. We could not do that very quickly, get it out there with any frequency, and still practice law.
We started to buy some content, and edit some of that content to make it unique to South Carolina law. Even in doing that, it wasn't very time effective.
The content that you could get was relatively OK, but it wasn't really what we wanted to talk about in terms of [the specific things] that we're dealing with on an everyday basis in South Carolina law, or the laws locally to either North Carolina, Georgia, or Tennessee that surround us.
What McDougall was able to do, which we really like, is [create a sound room] for the interview process. You're able to take what is a time‑consuming process, and really make it more cost‑effective in terms of time and money and help us to create those blogs and to put them onto the web very efficiently in terms of the time elements.
John: Thank you for that. That's what we call, "Talk Marketing Program," where we interview our customers, like yourself and take the podcast transcripts and post them up on a blog with the SoundCloud player so you can click and listen, or read the transcript. That's a lot of good helpful content for people.
What was interesting is what you were saying about how it's a good time saver to be able to do that. I think maybe more importantly, when you said that it was very specific types of things that you wanted to take time to write about, but you didn't necessarily have time to. Some attorneys do.
There are certainly a lot of blogging attorneys, but there are lots that don't and have that exact same sentiment that you're expressing. If you don't think that you're going to commit to it, and you want to get those very specific pieces of content right from your own voice as opposed to just farming it out, I think podcasting can be a really good way to do that.
Does that make sense? You’ve got this voice and something you want to get out there, but timewise to do it all by prose is tough.
Russell: It's very tough. We had looked around for other people, even with prior providers of this service and asked them to help us with that. Nobody has been able to set up and facilitate it like you guys have been able to do.
That's been a really attractive reason for using your service. Perhaps there are others out there doing that sort of thing, but I'm not aware of them.
John: Thanks for that.
So it doesn't sound like too much of a sales pitch for us, I'll also say that we have some good information on how to do some of that on your own on our site. You can buy an MP3 recorder. You can use BlogTalkRadio.
There are ways to do that if you don't want to get help from someone like us, just to be a little balanced there. Absolutely, if you can afford it and you want to have someone to handle all that for you that's great too.
LinkedIn & Legal Marketing
John: What about LinkedIn? Do you plan on doing more with LinkedIn, or do you do much with it now?
Russell: [We] don’t do much with it now. There is a listing on LinkedIn, but we don't do anything with that to speak of. If I think about the broad demographics of our clients over the years, and even recently, I just don't see them using our services at all on LinkedIn. I could be wrong about that and miss something, but I just don't see it at all.
John: Interesting, a lot of the legal marketing conferences that I speak at or go to, it's amazing the talks people are giving on LinkedIn get standing room only. LinkedIn for Law, in terms of social media, is definitely very high on the list, if not the number one social network anyway.
Russell: Would that be true for a personal injury client?
John: I think maybe a little less so, to be honest, because if you're trying to create thought leadership in the B‑to‑B law circles, or as we said, if you're trying to impress a general counsel or another attorney, or get a referral, I think that absolutely is going to be critical.
Now that doesn't mean LinkedIn is not good for personal injury in general. You could write an amazing piece of content, put it out on LinkedIn Pulse, or just [put] a status update on your LinkedIn page, but you could write a full length piece and put it out on LinkedIn Pulse.
It could go viral. It might be on a story about keeping your kids safe in cars, or whatever it might be, so that could be good.
I would say that most likely even better to some degree for, again, impressing general counsel and getting referrals, but also has potential for any type of law.
Russell: I don't discount that. I do agree with you. The relative costs, I believe, are not so great in terms of being able to use that service as reposting perhaps some of the stuff that you do from a blogging standpoint, or maybe condensing some of that, and reposting it out there could help.
Certainly, the demographics that are using LinkedIn also experience, unfortunately, injury to themselves or to a family [member]. They might have personal needs. If they're on there and they see that reposting, [understanding] that you are an authority in that particular field, then they might tend to pick up the phone and call you as well.
I wouldn't discount it, and perhaps we should explore it some more. It's not something that's been on our radar.
John: At the very least, taking the podcasts and blog posts that we're creating and also posting them on LinkedIn, and potentially reposting some of them on LinkedIn Pulse is something that we can talk more about.
John: All right. Thanks for your great insights today and how can people get a hold of you? What's your website or contact information?
Russell: Our website is guestbrady.com, and our telephone number is 864‑233‑7200. We're located in the upstate of Greenville, South Carolina.
We handle cases certainly in this area, but [also] all over the state, and even we have cases now that are stretching from Tennessee and Michigan, to Texas. We handle a variety of injury issues that cover many multiple states.
John: OK, fantastic. Thanks for speaking with me today, Russell.
Russell: Thank you, John, for having me.
I'm John McDougall. Thanks for listening.