A friend of mine recently asked for my thoughts on how to speak to lawyers about search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Steve Matthews is Stem’s resident guru on these topics, and I make it a point to look foolish only in my areas of authority. But if the mechanics of SEO aren’t in my wheelhouse, speaking to lawyers is — and so I came up with a series of suggestions for how my friend could get through to lawyers about using the Web to publish, profile, and otherwise promote themselves online.
1. The “non-lawyer” hurdle. An initial challenge faced by many people in this position is that (un)fortunately, they’re not lawyers. Lawyers, as we know, tend not to respect even trained professionals if they lack legal credentials. Couple that with the foreign and confusing nature (from lawyers’ point of view) of SEO and SEM, and the hill steepens. For that reason, I would employ matter-of-fact straight talk, with a strong no-nonsense, businesslike approach to the subject. Lawyers respect strength and confidence (so long as they’re still unquestionably the alpha dogs in the room), and I find they respond well to a direct, fact-driven, and logical approach, coupled with:
2. The provision of actual facts. The great thing about science, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently observed, is that it’s true whether or not you believe it. I would establish early in the session that SEO and online search aren’t fundamentally about marketing or client outreach or other touchy-feely things that lawyers hate. They’re about science and technology. They’re grounded in the ways in which incredibly complex algorithms parse untold reams of complex data to identify real value for the user. And they’re at the core of the sales and marketing successes of billion-dollar companies worldwide. Data, science, and money — many lawyers don’t get the first two, but they sure get the third, and they’ll follow any trail that takes them there.
3. The staggering enormity of online. Simply put, everyone looks for everything on the internet today. Even if the Web played no part in how a lawyer’s stable of current clients found her (which is pretty unlikely), there’s an excellent chance her next clients will take this path. This especially figures to be the case for people who haven’t used lawyers before, and/or whose issue falls into “consumer law” areas such as family, wills, and personal injury. This is the only reason lawyers need to care about SEO and online content marketing generally — it’s what’s going to drive paying clients in their direction. Paper the lawyers with extensive data from respected sources that demonstrate how online visibility is a huge driver of potential new business.
4. The pointlessness of finishing second. If you’re on the first page of Google search results for “things you want to be known for,” you win. If you’re on page 2, you might as well be on page 200; you lose. This is a brutal competition, and you’re up against the same lawyers here as you are in your practice: same competition, different battlefield. Getting this idea across to lawyers is important, partly because it’s obviously true, and partly because it taps into both lawyers’ goal-setting fetish and their competitive obsession. It’s especially effective if you can demonstrate how a rival practitioner whom the lawyer considers clearly inferior is outperforming the lawyer in search results, thanks to more frequent and higher-quality online content.
5. The responsibility of lawyers. There’s really no more important message to deliver than this. In order to be found on the Web, you need to put stuff there that people will find. That stuff has to be relevant and useful to your clients, and it needs to be distinctive and representative about your practice. And it would be nice if it were somewhat readable. That’s content marketing. Your search rankings are not the Marketing Department’s job, any more than your legal work is Marketing’s responsibility. Ultimately, you and only you control your SEO outcomes, because only you can put the relevant, useful, and distinctive stuff there for people to find. Lawyers need to hear, understand, and accept this fact.
Help lawyers appreciate that content marketing is real and it is proven — again and again, in markets and industries worldwide. Online content marketing works, it works in the law, and it matters in business development. Is it everything? No. Is it the essence of being a great lawyer? Obviously not. But it’s a big piece of the puzzle of getting the lawyer noticed and on the road to getting her hired. And it all hinges on the lawyer’s direct, frequent, and engaged participation in the process. That’s a message that lawyers should understand — and hopefully, one they’ll go on to implement.