Find a lawyerRemember back in the good old days, when business just walked in the door, when your law firm placed adverts in the Yellow Pages and people looking for legal advice or representation found your advert and called for an appointment? Well, online works in a similar way, just add a few curved balls.

When I speak to law firms about marketing their business, I always ask them to research their prospective and existing clients to find out:

• Where would they look to find a law firm?
• Which social network they use to stay in contact with others?
• What social events are important to them?
• How do they read their world and local area news?

The above points all help the law firm narrow their marketing efforts to an area or medium that will give them the very best return. It is simple, if your prospective client base still gets the newspaper flung over their 10ft wall every morning and they read it religiously while having breakfast before leaving for work, then that is the exact place to advertise your business. If they are people who cut out coupons from the local community paper, make sure your advert is close to where they are going to cut. Really simple!

Now the purpose of this article is for us to focus on the first point above, “Where would they look for a law firm?”

Would you open a Yellow Pages book and start paging through all the listings looking for a law firm? Would you phone 1023 and ask them to recommend a law firm close to your area?

My guess is that you would open Netscape and use Google (let’s call it “Search Engines” as there are others as well you know) to help you find a law firm that specialises in the area you need help on. That part is rather simple and straight forward.

So we leave the decision to search engines to point our prospective customers to our law firm, and being electronic, the prospective client (user) is pointed to our law firm website.

Right, so let us look at how the search engines decide on pointing people to our website instead of Joe Soap & Associates down the road. The search engines try their best (or should we say, they program servers to best work it out) to offer the best results for the criteria the user has search on. The best result is the tricky part – they look at the following when trying to determine the best result for the user:
• Does the search criterion match the keywords and content of the website?
• How much is this website referred to in other websites, called PageRank?
• Is the location close to the location picked up from your device?
• How fresh is the content or how often is the site updated?
• How popular is the website? The more people visiting, the more they will send.
• Quality of citations from locally relevant websites
• How much data the search engine has on the website? Like Google+ pages, Google My Business etc.

The above is mostly in your control – updating your website with good relevant information, making sure you have keywords that relate to your core area of law, making sure you have as much information as possible on your search engine’s profiles, but the citations and links referred back to your site, you have to look to external sites that offer links back to your site or you need to spend time posting valuable content to other sites that are relevant to your area of business.

This is where online directory services can be a great help – they don’t replace all of your external links or citations, but they do help – as long as they are relevant and do not venture into bad search engine tactics, referred to as Black Hat SEO (SEO – Search Engine Optimisation). Obviously, the good guys who play by the rules are referred to as White Hat SEO agents.

Why is Black Hat SEO so bad?
Black Hat SEO starts off really well; normally your site shoots to a good ranking in the search engine and then when the search engines realise it is using Black Hat tactics, they drop you like a scorching hot potato, not back to where you started, but way back, almost into never-never land. Recovering from being black listed by the search engines is extremely difficult and takes a lot of time. Don’t go there.

Why is White Hat SEO so slow and time consuming?
The search engines are really trying to deliver results that are best suited to the search criteria one enters, so their actions (other than the pesky adverts) are noble. They are getting to the stage where their systems are looking for aspects that are very similar to what we would offer to other people if they were asking us for advice and referrals. The problem is that building real referrals, quality content, quality advice and regular updates all take a huge amount of time and effort– just like in real life. But in the long run, they pay off much better than the Bad Hat.

I digress, back to the reason you should consider online directories…

Free online business directories
There are free online directories – go wild, just make sure they wear the correct hat – make sure you details are correct and make sure the details or descriptions use the keywords you are trying to promote to the search engines. These tend to be general business directories, not as focused as vertical industry specific directories, but also very good food for the search engines.

Online attorney specific directories
Earlier on I spoke about the “Quality citations from locally relevant websites”, and “How much is this website referred to in other websites?” and how they influence the ranking of where your website is positioned on the search engine results. Well, online directories, especially those that are from locally relevant websites meet the criteria to influence the search engines to improve your position in the rankings – be warned though, it is not going to shoot you to the top of the first page, but it will definitely help your rankings.

Directories link to many different sites, are specific to the legal market, the website is ever evolving with new regular new content, they have an abundance of content with effective keyword usage and they have powerful SEO (correct hat of course) techniques that are used to help promote the directory.

Not only does this directory entry help your search engine rankings, by improving your position, but also, your entries on the directory under your company name are also served up as search results – a double whammy. The more attorneys that subscribe to the directory, the better the directory is ranked, and the better the directory is ranked, the more exposure your law firm receives, not to mention the increased number of visits. Of course careful selection of effective keywords plays a major role in being the one at the top of the directory listing.

One directory where your information should be 100% accurate is the LSSA listing, check your details and correct them if needed.

A new online South African attorney directory is one that Tech4Law recently launched called Attorneys4Law. We are not free, we are focused only on the legal market, you know who we are and we know how to market law firms.

Take a look at our directory service at www.attorneys4law.co.za, or email us at info@attorneys4law.co.za.

Contributed by:
Malcolm Pearson
Tech4Law and Attorneys4Law are divisions of Pearson Publishing

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