ULTIMATE GUIDE TO DIGITAL MARKETING FOR LAW FIRMS

About this guide:

This guide is written by Dan Holt. Dan has been involved in digital marketing since 2009, since which time he and his agency, Boss Digital:

  • Have managed over 300 campaigns, including many in the legal market
  • Been featured in many of the world’s largest digital marketing blogs and magazines, including Moz, HubSpot and Search Engine Journal
  • Dan also runs a weekly podcast on BossToBoss.org, where he interviews the world’s leading sales and marketing experts, including many from the legal industry, on a variety of topics from content marketing to social media.
Dan Holt
Dan Holt – Managing Director

Digital marketing for the legal sector

5 years ago, a sophisticated digital marketing campaign represented a significant competitive edge for any law firms. Now, however, the absence of one represents a major vulnerability.

That said, certain areas of digital, are still sufficiently nascent in the legal sector so as to offer an exciting opportunity for those rare firms that approach them with the ambition and imagination of a consumer brand.

This guide will seek to break down these channels and methods, with particular emphasis on those most directly pertinent to buyer journeys within the legal space, and provide clear instruction for firms wishing to leverage the opportunities to their advantage.

First, however, we must acknowledge a number of important truths:

  1. All great marketing starts in the same place – too often in digital, the channels are placed ahead of the brand and content. Ultimately, the channels are just the mechanism of delivery. The potential of that mechanism will be determined by the messaging feeding into it, so the first thing every law firm must do is ensure there is a clear brand and content strategy in place. That is why this guide begins with a brief overview of these all important topics.
  2. The best digital campaigns leave room for the offline – it’s always been true that every marketing strategy should allow space for testing ideas that go against conventional wisdom. After all, it’s at the periphery that we find opportunities for impact (due to the lack of competition) and while 15 years ago that meant testing ideas in the digital sphere, that paradigm is now utterly reversed. Yes, the digital world offers certain benefits of scale, speed and reach not achievable offline, but it’s the very inefficiency of the offline that carries so much meaning. So while the core of the campaign will of course be online, we should always ensure we are testing 2 or 3 ideas offline. The latter may just present the greatest win of all.
  3. Product, product, product – there has been an exciting shift in recent years in law firms productising their propositions and completely reimagining their customer journeys. One cannot underestimate the importance of this. After all, it’s the product and client experience that determines your customer lifetime value and by extension how much you can afford to spend on acquiring these people in the first place! Your entire marketing strategy, both in terms of messaging and also the aggression of your distribution and promotion, will all be determined by the products you build.

Building Your Law Firm's Brand Identity

Brand is every bit as important in the digital space as it has ever been offline. Without a clear strategy for your brand, your online activity will be hollow, inconsistent and ineffective. So what do we mean by brand?

Your firm’s brand encapsulates every moment of every interaction that every stakeholder (from clients to employees and investors to strategic partners) has with your organisation. It is utterly channel agnostic and its fundamentals should not change from one year to the next.

More specifically, we must define the following:

  • Your firm’s market position – in other words, what you do and who you do it for. This question of a law firm’s strategic position is the single most important of any marketing strategy. Every tweet, blog post and email hangs off this core statement.
  • Your firm’s values and vision – beyond the tangible output of your work, what does your law firm actually stand for? What is it like to work within the organisation? How do you hire and reward your people? What are the core attributes of your culture and what mechanisms exist to embed them into your daily operations? What is the change you are seeking to make and why should your customers and employees care?
  • Your firm’s product messaging – as already mentioned, your communications strategy is only your outer shell. The engine under the bonnet is your product, so what are its key features and benefits? How are they best explained to your audience? What’s your firm’s pricing structure? How do you capture your value proposition in under 30 seconds?
  • Your firm’s brand personality and tone of voice – as much as you must seek to define and distinguish your product from that of the rest of the market, there may be limitations to the degree of innovation possible. It’s therefore hugely important that the manner in which you communicate is as clear and resonant as possible for the audience segments in question. This is the reason why your firm’s market position is so incredibly important – you must know who you are speaking to if you are to do so with impact!
  • Your brand’s visual identity – the most successful law firms are now thinking of themselves as any consumer brand might, and a key part of that is their visual identity. How do they capture their distinct personality and vision in a set of compelling visual assets, from typeface and colour palette to user imagery and iconography? With so much of the customer journey now online, this clarity of aesthetic messaging is now more important than ever, and represents a significant advantage for those firms brave enough to do something a little different.

From all of the above, your firm should then be able to translate this into a compelling value proposition for each priority audience, that highlights the key features and benefits for that particular segment. Having ready access to these value propositions is absolutely essential before the digital campaign begins, so that consistency and clarity of messaging is achieved across every channel.

Developing a Content Strategy in the Legal Sector

Before launching any channel activity, we must first have a clear sense of what it is we’re seeking to communicate. We can break a content strategy down into the following components:

  • Overarching theme – spearheading every content plan must be a big idea that cuts through the noise and grabs the audience by the retinas. Ideally this big idea should be connected to the long term vision of brand, so that rather than delivering a series of effective but disjointed tactics, the activity is gradually nudging the brand towards its overarching mission. Rather counterintuitively, the bigger and more ambitious an idea, the more efficient it often is to execute – nothing is more exhausting nor expensive than trying to make a noise with mediocrity.
  • Content pillars – under this theme there’s likely to be a set of content themes that each connect with a different interest or behaviour of the audience. The identification of these themes allows you to create content calendars that tap into these drivers and present a consistent message and story to the user, at every stage of their journey.
  • Principle messaging – once an audience is engaged, it’s important that certain key messages are delivered repeatedly and with impact, otherwise the audience will never truly appreciate what you stand for, even if they know your name or logo. Defining these key messages and reviewing them regularly to ensure they don’t lose their ability to resonate over time, is one of the most important things your firm’s marketing function will ever do.
  • Content plan – now that all the key ingredients are in place, a content calendar can be created. This may be done on a monthly basis or perhaps quarterly. It may also tie in with a media plan that defines the key channels for distribution and promotion, the objectives of the activity, the details of any attached budget and how success will be defined and measured.
  • Guidelines for reactive content – in addition to the pre-planned content, there will almost certainly be a role for more ad hoc, reactive engagement with your community. In fact often your greatest opportunities will emerge as a consequence of leveraging real time events. Establishing some clear rules around speed of response and key points of ownership is essential.
  • Influencer strategy – as with any consumer content strategy, the very best invariably involve an element of influencer engagement. Of course what constitutes an influencer within a legal market may be very different to that which constitutes one elsewhere. For example, for a law firm hoping to engage with technology companies, influencers may include high profile CIOs, CTOs or other subject matter experts. For a law firm specialising in personal injury, it may include a representative of a charity that specialises in aiding those with disabilities. By engaging with these thought leaders, the law firm is not only to benefit from the associated credibility, but also capture outstanding content and extend their reach via a range of channels. After all, the audience with whom the influencer has a relationship is the same customer base that the law firm is trying to reach. This activity may even result in direct BD opportunities.

By defining a clear strategy for the content, everything that follows, be it offline or online, brand or direct response, will all become so much more efficient and so much more impactful.

Building a Killer Channel Strategy in the Legal Sector

Now that we have our content framework, it’s time to map things out at a channel level.

Before we jump into the channels most likely to feature within a great legal marketing strategy, we should consider a couple of important principles:

  • Create once, distribute everywhere (CODE) – if we’re investing in market leading content, it’s important that we’re making use of that content across every relevant channel. For example, if we’re posting audiograms of interviews with thought leaders on Facebook and we also have an Instagram channel, it’s likely that with some very small tweaks to the formatting we can also use that content on Instagram. This is hugely important from both an operational efficiency and consistency of message perspective.
  • Focus on one or two core channels – at first glance this may appear to be a direct contradiction to the previous point; how can we simultaneously be everywhere whilst also being laser focused? Well, it’s a question of effort. It likely makes sense to have a modest presence on lots of channels, particularly if you’re able to use the same content. However, do not expect your results to be spread evenly. As Pareto’s law dictates, 80% of your reward will be derived from 20% of your activity. Understanding which channels (most likely, just one or two) are driving that return is absolutely critical if you’re to double down and build a market leading channel strategy.

All that said, these are the channels most likely to sit within the overall mix of any law firm:

SEO

Whether you’re a consumer firm or corporate, the search engines are likely to form an important part of your customer journey.

And to be clear, this isn’t just about the last touch point or driving direct enquiries. Very often your SEO will be an earlier part of the engagement during the research phase, but do not underestimate the importance of this – customers are unlikely to enquire cold with firms they have not previously encountered.

A great SEO strategy can be broken down into the following components:

  • Basic on-page optimisation – first thing’s first: we need to ensure that when Google arrives on those pages you’re hoping to have rank, it’s able to make sense of the content, and that begins with the fundamental tags and elements. In particular, the title tag, URL, image alt tags and headers need to all be considered, but we also need to give some thought to the overall keyword density of the page, along with the prevalence of synonyms and other related terms.
  • Maximising the user intent / content overlap – imagine for a moment that a customer has searched for “Divorce lawyer specialist London”. In this instance, there are a number of considerations going through the individual’s mind. Perhaps they’re in need of insight about the process involved. Perhaps they’re hoping to see some indication of likely cost implications. Perhaps they’re keen to understand who they might be dealing with and the whether that person comes with recommendations from customers just like them. Ultimately, all Google cares about is serving users with the content that best caters to their intents and expectations, so the more extensive and better organised your content, the more likely it is to rank well.
  • Internal link architecture – this is important for two reasons. For a start, Google needs to be able to actually find the pages, and that’s awfully difficult if there aren’t links pointing to them. Those pages that don’t have any links from elsewhere on the site are typically refer to as “orphaned”. Secondly, each link provides an indication to Google that the page is important and deserves to be seen, which in turn provides an extra little boost to its ranking.
  • Technical SEO – while the gains achieved by technical SEO can be considered marginal for the most part, if there are any major problems from a technical perspective, then that can absolute bring down the performance of the site as a whole. Such issues may include – extremely slow site speed, wide ranging link issues or 404 pages, problems with device or browser compatibility, or security flaws. Any such weaknesses could be enough to demote every page across the site.
  • Authority – even if you do everything right, it may still not be enough to outperform your competitors if they do everything right, too. In these situations the rankings will be determined by the relative authority of the websites. For instance, if your landing page has a greater number of unique domains from the legal sector pointing into it, along with some nice related activity on social media, that’s going to be a really strong indication that your page deserves to appear above that of the competition. Another signal is the traffic that goes directly to your domain or brand queries for your firm within Google – all these things tell Google that your law firm is to be trusted and deserves to rank for the terms in question.

Best Practice

Looking at the legal market, there are several examples of where SEO is best practiced. Standing head and shoulders above most others, however, is Irwin Mitchell. Irwin Mitchell is a full service nationwide law firm who have mastered Google’s indexing algorithm. Despite being a larger UK firm who has no set specialist area, Irwin Mitchell still manages to rank exceptionally well for niche and location specific searches. Normally smaller firms can rank well with area specific, or focus specific keywords and content, but Irwin Mitchell understands the importance of a strong digital presence, technical expertise, and a great depth of content. 

Essentially Irwin Mitchell is first and foremost fantastic at controlling what they can control. However, their main determining feature that puts them in great SEO stead, is their backlinking. According to this 2021 Legmark report, the number of backlinks they get from trusted sites like legal directories, journals, and blogs is higher than anyone else besides a few of the largest international law firms. Trust is everything to Google, and Irwin Mitchell understands this the best, working hard to secure links far and wide from trusted sources, to contribute to their SEO strategy.

Social Media

Few law firms would now dispute the role that social media needs to play within their marketing. There are a few strands to this:

  • Recruitment – attracting the right talent is just as important as bringing on board great clients. Candidates will look to social media for an indication as to the employee experience within the firm. What is the culture like and what are the core values of the organisation? Is this a place they can imagine themselves carving out their future?
  • Brand positioning – the social media channels you leverage and the content you publish on those channels will say a huge amount about your brand to your customer base.
  • Lead generation – many social media channels can be used by law firms to drive direct sales opportunities. For example, LinkedIn can be used to capture customer contact information whilst gaining permission to make contact. This type of lead generation strategy can be a hyper targeted way of filling the funnel for your partners and BD team to pursue.

The exact social channels you should make use of depend on your audience and brand positioning, but for any law firm targeting a corporate market LinkedIn is likely to be a primary focus, while Instagram perhaps offers the greatest scope from a culture and recruitment perspective.

Best Practices

Identifying which social media channel suits you and your target audience is crucial. It might be that you have multiple audiences, and use slightly different content for different social channels. Instagram offers the scope to connect slightly more personally, sharing your workplace culture, any behind the scenes glimpses, and perhaps a story or 2. Frankl Kominsky, for example, is a Florida based law firm who has a great instagram presence. They utilise a mixture of professional legal tips and advice, alongside some warming friendly content, and a good sprinkle of humour. There is a great balance that shines through, but fundamentally they understand that people buy from people, and try to emphasise that element of their brand on Instagram.

If you’re looking at a corporate heavy market, you might choose LinkedIn as your go to platform. Allen and Overy, one of the largest law firms in the world, have crafted a great LinkedIn content strategy. They utilise their platform to amplify key business issues, showcase corporate social responsibility, celebrate award nominations and winners, and tell professional employment stories. They do this with a variety of content, from infographics, to blogs, to video marketing. Their content is engaging, and informative, and always delivers what their audience wants. 

The key thing to keep in mind, however, with your social media is that as powerful as it is as a means of getting in front of your audience, you don’t ultimately have ownership over your presence on those platforms. That belongs to the social media giants themselves, and you need to be careful in passing them too much control of your brand, which leads us onto perhaps the most important channel of all..

Email Marketing

Don’t be fooled by its grandfather status, email marketing is as powerful as it’s ever been for ambitious brands in the legal sector. There are several reasons why firms need to keep it front and centre of any digital strategy:

  • Ownership – as initially explained, the downside of third party platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook is that you are building on someone else’s land. Your email list, on the other hand, is the property of your law firm. It represents a significant asset and one in which you should be constantly investing.
  • Fuel for other channels – your email database can often be used to heighten your targeting on other channels, either through direct targeting or the building of ‘look alike’ audiences.
  • Powerful with both brand and direct response – whether your goal is to drive direct business opportunities or to simply enhance engagement with your audience so that you’re at the front of their mind when they come to the key moments of the buying cycle, email is as powerful a tool as you’ll find. The simple reason is that there is an intimacy achieved with email that is difficult to replicate across other channels.
  • Role on user engagement – as more law firms invest in product, they need mechanisms to ensure smooth onboarding and product engagement. Email is perhaps the channel most closely correlated with this regular engagement.
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