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Lawyers Are Big Players in the SEO Game

This month’s Web Marketing Today column focuses on the impact, cost and level of sophistication that search engine optimization (SEO) has had on law firms–primarily in regard to the plaintiffs’ bar. It is a dog-eat-dog world out there when it comes to finding your next client online…or really the opposite, the next client finding you. And if you are in a “high rent” space – geographically or practice-wise–the cost of competing can be ridiculous.1287370_seo_1.jpg

The impetus for this column topic came from re-reading “The Plaintiffs’ Bar Goes Digital: An Analysis of the Digital Marketing Efforts of Plaintiffs’ Attorneys & Litigation Firms,” prepared by the Institute for Legal Reform, a politically-motivated think tank, which begins its nearly forty page report by stating that the U.S. tort system costs $265 billion in 2010. Personally, I was fascinated by the report–not in regard to whether the system is right or wrong–but more as to the various digital media techniques that have changed the marketing landscape for many of these law firms.

I was impressed by the sophistication of some law firms. I was appalled by the questionable ethics issues by others. And I found the three top spenders to be interesting as well. While I would have expected Sokolove Law to be number one, they were number two in spending (at $6 million-plus) to Danizer & De Llano, who blows away every other law firm in spending north of $16 million annually in online spending (according to the report). I had never heard of them. Third in spending was The Lanier Law Firm at nearly $5 million. In this case, I certainly know who Mark Lanier is, and was surprised to see him spending at this level. Of course, I always remind other law firms of two things. First, they have the money to spend; and second, if these efforts were not paying off, they would not likely be investing this heavily in these initiatives. When you get some big hits, there is no reason not to reinvest additional dollars in channels that might deliver the next huge award and fee.

Besides serving as an excellent primer of what goes into high-level SEO, especially as it relates to pay per click marketing, I also think this report provides a nice reality check for firms that think they are spending big money in certain spaces, but really are not. I’m not going to say it is all about “you get what you pay for”, but there is no question that you won’t beat the big dogs with “untouched” organic search results.

Almost nothing in the report and analysis is relevant to my AMLAW 200 law firm clients. The approaches and campaigns don’t touch those online marketing strategies. However, the data and approaches are transferable well beyond plaintiffs’ firms to many boutiques and small to midsize general practice firms.

While I typically think of keywords related to asbestos, mesothelioma, birth defects, various forms of brain injury, cancer and workplace injuries–as the more expensive PPC terms, the report points out very niche areas as well, like “cruise ship rape.” For many years, in my law marketing ethics courses I’ve pointed out examples of law firms that quickly buy up terms related to “disasters”–a train or plane crash, a mass murder, a building collapse–as a way of identifying themselves to victims and victim’s families without (technically) violating solicitation restrictions. Now the same firms are policing Twitter in much the same way that you might turn on a police scanner. It is a crazy business–but as the report says, there are hundreds of billions in play each year–and 1/3 of a few billion can pay a few bills.