That Was Then, This is Now
Marketing and advertising are changing rapidly. What was once tangible is now largely digital, and what used to be advertisers pushing their messages has become consumers deciding what messages are meaningful to them. The changes affect everyone, but they affect attorney advertising in very distinct ways. Just what is the best attorney advertising? It’s a challenging question, but traditional attorney advertising is not the answer.
A Brief History of Attorney Advertising
What can be called the modern era of attorney advertising began on June 27, 1977. That was the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, essentially striking down prohibitions against advertising by attorneys. So advertising for attorneys is really just over 40 years old. But it is already entering completely new territory.
Another pivotal date for advertising for attorneys came 12 years after the Bates decision. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.
That was then
To get a sense of just how much lawyer advertising has changed since the Bates decision, let’s review what, up until recently, were fairly common methods, and then move on to where the world of advertising is now as an indication of where it is heading.
From buses to bus benches, advertising for attorneys has for years included out-of-home advertising, and likely will for some time to come.
Another once-popular medium was the yellow pages. That would often be the very first place someone looking for an attorney, or any other professional service for that matter, would check. Today, well, it’s unlikely you even have a yellow pages, other than on your phone or computer.
Print advertising, whether in a magazine, a local newspaper, or some other publication, is still prevalent, and, properly placed, can be useful, but can no longer be considered sufficient on its own. With print, you certainly have the ability to more accurately target your ad, for example, based on your particular practice areas. Another popular, and still much-used, print option is the well-known “Best Of” magazine feature.
Local television spots were once very popular, and while maybe not as prevalent as they were, can still be effective depending on your audience.
But the issue here is less where attorney advertising has been, but where it is and where it is going. And most importantly, how you can grow your business.
The Current State of Attorney Advertising
It is hard to overestimate how much change has come to advertising in general, and attorney advertising in particular, in just the past few years. Of course you’ve noticed that, but at the same time you’ve also been focused on your practice and expanding your client base.
One of those facts is that in 2016 the online advertising market was larger than that for TV, and not surprisingly, the gap is predicted to grow.1,2 Magazine ad revenue, flat. Newspaper advertising, declining.3 Out of home advertising is growing, but largely because of digitally-driven out of home options, such as digital billboards.4
When you consider the advantages of digital channels, it becomes clear why it is imperative to the success of your practice to be engaged in those channels.
- Advertising through digital channels allows you to precisely target your message to the right prospects, improving response rates and the return on your advertising investment.
- The results from digital channels can be accurately and instantly measured. You know if your ad initiative is working, and how to change it to make it more effective when it isn’t.
- Digital media give you the opportunity to actively engage with prospects and clients. You can establish your credibility and expertise while becoming a valued resource to them and to your community.
- Whether you use digital channels or not, your competitors are, and they are reaching an entire generation that you won’t be.
Having said that, no single digital method, or mix of methods for that matter, is necessarily the right one, and each one has its own advantages. Just as a print ad in a magazine has strengths and weaknesses as an advertising tactic, so do digital methods. The key to their effective, and cost-effective, use is developing an understanding of just what those strengths and weaknesses are. Keep in mind that this is meant to introduce you to these topics, not to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of them. Let’s take a look.
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Essentially, pay-per-click, or PPC, is paying for prospects to visit your site. PPC is conceptually pretty straightforward. Executing PPC effectively can be complicated, and requires an ongoing commitment of time on your part.
With pay-per-click, you bid on keywords that people seeking services like yours might use in a search. The results of the bid may allow you to show an ad you create next to relevant searches. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Pretty simple, huh? Not quite. With Google for example (and Google is always the default example), your bid, on its own, is not the only variable in determining the placement of your ad. Google also evaluates the quality of your ad using factors such as relevance to your keywords and landing page. Your ad placement is determined by your Ad Rank, which is the product of your bid and your quality score. A second formula determines what you actually pay per click. It gets a little complicated, and don’t expect to understand it all right away.
- PPC can be very well targeted, but only to the extent that it is strategic and well crafted.
- The budget is yours to determine.
- You can make changes to your ad and your targeting at any time.
- The learning curve to doing PPC well is steep and there are a lot of moving parts.
- There is a resource overhead in terms of the time you need to take to properly set up and maintain your PPC program.
Web display advertising
You’ve seen thousands of them — the banner ads at the top of a web page, the skyscraper ads along the right side of a page, and many other forms on online display advertisements. These have become as ubiquitous as billboards or TV commercials.
Like all digital advertising methods, even display ads and how they are used continue to change. For example, the pop-up ad as it originally appeared has largely disappeared. Display advertising in general though, continues to be an important and highly recognizable method, and likely will be for some time to come. Let’s consider the pros and cons.
- A broad reach with a choice of many different properties.
- Can often be relatively low cost.
- Tends to provide lower specificity than other methods
- “Banner blindness.” Banner blindness refers to the fact that display ads have become so commonplace that users increasingly tend to ignore, or not even notice, them altogether.
Legal directory advertising
No longer just a legal version of the yellow pages, online legal directories have become a go-to resource for consumers looking for legal assistance and expertise.
The power of a legal directory listing is that you know the consumer is looking specifically for the legal services you provide. The challenge is in motivating them to select your firm to provide those services.
Make sure that your listing is accurate, and that you will be responsive to any contacts you might get as a result of your listing. In creating your listing, consider the questions your prospects will be asking themselves: Why should I hire you; How can you help me; Can you address the particular problem I have. Approach your listing from the perspective of someone seeking your services and have problems to be solved.
Keep in mind that different legal directories serve different purposes, and also that your listing should be specific and straightforward about your areas of practice and expertise.
- Legal directory advertising is pretty much a must. You know that searchers may very well be looking for your particular services. And, in some cases, you would be conspicuous by your absence if you didn’t list.
- It’s cost effective.
- A poor listing can be little better than no listing at all. It has to be targeted and relevant to your prospects. Proof your listing carefully, and make sure you have mechanisms in place to respond to any inquiries made through any of your listed points of contact.
- While this isn’t an inherent weakness, it’s worth keeping in mind that while a directory listing is important, it is only one part of an integrated marketing strategy. You can’t place your listing and wait for the phone to ring.
Social media advertising
It’s easy to overlook social media channels when it comes to advertising. After all, isn’t Twitter for expressing opinions and getting news, and isn’t Facebook for sharing family pictures? Don’t dismiss their power and their effectiveness. But when considering social apps, it’s important to keep in mind that they are primarily a means to build awareness, and not necessarily to create, at least near term, conversions.
Right now, the level of engagement that Facebook provides makes it the primary social media channel for attorneys. The cost is reasonable, and you can make your firm highly visible to your target. Consider the breadth of Facebook’s coverage — Facebook has over two billion monthly active users. And with Facebook it is easy to target that huge customer base to make sure you are reaching the right ones. But again, don’t look for instant conversions, but think of Facebook as a way to earn top of mind awareness with the right prospects.
At the same time, there are some challenges in working with Facebook. One is that Facebook, with good reason, has some very specific guidelines for advertising that can be difficult to navigate. And again, Facebook is a venue for awareness, not necessarily for conversions.
- With social media advertising you get a level of audience specificity that isn’t available anywhere else.
- It is, or at least can be, cost effective.
- It offers an expansive market reach.
- There is a gap between exposure and conversion. You may not always see the hard dollar ROI that you would hope to see.
- It can be a challenge to execute effectively on your own.
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Attorney advertising rules
As you are acutely aware, there are a variety of rules and regulations concerning attorney advertising, which are in place for some very good reasons. Those rules vary by state, so we can’t address the issue comprehensively here. But we can address some general guidelines to help you navigate the rules and yet still advertise your firm effectively.
At its essence, successfully navigating the rules requires three things: Be honest; be careful; and understand the rules of the states in which you are licensed. Adhering to those three principles should form the basis of creating ads that are compliant.
The American Bar Association provides some general guidance through its Rule 7.2 on advertising. For example, “a lawyer may not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services,” with certain exceptions. Additional guidance is provided in the ABA Aspirational Goals for Lawyer Advertising. In that directive, the ABA pragmatically addresses some general themes. For example:
- Empirical evidence suggests that undignified advertising can detract from the public’s confidence in the legal system.
- Lawyer advertising should help the public understand its legal rights and the judicial process and should uphold the dignity of the legal profession.
- Be extremely clear in your language. Any ambiguity can lead to misunderstanding, and any misunderstanding can lead to trouble.
- Lawyers should consider using advertising and marketing professionals to assist in identifying and reaching an appropriate audience.
- Particular care should be taken in describing fees and costs. Avoid terms like “discount,” “lowest,” or “limited time.”
- How advertising conveys its message is as important as the message itself. Lawyers should consider using professional consultants to help them develop and present a clear message to the audience in an effective and appropriate way.
At the same time, the ABA strongly encourages advertising, particularly as a way to make the public aware of valuable legal services, especially in markets that are traditionally underserved.
Again, always look to state bar guidelines as well. State guidelines generally consist of usually slight variations or clarifications to the ABA rules. In some cases, bar associations bypass an ABA model rule altogether. Here are a few examples of how state bars vary somewhat from ABA 7.2:
- Paid Communications/Advertisements Must be Identified as Such (Georgia, Missouri)
- Lawyer Retains Responsibility for All Communications (Georgia)
- Prohibition on Compensation for Professional Publicity in News Item (New York)
- Advertising Rules Not Applicable in Another Jurisdiction (Louisiana, Nevada) Application to Out-of-State Lawyers
- Language of Required Statements (Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas)
- Advertisements Must be Legible and Intelligible (Florida, Louisiana, New York)
As the Internet continues to evolve, so will online advertising for lawyers, and so will lawyer advertising rules. But these rules won’t change — be honest; be careful; and understand your state’s rules.
The right partner
Clearly, how law firms like yours need to market themselves has changed. And that is because the ways in which your prospects look for legal services have changed, and changed dramatically. You can’t assume they will find you. You have to be visible in the places where they are looking.
The first step toward engaging effectively with your prospects and clients is, of course, understanding the value of digital advertising for your firm. The next step is finding the right partner to work with to leverage that value for your firm.
If you want to grow your business by targeting the right prospects where they are and how they are looking for legal help, consider FindLaw.
We help over 18,500 firms across the country achieve their goals of building their businesses and helping more clients achieve their goals. As part of Thomson Reuters, FindLaw is backed by the world’s leading provider of information and other resources to the legal profession.
We not only have proven experience with law firms — and only law firms — but we are also a certified Google Premier SMB Partner. That means that we demonstrated our digital marketing expertise to Google to earn that certification, and that we also keep current on the rules, algorithms, and best practices that Google has established and frequently updates.
In addition, we have Digital Marketing Specialists who are Google AdWords certified to ensure that you maximize the impact of your advertising effort.
Helping law firms market themselves and be successful doing it is all we do. If you look at our Success Stories all you will see are law firms. Making law firms successful is, and always has been, our only focus.
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