How do you find information about a topic that you do not know much about? What if you need to find a service provider but get no recommendations from your personal or business contacts? If you are like millions of Americans, chances are that you look on the Internet.
However, the Internet is an often-overlooked marketing arena for small firm and solo attorneys. Many attorneys are simply overwhelmed by the technology, while others decide to ignore the Internet because they do not know how to fit it into their more traditional marketing strategy. This is often a mistake.
Does Internet marketing really work?
Hundreds of millions of people use the Internet. In the first nine months of my practice as a solo patent attorney, more than 50 percent of my billable hours came from clients who found me on the Internet. Attorneys in other practice areas also report that they get client inquiries from people who find them through their Web site.
A Web site can also be part of a more traditional marketing strategy. Marketing gurus often say that people usually need three "contacts" with you before they decide to hire you.
A Web site can serve as one of these "contacts." Thus, by giving a potential client the address of your Web site, you are giving yourself another opportunity to convince the client that you are the right attorney to meet his or her needs.
What does it cost?
A Web site does not need to be a costly endeavor. If you have more time than money, consider designing your own Web site. Many books are available to walk you through the necessary steps.
If you do not have the time, you will need to choose from many available Web design firms. Consider both large and small Web design firms. Ask to see sample sites that the firms created. Get references. You can save money by using uploaded photographs instead of custom graphics.
Avoid animations not only because they are expensive to produce, but also because they will make your Web site inaccessible to those with slow Internet connections. Ask the Web site design firm for ideas about how you can save on costs. With proper planning, it need not cost you more than a few thousand dollars to design and launch a content-rich Web site.
You will want to update your site over time, and you should thus inquire about how much that will cost. Request that all or most of the text on your site be in plain hypertext mark-up language (HTML) rather than text embedded in images. Such text will be easier to create at the outset and will be significantly cheaper to update later.
Make sure that you own all rights to your Web site, and adequately protect them. Obtain electronic copies of your Web site in case your design firm and Web site suddenly disappear. Ensure that you can change your Web site design firm or Web site host at your discretion.
The art and science of an effective Web site
Why do people surf the Web for information? Why do clients hire you? One answer to both of these questions is: To solve their problems. If your Web site provides visitors with sufficient comfort that you have the requisite expertise and interest in solving their problems, they will be more likely to hire you than if they did not see your Web site.
If you have useful information on your site, they may even tell their friends about your Web site, and their friends who have the same problems may hire you. If you update information on your site on a regular basis, you will be more like to receive repeat visitors. The more times that people see your Web site, the more likely they will be to hire you.
Your Web site should be tailored to the needs of your potential clients. Simply describing your work experience and areas of practice is not enough.
Planning your site
So you have decided you want a Web site. You will need to register a domain name (a.k.a. Web site address). Choose something that is short, easy to remember and appropriate for your law practice. I chose http://www.sciencelawyer.com because it gets across who I am. To see what other addresses are available, go to http://www.register.com. You will be able to register your domain name there ($35 per year), or you can ask your Web design firm to register it for you.
Next, begin to think about the site content. At a minimum, you will want to provide information about your firm's areas of expertise and qualifications. What other information will your potential clients want to see? Remember, your site is about meeting their needs.
If you normally publish articles, consider making them available on your Web site. Consider making slides from any speaking engagements available as well. You can also provide answers to questions frequently asked by your potential clients. If your Web site does not help your visitors solve their problems (or feel comfortable that you can), they will simply keep surfing.
Driving traffic to your site
There are millions of Web sites out there - some of which get very few visitors. Fortunately, the number of visitors you get will at least partially depend on you.
First, your Web site will need to be submitted to search engines. Your Web design firm will be able to do this. Alternately, if you are designing your own Web site or are on a limited budget, simply go to the search engines of interest and look for the "Submit a Site" or similar link.
Once you click on that link, you will be able to input the necessary information. I made sure that my own site was indexed on http://www.google.com, http://www.yahoo.com, and http://www.altavista.com. The majority of visitors seem to come to my site from google.com.
It will often take several weeks for your site to be listed. Once your site is indexed on a few of these search engines, other search engines will be more likely to find your site and index it automatically.
When someone does a keyword search on a search engine, they often get hundreds of thousands of pages in response. Most people only look at the first few. In order to increase the chance that your Web site will be highly ranked on search engines, determine which keywords your potential clients will use to look for attorneys like you, and make sure to use these words on your Web site. The more often you use these keywords, the better.
Be sure to include your Web site address in your regular marketing materials, such as business cards, letterhead, brochures, newsletters and publications.
You are now ready to market on the Internet. Bon Voyage!
Inna Landsman is a registered patent attorney. She represents science and technology companies and independent inventors before the United States Patent and Trademark Office.