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Law firm websites gain marketing traction

This article appears in the issue February 2011 [Volume 20, Issue 2]
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Pictures of impressive office buildings and serious looking attorneys are classic components of law firm websites. Many law firms are simply announcing to visitors through their websites, “We’re here, we’re smart, hire us.” But website technology that supports active outreach and engagement has been underutilized by law firms. Most sites do not provide adequate information to visitors or useful feedback to law firms. The truth is, law firm websites should be doing a lot more for both visitors and owners than they are now.

Impetus for change in legal websites is coming, though. For one thing, major shifts in the legal industry are pushing law firms toward greater cost consciousness. Among the most important is the alternative fee arrangement (AFA), which is a billing method based on a flat fee rather than an hourly billing charge. Most of the pressure for that change is coming from clients who are seeking greater economy and predictability in their legal costs. The lagging economy has placed a damper on spending in many sectors, including the legal industry.

Law firms are responding with a variety of cost-cutting measures. Some work is being outsourced to less expensive centers in the United States or overseas. Greater efficiencies are also being sought within the firm through use of technology. Those include business process management (BPM) systems that expedite the movement of matter through stages from inception to resolution, and business intelligence (BI) systems that provide valuable information about profitability.

Websites fill a critical role because they are the route through which most prospective clients now search for legal services, and can be a cost-effective marketing tool. “The website should be a source of information, first and foremost,” says Chad Foster, business development manager at Foster Web Marketing, which specializes in the design of websites for small law firms. “The site should weave a ‘web’ of information, with links between blogs, videos, news items and practice areas, in and out of the website.” It should also present information that is relevant to the visitor based on their search patterns and keywords.

In addition, the site should be designed to draw in traffic, but selectively. “The traffic should not be ‘generic,’” cautions Foster, “but should be a match for the company’s services.” Sophisticated search engine optimization (SEO) is an important part of that process. Finally, the site should facilitate conversion (from visitor to lead) by providing multiple engagement points using the prime real estate above the fold. That is most effectively done using calls to action such as contact forms, chat, phone numbers and even unique value propositions, such as an offer of a report in exchange for contact information.”

Building a marketing platform

Foley Hoag LLP is a Boston-based law firm supporting a wide range of industries, from banking to healthcare and telecommunications, with legal services in dozens of practice areas. The firm has used Sitecore’s CMS software to manage Web content over the past four years. “We selected it because it is very customizable; there is no limit on what you can do,” says Jonathan Dack, senior marketing technology manager at Foley Hoag. “Any workflow, any interface can be developed on the .NET framework. Other products don’t allow you to get into the nuts and bolts as deeply.”

More recently, Foley Hoag added the Sitecore Online Marketing Suite, which sits on top of the core content management system. It provides two major components: visitor experience analytics, which help Foley Hoag understand users’ interests and needs, and real-time site personalization, which customizes content for each user. The site is also being redesigned to make the best use of those features, but in the interim, Foley Hoag is already reaping the benefits of the additional insights and performance from both the company side and the user side.

The dynamic content management software allows for personalized presentation of information to visitors. Depending on the pages that a visitor accesses, different content is presented. That is unusual among law firm sites. “Rather than having to dig for content, our visitors see what is relevant,” explains Dack. That ability is common in retail websites, as typified by Amazon, but is unusual on law firm sites.

“Five years ago, most law firms used their websites as digital business cards,’” says Darren Guarnaccia, senior VP for product marketing at Sitecore. “The legal profession now realizes that it needs to be more relevant to the target audience. Someone looking for a divorce lawyer should not be taken to a generic page on the site, but to information that relates to their need.”

Social media next

The Sitecore Online Marketing Suite compiles information about the interests of visitors to the site, which is provided to the marketing department at Foley Hoag. Then the information is communicated to attorneys in various practice areas. Eventually, attorneys will receive direct and real-time notification of visitors who have needs related to their practice areas.

Sitecore has made it easy for users in the legal community to publish content, which means they will post more frequently. Sitecore also allows contact with customers through various channels such as mobile devices, with the website as the hub. In addition, Sitecore integrates with the firms’ CRM system, LexisNexis InterAction. “It integrates easily with other major products such as Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce,” says Dack. That capability provides Foley Hoag with visibility of visitor behavior on the website from within other applications.

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