Deep breath, everyone. Despite the COVID-19 outbreak and the widespread economic downturn, the legal industry is not collapsing. The need for quality legal services is as diverse as ever. It’s not going anywhere. In fact, research from McKinsey shows that law firms have been particularly well suited to “weather” economic downturns throughout recent history.
That said, the world of law and legal marketing has not been immune to the “unprecedented-ness” of 2020. Beyond the deep, yet unfinished impacts of COVID-19, the legal industry is experiencing other deep-seated shifts brought about by technology and shifting consumer demand that cannot be overlooked.
Many firms, for instance, are “offshoring” document review, research, and legal writing to preserve their margins. Delivery models are changing, too, with client calls, discovery, and other traditionally person-to-person services moving 100% online—spurred on, no doubt, by health and safety concerns caused by COVID-19. And new “do it yourself online” services, such as LegalZoom, are proving disruptive.
Finally, and in light of current political and social issues, practice areas are coming under increased demand, such as bankruptcy and restructuring, debt financing, labor and employment, and so on.
As with downturns past, flexibility is key for law firms hoping to not only weather the storm but emerge stronger on the other side. This will require some creativity, attention to digital branding and content, and a willingness to introduce new strategies for attracting (and keeping!) clients.
Based on our extensive work executing marketing and SEO strategies for legal firms, we’ve put together what we believe will be seven of the most pressing digital marketing trends facing the legal industry in 2021—trends that will shape our own unique approach to our valued clients in the legal field.
There are too many options for prospective clients to waste time with firms that don’t put them first. In terms of marketing, here’s what “putting the client first” might look like:
- People-focused marketing. In other words, be human, both in terms of how you present your brand and how you speak to your clients. Truth is, people want to know not only that you’re not just another faceless law firm behemoth, but that they’re not just another faceless cog in the marketing machine.
- Demonstrate an understanding of client needs, challenges, and fears. What are clients in your particular practice area going through? The better you can empathize with the pains, frustrations, and desired outcomes for your clients, the more effectively you’ll be able to create value and help them address the pain and challenges they’re experiencing.
- Create value, not just a clever pitch. Creating value for clients—current and prospective—must shape marketing strategy in the legal world. Video content that answers a common legal question, for example, or regular blog content offering legal tips and tricks for clients navigating the world of immigration law, copyright, or property law can significantly strengthen your brand ethos.
There are tons of legal firms and services out there, so Google has to be really good at connecting people with the right search results. One of the prominent ways it will do so in 2021 is by using semantic search. This is how search engines use all the data at hand to determine the context, intent, and meaning they need to connect people with the most relevant and complete content possible.
It comes down to how, and why, your prospective clients are searching for you. What answers, information, or expertise are they looking for, and in what area of law? Here are some simple principles your teams can follow when it comes to semantic search:
- Create content that answers your target client’s questions. If you want to be seen by wealthy, middle-aged men seeking divorce assistance in Tampa Bay, for example, narrow down your content to the type of questions and expertise that this target persona would likely look for when using a search engine.
- Write for people, not search engines. That means developing content that is to the point, concise, and written in easy-to-understand language. This is especially important for the world of legal, where clients often (not always!) lack the technical understanding of the law that you and your staff might have.
- Get contextual internal linking right on your website. Internal linking goes beyond creating logical click paths to related topics for your users. Done strategically, it creates a data-rich, well-structured map of related content around a central topic or search term, such as TORT or injury law.
- Optimize content for topics instead of keywords. You can build out clusters of valuable content around a high-level legal topic, such as divorce law, including subtopics such as divorce law cost, divorce law timeline, etc. As you build and optimize around topic groupings, you naturally build a nexus of related short-tail and longer-tail keywords, all of which lends well to better rankings.
Many small to medium-sized law firms serve specific geographic areas due to their physical location. It’s no surprise that they need to build awareness and drive leads in their local markets. Thanks to the rapidly growing prevalence of local search, legal marketers have a tremendous opportunity to reach local audiences and differentiate themselves from the competition.
Way back in 2017, Think With Google estimated that local search was growing 150% year over year (YoY). Today, that trend has only accelerated the increased weight of things like reviews and business listings to local search algorithms. By some estimates, nearly 50% of all Google searches have local intent.
Put simply, when people search for legal services in your geographical area, you want to make sure your polished, A+, well-branded content shows up, including business information, photos, and reviews. Here are a few ways to make that happen:
- Set up your Google My Business, Facebook Business, and Yelp listings today. If resources are limited, spend your time on Google My Business, the one most closely tied to Google (the largest search engine in the world). Ensure that every aspect of these listings, from contact information, hours, and location, to available services and photos, are up to date.
- Generate regular reviews. VERY IMPORTANT. Reviews are a ranking factor in most local search engines, especially Google, and they’re super important to prospective clients, too. We recommend that you develop a review management and encouragement program to generate reviews from clients. Your brand reputation and local search visibility will thank you for it.
- Place content in local online publications, alongside your own dedicated blog. When reputable, local publications link to your law firm’s website, it sends a signal to Google that your website is valuable to that region. Part of your SEO and content strategy should focus on developing content that local audiences want. Read our article to learn more about building backlinks.
- Update listings in legal directories so that your citations always reflect the latest information about your firm.
If you’re looking for more advice on how to optimize your local SEO strategy, you’ll want to read our article “How to Use Local SEO to Attract More Legal Clients.”
In other words, make sure you pay close attention to user experience (UX), a critical component of client-focused marketing strategies. At a high level, that means designing, testing, and refining any interactions with your digital entities as easily and professionally as possible. This includes searching for you on Google, booking consultations for your website, or even making payments. What about file transfers, chatbots, or FAQs? It all needs to be clean, simple, and on point.
Here are a few best practices for law firms trying to deliver better UX on their website:
- Create an intuitive navigation
- Provide the ability to search lawyers per specialty, location, etc.
- Add comprehensive lawyer bios, including background, photos, and video introductions
- Optimize your entire site for mobile
- Create legal resources centers (guides, webinar downloads, legal forms, etc.) that bring value to current and prospective clients, as well as other legal professionals
Not only will your clients thank you for your stellar UX, but Google search engines will too. According to a May 2020 Google Webmaster Central Blog post, Google Search will now factor all kinds of UX signals into its rankings, including Google’s new Core Web Vitals. With these updates to its search algorithm, Google is signaling a greater emphasis on “delightful” web experiences for people.
That means websites that load fast, make it easy to find information, and play well across devices and platforms. Sites that can deliver this caliber of user experience will be rewarded with better search visibility, which is definitely something you’ll want for your legal practice in 2021 (and beyond).
In the world of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, Google Ads is a gold standard. The ability to advertise on the world’s most used search engine—to potentially reach that volume of people every month—can create tremendous returns. It also creates a lot of competition.
In fact, many legal firms come to us citing the rising cost of Google Ads and constantly maxed out impressions. And while there are still plenty of effective Google Ads tactics, we often recommend considering more investment in Facebook ads.
Why? Well, from the beginning of 2020, global cost-per-click (CPC) for Facebook ads is down, as are Facebook advertising costs across the board. And the options available to Facebook advertisers have never been so broad. The technology and resources are stunning. We think video ads make a lot of sense for legal firms. And you might want to check out Facebook Mobile Studio, which includes a rich feature set for creating killer mobile ads, including image enhancements, short video ads, and animated stories.
As exciting as these formats are, Facebook is not without risk. Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been regularly embroiled in controversy surrounding data privacy. Throughout 2020, a growing number of people and brands have expressed their distrust and displeasure with the social media giant by boycotting the platform altogether. In fact, major brands, such as North Face, REI, Starbucks, Unilever, Verizon, and most recently Disney, have massively cut back on Facebook ad spend in response to the ways Facebook is handling political advertisements, fact-checking, and hate speech.
As marketers in the legal space, this kind of controversy will likely raise an eyebrow. And it’s something we caution all of our clients about, so tread carefully when it comes to investing in Facebook Ads.
As rich and informative as they might be, blog posts alone no longer cut it. Instead, law firms need to take a client-first approach to content that brings all that rich knowledge and legal expertise to clients, in the channels and media they prefer.
Today, people want simplicity, interactivity, and cross-platform availability. If they can’t find it using a quick Google search, or on their platform de jour—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and so on—they’ll quickly move on. As a marketer in the legal space, responding to these ever-changing consumer demands requires openness to keeping up with new technologies.
At Atlantic, we like to recommend the art of smart repurposing, no matter which types of content make the most sense for our law clients. That is, build a higher-touch, longer-form asset around a cornerstone topic, then repurpose that content into smaller sub-topics and content types. A long-form blog post can become part of an ebook, social media copy, or even a video script. A webinar interview can be broken down into short, discrete videos that can be used in an Instagram campaign.
There are a few types of content that law firms, specifically, should consider investing in:
- Podcasts. What was once a kind of clunky, new-kid-on-the-block, format is now a widely adopted, widely used content format. And the market for legal podcasts, in particular, is booming. Our recommendation is to build a podcast around your particular practice area or niche or to take down hot topics like problems with LegalZoom or legal structuring for small businesses. Podcast transcripts can be repurposed into blog posts and other content to maximize reach and engagement. Read our article “How Podcasts Can Benefit Your Law Firm” to get some ideas on how you can use podcasts at your law firm.
- Video. Not much of a Spielberg? No problem. Think quick, simple, and clean videos that create value for your clients. In the legal profession, one of the best sources of video topics is your existing clientele: what common questions do they have? What particular challenge or case type keeps popping up lately? Maybe a senior attorney or partner can weigh in to give your videos that extra authority and pizzaz. You can also experiment with LinkedIn and Facebook Live to meet the growing demand for freshness and interactivity.
- Webinars. Just like podcasts, webinars are rapidly evolving. Webinar platforms like On24, Demio, and even Facebook Live build in interactivity, such as chat and polling, as well as powerful back-end audience analytics that can populate marketing lists and help with lead generation. Within the legal space, virtual panels make for an engaging format that brings in diverse expert voices on a particular topic area.
We started this list by putting the client first, and we’ll end it with how to regularly remind those clients that you’re here for them. I’m talking about your firm’s brand reputation. Building a strong brand is an ongoing practice that requires regular attention and constant innovation. It’s also an excellent way to build authority in a noisy marketplace, instill client confidence, and weather the uncertain conditions likely to follow the legal profession into 2021.
Luckily, law firms provide a valuable service to their local communities, which makes for plenty of opportunities for building brand awareness, such as:
- Attorneys as brand ambassadors. Because of public perceptions about the law profession, your firm’s attorneys enjoy a reputation for authority and expertise. When possible, showcase your attorneys in video content, webinars, and other marketing campaigns to bring that extra credibility and professionalism that attorneys tend to embody.
- Participate in local events. This is a great way to get your firm’s name out there, as well as shake hands, build relationships, and support important local causes. Win-win. In the same vein, your firm can partner with charitable organizations and nonprofits in your city to extend your reach even farther.
- Use real client testimonials. It’s one thing to talk about your own brand, and yet another to hear it from your satisfied clients. To that end, build in a process for soliciting and producing relevant, polished client testimonials for use across your digital entities.
By focusing first on your community, you’ll develop a brand reputation that you can be trusted and depended upon. When people believe that, they’re sure to share the word.
The legal world is hardly immune from the uncertainty, and conflicting messages that recently characterize our broader world. Often, law firms are at the very center of helping people and companies navigate it all, especially when obstacles do arise.
This is what we believe marketing for legal firms in 2021 will be all about. Firms that can put client needs at the center of all they do, while being flexible enough to endure changing market dynamics and new marketing trends, will thrive. The seven trends detailed above are certainly good places to start.