The way consumers look for anything and everything has changed in the last ten years, including how we find an attorney. While we used to rely on the recommendation of a friend or relative, or start our search in the Yellow Pages, now we head to our computers. Search engines, social media, and smart phones have dramatically affected the way consumers find legal representation. According to a recent study, last year most people looking for an attorney — three out of four — used online resources at some point in the process, according to The Research Intelligence Group.
It just makes sense. Not only are we used to “Googling” for information, advice, products and services, but also when someone needs an attorney, it’s usually a sensitive matter that they’re less likely to ask a friend about. If you are selling a business, divorcing, injured, or accused of a crime, it’s much easier to spend time researching online in the privacy of your home or on your phone than it is to dig through the Yellow Pages or ask a neighbor or relative.
The Rise of Local Search
When people search for an attorney, they tend to look for one that’s close to them, generally within thirty miles. Along with the rise in Internet use, searches are becoming increasingly more location-specific as people become more sophisticated search engine users, with 73 percent of online activity related to local information (according to Google).
Over the past five years we have seen dramatic shifts in how consumers select businesses in the local marketplace. For example, as recently as 2007 the printed Yellow Pages were the number one source of information used by consumers to select businesses, but no longer. In April, AT&T sold its Yellow Page division “as part of an effort to dispose of units that are holding back revenue growth” in the face of increasing competition from online rivals Google, Groupon, and Yelp.
Local searching – searches that contain a geographic term – delivers highly relevant search results to the consumer. Relevancy means users can find the products and services they seek in a specific location and businesses gain consumers who are ready to buy.
Local search has changed from buyers searching for “where to buy” location information for businesses they already know the name of to shoppers seeking information on “what to buy” in order to select a business they did not know prior to their search. 70 percent of online searchers use local search to find offline businesses.
How Attorneys Should Use Local Search
A recent important finding for attorneys is the fact that local listings are now viewed as the most relevant and trusted search results for consumers, according to the 2012 Local Search Usage Study. There are four things you can do to take advantage of the increasing use of search to find attorneys and the rising use of local search.
1. Maintain your website and blog.
It is essential to have a regularly updated website and blog that present your expertise and discuss the legal problems of consumers. An attorney’s online presence should feature FAQs, white papers and checklists to be found by consumers conducting online research. 60 percent of small law firms reported landing new clients as a result of their blog, according to the American Bar Association. Make sure your website is complete and up-to-date.
2. Gather client reviews.
It is vital to ask your clients to review your services. Ratings and reviews are the digital equivalent of “word-of-mouth” referrals and are probably one of the most important local search elements. The quality and quantity of ratings and reviews contribute to how often the search engines display your listing or your location. They are to local search what “backlinks” are to SEO, creating credibility and authority for your business online. Google places such a high importance on both reviews and local search that it recently merged Google Places into Google+, creating Google+ Local. Set a goal to gather at least five client reviews this year.
3. Use local directories.
The rise of local search and the fact that more people trust local listings makes local online directories even more important for attorneys. National directories like FindLaw and Martindale-Hubbell contain thousands of attorneys across the country. Someone looking for an attorney may have to page through hundreds of profiles, most offering sparce information with only a name and address. In contrast, localized attorney directories will include only attorneys in Massachusetts. Also, static information lists and directories have recently seen a decline in use, while more dynamic content sites containing recommendations, reviews, personal opinions, and ratings show increased use. Choose a local directory that showcases your experience and expertise and will connect you with local clients.
4. Engage with social networking.
Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites are now critical elements of an online presence. 63 percent of social networkers are more likely to use a local business if the business has information available on a social networking site, according to the Localeze/15miles Local Search Usage Study. Devoting some time and resources to this effort can pay off at the local level, both for marketing promotions and for customer service. Find out more in my previous article, How to Build An Online Social Network .
This is an exciting time for attorneys wishing to market themselves, with more opportunities online to connect with prospects and clients than ever before. To find out more about how you can use local search to grow your business, contact Ian Bardorf at www.BardorfMarketing.com.
Ian M. Bardorf is an Internet marketing, mobile marketing, and social media advisor to attorneys and law firms seeking to grow and advance their business via the web. This article is copyrighted as original content by Ian M. Bardorf and Bardorf Legal Marketing. This article may be reproduced or republished with appropriate attribution and credit.