Small Town Law Firm Marketing Case Study:
How One Law Firm Became Dominant In Regional Search Results
A series of bad decisions and neglect by both big companies and local advisors frustrated a small law firm’s attempt to succeed online. They went from invisible in the search results and wasting all of their advertising dollars to the top of the search results in every community in which they have an office. What follows are the deep details of how that happened.
The firm is made up of a group of partners, associates and staff in the practice of general law. The firm serves clients in three locations, each in a different town. Each of those towns has a population of about 10,000 people. All three locations are in the same county within one state in the continental USA.
When we were introduced to the law firm, they had been using the services of Hibu, a multinational directories and Internet services company operating in the UK, the United States and Spain. Hibu is formerly the Yell Group PLC, which originally dealt in yellow page phone book advertising.
Outperform all competitors but specifically one particular competitor that seemed to be everywhere in the search results.
Major Problems – Our Starting Point
Poor results in the search engines
A problem for the firm was that they had a competitor, just down the street. They could see their competitor’s office by looking out the window. The big problem was that their competitor seemed to be at the top of almost every relevant search result, no matter which keyword was typed in. Their competitor was doing well, but we could not find a first page result for our new client except when we searched for the firm by its name.
Terrible results from Pay-Per-Click Google Adwords campaign
The firm was spending several hundred dollars per month on a Google Adwords campaign. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless it’s not generating results. The reports sent to the firm indicated numbers of clicks and the keywords being used, but no goals had been set up in statistics because statistics had not been set up that would enable goals to be created. It was not possible to tell how well the campaign was working, or even if it was working at all.
Google Map issues
Another problem was that despite having three offices in three different locations, only two of the three offices were showing up in Google’s map results. There were also redundant, counter-productive listings for some of the lawyers within the firm. There was outdated info in each existing listing offering the wrong address, phone number and/or website. This means that someone with a cell phone could be standing beside one of the offices searching for a law firm, and it was not showing up in the results or showed up with the wrong information.
Insufficient website content
In order to succeed in the search engines, a website should be more than the equivalent of an online brochure. The website had the requisite pages – a home page, an about us page, a page featuring the types of law practiced and a contact page, but was missing out on some great opportunities by not having the content that would help the website to broaden its reach significantly in the search engines.
The law firm’s Hibu website offered a content management system so authorized people from the firm could edit the website when necessary. The bad news was that it used a proprietary system, so the website could never be moved away. That means the law firm was either tied to Hibu forever, or they had to pay the additional cost of a new website should they ever want to move away. However, the website’s content was the property of the law firm, just not the website that housed that content.
No meaningful statistics
Google offers free statistics, which are more than adequate for almost all businesses on the Internet. Statistics offer a way to guide all decisions about a website and lots of other decisions too, such as advertising effectiveness etc. Google Analytics is a free service, it just needs to be added to the website. The only data being collected was the number of visitors to the website, which is relatively meaningless without the context provided by other supporting statistics. In other words, is that number good or bad? It’s hard to tell without some additional data readily available in Google Analytics.
Domain name account not accessible
This may seem like a minor or insignificant problem to most, but whoever controls access to the domain name account controls access to hosting and the website. Also, a failure to renew the domain name could result in a loss of the domain name and the website would be starting from zero in the search results if that happened. We’ve seen that happen too many times. In our opinion, this control should never completely be outside the business. It can be shared, but every business should be able to have control over what has become the most important marketing tool for most businesses in the 21st century.
Website Updates difficult and costly
The website was not completely up to date as there was a minimum fee for making a change to the website. So, to make it worthwhile, website edits were gathered over time until it was worthwhile to make a change to the site. The time it took to have changes made was another deterring factor.
Our Story (Details):
Hibu was contracted to provide digital marketing services for the law firm which included creating the firm’s website, hosting & maintenance of the website, search engine optimization (SEO), and Adwords advertising in Google. The domain name was held in an account owned by a local website services company. Email was hosted separately using Office 365.
The website itself was somewhat out of date as the content had not been maintained. There was a minimum fee of $85 each time the firm wished to make some minor changes to the content of the site. Even if the fee was inconsequential, the difficulty in getting someone to make a simple change to the website was time consuming. In addition, the partners had never been informed that the website, technically speaking, was the property of Hibu. Only the content of the website belonged to the law firm.
In addition, despite the fact that it had a high monthly fee, the website was not mobile friendly. So when someone accesses the website on their phone or tablet (which we can now see was 44% of the total traffic over the past year) means that almost one in two people were not able to read or navigate the website without enlarging the content on the screen. Having to do that means that they more than likely clicked the back button and went on to the competitor’s site that was easy to read and navigate.
Despite the fact that it had a high monthly fee, the website was not mobile friendly.
We discovered that the website services firm that held the domain name was hostile and although it took over a year to resolve, the firm’s domain name was in an account for which they did not have the login information that allowed them to access the account. This is not as insignificant as it may seem. The person controlling that account threatened email disruption and catastrophic consequences should any changes be made to that account. To someone that doesn’t deal with these issues, he sounded very knowledgeable. There was no logical or apparent reason for resisting a request to share the login information for the domain name account.
The statistical data available for both the website and the Adwords advertising was of low quality. It offered a view of the volume of traffic but didn’t differentiate where they came from or how they interacted with the website. There were no goals set up in the statistics, which is unusual in any situation where Adwords advertising is being used. There’s no way to determine whether the advertising campaign is successful or a complete waste of money.
Reporting consisted of reports of traffic to the site, clicks, and money spent on the ads. There was no reporting of goals or completion of any event such as someone filling in a form, or whatever would be a measure of the expected outcome of the Adwords campaign. Was the advertising campaign effective? Statistics should have shown that it was (or wasn’t).
If adequate website statistics had been collected, it would have been apparent that the ads were not delivering any traffic to the website.
In addition, while we were investigating the complete marketing situation for the law firm, we discovered that the Adwords ads were directed to a defunct web address. The partnership had changed and so the new domain name reflected the names of the new partners. The advertising was directing traffic to the old, former domain name. All advertising clicks were being directed to a website that no longer existed! The advertising was a complete waste.
In Hibu’s defense, when this was brought to their attention, they claimed that the domain name featured in text on the ad was the old domain name, but when the ad was clicked, it actually directed the traffic to the correct website. Google disallowed the practice of displaying one domain name while directing traffic to another, as it was a practice that had been abused at some point by spammers. The excuse Hibu offered was not possible in Adwords. If adequate website statistics had been collected, it would have been apparent that the ads were not delivering any traffic to the website.
Hibu had not set up a specific landing page or set of landing pages for any of the ads. Even if you accept that the ads were delivering traffic to the correct domain name, the ads were set up to deliver traffic to the home page of the website not a specific landing page. For most businesses, that’s what they expect, but research proves that a dedicated “landing page”, basically an extension of the ad is far more effective in generating the desired response to the ad.
The search engine positioning in the search results for keywords that featured each practice area in each location offered ZERO #1 results.
In Google Maps, the firm had multiple businesses listed in Google at the same address. There were listings for one of the three offices. Also each location had a listing for each of the lawyers practicing in each office suggesting they were a separate business at the same address. Those listings were out of date, with some featuring old addresses, some featuring the former domain name, and some featuring old phone numbers. Each location either had errors, or counter-productive additions in the information or the location was not available at all.
The search engine positioning in the search results for keywords that featured each practice area in each location offered zero #1 results. For example, (community name) criminal law, or bankruptcy law in (community name) were not showing up in the search results. The firm was at the top of the results in a search for the name of the firm, but little else.
- We created a “stand alone” website using the same content but now it all belongs to the law firm.
- We created a mobile version of the website as well, so the user experience of mobile device users was no longer an impediment for users of those devices.
Hosting & Maintenance Upgraded
- We now host the website and include maintenance.
- We updated all of the content that was out of date and continue to do so whenever required – all as part of the fee for the package.
- Most website editing requests are completed the same day.
- Hosting includes secure SSL protection for every page of the website without having to purchase an SSL certificate for an additional $50 to $100 per year.
Website Content Improved
We asked the firm to create additional content on specific topics that our research told us had great value. That helped to create a much greater online presence. The firm delivered the content and we created pages for the website using the article written for each topic as a separate page.
Domain Name Access for Firm
After many frustrating phone calls and emails over more than a year, we were able to get the domain name into its own account and provide the firm access to that account.
Google Analytics Added
We added Google analytics to the site to track visitors – where they came from, and how they interact with the website. A monthly report is provided offering a statistical overview of the website. Greater statistical detail is available on demand. (Example – How many people came to our website from the Chamber of Commerce last year?)
Eliminated Adwords (Pay-Per-Click Advertising) Losses
We temporarily suspended the Adwords advertising until such time as we were able to determine whether or not the search engines would require additional help. The difference in the fee we charged and what Hibu was charging allowed the firm to keep in reserve a reasonable amount of funds each month that could be used to supplement the search engine results.
Major SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Improvements
- We upgraded the technical status of the website so it was no longer the cause of decreased performance in the search engines.
- As mentioned earlier, we worked with the firm to enhance the content of the website for a greater reach across the search results.
- We fixed all of the errors and duplication in Google Maps so that each location is identified, verified, and available in the search results.
- We added the necessary resources to bring the website to the top of the results for every type of law the firm practices in each of the communities in which they practice.
- We provide a monthly search engine position report that shows the position in the search results for the top keywords.
- The law firm went from being second best in one community to top first page results for each of its locations and every type of law practiced.
- The firm reduced its overall expenditure for website performance, saving several hundred dollars per month and received much better performance in return. Better for less.
- The firm was sufficiently successful in the search results that the reserve fund for Google Adwords advertising has not been required to supplement the results.
- Currently, the website’s content is completely up to date. The technical aspect of the website is also up to date – HTTPS not HTTP, mobile friendly, no broken links, etc.