You don’t need to be a lawyer – or work for lawyers – to benefit from battle-tested advice on local SEO in particular and marketing in general. (If you do work in the legal field, this is your lucky day.)
Not only are his clients in cutthroat local markets, but the legal-marketing space is also competitive. That’s a two-headed monster. I asked Mike some tough questions about both areas, and he didn’t shy away from them.
If you’re in a tough local market and need strategy tips, read on.
Phil: NiftyMarketing has been around for a while, and doing pretty well. What made you want to add NiftyLaw to the mix – and why did you do it when you did?
Mike: I started thinking about where local agencies were headed and I decided there were 3 categories
1. Low Cost Provider – These are the extremely scalable outsource operations that have heavy churn and more sales people than service people.
2. Specialized – These are experts in specific verticals or specific areas of practice (think Darren and Nyagoslav with Citations or Scorpion Web Design with Lawyers)
3. Platforms – These are scalable tools like SIMPartners, MozLocal, Yext and Placeable that are being adopted by big brands.
I realized that Nifty Marketing was trying to be a little too much of everything. We had so many processes for different types of situations that it became a little overwhelming and scale became a burden and not a blessing. We started to look at areas of our business where we were doing very well and areas that we liked and started cutting the things we didn’t. Nifty Marketing is still thriving but we have definitely focused and NiftyLaw.com is part of that focus.
Phil: Why do you specialize in the legal industry?
Mike: We had a massive influx of clients coming from the legal industry and I was asked to speak at a few legal conferences that basically started the momentum. By the time we actually launched NiftyLaw.com we were well on our way down the legal road.
Phil: Other agencies specialize in legal marketing. What makes you guys different?
Mike: I would say our content and local SEO knowledge. We are an extremely creative and fun agency and that is not the norm in legal. That’s what makes it fun. I mean, we roll into events with T shirts that say “I Make Law Sexy” and people either love us or hate us. But it definitely attracts the type of clients that we want to work with. Also, I just finished a book on Local Search for lawyers as there is just not than many people deep into Local that are sharing specific information for them.
[Phil: Here’s the book Mike referred to.]
Phil: Could you have started NiftyLaw before NiftyMarketing? In other words, how well could you have “specialized” right out of the gates, without first having worked with a wide range of clients and racking up lots of experience?
Mike: Nifty Marketing had to come first. It opened so many doors that would have never been there without the overall Nifty brand.
Phil: To what extent did you consider specializing in other industries?
Mike: Major consideration and it will happen. We have people on our team with massive amounts of knowledge into a lot of areas and industries that we could go into and over time I plan on doing just that.
Phil: When you were considering whether to “specialize,” what were the potential cons you were weighing against the pros? (I know the pros won.)
Mike: My biggest fear was that it would devalue Nifty Marketing as a whole. We have a great reputation in the local space and I didn’t want to see that change or to become less relevant by people thinking we only focus on lawyers now.
Phil: In what branches of law is local-online marketing extremely tough, versus only kind of tough?
Mike: Personal Injury can be crazy. Lots of competition and lots of spam. Easiest is actually small town lawyers that do everything. You can always find a way to do well given that situation.
Phil: It seems to take an extra-long time for attorneys to see results from a local SEO campaign, because of the high level of competition. What do you say to a potential client who wants the phone ringing yesterday?
Mike: Call OrangeSoda
Phil: What’s a learning curve that you often have to help your attorney clients (in particular) through?
Mike: Keyword rankings do not equal business. No other industry I have ever seen has a group of people that care so much about where they rank compared to traffic, leads, and new business.
Phil: What parts of legal marketing / local SEO do you have down to a science, and what do you have to “play by ear” for each new client?
Phil: Roughly what percentage of your clients say they’ve worked with SEOs in the past?
Mike: 100% in the law space. I haven’t talked to a lawyer in a long time that has never had some form of SEO done already.
Phil: On the occasions it just doesn’t work out between you and a law firm client, what are the reasons?
Mike: Not Ranking Fast enough or not ranking on the keywords they care about the most. Even if all other signs are positive that can be a deal breaker.
Phil: What rules and regulations on legal-marketing drive you and your clients up a wall?
Mike: There are a lot of rules around testimonials and reviews in some markets that are insane. In some markets you can’t have reviews. It’s not realistic in today’s world to expect that of companies when 3rd party sites can destroy a company’s reputation with reviews.
Phil: Competition between law practices is famously cutthroat. What kind of extra effort does it take for a law firm to get the upper hand in the local results?
Mike: Hours and Hours and Hours of Citation clean up and content creation. Unless you’re black-hat, and then you can just do anything with boat loads of links.
We just did a study and found that the average personal injury lawyer in the US has around 9,000 links (more of this will come out in the future as we release info on our study). Can you think of another industry with that type of craziness?
Phil: You wrote a great post on how to approach “localized” organic rankings. You also stressed their importance during our webinar last year. How much of the work you do for law firms is geared toward Google+ Local visibility, versus visibility in the localized-organic results?
Mike: To me it’s actually the same work and it centers on the content strategy.
Phil: Is it absolutely necessary that your clients have a “content” strategy? If they don’t have one and aren’t willing to invest in having you help them develop one, do you take them on as clients?
Mike: Not any more. It is so hard to just work on maps when the organic opportunity is so big in local that you have to stop looking at local SEO as Google Places and MapMaker and start thinking of it as any way someone searches to find a local business. Maps display on very few law based words so there is a massive need for a solid content strategy and content marketing plan in place that expands the reach of a firm.
Phil: How do you encourage, urge, browbeat, or coerce your clients to do the “real-world marketing” (to borrow your phrase) that can win them links?
Mike: We pitch ideas once a month that we want to do, we get permission and we go. Things like real time traffic accident maps and law school scholarships can go a long ways in building authority.
Phil: Getting reviews always takes patience, and for law firms it takes even more patience. What’s the biggest mental barrier between many law firms and a good strategy for reviews? Is it that they aren’t sure whether online reviews are worth it, or that they wanted reviews yesterday?
Mike: It’s getting them to realize that they don’t need 1000 reviews. They need one a month. When we get that on the table most lawyers actually catch the vision and can accomplish that. 12 reviews a year is more than the average that we found across the industry, which is 5.4 total reviews across all websites we looked at.
[Phil: By the way, if privacy is an issue for your would-be reviewers, you’ll want to check out my post on anonymous/private reviews.)
Phil: OK, time for a lightning round. I’ll rattle off a word, and you rattle off your quick thoughts on it.
Paid listings on lawyer directories?
Mike: Everybody’s doing it
Phil: Paying for LocalEze?
Phil: Avvo reviews?
Mike: Important if Avvo ranks in your market and practice area.
Phil: Hummingbird update?
Mike: Brought back a crap ton of legal exact match domain spam.
Phil: Call-tracking numbers?
Mike: Common issue and still poorly understood. Lawyers want to use them on everything. They should only use them on their website in an image.
Phil: Virtual offices?
Mike: I think they are totally fine to use in the real world and I will fight Google on this forever. Virtual offices exist in the real world. They were used before Google, and Bars are OK with them so I hate that they are in a constantly changing gray area with Google. They still work very well for many firms while others lose their listing. That’s crazy.
Phil: What do some legal-marketers / SEOs do that drives you nuts?
Mike: Negative SEO in the form of links pointing at people.
Phil: What do some lawyers do that drives you bonkers?
Mike: Treat SEO’s like scum. I have very little tolerance for that.
Phil: What’s the most common SEO mistake you discover once you start working with a client?
Mike: Extremely spammy link profiles. I have been loving this tool for looking at that quickly.
Phil: What can business owners in other industries learn from attorneys who do local marketing very well? And how about from the ones who do it poorly?
Mike: They can learn from the competitive nature of lawyers. A lot of companies simply don’t care. That is not the case in law and even if it is intense and annoying if other industries put the focus that lawyers do into local search we would see crazy awesome innovation. As for the ones that do it poorly… Businesses need to learn that it’s about your customer and not yourself. The Band Legal marketers have big egos that lead to focusing on the wrong areas.
Phil: Let’s say you’ve worked for a client for a year, and have put in a ton of hours. What would a pie-chart of those hours look like?
Mike: Website 25%, Content 25%, Links 25%, Citations and Reviews 25%.
Phil: What do you / your team need to get better at?
Mike: I always want to achieve better local link acquisition. If we can continually innovate there we will always have work.
Phil: Has the work you’ve done to build NiftyLaw also helped NiftyMarketing at all? Any cross-pollination there?
Mike: We have had a few lawyers that have referred us non legal work. They definitely both complement each other.
Phil: What are some things about marketing in the legal industry that you wish you knew for Lawyer Client #1?
Mike: Bar rules. I can’t believe how many things we used to do that were big no no’s that even the clients didn’t catch. You have to be careful in the law space. It is heavily regulated and you can get your clients in serious trouble if you aren’t very careful.
Phil: Do you foresee more local SEOs specializing over time?
Mike: Yes. I think we will see every company squeeze into those options I listed above. This will go along with a lot of mergers and buyouts as our industry matures.
Phil: When you launched NiftyLaw, you said, “I believe that most businesses exist for more than simply making profits.” How would you apply that to NiftyLaw? What besides business makes your business tick?
Mike: The People. Many of us live in a place where there is not a ton of work opportunities, let alone creative and tech industry jobs. So, we do what we do and are grateful for the opportunity to be in a small farming community doing it. There are ways we could make more money, or scale faster, but I love my life. Why sacrifice that for more money I can’t spend in a town where the most expensive menu item is like $20.
What advice of Mike’s really rings true for you?
Anything you disagree with?
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