Person in a suit holding an iPadThis is the next post in my Social Networking for Attorneys series. I’ll be using this post to discuss how social media impacts the performance of your law firm’s website in search results. We’ll also take a look at how social media can be a source for generating potential client leads as well as how it can “validate” your firm in the eyes of potential clients.

Social networking websites weren’t much of a factor when I began marketing my firm online in 2006. By 2008-2009 they became something that was used by an increasing number of people and not just college students. As the use of these sites has expanded so has the way in which they impact your firm’s marketing. I find that many attorneys don’t understand how the use of social sites impact their firm. Of those who do understand, many go about it in an incorrect way (preview alert – we’ll discuss how to approach social media in the next post of this series). Time to understand why social media sites impact a law firm’s marketing efforts.

Attorneys must understand that social media impacts their firm’s SEO efforts

Your use of social media directly impacts how well your site performs in search. As we discuss in our eBook Modern Marketing for Today’s Attorney, Google began considering “social signals” as part of its search rankings in 2010. The head of Google’s web spam team discussed this in 2010:

In 2013, the search engine announced that it would be expanding the use of “social identity” in order to improve search quality[i]. This improvement comes in the form of understanding physical-world identities and relationships to provide a searcher with more relevant results.

Google Plus IconUnderstanding real-world real world relationships is very much in Google’s interest. Let’s look at a hypothetical (and please don’t offer the objection of “incomplete hypothetical” as I don’t wish for this article to be 10,000 words). Person “A” is a highly regarded attorney and Person “B” is a bumbling and stumbling moron who should have his license taken away less than qualified lawyer. Now let’s suppose that all other SEO signals, related to the respective website of these two lawyers, are exactly the same. In the past Google would have had no way of ranking one website above the other. Through the use of identity and online reputation, the search engine can rank “A” highly in search as he is a prominent attorney whose website people are likely to be interested in. B’s website can be ranked lower in search results. The benefits of this, as far as Google’s ability to return quality search results, are obvious.

It is important to understand that social signals alone will not get you to the top of search. This is for two reasons. First, there are other things that consumers will care about besides just the reputation. These may include the level of information on the site, how easy the site is to navigate, etc. Second, in 2014 the social media landscape is not yet at a point where Google can get a true and actual picture of the physical world by merely analyzing social media. For now it is important to understand that social signals are in fact impacting your search results and that the level of this impact is going to increase over time. Later in this series I will discuss the extent to which different sites impact search (they are not all the same) and how to go about establishing yourself as an “authority” that Google sees worthy of higher ranking on the basis of identity.

Attorneys can use social media as a way of generating potential client leads

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Most consumers aren’t going to pick their attorney through social media sites. Consumers are also not interested in closely following their lawyer online. People are concerned about the specifics of their case and not the larger picture of one’s firm or practice. There will be times that one can get clients through the use of social networks but these instances will be the exception and not the rule. This doesn’t mean, however, that you still can’t make online socializing a key part of getting clients. Don’t forget that referrals are a key part of any successful law office.

Social sites can be an excellent way of building a referral network. Referrals will always be important for any firm. Social sites give attorneys an opportunity to reach out to professionals with whom they can establish a productive relationship. Personal injury attorneys, for example, can use social sites as a way to connect with chiropractors. Establishing these types of relationships can be done much more quickly using modern tools than in the past. We’ll be taking a look in future posts at tips for establishing a referral network through the web.

Social networking should also be a key to attorneys who don’t have average consumers for a client base. Appellate attorneys often get their cases through attorney referrals and not through the web or the phone book. There are other practice areas where clients come from referrals and not a general search. Someone is not going to drop a $50,000 retainer, for a high-end piece of complex civil litigation, to someone they find on the internet. Social media is very good for getting your name out to potential referral sources if your market is not the general public.

A law firm’s reputation can be “validated” in the eyes of the public through the use of social media

An increasing number of people are using social media as a way of “checking up” on people they find through search. It is becoming increasingly common for someone to use Google to search for a “Somewhere, USA criminal lawyer.” After checking out an attorney’s website they may then look at that attorneys social profile to get a better feel of the attorney. This can go a long way towards influencing the person’s decision to pick up and call. A 2011 study found that 40 percent of people who find a product through search then look to social media to further validate their decision process[ii]. While this study dealt with physical products and not professional services, it goes without saying that there are a significant number of people exhibiting this same behavior when searching for attorneys.

Social media has become crucial to any law firm serious about marketing through the web. It’s important that you understand the above-impacts on your marketing. It’s equally important, however, that you go about the use of social media correctly. We’ll be talking about the subject of correct social media use in this series’ next post.

11/26/14 Update – As of August, 2014 Google is no longer tracking identity or “authorship” through Google+ or other mediums. In a subsequent article, I discussed the continued importance of Google+ to law firm marketing in spite of these changes.

[i]Will Google be evaluating the use of rel=author” moving forward?, June 5th, 2013. Accessed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QlY8ba0jYI

[ii] Resarch…Sheds Light On The Role Search and Social Media Play in the Consumer’s Path to Purchase, February 24th, 2011. Accessed at http://groupmnext.com/press-releases/research-from-groupm-search-and-comscore-sheds-light-on-the-role-search-and-social-media-play-in-the-consumer%E2%80%99s-path-to-purchase/