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Many lawyers in private practice will tell you that the most difficult part of their practice is luring new clients. While lawyers typically rely on a variety of means to expand their client base, referrals and search engine marketing are among the most popular. Since personal injury clients are often private citizens who browse the Internet to find a lawyer, many lawyers prefer to market their services on Google rather than rely on referrals.
What is a Referral Fee?
One lawyer can pay a fee to another lawyer in exchange for the other lawyer’s referral. A bankruptcy lawyer without expertise in personal injury cases, for example, might refer an injured client to a personal injury lawyer in exchange for a percentage of the potential client’s judgment or settlement, while the personal injury lawyer might return the favor if one of his clients is considering bankruptcy. Certain websites also offer online lawyer referral services.
Although conversion rates for referrals are high (a referred client is quite likely to retain the lawyer to whom he is referred), referral fees sometimes exceed one-third of the amount the referred client pays the lawyer. Search engine marketing, by contrast, is much cheaper, and it is much more available to a “new kid in town” lawyer who lacks local connections.
On the down side, the conversion rate for website visits is drastically lower than for referrals – many website “hits” are typically required to result in a single paying client. Although Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques and content marketing can improve your conversion rates, your website traffic is likely to decrease exponentially the lower your website ranks on Google.
Search Engine Marketing for Lawyers
The bad news is that making the first page search results in the Google rankings is everything – well, almost everything, anyway, because well under 10 percent of Internet users bother clicking “next” to access the second page. This bad news is mitigated by two important caveats:
- Your actual number of conversions depends not only on how many “hits” you get, but also on what percentage of your hits convert into clients. Since Internet users who bother checking the second page of search engine rankings may be more highly motivated, you might be able to compensate for fewer hits with a higher conversion rate.
- Google rankings depend on what search terms users enter. Even if you don’t make the first page of the Google search engine rankings with “Atlanta personal injury lawyer”, you might make the first page with “Atlanta cerebral palsy malpractice lawyer” and a host of other less common search terms. If your website is large and covers a variety of specific topics, you might rank in the Google top 10 for hundreds or even thousands of search terms.
Perhaps the optimal law firm marketing strategy is one that mixes both referrals and search engine traffic. Nevertheless, for most lawyers, SEO is an indispensible marketing tool.