Your law firm marketing plan may seem complete with your website, a blog or two, your LinkedIn profile, and business cards to hand out, but holy hoopla, Batman, why limit yourself to the outdated tools of mere mortals? Law firm directories are the supertools many lawyers pass by as unimportant, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Unlike print directories, which sit on a shelf until someone opens them, a digital lawyer directory is a dynamic and multifaceted means of reaching potential clients—even while “on the shelf.” Like Marvel Universe’s Multiple Man, listings in the right online legal directories can simultaneously advertise your firm, inform potential clients what you can do for them, and—believe it or not—boost your website’s online visibility even while waiting to be viewed. Sound too good to be true? Not at all! It’s the evolution of the yellow pages—a directory with superpowers.
What Law Firm Directories Can Do for Your Firm
Many remember the Yellow Pages, a printed business directory that sat on a shelf or in a drawer until needed. It was an alphabetized list that consumers could turn to when they needed a particular service or product.
Today’s online directories are more than just another list; they’re interactive partners in your marketing efforts. Your listing in one or more quality online legal directories can help deliver leads and referrals, lend credibility to your firm’s website and other digital presences, and, most significantly, increase your firm’s online visibility and its appeal to the Internet’s gatekeepers, the search engines.
The key to successful partnering with online legal directories is learning how to choose among the law firm directories available, identify the listing strategies that will best serve your firm, and create an impactful directory listing. With the right legal directory as your sidekick, your marketing efforts will be up, up, and away!
But First, How Search Engines Affect Your Online Visibility
Before diving into directories, you should understand the universe they live in. Directories on the Internet are much more than a digital representation of physical counterparts. Google search results don’t pop up randomly—they’re curated by the search engine. With the size of the Internet ever expanding, having a digital presence that puts you in front of potential clients and referral sources is critical. That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.
A superpower of the digital domain, SEO can boost your online visibility by making your law firm’s website more visible and contributing to its credibility by association with (links from) reputable sites (like reputable law firm directories). Search engines use factors like these to determine whether your firm’s website is relevant to legal search queries. By understanding how search engines rank websites and law firm SEO techniques you can use to be favorably viewed and ranked by these gatekeepers, you’ll be seen by more potential clients and referral sources. The rest is up to you.
Why Online Law Firm Directories Matter
Most people think of directories as a listing resource, but few realize how big a role the Internet plays in client searches. Indeed, studies show that 96 percent of people searching for a lawyer use a search engine.
Not all of your potential clients are direct contacts—don’t forget about referrals. Internet research plays an important role in referrals, too. For example, how does an out-of-state attorney or in-house counsel find local counsel? More than three-quarters of in-house counsel use legal directories to locate and research referrals.
Effective use of online directory listings can be a critical avenue for reaching potential clients, but only if you can track how they’re serving you. That’s where law firm SEO efforts come in again. You can use your free Google Analytics account to track which directory listings are the sources of referral traffic to your firm’s website. With this feedback, you’ll know which directory listings are working for you and can drop the others.
How to Choose the Right Lawyer Directories for Your Listing
Choosing the right law firm directory is essential. As your marketing partner, the directory’s reputation precedes you. If your listing is in a lawyer directory that does not have a good reputation—among potential clients, referral sources, or search engines—the listing can do more harm than good.
Online directories may be free or charge a fee for listings. Some have leveled offerings, in which paid listings have more benefits. Directories also come in several varieties:
- General (non-specific) lawyer directories;
- Practice-area-specific lawyer directories; and
- Directories that cover a variety of professions.
The first step is identifying the type or types of directories you wish to be listed in, and that means discerning the credibility and value offered by each. Some directories have a reputation of being “spammy,” a characteristic you do not want your firm associated with. Following are some tools available to help you weed out less-than-desirables:
- Moz.com’s spam score;
- Marie Haynes’ blacklist;
- The directory’s domain authority, a score given by SEO professionals that’s associated with how well a website is predicted to rank in search results; and
- The general reputation of the directory in the legal and the wider community.
Evaluating these factors is helpful, but a true understanding of the potential value (or negative impact) of a particular directory is very nuanced. The algorithms used by Moz.com and factors employed by Marie Haynes may advise against using some directory sites that could actually be helpful, and SEO professionals often take a measured approach by testing listings, watching for impact to the listing firm’s SEO results, and making adjustments as needed.
Law Firm Directory Listing Strategies
After choosing one or more lawyer directories, you need a strategy for your listing or listings. As mentioned above, online law firm directories aren’t just alphabetized lists—they’re interactive partners in your law firm marketing plan. Many offer search and research filters or may only show a certain type of listings based on criteria like these:
- Law firm location;
- Practice area;
- Legal issue;
- Attorney or firm name; or
- Lawyer reviews.
Moreover, some attorney directories have a fee, and those that offer free listings may offer additional benefits for paid listings. Judicious use of this marketing tool may mean mixing it up a bit. You might try listing the firm’s attorneys in different directories with only some listed in those that are practice-area specific. Depending on your practice area, you may prefer to have a listing in a practice-area specific directory or one that allows clients to search by practice area or legal issue.
How to Create Effective Listings for Law Firm Directories
Preparing your attorney directory submission is an opportunity to take a close, objective look at your firm’s strengths and weaknesses and compare those to your firm’s goals. Also consider how the firm presents to potential clients and to what extent that jibes with what the firm does well.
After choosing one or more legal directories and completing your self-analysis, you’re ready to prepare a submission for your listing. Some directories require interviews or materials to be completed by references, and they may have strict deadlines for submissions or reference materials.
While you may highlight different practice areas in different directories, be sure your key information is accurate and consistent across all directory submissions:
- Firm name;
- Firm contact information (address, contact email, phone number(s)); and
- A list of reliable references (sometimes referred to as referees).
In the end, law firm directories can be the Robin to your Batman, openly promoting your firm to researching clients, enhancing your credibility, and, behind the scenes, boosting your online presence through the magic of SEO.
Indiana attorney Heather B. Kane is Production Chief at TOPDOG Legal Marketing, LLC, an attorney-led, data-driven legal marketing provider offering web design and online legal marketing services to law firms nationwide. In addition to her work for TOPDOG, Heather has worked in private practice, held local and appellate clerkships, and taught legal research and writing to first-year law students.