Like it or loathe it, the internet has changed the way information flows around the planet. Increasingly, the world wide web is the first port of call when looking for information of almost any sort, and used effectively it can be a useful medium to enable you to make contact with potential clients.
Hundreds of firms have well designed, professionally built websites, but these are often difficult to find on the web. Without being easy to find, a firm's site can be about as effective as a box of expensive glossy brochures tucked away in the bottom of a cupboard and forgotten.
A key way to make your site easy to find is to ensure that major search engines, such as Yahoo!, Google or MSN, work for you by ranking your site highly. There is so much information on the web that it can be very difficult for a user to find what they are looking for, and without some help from you, they will almost certainly fail to find your firm's site with a search engine.
Many firms' sites are ranked poorly by major search engines. It is staggeringly difficult to find more than a very few firms by searches with key words. For example, the search words “insolvency lawyer” yield only five UK law firms out of 20 using Yahoo!, three using Alta Vista and only one using Google, even when looking at UK sites only. Many searches yield no law firms at all – anybody looking for a lawyer specialising in franchising or investment funds would be hard pushed to find many with a search engine.
It is important to be ranked in the top 20 where the search words used describe a service offered by your firm. Let's face it, if you are not on the first or second page of search results, as far as the user is concerned, you are not there at all.
If you can get your firm visible to the user in those first few clicks, you are already ahead of the competition. The only other way a user can find your site is if they know you already or use an online directory to link to you (and probably also to your competitors).
After running and rerunning hundreds of different searches, using a cross-section of the major search engines over the period of a week, I found the most visible firms by percentage of top-20 hits from searches for solicitors in a particular area of practice (see box).
Overall, there is enormous room for improvement, as even the most visible sites were pulled up in only around one-in-five relevant searches. Nicholson Graham & Jones had the highest success rate of getting into the top 20 on searches relating to its areas of practice. Head of marketing Jon Shilling says: “One of the reasons our site is successful is that it has been kept very simple. We've deliberately avoided too much technical wizardry and tried to keep the site clean, clear and easy to navigate so as to attract users. We're aiming to attract more users online and are currently testing our new site, which has the same design philosophy as our current site and is designed with search engines very much in mind.”
There are basic steps to achieving consistently high rankings. Define your focus – what type of business are you keen to attract? What are your practice areas? Are you aiming at a particular region? Find the search words – decide the search words that would most likely be used to find a firm with your practice focus, for example “shipping” and “lawyer”, and try to put yourself in the shoes of potential users and test your search words. Evaluate the search engines – ensure that the ranking criteria of each search engine are evaluated. They are usually looking for relevance to particular search words when deciding how to rank sites. They look at the content and descriptors (such as title) of the home page and perhaps the first few pages. Many search engines also take into account links from other sites concerned with the same subject matter as a measure of relevance. Have your site optimised to meet the criteria to be highly ranked in your chosen searches, and ensure that your site is submitted to each of the major search engines every few months for listing.
What every firm should remember is that getting your firm seen on the web is a great opportunity to generate contact with potential clients for relatively little time and expense.
Ian Mitchell is managing director at Blue Book Consultants
|The top 30|
|Rank||Firm||Successful hits (%)|
|1||Nicholson Graham & Jones||23.7|
|3||Denton Wilde Sapte||22.1|
|9||Pinsent Curtis Biddle||18.7|
|10||Ashurst Morris Crisp||17.9|
|16||Bird & Bird||13.1|
|17||The Law Offices of Marcus J O'Leary||13.1|
|19||Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer||12.4|
|20||Barlow Lyde & Gilbert||12.2|
|23||Ince & Co||10.9|
|25||Field Fisher Waterhouse||10|
|27||Andrew M Jackson & Co||9.8|