Months or even years ago, you may have signed up for FindLaw, Scorpion or Martindale-Nolo. These big box legal marketing services, which have thousands of small law firms as customers, provided you with a website, content, business listings in legal directories, search engine optimization, social media, reputation management and much more.
However, after being with one of these providers, you’re now hoping to make a switch. You’re not satisfied with the results you’re seeing. Your leads aren’t coming in fast enough – if at all – and you’re sick of spending so much money every single month.
Before you leave, you want to make sure that you’re set up for success whether you do your marketing in house or choose to go with a better legal marketing provider. Even though you’ve reviewed your contract, you still aren’t sure exactly what else you need to do prior to officially ending it. After all, you aren’t a marketing or web development expert, so you could use some help.
Don’t fret. When you’re ready to say goodbye once and for all to FindLaw, Scorpion, Martindale-Nolo or some other legal marketing service, make sure you take these five steps.
1. Determine what programming language your website is written in, and get those files
When one of these services created your law firm website, they used a programming language to do so. Unfortunately, for FindLaw, they use their own website language, so any files they give you are going to be useless, other than images and written content. Scorpion language files are mostly useless as well, unless you have a high level of expertise when it comes to web development. You need to buy a “Plesk” with MYSQL installed on a server, and then have knowledge as to how to map and set everything up . You can buy these host servers from companies like GoDaddy, but it’s not just a setup in 10 minutes and move on with your day scenario. Even if you get the site up and running, it’s very hard to update it with a blog or change images without a program that operates as a CMS (Content Management System).
Thankfully, you can take Martindale-Nolo files and host them on a WordPress server. WordPress is the largest content management system in the world, so if you choose to switch to it, it is easier to get your provided files to work. If if you need to hire a developer, this will also be easier due to its popularity. This is still not necessarily a DYI proposition, but it can be done. Hiring a freelance web developer is probably a good idea.
Ask your big box legal marketing firm what language the files are in and where you can host them. Then, gather all the files beforehand and consult with a web developer to see what you can do with them and where they can be hosted. If you’re lucky, they will be salvageable. You will also want o check your contract to make sure you have full rights to use the provided files.
2. Make sure you have all of your passwords, including the keys to your URL
Every attorney should have access to and own their URL. When reviewing your contract with one of these services, make sure you can get ahold of your domain. You need to know where your domain (DNS) is hosted, as well as the password to get into it. If you pay someone to build a site for you and it’s ready to go live, you need to be able to access the DNS login. You can try using an online tool like Builtwith.com or do a “Whois” lookup to find where your domain is hosted. Chances are this isn’t something you log in to often, but your current web provider would have had to have access at some point. So if you are hunting for your credentials, make sure to check your email send box or get ahold of your current provider. As a side note, creating an entirely new domain is going to hurt your search engine rankings in most cases, and without professional SEO help, is generally a no-no.
3. Get access to your citations
Citations are the same things as business listings. Your big box legal marketing provider likely made sure you were cited on Google My Business, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, Super Lawyers, the BBB, etc. There are hundreds of places where they could have listed you. Often, you need to create logins for these citation websites in order to list your business, which the provider would have done for you.
While FindLaw doesn’t give you login credentials for outside their directories, Scorpion will give you a spreadsheet of user names and passwords if you ask. Martindale-Nolo may offer you a limited list of citations too. The problem is that once you sign up for citations, over time, other websites will copy these citations. Even if the citations are wrong – say, your law firm address is incorrect – it will be listed incorrectly on these hundreds of sites. Once you leave one of these providers, you need to have a way to correct these citations. Working with a more experienced provider who will be able to change these citations is critical.
4. Maintain the URL structure of your website at all costs
While Martindale-Nolo and Scorpion create simple URL structures that can be hosted on any server, FindLaw uses URLs that end in .SHTML, especially if you have been a client for a while. You’ll need to have a web developer migrate those FindLaw URLs properly to say the URLs stay intact or are properly redirected via a 301. While this isn’t overly complicated, it is tedious and very important! Otherwise, you can lose valuable search rankings you have been paying for all these years.
This is very important because FindLaw may have created hundreds of pages (and URLs) for you over time. If you have a larger site package, you may have 80 to 100 blog pages and another 200 pages of static content for your site. If you’re unable to properly move these URLs, you’re going to seriously damage your search engine ranking. If someone finds these links and clicks on them, it looks like you are out of business. It’s also going to cost you a lot in SEO services to recoup your potential losses. Prior to switching, make sure you have someone in place who can help you handle these tricky URLs.
The other item to watch out for are hidden pages on your site. They should be pages contained in your site files, but you or your developer may not know they exist right off the bat. FindLaw charges extra per month to have pages in a top menu, and so many pages can be beneath the surface of what you see everyday. Dig through all of your websites pages carefully, follow all the links and make sure you are aware of your websites full structure.
5. Choose a new provider
When leaving Martindale-Nolo, Scorpion or FindLaw, you may have a bitter taste in your mouth towards marketing providers. However, just because you had one negative experience doesn’t mean you can’t have an incredible experience with a new provider. Of course, we are biased towards recommending US, but whomever you decide to work with, approach your new relationship with a fresh start.
To begin your search, find somebody at a law marketing agency that you personally connect with, and a company whose philosophy you believe in. It’s important to find someone with the experience, technology, and tools to support you, as well as someone who has an individualistic and holistic approach to law firm marketing. Talking to the sales people to determine that they know what they’re talking about is key; you’ll need these people to have the technical knowledge to back up their claims. We also recommend talking to a high level SEO strategist or account manager. Make sure they have experience dealing with a site from your former provider, as they will know the in’s and outs of dealing with their files best.
Law firms often don’t have the technical marketing expertise to know if they are getting into a fruitful relationship with a new provider. Marketing agencies without the proper experience and skills may try to prey on you because they believe you have endless money to spend. Before going into a meeting and signing a new contract, make sure you’re equipped to ask the right questions.
What to Ask Your New Legal Marketing Services Provider
First, when you meet with your possible new legal marketing services provider, ask about the things covered above, such as URL structure, programming languages and hosting servers. See how easily they can get you off of your big box providers’ platforms and what experience they have doing that for other law firms.
In terms of other services, look over what they provide and how they go about it. For example, if they supply content writing services, are they also doing keyword research? Are their writers experienced in the legal niche? Do their writers have a J.D. to help ensure writing is legally accurate? Are they creating editorial calendars and writing blog posts that will be sure to resonate with your audience and draw in leads? For social media, are they going to post for you on a regular basis and use best practices like hash tagging and retweeting influencers? If you do any email marketing, are they going to send out emails weekly or monthly and attempt to grow your list? With PPC ads do they use a bud management platform? If so, which one? What kind of conversion tracking do they offer?
You can get into the technical parts of marketing and do your own research through sites like HubSpot and Moz so you know exactly what questions to ask. Some fishy marketing agencies prey on ignorant clients and don’t follow best practices or do anything that will be effective, so you want to be prepared with the right information.
Inquire about their marketing philosophy, how they typically work with clients, who their clients are, and their employees’ expertise. If you want a provider who is going to be more hands-on, ask how big their team is and how often you can expect them to be in touch.
Request case studies and testimonials from other law firms to ensure that this provider has been successful in the past. If you are friendly with other law firms, ask them which provider they used and whether or not they are satisfied with the services.
And of course, inquire about price. You may want to spend less on marketing or at least pay a similar price for services you’re actually going to receive this time around. If you’re hesitant to get into a long contract, ask if you can do a trial run for a bit and then request results from the campaigns they ran for you and services they offered. Remember that oftentimes, you won’t see an uptick in website traffic, more followers on social media or other results for months at a time, so if it’s not going as fast you’d like, you need to be patient.
Switching over from FindLaw, Martindale-Nolo and Scorpion can be a bit complicated, but rest assured, it can be done. If you do it right, it’s potentially going to save you time and money, and have the potential to lead you to bigger and better things in the long run. It all starts with evaluating your contract and determining what the next best step is for your law firm.
We offer a free evaluation to folks looking to leave other marketing agencies. We are always happy to help someone navigate the waters of moving, even if it doesn’t lead to doing business with us. Don’t hesitate to contact us for help.