Internet search and advertising - Are you protecting your firm's digital identity? Part Two

All firms expend significant resources to protect their brand. Business names and trademarks are registered, style guides, colour palettes and graphics are designed, while being the right ‘fit’ is essential for any staff hire. Non-compete and non-solicitation provisions are negotiated and ruthlessly enforced.

While each are undeniably important, have you ever Googled your firm? What about a specific office or lawyer? What have former employees said about your firm on Glassdoor? Blogs and social media pages devoted to exposing the juiciest parts of firm life flourish (then disappear). Any internet search will almost certainly reveal that there are less-than-flattering comments and reviews about your firm within the first few results available for everyone to read.

This is the second article in a three part series focusing on issues relevant to lawyers in the context of digital brand protection. You can read our first part on special issues with  lawyer domain names here. You can read our third part about social media use by lawyers here.

Internet search and advertising

Advertising by lawyers has had a chequered past. Many lawyers have strongly-held views that advertising ‘cheapens the brand’. While I appreciate the reasoning, search advertising is fundamentally different from more traditional forms of attorney advertising. And it is much more effective than being ranked in a legal directory.

With many states having abolished attorney advertising restrictions, and the remaining states slowly adopting a more liberalised view, your firm’s advertising policy needs to be revisited. In particular, your firm should be actively considering Google Adwords and Bing Ads to advertise your firm. Some are already doing it.

To demonstrate, ‘sponsored link’ results in your search are displayed because of the search terms you used in your search. Advertisers bid for particular search terms which, when searched, will display their advertisement. A search (in Australia) for the phrase “Allens lawyers” while using Google Chrome as your browser returns a sponsored advertisement for Allens.

Note the 4-star review, which we discussed generally at the beginning of the article. If you were marketing yourself as one of Australia’s leading firms, would you be happy with a 4-star review being displayed to anyone who searched your firm?

In researching this article, we found a number of reviews for other firms which involved allegations of professional negligence. Would you want that being the first thing your clients see?

There are numerous possible search terms lawyers could consider using. Firm name, practice group, area of law or even individual lawyers and matters are all candidates.

If you’re still not sold, there’s one final reason to consider search engine advertising – to stop your competitors purchasing those advertising search terms and directing traffic to their own website. What if an advertisement for a different leading Australian firm, say, King & Wood Mallesons or Herbert Smith Freehills, was displayed when you happened to be searching for Allens? Or a different scenario – what if a particular lawyer at Firm A was searched and the advertisement displayed was one for Firm B?

Competitors are already doing this in other industries. And if you’re thinking such conduct infringes your firm’s intellectual property rights you’re in for a shock. That’s not true in all cases. Veda Advantage Limited v Malouf Group Enterprises Pty Ltd [2016] FCA 255 is a fascinating read. Proactively advertising against a few key search terms will serve you well for protecting your firm’s digital identity.

What can you do?

As a minimum, firms need to actively monitor and regularly consider and revisit these issues. We’ve set out a list below of some of the top questions to ask internally.

  1. What are the results when you search your firm’s name? Do any advertisements display?
  2. Would you consider advertising any of the firm name, practice group, area of law, individual lawyers and matters? If you currently advertise, how much do you spend to acquire a client?
  3. How much do you currently spend (both in consultancy fees and internal time cost) on preparing submissions to legal directories? Could any of that budget be better spent on online advertising?
  4. Are any of your competitors currently advertising? Which search terms have they purchased?

At the very least, we think a compelling business case can be made for pursuing each of these as part of a preventative strategy, saving the cost and expense of a reactive, heavy-handed “old-law” solution.

Want to know more?

There are myriad of ‘how to’ books for search engine advertising. For lawyers seeking to understand how search engine advertising could be used in your firm, we recommend:

Our services

The Digital Lawyer is able to assist lawyers, firms and consultants with anything discussed in this article. If you’d like to get in contact with us, please use our Contact Us form.

Our client service is just like yours. Responsive.