When Law Firm Marketing
Confronts Artificial Intelligence
(What Works, What Doesn’t)
In the haunting motion picture Ex Machina, there is an artificial intelligence program residing in a beautiful humanoid form. Called Ava, she is much more than a robot. Ava responds to commands and questions, and also takes part in complex conversations. The more you say and do, the more Ava learns.
Like Ava, an artificial intelligence is now answering questions on Google. The search engine used to be a robot, and law firms with websites could expect visits from the search “bot.” Not any more.
The learning program that is running Google is called RankBrain. AI is no longer science fiction — it is real and operating on the web. Because RankBrain is a machine that keeps getting smarter, it cannot be fooled or “gamed” into producing artificially good results.
Law firm digital marketing that is aimed at getting found online has transformed forever.
Old digital marketing is kaput
Here’s what has stopped working:
1. Link building and other link schemes. This has led to severe penalties against sites suspected of buying and selling links.
2. Keyword stuffing. Cramming articles full of search terms, using white-on-white text, duplicate content and sneaky redirects are surefire ways to get in trouble with Google.
3. URL scamming. Putting search terms in a domain name is a cheap trick.
4. Thin content. Google cracked down on content farms, sites that scraped and published duplicate content.
These are the shady tactics employed by search engine optimization (SEO) vendors. The web is full of articles by SEOs whining that their tactics that don’t work anymore. Onsite optimization of a web page is “one and done.” Off-site optimization is snake oil.
“The acronym, ‘SEO,’ when sold as a way to manipulate Google and other search engines is an ineffective scam,” says lawyer Dan Jaffe, CEO of LawLytics.
SEO reverse-engineers the search algorithm by building a suite of sites to drive traffic to the main website. It accomplishes this by embedding keywords throughout pages, having in-links from other ‘credible’ sites, creating shadow sites, including mobile and social, and submitting pages to search engine crawlers.
“Hiring somebody to do SEO can be an expensive, or even fatal, lesson when an attorney doesn’t understand the fundamentals,” Jaffe says. “Unfortunately, it’s still a very predatory industry in which there are bad actors at every level.”
Close behind SEO grifters are the vendors that create pay-per-click (PCC) advertising campaigns. This type of marketing is disposable, and ceases to work the moment a website owner stops spending money on PPC. Unscrupulous PPC vendors will often bid on the same advertising keywords sought by two competing law firms.
According to WebpageFX, an online marketing firm, and SemRush, an online research firm, search terms tied to legal issues comprise nine of the top ten and 23 out of the top 25 most expensive Google keyword search terms. In fact, 78 of the top 100 Google keyword search terms were legal terms.
“Some PPC management companies are middlemen who regularly engage in obvious conflicts of interest by not limiting their clientele to one law firm in each competitive space,” Jaffe says. “If they are bidding for the same phrases for both you and your competitor, they are driving up the prices for both, and profiting from the higher ad spend by both law firms.”
What works now
Knowing that an attorney website must satisfy an artificial intelligence, smart law firms will take a sophisticated approach:
1. Mobile friendly. Having a “responsive” website that displays perfectly on a cell phone, tablet or portable device is essential. Google highlights mobile-friendly sites in mobile searches.
2. Timely material. Google favors fresh material that is newly-published, giving a boost to law firms that report current events.
3. Localized information. Most people are searching for a business in their vicinity, and Google presents its findings accordingly.
4. In-depth articles. Publishing long-form, practical content that is useful to website visitors will put a business higher up in search engine results.
“Content is the way to attract people,” Jaffe says. “It creates online through thought leadership, and empowers an attorney to become an influencer online. This frees law firms from dependence on a never-ending cycle of paying for disposable advertising in an increasingly crowded marketplace that is increasingly ad-blind.”
“The more often you contribute high-quality content that adds to the collective intelligence, as opposed to just posting for sheer volume, the more likely your business is experience success with the human users of Google,” he added. “You’ll create an expectation of rewards with your human readers and with the search engines, and the reward is reading what you write next.”
When law firms pursue digital marketing, they will confront artificial intelligence, like Ava in the movie Ex Machina. To reach clients who search online, these firms will profit by publishing material that appeals to a thinking system. After all, the ultimate consumers of law firm websites are evolved creatures we call human beings.