An Investment-Based Strategy for Family Law Firm Marketing in Charleston South Carolina

The Internet has provided a unique opportunity in the history of the business of law for a law firm to own and control all of its law firm marketing assets. No longer is your Charleston law firm compelled to follow the Yellow-Pages era requirement of renting ad space from third parties in order to get new law clients.

Instead, law firms can and should own and control all of their law firm marketing assets.  Those assets should include the law firm’s exclusive and unique brand, its branded business name, its branded domain, its branded website, its certified client testimonials, its branded high-quality blog posts, its branded online videos, its other optimized and branded marketing content (both real-world and online), its responsive communications to potential clients, its future goodwill, maximized future referrals to the firm and the email/contact list of all clients with whom the firm had a prior professional relationship – for intensive consistent future cross-selling.

The problem, at least in the family law vertical, has been that despite the brand-new opportunity to pursue a completely proprietary family law firm marketing strategy, lawyers instead have pursued two entirely perverse strategies, also provided by the Internet: (1) bidding for cases WITHOUT any commercial advantage; and (2) the wholesale outsourcing of a firm’s business acquisition system to me-too lead-gen companies and digital agencies (both SEO and PPC).

{service} {city}Lawyers should not participate in any bidding process for clients unless they have a distinct competitive advantage over their lawyer competitors.

If you don’t have a unique competitive advantage that your competitors cannot duplicate, any bidding process is inevitably overly-expensive, in terms of cost per case acquisition, too much of a winner-takes-all scenario (NOT the best lawyer takes all) and ultimately a process that is controlled by others.

What rational business person, let alone a lawyer, would engage in a business acquisition model where s/he does not know and cannot control the costs of doing business?

A better approach, as indicated in the Entrepreneur, would be:  “Create a trail of breadcrumbs. Many divorce lawyers spend as much as $100,000 each month on PPC keywords, with law-related terms being some of the most expensive and in-demand. They’d be better served by focusing on organically ranking for their target keywords, by building a portfolio of high-quality content and driving backlinks from relevant sources. For example, a mother who lives in Phoenix and is contemplating divorce might Google, ‘Arizona shared custody laws.’ The first result she sees would be one from a law firm, Gary Frank Law — upping the chances that that’s who she’ll reach out to for help. Gary Frank Law didn’t need to spend a dime on PPC for that new lead; he just needed to develop good, relevant content.”

N.B. I’m not sure that “many” divorce lawyers spend $100K a month on PPC and the phrase “as much as” renders the statement meaningless anyway, but the rest of the points in the Entrepreneur article are well made.

The lady in Phoenix is looking to make a connection. She doesn’t want to spin the Avvo roulette wheel. She is confused by an ocean of idential lawyers, all standing in the same line, promising the same unprovable features and providing no idea of benefits to be derived. She wants to find a lawyer whom she perceives as the single unique lawyer who understands her situation and can best assist. That’s what Gary just did with that article.

Likewise, lawyers should not allow any third-party lead-gen companies, like Avvo, GMB or Yelp, to own or control any of their precious money-making legal marketing assets, such as their Q & A, their client list, their goodwill and their future referral and cross-selling business – all assets the lawyer has earned, but which Avvo and others control..

More to the point, don’t pay Avvo to reach its business goal of signing up every lawyer in town, which assures your own diminishing and equalized returns and no referrals or follow-up business.

An investment-based family law model is one in which you own or control all of your unique marketing assets and in which all of your positioning inures ONLY to your benefit – for as long as you dictate.  Does that sound like Avvo?

This investment-based approach reduces the cost of doing business, inures all of your law firm marketing assets to your own benefit forever, increases your net profit per case and increases the Lifetime Value of each client through ethical up-selling and future cross-selling via your monthly email offers to past clients.

If your brand is strong and memorable enough, it also brings never-ending referrals.

Full Disclosure

The actions I will recommend to you below are self-centered, exclusive, focused, competitive, intelligent, innovative, creative, distinctive, business-like and unique.  You know …the type of actions your target family law clients are actually looking for in a lawyer.

{service} {city}In fact, you might wonder why your target clients would even consider hiring you to protect their economic interests if they see that you cannot or will not act creatively and dynamically in your own economic interests.  Why would anyone hire you if she finds you standing in line at Avvo looking a heck of a lot like all other Charleston divorce lawyers?

It’s almost like an investment-based law firm marketing approach is actually what your target clients are looking for.

Yes, I will recommend below that if you are interested in the family law vertical, you should sign up to become the exclusive 1-800-DIVORCE lawyer in Charleston.  1-800-DIVORCE is the epitome of the proprietary, competitive, impressive and exclusively branded approach to small law firm marketing that I am recommending.

More to the point, for once you will have positioning that is not immediately duplicated by your local competitors.  Once you clinch 1-800-DIVORCE as your exclusive, no competitor will be able to duplicate your branding or positioning – whether it’s your branded domain name, branded firm name, branded website and content (SEO titles and descriptions), videos, etc. 

Did I mention memorable and a never-ending source of referrals?

 “Become the brand that people think of before they even get to typing a query into Google. Whether it’s paid listings, competitors, vertical search or anything else that may get in the way of potential customers visiting your site, try to make sure they get to you first and then remember who you are so that they come straight back the next time.” – Kevin Gibbons (Managing Director at Blueglass)

However, 1-800-DIVORCE is by no means the only recommendation contained herein.  Read on.

Avoid Uncompetitive Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

The barrier to success in PPC is not your level of skill, knowledge, and experience or the quality of service you provide your family law clients, but rather the amount of money you are prepared to throw at the bidding process.  And because that statement is true for all participating Charleston family lawyers, who may well use desperation or windfall funds from extraneous sources, you don’t control the bidding process.

More precisely, your barrier to success is the amounts your competitors are prepared to throw at the bidding process.

You don’t know what you are bidding against. That means you don’t control the bidding.  Not smart.

The key is to have a reliable competitive advantage that stands you apart and which cannot be duplicated by any of your local competitors.

If others control the bidding process, they also control your firm’s profitability.

The bidding process will always include at least one more Charleston lawyer who is prepared to take another $100 less in net profit per case and will bid up the top positions for the higher converting keywords. In a winner-take-all situation (with approximately 55% of clicks going to the top 4 PPC positions on the top search page), unprofitability is the inevitable result of being involved in the bidding process long enough.

When the bidding hits some unknown level of unprofitability, it will collapse somewhat back towards real market levels of acquisition cost, but then the cycle of inflation always begins again. And you will never know where you are in the bidding cycle or how long that cycle will last.  This is why you will hear so many Charleston family lawyers saying things like, “Google Ads was great a few years ago.  I was getting cases all the time, but now it doesn’t work.  And I don’t know what happened”

Well, Google Ads still works and it works well for the chosen few – those who have gained an exclusive competitive advantage by branding and positioning.

All of the unknown factors above still exist, but your strong brand redresses the imbalance.  Your brand ALLOWS your target client to believe, through perceptions planted in your Google Ads and landing pages, that you are the unique creative, distinguished, experienced, cost-effective, savvy and competitive lawyer to look after your target clients’ future legal and economic issues. 

Stop Working for Avvo!!

There’s nothing wrong with having a free Avvo account – for the unlikely event in which a future client actually sees you there organically.

However, stop paying Avvo, stop referring lawyer colleagues to Avvo and stop pumping Avvo’s brand by and through your responses to consumer questions, which Avvo owns and uses to equalize your income, and by allowing Avvo to own your client email list.

This recommendation applies not only to Avvo but also to GMB, Yelp, Justia, FindLaw, Rocket Lawyer, Legal Zoom and all legal me-too lead-generator companies that make you appear to be just like every other lawyer in Charleston.

{service} {city}The lead-gen business model probably looked attractive when you signed up. It would enable you to concentrate on the practice of law, right?

The problem is that every other Charleston lawyer thought the same thing. So the lead-gen companies’ great success in Charleston – with relatively flat consumer-law demand – ensures your equalized and ever-diminishing returns.

Avvo and the rest of the lead-gen companies have a business model that is not consistent with what yours should be. Their intent is to saturate and oversell Charleston. Their success ensures your relative failure.  Why would you even do business with them, let alone hand over your entire Charleston family law marketing plan and budget to them?

If you pay them, you’ll get a few lower-profit cases and you may get a temporary blip from time to time. In fact, how many times has your Charleston colleague told you that she got a few cases from Avvo when she started but it doesn’t seem so good anymore?

That’s because when you sign up, the Avvo (or similar) algorithm tosses you a bone or two to make you think it’s a great system. Then those bones are removed just before the first round of high-pressure pay-to-play emails is received. 

Avvo renders you homogenous when your target clients are looking for memorable, creative, intelligent and unique. 

Later, Avvo will play your clients far better than you have time for.  After all, you work for Avvo.

And finally, where do you think that satisfied lower-profit client will go for that DUI, slip-and-fall, unlawful dismissal, car-wreck or other higher-profit matter later on – Avvo or you? They won’t even remember your name or where they put your card. 

Avvo is the brand you’ve impliedly recommended. They’re going directly back to the primary memorable brand – and that’s not you!

Again, long-term, this is a devolving process that you cannot win. This is a source of business that the lead-gen companies control, and your success will always be secondary to theirs.

Stop working for Avvo.

Does Your Digital Agency (SEO and/or PPC) Have a Conflict in Charleston?

As lawyers, we are trained to see conflicts of interest anywhere and everywhere they exist on behalf of our clients. That recognition apparently does not extend to blatant conflicts of interest that exist for the sole benefit of SEO and/or PPC digital agencies that we hire to promote our practices and bottom lines.

Is your law firm paying an SEO, PPC or other digital agency that is padding its bottom line at the cost of yours? If your third-party legal marketing agency has any other law firm clients in Charleston, you are paying someone who is trying to get your competitors’ websites and ads ranked higher than yours.

{service} {city}Luke Ciciliano again: “Suppose Company ‘X’ manages a PPC [or SEO] campaign for a family law attorney in ‘Some City.’ As part of the manager’s job, he or she will collect data on how the family law attorney’s campaign is doing. The manager will learn, for example, which phrases are popular in search and which ones aren’t. Now suppose that the same marketer signs up a second family law attorney who is also in Some City. That marketer already knows which phrases are popular and which ones aren’t so they can do one of two things. First, they could choose to leverage the data they have to help the second client, which will drive up costs for the first client now that the two attorneys are bidding against each other for the same keywords. Second, they could choose to not bid on the popular keywords for the latter attorney, to avoid running up costs for the first, and leave the second firm with a less effective campaign. Either way, one or both of the two firms are being done a disservice.  This is why I would say that if you are going to use a pay-per-click manager (again, I don’t think you should use pay-per-click at all) then you should ask them if they are going to work with any other attorneys in your area.” – SEO For Lawyers

Have you asked your SEO/PPC agency whether you are their ONLY family lawyer in Charleston? Would you trust them to answer accurately?  Is their current client list available for your inspection? Would you believe them when they tell you that they do their best for each law firm client? Should you believe that they keep the marketing gains of each law firm client compartmentalized so that no other local firm benefits from improvements made in your account? It’s easy to determine the answer to all of these questions.  It’s, “no.”

Stop paying any SEO, PPC, lead-gen or other marketing agency that is also paid by any of your competitors.

Stop Confusing Your Target Clients in Charleston

“The … lesson is that firms should not waste time and resources trying to promote all their practice areas. They should determine what they are really known for (their brand) and focus their marketing efforts narrowly on one or two practice areas.” Lawyerist

No one looks at more family law websites on a monthly basis than we at 1-800-DIVORCE. We see many problems. Perhaps the most common is that a majority of lawyer websites that offer family law services do so only as one of many offerings on a “jack-of-all-trades” website. “Hey, we do a little bit of everything, you know?”

Now, as lawyers, we well understand the traditional value of what we refer to euphemistically as a “full-service” law firm, but what we think about our own brand is immaterial.

The only perspective that counts is what our targeted family law clients think and do as a consequence of seeing a confusing and diversionary menu of services at a time when they are emotional and looking for one solution in one niche only.

If you are subjecting your targeted family law clients to information about personal injury, DWI, bankruptcy, criminal defense, estate planning and social security law, how can you be surprised or disappointed that your website produces few family law clients?

The modern consumer perceives specialization as cost-effective, experienced, wise, creative and skilled.  She seeks not only an intelligent and unique approach from you but also specialization.

If you don’t want or don’t care to handle family law, take it off your website! You’re confusing your bankruptcy, criminal and estate planning clients too.  You will tend not to be very experienced or skilled at family law, and your potential clients know that.

This harms whatever you perceive your brand to be.

Investment-Based Law Firm Marketing in Places like Charleston

By design, this article has dealt with investment-based law firm marketing in the digital world.  However, 1-800-DIVORCE works equally well in either the online world or in traditional real-world advertising.

So as we’ve almost reached the blatant sales pitch portion of this article, here’s an example of how 1-800-DIVORCE works well in proprietary real-world campaigns.

Granted that offline there are fewer investment-based opportunities and more opportunities, which still work well in the real world, due to less competition, to rent ad space from third parties: billboards, radio, public transport/taxi/bus or bench ads, mobile ads, public bathroom ads, blimp ads, etc.

{service} in {city}However, investment-based opportunities do exist in the real world, and they tend to be CHEAP. This one may be the best 1-800-DIVORCE play ever – digital or otherwise. In a town of 180,000, this simple office awning on a busy street (10,000 vehicles a day) produces a steady 10-12 uncontested cases per month and has done since 1997.

Most of those cases don’t even call 1-800-DIVORCE. They are walk-ins. This is now referred to as “The 1-800- DIVORCE Building” on local TV, radio, and social media. You can’t buy owned branding like that.

In this particular application, the lawyer has elected to have a public-access office.  Not all do. 1-800-DIVORCE lends itself well to the concept of virtual law practice – if that fits your own practice model.

However, if you are going to have a public-access office and practice any kind of consumer law, don’t have your office in a big building downtown. People looking for consumer law services are not riding elevators in tall buildings. They are out driving or on public transport.

But you do have to think in advance about how to do something like this in your town.  Location and traffic exposure are all important. Think of this application as a free billboard attached to your office. The possibilities are endless but highly location-specific.

This type of 1-800-DIVORCE branding is worth moving your office for.

How to Pursue an Investment-Based Family Law Marketing Strategy in Charleston

{service} {city}Duuuh! Clinch the best family law brand in the world by signing up to become the exclusive 1-800-DIVORCE lawyer in Charleston. 

All areas are strictly subject to prior sale. The average duration of all current 1-800-DIVORCE contracts is 8 years and 5 months. Lawyers don’t give up 1-800-DIVORCE.  It works.

So, the Charleston waiting list is not the place to be for 1-800-DIVORCE

Then incorporate a separate professional corporation entitled something like, “1-800-DIVORCE of Charleston, PLLC. This is important because it enables you to use “1-800-DIVORCE” in the titles and descriptions of your web pages and posts, in any PPC or SEO ads and in your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) entries across the Internet.

Phone numbers are not allowed in ad titles, but 1-800-DIVORCE is NOT counted as a phone number. Your name is 1-800-DIVORCE of Charleston. Your address is whatever it is, and your phone is your LOCAL phone number.

Then contact your favorite web developer and have them create your family law website at  That will unclutter your firm’s general practice site and impress your target clients with your creativity and specialization.

Then pursue an investment-based law firm marketing strategy in Charleston as outlined above. If there are any questions, please consult with me at 1-800-PETEROH.

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