Doing anything that moves the needle is hard. All the "I resolve to do this and that (eat more kale / break a sweat / cook more / drink less)" business requires so much diligence and determination that, by now, most resolutions are on the cutting room floor. I used to have a cartoon on the magnetic face of an old file cabinet, "At least I am protected by the goodness of my intentions." You know what? No, I'm not - and you aren't, either. Good intentions do not move any needles.
According to the analytics we track, your website biographies are by far the most visited pages - averaging 40-70% of total visits. What kind of an impression does your bio make on these visitors who are taking their valuable time to check you out? Most biographies for lawyers and CPAs are stale, not engaging or dynamic, and don't tell a compelling and relevant story about what these people have done. In the latest (2013) "AmLaw 100 Websites: Ten Foundational Best Practices" research study conducted and sponsored by Content Pilot, the AmLaw 100 firms scored 75 (or a mid-range Good) on a 100-point scale on the 4th Foundational Best Practice, "Lawyer Biographies." In the prior study (2010), they scored 66 or Fair. A good improvement, but every firm should score 100.
The attributes on which these firms - and on which you should measure your basic bio effectiveness - are:
- First 150 characters of the bio are current, compelling, and relevant for SEO benefit. Count all letters, punctuation and spaces and ensure that your most important keywords about your practice are appearing first. Avoid starting your bio like this: John Smith is a partner and chair of the labor and employment practice at ABCXYZ law firm. This is likely what will appear in the Google and other search engine results when searching by that lawyer’s name. These details are not important – don’t waste this valuable real estate on your titles (your titles will appear elsewhere in your bio). Rather, tell what you do for clients and who they are. The AmLaw firms’ average score was 77 out of 100 on this attribute.
- Overview paragraph – first two to three sentences are descriptive of the work the lawyer does and the types of clients the lawyer represents. After the 150 characters, focus on enriching your bio with additional keywords, such as types of clients, industries, and subject matter strengths. If you are a noted expert in SEC enforcement matters, Family Medical Leave Act claims, or SBICs and BDCs, this is where it should live. The AmLaw average score was 84.
- Bio does not use Mr. or Ms. Lastname throughout – it uses the lawyer’s first or nickname. What is more unfriendly than forcing a visitor to call you Mr. Schwartz or Ms. Davison? The AmLaw average score was 35. East coast, white-shoe firms are the biggest culprits in protecting this tradition.
- Photos are current and convey personality. It is critically important that your photos look like your lawyers today, not 20 years ago. The AmLaw average was 87.
- Full contact information for the lawyer is easy to find and links to a v-card. Make it easy for people to contact you. But – avoid the large, blinking buttons that scream “CALL ME!” Personal injury law firms often think these are a good idea – but they aren’t. The AmLaw firms do much better here than accounting firms – the AmLaw average was 100.
- Bio includes links to the lawyer’s social media profiles and pages. This creates relationship “stickiness”. Understand your state bar rules about social media, but having the links on your bio page so visitors can easily connect with you is smart. The AmLaw average was 32. These firms are not taking advantage of the relationship leverage and syndication strength offered by social media.
- Bios list and crosslink to practices/industries, articles/ news/ events. These encourage visitors to easily dig deeper into your qualifications. The AmLaw average was 84.
- Bios include detailed experience and matter lists. The reason that bio views are so high in all the analytics is because buyers of legal services want to know what you have done, for whom, and what you can do for them. You must answer these questions before you can advance to the shortlist and ultimately get hired. Period. Use client names if you have permission to do so, and be as specific as your state bar rules allow. The AmLaw average was 74.
- Associates have full biographies. It was a many-year trend for New York and certain other East coast firms to list associates’ names, but not include a bio for them. In client interviews, buyers complained about paying $600 per hour for a senior associate that they could not even find on the firm website! This has changed, and most firms now include them, with the AmLaw average being 88.
OK - these are the basics. Let's take it further. Last year - for a panel presentation at the 2015 Legal Marketing Association conference in San Diego - I created a concept called the "3 Dimensional Bio" or "3-D Bio." I swear that this is the answer (at least one of the answers, the start) to you being more successful in your business development in 2016. Don't hesitate and don't delay.
Given that the majority of your visitors are going to these bio pages, a firm’s goal should be to keep visitors on your professionals' bios longer – and convert visitors to viewing more of them each visit. This is where the cash lives in your firm. Study Google Analytics or whatever tracking program you use and see how many different bios any one visitor opens, and check the average length of time a visitor spends on your bios. Then, focus on improving this number and duration.
In today’s landscape where competition among professionals is stiff, lawyers and CPAs must provide more insight into why they should be hired. Why are they the expert? What makes them the perfect fit for a client’s problem? You must prove you are the right fit, and there are three ways to do this. Create "3-D Bios" and focus on the following:
- Demonstrate expertise
- Prove relevancy
- Show humanity
All three “dimensions” must be present for your biography to work hard for you.
Dimension 1: Demonstrate expertise:
- Show specific experience: Remember the three questions: What have you done? For whom have you done it? What can you do for me?
- Include client case studies or stories that prove what you know and your approach to getting things done. This often gets into how you did what you did, not just what you did.
- Depending on the nature of your practice (for example, if you represent a lot of start-ups or technology companies), include client logos, with their permission, of course.
Dimension 2: Prove relevancy:
- Important keywords that are relevant to your practice should appear in the top 150 characters (characters, not words) of the bio overview. When someone is Googling, or otherwise searching for your name, it is important that the 140–150 characters that show up in the search engine description are those most relevant to your practice– and the expertise that people are buying from you – today. Consider the disconnect for your future buyer if you are supposed to be the expert in global trademark protection and your Google search description does not even mention it.
- Feed current blog and Twitter posts into your bios. Social media that proves you are current and on top of the subject matter in your practice gives the people evaluating you comfort and confidence in your intellect and grasp of today’s issues.
- Feature a book the lawyer has written—or something else notable, such as white papers, an important speech, a short video about a trending topic.
- Design an infographic, which highlights trends in the lawyer’s practice or industry. For example, number of patents in the energy industry over a ten-year period of time, or a US map showing the number of states in which the lawyer has handled litigation.
Dimension 3: Show humanity (to get hired, look for ways to short-cut the pathway to trust):
- Shoot new lawyer photos – “magazine-style” (large format) photos that show personality and approachability. Some lawyers do not like getting their photos taken, so they use the same tired photo decade after decade. In today’s world of selfies, where current photos are pervasive, it is critical that the firm website posts current photos that actually look like the lawyers who work there.
- Include a short video that tells a memorable story about a case and how you handled it. Of course, do not name a client name unless it is public record and you have your client’s permission, but do discuss unique issues or circumstances. For example, did the case come in at 8pm on a Sunday night and the court filing was due Monday morning at 10?
- Include an “after hours” tab or feature – content that describes the lawyer’s passions outside the office. This can include community board service, volunteer work, travel, sports and events, books you are reading, the fact that you are training for a triathlon, or your family and pets. Show how interesting you are!
- Prove accessibility – include your assistant’s name/info, your team’s contact names/info (if you aren’t reachable, it ensures that your client has access to team members without you being a bottleneck), and instant messaging contact information. Law firm and CPA firm technology staff will sometimes prohibit instant messaging, but certain types of clients rely on it – and they want their lawyers to use it.
If you want to move the needle early this year, change your bio by January 31. You still have 20 days. . . I am counting.