For the last few years I have been unhappy with the lackluster results of my phone book advertising; it just wasn’t bringing in the kind of business my other marketing efforts were.  This was also with me being in both major books, Verizon and the Yellow Book.  At the same time, I had been reading and hearing about how much more successful Internet and Web marketing schemes have become, and as a result I have, in the last year, ramped up my web presence significantly, while cutting back on my phone book ads.

The first sign that there was “trouble in paradise” (i.e. that the phone book was not the “gotta have” advertising for lawyers) was when Verizon sold the rights to its phone book to Idearc Media (you don’t sell the cash cow while it is still giving milk).  I also realized that I myself was not using either book.  If I was looking for a product or service, I would Google it; if I was trying to nail down an address for someone (or some business) I already knew about, I would use yellowbook.com, switchboard.com, or superpages.com.  But then, when I market, I am not looking for the person that already knows me; they will find me no matter what.

The next sign was Idearc Media filing chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 31, 2009, in the Northern District of Texas (Case # 09-31828-BJH-11, for those of you interested).  Now as a bankruptcy attorney I know the difference between a chapter 11 reorganization and a chapter 7 liquidation, so I am not sounding a death knell here.  Many businesses have successfully emerged from chapter 11.  However, this does come under the category of “this can’t be good.”  From what I have read, this situation was brought about by a huge amount of debt inherited from Verizon and not a cash flow crunch (although one blogger linked the filing to “tanking sales”), so the company may well regain its health once it restructures.  On the other hand, as one blogger put it, perception is everything:

“In this headline driven world, everyone is going to hear only that the yellow pages is bankrupt. And everyone will think they ran out of money because no one is using it anymore. Then people will think they now NEED to use the internet to get information when making a local purchase decision. Then the yellow pages will be bankrupt for real.”

Even if this is a temporary setback for the company, the stigma of the filing, in this fast-paced tech world, may well make it more difficult for it to get back on its feet.

It is still my belief that people are going more and more towards Google and other web search engines to find businesses, rather than using the phone book, and that even if Idearc survives, it is only a matter of time.  This should spur all of us on to a better presence on the web through vibrant web sites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter streams, if we haven’t done so already.  We need to be ahead of the tech curve on our marketing if we are going to succeed.

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I have been negotiating with a vendor that hosts legal web sites to see if I can kick mine up a notch and get it to generate more revenue. One of the things that came up in discussions was Google’s page ranking system. Getting onto that first page of search results is the Holy Grail of Internet marketing for any business, and a good page rank is an important part of search engine optimization (SEO) for your site.

One of the biggest keys to this is inbound links. Google considers every link to your site to be a vote for its relevance and importance. The more authoritative the site that links to you, the more weight is given to that vote. Thus a link from the American Bar Association would probably be given more weight than one from a client’s site. This system is well explained in a blog post here.

Having been enlightened to this, I have been proactive recently in getting more links to my site (as you can see). I made sure I had one from my law school and undergraduate alma mater, as well as other professional organizations. The ABA, as well as your county and state bar associations should be on your list, along with any other legal professional associations. Please also bear in mind that this process takes time, especially if you have launched your site in the past six months or so. The Google bot periodically checks sites on the web to update its database. Check here for the last time it visited yours. If you want Google, Yahoo, and others to check out recent changes quicker, you can request it here. Keep checking your Google page rank here to see how you are doing. There are many different tools that you can use to look at how your site is performing, many of them available at mypagerank.net.

More and more, people are using the Internet, and search engines, to find lawyers. How many times have you used the Net to find contact information rather than the phone book? Sites like Superpages, Bigfoot, and Switchboard.com are often more convenient because you may not have the phone book for that area, or you may not want to get up from your desk. Imagine what your potential clients are doing? Also, web sites are ultimately cheaper than phone book advertising and more dynamic in the ability to change content. Many firms offer to optimize your site or make you the “exclusive listing” in their directory by geographic or practice area; they cost money. Doing this is free in most instances and something you can do for yourself. Look into it.

Social networking has become very big in the Web 2.0 world, as I discussed in a post on my personal blog. In addition to MySpace and FaceBook, Google has Orkut, and many other companies, like Ning, allow you to create your own customized social network. One of the biggest social networking evangelists, at least for FaceBook, has been blogger Robert Scoble. He has actually reached the FaceBook Friend limit of 5,000, and has even posited that it can replace your Rolodex or Outlook Contact database, and have legitimate business marketing uses. He likens a FaceBook Profile to what a person would see if they walked in to your office: pictures of your family (pictures can be posted to FaceBook), diplomas on the wall (information on what schools you attended), awards you have received, professional organizations you belong to, your interests (the digital equivalent of that golfing trophy), and the like. Developers are coming out with applications that work with FaceBook all the time that do all sorts of things. The question is, is it the best online tool to build your business?

Some say definitely not. Scott Karp comments quite emphatically on his blog that FaceBook is not for business, and that its core user base of college students are off laughing to themselves at the attempts by the “grown-ups” to figure out a way to use FaceBook for business. Robert Scoble fires back with a post about how FaceBook is definitely moving towards business uses and that the app can be both a business and social network at the same time.

In order to answer this question for myself, I started checking out another networking service, LinkedIn, which is specifically aimed at the business professional. Initially, it appeared like other networking sites, asking you to fill out a profile and seek Friends or Connections on the site, or Invite others to join. However, that is where the similarity ended. LinkedIn is most definitely a business tool, not a social networking site, that can be used for business. First off, part of the profile acts as an electronic resume with the ability to give a complete job history, educational background, honors and awards you have received, and the like. This ties into the Jobs and Hiring tab that allows you to use the network to look for employment or look for someone to employ. It can also act as a dynamic, virtual business card, giving prospective clients more information about you.

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