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3 questions to ask before you hand money to a competitor. 

I got a call this week from a “marketing specialist” at a large law firm directory company announcing that it was time for a law firm client’s marketing review. Of course, that meant it was time to hear the annual sales pitch.

I started thinking about the value these directory/marketing companies add to law firms and accounting firms versus the competitive threat they present, so I searched “Family Law Firm on Google. Out of 13 page one free listing opportunities (organic, Google Places), 5 slots were taken by directory companies.

So those directory companies reduce your chances of showing up on Google page one. Even worse, they essentially hijack your prospective clients and then ransom them back to anyone willing to pay for advertising. Is that the action of a marking partner or a competitor?

Before you hand money to a competitor, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How do my prospective clients find me today? While there may be some firms that still attract clients from the yellow pages next to the pay phone in the holding cell, most clients choose law firms and accounting firms based on reputation, location, and education. The big directories don’t offer anything that you can’t do on your own, for much less money and often for free.
  2. Do I want to do business with a competitor? As I demonstrated above, the big directory websites are targeting your prospective clients. They compete with your SEO efforts (worse if they are doing your SEO), redirect traffic destined for your website, and then present hundreds of alternatives. That’s a conflict of interest, and you pay them to do this.
  3. What’s in it for them? The sales rep’s motivation is simple – commissions. Their sales numbers are the main priority, not your results. If the results were really that good, these companies wouldn’t need to lock you into a long-term contract for banner ads or a website template. And if they are marketing their companies and your firm to the same audience, who do you think gets priority?

I think listings on some of the more popular directory sites are an acceptable part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. That said, directory sites will follow the same decline as the yellow pages. With constant improvements to the relevance of direct search results, why would readers take the extra steps when they can find what they’re looking for right on Google?

So before you lock yourself into a $5,000/month 2-year contract for a template website with generic text, SEO services that compete with the directory itself, and banner ads (really?) that place you on top of a laundry list of firms, think about whether there are better ways to invest in new business generation.

If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.

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