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Re-energize Law Firm Digital Content By Getting ‘Personal’

Jeff SmallFor the past few years, business and relationship development have been an increasingly important focus for law firms. So much of business development centers on one-on-one conversations with current or prospective clients, where lawyers are able to mold their message to the unique needs of each individual. Likewise, pitches, proposals and RFP responses are also finely tuned and tailored to each deal. 

Here's an example: You are at a firm event, and someone comes up and asks about your intellectual property litigation practice. You wouldn't immediately start reciting a well-rehearsed 10-minute explanation of the history of the firm, clients and key wins. Instead, the conversation would be much more focused. You would probably give a brief introduction and then ask specific questions regarding their company, location, what their specific needs are and if they currently use outside counsel.

This customized approach should also be applied to your digital marketing strategy. Although law firm websites have traditionally been a static information-focused resource-the firm telling a visitor about lawyers, practices, experience-today, new technology makes it possible for firms to make it a two-way, interactive street. Using personalization techniques, firms can anticipate a website visitor's needs and tailor messaging more appropriately to them.

Based on findings in the recent One North 2012 General Counsel Survey, GCs are expecting law firms to provide information that matches their exact interests. It's imperative that law firms provide GCs with targeted content, at the right time and through various channels, in order to keep them digitally engaged. Modern content management systems provide robust mechanisms for predictive content personalization, and although we are at the forefront of seeing this technology adopted in the legal industry, soon personalization will start to become the norm.  To get you more acquainted (and hopefully thinking about how you could apply this on your site), we'll review the two main types of personalization-explicit and implicit.

Explicit Personalization

Explicit personalization involves the user of the site uniquely identifying themselves to the site, typically by logging in and providing information. Think, where every user deliberately logs in and creates a profile. Amazon knows who you are, what you have bought and provide suggestions for things you might find useful or interesting when you come back to the site. 


However, we don't expect to see as much of this in the legal industry. Based on our GC survey, we know that 40% of general counsel are “very unlikely” to provide personal information, with another third saying they are “somewhat unlikely”. Primary reasons cited include the time it takes to fill out forms, belief that the effort wouldn't be worth it and privacy concerns.

Implicit Personalization

Implicit personalization, on the other hand, targets content without the need for a site visitor to identify themselves by logging in or filling out a form.

It does this by using the web visitor's digital fingerprint and site usage patterns. Every user coming to your site has a unique set of information. If you've ever reviewed your site's traffic analytics, you know the data points-IP address, browser type, device type, language and several other elements. Additionally, information on referrals, including URLs and search engine keywords, are sent. Without the user explicitly providing any information, there is a wealth of data points on which you can personalize the user experience. Rather than just report on these points after the fact, real time decisions can be made to customize the site. 

Within the implicit option, there are two additional categories; conditional and predictive personalization.

Conditional personalization is a great gateway into website personalization. Microsoft Outlook's inbox rules provide the best practical example. Based on an attribute provided in the digital fingerprint, the content can be targeted or the site personalized in some way. For example:

  • If “country” equals “England,” show news related to UK tax law
  • If “language” equals “Simplified Chinese,” default site language to Simplified Chinese
  • If “referring page” is the URL from an email marketing piece on an event we are hosting, show personalized message on inviting the person to the event addressing them by their first name
  • If Google referral keyword is “IP litigation,” show news highlights on recent IP litigation wins.

Using cookies, you can maintain this data and use it on subsequent visits by the user. Although conditional personalization allows you to access and maintain a steady flow of custom information, it also requires you to continually build new content targeting rules to keep up with your personalization needs. Conditional personalization does not scale.  

Fundamentally, predictive personalization translates business goals into digital marketing goals by anticipating the needs of visitors and matching their site usage patterns to known and established user profiles in order to target relevant user content. 

Predictive personalization follows a four-step process:

  • Content is profiled and classified.
  • User profiles are developed for the site's target audience.
  • A user's activity on the site is monitored to match them to a user profile.
  • Using that user profile, content is targeted to the user.

It starts with a strong content strategy. Content developed for your site is profiled according to your audiences needs. The content is given a profile value or a score relative to other content. As a user views content on your site, they accumulate a score-similar to Mario gathering coins in Super Mario Brothers. 

Predictive personalization happens in real time on a website, dynamically serving relevant content to users. The points accumulated by viewing content on the site help to determine a site visitor's interests. That scoring is then used to match the user to a user profile developed within the system to align your digital marketing goals with your target audiences. As that user navigates the site after matching a user profile, predetermined areas of site pages will dynamically target profiled content that is appropriate for that user profile. The user does not have to think about how to navigate to the content they need, the system learns about the user and delivers relevant content to them.

Personalized Web Content Options

Managing the personalization of website content is an ongoing effort. Supported by the powerful reporting tools of modern content management systems, marketers can react in real time, adjusting content and user profiles to ensure the effectiveness of their personalization efforts.

Whether a marketer implements conditional or predictive personalization techniques, using website personalization can be a powerful tool to encourage engagement with website visitors, allowing marketers to extend communication, networking and marketing skills developed offline, to the digital world. With the right analysis and software, the website becomes a strong tool in the overall business development efforts of a firm.

Jeff Small is a Senior Technical Consultant for One North Interactive. With over 15 years of experience in the interactive and web development industries, Jeff bridges the gap between technology and business, ensuring alignment between marketing goals and technology strategy for One North clients. Jeff has a B.A. in English from Augustana College and an MBA from Elmhurst College. 

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