How Referral Engine Optimization (REO) Supports Business Development

Every time we talk to a partner for the first time at a law firm or engineering firm or CPA firm or fill-in-the-blank firm, we hear the same comments: “We don’t get new clients from our website. They all come through referrals from other satisfied clients. Our business growth is mainly word-of-mouth.”

Then they tell us that websites do not really help them acquire new clients; they are just something they have to do. So why are the second most visited pages on any professional website the firm leadership or bio pages? Your website has actually become a critical part of developing new clients from referrals.

How does a website support the business development process? When someone searches for your firm on Google, you need to consider not only Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make sure that your firm appears high in search results, but also what we call REO — Referral Engine Optimization.

There are three primary ways that prospects use search engines and firm websites in the vetting or qualifying process. This process is similar to how you qualify prospects: cold, warm and hot.

In a cold search, the prospect is using Google or another search engine to locate a product or service with no other reference. They may type in “personal injury law firm Minneapolis” or “tax planning Philadelphia.” They are looking for a certain type of knowledge, location and professional who might look like an “approachable” or “experienced” advisor. In a cold search, inbound marketing is important because keywords and website content and links to other sites will help your site line up with all the cold prospects searching for you.

However, as we know in business development, a warm or hot prospect is a much stronger bet for closing a sale. Warm prospects are those who have a referral to your firm. (They have probably received three to five referrals to various firms.) Before they commit to calling and taking time to meet with your firm, they are going to look up your website, bios and other information. They will weigh its impression against the other referrals they have received. Then they decide who to call first. If your website is not REO-friendly, you lose and never know it.

Your hot prospects also use your website for decision making. They may have already met with you and there is more than one decision maker who will seal the deal. Now they’re digging deeper — comparing your team bios against the competition, checking out your connections on LinkedIn, reading your articles. How do you stack up against another firm in your branding and messages? Do they match how you talk about your firm?

Build REO to Reach Every One

SEO by itself is important and good. But good SEO combined with great REO is what firms need. Some of the most important factors for REO include the following:

  • A clean home page that offers messages about competitive difference and easy navigation
  • Sophisticated, content-rich bios
  • Informative niche services pages
  • An engaging firm story or history
  • Resources created by the firm
  • Testimonials or client success stories

REO Means Business

How do you know if some of your prospects are contacting you or calling you in for a second meeting based on some aspects of your online presence? First, you could ask them. Ask them if they visited your site, what they looked at and what they liked (or didn’t like) about it. You can also find out by tracking the number of hits to key pages to your website.

If you have ever had a referral source ask you if their client called — and the client didn’t call — it could be a failure of REO. Are you losing potential clients you don’t even know exist?

Websites are a serious investment of time and money, for sure. But once the site is up and showcasing the best aspects of your firm, it’s out there 24/7 for the world to see. Do a little research on how your current site is being used by your referral sources and prospects in the decision making process. Maybe it could use some Referral Engine Optimization.

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