Do You Want to Be Discovered or Found Online?

Columbus discovered America. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. Lana Turner , like other great movie stars of the day, was discovered drinking a coke at a soda fountain.  We all enjoy discovering that terrific little cafe on the backstreets of Brooklyn or Washington D.C. or London or wherever else we happen to be traveling.

By contrast, here’s some examples of things we typically found.  A few years ago, I found a rusty Razor scooter left behind in the neighborhood playground. We’ve all found spare change in the crevices of a sofa. The police find weapons or drugs in car trunks during (frequently illegal) traffic stops. On long drives, we’ve all shifted uncomfortably until we can find a McDonalds or a gas station for a pee break.

As these examples show, discovery is about uncovering and introducing something of value that no one’s ever seen before. Much of what is found, on the other hand is already known (this is the case with lost children or pets) and often (the exception being children and pets) isn’t worth much, has been abandoned or is illegal. With that being the case, why is it that so many lawyers are so avid to be found online, while few strive to be discovered?

Last November, in a seminal article at Tech Crunch, Semil Shah argued that the web has shifted from search to discovery. Shah invoked Pinterest as an example, attributing its exploding popularity to its ability to capture consumers at the discovery part of their purchase – when they don’t yet know what they want (i.e., red shoes or green handbag) – rather than at the search-oriented end of the funnel — where they are already directed and self-limited (e.g., I need to find a briefcase for work).

In my view, though, Pinterest is much more than just about numbers and traffic, and the ability to capture more users before they narrow their search. Pinterest captivates because it gives users the ability to trade and share the web’s best-kept secrets. After all, in a world where you can find a Big Mac in the middle of Paris, we value what’s unique and bespoke; that which we discover, rather than find.

So what’s this got to do with lawyers? Plenty. Lawyers are so obsessed with SEO, with being found, that they don’t even stop to think whether a strategy of being found is desirable. In the UK, the new Legal Services Act has facilitated the rise of the McLaw firm, franchised firms operating under a uniform name – making lawyers easy to find. But is find-ability what consumers want in a lawyer? Or do they want a lawyer whom they’ve heard about only through friends who’s not just predictably solid (like a fast food meal), but who’s going to knock their opponents’ socks off.

There’s another aspect of the Pinterest-ization of search that bears noting.  Pinterest’s dominant demographic is women. After all, the process of discovery comes as second nature to women. Not to be sexist, but women’s obsession with discovery explains why many women enjoy planning weddings and are relegated to finding pediatricians and nannies when babies are born and aren’t  dominant in the SEO world, which is about brute-number crunching rather than the zen of discovery.   Understanding how women’s minds and processes work is critical though, because studies also show that women are primarily responsible for important household decisions.  So if lawyers are interested in targeting the decision-maker for matters like estate planning or family business incorporation, they should build marketing campaigns that appeal to women’s sense of discovery.

So what can lawyers do to be discovered, not found? Put out quality materials online that consumers pass along to each other (like my Landowners’ Rights ebook). Show up at places where you’ll run into your target clients whether it’s trade shows or PTA meetings or zoning board hearings.  Leave your clients something to pass on to others – pens or totes or other kinds of swag that stimulate conversation and lead others to ask “Hey, where’d you get that?  What was that lawyer like?”  Take all the cash that you spend on SEO and create something of value for potential clients.

You can have the first page of Google and all the garbage phone calls that come with it. I’d rather be the web’s best kept secret, on the cusp of discovery by grateful clients who will rave about me to everyone they know.