Recently, I evaluated an attorney’s website to give recommendations about internet visibility for that website. Most attorneys have no idea what SEO or search engine optimization involves.
Search engine optimization is getting a website to rank or show up in the search results for Google, Bing, or Yahoo. For lawyers, this means getting visitors to your website without paying per click (PPC).
Search engine optimization is an art that requires forward-thinking with the constant algorithm changes of the major search engines.
Google, in particular, has demonstrated its commitment to customers and advertising revenue. Google’s ranking system is constantly changing. This makes SEO much more unpredictable and harder to get meaningful, consistent results.
The Nuts and Bolts of Law Firm SEO
There are two parts to the optimization process. The website itself and off-web site factors that the search engines take into consideration. Both are important in determining where your website will fall among millions of other sites.
Lawyers unfamiliar with the search engine optimization process are susceptible to being sold a “bill of goods.”
Fast-talking salespeople with the jargon of the industry can sound convincing. Using terms like “optimization” and “SEO” an attorney not knowledgeable about the process can easily overpay or hire the wrong company.
The following is a guide for attorneys considering retaining SEO help.
The website itself must be set up properly to rank for key search terms that are important to the law firm. If you practice bankruptcy in the Phoenix area you may want to “rank” for the term “Phoenix bankruptcy attorney”.
The site itself must be “optimized” to show up for terms that the website owner believes are important to them. Today optimized content means well-written helpful information for your intended consumer.
Popular content management systems such as Word Press allow easy optimization and update of information. The days of keyword stuffing and questionable content on the website are long gone.
Firms considering a website or updating their current website should be looking at a CMS or content management system. The main ones are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.
I suggest WordPress as the simplest of the three and with plugins that make on-page optimization easy. Further, with WordPress, you can easily update content without help from your SEO firm. The learning curve for WordPress is not steep.
You can have a website that is optimized perfectly internally yet the site can hardly be found. If so, the site probably has not had enough off-site work done to help the site rank with the search engines. If you are not on the first two pages of search results you are probably wasting your money.
Years ago, the key ranking factor was “links” from other websites that clicked back to your website. That is no longer the case. Google, in particular, started manually and algorithmically lowering sites that had too many links from shady sites or keyword stuffing.
Today, the search engine optimization process is in a state of flux. But low-value backlinks will still hurt your ranking. Obtaining authoritative links to your website from highly regarded sources (think Wikipedia), remains a viable method of improving your search engine ranking and increasing your site’s authority.
Additionally, some SEO experts believe that backlinks will become less and less a factor if a factor at all, soon. Mentions of your firm from credible online sources are predicted to become the most important factor in your ranking in both organic and local rankings.
Over the last several years, Google has made the content of a website and specific page a big factor in where and if the site shows up in searches. The focus on benefitting the intended audience is a boon for relevance and also a must-do for sites wishing to rank.
In short, your content must be important to the end reader. Adding photographs and answering questions is a good start. Useful and easy-to-read pages not only grab the attention of the intended audience but also reduce bounce rates, which is another factor search engines value.
Well-written and unique content that is helpful to your intended customers is the key to showing up in search results.
Tips for selecting an SEO company
The following are suggestions for lawyers looking to hire an SEO firm.
- Always control your website – some companies insist they host the site as part of their package. As long as you are doing business with that company, your website is safe. But, if you become dissatisfied with the service, you may be putting your website at risk. Despite assurances that your site can be easily moved, it is not always true.
Be careful not to get caught in the trap where you can’t move your site without ranking consequences. I suggest you have an outside host for your website, and you pay the host directly.
Retain control of hosting your website to avoid having to make monthly payments simply because you are trapped with an SEO company.
- Conduct your due diligence – by looking at results for other websites handled by the company and speaking with current or former clients.
- Avoid a page one promise – reputable SEO companies cannot guarantee page one ranking. You must look very closely at any company that guarantees rankings. Some may use “black hat” (techniques outside of Google’s recommendations). That may sound great at the time, but it will come back to haunt you.
- Require monthly reports– the reports should include what was accomplished and a plan forward.
- Don’t forget local– local maps listings can be as important as “organic” ranking as far as local consumers go. While local ranking is a topic for another day- any SEO project for lawyers that serve consumers should include local SEO.
- Get a no-compete commitment in your market– if you don’t and your efforts are successful, you may find the SEO company is now also working for your competition.
- If you can’t get a non-compete agreement for your city, go with a different SEO company.
It is easy for attorneys who don’t know SEO to get taken, even by “reputable” SEO companies. If you don’t secure the agreement to receive monthly reports, you risk paying the fee and having no or little work done that month. In effect, paying for work previously completed over and over again!
Time spent investigating providers is mandatory, and following these suggestions will save frustration and money in the long run.
Greg Baumgartner is a Texas personal injury lawyer at the Baumgartner Law Firm in Houston, TX.
Follow Greg on Twitter.