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This is the fifth post in a series about Logical Fallacies in Online Law Firm Marketing. For links to the other posts in this series, refer to the series introduction, “Logical Fallacies in Online Marketing.”

The effort involved in instituting so-called “white hat” SEO practices — those which are inline with search engine webmaster guidelines — is well worth it.

Companies that blog regularly, for instance, see about three times as much traffic as those that don’t, and they earn more than four times as many leads, as well.

Many attorneys would prefer to spend as much time as possible attending to their clients as opposed to adding content to their law firm websites or dedicating themselves to learning about SEO.

It may be tempting, therefore, to outsource your law firm’s online marketing efforts to a third-party provider or SEO “expert.” Though involving a third party in your law firm’s online marketing can prove beneficial in some cases, hiring an “expert” or online marketing company is by no means a guarantee of success. Here’s why:

1) The “Expert” You Hire May Not Be an Expert At All

Attorneys take the bar exam. They take exams to gauge their character and moral fitness.

In digital marketing, however, there is no such ethical requirement or standard of measurement that one must achieve in order to earn the right to call themselves a SEO “expert.”

Any person, skilled or not, can publish a website today which advertises their digital marketing “expertise.” And those individuals need not have any experience working on behalf of a law firm in order to claim that they specialize in that particular digital marketing niche.

It’s important to thoroughly vet any third-party provider you hire to perform marketing services for your law firm, because your SEO “expert” may not be any more experienced in SEO than you are. (All the more reason to make sure that you have a solid understanding of SEO and how search engines work.)

Such “experts” will not necessarily have the requisite knowledge of legal marketing ethics needed to guarantee that the work they do for your law firm will fall within the guidelines set by your state bar association.

Needless to say, any unethical marketing done on behalf of your law firm is going to fall on your shoulders as the attorney associated with that practice; not on the SEO provider you hired. And that can mean potential disaster for your law firm.

For this reason, if you do intend to hire a third party for help with your online marketing, it is important to not only make sure that they understand SEO, but also to be sure that they are familiar with the ethical restraints of legal marketing, as well as with the intricacies and nuances of your particular area(s) of practice.

2) Some SEO Professionals May Do More Harm than Good for Your Law Firm Website

SEO providers are not required to follow the webmaster guidelines provided by Google and other search engines. Rather, the search engines themselves serve as judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to enforcing those guidelines.

Ever since search engines came into the mainstream in the 1990s, an entire industry has flourished by trying to trick the algorithms of those search engines into ranking sites higher than their content would merit on its own. As search engines continued to update their algorithms to combat “black hat” tactics like keyword stuffing, link exchanges, and the distribution of thin content, unethical providers continued to adjust their practices in order to find increasingly complex ways to subvert the ranking methods of those search engines.

It is important to ensure that your SEO provider abides by Google’s webmaster guidelines in order to avoid the deranking that can come as a result of algorithmic updates or manual penalties applied by a search engine for violating their guidelines.

If a third-party SEO provider says that they follow their own guidelines, or that they “kind of” follow Google’s guidelines, for instance, it’s a good sign that they may employ risky black hat tactics that may hurt your law firm’s SEO—and, therefore, your website’s online visibility and ability to attract potential clients—in the long run.

SEO tactics for attorneys: playing the SEO game to Win

3) Nobody Knows Your Clients Better than You Do

The goal of content marketing on your law firm website is to not only improve your visibility, but to establish trust with your potential clients, and to then convince them of your expertise and experience via that content.

If successful, the content on your website will educate website visitors, and make visitors to your site feel comfortable enough to contact you as soon as they realize they are in need of legal representation.

By capitalizing on long-tail search terms that offer value to your potential clients and that utilize the language those potential clients are likely to use in searches, you can maximize your chances of being found by those potential clients when they perform online searches for relevant information.

Since you are in contact with your clients regularly, you are more qualified than anyone else to determine what type of information your clients will be likely to search for online. You speak directly with your clients about their legal issues, therefore you know first-hand the types of questions they commonly ask, as well as how they ask those questions.

By directly addressing the questions most commonly asked by your clients in the content you publish on your website—whether in a blog post, an evergreen page, or a FAQ section—you can cut to the quick with information that is most likely to interest your potential clients and, therefore, that is most likely to motivate them to contact your law firm.

Since third-party SEO providers are not likely to have the same kind of inside knowledge about your clients that you have as an attorney, it is unreasonable to expect that they will be able to offer the same level of insight that you can when composing content for your law firm website.

Consider creating one or more client personas that can help you to specifically target the clients most likely to seek out your services, as well as to focus on the subset of those qualified individuals who you would most prefer to serve as your clients. But, since you know more about the specific needs of your clients than any SEO professional, you are probably the most qualified of anyone to write content that will be of interest to them.

Qualified, well-informed SEO providers who focus on content marketing can help to boost your law firm website’s ranking for organic searches, but it is important to vet any third party you intend to hire to perform marketing services on behalf of your law firm. Hiring the wrong person or company to manage your online marketing will likely harm your law firm website more than it helps.

Not all SEO “experts” are created equally.

Not all SEO professionals are created equal, and, unfortunately, the responsibility falls on the attorney doing the hiring or marketing; not on the marketing professional performing those services for the attorney.

It’s generally in your best interest to handle the online marketing efforts for your law firm yourself, rather than outsourcing them to a third party, unless you are confident that the third party in question is familiar with and abides by legal marketing ethics, knows and follows search engine webmaster guidelines, is focused on high-quality content, and is informed with regard to your law firm’s specific target audience and how to reach them.

Anything less could mean spending money on marketing practices that fail to provide the intended result or, worse, move the needle completely in the wrong direction.

The good news is that learning how law firm SEO works — and how to do SEO that improves your firm’s visibility and trust with your clients — is easy to do. See our latest eBook, “SEO Tactics for Attorneys: Playing the Game to Win,” to get started.