Does Your Law Firm SEO Provider Understand Legal Ethics?

by Jun 14, 2017

This is the first blog post in a series about five questions attorneys should ask before hiring a law firm SEO provider.

You can see new posts in this series by visiting the series introduction blog post.

(As I noted in the series introduction, these five questions are a good place to start if you’re thinking about hiring a SEO provider. However, these five questions are not an exhaustive list.)

Today we’ll discuss a topic that’s sometimes overlooked by attorneys: The intersection of online legal marketing and the legal ethics that attorneys must abide by.

Does your SEO provider have a legal background? Do they understand legal ethics?

When law firms hire a non-attorney who doesn’t understand legal ethics to handle some or all of their law firm’s web presence, it can cause major headaches for law firms along the line.

“What’s the legal background of those who create, edit, or optimize my law firm’s website content?”

Regardless of who creates, edits, or optimizes your site’s content, at the end of the day, you are still ethically responsible for what gets published on your law firm’s website and blog.

A SEO provider without a legal background may not know which words can or can’t be used. They may not realize that using synonyms for a particular word may change its legal meaning. That can cause serious problems for attorneys.

So, before you hire someone, find out whether they understand legal ethics (especially Rules 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, or their applicable equivalents).

Does the SEO company claim to “specialize” in working with attorneys?

The vast majority of SEO companies aren’t aware of the dangers of online legal marketing.

Even if the SEO company claims that they “specialize” in working with lawyers, ask about their legal backgrounds and discern whether they understand legal ethics.

At first, this company may seem to “specialize” in working with attorneys. But attorneys who dig under the surface may find that the provider (or their parent company) also “specializes” in working with:

  • Doctors
  • Veterinarians
  • Plumbers
  • Garage door companies

…and so on.

“We’ve seen some firms working with SEO companies with results that range from minimal to disastrous. And when I say disastrous, I’m not being hyperbolic,” says Attorney Rachel Chalot, LawLytics Vice President of Content Strategy.

“SEO companies are everywhere, and they seem to love nothing more than inundating attorneys with terrifying reports regarding website performance. However, it’s very, very important to be aware of the fact that there is no regulatory body that governs SEO companies. They did not,” says Chalot.

When you speak with someone who claims to be a law firm SEO expert, it’s helpful to understand how their various business models operate. To learn more about that, read: Law Firm SEO: Myths & Realities

What can happen when a law firm SEO provider doesn’t understand legal ethics

We’ve seen law firms get hurt by SEO companies, sometimes repeatedly.

(This can leave attorneys frustrated and confused about what works in online legal marketing, causing them to spend more time and money on strategies that don’t work. For more on that, see The Sunk-Cost Fallacy And The Once-Great Law Firm Website.)

Some harm caused by these providers is relatively minor. A SEO provider might use keyword stuffing in the law firm website’s content. Sometimes, the result is that the website gets relegated in Google search results. It can then take months of adding valuable, educational content to the site for the website to recover.

But we’ve seen damage far more serious than that, especially when the SEO company doesn’t understand the ethical rules that attorneys must abide by.

For example, we’ve seen SEO companies write law firm website content that violates the professional rules. They might call a firm an “expert” in a particular type of law, or label an attorney as “the best” in violation of their state’s rules.

We also recently discovered a SEO company engaging in a practice that could be an ethical violation in your state.

Here’s a modified version of an actual screen shot we took:

The image above is something a SEO company did: They created fake attorney blogs using Shutterstock images to promote a law firm’s website content.

“The state that this firm practices in specifically prohibits any advertising with individuals purporting to be attorneys who have not been admitted to the state’s bar,” says Chalot.

“If you’re not in control or not aware of what these companies are doing on your behalf, you could be putting your license at risk.”

Take control of your law firm’s online marketing.

Law firm SEO isn’t complicated once you understand the fundamentals.

Attorneys who take the time to learn about online marketing can save themselves from spending time and money on strategies and services that don’t drive business to their firms. Attorneys can learn more about what’s real and what’s not when it comes to SEO by learning how law firm SEO really works.

LawLytics helps attorneys do sustainable, effective online marketing for their firms. If you’re ready to take control of your marketing, schedule our call.

Other blogs in this series:

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