Organically? No. Well, unless the search is for your law firm’s name. And even then, a week may be pushing it. Anyone who guarantees a result when dealing with search engine marketing isn’t telling you the whole story (or is simply lying). In the end, they’re probably actually talking about pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. But can you really count PPC as being page one?

Search engine results pages (SERPs) have greatly expanded in the last few years. Peter Meyers at Moz.com created a “Mega-SERP” to illustrate this last year. His graphic displayed every possible feature possible on a single results page. Generally, law firm websites will appear in three possible spots on a SERP.

But being “on” page one isn’t the same as being listed organically on page one. It’s like saying “I was on TV” when you really mean “I accidentally walked 40 feet behind TV news reporter and you could kind of see my face.” Both are technically true, but they don’t mean the same thing.

Organic results

These are the standard blue links on a SERP. They are determined by Google’s algorithms in response to the provided search terms. Organic listings are a constantly changing list of relevant results and are determined by 200+ search factors that Google uses to rank sites.

When people talk about being “on page one,” they are usually referring to these organic listings. They aren’t paid for, so the listing doesn’t disappear when your budget runs out. If your firm wants a sustainable, long-term online marketing strategy, this will be your focus.

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising

When a marketing firm promises you “page one in a week or less,” this is probably what they are referring to. PPC ads are sponsored links that appear at the top, right, and bottom of SERPs. On Google, they will appear in an off-yellow box and will begin with “Ads related to…” These are paid advertisements.

They work by taking bids for keywords chosen by advertisers. Each advertiser will set maximum bid (or let Google handle it) for keywords (either in groups of individually) and also specify negative keywords (i.e. terms they don’t want to appear for). The advertiser does not pay unless someone clicks on the ad. But then Google doesn’t care what the visitor does after clicking. They could leave immediately resulting in a $40 bounce from your site.

The issue is that law firms compete for two of the highest-cost keywords on Google: attorney and lawyer. Cost per click (CPC) for terms containing or related to these terms can easily exceed $40-60. That’s $40-60 per click. Of course, good PPC management agencies can squeeze out better results, but it’s still expensive. And when the money’s gone, your ads stop displaying.

Another issue is that consumers are becoming ad-blind. People just don’t see ads anymore. So sure, your ad may appear on page one but who’s to say that potential new clients are going to see it and click on it.

Lastly, you can’t control who clicks your ads. Other attorneys, unsavvy searchers, and people just looking for information can quickly cost you hundreds without producing any leads. And there’s no way to get that money back. Sure, PPC can be an effective marketing tool, but it’ll cost you.

Local listings

Law firms will also generally appear in local listings. This comes from having an updated business page on Google+, which requires a little work beforehand. You can get started with that here. There are a lot of factors that go into whether your firm will appear in local listings, but keep in mind that not every search query will display them. However, searches with locally-targeted terms generally will, so it’s a good idea to have your business listed. But it’s important to note that business listing require address validation, meaning that Google will send you a postcard to your business address with a validation code. So no one is getting your law firm in the local listings within a week, unless your postcard comes quickly and your market has little competition.

No one is really going to get you to page one in a week

Like I said before, anyone who promises or guarantees a result in search engine marketing isn’t telling you something. Unless you can afford a long-term PPC campaign, you need organic ranking. Sure, companies promising “page one in a week” are probably simply using PPC as a short-term solution, while your site grows organically. Maybe they’ll get you there organically. Maybe they won’t. But that’s exactly what makes such a promise simply misleading.