How to Grow Your Law Firm with SEO that Attracts Qualified Potential Clients and Referral Sources on Google, Bing and the Other Search Engines
We are attorney-founded and invested, and have five lawyers on staff. We know the struggles, stresses and pitfalls of trying to grow a law practice in the age of Google and mobile search. We know you want your phone to ring with highly qualified leads that are obtained in an ethical, cost-effective and sustainable way. There is, unfortunately a lot of misinformation and misdirection surrounding law firm SEO, and we hope that this page adds clarity and helps you make better decisions for your firm.
You’ve probably been burned before, likely by somebody who promised you the moon when it comes to marketing your practice. You received the cold calls, sat through the sales pitches and webinars, and may even have lost a significant amount of money trusting SEO companies that promised rapid results.
But something isn’t working. When you look at the flow of cases going into your law firm, and you conduct Google searches for terms you think your law firm should rank for, you wonder if you’re on the right track and if you’re doing everything you can to help your practice become successful.
This article, and attached videos, are intended to give attorneys a solid understanding of how search engine optimization works, and make them better practitioners (and consumers) of SEO tactics.
We’ve been there too.
Between our executive team and our investors, we have more than 40 combined years of experience practicing law in private practice. We know what it’s like to have a full plate running a practice and still trying to find time to have a life. We know what it’s like to wake up at 2am worrying about a case, or a client, or payroll, or marketing.
That 2am marketing moment is why LawLytics exists. We’ve built a system and service to give you the precise technology, strategy and resources that you need to succeed without wasting time or money. So you can get more clients without taking on more risk and worry.
If you’re willing to take a few hours of your time to invest in understanding how our membership and law firm website technology works, we’ll show you the “secrets” of how some of our attorneys get more traffic and business in an average month than most law firms get in a good year.
We’ll show you how SEO for lawyers really works. We’ll show you how you can compete with any firm out there for pennies on the dollar without taking risks that can get you in trouble with the search engines. We know it’s hard to have yet another conversation about this topic because they all seem like sales pitches, but attorneys tell us that they are relieved once they decide to spend 30 minutes talking with us.
THE REAL DEAL WITH LAW FIRM SEO
Lawyers have onerous educational prerequisites. They must pass the regular bar exam, the ethics portion, and the character and fitness screening to become licensed. They have regular CLE requirements. They pay bar dues. They must maintain at least a minimum standard of ethical conduct and competence to remain licensed. It’s not perfect, but as a regulated profession, consumers have a right to expect a minimum level of competence and professionalism when they hire an attorney, and they have regulatory recourse when they don’t get it.
But the world of SEO providers is filled with skilled and ethical professionals as well as criminals, con artists, incompetent hacks, useless middlemen, and unemployable refugees of dead or dying trades. And it’s very difficult to tell them apart. SEO providers are subject to no regulatory or ethical constraints, and there are no prerequisites to entering the business or calling themselves SEO experts. In fact, they don’t even need a website, or an office. And a SEO “professional” who services lawyers has no obligation to understand the rules of professional conduct nor the fact that using “keyword optimized” synonyms for legal terms of art can fundamentally alter their meaning and cause the attorney serious ethical problems.
There’s no doubt that there are more bad SEO professionals out there than good ones. Some of them have great looking websites, and even claim years or decades of experience in legal marketing. Hundreds of them claim to specialize in legal marketing without having any legal background or understanding of the intersection of legal ethics and online marketing. The truth is that there is no minimum number of law firms that one needs to have helped to make the claim of a legal SEO specialty, and unfortunately attorneys frequently put their businesses, and even their law licenses, at risk by engaging a SEO person or company that they haven’t properly vetted.
These bad or negligent actors are having an adverse effect on attorneys’ businesses and quality of life by:
- Using obsolete techniques. We’ll address some of these techniques later in this article.
- Breaking search engine guidelines. Without a solid background in the law and an understanding of how to write about the various types of practices in a way that works with both search engines and potential clients, there are a very limited number of things a non-attorney marketing person can do for a law firm that both moves the needle and does not run afoul of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
- Outsourcing their SEO work. There are people working alone in their homes who claim to have a big staff, who preach against offshoring or outsourcing work…and then hypocritically do so on a regular basis. We’ve even caught providers who preach against outsourcing work offshoring it to independent contractors in India, Russia, Pakistan and Kenya.
- Reusing content. Some companies sell the same content over and over again as a one-size-fits-all SEO strategy for every attorney, without consideration for the individual law firm’s location, practice area, competition and goals. There is one publishing company with a legal marketing arm that rents content to lawyers and prevents the search engines from indexing that content, which renders the content essentially useless and the investment frivolous.
- Fabricating marketing and performance reports. Producing bogus reports so they can get your business and take your money without solving your problems or achieving anything.
At LawLytics, we talk with dozens of lawyers every week who have been with SEO providers. These lawyers tell us a variation of how they are getting ripped off, misled, defrauded or failed by an “SEO expert” ranging from large legal marketing operations to young adults pretending to run viable companies with “employees” who simultaneously work three other jobs.
LAW FIRM SEO ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE
There’s a persistent lie that marketers tell. They want you to believe that SEO is difficult. They try to elevate the complexity of what they sell by claiming that every aspect of SEO is challenging. But once you understand the basics and you’re empowered by the right system, you’ll understand that:
- It’s easy. Keeping up with Google’s algorithm updates is easy and requires very little time or expense, unless you’re trying to take dangerous shortcuts or use tricks that will end up backfiring on you.
- It’s about the fundamentals. Creating cost-efficient and easy-to-manage SEO strategies is simply a matter of understanding the fundamentals and not buying into the hogwash that the opportunists are selling.
- It requires the right technology. Tracking your progress and understanding what’s working (and what’s not) is easy when you aren’t falling for useless gimmicks and when you’re using the right SEO technology.
- It’s about avoiding pitfalls. Once you stop falling for the double-speak used by marketing predators, it’s easy to understand what drives your competitors’ successes, to create a plan to beat them without exposing yourself to risk, and to keep your expenses low.
- You can do it! Executing a successful plan is easy, and any attorney can do it concurrently with practicing law full-time when they have the right tools, training, and support.
When you remove the sales rhetoric and subterfuge, the truth is that SEO is easy to understand, easy to do, and can be done successfully by any law firm without wasting time or money. At LawLytics, we’re obsessed with finding and maintaining the most efficient means to empower our member attorneys to reach their goals. As attorneys ourselves, part of this obsession involves demystifying the artificial complexity that fraudsters and hacks bring to law firms disguised as search engine expertise.
WHERE IS YOUR LAW FIRM SEO FALLING SHORT?
We talk with dozens of lawyers each week who come to us because they find themselves in the undesirable position of having tried and failed at online marketing. Some of them have never succeeded, while others are trying to figure out what went wrong because it used to work. Here are some of the common scenarios we see:
- Wrong “Experts” – You’ve been paying a “Law Firm SEO Expert” but the needle isn’t moving in the right direction. You may have had this experience with several “Law Firm SEO Experts” in a row. If you have, there’s a reason. It’s time to stop the insanity.
- No Time – Nobody cares about your law practice as much as you do. But your cases and clients come first, leaving you with little or no time to keep up with the changes in technology and the SEO ecosystem.
- Inappropriate Delegation – You delegated some or all of your SEO and online marketing to staff members or relatives you trust. But they didn’t have the expertise to succeed, and they ended up doing wasteful things with good intentions.
- Spray and Pray -You keep falling for sales pitches for the next best thing, resulting in a spaghetti strategy of law firm SEO — blindly trying everything in hopes that something will work, and then not knowing what’s working and what isn’t.
- Tricks and Traps – You’ve tried all the attorney SEO tricks that have come to your attention. They seemed to work for a while, but now you’ve been hit with a Google penalty.
- Once Bitten… – You’ve been burned so many times before that you’re starting to think the entire industry is corrupt or incompetent. You’re starting to think that it’s a battle you simply can’t win.
- Unsolved Mysteries – Your website used to work very well. But, over a short period of time, it simply stopped working. Perhaps you used to be on page one of Google and now you’re buried on page five. But more confusing still is when you’re still on page one of Google and, yet, business has dried up. There are logical and expected reasons for both of these things. Once you understand how law firm SEO works, the reasons become obvious and the antidote affordable and quickly attainable.
THE LAWLYTICS METHOD: THE SYSTEMATIZATION AND DEMYSTIFICATION OF LAWYER SEO
Our CEO Dan Jaffe built successful law practices in Seattle and Phoenix using the internet and SEO, and built a sustainable business advantage over his competitors that endured for a decade. He then used search engine optimization and content marketing strategies to build a highly successful law firm directory. In 2011 he co-founded LawLytics to help attorneys escape the marketing treadmill and empower them to have successful online marketing without wasting time or money.
LawLytics was originally built based on Dan’s years of law firm SEO experience (now at 18 years and counting). The system continues to evolve based on the input and experience of hundreds of lawyers who use the LawLytics system on a daily basis, and based on millions of observed client interactions on LawLytics-powered websites that originated through search engines.
The LawLytics team consists of authorities in technology, marketing, and SEO. Attorney Larry Bodine, our Senior Legal Marketing strategist, has spent the last two decades of his career leading the evolution of attorney marketing to the internet. Attorney Rachel Chalot, our Vice President Of Content Operations, is one of the leading authorities in law firm website content planning that meets the equal demands of ethics, potential client education, and compelling law firm marketing and SEO.
Our technology team, led by software engineer and CTO Derek Johnson, has built the most comprehensive and search engine friendly law firm website marketing system in existence. The legal marketing control panel makes it easy for attorneys to understand and do all of the things needed to execute a world-class SEO plan without learning any programming.
LawLytics does all of the technical and design tasks to make your law firm website SEO-friendly. We did the due diligence for you, so everything you need to succeed is built into our technology. We update our cloud-based system as Google’s standards change, and your law firm’s website gets updated automatically when we do. Our unique cloud-based technology was developed exclusively for lawyers to help them excel using content marketing and SEO. It allows us to continuously innovate and push the boundaries to maximize lawyers’ ability to attract new clients through search while simultaneously minimizing the expense per new client acquired.
THE LAWLYTICS SYSTEM SEO FEATURES
The LawLytics system automatically adds SEO-friendly semantic markup to your site, so you don’t have to pay a programmer to do it for you and you don’t need to learn how to code. The system also creates special SEO-friendly pages for your attorney bios, offices, case results and testimonials, and lets you insert Google maps into your pages with just a few clicks. The system communicates with the search engines through an automatically created and updated special sitemap that tells the search engines whenever a new page is added, or when an existing page is updated. There’s never a need to submit new pages to Google.
Attorneys who use the LawLytics system don’t need to worry about entering keywords perfectly or any other technical aspect of law firm SEO. The system is specialized for lawyers, which empowers them to focus on content. And content is the single biggest indicator of success for both SEO and for converting potential clients into engaged prospects once they find the law firm. Of all of the ranking factors employed by Google, Bing and the other search engines, nothing has ever been more important than providing content that is responsive to the queries for which the potential client has searched.
LawLytics is optimized to make success simple. We use cutting edge SEO practices without the learning curve required to be on the cutting edge of search engine optimization, and without the need to hire an expensive SEO person. In fact, LawLytics helps you avoid the mistakes that overpriced SEO providers often make in order to justify cashing your check.
LAW FIRM SEO TACTICS TO AVOID BECAUSE THEY WASTE TIME AND MONEY
There is an abundance of negligent and useless SEO advice out there. Most of it is harmless except for the fact that it distracts lawyers from focusing on what really moves the needle. It is negligent and/or misleading to claim that what a law firm SEO company does outside of your firm’s website is more important that what is done on the website. To argue otherwise would be to assert that the quality and usefulness of the content on your website is less important than links from other sites and other things that these vendors sell. Many vendors nonetheless push this erroneous approach because it’s something that’s easy to fake, and impossible for the attorney to determine whether anything meaningful is being done to earn the fee.
Here are some things that companies do in the name of SEO that waste attorneys’ money:
BAD SEO TACTIC 1: Writing and distributing press releases.
Years ago, simply distributing a press release using PRWEB or PRNEWSWIRE and inserting links anchored by strategic keywords was helpful to SEO. Since Google’s Panda updates, the SEO benefits of press releases have been negated. The only viable strategy that remains in using press releases for the purposes of search engine optimization is to write press releases that actually get legitimate press.
However, press releases with stories about attorneys receiving bogus or bought awards, winning cases that are not newsworthy (no, your $200k verdict is probably not newsworthy) simply don’t move the needle. Law firms that offer link-bait scholarships are detected a mile away and routinely disregarded, rendering them a waste of attorneys’ money.
Today, adding SEO links to press releases is illusory. A link designed to add search engine optimization value by nature does not contain a “no-follow” tag, and is therefore susceptible to incurring a penalty from Google as an unnatural link. Assuming that a “no-follow” tag is used, any potential SEO benefit is negated. So, it’s best to steer clear of any marketing company who is selling the crafting and distribution of press releases as a SEO strategy.
NOTE: Press releases remain a great vehicle for making contact with journalists and media outlets, and for building overall brand awareness. They can also help attorneys who have a negative online reputation that they need to manage by occupying a space on the search engine results pages when the attorney’s name is searched. But none of these things are SEO, and any law firm marketing company that sells press releases as part of a SEO strategy should be regarded with suspicion.
BAD SEO TACTIC 2: Writing articles for content farms.
Years ago, content farms were a great way to get backlinks and increase Google ranking. A “content farm” is a website that publishes a large number of daily articles or posts, mostly of low quality, written by freelancers or volunteer “experts” exclusively or primarily for SEO benefit.
Google has cracked down hard on these types of sites. In past Google updates, most notably the Panda updates, sites that were ranked based on links and articles on those sites were demoted and lost ranking. Sites that were hit included EzineArticles.com, AssociatedContent.com, Examiner.com, and hundreds of others. Many of these sites, no longer bolstered by the ability to promise Google ranking in exchange for content, have ceased operations.
A common but misguided law firm SEO sales tactic is to promise to publish articles in content farm type sites. Those who are still selling this tactic will not likely refer to them as content farms. However, they should be avoided because, at best, they waste time and money, and at worse they have the real potential to harm your site rather than help it.
BAD SEO TACTIC 3: Submitting websites to “high-end” link directories.
Google’s webmaster guidelines previously contained advice to “submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as other industry-specific expert sites.” It is important to note that this advice has since been removed from Google’s guidelines. Since that time, Google has devalued links from directories, removing directories from their index, and even send site owners unnatural link warnings or assessing penalties.
In 2018, it is NOT a good practice to submit a law firm website to link directories. In fact, it’s a useless practice at best, and highly dangerous under some circumstances. It’s axiomatic that directory submissions are done with the primary intention of gaining better search engine ranking. Ignore webmasters who claim that it builds authority. There is substantial evidence to the contrary.
BAD SEO TACTIC 4: Paying for guest blog posts or links on prestigious publications.
If a SEO provider’s strategy claims to involve publishing articles as a guest in prestigious publications such as Inc, Business Insider and HuffPost, you should be aware that the purpose of those publications is not to be used as a content farm (see above). In fact, the gratuitous use of those publications by those who have previously received publishing privileges in order to sell SEO services to their customers is a deceptive tactic that is unlikely to work. And even if the publication does accept an article, most of them automatically add “nofollow” tags to the links, rendering them useless in terms of SEO. They do this to prevent the abuse of their publications by unscrupulous SEO providers.
BAD SEO TACTIC 5: Setting up fake or contrived acts of kindness as link-bait.
There are a number of common schemes perpetrated on behalf of law firms in an attempt to trick people or institutions into providing links to a law firm website. The ethics of these tactics are highly questionable. The ends, if achieved, are typically unsatisfying, dangerous, and short-lived.
It boils down to using charity or generosity as a cover to get a link. Examples include:
- Setting up fake or worthless scholarships or grants to get colleges to link back to the law firm.
- Creating contests or scholarships aimed at students that require them to post their submission and link back to the law firm.
- Creating fake or meaningless charity events to get respected community organizations to link back to the law firm.
None of these tactics will pay off over time. These all fall within the definition of an unnatural link and are done to manipulate the search engines.
BAD SEO TACTIC 6: Participating in link schemes.
Google says that:
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.” – Google on Link Schemes
Here are some examples that Google provides:
- Buying or selling links that pass rank. This includes exchanging of anything of value for the links, links in posts, or giving something away for free in exchange for them linking to your law firm’s website.
- Exchanging links or cross-linking.
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with links that contain anchor text with keywords.
- Low-quality directory or bookmark site links.
- Keyword rich low-quality links embedded in widgets.
- Forum comments with optimized links in posts or signatures.
Here’s the rub. If a SEO person is not creating high-quality content for your website, and they claim to be doing off-site optimization, there are very few things that they can legitimately do on your behalf that add value and don’t create liability.
In order to protect yourself against buying an illusion, we recommend that you insist the provider keeps a log of every “off-site” action they perform for you, complete with links, so you can audit their work. That way you’ll be able to see what they have done, and put an immediate stop to it if it involves link schemes. If they refuse to do this, you can bet that it’s because they weren’t planning on doing anything in the first place, or the things that they were planning on doing were bad.
EASY LAW FIRM SEO WINS THAT ARE NOT WORTH PAYING SOMEBODY FOR
We get annoyed when marketing companies charge attorneys for things that should be done, but that take mere minutes to do, or that involve the attorney’s involvement anyway. Here are some things that you should do, but should never pay anybody to do for you.
EASY WIN 1: Claim and verify your local directory listings and citations.
It’s easy to claim most of the local listings and citations that will move the ball forward and help your law firm get more clients. Each one requires a five or ten minute investment of your time and no prior knowledge or experience. Some of them require that you receive verification in the US Mail to confirm your association with a physical address. This process typically only needs to be done once. Since it typically requires your participation anyway, why pay somebody to do it for you? At LawLytics, we’ll help guide you through the process to save you the expense of hiring somebody to do it.
For example, here’s how to create a Google Business Listing (“Google My Business”) or claim an existing listing.
A common issue that we see with law firms who’ve had previous marketing or SEO companies involved is the existence of multiple conflicting listings. When this happens, we typically guide our customers through the process of removing duplicate locations, which, like most tasks that marketing people attempt to charge lawyers to perform, takes just a few minutes. It’s simply a matter of signing into Google My Business, clicking “Duplicate locations” at the top of the page, and then clicking on the location(s) that you want to remove. If you don’t see the duplicate listing you want to remove, you may need to claim ownership over that listing before removing it.
Unless you have multiple office locations, claiming and managing your law firm’s local listings and citations is simple, quick and, in our opinion, should be free.
EASY WIN 2: Cultivate positive reviews from former clients and colleagues.
Want to get into huge SEO and ethics trouble? Of course you don’t. But many attorneys set themselves up for those kinds of problems when they delegate the process of getting and managing reviews to a non-attorney marketer.
To get good online reviews from real clients, and avoiding or mitigating negative reviews is very important to both modern SEO and to the process of converting potential clients into clients. In fact, reputation management for lawyers has become so important that LawLytics has two methods to help attorneys do just that.
The first is a powerful law firm reviews module that’s built right into the LawLytics control panel and allows you to easily post and organize client and peer recommendations on your website. The second is a law firm reputation management add-on that allows attorneys to get, monitor, filter and display reviews across a wide range of review sites including Google, Facebook, Yelp, and Avvo.
We believe that all attorneys should have control over the review process. This is because law firm marketers without legal backgrounds are unregulated and they can get lawyers in trouble. There are a number of ways that things can go wrong, which include:
- Your marketing guy posts fake positive reviews about you;
- You marketing guy posts fake negative reviews about your competitors;
- Your marketing guy alters reviews for spelling or grammar and changes their meaning;
- Your marketing guy solicits reviews in an unethical manner;
- Your marketing guy solicits reviews in a way that causes you to get negative reviews;
- Your marketing guy adds rating markup to your site that doesn’t match real recommendations.
It’s your reputation, and we believe that no law firm SEO company should be in charge of managing or cultivating it. The good news is that getting and managing reviews is easy. The setup time is minimal, and the involvement of your firm can be baked into the process of closing files at the conclusion of a matter.
With the LawLytics reputation management add-on, it’s also simple (and automated) to ask multiple former clients to review you without wasting time or money.
EASY WIN 3: Set up mainstream social media accounts.
Social media plays an important role in the success of your law firm’s website. But it’s important to approach social media strategically and in the proper order. Some legal SEO companies try to sell you social media marketing as a freestanding concept.
This is a mistake.
Social media accounts and activities should revolve around your law firm’s website, and support it, but are never a viable replacement for a website with a built-in law firm blog.
If you don’t have the following social media accounts set up, we recommend that you spend an hour and do so:
LawLytics supports the automatic announcement of newly published blog posts to Facebook business and personal pages, to Twitter, and to LinkedIn accounts and companies. We recommend that attorneys connect their personal accounts as well as their business accounts, as personal accounts typically get shared more often.
In absence of well-established and robust content efforts on your firm’s website, we do not recommend paying somebody to run social campaigns for your law firm. This is because most law firms don’t get business from direct social media marketing. We do, however, recommend that you announce your new blog posts to social media. These announcements help disseminate interesting content. When people share your content and link back to it because it provides readers with something of value, this can have a real and lasting effect of SEO.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR LAW FIRM SEO TO WORK?
The amount of time that it takes for your efforts or investment to start paying off depends on the intensity of effort or resources that you bring to bear. By following an aggressive and strategic content-centric SEO plan, in the absence of previous bad SEO practices on a law firm’s website, we have member law firms that have started to derive significant revenue from their investment in LawLytics in as little as three to four months. However, some firms that end up being highly successful have waited significantly longer, and their patience has paid off.
There are many factors that will determine when, and to what extent, your law firm’s SEO efforts will pay off. These include:
- The amount of content on your website.
- The quality of content on your website.
- The uniqueness of your content.
- The architecture of your website.
- The formatting of your content.
- The ease of use of your website.
- The competitiveness of your market.
- How narrow or broad your geographic targeting is.
- Whether you previously or currently engaged somebody to “build links” for your firm’s website (this usually delays the process of ranking well because the site must regain the confidence of the search engines).
- The extent to which you avoid letting fancy designs, moving images, and other “bells and whistles” from designers get in the way of your content efforts (a simpler site typically yields more rapid results).
The bottom line is that creating a sustainable web presence using organic SEO takes time. Attorneys who understand this, who are patient, and who don’t fall for quick-fixes and shortcuts end up winning in the long run.
WILL BUYING GOOGLE PAY-PER-CLICK ADS HELP WITH SEO?
Unfortunately, lots of marketing companies confuse attorneys by making it sound like their “Google Partner” status somehow makes their SEO efforts more effective or preferred by Google. This is 100% false, misleading, and shameful. The Google Partner status simply means that they are authorized to resell Google products such as Adwords.
There is absolutely no correlation between buying pay-per-click ads and organic search engine ranking (or SEO). In fact, Google clearly states:
Keep in mind that the Google search results page includes organic search results and often paid advertisement (denoted as “Ads” or “Sponsored”) as well. Advertising with Google won’t have any effect on your site’s presence in our search results. Google never accepts money to include or rank sites in our search results, and it costs nothing to appear in our organic search results.
But this fact doesn’t get in the way of many so-called law firm SEO providers who strategically flaunt their status as Google Partners in correlation with marketing materials about their SEO services.
The equivalent in law would be a law firm with advertising that implies that they can get their clients favorable results because they are friends with the judges or otherwise can exert undue influence.
QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE HIRING A LAW FIRM SEO COMPANY
When you’re worried about making your online marketing work, it’s easy to fall into traps and associate with counterproductive SEO providers. For that reason, LawLytics has long advocated for attorneys taking the time to educate themselves about how Google works, and what search engine optimization really is. To that end, we offer the public a library of on-demand legal marketing webinars that go into great detail on a number of relevant topics.
We also share Google’s own recommendation that “before beginning your search for an SEO, it’s a great idea to become an educated consumer.” Google recommends reading their Webmaster Guidelines, and How Google Search Works for starters. We recommend watching our webinar “Google Webmaster Guidelines For Lawyers.”
Here’s a quick video from the Google Webmaster Guidelines page:
Once you understand how Google works, we believe that you’ll feel very empowered and make the best choices. While a few LawLytics customers work with outside SEO companies in addition to using LawLytics, most of our customers choose not to because LawLytics is necessary and sufficient for every aspect of the attorney SEO process. If you are considering hiring a search engine optimization company for your law firm, here are some questions that you should always ask:
- How long have you been in business? Stability matters. Unfortunately, some SEO operators run scams where they operate under one business name until they get caught doing something untoward, and then quickly regroup under another name. Other people who are struggling in other fields come to internet marketing because they see it as having the potential to make money quickly.
- Have any of the principals in the company been convicted of any crime involving dishonesty? There are lots of convicts out there who have trouble securing or maintaining employment who hold themselves out as SEO professionals. We have seen attorneys do business with convicted felons and have their websites sabotaged or stolen.
- How many full-time employees do you have? Do they have other jobs as well? Can you give me all of their names? There are law firm SEO providers that try to make their companies look big and impressive by featuring lots of independent contractors on their website as employees. Ask how many of their employees are full-time and do not also work for other companies or have their own businesses on the side. You should also verify this by looking up the individual employees on LinkedIn to see if they list themselves as currently working at other companies.
- Do you have an office or does everybody work from home? When everybody works from home, this could be an indicator that, like the full-time employees issue above, the company is trying to appear larger or more established than they really are. While remote work is possible online, we find that it better serves our clients to have most of our team located in a physical office. If the provider answers that they all work remotely, what assurances can they give you that they are stable and not a fly-by-night operation that will soon disappear?
- Do you outsource or offshore any of your work? Some law firm SEO companies send their work to foreign countries, even though they claim that they do not. In addition to being deceptive, a language barrier can cause ethics problems if they reword your content for SEO purposes.
- Do you provide your employees with benefits? If they company provides its employees with medical, 401k and other benefits, it’s a sign that they are stable and invested in their team. If they are not providing them benefits, it may be a sign of instability.
- Do you follow Google Webmaster Guidelines? If they don’t know what this is, run. If they say they mostly follow it, run. If they say that they have their own guidelines and so they don’t follow Google’s guidelines exactly, run very fast.
- What is the legal background of the people who will be responsible for creating, editing or optimizing content on my law firm’s website? If they don’t have a legal background, how can you expect the prose on your law firm’s website to remain legally accurate and ethics-compliant? Remember, you, the attorney, are ethically responsible for what is published on your firm’s website. “Optimizing” statutory language can distort the meaning. Enough said.
- Do you understand legal ethics, especially Rules 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 or their applicable equivalents? If they don’t, are you willing to risk answering to the bar for hiring them? Since there are legal marketing companies that do understand the ethics rules, what would a reasonable and prudent attorney do?
- What do you know about the practice of law in my geographic area and practice type(s)? If they are going to be optimizing your law firm’s website so viable potential clients can find you, they should be able to articulate what they are looking for when they search Google, and they should be able to explain to you what your ideal potential client looks like.
- Do you have any special relationship with Google? If they answer “yes” to this, or they try to imply that the answer is more nuanced than “no,” you should not do business with them.
- Can you provide a list of everything that you’ll do for and provide to my law firm? If the answer is “no” or “it’s complicated,” you should not do business with them. If something is unclear, ask for clarification. Attorneys who blindly accept that a law firm SEO provider is doing “stuff” tend to get ripped off most of the time.
Commonly Asked Questions About Law Firm SEO
Do I need a full-service law firm SEO company?
This is a loaded question which first requires that “full-service” be defined. Many companies promote themselves as full-service to give the impression of completeness, and to create a distinction between themselves and companies that offer a service that is somehow incomplete. The problem is that full-service often times involves more illusions than inclusions.
Do I need backlinks?
Links from other websites to your law firm’s website are a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. Having links to your law firm’s website is a good thing when they are the right kinds of links. Unfortunately, you can’t buy your way into having the kind of links that you need. In fact, if your law firm SEO provider is selling backlinks, they are in direct violation of Google’s Guidelines on the topic. It’s basically like you telling a client of your law firm to hire you because you’ll bribe the judge.
Should I add location names into my law firm's pages for SEO purposes?
No. This sends a spam signal.
It used to be a common practice to include a paragraph on the pages of a law firm’s website that has a comma-delimited list of all of the locations where the attorney practices. The theory was that stuffing the location names into the text would help the search engines rank the page for searches that contain the included locations.
This is now a spam signal for the search engines. If you have this on your website, it should be removed immediately and a modern local law firm marketing strategy should be used instead.
How much does page speed affect SEO?
Page load speed performance has become a focus of many SEO salespeople. Much like mobile-friendliness, Google has made page load speed a ranking factor. However, this does not mean that the faster loading page will always win. Speed matters to Google, but is just one of hundreds of factors to balance in the quest for great search engine performance.
A website must have highly relevant content to rank well. A page with no design, structure or content will be the fastest loading page you can have, but it will not rank for anything. On the other hand, if you have 100,000 words of content, and heavy images on a page, and it takes the page 60 seconds to load, it is also unlikely to rank well.
We make sure that all of our member’s law firm websites load sufficiently fast to be able to rank well without sacrificing content or the usability of the site.
Are meta-keywords good for law firm SEO?
Some SEO providers talk about adding keywords to law firm websites and blogs. It is important to distinguish what they are talking about, because many of them persist in adding useless meta keywords. Google does not use the “keywords” meta tag in its ranking, and hasn’t for a very long time (see this piece from 2009).
What counts as high-quality content?
The Google Panda algorithm update was designed to boost the rankings of high-quality websites with high-quality content. Google wants to help people find the best quality content by elevating it in rankings while reducing the ranking of sites with poor quality content.
What search engines should a law firm website be submitted to?
When you are using modern technology such as LawLytics, there is simply no need to submit your website to the search engines. The automatically created robots file will tell the search engines where to find your automatically created and automatically updated sitemap file. The sitemap file in turn tells the search engines every time a new page is added to your website and also whenever any page is modified.
Submitting to the search engines as a service that you pay a SEO person for is a useless expense that should be avoided.
What is off-site SEO?
Off-site SEO can mean many things. Most significantly, the term is used as a catch-all for things that supposedly add value, but that can’t be measured.
In the past 8 years or so, off-site SEO has become a double-edge sword. And, when it’s paid for, it most often refers to getting backlinks from other sites, as well as “local citations.” For reasons explained elsewhere in this article, we strongly recommend that attorneys refrain from paying anybody to do “off-site SEO” for your law firm because of the very limited upside potential and the very significant downside risk.
What does longtail SEO mean for lawyers?
Most potential clients use Google and the other search engines to search for answers. Despite what most marketing companies want you to believe, the vast majority of searches for lawyers are based on queries for specific information rather than simple searches for lawyers. If your law firm is optimizing for the head (phrases like “Colorado personal injury lawyer”, and “Seattle DUI attorney”) instead of the tail (searches like “who pays for medical expenses and rental car after an accident in Colorado” and “will I lose my pilot’s license after a marijuana DUI in Seattle”), then you’re spending way too much to get way too little.
For a more detailed description of the longtail, see “Law Firm SEO – The Simple Truth That Will Save You Money,” which refers to the illustration below.
If you’re optimizing for the head of the keyword spectrum rather than the tail, you’re going to spend a lot of energy and money resulting in a lot more clicks from your competitors and from marketers trying to sell you services, but you’re going to net very few additional viable cases, and have a greatly diminished marketing ROI.
Conversely, we have found that attorneys who concentrate on the search phrases with a high likelihood of conversion because they are very specific ultimately see their websites start to rank very well for more general searches as a byproduct.
What is a XML sitemap and how does it help with my law firm's SEO?
An XML sitemap is a machine-readable list of pages in your website that tells the search engines what to crawl. It tells them when each page was added or updated, so that search engines know when to return to the page to re-index it. LawLytics automatically generates and updates the XML sitemap in real time for all of our member’s websites.
What is a meta description and why does it matter?
A meta description is a snippet of text in a HTML tag at the top of a web page or blog post that gives a summary of the content of the page. Search engines show the meta description in some of the search engine results pages when a search engine user types in a query that matches the content of the results. Other times, the search engines will substitute an excerpt from the page that the search engine deems to be more relevant based on the search.
The recommended length of a meta description is approximately 160 characters.
Meta descriptions are NOT a ranking factor and are not necessary to have on every page. In fact, you can choose to leave the meta description area blank on any page you choose because Google will fill in a description that it thinks is most relevant to the person who finds your site. However, if you do choose to use the meta description area, it is important that each page have its own description, and that each description be unique. In other words, it’s better to do nothing at all than to recycle the same met description for multiple pages.
Here’s a video from Google that discusses the topic:
What is considered duplicate content and how does it hurt my firm's website?
Duplicate content refers to “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.” – Google on duplicate content.
Not all duplicate content is bad and Google provides several suggestions and tools to assist with the avoidance of any downside of repeating content for natural reasons.
However, some law firm marketing companies create a single page of content and then find and replace keywords. For example, a page about local personal injury information with the city replaced and the page otherwise duplicated is not a good idea.
Avoid renting content from companies that also rent the same content to other lawyers as this will create a situation where there is no SEO benefit. Some law firm marketing companies that do this actually add no-index tags to such content pages in order to block the search engines from indexing them altogether. The net effect of this is that, although there is no issue with duplicate content and therefore no exposure to a penalty, there is also absolutely no SEO benefit in renting the content in the first place.
To be safe, we recommend writing all content on your law firm’s website from scratch, except for things that need to be quoted exactly such as statutes and case law.
What is the value of link building services for lawyers?
Picture this: You walk up to a group of people on the corner. They have a gun. They seem to be exchanging money. You ask them what they are doing? You learn that:
- It’s a game and you can play.
- The gun holds 5 rounds.
- One bullet is inserted, and the other chambers are left empty.
- You will sign a waiver.
- You will pay $10 to play.
- The barrel will be spun, and without looking it will be fired at your head at point-blank range.
- You have 1 in 5 chance of being hurt or killed.
- You have 4 in 5 chances of winning.
- Winning means you get your $10 back.
Would you play? Of course not.
Attorney link-building services are much like this. There is virtually no chance of you coming out ahead. There is a high-probability that you’ll break even. And there’s a statistically significant chance that you’ll end up paying somebody to sabotage your website. If you pay somebody to get your links, you’re playing Russian Roulette with your website.
What is the "top of Google" and how can my law firm get there?
Despite the promises that web marketers so freely use to entice lawyers and take their money, there is no “top of Google.” That one can get there is a misconception, because it doesn’t exist.
Does Google favor law firms that purchase pay-per-click marketing from them?
No. No. And no. Paying Google for ads does not give any advantage to law firms in the unpaid listings. Anybody who tries to sell you otherwise is lying (and if they are not it would ruin Google’s credibility). AdWords (or anybody who sells them) influencing Google’s organic rankings is counter to Google’s core ethos, which Google vigorously and publicly defends.
Is there a difference between SEO and SEM?
SEM stands for “Search Engine Marketing.” SEO is a subcategory of SEM. A company can be engaged in SEM without doing SEO. For example, Pay-Per-Click Marketing (PPC) is part of SEM, but is not SEO.
Is PageRank relevant for lawyers in 2018 and beyond?
SEOs used to live and die by PageRank, which was a number assigned by Google pages of websites. “Reported PageRank” was used as a tool by marketers to sell backlinks to influence Google results. So, predictably, Google took away the carrot and the stick, and PageRank is no longer updated, and it’s not a major ranking factor. It’s hotly debated whether it’s a ranking factor at all.
But, the spirit of PageRank lives on. Google is still interested in how reputable a page is. There is a trust factor that websites gain over time by following Google’s recommended practices.
The bottom line is that, if somebody is trying to sell you links, run. And if they tell you that the links have a PageRank (PR) of X, run.
How often should lawyers blog for best SEO results?
Blogging is one of the most effective and efficient marketing activities that you can do for your law firm. But how much, and how often, should you blog?
The answer depends on a number of factors including:
- Your practice area(s);
- Your geographic area;
- The demographics of your potential clients and referral sources;
- The activity level of your competition;
- The pace of news and evolution in or about your practice area(s).
As a general rule, the more you blog, the better. But a lawyer who practices personal injury law in Los Angeles will need to blog more often than a lawyer who does estate planning in Tucson.
As a general rule, we recommend blogging at least once a week. And if you want to build a truly dominant web presence, it may be helpful to blog (or have somebody blog for you) every day.
What is "black hat" SEO?
The term “Black Hat SEO” typically refers to the dangerous practices used to try to trick Google to obtain better ranking. Google is much smarter than every black hat SEO and has a vested interest in making sure that they don’t succeed in ranking sites that don’t merit it based on the value of the content on the site. This means that SEOs who employ black hat tactics, and their clients, ultimately get punished. The promise of potential short-term gains is never worth engaging in black hat tactics.
What is "white hat" SEO?
The term “White Hat SEO” is typically used to describe SEO practitioners who follow Google’s guidelines and don’t use tricks or deception. In 2018 and beyond, doing White Hat SEO mostly comes down to how content is created on the law firm’s website.
Does being "SEO certified" carry any weight?
No. Anybody can make up any certification for sales and marketing purposes.
Do "SEO awards" carry any weight?
No. Just like web design awards, these may be made up or pay-to-play.
What is link disavowal? Does my law firm need it?
Backlinks can be very bad for SEO. If you pay somebody to get them for you, or if a competitor gets them to sabotage you, there is an avenue to mitigate the damage. Google provides a detailed explanation here of disavowing backlinks. This is an expert-level function, and we don’t recommend that attorneys attempt it on their own unless they have read all of the instructions, and understand which links they are disavowing, and why.
You must own your site and be able to verify ownership in order to disavow backlinks to your law firm’s website. If you are a LawLytics member, we can help you understand whether this process is right for you, and help you with the verification and technical details.
Can a competitor sabotage my SEO?
It is very difficult (but not impossible) for a competitor of your law firm to sabotage your law firm’s SEO efforts. When it happens, it’s typically done by an outsourced SEO company and involves, ironically, employing the same strategies (link building, directory submissions, etc) that many SEO providers sell as beneficial.
For the most part, it is easier and cost-effective for a law firm to build their own ranking up rather than to degrade a competitor’s ranking. And, it’s much less risky.
We are frequently asked by law firms that call us to try to figure out why their marketing is not working with other companies if we think a competitor could be sabotaging them. While it’s always possible, it’s only worth investigation if the firm is doing everything else correctly and at a high level. Typically, your own SEO person is to blame for your loss of ranking, not your competitor.
Can SEO create legal ethics issues?
We have witnessed several non-lawyer SEO providers create potential ethics problems for attorneys while doing on-page search engine optimization.
The most common scenario is when the non-attorney webmaster alters text that has legal meaning and substitutes different keywords that they view as synonyms, but that carry different legal significance. Another common scenario is trying to optimize using comparative language such as “the best lawyer” or in describing an attorney as a “specialist” or “expert” in contravention to the applicable state ethics rules.
The bottom line is that you, the attorney, are responsible for every word on your law firm’s website. Letting a SEO provider alter your words does not absolve you from that responsibility. The benefit of having a non-lawyer do on-page SEO for your law firm is typically negligible or negative, so why risk your bar card or reputation by empowering somebody who doesn’t understand legal ethics and has nothing to lose?
How does the domain's history affect SEO?
A domain’s history, positive or negative, can impact SEO. A domain that has been around for a long time and has always followed the best practices, and has plenty of useful content, will tend to be favored over domains that are new and contain equivalent content. However, an old domain can be a curse as much as a blessing. If you have previously hired a webmaster to game the search engines, purchase links, etc., that negative history can carry over and make it more difficult for your site to regain the trust of the search engines.
If you are buying a previously owned domain name, it is important to understand the history of the site. If the site previously used bad practices, or had been a spam or scam site, the previous owners’ actions may negatively impact the future success of that domain.
There is a misconception that just because a domain is “aged” it is better. An old domain that has been abused or neglected is no better (and sometimes worse) than a newly registered domain.
Are keywords in a domain name helpful?
Domains are the “address” of your website that a human being can easily type in. For example, http://www.examplefirm.com is a domain (see our discussion of TLDs and SEO below for more). When selecting a domain for your law firm, keep the following in mind:
- The domain should be memorable. People should be able to type it into their web browser without thinking. Words should have their common spellings.
- Google use to give higher priority in search results to “exact match domains,” which were domains that contained the words that the searcher typed. Today, while Google does not give priority to exact match domains that don’t also have high-quality content, or that use bad SEO techniques, having a “good” domain name can still provide a benefit. It’s probably not worth paying a lot of money for an exact match domain unless you have the time or budget to develop it with lots of high-quality content.
- Some attorneys register domains with keywords separated by hyphens. The idea is that these domains are easier to read, and they are also more readily available to register than domains that don’t have hyphens. However, authoritative sources have argued that these types of domains are indicative of spammy behavior, and recommend using no more than one hyphen in a domain name.
Like everything else with the search engines, the intent of the website owner is important. If the intent of the domain name is clearly an attempt to gain favor with the search engines, then it’s probably best to go back to the drawing board. However, if a compelling argument can be made that the domain name is part of the firm’s core essence or branding, then the presence of keywords may ultimately help with ranking.
Does the IP address or location of the host's server affect a law firm's chances of ranking well?
There are some “bargain” hosts that host hundreds, or even thousands, of websites on a single server with a single IP address. These servers can be very attractive to spammer and scammers because the hosting is cheap and requires little or no commitment. When lots of bad behavior comes from a known IP address, it is possible for that IP address to become tainted or untrusted.
Additionally, cheap, shared hosting opens the possibility that a bad actor could access the code or database of your website and add malicious code or spam links. For that reason, shared bargain hosting can expose you to potential downside when it comes to SEO.
The search engines possess the technology, intelligence and motive to regulate their results. And if a high percentage of websites from a host or IP address contain things that are damaging to the search engine’s business (spyware, malware, spam, scams, etc), it is possible for them to “distrust” an entire IP address, IP range, or host.
Will a penalty follow me to a new domain?
A common scenario we see from law firms is that they engaged a SEO person who got their site in trouble using some of the foolish SEO practices outlined on this page. This resulted in their website getting demoted or penalized, and it won’t come back. If you’re in this situation, you should read our blog post on “The Sunk-Cost Fallacy And The Once-Great Law Firm Website” or watch the on-demand webinar “Can My Underperforming Law Firm Website Be Saved?”
Sometimes the only way to save an attorney’s web presence is to start over with a fresh domain name. (For help choosing a domain, see our webinar “Choosing A Domain Name For Your Law Firm’s Website.”) And, when you use a new domain, the logical next question is whether you should forward your old website.
If you do forward the website using a 301 redirect (which tells Google that the site has moved), all of the negative history of your previous domain is likely to transfer. That puts your firm in no better situation than you started in. For that reason, to avoid a penalty following you, we recommend that a prior bad domain not be forwarded.
I got an email asking if a SEO company can place a link on my site. Should I do it?
There is a common SEO trick which involves the solicitation, via email, which says something to the effect of:
- I work with attorneys across the US, and want to benefit their websites and yours.
- I’ll place a link on your website to one of my clients, which will elevate their website.
- You’ll place a link to a different client of mine on your website, which will elevate their website.
- This is free.
- This is not black-hat and is legitimate because the links aren’t reciprocal.
- This does not violate Google’s guidelines.
If you see this, understand that it is very dangerous for you to participate in and is a link scheme. A webmaster that has his or her customers participate in such a scheme is playing a dangerous game of deception, and runs the risk of getting all of their customers demoted or banned by the search engines.
There are many other schemes that amount to getting you to place a link from your website to another law firm’s website. Unless you are doing so with the intent of sharing good information (and linking directly to that good information) on the other firm’s site, do so at your own peril. There is no upside and a whole lot of potential pain if you participate.
How does keyword density affect SEO?
In the 1990s and in the first decade of this century, keyword density was a significant topic among SEOs. The theory was that there was a “right” ratio of a desired keyword to other words on the page. When achieved, this formula would result in a better chance of ranking for that particular keyword. And, to the credit of some SEOs, it actually worked in decades past.
The search engines have matured over the last 10 years, and they now place a greatly diminished importance on specific keywords. Instead, there is more emphasis on the context and intended meaning of the words on the page. If you are simply adding keywords or phrases for the search engines, it will not sound natural, and you are less likely to rank well.
On the other hand pages on law firm websites can now rank well for keywords that don’t appear even once on the page. For example, a well written article about hiring an “attorney” can do very well in searches about hiring a “lawyer” even though the word “lawyer” is never used on the page.
The bottom line is that, if you are creating well-written and relevant content that answers the intent of a searcher’s question, the keywords that you use, and the frequency with which they appear on the page is not a needle-mover. So avoid hiring somebody to optimize your keyword density, and instead focus on creating useful content.
Does the top level domain (TLD) matter for lawyers who want to rank well?
A top level domain (TLD) is what comes after the “dot.” The most common are .com, .net and .org, which have been around forever (in internet time). But in 2018 there are a lot of choices for lawyers, including law-specific TLDs.
We have seen (and have customers with) domains with legal-specific suffixes that rank well on Google, but have seen no evidence that these domains confer any advantage over traditional TLDs when it comes to ranking. For more thoughts on lawyers and domain name selection, see a blog post from August 2015, “Should Lawyers Buy .law Domains?”
How often does a law firm website need to be optimized?
Once a page on a law firm website or blog is optimized for the search engines, it rarely needs to be altered or optimized. While this is contrary to what most SEO salespeople will tell attorneys, it is logical and supported by the facts.
For something that is already optimized to become unoptimized, a condition must change. Before concluding that a page needs additional optimization, ask:
- Has Google’s algorithm changed?
- Has the law changed?
- Have the facts presented on the page changed?
That’s it. If none of the above are true, your page does not need further optimization assuming it’s optimized correctly in the first place.
On the flip side, your page may slip in ranking, or may not achieve the ranking you want based on a number of factors that are not related to, and would not be solved by, ongoing optimization services such as are sold by many SEO companies. These factors include:
- Your competitor now has better or more content than you do, and their ranking is decreasing yours.
- Your content is insufficient despite being “optimized.”
- Your SEO company deployed any of the tricks or bad practices described on this page.
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