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How law firms can get better search engine marketing results

Posted on Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Many of the search engine marketing tips I've read over the years just seem downright strange; ideas that upon further thought and review don't seem to make any sense, and usually there is a reason for this.

It's usually these "tips", the ones that seem a little off-base, which will hurt your website's search results rather than help them. Anything "tricky" or ideas that seem like cheating, such as putting heaps of links and keywords at the bottom of your pages or "cloaking" content ( i.e. hiding words from the browser) will come back to haunt you tenfold like a leaky pipe you ignore for years until it finally floods your basement. Some of these bad ideas are actually recommended by SEO firms, the very ones that are probably trying to get you to hire them right now. Making decisions for your firm as to whose advice to follow and which website path to take has become more difficult than ever, not only because of all of these loud voices screaming at you to optimize, optimize, optimize, but also because the search engines, led by Google, are getting smarter and more finicky.

There are many pieces of advice (ok, we will call them tips, but not tricks!) that you can follow that not only make sense when you think about them, but they will not bite you in the butt a few months or a year from now when search engines penalize you for doing something inadvisable. These tips can be used now and forever, as long as we have search engines like Google that reward good content over cheap SEO tricks. To categorize and describe some common SEO strategies, I will use the title (and characters) of one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies (this is dating me, of course) - The Good ("Blondie", played by Clint Eastwood), the Bad ("Angel Eyes", played by Lee Van Cleef), and the Ugly ("Tuco" - Eli Wallach). Let's start with the good.

The good

In the past, law firms and attorneys found all of their new clients by referrals. While this method of new business is not dead, and will likely never be gone entirely, relying on this method for new business, even if you're not a greasy rat like Tuco, will not bring you much of the gold. These three efforts, if performed regularly, will increase your website's visibility, now and in the future.

Write good articles about your particular expertise. This is something most lawyers can do, but don't. You learned to write well in school, you advise your clients all day, why can't you put these two skills together? If you think your writing sucks you can always pay someone to do it, or get an in-house marketing people or writing consultant to spruce up your clumsy paragraphs. Writing about what you know - even if it's only a few hundred words - is akin to explaining to someone you meet at a party or a networking event what you do, and then handing them your card (it's actually better, most people will throw out the card!). If you despise the actual act of writing, try the dictation app that is free on every Iphone and Ipad and appears on most other smart phones; it works well, and usually requires only light editing to correct the occasional error. If you can get into the habit of writing something once or twice a month for the rest of your career, you will be able to retire a little earlier with more loot. Isn't that worth the effort?

Make sure your titles have great keywords in them. I've seen very good articles with titles like "Tax Law update" or "What's new in real estate". The title of your article is the most important part of your content, believe it or not. The search engines place heavy weight on the keywords within the article's title, so if you are giving your writing "Daily News" type titles (short, cute, etc.), you are short-changing the most powerful portion of the article. If your article mentions a particular law, name that law in the title; if you're talking about a specific problem area, include the problem in the title. And so on. Failure to do this will tell Google and other search engines that your article does not have many important things to say about the very keywords people would normally search for to find your article. Make sure other sites (good sites) are linking to you. This is generally a job for an SEO expert, as finding the "right" sites to link to your law firm requires a judgment call on an external website's quality. It also requires some expertise to get the better sites to agree to link to you. But adding quality links over time will build up importance and will lead to more traffic; not just any traffic, but the kind you want.


The bad

These ideas, if implemented by your SEO consultant, will be like tying your website up and letting your competitors run away with the money. Don't try these.

Resist the impulsive impulse to take certain keywords and impulsively insert them on your pages as if you could not resist the impulse. This is called "keyword stuffing" but it's not something delicious you put in your thanksgiving turkey. Keyword stuffing involves a somewhat delirious belief that placing the same or similar keywords over and over again on a webpage will magically convince the search engines that your page is more important than other firm's websites that use those same keywords less frequently. This might have worked once upon a time (for about 10 minutes), but the search engines quickly coded for this trick and added a penalty for it, so make sure you are not over-using any keywords on your pages. While you're at it, check your pages for too many links; over 50 and you're de-valuing the ones you have. Keywords are always more powerful if they are a) in the title, b) linked somewhere in the text, and c) you have inbound links that are relevant to those keywords. Meta tags should only have about 5 keywords, no more!

Create external blogs that do nothing for your firm's main site. I've seen instances where one partner or one group within the firm has their own blog, and it is filled with great content, but it's being wasted because the blog has little to no linkage (unlike the firm's main site) and there is no linkage between the two sites. If they are related, link them, share content, and there will be benefits to both sites.


The ugly

Paying an SEO consultant thousands of dollars to do your website harm is, unfortunately, quite a common crime these days. Not because they are mean like Angel Eyes, but because their ideas for improving your site's visibility is either misplaced or outdated. Like uninformed legal advice, uninformed SEO advice can be fatal.

Avoid, at all costs, paid links or "link farms." If you have ever considered hiring an SEO consultant or firm, and one of their services is to add hundreds (I've even seen thousands) of inbound links to your site, I would seriously question if this was a sound strategy, not to mention a safe one. Most of the time, these "consultants" are actually foreign workers who, for a few dollars an hour, add ugly links to your site by using link farms and other websites whose only reason for existence is to let people add links to them. These sites are usually known by Google and other search sites to be "ugly", and if they are not known as such, they soon will be. Adding a link to your site from these link farms will not only do your site harm, it could also result in a penalty, i.e. your site will possibly do even worse than before. I don't think that's why you hire an SEO consultant! The reason is, when the search engines see so many poor quality websites linking to you, they will assume your site is also of poor quality. A lower number of high-quality links is always better.

Invisible Text and Cloaking. Invisible Text usually consists of the practice of adding text to a page that is the same color as the page's background; the visitor can't detect this, but search engines can. Initially they might rank the site higher, but eventually it'll be discovered (usually by search engine robots) and you'll be penalized. Cloaking is the practice of tricking people who think they are going to one kind of page or website, then bringing them to another. Something Tuco would try, but I'm pretty sure Blondie would figure it out.

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