In my last post, I talked about underhanded SEO companies who use questionable tactics to accomplish their clients' goals. Since most lawyers are unfamiliar with search engine optimization and web strategy, they are often unaware of the actual methods used by some of these companies to maximize their web presence. But even lawyers who are working with reputable SEO companies are sometimes lost during the discussion and are unclear about what results they can anticipate and what strategies will be undertaken on their behalf.
Here are a few tips for lawyers when talking to any company who is seeking to maximize their presence on the web or increase their search engine rankings:
1. Don't be afraid to ask questions or request clarification - even if you have to ask more than once. I often caution lawyers not to speak in "legalese" or use legal jargon when talking to clients, and to speak the language their clients understand. Unfortunately, lawyers are not the only professionals afflicted with this disease - web and technical professionals often use terms that are perfectly understandable to those in the industry, but might as well be another language to a lay person. And in this instance, the lawyer is the lay person.
Keep asking questions until you understand. If the person trying to sell you their services cannot explain exactly what they're doing in a way that is understandable to you, walk away. A true professional should be able to make their work perfectly clear to their clients. If they can't, I would question whether they are either trying to hide something, or whether they really know what they are doing.
2. Find out exactly what steps are being taken on your behalf. What exactly is being done? Is the SEO company going to be working solely on your site, with your content, your url, metatags, page titles, etc. or will they be doing work elsewhere, such as creating links or commenting on other sites? What sites will they be visiting? What kinds of comments will be left in your name or directed to your site?
3. Define the results being offered. If you are told you will be on the first page of Google, find out what that means. Does that mean you'll be on the first page for your name or your firm's name? Or will it be for specific keywords, like "Long Island Divorce Lawyer?" Are the terms ones your actual potential clients, strategic partners and referral sources really use when they search the web for information related to your practice area? For how long is the company claiming you'll be on the first page?
4. Identify both up front and ongoing costs. For each result being offered, ask, "What will that cost?" Will it cost additional money over time? How will the strategy be maintained? (See above - getting on the first page of Google for your search terms may be great, but how long will it last and how often will updates/changes, etc. need to be made in order to stay there?)
5. What is the linking strategy? If inbound links are included, what kinds of inbound links will be provided, by whom and how? Inbound links are helpful because the search engines want to provide the searcher with the most relevant, updated and authoritative information available on the keywords or topic they are searching.
One of the ways to establish that your site is authoritative is by inbound links: if someone is linking to you, you must be an authority on that topic. And the higher the ranking of the site that links to you, the more authoritative your site becomes. The more substantive the link itself is, the better. ("Click here" is an inbound link that isn't as effective as "Long Island Divorce Lawyer.")
Understanding these principles goes a long way toward understanding why simply planting links on unrelated sites is not helpful - it's simply an attempt to 'game' the system. And the search engines don't like that. If inbound links are included as part of your strategy, make sure you ask these questions.
6. Beware of any SEO strategist who comes in with a plan without asking LOTS of questions about your firm and your practice. If they don't do an in-depth analysis of who you are, who your clients are, and what your clients come to you for, they cannot possibly build an effective search strategy. Just like you can't build an effective marketing or business development plan without having an intimate knowledge of your best clients, their problems, expectations and needs, neither can your SEO company attract those potential clients to you using the internet without the same information.
Do your clients tend to hire you at different times of the year for different reasons? Are there certain triggers that cause clients to hire you? Are these being considered as part of your SEO strategy?
7. Remember that content is king. While there are some non-content-based adjustments that can be made to your website that can increase visibility and increase your chances of being found on the internet (such as title tags) the fact is that both search engines and actual potential clients will most often find you based upon actual content, because most internet searches are simply searches for information. Any good search engine optimization strategy must address content - and not just in terms of jamming keywords into your site (which can actually hurt you) - it has to be real content that people are going to want to read.
8. You probably don't need to spend a lot of money on keywords. Does it make sense to pay huge sums for popular keywords (which by their nature are likely to appear on many other lawyers' sites), or are there other, not as popular keywords that might be better for your geographic area or specific market? Do you have a niche practice or a sub-specialty that can help get people in the door? The keywords may not be as popular, but the people searching them may be better tailored to your target market. And less popular keywords will be less expensive.
9. Remember that traffic alone means nothing. Don't be blinded by numbers of clicks or numbers of visitors. You want to be sure that the traffic being driven to your site is the kind of traffic you want - your ideal clients, strategic partners and referral sources.
All of the visitors in the world won't mean anything if they are not the right clients for you. And even if you manage to attract the right clients to your site, you have to ensure that your site is built in a way that will allow you to capture those ideal clients - to get them to take some action to further their relationship with you, whether that means they download your white-paper, sign up to receive your book, or call your office for a consultation. When your web visitor takes the action you want them to take, you have 'converted.' Don't pay just for traffic - you need the right traffic and you need conversions.
10. Be mindful that SEO is not a one-time undertaking. The search engines change their algorithms. The marketplace changes. New competition enters the field. Clients change their habits or expectations. New content is generated on the web that is more timely or more relevant. New links are created or updated information is posted on another site that the search engines think is more relevant, changing your ranking. (see #4 above)
11. Find out how results will be reported to you. Can you track not just traffic, but actual conversions? Will you be given a report of activities undertaken by the SEO company on your behalf? Will you be provided with the sites where links were placed, and the content of those comments and links?