Sep 12, 2013
(e)SEO for Dummy Lawyers
Law firm marketing companies want you. Specifically, they want your money. With promises of making it easy for your clients to find you online, and a phone ringing off the hook, they lure you into five year contracts at ridiculous prices. They promise that by redesigning your web site or managing your social media or some other “secret sauce” that only they can give you, you will become the most sought-after attorney in your practice area in your market.
The holy grail of online marketing these days is “search engine optimization,” or “SEO.” That’s technical jargon for, “the way search engines like Google find your website and deliver it to a potential client who is looking for your services but does not know about you yet.” Everyone wants to tell you how to “fix” your SEO. They promise that you will land on the first page (sometimes even that you will be ranked at the top of the listings) when someone searches for legal services.
Do not fall for it! SEO is a science unto itself, but it is definitely not rocket science. You passed the bar exam, people. Trust me when I tell you that you can do this on your own. The best part? Most of the time, it’s free.
I do not spend much money on advertising and marketing. At all. I do 90% of my marketing online by myself, and people finding my web site is the single largest source of new business for my firm. I do my own (e)SEO (Ethical Search Engine Optimization). I do a little something every week to help build and maintain my status online by myself, and it is working. I’m a lawyer. I value my reputation and my license. I will only do (e)SEO – Ethical Search Engine Optimization.
To understand (e)SEO, you need to know how so-called Web crawlers interact with your web site. A Web crawler is simply software that systematically browses the Internet for the purpose of indexing online content. Web crawlers are so sophisticated that they can, essentially, read your site. You may have heard about the importance of “keywords” to getting your site noticed by Google. Keywords are the words that you expect people to enter into a search engine to find your firm, and Web crawlers are looking for keywords that are used on your web site more than would statistically be possible unless your web site was actually “about” those words.
Typically, a web developer will list a bunch of keywords either visibly on the front page or hidden in the code underlying the site. Well, I’ve got news for you – those lists of keywords embedded in your site are not doing diddly for you by themselves! Lists of keywords without a naturally occurring context will hurt, not help, your (e)SEO. You have to use keywords within the text of your site. And remember, more pages is better, but only if you build in actual informative content. Web crawlers are pretty smart about determining when keywords are used in an appropriate context. Blogging is great, but it will take a while to build enough blog content to impact (e)SEO. So instead, pack your site with content about your firm. Write something about each attorney in your firm, every practice area you serve, every kind of client you serve – every important thing about your business should have its own page.
In addition to reading your site, Web crawlers also look for how often your site is referenced on other web sites. Therefore, you need to build links back to your site wherever you can. The best way to do that is to get listed for free on as many directory sites as possible: Google Maps, Yahoo, Yelp, Mapquest, Merchant Circle, and Foursquare, just to name a few. Make sure there is a link back to your business’s web site on every listing. Those links back are crucial for (e)SEO, so if you change location or other pertinent information about your firm, make sure you update all of those sites as well as your web site. Just getting your business occupancy license helps. That puts you on the radar of some sites (like Manta.com) that list businesses in directories. They cull public records information on new businesses and put it online. Usually such listings include your name, your firm name, your business address and often your phone number and a link back to your web site.
Also, make sure you have a Google+ account, a Facebook page, a Twitter page and a LinkedIn company page. Note that these are not personal accounts – they are for business marketing only. Make sure you have links back to your web site on all of them. Invite your clients, friends, family and referral sources to follow you. For these pages to be effective for you, you need to update them at least a few times a week with content that will be relevant to your prospective clients and referral sources – and therefore relevant to a Web crawler. Just a short post linking to a relevant news article or your latest blog post is fine, just put a tiny bit of effort into it on a consistent basis. The easiest way I have found to do this is to link your accounts so that when you post to one social media account, it gets cross-posted to all four of them.
Another tip is to write the occasional press release and post it to a few free sites. Write about what your firm is doing or has done. About your grand opening or new location. About that new associate you hired. About a case that you won. About the CLE class you presented or the law review article you have coming out. Anything will do! Just make sure that, in the last paragraph of your press release, you include the following: “For more information contact John Doe, Esq., at the John Doe Law Firm, 123 Any Street, Small Town, USA 12345, email@example.com, www.johndoe.com.” Guess what? That’s another link back to your site. Another reference point for a Web crawler to find out about you. However, make sure you state the exact same contact language each and every time to maintain consistency.
Finally, submit your information to some lawyer-specific sites that give you a free listing. Claim your profile on various lawyer rating sites even if you do nothing else with the site (some state bar associations frown upon you soliciting client testimonials, and lawyer ratings sites can be both good and bad, so proceed with caution). Take advantage of listings with your local bar association and other voluntary bars you belong to.
See? That wasn’t so bad. It’s all about communicating about your firm to the people who want to find you and hire you. Make it easy for them to do that by telling them more about you, your firm, and what it is you do, and putting that message out to as many outlets as possible online. Do it ethically, responsibly, and on your own for free. Now you’ve got (e)SEO.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.