(e)SEO for Dummy Lawyers

SEOLaw 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 MapsYahooYelpMapquestMerchant 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, john@johndoe.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®.

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5 comments on “(e)SEO for Dummy Lawyers

  • How is DIY SEO an inherently more ethical form of law firm marketing than services provided by marketing agencies? That’s like saying you shouldn’t be fooled by high-priced landscaping services when there’s (e)Mowing — ethical mowing of your own lawn.

    You have the time and inclination to perform basic SEO functions yourself, but other lawyers don’t. That doesn’t make your choices more ethical, nor does it mean that other solos or small firms are dupes, or ethically compromised.

  • The “ethical” part of (e)SEO isn’t about who does the SEO. It’s about how the SEO is done. A lawyer has a lot of rules to follow in order to comply with his or her professional responsibility requirements regarding lawyer advertising, and those rules extend to SEO. My article is intended to help lawyers to ethically use SEO to market their firms online.

    Let me be very clear: my criticism of outsourced SEO is NOT that outsourced SEO is unethical. The fact that SEO is outsourced is not ethical or unethical in and of itself.

    That having been said, I do note that you are in the business of selling SEO services to lawyers. I do not have a lot of respect for that because the SEO industry is, by and large, the modern-day equivalent of snake oil salesmen. There is nothing an SEO service can do to help a law firm (or anyone else) with SEO that they cannot do for themselves with a modicum of effort. I have seen too many lawyers taken advantage of by unethical SEO companies.

  • I’m going to assume you hired someone to design your web site though, because it doesn’t look like something you could do yourself. (If you did then great job!) Some things, like properly optimizing title tags are important to SEO but also things that attorneys have a hard time doing themselves if they are trying to increase their SEO.

    You are right that listing yourself in various directory sites as well as creating profiles on major sites like Facebook and Google+ are important because of the quality inbound links they provide, though a lot of the free directory listings don’t include actual trackable inbound links. For the attorney who doesn’t have the time to update all those listings, they can pay for a service like Yext that submits information to multiple directories. I also think that managing social media pages (Facebook, Google+, Twitter) should be something done personally by the attorney not farmed out to another company because it loses that personal touch.

    It would also be helpful if in addition to explaining things you can do yourself easily, you also gave some tips on monitoring what a SEO company does on your behalf. Most ordinary SEO companies don’t realize the unique position lawyers are in with the ethical rules. This is why I would hope that SEO companies targeted at attorneys specifically would be better suited at providing ethical SEO because they would know those limitations. No matter what company you work with, it is important to find out what they are doing for you so you can determine if it is ethical.

  • Actually, no. I used a professional photographer, had a graphic designer make the logo and graphics, and hired a web dev guy to initially put up the site, but the overall design is mine and I manage the back-end. I use Joomla as a hosting platform, which gives me flexibility in managing the site and its SEO while handling certain things automatically (like generating HTML tags). I did not hire anyone to do SEO optimization on the back end. I figured out how to use Google Analytics so I could track my SEO progression and tweak what works and what doesn’t.

    Again, it’s not rocket science. Do-it-yourself (e)SEO does not happen overnight, but it most certainly can be done. It is just silly to assert that lawyers can’t figure out how to run a web site or manage SEO. And arguably, a newly-minted solo shouldn’t be spending the kind of money consultants charge for SEO management.

    I think you’ve hit a nail on the head, though. There are lawyers that would prefer to not deal with it, but they have to anyway. They still need to know how SEO works or they will not understand what their SEO contractor is doing for them, if anything, and whether or not it is handled in a manner that respects the Rules of Professional responsibility.

  • Thank you for your article. I have farmed out SEO and web services several times in the my legal career. Some operators were talented, professional and ethical. Some were not. Sounds like all other trades. I am slowing learning about site building, SEO etc. under the theory of “if he can I can.” Again thanks for the pointers

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