Part VI in a continuing series on improving your firm’s website
Part I: 7 Tips to Improve Your Bio Page
Part II: 5 Best Practices for your Practice Areas
Part III: Video is a Game Changer
Part IV: 4 Reasons You Should Blog
Part V: 3 Videos You Need to Have
Part VI: 4 Reasons to Ignore SEO
Part VII: 4 Steps to Know (and Track) Your Audience
Based on the number of articles that I see every day, it would seem that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is quite an important issue today. At least for internet marketing companies. Their pitch? Let us come in and re-work your website so that you’ll rank at or near the top in search engine results. These searches, referred to as “organic searches,” are the ones where you type in a word or phrase that the engine uses to pull your results. By knowing how those results are organized, marketers claim they can optimize your website to exploit those systems.
Sadly, their pitch routinely works, especially on lawyers. If you’re getting frustrated with the level of success (or lack thereof) you’ve achieved from your internet marketing, you definitely want to look for ways to improve. However, here are 4 reasons to ignore SEO as part of your strategy:
1) Most attorneys do not benefit by improving their search engine rankings.
With the narrow exceptions of attorneys who handle traffic and DUI matters, and to a considerably lesser extent, personal injury lawyers, most attorneys’ business does not come from organic searches. Before even considering paying a marketing service for SEO improvement, ask yourself whether your ideal client is someone who is looking for legal representation by typing “lawyer” into a Google search. Odds are, the answer will be no.
So improving SEO will likely not bring you much in the way of new clients, and the ones that it does bring are not likely to be the ones you want. That means the only reason you would be paying to improve your search engine rankings is ego; your desire to have your firm listed higher than any other firms.
It’s considerably more likely that people who are looking for your firm online will already have basic information. They will have gotten your name or the name of your firm from a friend, relative, or another attorney. They’re going to type in your name or your firm’s name into their search, so the real key is to make sure that your firm comes up on search results for that type of client.
2) Thanks to Google, there will be no way to know if your new strategy works.
You may have heard about Google’s new “Hummingbird” algorithm for searches. In case you haven’t, Hummingbird is the newest iteration of Google’s search programming – a significant upgrade to their already top-of-the-line search program. The key change regarding SEO is that all organic searches are now encrypted. When using an analytics program to see what keywords were used to reach your site by search engines, all you’ll see is “keyword not provided.”
So what, all I really need to know is that I’m getting more hits from search engines, right? Well, sure, if your only goal in paying for SEO improvement is to get a couple more people on your site tomorrow. But you also won’t know if the results are due to the service you’re paying for, or the case you won last week that appeared in local newspapers. Or even just a slight modification in the search engine algorithm that boosted your ranking for reasons completely unrelated to your SEO.
The inability to analyze where your search engine traffic is coming from today also means that you’ll be unable to make any specific plans for SEO tomorrow. Since the algorithms, and the keywords people are using the most, are constantly changing, why would you pay for a shot-in-the-dark attempt to increase your search engine rankings?
3) The people telling you that they can push your site to #1 are full of crap.
It’s quite common for companies selling SEO improvement to advertise their knowledge about how the organic search algorithms work. They’ll tell you how their knowledge leads them to include the right things in your website. They don’t.
Google is constantly changing the algorithm that produces search results. And the number of factors that they use to create rankings are massive. And they don’t actually tell everybody what they are and what weight each one gets. It is incredibly complicated.
Additionally, many of the techniques that these companies use are violations of search engine guidelines – also known as “black hat SEO.” These techniques are designed to take advantage of certain well-known elements of search engine algorithms to improve your rankings in a hurry without actually improving your site. Although they may provide a short-run benefit, search engine companies aggressively seek out these practices. In the long run, your site could suffer a dramatic drop in rankings as the search engines weed out the black hat tactics. Even worse, if too many black hat tactics are used, Google may even de-index your site. I hope you got all the business you’ll ever need out of that short-run benefit!
Attorneys tend to be vulnerable to claims made by internet marketing companies that rely on black hat tactics due to lack of general familiarity with how search engines work. Don’t be a victim!
4) Also thanks to Google, even if you could guarantee that you’d get the #1 ranking, it’s not worth what it used to be.
Do a Google search for something right now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…
What do you see on that first screen, without using your scroll bar? Odds are, not your organic search results. Google has been shifting how their search engine delivers your results for a while now. You’ve probably already started to notice that the first results returned are never exactly what you’re looking for, and contain the word “sponsored.”
Google pretty much requires you to be a part of the Google ecosystem (a Google customer via Google Maps, Google AdWords, Google+, Google Local Listings) in order to appear at the top of the list on an organic search. Associatesmind.com discussed the example of searching for the term “Wichita DUI attorney.” Without scrolling down, the only “organic” result on the screen was for a Findlaw.com site, a paid service. Even scrolling down, only one non-Google law firm was even listed on the first page.
So what can you really do?
Among the best ways to improve your website’s search engine rankings is to figure out what particular ranking you are targeting. Do you want to be first for DUI attorney? Is it important that you appear high on the list when you include your current city in the search?
Once you know your target, you have an actual chance to improve your rankings without paying massive amounts of your hard-earned money to a third-party marketer. Make sure your website contains all the information you want clients to have, the more thorough you are, the more likely that search engine spiders will include information from your page. Also, add a blog! Frequently adding quality content, WITHOUT worrying about how each word will impact your search engine results, is the best way to guarantee your website will always be relevant in search engines, in my humble opinion. (For someone else’s list of suggestions, click here.)