Many marketers make big promises about getting your law firm website to “Page 1” of Google in record time. As you know from practicing law, if it sounds too good to be true then it’s probably bull sh** (right?). While there are complex nuances to how search engines decide what gets displayed in the top results for any given query, the best practices that most impact search engine optimization (“SEO”) are straight forward and haven’t really changed over the last decade. This post will debunk the techno jargon that marketers and SEO specialists love to sell you along with that expensive SEO package you don’t really need.
The Truth About SEO: You Can’t ALWAYS Be on Page 1 of Google
Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) involves a combination of factors, none of which are “voodoo black magic” obtained through snake oil. The programs or “algorithms” used by search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo are like lightening fast speed readers scanning billions of pages of content stored on computers AKA “web servers” across the globe. These search tools build indexes over time that allow them to produce search engine result pages (“SERPS”) intended to call up the best matching content to the terms a potential client typed into their search.
But here’s the catch: how often do you find EXACTLY what you are looking for on the first try?
Differences in search habits, technical understanding and use of Boolean delimiters (remember those from your CALR class in law school?), the user’s browser history, cookies and sign-in data all have an affect on whether potential clients find you on Page 1 of Google.
The key take away here, is that before we even begin to talk about SEO tactics, understand that differences in the way potential clients search will have a real impact on whether you show up in their results. The good news is that many factors of organic SEO are within your realm of control, and the ones that are out of your hands can be influenced by a dedicated content marketing strategy that leverages regular blog posts and fresh content.
The Three Key Factors That Impact SEO
The three key factors affect SEO regardless of updates to search algorithms and technology. These items should be addressed and considered in any SEO strategy and provide the cornerstone for a balanced approach.
Age of the Website: Search Indexes Trust Established Content
Like it or not, the longer a website has been established the better it can perform in search results. This happens because the “spiders” and “crawlers” which are programs specifically designed to index web pages, have seen these sites consistently over time and there is a long history of logging them for certain search queries. These logs provide shortcuts that allow search engines to return such fast results, so established websites are more likely to appear in the top results as well as any fresh and relevant content served up by such sites.
Older sites have likely been “indexed” by search engines, meaning they automatically get added to certain queries. Both newer and older sites can benefit by submitting index requests to all the major search engines and doing other programmatic, behind-the-scenes things to help your site do better in this area.
Links to the Website: The Democracy of Inbound Links
Links to your website from other sites are like a vote of confidence in your site’s credibility. The more websites that link to your website, the more credibility search engines assign to your website as a trusted source. Links from authoritative websites like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other major media outlets have an even higher value to your ranking in the search index, so the more high value links you have the more likely you are to turn up in search results.
A word of caution: snake oil SEO salesmen encourage link-sharing or link-buying programs where you directly ask other sites to link to yours for no reason other than to get the link for SEO purposes. Search algorithms can sniff this out and expose it ultimately doing you more harm than good.
The best way of building credibility for SEO is by serving up credible and authoritative content through well written web pages, authoritative blog posts published on a regular basis and good-old fashion networking. Email and social media campaigns also help in this area, because the more people see your great content the more likely they are to link to it – fueling better SEO results for your law firm website.
Fresh and Authoritative Content: The Res Ipsa Loquitor of SEO
While the Internet has evolved into a giant web of tools and functions that serve so many purposes in today’s business world, when you tear away all the fancy tools and unique ways users apply it to their lives, you are simply left with a communication medium. Like it’s predecessors, the telephone and fax machine, the Internet communicates via content to influence decisions and user behavior.
“Content” breaks down into three simple categories.
- Text – law firm blog posts, web page copy, headlines, metadata (the descriptions coded into each page or post to aid search indexing), and anchor text (the words that you highlight to cross-link or link-out of your site: the more accurate the anchor text to the destination, the better).
- Multimedia – image, video and audio.
- Interactive – forms, voting, chat and social functions that allow users to leave an imprint on your content.
Content is the ace-in-the-hole when it comes to SEO.
It’s the one thing on your site that you can TRULY control without resorting to dirty tricks that usually backfire. Serving up authoritative, engaging and fresh content written for your target clients while incorporating SEO strategies in a natural and almost imperceptible way does more for your SEO over time than anything else. It speaks for itself, establishing a presence that potential clients will find when looking for a lawyer like you.
If you produce great content, the high value links from big time websites will come eventually. If you write for your audience, analyzing and discussing things that interest and help them regardless of whether they are your clients right now, more clients will start to call your law firm. Most of all, if you consistently invest and develop your law firm blog and website, when potential clients check out your law firm in doing their due diligence before picking up the phone – you can be confident in what they find: a well developed law firm blog speaks volumes about the attorney without him saying a word.