Nov 17, 2008

How A Lawyer Like You Can Get Found Online Even If SEO Concepts Have You Lost

You know the old teaser that if a tree falls in the forest with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?  Well, the same might be asked of your law firm's web page or blog -- if no one can find your site online, does it really exist?  That's where the concept of SEO - search engine optimization - comes into play.  As explained in Wikipedia, SEO is the "process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to an online site from search engines, via search results." 

So what can you do to improve your SEO?  Some would argue that you're best off leaving SEO to experts instead of doing it yourself, but I disagree.  First, professional SEO services done right can cost a good chunk of change, so often, they're not really an option for small firms or lawyers just starting out who need SEO the most.  Second, even those lawyers who have the financial means to purchase SEO services should educate themselves about SEO basics to make an informed decision about an SEO provider.  Some SEO companies use unscrupulous tactics that can get your site banned from search engines, while others employ means that aren't particularly effective.  If you know a bit about how SEO works, you can avoid the bad apples.

Below, I've provided a couple of tips and resources that will let you start learning about SEO.

1.  Good SEO Isn't Rocket Science.  First and foremost, achieving good SEO isn't rocket science; it's common sense.  Ask yourself a basic question:  What kinds of terms are prospective clients likely to use if they're looking for a lawyer in your practice and geographic area?  For example, a woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma who wants to find a lawyer to handle her divorce is likely to search terms such as "divorce lawyer" and "Tulsa Oklahoma," or perhaps "Tulsa Oklahoma family lawyer."  Once you have a good sense of how a client might look for you, use those search terms regularly at your website or blog to make it easier to be found.

2.  Post Early and Often.  One reason why blogs are regarded as one of the gold standards for boosting SEO is because they're updated frequently.  And it's true that each time you change or update a website, the search engines will re-index it and cause it to rise in the rankings.  But in addition to posting often (and even weekly posts, if strategically titled and tagged, as discussed below, will return benefits), you also want to get started early.  SEO is cumulative, and builds up over time.  So the sooner you get going on a blog, the sooner you'll start building a findable presence.

3.  Use Terms Organically.   Used to be that SEO worked by saturating "meta-tags" (embedded tags within a web site) with certain key words.  For example, a bankruptcy lawyer might have the term "bankruptcy" repeated dozens of times in the mega-tags at his website.  But as it turns out, it's far more effective to start by integrating use of key terms throughout a site rather than trying to drug the search engines with a meta-tag overdose (which again, can cause big problems).  Most importantly, you want to use a descriptive phrase that clients may use to find you as the title for your website or blog.  Increasingly, lawyers are finding SEO success with geographically based names -- for example, "Wyoming Bankruptcy Lawyer" or "Buffalo New York Trust & Estate Attorney".  Because there really aren't many suitable measures for limiting search results to a specific geographic area even though location is a frequently component of most searches, including a geographic location in the title of your site can make it stand out.

4.  Tag and You're It. Tags are another tool for boosting SEO.  While websites are coded with "metatags" which are inserted in the underlying code, tagging on blogs is much easier.  Most blogware has tags built in to the user interface, so all it takes to tag a post is to insert appropriate keywords.

But don't limit your tagging to just your website or blog.  There are dozens of other online applications that allow for tags that can boost your visibility.  Sites like LinkedIn, which allows you to post a professional profile on line, or JDSupra or DocStoc, where you can upload documents such as sample pleadings or even a law firm brochure, all include features that allow you to tag your materials.  For example, I often upload administrative agency decisions of interest to my clients at DocStoc, and tag my uploads with descriptive terms such as "FERC attorney".  A search for those terms takes users to Docstoc first, but that's alright, because from there, they can view my profile and locate my website.

5.  Use the Clues.  By using a tool such as Google Analytics or built-in stats packages that come with most blogware, you can uncover clues that will help you to supercharge your SEO.  For example, you may discover that visitors are coming to your site after searching for particular terms -- such as "How do I hire a good divorce lawyer?" or "How much does an estate plan cost?"  By writing future posts that employ those search terms, you can further amplify traffic to your site.  Plus, you'll be driving traffic from visitors who are likely to have an active interest in the subject of your site which increases the chances of signing them up as clients.   

6.  Do Your Own Beta.  One of the best things about SEO is that you can test the effectiveness of your techniques yourself.  Run searches on Google (the most commonly used search engine) and others, using terms that you'd expect prospective clients to use.  If you're not coming up with good placement -- ideally, the first page of Googe -- then, it's time to tweak your site.  Also, check out Exact Factor, a free tool that lets you check your site position -- and that of your competitors -- in the search engines. 

7.  Learn from the Pros.  There are a bunch of free resources where you can get expert information about SEO.  Just last week, Google released an SEO Starter Guide, which explains more about how SEO works and provides a number of tips to improve search engine standing.  There's also the excellent Blogger's Guide to SEO  which is packed with  suggestions for SEO, from advice on how to structure your blog to how to choose keywords.

These tips and resources are a starting point for learning more about SEO, so you can either improve your SEO on your own or make an informed decision about spending money to hire professional SEO assistance.  Ultimately, in today's Internet-based world, lawyers no longer have the option of being lost when it comes to SEO -- because if they are, they'll never be found.