Recently in SEO Category

December 20, 2010

The Link Between SEO and Social Media

Used to be that SEO was all about quantity. The quantity of preferred keywords sprinkled throughout your website. The quantity of blog posts providing continual bursts of updates to sate Google's appetite for fresh information. The quantity of in-bound links to a website, irrespective of whether the links came via recommendation from another blogger, or were purchased for a fee.

But as we move into 2011 and beyond, quality rather than quantity will determine search engine rankings, according to trend predictions by Elance and Search Engine Watch. As these sources explain, last May, Google modified its search engine algorithm to increase the quality of results generated in response to searches.

So, how does an algorithm determine site quality? Through the nature of the content, for one. That's precisely why Elance is predicting that "businesses wont' be hiring content creators for quantity anymore - it's all about quality in 2011." A second determinant of quality is the level of social media buzz - the number of times that a website or blog post is mentioned on sites like Facebook or Twitter. That's why, irrespective of the fact that just 8 percent of Americans use Twitter, lawyers should not discount Twitter in their marketing portfolio because tweets and re-tweets of website or blog content can improve SEO.

The move towards SEO based on quality content is a positive trend for several reasons. First, lawyers intimidated by blogging because of the time commitment involved in producing several posts a week (the amount once viewed as optimal for traction) can now focus their efforts on writing higher quality posts, but less frequently. Second, focusing on the quality of site content ensures that once prospective clients find your site, they'll spend time reviewing your materials which in turn increases the chances that they'll hire you.

So how do you write quality content? Select topics that are important to prospective clients - such as, simply answering the types of questions that folks ask about when they call your firm. Don't be afraid to tackle controversial subjects as well. For example, let's say that you routinely advise clients to adopt a certain type of corporate structure, even though your competitors recommend another. By explaining your position head on, and critiquing (in a respectful manner, of course) your competitors' practices. you'll generate plenty of discussion and links back to your post.

By contrast, don't just throw up a link to an article with a lame "see this" or "me too" tossed in. Don't post about recent accidents and put the victims' names in the blog post heading without any further content. And don't simply copy a newspaper article into your post - that's a copyright violation, plus, Google isn't crazy about duplicate content.

Posting quality content is just one piece of SEO; you've also got to make sure that it's disseminated. Taking the time to send other bloggers links to a post that might interest them is a nice touch because it helps other bloggers in search of content - but it's also a time intensive endeavor. If you don't have time to routinely alert bloggers to your new posts, make it easy for readers to share them by installing one of these sharing widgets on your site.

Do you have any other thoughts on SEO trends for 2011 and beyond? Post them in the comments below.
May 27, 2010

Choosing An SEO Expert

I've posted a few times about do-it-yourself tips for search engine optimization.   Professional SEO companies can be expensive, so doing SEO yourself, especially if you're starting out, can save you money.  Moreover, doing your own SEO, at least for a short period, gives you a better understanding of how it works, thus enabling you to evaluate professional SEO companies.

But let's say you reach a point where despite best efforts, you're still not getting much visibility in the search engines.  Or you've gotten so busy that you no longer have the time to diligently tag your blog posts or research key words.  In these situations, you might consider hiring a professional SEO company.   And if you take that route, this article from the ABA's Law Practice Management magazine, Making Your Web Site Visible: How to Find a Good SEO Company by Sharon Nelson and John Simek is required reading.

For starters, just as with marketing consultants, choosing an SEO company is a process fraught with peril.  Hiring a shady or unethical company that uses deception or under-handed techniques can will get you visibility, alright.  It just may not be the kind you want.

Importantly, Nelson and Simek recognize these dangers.  Thus, they advise lawyers to seek out personal recommendations from colleagues and to avoid companies that guarantee top five placement on Google  in a month - because that's an impossible promise to keep without some kind of gamesmanship. 

In addition, the SEO business tends to attract fly-by-nighters and get-rich-quick types.  So Nelson and Simek suggest that you research the company's history to determine how long it's been in business and how many people it employs.  They also point out that reputable SEO companies will list their clients -- you can then search for those clients on line and see how they present in search results.  Finally, Nelson and Simek recommend that lawyers use SEO companies that have worked with attorneys in the past, because those companies tend to be more familiar with the ethics constraints that lawyers face.

Lawyers should also compare pricing (which varies widely between companies) and closely review the terms of the contract, including whether any minimum duration is required.  Also, the arrangement with the SEO company should include preparation of regular reports so you can determine whether the SEO campaign is working.

Perhaps Nelson's and Simek's best advice is essentially to manage expectations.  As they emphasize throughout, SEO companies can help, but at the end of the day, they can't do much to improve your visibility if you're not producing content or taking other action to drive traffic to your site. 

SEO is only one part of the marketing equation.   So while you might hire an SEO company to kick your marketing campaign up another notch, realize there's no point in investing time and money to improve your website's or blog's SEO if clients have nothing to see when they arrive.
November 18, 2009

What's in a [Key] Word? Here's how to find out...

If Shakespeare were alive in today's Internet-based, search engine optimization (SEO) obsessed world, instead of asking What's in a name, he might well have had Juliet ask  "What's in a [key] word?"  Because when it comes to SEO, keywords matter, as Jay Fleischman emphasizes over at Legal Practice Pro.   But whereas Juliet idealistically believed that "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," her observation wouldn't apply to SEO where subtle differences in terminology can yield less-than-sweet SEO results. 

So how can you determine whether the keywords will be effective in attracting traffic to your site?  Jay's Legal Practice Pro post offers a couple of starting points.  In addition, there's an even more recent post by Marshall Sponder of Entrepreneur that identifies seven free tools for evaluating the potential effectiveness of key words.

One tool suggested by Sponder is Microsoft AdLabs, which can help determine whether your intended service has commercial value based on the words you're using to describe it.  From the post: 

For example, "Ultra-Thin Insoles" is considered to have a 68 percent commercial value while "Comfortable Shoes" is considered by the tool to have a 96 percent commercial value. Finding the right way to describe what you're looking for will help you find it faster and cheaper, and help you monetize your offerings once your products or services are ready.

Other tools include Quantcast Marketing which you can use to obtain demographic information on customers which in turn, can inform keyword selection, and Wordstream Keyword Search, which will generate keyword suggestions.  For example, if you select "bankruptcy law," you'll see that many searches relate to the changes in bankruptcy law.  Since this term drives traffic, you may want to use it as a keyword and also target blog posts or web content to address this topic.

By using free tools to select effective keywords, you can create a rosy presence for yourself online without spending a bundle.  And that is sweet, indeed. 
August 19, 2009

Make Sure The Message Matches the Medium

When it comes to Internet marketing, there's no one size fits all solution.  The effectiveness of any of the tools that I've discussed here at the Legal Marketing Blawg, such as blogs, Twitter or video depends not just on whether your current or prospective clients spend time online but  also where and how they use the Internet.

To understand the importance of how clients use the Internet to your online marketing efforts,   consider the results of an April 2009 study by the Pew Internet Project released last month.  According to the study, 56% of those polled said they have at some point used wireless means for online access - a figure that's significant enough to convince most lawyers to either start or step up marketing measures online.

But the 56% figure doesn't tell the whole story about wireless use.  Turns out that even though African American Internet use via traditional means (such as home or office computers) is much lower than for the general population, African Americans represent the most active users of the mobile internet:

48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.

29% of African Americans use the internet on their hand held on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.

Based on these use rates, you'd be justified in engaging in any type of generic online marketing activities, such as putting up a website or purchasing online ads, if you wanted to attract and serve African American clients.  But given that nearly a full third of African Americans access the web through a hand held device, your online marketing campaign would be far more effective if you invested in those tools which are most compatible with hand held devices.  For example:

-Internet access through handheld devices is usually slower than through broadband wireless and a direct connection.  So a fancy, flash-driven website that may look impressive on a large screen might be clunky and frustrating to someone trying to view it on a cell phone. 

-Blogging can be an effective Internet marketing tool.  But lengthy tomes in small font don't mix with a hand held.  To keep a hand-held based audience engaged, either opt for shorter snappier posts that can be digested in a cell-sized screen or make sure that your blog is mobile compliant.

-Many mobile users frequently access YouTube.  For that reason, video may be an effective marketing option.  Likewise, Twitter offers several different mobile-accessible applications and could also serve as an effective medium to connect with mobile-enabled clients.

Depending upon what kinds of clients you intend to target, there are a myriad of other small tweaks that can make your online marketing more effective.  As I wrote in another context, you need to imagine your audience, or in this case, your clients:

What I mean by imagine your audience is to visualize the individual readers, from those who stumble across your site online to those who dutifully read your updates daily. Where are they reading your blog - in a Starbucks? Their office? At a basement computer after the kids are in bed? Are they dressed in stiff work clothes or wearing pajamas? Using an news reader or catch all site like Alltop to catch up on posts - or do they physically visit the site to get the information?  Printing out your posts in a public library because they don't have a printer at home, or scrolling through them casually on their iphone while riding the subway to a suburban mansion?  By imagining these details, you can refine the form of your post to match your audience's circumstances - for example, enlarging the font or brightening the page if you suspect folks are reading in dimly lit areas, or including an easy print or PDF option if your audience prefers hard copy.

Most lawyers would like to believe that online marketing begins and ends with search engine optimization, that by hiring a good consultant and driving traffic to your site, you'll generate clients.  But all of the SEO in the world isn't going to make a difference if prospects leave the destination once they arrive.  It's not until you understand how your target audience is reaching you online that you can make sure that their experience is pleasant (as opposed to frustrating and confusing) once they arrive.  That way, they're guaranteed to return, or even better, to stick around long enough to decide to give you a call.
June 22, 2009

Clients Search Globally, But Lawyers Need to Get Found Locally.

A search engine like Google or Microsoft's recently released competitor Bing are great tools for a global search of the entire web.  And that's great for those lawyers who have a dominant presence or a unique niche that appeals to clients nationally.  But where most search engines have a hard time is at a more granular level, i.e., in helping users find local businesses and services -- be they restaurants or nail salons or daycare centers or law firms -- right in their own backyard. 

For lawyers who target clients in surrounding communities, the search engine's "local" blind spot creates an enormous disadvantage.  Large "mill" law firms with regional or state-wide practices are able to dominate solos and small firms in search engines, pushing them down to the second or third page of rankings.  And while these larger operations may not have offices in close proximity to a prospective client, that client may choose the firm by default because a more convenient solo option never appeared in the search engine.  

As I've written previously, blogging can help close the search engine gap.  For example, lawyers can improve local SEO by choosing a domain name for a blog that is very location-specific, such as BlueHillTennesseeLawyer.com, or referencing the names of local communities within posts.  However, if you're not inclined to blog, Google just launched another tool which can help improve your visibility on the local level and, more importantly, generate data that can help you to better target local clients. (As a disclosure, my husband is a Google employee, but he does not work on any of the search tools and in fact, never mentioned this tool to me -- I learned about it independently online).

As described at Tech Crunch, Google is attempting to build up its Google Local application, which generates local search results and provides listings that pop up in Google Maps.  But in order for the tool to be effective, small businesses need to claim their listing profile.  As I've already discussed, listing a profile at Google Local can help improve your SEO in local markets.  In addition, Google Local also lets users include photos and create "coupons" (though you'd need to check with applicable bar rules to determine whether you can ethically offer discount coupons).

But as if that wasn't enough incentive to add your profile, now Google is offering this Small Business Dashboard which provides free data that can help businesses evaluate the effectiveness of their local marketing efforts.  The Dashboard provides statistics on how many times a business comes up in search results and which keywords generated those results, how many times people generate driving directions to the business on Google Maps, and, most importantly, where those people come from.

How can Google Local and the Dashboard help your marketing?  For starters, let's say that you continuously receive calls about bankruptcy matters, notwithstanding that you specialize in estates.  By checking the keywords by which users are finding you, you may discover a phrase on your website that attracts clients with bankruptcy problems.  You can use that information to tailor the text on your site to lure clients with matters in your specific practice areas.  Or, let's say that you learn that for some reason, many clients are coming to your firm from another part of the state -- perhaps as much as 40 miles away.  You could consider adding a virtual office component to your practice, or holding office hours once a month at a temporary office closer by as a convenience to these clients.

Through the Internet and powerful search engines, all of us have the ability to search and be found globally.  But for those lawyers who serve the surrounding communities, none of that matters unless clients can find them locally.  So why not act locally and set up a Google Local listing for your law firm?
June 3, 2009

Can A Wikipedia Entry Help Your Law Firm?

If you're like most lawyers, you probably use Wikipedia for a variety of purposes, from finding a layperson's explanation of a legal concept to getting the back story on current events.  Some of you may be avid enough users that you may have even registered for a Wikipedia account and contributed to some of the entries.  But chances are, you never considered creating a Wikipedia page for yourself or your law firm.

Truth is, up until a few weeks ago, I didn't either.  But as I described in this post at Legal Blogwatch, most major law firms already maintain pages on Wikipedia.  What's more, the
UK Law Society points out, Wikipedia has enormous reach:

Wikipedia is one of the largest reference websites -- 684 million visitors yearly. For a sniff of its power, whether you like it or not, cogitate on this snippet from the New York Times 'Bits' technology blog on 30 March, entitled 'Microsoft Encarta Dies After Long Battle With Wikipedia': 'Microsoft delivered the coup de grâce Monday to its dying Encarta encyclopedia, acknowledging what everyone else realised long ago: it just couldn't compete with Wikipedia... In January, Wikipedia got 97% of the visits that web surfers in the United States made to online encyclopedias, according to the internet ratings service Hitwise. Encarta was second, with 1.27%.' That's how powerful Wikipedia is.
With that kind of traffic, a listing on Wikipedia could theoretically bolster a firm's search engine visibility.  So I decided to test my theory and ran a couple of searches on some of the law firms listed in Wikipedia.  Sure enough, the firms' Wikipedia listings came up within the top five to ten front page search results on Google.

Still, is a Wikipedia entry worthwhile for solo and small firm lawyers?  For starters, what kinds of information would you include in the listings?  Many large firms with long histories describe the firm's origins and provide bios of firm founders and well-known alumni.  But solo and small firm lawyers might not have enough background material to include.  A smaller firm might also link to reported cases or cross-reference practice areas described on Wikipedia.  For example, a bankruptcy lawyer could cross-link to the entry on Bankruptcy in Wikipedia, thus providing a good resource for clients with basic questions.  Likewise, lawyers could cross-reference the city where they practice or hobbies they enjoy.

Ultimately, I don't think that Wikipedia is an indispensable component of a lawyer marketing portfolio in the same way as a website or blog or business card.  But for lawyers looking for something different or who can devise a unique use for Wikipedia, it might be a marketing tool worthy of further consideration. 
May 14, 2009

Update Round-Up

Here's the latest round-up on some of the topics covered in earlier posts to be sure that you have up-to-the-minute information on the latest and greatest in lawyer marketing:

1.  Add More Value to Videos By Power Using YouTube.

Back in January, I posted on why lawyers should consider making video part of their marketing portfolio.  In addition to the reasons that I described, Travis Campell, the Marketing Professor offers some ideas for building community and online presence through YouTube -- which means that you'll get more bang for the buck out of any videos you produce.  So what benefits does You Tube offer?  For starters, you can get statistics on viewer demographics and feedback on your video through commenters.  Posting video on YouTube can also help drive traffic to your site and enhance your search engine visibility.

2.  Should You Hire An SEO Expert?

My first post for this blog described some do-it-yourself SEO tips.  But if the DIY approach doesn't get you the results that you need, should you consider hiring an expert?  I've posted, more generally, on issues to consider when hiring a marketing consultant and now, lawyer marketing expert Larry Bodine shares advice on hiring an SEO expert.  My favorite tip of the post? 

Type the vendor's own targeted search terms into Google and see how well they do for themselves. Type in "law firm web consultant" or "law firm SEO consultant" or "law web marketing consultant" into Google. If they can't get good rankings for themselves, move on.

3.  Social Media and SEO.

Six months ago, when I posted about do-it-yourself SEO, I didn't focus extensively on social media, largely because its impact on SEO wasn't fully recognized or acknowledged at the time.  That's since shifted, as Duct Tape Marketing writes, noting, "It has become extremely difficult to achieve any measure of success for important keyword phrases without the use of social media."  As a result, any business attempting to optimize a site should add a blog and podcast, participate in Twitter and optimize profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn at the very minimum.
January 25, 2009

Why Lawyers Should Consider Incorporating Video Into Their Online Marketing Strategy

You know the old maxim, a picture is worth 1,000 words? These days, online video may well be worth 1,000 site visits.

According to a recent article from the International Herald Tribune, Internet users are increasingly turning to video-rich sites like YouTube to locate information rather than conventional, text-based search engines like Yahoo! or Google.  As a result, consumption of online video has soared, with 146 million Americans watching video online, twice as many as 20 months ago.  More importantly, searches on YouTube edged out those on Yahoo!, and the site now ranks as the number 2 search engine behind Google.  

These trends show that lawyers who rely on the Internet to market a practice should consider incorporating video into their online marketing strategy.  However, video carries with it plenty of other advantages besides SEO.  A video gives clients a peek at your demeanor and personality, and establishes that you're a real person.  At a time when recent scandals like the Madoff Ponzi scheme have shattered public confidence in professionals, video can help re-build trust. 

Still, despite the obvious benefits of video, for some lawyers who are just now creating an online presence, the thought of including video is likely overwhelming.  Other lawyers may feel discouraged, figuring that once again, the same deep-pocketed firms that dominate Yellow Pages and television advertising will have the resources to implement video marketing and once again gain an overwhelming advantage.

The good news is that even if you're on a limited budget, you can still experience the benefits of video.  Though a professional videographer may be outside your price range, you can generate a reasonably good quality video on a home video camera.  With good lighting and an external microphone, the sound and image quality will suffice.  Some lawyers, such as video guru Gerry Oginski, use Mac-based tools to edit their videos, though most PCs also support video editing applications.  If you need editing assistance, check out local colleges with media programs or websites like e-lance where you may be able to find economically priced editors.

So what should you say on your video?  That's entirely up to you.  Some lawyers use video as an opportunity to simply introduce themselves and their firm to site visitors.  Other lawyers try to make videos more educational -- for example, by offering explanations on how a case is filed or why a client might need legal representation.   Practice what you'll say a few times, but avoid teleprompters or notes.  Ultimately, aim for sounding as you would if you were meeting your viewers in person.  

Exploring online video sooner rather than later will give you a first-mover advantage and enable you to distinguish yourself from other lawyers, most of whom have not yet adopted video.  Why not get started now?     
January 5, 2009

Should You Hire A Marketing Expert?

Free information on marketing a law practice abounds on the Internet. Just visiting the law marketing blogs listed in the sidebar here could provide you with several weeks' worth of material on marketing a practice. And if you tire of blogs and online materials, there's a wealth of marketing books for lawyers and non-lawyers (next week, I'll list some of my favorites).  Still, let's say that despite these free materials, you feel that you still need help to ramp up your marketing efforts.  Should you hire a marketing consultant or pay for a high end marketing package?  While I can't make the decision for you, below are several considerations that you should take into account in evaluating what types of marketing products and services to pay for.

Cost.  Marketing consultants can be costly, ranging in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars.  Some consultants also produce marketing packages or tool kits, or may offer ongoing group coaching or master mind sessions.

Most marketing consultants will tell you that it takes money to make money.  Even so, that doesn't mean that you should mortgage your house to pay for marketing services.  If you spend more than you can afford, you'll add additional stress to your marketing efforts.  So instead, keep cost in mind when choosing a consultant or marketing package.  See if a consultant offers a group rate so that you can share the costs with other attorneys.  In addition, ask whether a product or a service is available on a trial basis or comes with a money-back guarantee.  Many times, selecting an appropriate service or product is a matter of trial and error, so it's important to have a way to get your money back if you don't receive any value from a program. 

Which product or consultant should you use?  With so many marketing programs and consultants available (just do a Google search if you don't believe me!), how can you choose?  Consider the following questions:
  • Is the consultant an attorney or former attorney?  My own personal preference is to choose a marketing consultant who is either a practicing attorney or who formerly practiced.  A close second is a consultant with considerable experience working with attorneys.  Why is working with a lawyer so important?  As many of us know, most bars heavily regulate lawyer advertising, imposing all sorts of rules ranging from the breed of dog that can be used on a law firm logo to  the legality of using client testimonials at a website to a lawyer's ability to join a business networking group.  To be sure, lawyer marketing consultants may not be familiar with ethics issues in all 50 states, but at a minimum, they'll be sensitive to them.  By contrast, a marketer with no background in the law or with lawyers could recommend a marketing campaign that revolves around an ethically prohibited practice.
  • Does the marketer have experience in your specific practice area?  Some marketing concepts -- such as the importance of follow-through or using a diverse portfolio of marketing techniques -- apply across the board, no matter the practice area.  But the effectiveness of other marketing practices may depend on a given field.  For example, networking with moms at the PTA or local mothers' groups may be effective for a probate practice, but it's hardly an effective way to lure a securities client.  Try to discern what type of experience a potential marketer has in assisting people in your practice area or, at least, a similar practice area.
  • What kinds of materials does the consultant or attorney make available as a trial?  Most marketers recognize that lawyers must feel comfortable with the marketer's style and approach to create a productive working relationship.  So these days, most marketers will make a reasonably substantial sample product -- such as a free tele-seminar or a recording or an e-book to download -- available at no cost.  Many marketers will also provide a free initial consultation.  This information can help you determine whether you would like to work with a particular marketer.
  • How effective is the marketer at marketing his or her own services?  Is your marketer effective at promoting his or her own services?  Does he or she have a professional-looking and substance-packed website or blog?  Or is the marketer's site sloppy, full of misspellings and lacking in any substance?  Point is, if marketers can't market themselves, how can they market you?
  • Can you contact personal references?  Will a consultant give you access to previous clients?  A personal reference from a former client will give an objective third-party evaluation of the marketer's skills. 
Avoiding red flags.  Sadly, there are all too many opportunistic gurus who see an opportunity to prey on desperate attorneys who are struggling in hard times.  Here are a few red flags to avoid:


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