Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & educating yourself to make sure you don’t overpay to get found on Google.
As most successful consumer-based attorneys can attest, the internet has replaced the traditional advertising that law firms used to use like yellow pages, newspapers, billboards & even TV in some markets. The web is by far the best & cost-effective place for savvy Attorney Marketing experts to dominate other attorneys in their city, county, or even their state.
Every month, there are thousands and thousands of searches for attorneys on Google, Yahoo, & Bing. And the attorneys that are positioning themselves to get in front of them, they are the ones that are getting the phone calls & the cases.
Think about it: Somebody is actively looking for you by willfully typing into Google “Divorce Attorney Pasadena” – If you are a Family Law attorney in Pasadena, That person is actively looking for what you do. Unless you don’t need more cases, why would you not want to show up on Page 1 of Google, Yahoo, & Bing, effectively positioning yourself to be in front of that someone who’s looking for what you do?
So let’s hire someone to get us on Page 1. Sounds great right? As you may know, it isn’t that easy. The truly unfortunate thing about Attorney Internet Marketing, or Search Engine Optimization, is that you can pay just as much money to someone who doesn’t know what they are doing, as you can to someone who does!
The trick is to ask specific, pointed & educated questions of them to make sure you are talking to someone who knows what they are doing, and that you are not just wasting your money without any results. You just don’t know what questions to ask. After reading this, you will be 100% better off than you were 15 minutes ago.
When doing speaking engagements to local bar associations, such as with the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, the goal is always help to empower attorneys with the right information to make sure you are dealing with a capable SEO individual/company. Because as you may admit, you don’t know what you don’t know. Here are some key questions you need to ask any SEO Consultant, or Attorney Marketing Consultant before hiring them:
1) How many Legal Clients do you have – and how are their rankings? Lawyer Marketing is a completely different breed of internet marketing than getting a local pet shop website optimized. Attorneys are Highly Competitive & one of the most difficult industries to successfully optimize web sites for, so make sure the consultant or team you hire has a lot, but also successful experience with lawyers. It’s one thing to have a lot of lawyers as clients, but a whole different level of skill to have successful page 1 rankings for those lawyers. A good litmus test is searching for Practice area + Big Metro area like Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, keywords. If someone is getting high rankings for those cities, then they should have a good chance to get you found in the cities you want.
2) Can You Show Proof of Those Rankings? This is big. Unfortunately, you will rarely deal directly with the owner of the business, or the SEO Technician/Specialist that does the work. You deal with salespeople, and as you probably know most sales reps have a tendency to say ‘yes, yes, yes” because if they don’t, they won’t get your business. But at the end of the day, it is the SEO Specialist that is doing the work, and unfortunately all SEO Specialists are not created equally. Insist on proof of their work (more than one example) – in your City (Or a more populated city) & Practice Area. Then go to Google/Yahoo/Bing right there and do a search on your computer. Which is a good lead in to:
3) What Specific Keyword Phrases are you going to be Optimizing my site for? This is what you are paying for: To get found for the most-searched, most-popular keyword phrases in your practice area. You are paying a SEO to get you to Page 1, if not high on Page 1 for specific keyword phrases. Believe it or not, some SEO Companies / Legal Publishers DO NOT tell you specifically what words they are optimizing you for. This is alarming because that is exactly what they should be accountable for! You want to be found for Specific and Relevant keyword phrases in your 1) Geography & 2) Practice Area. A very good follow up Question to this is:
4) How much Monthly Search do those keywords get? Many SEO Companies / Legal Publishers will get you found on Page 1 for some much lower-searched terms like “DUI Attorney in Los Angeles”. But the problem is that phrase doesn’t get much search.
In reality, the phrase DUI Attorney Los Angeles is searched 20 times more than DUI Attorney in Los Angeles. Which keyword phrase would you like to be found for – One that gets 8,100 searches a month or one that gets 480? And this ratio will apply to most any practice area, not just DUI. This practice is all-too common in the SEO world. Reps show you Page 1 rankings for a very lowly searched phrase, and then you feel good that you’re getting found. In reality, you aren’t because no one is really searching for that phrase.
Go to https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordTool to see how much search that phrase actually gets every month. This is Google’s free keyword research tool. From here, you can tell right away whether it gets a good amount of search (500+ per month is good for each term, but make sure to do your research as some get 10,000 searches a month!). Insist that your SEO Consultant Optimizes your site for 10-20 of the Highest-Searched terms in your Geography + Practice Area (ie “Van Nuys DUI Lawyer” gets the most search for that Practice Area/City), or go somewhere else. Anything else will be a waste of money. Put it in writing.
5) What is your Linking Strategy? Show me some Examples. What you DON’T want to hear is “We’ll link all your pages together – We’ll link your “Home Page” to your ‘Contact Us’ page, then your ‘Home Page’ to your ‘Practice Areas Page’,…..”
What you are looking for is a Specific, Focused Plan on getting OTHER Websites to Link TO YOU. This “Off-Page” SEO will do more to impact your rankings than anything else you can do on your website itself.
Go to Yahoo.com & do a search for Miserable Failure. While it used to be #1, Barack Obama & George Bush’s White House Biography’s come up in the Top 5-7 results. I can assure you, neither is trying to optimize their websites for the term “Miserable Failure”! They appear 100% because of links pointing to their sites w/the Anchor Text Miserable Failure. You want a highly-skilled SEO Consultant to do the same (but for your legitimate keyword terms) with a Specific, Focused Linking Strategy for your Practice Area. When it comes down to it, You are really paying a SEO for their Linking Skill – What type of links & where you get back links from will impact your rankings the most. Ask for specific details of the sites they will point back to you.
6) What do you think about Caffeine? If they look at you with a blank stare, or start talking about coffee, it’s not a good sign. The right answer is to have them talk about Google’s newest algorithm change – Google Caffeine. Caffeine is the latest of the hundreds of Google’s algorithm changes that affect a websites ranking results.
What you really want to hear examples of how their SEO Consultants have been actively checking their clients on the test site: www.comparecaffeine.com. That site (the caffeine part was deactivated as of this writing, but was live when it was relevant) showed SEO Consultants the difference in rankings today (before caffeine) and what it would look like after caffeine goes live. This way, they can proactively make adjustments in anticipation of Google’s change to make sure their clients still maintain good rankings. — Extra Credit Points for them if they say that Google Caffeine puts a greater emphasis on 1) On-Site Videos, 2) On-Site Pictures, & 3) On-Site Interactivity such as reviews & other user comments.
7) Will you be Your Exclusive Client in your City / Practice Area – How many other competitors will you sell? – Unless you are paying 5-figures+ a month for your SEO services, you can’t expect many SEO Consultants to have you as their sole client in that city/area. However, a good answer is only 2 or 3 per Practice Area in that City. If you are willing to pay more, it can be negotiated with smaller SEO companies, but before doing so, make sure they have shown you proof of their success first and are worthy of you paying them more money for that exclusivity.
That said, there are two alarming things you need to know: 1) There is one major legal publisher who sells as many Attorneys in a single Practice area/City as they can. Which means that usually the squeaky wheel (in theory pays the most) usually gets the grease (highest rankings & most SEO attention). 2) There is another major legal publisher who has said they are ‘exclusive’ & stop selling after a certain number in that City/Geography, but truly they have more than that number sold in some cities. Bottom line; regardless of what you are paying monthly, make sure you get written proof in the contract that you will be one of a limited number of SEO clients in that Practice Area/City.
8 ) What kind of reporting do you provide? You are paying a SEO Company thousands of dollars a month – so now what are you getting for your money? There are all kinds of reports you can get: Traffic reports, analytics, referring search terms – But honestly, you have access to all of those right now. In your log files of your website, you can get all of this information. Not saying its bad information; just saying you already have access to it without paying for it.
For SEO reporting: First of all you should have a baseline report of what your rankings were when you started. Second, every month you should get results that show you how much higher you are today on Google / Yahoo / Bing for those same terms. There should be monthly, measurable improvement month over month for all the search terms. Then check for yourself, & make sure those results are accurate.
One company that specializes in SEO for Attorneys, provides their clients results of their highest all-time overall position rather than the more accurate (and correct) results of where they are now. This is why you need to check & search for yourself on the search engines & see where you are really showing up.
9) What is the Ratio of Workload (Clients) to Each SEO Specialist you have? Or, simpler: How many clients does each SEO Specialist have to work on? Ideally, you need to have someone touch your site, or build links to your site every day. The larger Legal Publishers have a huge amount of SEO clients nationwide. Ask to see how many people they have actively working on their customers and how they touch their clients daily.
Not saying they do a poor job, you can decide for yourself the quality of their work and whether you have been satisfied in the past by their products. But how much time can your individually dedicated SEO specialist spend on your website if they have 20-30 or more clients to work on? SEO is an ongoing, every-day process that demands continuous attention to your site. You need to make sure that the specialist working on your site isn’t bogged down by an excessive workload. Otherwise, your results will suffer at the hands of someone who’s SEO is devoting more time, attention & skill to their clients site.
10) How soon will I see results? This is 100% dictated by your own individual site. There are many, many variables involved in successful SEO: How old is your domain name, how many pages does your site have (or how many pages does Google think you have), how often is it updated, how many links does it have now, what is your page rank, does it have a sitemap, how competitive is your practice area, how competitive is your city. There are truly dozens, if not hundreds of factors that go into getting your site ranked higher than someone else’s.
One basic rule of thumb is that it is much harder to get a brand new domain name high rankings quickly without putting up too many red flags to Google. However, if your site is seasoned & has a 3-6 year old domain name, a good SEO specialist can take that site from nowhere to Page 1 much faster. So if you have an older domain name, as long as they do the proper linking from the correct authority sites, and pay the proper daily attention to your site, any good SEO can get you Page 1 rankings within 2-3 months.
This is likely new information to you and can be foreign to most people. However, the intention was to give you more help than harm here, and help you on two different fronts. 1) Hope it helps you understand the process of what a good SEO company needs to do to get your site found on Google, Yahoo & Bing. 2) Hope it empowers you with the right questions to ask someone who wants to optimize your site, and therefore prevents you from making a bad decision & wasting your money.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any other questions!
Dave Hendricks, Legal Internet Marketing Consultant, sponsors & presents regular Search Engine Optimization seminars to the San Fernando Valley Bar Association. Dave is helping his Law Firm clients dominate their internet presence and drive measurable leads to their business. He also presents monthly at a complimentary Attorney Marketing / Attorney Networking Seminar in Century City, sponsored by The Law Offices of Magana Cathcart & McCarthy. Google Adwords Certified, Dave has over 8 years of experience in the legal field, with the past 4 spent specifically in Internet Marketing for Attorneys. Each month, there are literally thousands of people searching for a local attorney in all the major practice areas. Dave helps firms take advantage of that search, achieving Page 1 rankings for his clients on Google, Yahoo, Bing.