When searching for something on Google, most people don’t click on anything past the third “organic” or nonsponsored (paid for) result on the first page.
To get to the top of the page, and get noticed, law firms must employ search engine optimization, the practice of making sure you, your website and your firm is noticed.
The Web is the new Yellow pages, said Chris Haughey, CEO of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Mindshare MG, where most people turn when they’re looking for something.
And for law firms – especially small or solo law firms – it’s vitally important to localize, he said.
“With (search engine optimization), it helps if you stay to smaller geographic areas to better focus in on where you think you’ll get the most return,” Haughey said. “If you’re in Macomb County (Michigan), it doesn’t make sense to have someone from Lansing or Saginaw call you.”
Though referrals probably are the largest source of clients at very large law firms like Wisconsin-based DeWitt Ross & Stevens, its marketing director, Michelle Friedman, said SEO is not to be discounted.
Her firm recently landed a substantial client who Googled “Milwaukee attorney ESOP.” The business needed help with its employee stock ownership plan.
But without the business of referrals that larger firms receive, smaller firms will really benefit from SEO, Haughey said.
“SEO is really good for smaller firms, because I found that 50-plus law firms don’t really spend money on SEO because they get a lot from referral, so it’s easier to compete with large law firms on the Internet,” Haughey said.
And while larger firms may have their own information technologies staff, he said, but are often working on maintaining the site, security and other everyday IT issues.
Smart website designers should know about SEO, because it’s driven largely by what’s in the code. Yet, many don’t, said Greg Sanders of Sortis Digital Marketing in Madison, Wis.
But Kevin Budzynski of Monroe PMP in Auburn Hills, Mich., said a lot of web designers are pretty tech-oriented, but the good ones are a hybrid of IT and marketing.
“They have to understand the best way to market these firms if they want to be successful, because SEO is so intertwined with online presence,” Budzynski said.
Keywords are key
For starters, key phrase research is important. If the words you think prospects will use as search terms aren’t the words they use, your website will be relegated to page two or worse.
“Most people will include the keyword plus the area; we’ve all searched so much, we know if we don’t get fairly specific, they will come up with a number of sites – not necessarily yours,” Haughey said.
“You need a way to make these search engines understand where you are, what you do, who you are, to make sure that when someone searches, you are the best answer to that search query.”
It’s important to post new material on your site and blog, Haughey said, but it has to be an ongoing process.
“I tell people I’d rather see no Facebook or no blog rather than one where you haven’t posted in six months,” Haughey said. “It says you’re too busy, too lazy or not in business anymore.”
It helps to integrate keywords of potential searches into content and blog posts, Budzynski said. For instance, if you’re an Ann Arbor, Mich., lawyer, “Ann Arbor lawyer” would be a good keyword phrase, he said, and if you’re a divorce lawyer, adding “divorce” into the phrase also would help.
Adding new content, including video and photos, also is very helpful, Budzynski said. He added that when someone does a search for certain items, a photo site with the source website is listed.
“Ten years ago, the search was just for a website, but now there are image sites, or videos, so if you search for ‘Rochester lawyer’ and you have a photo, it could show up in a photo or if you have a video that could come up; that’s still in beta, but it’s growing.”
Content may be king, as they say, but make sure it’s good content and not just words to fill space.
“Make sure you have good content; make sure you’re blogging as often as possible,” Haughey said. “You have to be consistent and do at least two a week, say, Monday and Wednesday. Then you can easily share to Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus and you have populated those, too.”
Inbound links are very important, Haughey agreed, because when the search engine program sees links to a site or content, it figures you are an authority and would be a good site or content, so it helps in the ranking.
“It says, ‘Hey, this site is good, and has good information about, say, Chapter 7,’” Haughey said. “It’s almost like a vote; it says, ‘I think it’s so good, I will link to it.’”
They work only if they’re relevant, Haughey said, so try to stick to like-subject matter. Post on sites like alumni associations, bar associations or different groups you’re involved with, as well as leaving comments on blogs and getting your relevant content posted – with a link – on other peoples’ sites and blogs.
Budzynski said being a guest blogger on other sites is a great idea, something that 90 percent of people don’t do and which will give an edge in the SEO wars.
Again, he said to be sure to give people something of value so they will want to visit your site and return for more valuable and timely content.
‘Aggregators’ and referrals
Haughey said it’s not easy to establish yourself in searches if you have a new website. Older, established sites that are not performing well can be ramped up much more quickly, he said, because they are already indexed and established.
Reviews are important to search rankings. Ask clients to post them on Google, Avvo, Yelp, etc.
About those online directories: You should use the same language describing the firm on your website and on other websites, Friedman said, so it’s consistent across the Internet.
You’ll likely find among the various online directories that on some, the firm is listed without the “LLC” or “SC,” while others list the full name, or addresses will use varying abbreviations. It’s important to make that all consistent, too.
“Aggregator” websites update this information on the Web, so it’s important to check them to review your firm’s description. They include Express Update, Neustar Localeze and Acxiom.
Friedman uses Google Analytics to track the website traffic. She additionally recommended Siteimprove SEO, which combs the website every week and emails a report identifying any broken links and spelling/grammatical errors.
Referrals are key to finding someone who has a reputation for SEO, Budzynski said. And when you find someone, be sure to get reference and make sure to call them. Often, he said, people will supply references not expecting you to call them.
And check out where some of their other clients are landing in searches.
If they’re landing on the first page in their areas of practice, that’s good. If they’re in the third page, that is not good, Haughey said.
Budzynski said that pushing SEO yourself can be difficult, but if you have a checklist of 10 items for each page, you can do decent SEO.
“A lot of people go to Craigslist and pay $1,000 and you get some kid out of high school,” to supposedly do a complete SEO package, Budzynski said. “You can get a good SEO guy for $500 a month. Let’s say you get a dozen clients from that; you’re probably making enough to pay for it.”
SEO is not a one-and-done process, he added, in that it takes continued and focused attention.