Search engine optimization (SEO) is a great way to help drive traffic to your website, but is also a very misunderstood term. “If my firm were ranked first on Google searches, then we’d really start doing well,” is not an uncommon statement I’ll hear from an attorney. You may have received cold calls from companies guaranteeing the top spot – or at least a place on the first page – of Google search results. What if that company could do what is promised? They usually can’t, of course, but it’s an interesting proposition. This article will help clarify what SEO for law firms really is, and if it will help with your business development activities.
What is SEO?
Google and other search engines use algorithms to identify the most effective ways to answer search queries and these algorithms perform world-wide searches in less than a second. Imagine if a search engine had to scour the whole Internet each time you searched for something. With YouTube alone adding 300 hours of video every minute of every day, the process would take forever. The algorithms automate this process by searching the web and ranking relevance.
SEO is structuring your website so a computer program can find a relevant answer to a question. If your clients or prospective clients are searching for, “Do I need a will or a trust?” and your site has the best and most relevant answer to that question, you’ll be rewarded through a higher rank. How do you assure you’re the best and most relevant? Produce content answering that question better than others. As you become more relevant, you become more relevant. The more visitors coming to your page for whom you can answer the question, you’re ranked higher.
Vanity SEO vs functional SEO
Being ranked first on a Google search would be great for bragging rights, wouldn’t it? Will it help actually grow your firm, though? However you achieve that ranking, we need to be sure that when a prospective client clicks on your site, he or she finds something relevant. Otherwise, you have a website visitor who generates no revenue for you. Vanity SEO is ranking highly on Google and not converting those prospects to clients.
If your firm’s website is like most, it might simply be an electronic brochure. Your firm’s history, what you do, who works there, awards, etc. are all good to know, but what does it do for your potential client? Does he or she care about your mission statement or where you graduated from law school? Not yet. This visitor wants to know why he or she should do business with you. If your website is all about you, and not about them, this person has no reason to choose you over a competitor.
How do we create functional SEO? We engage a visitor once he or she visits or website. The visitor gets the answer to the question he or she has, and, more importantly, sees a clear and distinct call to action. If this visitor wants to hire you, is there a clear path of engagement?
SEO for law firms magic wand – your firm ranks first on Google. Now what?
Wave a magic wand and poof! your business ranks first on Google searches. What searches, you say? Whatever searches your potential clients are typing into Google. “I don’t know what my potential clients are searching for,” you might say. This topic is not just important, it’s a critical distinction. Whom are you trying to attract to your website, exactly? Start with this idea –
- Think about who is an A+ client of yours
- What questions did that client have when he or she was just a prospect?
- Start answering those questions on your website
Spend some time segmenting this set of clients and write down what problems of theirs you’ve fixed. These will be our most viable prospects, and the topics we discuss on your website will help attract their attention. Once we take the time to answer those questions, we now have permission to ask for their business. Remember, questions have a problem embedded within them. Think about these questions and the problems implied within them –
Question: “What are the best foods to eat for losing weight?”
Problem: I’m looking for a solution to a weight problem for myself or someone else.
Question: “What alternatives are there to a shock collar?”
Problem: I’m looking for a solution to a barking or misbehaving dog.
Question: “What does it cost to set up an LLC?”
Problem: I’m looking for solutions to protect my assets or to mitigate my business liability.
Please note, this strategy is extremely important for both SEO as well as any paid traffic to your website. If you buy ads to drive website traffic from Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other search engines or social media platforms, it’s extremely important to consider where you’re driving your visitors. Are you currently just sending them to your homepage? What would you like them to do once they’re there?
Instead, send visitors to a page addressing the exact question for which they’re searching for an answer. These “landing pages” on your website help the visitor learn from you immediately instead of searching for the answers once they arrive on your firm’s site.
Direct your website visitor what to do next
After answering their question, direct your visitor how to engage your services by proposing a solution to the underlying problem. If your website is simply an electronic brochure for your firm – and not a teaching tool – this back-and-forth virtual discussion will not happen on your site, and the visitor will be at a dead-end.
Google has one job – to provide answers to questions. You’ve heard the quote, “If it’s not written down it didn’t happen?” In this case it’s, “If it’s not written on your website, Google doesn’t know it exists.” Search engine optimization (SEO), put simply, is showing Google and other search engines how to find you. If your website is all about you and your firm, and not about your clients, Google won’t direct those potential clients to your site.
SEO for law firms top tip – state exactly what you know on your website
The #1 “How-to” Google search query for 2015 (and 2014, 2013, and on and on) was “How to tie a tie.” Let’s say you have a clothing store and you sell ties. It states very clearly on your website that you sell ties. In fact, you showcase a hundred different kinds of ties on your website. Well, do you know how to tie a tie? “Of course!” you might say. “That’s a silly question. We know a half-dozen ways to tie a tie.”
Well, if an article (or video) stating exactly what you know is not on your website, you don’t even show up on Google’s radar for that search. Google consists of a bunch of computers, and inferences and implications don’t work. Everyone searching for “How to tie a tie,” will never find your site.
Tell Google what you know because it can’t read your mind
As another example, let’s say your firm assists with estate plans. On the “services” or “specialty practice areas” page on your website, it clearly states your firm prepares wills and does other estate planning. Here are the top Google search queries regarding wills –
“What does a will look like?”
“What does a will do?”
“What does a will cost?”
“What does a will mean?”
“What does a will consist of?”
Since your firm specializes in wills, you know the answers to these questions, right? Does Google know you know the answers, though? No. Google can’t read your mind. If you’re not explicitly answering these questions on your site, Google has no idea you have the answers. Google knows you can prepare wills, but that’s it. You need to clearly tell Google exactly what you know.
Timeless SEO – answer clients’ questions
Timeless SEO consists of one simply strategy – answer the questions your clients and potential clients are searching for online. Keep your website in its current form, but start adding pages that specifically answer questions. Regardless of what happens the next time Google changes their algorithms, your SEO will only get better.
Pro tip: use dictation to create great content for your firm’s website
You’ve now bought-in to the idea of producing content for your website. One of two things might happen, though –
- The articles don’t get written or
- The articles you write are too complex because you’re writing content for your peer group or a legal journal. This is not your fault. Since starting law school, it’s been your job to decipher really complex topics, and that’s the level on which you operate. As a result, though, instead of articles that attract clients, the articles are too tough for non-lawyers to understand.
Here’s how to fix both issues – after a client consult, you usually dictate your notes, right? In these notes, you’ll detail the concerns of the client, the proposed solutions, and the outcome. The answers you’re providing to the client’s questions are exactly the same as what people are searching for online as well. This is most effective after an initial consult, where you’ve spent time educating the client on very high-level topics. Instead of a digital dictator, software, or dictation machine, you can use Google Voice for free dictation transcription. Simply get a Google Voice number, call and leave yourself a voicemail. Google Voice transcribes surprisingly well, and the price (free) is tough to beat.
Once the dictated notes are transcribed, they will provide the basis for an array of articles. It’s best for you, then, to make them friendly for both readers and search engines (SEO) by creating compelling titles. When these articles are prepared and published to your website, guess what happens? No longer do you wonder what to share on social media. Simply use these articles to educate the followers you’ve gathered as well as those you’re targeting. Need content for your newsletter? Look no further than these well-crafted articles that were written so non-lawyers (i.e. your clients) can readily understand them.
Would you like to earn the email address of potential clients to grow your mailing list? Use these articles as the means to create digital “assets.” These assets can be downloadable PDFs, how-to worksheets, checklists and the like. Request an email address in exchange for these assets, and you’ll grow your mailing list through a continuously evolving education process.
SEO – although extremely technical – does not need to be complicated. Simply start distilling what’s already in your head as well as what’s happened during your encounters with clients each week. When this information is created in digital form, and when it begins residing on your website, Google will reward your efforts through more and more traffic. Start sharing what you know today, and your firm’s business development will only benefit.
All of us are more educated consumers than ever before, and your prospective clients are no exception. Are you the one answering their general questions or is someone else? I call this approach Teaching-Based Marketing. If you would like help getting started please download my free eBook, “How to Grow Your Law Practice Through Teaching-Based Marketing.”