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As a law firm marketing company, we get the opportunity to speak with a lot of attorneys. Despite the fact that attorneys seem to be more educated on the value of search engine optimization than your average business owner, there are still a number of pervasive myths floating around on the topic.
Everyone is looking for an edge, and it’s not surprising that this competition leads attorneys down some interesting paths in order to generate new clients.
A common scenario we see is that a client hears about a specific tactic or strategy from a colleague who is ‘crushing it’ and wants to get their hands on it. Another scenario we commonly encounter are marketers spreading deceptive or unfounded information in order to sell their product or service.
Let’s look at some of the most common marketing myths we hear from law firms and provide some helpful context.
Buying the perfect domain name will shoot you to the top of Google.
We can’t tell you how many times this one comes up. Typically, the attorney will buy a number of domains that loosely match their desired keyword. It might look something like this criminal defense example:
…and so on.
The other activity we see a lot is purchasing all of the extensions on top of the primary URL. For example:
Let’s unpack these both. First, what we’ll say about keyword-specific domains is that we’ve seen evidence they can help, but they don’t have a dramatic impact on the success of a website as a single variable.
Even though we don’t advise it, there are clear examples of where this strategy works. All websites are judged the same way by Google, which can be loosely summarized as links and law firm website content. Google has announced that its algorithm changes on a daily basis, but there is a general consensus among SEO experts that these are the two most important pillars (I’ll spare you the other 200+ known ranking factors).
Without a focus on these two elements, your website will languish in the deep black hole that is the Internet. Having a keyword-specific domain name won’t save you.
Now, if you were to possess a keyword-specific domain and matching business name? We’ve seen evidence first-hand that this can be rewarded in Google (see below). But, the assumption that buying a keyword-specific domain and then ‘pointing’ it to your main site has value is a myth.
This group below has made a business decision to name their entire firm after a single practice area (DWI/DUI defense) and it appears to be working. However, it restricts them to one practice area and there is no guarantee that they won’t get penalized when Google decides this strategy has gotten out of hand.
Our advice: if you’re not prepared to use it as your business name and for the long haul, you’re probably better off choosing a domain based on your company name. Additionally, savvy marketers have identified this advantage, particularly with regards to local SEO and Google My Business, creating lead-generation businesses named after a keyword like ‘Criminal Lawyer Muskogee.’
This feels like a hack and Google doesn’t like hacks. Once they see something is being abused, they come down hard. Don’t put your business at risk for the sake of a quick gain.
Now, let’s look at the other scenario of buying a bunch of the same domains, with different extensions. In short, there is no value to this, you’re simply giving the registration companies more money. If you were Target or Amazon, this would make more sense. In reality, we have never seen a shady group buying up extensions to siphon traffic from mid-sized law firms. Myth busted!
Adding the magic keywords = Avalanche of traffic
It turns out Google stopped using keywords in 2009! Well, that’s partially true.
Back in the old days, there was an area on the backend of a webpage where you could add your main keyword. This was called the Meta Keyword. Initially, this was a good piece of information that Google could use to classify pages and organize them into search results.
Like most good things, marketers quickly ruined this for everyone. Because it was completely spammed beyond oblivion, Google stopped using this as a ranking factor in 2009.
Then, marketers figured out that Google was prioritizing pages based on how often the keyword showed up on the page. What happened next? You guessed it: hundreds or thousands of ‘hidden’ keywords on the page in white text or otherwise implanted. Again, Google caught on (there’s a theme here) and continued to adjust its algorithm to penalize this.
Where Are We Now?
Google’s algorithm has continued to steadily evolve over time (they actually update the algorithm daily) into an exceptionally powerful tool. It does have its limitations, but it’s the ability to accurately provide the information that searchers are looking for is beyond compare. In today’s search landscape, it’s all about the quality of your content.
When we said Google stopped using keywords, that was only partially true. They still DO use keywords, but they play a much more nuanced role now. We incorporate keywords and related keywords with every new page we create. However, we don’t overdo it. We also go to great lengths to understand the scope of the topic at hand before writing.
When creating website content, you should strive to create a comprehensive page that has a clear focus. Use the keyword, use its synonyms, and talk about related topics, and you’ll be better off than most.
Bulletproof legal content wins the day.
Lawyers are excellent writers. The problem we often see is that they write for the courtroom in the same way they write for their website.
Legal briefs are dense, technical documents. A webpage should be approachable and informative. We totally understand the desire to be represented well online – after all, it’s our entire business. But, there should also be limits.
Our tip? Write for your clients, not your colleagues. It’s true that at some point other lawyers may read your site, but it’s much more likely to be a potential client. Think about how you discuss legal concepts with clients. Harness that way of explaining and incorporate it with your knowledge of the law to show you’re an authority on the topic.
We tend to be more aggressive at times, using what our clients call “robot speak,” but our goal, in the end, is to get it placed on the first page. We always ask, would you rather be right or get clients?
Write a blog post on everything, all the time.
This is another myth that has stood the test of time. You’ve probably heard at some point that “Google LOVES fresh content” and that you should be writing AT LEAST once a week. In most cases, this actually does more harm than good.
Before we get into the finer points, it’s important to note here that we’re not suggesting you shouldn’t write timely, relevant content for your website. But, it’s a mistake to think there is some specific frequency that will lead to success. Like the other strategies we’ve discussed here, this strategy was effective in gaining website traction at one point, but with the way Google has shifted, it no longer works.
We often inherit websites that employed this ‘spray and pray’ strategy. They have hundreds of old blog posts that are under 300 words long about a specific piece of a topic like “auto accident lawyer.” This strategy is most prevalent personal injury attorneys who are marketing their practice. These posts hardly ever command keywords or real traffic because they are what we call ‘thin’ pages.
On today’s Google, comprehensive content wins the day. It also helps Google’s crawlers focus on the items that are most important to your business. Pages that extensively cover all elements of a topic are seen as authoritative by Google and get pushed up in the rankings.
A strategy we employ with great success is taking many of these tiny pages and compiling them into a large, comprehensive resource.
To wrap this one up, you generally want to create one page per topic. We are happy to share some tips on how you can do this without a firm like us.
You should create different websites for every practice area.
This is what we call a combo myth. Take some elements from Myth #1, sprinkle in a little Myth #4, and you have the formula.
We often speak with lawyers who have purchased domains with the idea of building out a particular practice area as a specialty under one roof. We understand why in theory this would make sense. Many of the top law firms are specialists, and we are specialists too.
You can provide great value to clients when you are narrowly focused on one topic.
The challenge here is that it takes a lot of work to make one successful site, let alone two at the same time. The nature of SEO is that it’s an ongoing process that takes time to develop. Some wins come earlier than others, but with so many other competing voices out there, it takes strategy and sustained effort to get the visibility you’re looking for.
Now, once you’ve put some effort and time into your website, your results will compound over time in a positive direction. Google’s algorithm looks at a large number of factors, which include things like organic traffic and click-through ratios. In short, if you are producing quality content that people are finding and clicking on, you’re more likely to be ranked higher for a similar topic. If your website is gaining traction marketing for divorce cases, there’s no need to spin up a new site for child custody. In a sense, you’ve gained some capital for producing ‘good’ content, so Google sees you as an authority of sorts.
With these compounding benefits, why would want to start over with a brand new site? Typically, you wouldn’t. There are really only two scenarios we can think of where a brand new site makes sense.
- You are starting a completely new practice, fundamentally different than your existing business.
- You have the resources, time, and energy to be running simultaneous battles.
Unfortunately, the more common case when people have multiple sites is that these domains linger around or some work is done, but nothing is ever really finished. Then, they are surpassed by specialist sites with more comprehensive information.
If I do excellent work, the clients will find me.
There are lots of excellent lawyers out there who are not excellent at running a successful practice. It takes proactive action to be the firm of choice in your area.
Great lawyers often do just fine by virtue of their reputation and referrals. But, there is a big difference between relying on the monthly fluctuations of referrals and having some systems in place to generate new clients. We love referrals, but no matter how great your clients are, referrals will be sporadic.
Our contention is that you should focus on both.
As you know, the Internet is the driving force behind how most people find or review potential service providers prior to taking action. The same is true for the legal industry. Even if you do get a referral, guess what? They’ll probably look you up to check your credentials, see if you’re knowledgeable about their issue, and determine if it’s a good fit.
There are a couple of key advantages to seeking business through marketing, rather than just waiting on it.
Having a pipeline of new cases each month dramatically reduces the stress involved with running a law firm. Customer acquisition is an enormous part of the success of any business, including law. If you’re like most lawyers, you just want to practice law instead of trying to be a marketer, which is completely understandable. But, if you’re not producing enough cases to keep the office lights on and provide for your family? It can be scary.
Another reason is that it’s just more fun to make money. You can sugar coat it any way you want, but the reality is we’re all after money. Investing in marketing is a clear way to generate more revenue for your business.
Finally, with a successful marketing strategy, you can actually choose the cases you’d like to work on. Instead of just taking what gets passed along through friends, you can work on your terms.
If we could sum up all of the advice here into one soundbite, it might be, “be proactive.” You need to proactively market your firm and your quality of service to get a steady stream of clients. And, you need to proactively change and adapt your strategy as the technology changes, Google’s algorithm changes, and your practice changes. Of course, staying on top of all of this on your own isn’t easy- and that’s where we are more than happy to help, whether via our services or just by sharing some helpful advice like this.