This is part two of two of our of blog posts about law firm SEO (search engine optimization) from our friends at Atlanta-based search marketing agency EverSpark Interactive, creators of the Legal Ranking Formula. These posts are in question and answer format and focus on how to maximize SEO for solo and small law firms. Feel free to submit questions in the comments section at the end of each post. Read Part 1 here. And don't worry - we have more informative posts planned from EverSpark!
We’ve all heard of the importance of inbound links, but what are they, what function do they play in SEO, and how can a solo or small firm acquire them in a legitimate way?
To understand ‘permissive’ link building, you first have to have an appreciation of the past. Five years ago a law firm could hire a link building team and they could build you 2,000 ‘blog comment’ links in 2 months and it would result in top rankings. Those days are gone. In fact, the Google Penguin update has made it fatal for any law firm or other business that doesn’t do their link building the right way.
So lets start with what a ‘link’ is.
An inbound link is when another site decides to link from their site to your site. It’s the ‘blue underlined text’ that you can see on most websites you visit. From a Google Algorithm perspective, it’s essentially a vote. One site is giving another site their vote in the form of a link. We call this ‘popularity’.
Now, there is a difference between all links and a domain link. If you have 100 links coming from the one site, then that would be a 1/100 ratio. The 100 links don’t matter as much as the 1 domain link, so getting thousands of links from the same site doesn’t improve your link profile x 1,000 – it still just counts as 1 link (there are a few exceptions to this, but for the most part this is the rule of thumb). So what you want is as many legitimate ‘domain links’ pointing back to your site.
The other thing to keep in mind is that all domain links are not equal. A link from your cousins shoe store website is no where near as valuable as a link from a law journal discussing your area of practice. Equally, .com links tend to be less powerful than .edu, .org and .gov links. The latter are considered ‘trusted authority’ links to Google which gives them more power.
So the question is – how do you get these domain links?
You first have to be able to reverse engineer all of your competition to see their link profiles. This exercise should take about 2 weeks if it’s done by a good SEO. Honestly, for serious SEO campaigns, it never really stops, but lets just focus on getting you to first base. If you’re doing it by yourself, then do as much research as you can on Ahrefs.com and tools such as MOZ.com.
This one topic is really what separates the serious SEO’s from the pack. In order to keep this post practical let’s split these kind of links into ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ to obtain.
Easy to get domain links
We call these ‘foundational’ links. These are the directories and platforms that you can easily register for by yourself. The first ones that we work on tend to be:
- Better Business Bureau
- Local Chamber of Commerce
Once your reverse engineering is complete, you’ll have your own list that you’ll then want to split into ‘easy’ and ‘hard’.
Hard to get domain links
If you’ve researched your competition and see that the top ranking site has domain links coming from ‘Forbes.com’ and ‘USAtoday.com’ – how do you get the same kind of links? Well, there’s simply no easy way. Those firms earned those links, they either had a legitimate interview and the journalist decided to give them a link, or they have a special relationship with them that got them the link.
While it’s not impossible to replicate that process, we just don’t think that’s a good use of your time, particularly on a limited budget.
Hard link building phase 1:
Instead, focus on your local community. Form relationships with local journalist, local business owners. Write articles that have to do with your local town. Spend $500 on creating an info-graphic that shows ’20 things to do when you go to ‘city court’. When that page has been created, send a link to it to all the businesses you reference in the info-graphic and ask them to link to it.
Hard link building phase 2:
The single biggest thing you, as a smaller law firm, have to realize when it comes to building the stronger links is that you have to earn them. Earning them comes in many different forms. For instance, to get a link from Wikipedia you have to have enough legitimate press to warrant a Wikipedia page. So you might want to spend some money on getting a PR company (or in some cases a digital marketing agency) to start working on getting your story out to the press. That brings up the issue of – what is your story? What would PR about you and the firm consist of? One great way to start that ball rolling in the right direction is to get behind some local and national causes, become a voice and sponsor of those causes – support something you truly believe in and then start to think about how that story can be used in the context of PR.
Other forms of hard link building consists of various strategies to obtain .edu, .gov and .org links – a good SEO agency should have a clear and permissive strategy on how to obtain these kind of links.
Is it a good idea for a solo lawyer or a small law firm have a blog? If so, why and how will it help SEO?
In a word, absolutely.
Google is nothing without content and they give preferential treatment to bigger sites with good content. When Google caches a site they are really looking at 4 main things.
- Code – is your code clean and easy for their crawlers to read?
- Speed – is your site fast or slow – if it’s slow they are unlikely to serve your content up on their first page to their users.
- Links / Popularity – how many domain links do you have, how relevant and powerful are they?
- Content – do you have good content or shallow content? And is the site growing in content.
If they see that the site isn’t growing in size and is essentially the same shapshot as the last time they came around, they will push the cache date further and further back.In other words, you’re boring them and wasting their time.
To check to see how many of your sites pages are currently indexed on Google do this Google search “site:www.yoursite.com”. Google will show you your indexed pages count at the top of the page. Do the same exercise for all of your competition, you’ll quickly see how big or small the task of competing with content is.
Think of your blog this way.
Google caches CNN.com (approx.) once every minute, that’s because they know that they have a constant flow of fresh content.
The idea of blogging is to become the CNN of your industry. There is no such thing as too much blogging, just be mindful of not making the mistake of blogging weak, shallow content. For most law firms 1 to 2 well researched blog posts per week is enough. There are more advanced strategies, but start with 1 to 2 per week.
Also, make sure to connect your Google + account so that every blog post you write is also syndicated via Google +.
Will local reviews (if good!) help search engines find a solo or small law firm’s website?
Reviews don’t help your rankings, they do however help your conversions – dramatically. Your first goal should be to get into the ‘7 pack’ for your local area via Google My Business. We wrote earlier about this process: find a good SEO who specializes in Local Results. Once you make it to the A-B-C-D-E-F-G positions, then start putting some time into getting positive local reviews. You can easily do this by sending your clients a link to your Google + profile where they can leave a review. (Please note, it’s important not to do this from your office location as Google tracks the IP addresses of where reviews come from).
Are there any common SEO mistakes on small business websites that our readers should be trying to avoid?
Apart from the big 4, being Code, Speed, Content and Links, the biggest mistake we see is that attorneys spend far too much time on content that is too ‘Sales’ centric. Keep in mind that Google doesn’t like salesmen, they like educators. Review all of your pages and spend weeks, not a few hours, researching and writing powerful content that looks, feels and functions like Wikipedia.
If a solo or small law firm budgets to have an agency help them with SEO/local search, what can they expect and what questions should they ask before signing on?
First off, don’t sign any long term contracts. A good SEO should be able to offer a full audit and then a process for fixing any and all of your problem areas. Ask them for an ‘audit / fix’ package that is separate to an ongoing SEO (local / content / link building) campaign and that campaign shouldn’t be more than a 6 month commitment. If the SEO is good at what they do, you should start to see results within 6 months – if they can’t, then it’s time to move on. On the other hand if you’re seeing results, then stay with them and form a real partnership. Our favorite clients have been with us for 4-5 years and it’s a two way street where both companies work together to increase the online footprint of the firm.
Pricing should be based on specific deliverables and broken down into hours. Most small law firms don’t have a big budget, but if you can find your way clear to being able to afford between $2000-$3000 per month with the right SEO, it should pay strong dividends. If all you can afford is $1,000 per month then still do the audit / fix process, then turn your attention to writing your own content and working with an SEO who specializes in ‘Local’ SEO. At the very least, your map rankings should have a good chance of getting into the 7 pack.
If you do go with a fuller campaign, make sure you ask them to give you specifics on their content and link building strategies. If they start telling you about how you’ll be part of their ‘link network’ run away, that might work short term, but if (when) Google picks up that your part of a link scheme, then it could crush your rankings for years to come.
For more information on ranking your law firm please visit www.eversparkinteractive.com/legal-ranking-formula.
Read Part 1 here.
Chris Watson is the CEO / Co-founder of Atlanta based EverSpark Interactive, a full service digital marketing agency specializing in internet results for attorneys. Established in 2009 EverSpark has worked with some of the biggest law firms in the country and makes it a priority of studying the Google algorithm and how it effects the business of law marketing.
As the Director of SEO, Clinton Dugan has lead teams covering content marketing, social strategy, and SEO for Enterprise brands. Clinton has worked with brands like Carnival Cruise Lines, Navy Federal Credit Union, Kids II, TruGreen and American Home Shield. His breadth and depth of experience continues to fuel game changing insights. Clinton is a passionate digital marketer at Everspark Interactive, an Atlanta full-service digital marketing agency, that loves to share his insights on how to do better marketing.