During the last few years practicing family law, some lawyers have left our firm to start their own practice. Each time I ask, “How are you going to get clients?” Their response is typically along the lines of “I’ve got a friend who designs webpages.” Sounds great, but I won’t be worrying about you as a competitor any time soon.
Starting your own practice is an enormous undertaking. There are so many things to juggle, and so many ways to screw it up. The time needed to create the structures and processes to sustain a viable practice can suck the life out of a new lawyer. But one of the often overlooked aspects of any new practice is a marketing plan.
Throwing up a website your neighbor Bob designs doesn’t constitute a marketing plan. It will lead to failure. Perhaps your practice can sustain itself on referrals, but more often than not, a law practice needs a supplemental source of future clients.
Like so much about practicing law, law school has taught us nothing about marketing our practices. No one takes a marketing class in law school, and there are no “HTML5 for lawyers” programs that I’m aware of. And yet, for those individuals who crave the independence and potential success of starting a practice, marketing, website development, search engine optimization (SEO), and client services are essential.
Today, the most important part of a marketing plan is your Web strategy. The basic path to a successful website presence is:
- Develop a relevant, helpful website
- Optimize that site for your search terms
- Establish secondary pages on social media sites
- Build quality links to your site
- Update your content regularly by blogging or other means
Unless your neighbor Bob has a background in developing websites optimized for Google search, not only are you wasting your time, but you’re probably setting yourself back.
A new website must be optimized with keywords that potential clients use to find services like yours. If it’s not, Google may think you sell shoes and start ranking you for that. It may be very difficult, later, to convince them you offer bankruptcy help.
Optimizing a website with keywords is highly technical. There was a time when keyword density on each page—that is, how many times your keywords occurred in the text on each page—was very important. But this “on-site” optimization is not as favored by Google anymore.
As Google has become more sophisticated with its search algorithms, tricks like keyword density, meta-tags (hidden text on the page) and link campaigns have moved down the list of effective strategies. Instead, natural search language is all the rage.
No one knows exactly how Google’s search algorithm works. Google regularly updates its algorithm with new strategies for delivering relevant content to users. SEO companies are constantly adjusting services in response to these updates. An SEO team with the capability to stay educated on these updates is critical. Trying to stay on top of it in-house is almost always a waste of money.
Since no one knows how the algorithm works, the range of promises SEO companies make is broad, indeed, and should be viewed with skepticism. The reality is they simply don’t know how it works. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
Shakespeare in Love, 1998
I’ve been chasing organic search results for many years. My contacts in the industry, even as recently as last week, tell me the best way to improve your organic search results is to put up a high-quality, useful website. Make sure you focus your content on answering user questions, they say.
Google anticipates users will quickly move to natural language searches, such as, “who’s the best criminal defense lawyer in town?” or “I need a personal injury lawyer who offers free consultations.”
If you haven’t tried out one of these searches, try it now. See what your results are. Do the top organic results displayed answer your question? Google’s hope is that they do.
So, how does a law firm move up in organic search results in the world of natural language searches? While keywords are still important, fresh content, and site history are increasingly important factors for Google. Your credibility as a site continues to be a huge factor.
In a recent survey of SEO executives, more than half (57%) say quality content creation is one of the most effective SEO strategies employed by their company. Other effective tactics include:
- Keyword management (47%)
- Frequent updates (37%)
- Social media integration (32%)
- Frequent blogging (28%)
Mobile and local search optimization, two relatively new tactics, are also cited by 17% and 9% of respondents, respectively, as important strategies.
Doing nothing gets you nowhere. Doing the wrong thing lands you on page 100. Doing the right thing, over a period of time, will get you to page one. You need to commit to having an honest page; one that provides useful information to the searcher. It will take Google time to notice, but sooner or later you will see progress.
By M. David Johnson, the managing partner of the Johnson Marquez Legal Group, a Colorado family law firm. Johnson has practiced family law for 20 years and oversees the firm’s marketing program. He is also the author of “Looking? How Technology is Changing Modern Relationships,” set for publication in early 2015.