Wednesday, September 21, 2011
If you’re a lawyer with a website, you’ve been contacted by an “SEO expert”; it’s one of the inevitable annoyances of putting your firm online. If you’re a novice, or unsatisfied with your current site’s performance, you’ve probably listened to them and wondered if they can in fact pull off the miracle they’re promising—first page results in a matter of days. The answer is simple, they probably can’t and most reliable SEO experts will promise no such thing.
While SEO strategy seems incredibly complex and the promised tactics of the SEO experts may sound overwhelming, many search optimization tactics are really quite simple and intuitive when you think of the main goal of search engines; they want quality sites directly related to the user’s search to populate the first few pages of the search engine results. In other words, if a Google user searches for “Tampa Bankruptcy Attorney,” Google wants to make certain that legitimate sites for local bankruptcy attorneys actually appear in the results. They don’t want a spam site selling “quality domains” for lawyers to appear nor do they want a site based out of North Dakota showing folks how they can work from home to get rid of their debt. Makes sense, right?
The adversaries of Google are the spam sites that are trying to “game” the system. Their main goal is to outsmart the search engine, trying to convince Google that they have what the user is looking for, although they usually have little or no relevance to the search phrase. Spam sites often use “Black Hat” tricks to gain an upper hand and are constantly developing strategies which have not yet been detected by the search engines.
Search algorithms, or the strategies used by search engines to determine relevance and importance of a webpage, serve to distinguish spam sites from quality sites and offer visitors relevant results. Next time you hear an SEO consultant ramble on about how they will update all of your Meta tags (part of the code which is not easily visible to a site user but can easily be manipulated by a webmaster) think about whether a spam site could do the same thing. If so, it’s probably not an effective strategy (and by the way, “optimized Meta tags” are a thing of the past).
The Effective Strategies
The main thing to keep in mind when shopping for SEO assistance, or working to optimize your site on your own, is that any strategy that can easily be done by a webmaster to the code of a website is probably not effective. Easy fixes can also be used by spammers so steer clear of investing in these tweaks.
What really distinguishes websites is quality which is based on a few factors:
Content: This concept is the most basic yet often the most ignored SEO strategy. If you want to rank well, you need to show the search engines that you have relevant, quality content. Don’t list your practice areas in a bulleted list once and expect to show up in a local search for an immigration attorney. A spam site selling fake green cards probably mentions the word immigration more frequently. Write keyword rich copy and update the site frequently. You don’t need to add a new page of relevant information each day but a weekly blog entry or monthly article can go a long way.
Authority: What else can distinguish a bad site from a good one? Popularity. If high quality, relevant sites link to your site, it is seen as a type of endorsement. But here take note of the emphasis on high quality, relevant sites. If you’re an estate planning attorney, a link to your site from the local track team’s website may confer some authority, but its value would be somewhat diminished due to lack of topical relevancy. Receiving a link from the Trusts & Estates website, on the other hand, could go a long way because these links are not easily given out (and you better believe, cannot be obtained by a search engine consultant) and are coming from a site rich with estate planning information.
Seniority: Truth be told, if your firm has a new website, you’re not going to rank well immediately because the search engines won’t allow it. You’re the new kid on the block and they are still trying to gauge what you’re all about. Spam sites come and go but reliable, quality sites stick around. The longer you’ve been online producing quality content, the more points you’ll get from Google.
Although the theory and basic principles of search engine optimization are relatively simple, it never hurts to consult with a knowledgeable SEO consultant. By understanding the theory behind search engine algorithms, you can be sure that you are getting the most out of your time and financial investments.