I have posted many different updates on SEO like words you have to be familiar with and how to better outfit your law firm’s site for success in the coming year, but what I want to talk about today is what you should avoid in 2015 to keep your firm on top of the competition. Google has many picky preferences when it comes to following their algorithm rules and regulations and while it might be impossible to prevent every single flaw that you could encounter, there are a few faux pas that we know of for certain.
If you find yourself letting any of the following mistakes slip by you on your firm site, you may want to go back to basics and figure out how to correct them, or you may find yourself on the bottom of the Google rankings this year. It’s a new year and a fresh start, so don’t get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.
Okay, so we have spoken a little bit in the past about how quality content is basically the most important thing that your website should give to visitors. Whether this is for your clients, or for Google rankings alone, you must keep your content genuine, and relevant to the source. With that said, it can be easy to fall into the trap of meaningless junk articles, especially if you’re in a rush and have too much work building up to really focus on what’s going on online. Search Engine People claims:
Writing junk articles and syndicating them throughout the web with links back to your site do not count as anything genuine and cannot add value to you, as a source of information; or value in Google’s opinion of your site or the value of your services.
A junk article can be anything from a poorly written blog update, to a spun article that you purchased from a marketing website. It’s important to know your content before you post it; so if you’re going to buy data from outside sources be sure that you read it all before posting so you know exactly what you’re putting your name and your company’s name on. Remember that your reputation is linked to your website and your firm isn’t going to look good if it is affiliated with poorly written junk.
Any online activity on your site that makes content look one way to your viewers and another to a Google crawler is a definite no-no. As tempting as it might be to post what you want and cover up your tracks, as a law firm, you should definitely know that no good can come of this. I often tell my clients to think about this the way that you would about fraud of any kind; there’s a reason why it’s illegal in the real world, and it isn’t tolerated by Google either. If you get caught cloaking you’re going to land yourself in a world of trouble as far as your online ranking goes. Click-Fingers says:
Cloaking is the practice of designing a web site so that the search engines see one thing and the visitors to the site see something else. This is one of the most common spammer tricks and is HIGH on the list for Google to handle in an extreme way and by that, I mean banning the domain and removing it from the search engine index completely.
Fortunately, this is not something that you can do by mistake; it takes some serious website know how, which means that your web designer or moderator would be at the base of it all. As long as you are upfront about what you will and won’t tolerate on your site you should be fine and shouldn’t have to worry about cloaking at all.
Another Google no-no is duplicating content. Now, again, as a law firm, the act of plagiarism shouldn’t be unknown to you, and you should recognize how serious this can be, not only for your ranking, but for your business as well. This is why it’s important that all of the content that you post are original. Sometimes purchasing from outside resources can lead you to duplicated content by accident. You can avoid this by putting all of your articles, blog updates, and other content through a search to be sure that nothing is being copied from another site, or from somebody else’s work.
Believe it or not there are a lot of programs out there that you can download or subscribe to that will create content for you and spin articles. This is similar to my earlier warning about junk articles, but is a little bit more specific on what to avoid. You should never get involved with a program that automatically outputs data for your website. It might save you time and even some money, but in the end it will have a negative affect not only on the relationship that you have with your current and potential future clientele, but also with Google and other search engines who may have supported your business.
In the past, I have spoken about keywords and how important they can be for SEO ranking. Unfortunately, while they can be very helpful, they can also be a burden, as it becomes increasingly difficult to understand what Google will and will not accept as far as the number of keywords on your page goes. Previously, there was a higher number of keywords accepted, but recently this has changed. Website Magazine declares:
Remember when you would read a page stuffed with variations of keywords at five percent density? That is thankfully no more. You should keep your keyword density around three percent or less for best results, but never sacrifice quality to get more keywords.
Before you begin putting keywords into an article, blog, or site content, write the information out and be sure that it is relevant and sounds correct. After this you can go back through and insert a few keywords where they will look natural in the normal flow of your article.
I have been telling all of my clients that 2015 is the year to set your goals high and your sights higher, and this means taking advantage of all of the amazing information that is just a mouse click away. Optimizing your website for better Google rankings may not always be a walk in the park just like I pointed on Wednesday, but there are some sure fire ways to better your odds, and following the rules and guidelines that search engines set out is the best place to get started. In order to better understand these rules you first have to know the language and be able to associate the different SEO terminologies with their meanings.
Okay, so if you know about SEO then you are probably familiar with the fact that search engines send out bots to scour the web for the best and brightest, and also to pinpoint the sites that aren’t following the rules. In their travels these bots not only read the text that you’ve placed on your website to determine whether or not it is relevant to your law firm, but they also read the code that you are using. This means utilizing things like HTML sitemaps better; Kiss Metrics says:
There are two types of sitemaps you can create: HTML sitemaps and XML sitemaps. The main difference is XML sitemaps are coded specifically for search engines to read, while HTML sitemaps are easy for people to read too. You can link to them, giving the visitor an overview of everywhere they go.
Another factor to understand are “title tags,” which are used to verify the title and reason for your website. For example, if you are running a law firm, you should be placing the title in code such asMcMahon And Son Family Lawyers. This shows potential clients exactly what you are offering, as well as the name of your law firm and a common representation of your domain name. The main aim here is to add your keywords to your title so that it’s easier to spot in a search.
I have said it before in the past, but I can’t reiterate enough just how important it is, especially for a law firm website to have content that is completely relevant to the business and the site. This means putting up only information that you would generally share with a client in person. Don’t post things that you wouldn’t show somebody that came into your office, and certainly don’t try to “spice” up your site by adding untrue or misleading data, images, or any other content that don’t ring true. This will lead to a definite violation of the rules set up by Google and other search engines. Amy Hissom explains:
A word you’ll likely see around a lot is “web content” and by definition, content is the ‘stuff’ that makes up a web site. This could be words, pictures, images or sounds. In essence however, when we talk about web content, we are essentially referring to content in a textual nature. Content therefore is the ‘information’ in text form a web site provides.
This is an easy concept to grasp, but an important one all the same, and it also encompasses other key terms such as your CMS or content management system which is used to manage content, key phrase, which is two or more words that form what may eventually become a “keyword” during online searches, and many others.
This is something that you want to seriously steer clear of, especially if you don’t want to end up in Google’s black books. It is described in 4fx.com as:
An attempt to deceive a search engine spider in order to improve a web page’s rank at the expense of the search engine’s index quality.
This can involve repeating phrases that are unrelated to your content, keyword stuffing, article spinning, meta-tag stuffing, scraper sites, and a number of other incriminating spam related mistakes.
I always try to make it clear for my clients that for any law firm or lawyer, understanding SEO and how it can work to your advantage is an important part of the industry. While it’s true that this never used to be a factor before, the internet age has made it impossible to direct any business without taking into consideration the online world. That is why, previously, I had tackled the use of Facebook to enhance your brand. Today, I would like to point out that Google’s algorithms will play a big role in your firm and your website or blog. In order to get your information to become more visible throughout the billions of online users trying to do the same, you have to understand how Google works, and that their results are different for each individual keyword that is entered.
Crawling And Indexing
In order to find the best and brightest content on the internet, search engines have the formidable task of getting to know each site individually and running through all of the information that is there. The best way to do this is through links. In order to get everywhere, search engines use bots to “crawl” their way around the online world and try to make sense of the information that is available online. Crawling helps search engines to index billions of pages including videos, news, images, and other files. This helps them give answers to queries as they are sent through an engine. They find relevant pages to each query type with their “crawlers” and decipher codes so that they can store pieces of this information. Moz.com says:
After all, when a person performs a search at any of the major engines, they demand results instantaneously – even a 1 or 2 second delay can cause dissatisfaction, so the engines work hard to provide answers as fast as possible.
I like to put it into easy to understand situations; if you think about it like this you can better understand why keywords are so important and why the links that you use must lead back to your site properly. When you search for something on the internet a search engine must go through the billions of documents that they have encountered and return only the most relevant results and rank them in order of how useful you might find them. This is another important fact to remember, because if your site and data isn’t useful, you’re far less likely to be listed near the top of any search query list.
Finding The Right Data
Now, to a search engine crawler the data that is listed as most “relevant” will always have to do with the words on the page, because let’s keep in mind that these robots aren’t live people, which means that while they are able to find some pretty valuable results in the large scheme of things, the importance of these sites is based on different determining factors than you or I might use. For example, mathematical equations and algorithms are designed to pinpoint the most logical and honest data. This is where following the Google guidelines can come in handy, and I always suggest that my clients go over these suggestions to make the most of their websites. To start with, you should always make your site for your users not for the search engines that are ranking them. Trying to deceive a search engine is kind of like cheating on your taxes; if you get caught, there are heavy penalties to pay, and while these penalties may not come in dollars and cents, you could lose money in the long run by not playing fairly. Make sure that your website has a very clear hierarchy and is easy to navigate from page to page with a static text link to get through. Make sure that the data you supply is rich and accurate and that it is related to your field of work or what the site is meant to represent. Finally, be certain that the keywords you use are for humans not bots, and that they help link to original content, not duplicated content.
There are many things that affect the algorithms used by search engines, and unfortunately I can’t name them all, but to be fair, this would be an impossible feat for anyone, but the designer of those algorithms. One thing that I do divulge to my clients is that things like spelling, synonyms, autocomplete, query understanding, and search methods play a large role. The way that a question or query is formed can make all the difference as to the information that is displayed, which is why I recommend covering all of your bases in terms of keywords that could link back to your firm. Buffer App explains:
You might have noticed the way Google guesses the end of your search as you start typing and fixes your spelling if you mistype. It also works hard in other ways to give you what you need quickly. For example, if you type “timer 30 minutes” into Google, it will create a timer for you right from the search results instead of having you click away to an online timer.
In this way, it is obvious that Google is looking out for users, not businesses that are supplying information to users, although it does seem to respect those businesses that use the website correctly and follow the guidelines associated with its use.
Building Link Strategies That Work
I had mentioned above that links are an important part of building relevant content and making a clean site that Google will want to rank highly. What this means is that you can’t just buy your way to the top. Buying links is a Google no-no, however, trading them is perfectly okay, but be sure that the suppliers, partners, and other industry leaders that you trade with are following the same code of conduct that you are, because your site is only as good as your weakest link. Marketing Pilgrim reports:
Obtain links from business partners, suppliers, clients, industry blogs, and news media. The link should preferably use “anchor text” that includes the keywords you are hoping your web page will rank for in Google. For example; instead of a link back to your site that says “Click Here” more beneficial would be a link that includes the text “Desktop Computers” (or your targeted keyword).
Following these tips won’t guarantee you a spot in Google’s most recommended links, but it will certainly help your site stay above the competition and in the running.
Last week, I discussed how a law firm can use Twitter to enhance a firm’s online marketing efforts. Now, it’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to touch on an algorithm change but it looks as though Google finally has some news. Recently, Google spokespeople have elucidated on their latest Penguin algorithm update. As far as anyone knows so far, the algorithm is going to be receiving continuous updates, making it impossible to follow or to find any real guidelines to grasp onto as far as SEO and other forms of online marketing and ranking go. The last big update is still being rolled out and there is no end point yet in site, which means that law firms small and big are left to optimize as they go rather than finding a set of rules to stick to directly. IMglance.com explains the latest announcement made by Google:
That last big update is still rolling out — though really there won’t be a particularly distinct end-point to the activity, since Penguin is shifting to more continuous updates. The idea is to keep optimizing as we go now.
This means different things for different people, but one thing that it means to every online user, legal firms included, is that there may still be some big changes yet to come, and you should keep your eyes peeled for these.
Updates and Affected Businesses
So far all of the Penguin changes have been made offline and then pushed at a very specific time, which would change the search results, but now it might be time to advance into the updating future as Google has finally begun to release changes live and online. One perk that this offers to users is that these live changes cut back on the large surges of data that were previously being pushed. It helps to stand as a reminder that while the changes might be annoying, Google is clearly trying to do what’s best for all businesses and online users globally. Propecta.com advises:
We’re keeping a close eye on Penguin, with everyone else, but in the long run it’s important to remember that Google’s end game still hasn’t changed. They’re working out how to do it better, and while it’s annoying that the Penguin updates are changing so quickly, there really isn’t much anyone can do about it.
The world has been asking for faster and better upgrades to the Penguin algorithm for quite some time now, and these new changes and method of transformation might be the answer to those prayers. You do need to keep an eye out for these changes as they occur, however, because Google hasn’t been announcing all of them, and some of the latest moves have been reported by the SEO community rather than the company itself.
What This Means For Users
Fortunately, while the SEO changes aren’t all optimistic, these continuous updates do mean that there are shorter penalties for bad links, and other spam-related issues affiliated with websites. Search Engine Land explains:
But what this means for sites who were impacted by any of these live changes is unclear. Do their link removal or disavow efforts get processed between each live algorithm change or would that not happen until Penguin 4.0? Again, we are working on getting clearer information from Google around these changes.
The continuous changes shouldn’t be a problem for those sites that do use natural links and play by the rules that have already been set out for online business owners, law firms, medical clinics, and various other internet users who require the web to communicate with their potential customers. This means that although you might want to keep your eye on Google news, you shouldn’t be too put off by the changes so long as you are keeping links fresh and naturally occurring.
Last week, I provided some tips on web marketing for law firms. Today, let me focus on how to boost your SEO efforts for the upcoming year. If you have already jumped on the SEO bandwagon then great! If not, you may want to consider becoming involved with a few SEO tactics of your own to bring your company up to speed with your competitors and to boost traffic to your website.
Search engine optimization involves working with Google’s algorithms and rules to bring your website higher in the rankings of the search engine. This means that when potential clients are searching for a “Law Firm In Los Angeles” or “Legal Help In New York” they will be more likely to see your listing among the many others that pop up, and your firm may even be more visible than others in your local area.
On Google you’ll find that even a change in one keyword during a search can completely alter the results that you’ll get. For example, searching for “New York law Firms” will give different results compared to a search for “Law Firms In New York City”, which can make SEO a little bit confusing but it doesn’t have to be.
To really ramp up your 2015 initiative you need to get on board and leave the competition behind by making your website SEO friendly and mobile friendly. Not all webpages have accomplished this, especially in the field of law, which has relied heavily on word of mouth advertising since the dawn of legal aid. Not all web platforms are created equal, however, and with about 40% of your potential clients coming in from mobile devices it’s important to cater to this crowd as well as the ones who heard through a friend of a friend.
Do Your Research
As a lawyer you’re used to doing research, and you’re probably really good at it, which will come in handy during the initial stages of your SEO improvements. Before you can begin making changes to your site I suggest that you have to know your site the way that potential clients know it. Search for your firm by its name, by names that are very similar, by area of focus and your city or town and by the names of attorneys that work in your firm. What you see is exactly what others are getting when they try to find you or try to find help in your area. If you want to change these rankings and bring your site up the list you’re going to have to start making some changes, and you can gauge how big or small these changes need to be based on the current makeup of your webpage. Juris Page says:
SEO is generally measured by how well your website shows up for specific keywords and search terms. If someone searches for your law firm name, there’s no question that your firm website should be the first result in Google. It shouldn’t be a LinkedIn page, Facebook, Avvo, Findlaw, SuperLawyers, or Lawyers.com. It should be your website.
It can also be beneficial to ask current clients and new clients how they found you and exactly which search keywords they used to locate your particular office.
Set Realistic Goals And Make A Plan
So everybody should have goals, and similarly every law firm should have goals as to where they are going, how many clients they would like to see in the New Year, among a variety of other factors. Once you know exactly what it is that you plan to achieve this year you can set your mind toward achieving this with a well thought out plan. I firmly believe that proper research is your friend as you continue on your SEO journey because you’re going to need to know more about your potential client base, and about the guidelines and benefits of search engine optimization. From here you can do things like create a local online presence, put yourself into the social networking scheme of things with a blog or other contact platforms.
Make Yourself Seen
So you’ve got a blog and you’re beginning to learn more about how and where to place keywords? You may also be thinking about the advantages of link building; but while all of this is going on you can get some buzz going around your firm by making a mark in your local community and organizing an event or becoming more involved with a particular charity or other recognizable organization. Mannix Marketing states:
Not only are you helping your community and getting your brand out in the public, there is also an opportunity to get link backs form the organizations you are helping. If you or anyone on your Board is supporting a local charity or event, ask for a link on their site. This could be a very valuable backlink.
One of the things that Google really looks for when they begin ranking for SEO is how valid and honest the links are that you share and are shared through. A law firm that is linking a marketing website isn’t going to be a credible source unless you specialize in business and marketing law. Be creative, but also be logical in the selections that you make.
Blog Options And The Creative Approach
So above you saw the mention of blogging as a possible means of becoming involved in social media. This is an important tool for law firms because social media isn’t something that many practices have begun tapping yet. It can be difficult to be present in social media and still uphold the level of professionalism that law involves, but some sites like LinkedIn offer business style profiles, and the ability to publish interesting and relevant articles online.
Web Presence Esq says:
Not only did Google release a number of algorithm updates last year (including the Exact Match Domain (EMD) update, one dozen plus Panda updates, changes to actual search results pages, and unnatural link warnings through Google Webmaster Tools), but it has shifted its focus to content and SMO, or social media optimization.
Through your LinkedIn account you can also link your blog, which can take clients to your website. To make a blog worth reading the information has to be up-to-date, relevant, and interesting, so you can’t just put in something in a hurry and post it at the last minute. Try getting all of your attorneys on board; if everybody takes a blog update each week, it means posting timely articles that clients will enjoy reading.
In previous posts last week I wrote about social media and other methods of SEO to build up your law firm’s website in the long chain of search engine results on local law firms in your area are bound to provide. Today, I’ll focus on a component of SEO, which is building links.
The key to success in online marketing always comes down to setting yourself apart from your competitors and being seen first. Epic Web Results advises:
If your website has incoming links from relevant websites as well as links from your site on other places around the web, it can help increase the visibility of your company and, in turn, create more buzz for your internet marketing campaigns. Link building helps your company create a powerful web presence in many ways.
What is difficult here is getting to the top, of course, but one tip I often give my clients is to take some time out and focus on link building. Now, Google is highly particular in what they will and won’t accept in terms of building links. For this reason, the more genuine your links are, the more likely it is that they will help boost your ranking on a search engine.
Post as a Guest on Other Sites
So how do you begin building links and gaining a reputation through sites other than your own? I suggest beginning with guest posting; as a lawyer you have a large knowledge base that others can’t always come by on their own, and this is leverage for you and your firm in building your brand. Use your expertise on your field of practice to branch out on other websites, blogs, and online publications that could gain an advantage from your input. Similarly, you benefit from the experience through readers being linked back to the firm’s website. Attorneyrankings.org says:
Personal injury lawyers in particular have a wealth of knowledge that people are searching online for. Lawyers can get local geographic links (which are great for most attorneys targeting local markets) by offering to write pieces for local libraries, chambers of commerce or local government websites as a public service.
This is a wonderful opportunity to utilize websites that may have more national pull than a small local law practice. This exchange of links provides unique and naturally occurring links, which is exactly what search engines want to see. Remember that each search engine is staking their reputation on credible sourcing of information, so in order to reach the top you must be relevant, original, and genuine.
Creating A Better Tomorrow In Your Links
Nothing screams integrity like a law firm looking to help the youth who could possibly be lawyers of tomorrow. It isn’t for everyone, but if you have the means to spend on this type of affiliation I recommend taking anything from $500 to $1500 and establishing a scholarship with real rules and a specific application process, you can list it on your website, and approach different educational institutions to make the scholarship available to their students. Niftylaw.com says:
It’s becoming less & less worthwhile to actively build links for the sake of links. Google is continually busting out the pitchforks & torches on their witch-hunt for spam link builders. If you’ve been accused of link sorcery by the algorithm, you will be thrown out in the frigid water with the penguins to see if you can swim.
The.edu and.org domains are often recognized as having a higher level of authority than a.net or.com because they are affiliated with education and professional organizations. Sure, you’re spending some money here, but those funds are being used to help financially needy students, while also fulfilling your need to link genuine and unique links for your firm’s website.
Get Everyone in on the Game
Creating genuine readable content isn’t always easy, especially if you’re trying to post on a regular basis, and getting links that connect to more relevant information can be even more difficult. I understand that this is sometimes a highly frustrating situation to be in, but one way that you can get out of the writer’s block barrel and begin creating your own links is to get everybody on your team involved. Obviously this doesn’t include members of the firm who aren’t crucial to the legal aspect of the practice.
For example, the administrative staff probably doesn’t need to be involved, but if you can get all of your lawyers, and even the law interns to write one or two articles a month, you can post these on your firm’s website, offer them as guest posts to other legally relevant sites and even supply them to local businesses in your niche that aren’t competition in exchange for similar content. Now make sure that everybody on board tweets, posts on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and anywhere else that social media reigns. Offer incentives to those actively participating and for whoever creates the biggest stir on the web in regards to content. The more readers, the more links back to your firm website, and the more action you’re going to get in online rankings, online business, and new potential clients.
If you post this material once or twice a week, and continue the trend you will find links falling into your lap in no time at all. Don’t just think of it as link building, think of it as client building, and give the same high quality information through these articles that you would to a paying client. This is an important part of your business strategy and if you don’t take it seriously you will find the opposite of your goals occurring, and Google may even consider the posts and links spam, which will land you in a heap of trouble rather than a heap of new consumers.
Whatever you choose to do to boost your rankings, and build links, keep it professional and relevant, those are the biggest tips I have to give here in regards to making the search engines happy. A happy search engine makes for far more happy clients as they come across your listing before they notice your competitors.
Previously, I discussed how law firms could have an online presence with the use of social media. This time, we’ll tackle the subject of search engine optimization (SEO). With the Internet now being such an integral part of everyday life, it’s no surprise that most people utilize a quick online search when seeking a specific product or service, and this includes those people who are seeking for legal aid. One thing that I always try to make clear to my clients is the importance of your online presence in the industry in which you work. In the legal world, there are still a lot of word-of-mouth referrals and local inquiries, but with a steadily growing number of online searches for law firms, you have to get in the game if you want to succeed, and this means embracing SEO to help your business grow.
Local Keywords Are the Key to Success
I know what you’re thinking: why aim for local business when you could be getting calls from communities all over the city or state? Well, when you’re just starting out with SEO, you’re not going to find immediate changes in a large market; this is a highly competitive form of marketing, especially for lawyers. For example, if you want to be recognized as a top law firm in New York, you’re better to start off by being known for your services in Brooklyn before attempting to take on the city as a whole. This helps minimize your current competitors, making it easier for you to work your way up. This also helps to secure your brand within your immediate area, and gets you on the road to larger opportunities in the coming months and years. Bruce Clay, Inc. states:
Legal Internet marketing is exceedingly competitive, so if you’re just starting out it’s important to establish your firm as a brand and market to your immediate location.
I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t be aiming at capturing these larger markets, but this should be more of a long-term plan. For now, your goals should start out in your physical region, and then over time you can try ranking for more general placements.
Establish Yourself in Local Directories and With Google Places
Now that you have begun to think about your firm in terms of local business, you should get on board with securing your place in local directories. I usually suggest that my clients embrace the advantages offered through Google Plus and Google Places during this phase, as they can greatly increase their success in building their companies through SEO. Christopher Arnell of LinkedIn says:
For the foreseeable future, Google will continue calling the shots as far as search results go, so the first step in establishing a local presence is setting up a Google Plus local page. While this is separate from the Google Plus business page, it can be combined with that page.
This is the time where you should be working toward becoming included in all of the local law listings within your area so that you can rank in maps in your immediate area. The citations that you arrange with various listing sites can greatly increase your listing rank, and give your law firm credibility with Google.
Get Your Site Ready for Visitors
I have stated before that SEO can help ramp up traffic to your site, and in turn give you a greater probability of finding new clients, but getting visitors to your website isn’t always enough to convert them to clients. Your website is the online face for your company, and just as you wear a suit to the office every day to show your clients how professional and committed you are, your website shows online clients the same traits. If your site looks too basic, or not up-to-date, you’re far less likely to make a good impression. A high quality law firm website should include a variety of different information, such as press coverage, case results, testimonials, lawyer bio pages, and possibly a blog.
Enter any landing page or website URL.