As a digital marketer that analyzes hundreds of law firm websites every year, there are certain problems that come up more often than others. I decided to take some time to put together a list of the 20 most common SEO mistakes I see in the legal industry. My hope is that by knowing and understanding these common mistakes, your online marketing strategy will be strengthened and your business will grow to new heights!
One quick word of warning: If you’re just getting started promoting your own website, I don’t recommend you implement all of these ideas at one time. Real change can only be made one step at a time. So, go through these tips with a pen and paper. Make notes about the things you want to fix on your website, then tackle a few points each week until you’ve finished everything on your list.
1. Your strategy is “run of the mill.” It’s not catered to your website, your market and your goals.
Your SEO strategy should be customized to your specific market. Is your website new or old? Are your competitors strong or weak? How are they currently beating you? What strategies are they using? What links are they acquiring? How often are they updating their website? How quickly do you want to rank? What’s your budget? These are all things that should be taken into consideration when creating an Internet marketing strategy for your firm.
2. You aren’t varying your anchor text enough, or you’re using too many keyword-focused anchors.
Anchor text is the clickable text in a link. So if I were to write “Go check out Michael Ehline’s website,” the words “Michael Ehline’s website” were used as the anchor text. When you click those words, you would be directed to his website.
Oftentimes SEO companies do not vary the anchor text enough. Most of the links are using either the same keywords or they are 75% keyword-rich anchors. Is there anything natural about that? In my opinion, 50-75% of your anchor text should be your site name or brand name. Here are some examples of natural-branded anchor text:
- John Doe Injury Lawyer
- Injury Lawyer John Doe
- Attorney John Doe
- Law Offices of John Doe LLP
- Law Offices of John Doe
Here’s an example of an SEO using too many keyword-focused anchors:
The reason, more often than not, that SEOs do this is because they are looking to get you fast results. Every SEO wants to rank you quickly, and being aggressive with the anchor text is one way to give you a fast boost – the problem is this quick boost may not set you up for long-term success. That’s why it’s important for you to discuss your goals with your SEO so that he or she understands what is expected.
I have prospective clients that come to me regularly as a last-ditch effort. They’ve been screwed by other SEOs in the past, and now their businesses are on the edge of collapse. They need business now! In those cases, I am more aggressive with the anchor text the first few months – if I’m not, my clients will be out of business. But as time goes on I focus the anchor text on branded phrases so that we’re not sacrificing short-term gain for long-term, sustainable results.
3. You aren’t utilizing social media properly.
It’s tough for most lawyers to generate business directly through social media. The best examples of lawyers generating business through social media would be internet lawyers, tax lawyers and business lawyers who specialize in helping start-ups. The reason why those lawyers do well is because their target market (Entrepreneurs) uses social media on a regular basis. If you’re a personal injury lawyer, you would have to build a massive following to generate regular business from the social web — unless you’re a niche injury lawyer that specializes in truck accidents, motorcycle accidents or birth injuries (just a few examples), because your target market could actually be other lawyers who want to refer cases to your law firm.
Even if you don’t see opportunities for your firm to generate business directly from social media, you still need to be active if you want to compete in Google. The web is significantly more social now than ever before. Google’s algorithm has been heavily influenced by links, because it sees links as votes. In other words, if I like your site, I’ll link to it. The problem is that most people don’t have websites, and those that do may not have a page or opportunity for people to link to them. With social media, shares and likes are the new “votes,” and everyone – not just those with a website – has a voice and can influence rankings. Therefore, you must be active on social media if you want people to share your stuff. You must build relationships with other lawyers (sharing/liking their stuff, too) if you want to be a forerunner in the years to come.
4. You’re not building links.
There is a lot of negativity surrounding link building. Google hates it because it influences their algorithm. Google wants everything to be “natural.” The problem is that links are at the core of Google’s algorithm, and as long as that’s the case, people are going to create and buy links to buy their way to the top of the search results.
The good news is that there are lots of “safe” ways to build links that will improve your rankings without taking on much risk. Here are a few link-building tactics that we use on a regular basis:
- Citations: Citations are most often directory links on local sites like Yelp, Yellow Pages and Superpages. But there are literally hundreds of great sources for citations. Here’s a service that will get citations for you: http://www.localsitesubmit.com/
- Directory links: Here are a few of my favorite, high-end directory links http://dir.yahoo.com/, http://botw.org/ and http://www.hotvsnot.com/
- Guest blogging: DO NOT use guest blogging networks or guest blogging forums like My Blog Guest. Those are spam. Instead, exchange articles with lawyers that you meet on social media websites.
- Press releases: My favorite distribution service is PRweb followed by EmailWire.
- Social media profiles: There’s a service called KnowEm that will secure your brand name on social media websites. When your name has been secured, a listing is oftentimes created. You can request to have a link back to your website included in your listing.
Side note: Now I want you to notice how I linked to all of those websites ???? Notice how I used a branded anchor text in each example? That’s normal. That’s natural. That’s exactly how you need to think about anchor text when you link to your website.
My prediction is that Google will come out with an update in the near future that will greatly devalue keyword-rich anchor text links. Why? Because only SEOs link to their sites with keyword anchors. Think about that.
5. You’re not building the right links.
You, or the person you’ve hired, are building crap links. I see far too many forum profile links, blog comments and guest posts on crappy blogs. Goodness me! As Mr. Wonderful says on the hit TV show Shark Tank, “Someone STOP the madness!!!”
The problem is that you, as the attorney, are partly to blame for these crappy links. You’re paying $250 month for “links.” What are you expecting? Two of the three directory links I suggested above cost about $300 apiece. Quality link building costs money. As my mom always says, “Cheap jeans are cheap, and so are the jeans.” You get what you pay for.
6. You’re not focused on conversions.
Most people don’t consider this to be an SEO tactic, but it is. Google tracks bounce rate. They know when someone visits your website and quickly leaves to go back to Google. This influences your search rankings. If you’re not focused on conversions, you’re leaving money on the table because of a poor conversion rate – and – you’re not ranking as well as you should.
My buddy, Andre, and I still can’t believe how few lawyers take conversion tracking seriously. They’re willing to spend thousands a month on SEO or PPC but not willing to take the time to really evaluate the ROI on the money spent. Please – take the time to setup conversion tracking on Google Analytics. Get a few trackable phone numbers that tie into your Google Analytics account. Get an intake management software program that actually recognizes different numbers and does the reporting for you!!! Ladies, gentlemen, this is 2013 – let’s start tracking our marketing dollars.
Please note: I know this is a pain to do. It’s a lot of setup. There’s maintenance involved, but this will greatly help you make smarter business decisions. Trust me when I tell you it’s worth it.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure!
7. You’re not valuing the long-tail keywords.
Most lawyers are focusing on just a few keywords, and I think from purely a management perspective that’s fine. But from a strategic standpoint, don’t ignore the long-tails. I don’t want to talk about this too much because it’s not as important as other points, so if you want to learn more about long-tail keywords, please check out these two articles: http://www.wordstream.com/long-tail-keywords
8. You’re not focusing enough on Google Places / +Local.
For the sake of this article, we’re going to call Google Places, Google +Local, Google Maps (and whatever else Google decides to call it in the future) “Google Local.”
It’s crucially important. It’s just as important as any other SEO activity (link building, content creation, social media, etc.).
- You must have your listing set up properly.
- You must be building regular citations to increase the authority of your listing.
- You MUST be asking happy clients to leave a positive review for your firm (make this part of your process when a client’s case is being closed).
Google Local is too integrated with the organic search results to ignore this.
9. Your title tags and meta descriptions are terrible.
The title tag is arguably the most critical component of your page from an SEO standpoint. For those of you who aren’t familiar with a title tag, it’s the blue link you click on in the search results to visit a website. The description tag is typically what shows up below the blue link in the search results. Here’s an example:
Let’s take a look at the first few listings in Google for the keyword phrase “new york car accident lawyer:”
What stands out to you? Which listing do you notice first? Are any of them intriguing? How about the descriptions? What images stand out to you? Which title (blue link) would you click on?
Do it now: Search for your top keyword phrase in Google. How does your listing compare to the others? Does your title tag look keyword stuffed, or do you provide some differentiator? How about your description tag? Does it talk about a “free consultation” when ALL of your competitors offer the same thing? Or do you talk about your 95% success rate, the fact that you’re board certified and all of your clients have your cell phone number? Just some things to think about.
10: Your host sucks.
Yes, it probably does. If your website doesn’t load in under three seconds, it could be because you’re using a cheap host that overloads their servers with too many websites.
You can check your site load time here: http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/
Here are a few hosts to consider:
https://page.ly/ (haven’t used them yet but they are next on my list to try)
Site speed is a ranking factor, so if your host is slowing your site down, you need to change hosts.
11. Your code is sloppy.
If you’re on a good host but your site is still slow, it could be that your code isn’t optimized for fast loading. Here are two tools that I use to check code quality:
Page speed optimization is important, and it’s only going to get more important as time goes on because a slow website provides a lousy experience for users. Get to work on your code now before it’s too late.
12. You’re not updating your website enough, or you’re not updating your website at all.
Blogging. I used to hate that word. What attorney in their right mind has time to blog? Well, it’s now a crucial part of a successful Internet marketing strategy.
With that said, I’m going to argue that lawyers shouldn’t blog. I know. It’s highly controversial, especially among those who will read this post.
Here’s what I want you to think about as you blog. First, are you the only person that can write the posts you’re creating? If your target market is the legal field, then I can understand why you need to be the one writing your blog posts. But if you’re not writing to the legal field, I doubt your target market wants to read about the latest case law changes in your state or how the statute of limitations is going to change in six months. Really? That’s what you want to write about?
The key to successful blogging is having a good understanding of your target market. Let’s go back to our point on social media. A tax or business attorney might want to be the one writing about various legal issues because their clients are SUBSCRIBED to their blog. In other words, what they have to say matters, because their clients will likely be affected by a new tax code or a change in the way LLCs are structured. As an entrepreneur, I want to know these things. But if you’re a personal injury lawyer or a DUI lawyer, I’m not sure it’s worth your hourly rate to sit down for an hour or two to knock out a blog post. There are many talented writers out there, and believe it or not, there are many attorneys that will write all day long for about $40/hour.
Please – put a value on your time. Do you know your hourly rate?
Having an understanding of your hourly rate is so important to becoming a successful business owner. It’s one of the most important lessons my father taught me. When I moved out he told me, “Gerrid, you’re worth $50/hour. Any task that is worth less than $50/hour should be done by someone else. Whether it’s washing your car, mowing your lawn or creating an invoice. Value your time.”
If your hourly rate is $200/hour, and you can have someone write your post for $40/hour, why would you write it? Take 5 minutes, record your thoughts on a simple recorder and have someone else put the post together.
13. You’re not using Google authorship.
I would hope that most of the readers on the Circle of Legal Trust would have authorship installed already. If you don’t, do it now.
If you do have it installed, pay careful attention to the image you use. Once again, look at the other listings that rank for the keywords you’re targeting in Google. Do you have the best image? Does it stand out in a positive way?
14. You’re creating duplicate content (knowingly or unknowingly).
Duplicate content is the #1 reason websites get penalized (in my experience). It’s not your links, it’s your content. Here are some things to think about:
- If you use a big law firm marketing company (I’m not going to mention any names, but we all know who the big guys are), you should run your copy through Copyscape to see if it’s duplicate. These guys have lots of clients, and sometimes the copy they use on one site gets used on another. I’m seeing this less often now, but it’s still an issue. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter who wrote your content, you should still get it checked through Copyscape.
- One common issue I have with blogs is that the tags, categories and archives are all indexed. Ouch. Those are mostly duplicate pages. I typically like to no-index those pages (sometimes I’ll keep the category indexed depending on the site and how long it’s been online), but the other pages should be no-indexed with the meta robots tag.
- Are you posting articles that are on your blog onto other sites? You are just hurting your own site. Never post anything that is currently on your site onto another site.
OK, stop what you’re doing, and run your site through Copyscape!
15. Stuffing your pages with keywords.
I don’t see this as often as I used to, but Google’s algorithm is smart enough that you don’t have to use your keywords multiple times for them to “get the point.” Mix up the keywords you use on your page. As a general rule of thumb, use your primary keyword once or twice, and use other variations whenever possible. For example:
- Main Keyword: New York personal injury lawyer
- Other variations:
- New York injury lawyer/attorney
- car accident lawyer in New York
- NYC personal injury law firm
16. Using your long law firm name in every title tag.
Unless your law firm brand name is really well known (i.e., you do TV advertising), I believe your law firm name in your title tag is a waste of space. You have only about 70 characters, including spaces, so use your keywords in a compelling way. Why waste some of that space with “Johnson, Buchanan & Wildfish” (if your last name is really Wildfish, it’s OK to use it in the title tag)? What’s more compelling?
New York Personal Injury Lawyer | Johnson, Buchanan & Wildfish
New York Personal Injury Lawyer | 95% Success Rate!
New York Personal Injury Lawyer | Over $3 Billion Recovered!
Wildfish is cool, but I’m going to click on one of the other two listings.
17. Unformatted content: Not properly using titles, sub-headlines and bullets.
Using blocks and blocks of content is completely unacceptable. This is the 21st century, and people scan web pages now – they don’t read them word for word.
Here’s a simple overview on writing for the web: http://webdesign.about.com/od/writing/a/aa031405.htm
If you’re looking for something more comprehensive, my company put together a copywriting guide that I’m very proud of: http://goblackfin.com/law-firm-copywriting-guide/
Break up your content. Make it easy to scan!
18. Irrelevant internal linking.
I admit, I don’t utilize internal linking as much as I should. Not only is it super helpful for the search engines, but it’s also great for users. Do everyone a favor and make sure you’re linking to relevant pages when it makes sense. If you’re talking about car accidents on your homepage or blog post, link to your car accident page. If you’re talking about speaking with an attorney, why not link to the Contact Us page? Simple, but not often utilized.
19. You’re focusing too much on one SEO tactic, and not enough on the complete package.
Content isn’t king. Links aren’t king. Social media isn’t king. The entire chessboard must be utilized to win. My father wrote a book entitled Little Things Matter. The philosophy behind this book has helped me in my SEO efforts more than any single philosophy. Here’s why… SEO isn’t about one thing; it’s about hundreds (over 200) of little things. Each element is worth something.
I was talking to a client the other day. He’s ranking “B” in the Maps for his primary keyword. We’ve been working hard on citations and everything else to get him to “A,” but he seemed to be stuck. We did an analysis of his site, and it wasn’t loading as fast as it should. I told him the difference between “A” and “B” could be a half second in his loading time.
Little things add up. You must incorporate every possible ranking factor to dominate your niche.
20. You’re not giving SEO enough time.
Lastly, a well developed SEO strategy takes time to work properly. If I were Google, I would put a major time delay on allowing websites to rank quickly. Google is most embarrassed when a NEW website ranks quickly simply because they acquired a bunch of links quickly. After being embarrassed a number of times, Google put a damper on the effectiveness of any short-term strategy. Get a bunch of content up at one time. Who cares? Got a bunch of links yesterday? Who cares? Why is Google going to trust you because you did something “good” for a week, or a month or a few months? You have to establish yourself as an authority. You have to build your online marketing fortress one brick at a time.
When I got started six years ago, I promised all my clients results in 90 days, meaning I would get them ranked for their primary keyword phrase in 90 days. In the last six months the game has changed in a big way. There’s no reason for Google to quickly trust a website. They’ve been embarrassed too many times. You have to earn your rankings, and it’s going to take some time.
In general, you should shoot for first page-rankings in about 4-6 months with an aggressive, all-encompassing SEO and Internet marketing strategy. That’s just the way it is.
Is there anything that you would add to the above list? Is there anything with which you strongly disagree? I’d like to know. The great thing about a community like this is the experience of the collective group. By sharing your experiences and thoughts in the comments below, we all get smarter in the process.
About the Author:
Gerrid Smith has been a law firm digital marketing strategist for over six years. He runs SmithSEO and just started a new blog covering various aspects of law marketing, Think Like a Shark. Questions? You can reach him by email or on Google+.