How Law Firms Can Improve Their Search Engine Strategies in 2014


Legal services are often one of the most competitive and expensive niches online.  Despite the high costs of marketing, many law firms utilize search engine marketing strategies to find potential clients.

For many firms, their search engine success hinges on doing the small things right, focusing on the fundamentals to produce cost-effective campaigns with a positive ROI.

So what can law firms do in 2014 to better leverage their search engine strategies? Lawyers from across the country weigh in on how to make the small adjustments that can maximize their search engine exposure in the year ahead.

Get to Know SEO from the Inside Out

Between meeting with clients, managing cases and processing documents, most lawyers have little time left over to manage their own SEO strategies. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take the time to stay abreast of changes in the industry.

Whether your firm’s SEO is outsourced or handled in-house, having a firsthand understanding of SEO and the direction it’s headed can help you maintain your firm’s long-term presence online.

This may be easier for lawyers who are just beginning their own practices, said Jared Richards of ClearCounsel Law Group.

“When you’re starting a firm from scratch, you can do your SEO all by yourself,” Richards said. “You’ll need to take online courses from a company such as Distilled U, or Moz, but it’s pretty straightforward. Once you understand that every website has a certain level of ‘authority’ to it, it makes sense that you’re trying to get your own site noticed by those big, authoritative sources.”

Richards said that when he first began his own firm in Las Vegas, he took the SEO reins himself, and after a year, saw the fruits of his labor in the form of consistently high rankings and solid organic traffic.

There are three main benefits of lawyers personally keeping up with SEO:

  • Allows firms to make marketing adjustments without consulting an outside company
  • Helps firms properly vet agencies when looking to outsource their SEO needs
  • Helps firms detect potential SEO problems before they get too big to fix

In 2013, a law firm in Michigan filed a law suit against The Rainmaker Institute, a marketing agency that handled the firm’s SEO services, because the marketing company knowingly violated Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Legal implications aside, this could have been avoided if the firm had a foundational knowledge of SEO to begin with. They could have fully vetted the company before hiring them, and if they still chose to work with them, they may have been able to see the signs of black-hat SEO work before it was too late.

Where to start: Check out The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz, the online learning modules at Distilled U, or SEO classes on Udemy.

Turn Offline Relationships into Online Ones

Many law firms are heavily involved in their communities, partnering with non-profits and other organizations that help drive business and strong local relationships. One of the best ways to improve your online traffic is to turn these into search engine opportunities.

Review your firm’s offline relationships, partnerships, referrals and other connections to find those that have strong online presences as well. Different ways to leverage these opportunities include:

  • Sponsorships for organizations or events
  • Content exchanges with nonprofits and other local organizations
  • Business profiles on state or local directories

At JacksonWhite, for example, we work with our local partners to make sure they’re featured on our resources pages, and we often ask the same in return. While the focus of this type of arrangement should be on the needs of your audience, it can also have an impact on your organic traffic.

Paul B. Harding, a Managing Partner at Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP, has seen this strategy work well for his firm.

“One of the more successful tactics we deploy is to create defensible citations and valuable links into the site,” Harding said. “Our strength is that we have long-standing community service programs that we market in the digital space to build unique localized citations, links, and social engagement from valuable community organizations.”

Harding also emphasizes that the key objective with community relations is not strictly SEO-driven, but is part of a larger, comprehensive marketing effort.

“Our programs are great brand building opportunities as well as powerful tools to help build unique hard to attain citations and links,” Harding said.

Where to start: Begin by organizing your current contacts with local organizations, connecting with them to express interest in any online opportunities you can collaborate on. From there, continue to build new relationships to expand your online network.

Find Ways to Make PPC More Cost-Effective

An infographic from Wordstream in 2011 revealed law keywords to be the fourth most expensive category in Google AdWords, with an average cost per click (CPC) of $ 47.07. For law firms, a successful PPC campaign means keeping costs in check while honing in on the potential clients most likely to retain a law firm.

So how can law firms cut down on their PPC costs? Improve overall campaign performance, from the ground up. Lowering costs starts with improving Quality Scores, which can be done by improving click-through rates.

Different ways to do this include:

  • Continually testing and adding new ads
  • Eliminating low-performing keywords
  • Using extensions and other bidding features
  • Focusing on long-tail keywords that may be more relevant to your visitor’s needs
  • Reviewing high-level data to find financial trends

Jeremy Geigle, a criminal defense attorney at JacksonWhite Law, found that he improved his PPC campaigns’ performance when he started to analyze the small trends and patterns in his account.

“We started looking at the activity of our campaign throughout the day, and found that we were getting a solid amount of clicks after normal work hours,” Geigle said. “These were also resulting in high-quality visitors – because they were calling at off-hours, their situations were typically urgent, which meant they were more likely to retain us in order to get help quickly.”

This strategy paid off for Geigle, who said his off-hours strategy recently brought in a high-profile drug case that netted over $ 20,000. Geigle says that the key to a cost-effective PPC campaign is making the small adjustments like these that can help focus on areas that are truly profitable.

Where to start: Often, recognizing these areas of potential means spending a significant amount of time reviewing all aspects of your campaign, many of which can be seen in the “Dimensions” tab on Google AdWords.

Fully Research Search Engine Agencies

Many firms still outsource their search engine marketing, both SEO and PPC, to vendors. The benefits of this are clear, but the risks are also substantial. Without fully vetting the companies you work with, you run the risk of jeopardizing your firm’s online success.

Raj Dua, criminal defense attorney and founder of The Dua Law Firm, PLLC, learned this lesson the hard way. He says he’s had both good and bad experiences with digital marketing companies, and that only after working with a company that was upfront with its strategies was he able to find a cost-effective and sustainable strategy.

“I have experienced the negative consequences of blackhat SEO, where the folks I was working with conducted mass link and directory submissions and other less savory search tactics in order to cut corners,” Dua said.

“Since then, I’ve been working with a company who has helped clarify the SEO process. We’re focusing on creating long-lasting, engaging content that is helpful for our audience while also optimized for search.”

Dua said his most recent agency has helped cleaned up his old links and keeps him up-to-date on everything, from new content to linking strategies.

After his bad experience, Dua learned that he had success researching agencies when asking for:

  • Specific marketing strategies, not just philosophies
  • Every step of their marketing workflows
  • Contact information for past clients

It’s easy for agencies to describe their approach to search engine marketing, but it’s another thing entirely to learn their actual, concrete strategies. By asking the right questions, you can make it easier to detect SEO companies that will cut corners or fail to provide you with the white-hat tactics your site requires.

Where to start: When contacting marketing agencies, ask for specific strategies, not broad goals. Ask to speak with current and former clients, if possible, and if needed, ask to speak not only to account managers but the people who will be handling the day-to-day tasks for your site. This will give you a better overview of the way the company will approach your site.

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