First off, I cringe when I see blog posts centered around what this one covers. Secondly, I cringe when I see blog posts that use the image that is above this paragraph. When attorneys ask us to help with their firm’s online marketing, things can get a bit technical. The truth is that we (and others like us) are so buried in our work that we forget the varying levels of knowledge possessed by those looking to dip their toe into to the world of online marketing. I am publishing this because we recently put on a webinar specifically designed and presented to cover only the absolute basics of digital marketing and SEO for law firms. There was such good feedback from that webinar (people asking us to put the materials up on our website), that we decided it was worth covering. This blog post was born out of those materials. It may be over-simplified for some and informative for others. I promise our next blog post will be either exceedingly sarcastic, overly-technical, or both.
While Google makes most of its money from selling advertising space within its search results and display network, its core product has always been search results. Google’s main sources of revenue rely on people finding useful answers from its search engine and coming back to use it again.
When you enter a search term into Google, you’re looking for answers to a question. The people at Google know this and engineer their search engine to provide you with what their algorithm considers the most relevant results. The results are ranked by how well they answer your question and by the quality of the source. The reason we do what is called ‘SEO’ is to optimize content so that Google considers our clients’ websites useful to searchers – and then display it.
How does Google Decide What’s Useful?
Google’s exact search algorithm is unknown, and the secret sauce is always changing. Google crunches the data to determine how relevant the results are and the authority of those sources. What you see ranked on the search page is Google’s best shot at answering your question.
Google does provide some insight into what helps a website rank. Giving us guidelines makes it easier for Google to provide good results. SEO’s generally grouped these into “on-page” and “off-page” factors.
How to Promote your Website and Make Google Happy
In the simplest sense, this is what SEO is. You are increasing your site’s relevance and authority on popular topics relevant to what your potential clients or customers are searching for.
Step 1: On-page Optimization
Make sure your website is set up to appeal to what Google likes now and with an eye toward the future. This comprises several main factors:
- Code – Websites must be user friendly, responsive to mobile devices, and fast loading. Google also values accessibility – for example, images and links need alternative text and titles. Hidden code also ensures that Google will index (or not index) your pages correctly. Smart code ensures the best possible experience for visitors – which is good for you and good for Google.
- Content – How unique is your content? How in-depth is it? Is it useful? Does it help someone solve a problem? These questions help Google identify and promote quality content. Good SEO ensures a website’s existing content appeals to Google for the right phrases.
- Site Size – Although not as important as it used to be, the more pages you have, the more search phrases your site can rank for. Google also likes sites with a lots of unique, authoritative content. You can’t just have many pages – you need high quality pages.
- Navigation – Navigation is important for two reasons. First, your site structure guides visitors through your content. If it’s easy and clean to navigate, Google will reward your site. Second, the links on your site tell Google what’s important based on how “deep” the pages are and how often you link to them.
- Keywords and Meta Tags. Keywords are how Google identifies what your website is about. Properly executed keyword research is essential to the success of a site. Your content should be relevant to the phrases that potential clients search for.
- Formatting – Proper formatting is essential to ensuring that Google views your content as authoritative and not breaking any of its rules.
Step 2: Creating Content and an Editorial Schedule (on-page and appealing to off-page)
Developing great content is crucial to visibility, but isn’t enough on its own. Every search performed at the engines comes with an intent—to find, learn, solve, buy, fix, treat, or understand. Search engines place web pages in their results in order to satisfy that intent in the best possible way. Crafting unique, fulfilling, and useful content that addresses searchers’ needs is one of the corner stones to how you earn top rankings. Carefully selected and crafted content also does two other things – it attracts organic backlinks (see below), and allows your site to rank for more terms. Simply, the more content your site has, the more terms your site can rank for. Content acts as the fuel for the engine of your website’s visibility. A related term for this strategy is called ‘content marketing’.
Step 3: Backlinking, Digital PR, and Marketing (off-site)
What first made Google king of the search engines was its ability to show the most relevant results. It did this by implementing PageRank. PageRank counted each link from another page back to your content as a “vote” toward your search ranking. There are a few exceptions (like negative SEO), but generally the more “backlinks” you got, the better. Google especially counted links from authority sources, like government (.gov) or educational (.edu) pages. PageRank has not been updated in some time, but the basics at the core of PageRank are still (to some degree) important to how authoritative Google thinks the content on your site is.
How does Google Judge Links?
- The Authority of the Site Linking – This is a trickle down effect of all of the factors that we talk about in SEO. The higher the authority of the site linking to ours, the better the backlink.
- The Topic of the Site Linking – We want a good number of backlinks to be from high-authority websites that Google views as being on topics similar to ours.
- The Anchor Text of the Site Linking – ‘Anchor text’ means the text of the link that directs to your site. An anchor text for a high-volume keyword is more valuable than a link with anchor text that is more generalized, such as www.website.com. The management and balance of anchor text is a very delicate science that must be handled carefully.
- The Overall Mix of Your Backlink Footprint – Creating a healthy, natural backlink profile that appeals to what Google likes as well as high-volume keywords is also a very delicate process that must be managed carefully (especially in the beginning stages when there are not a large number of backlinks to level out new backlinks coming into the site). There are many factors that go into how Google judges the overall mix of your backlink footprint.
All of these factors together is how you build the authority of your site. The more backlinks that you can attract that have all of these factors and are as naturally occurring as possible, the more likely Google will be to trust your site and promote its content by ranking it highly in search results.
The strategy is to appeal to those backlinks (both in terms of quantity, type, and authority) that we already know Google likes first. We then work to build backlinks organically through producing and promoting good content and through outreach/PR campaigns, both of which are meant to spread the word about our website and attract high-value backlinks to it.
Everything we do is to increase the website’s visibility for popular terms. This is called ‘rank’. Rankings lead to traffic, traffic + (good) on-site metrics lead to conversions. Conversions lead to sales.
The funnel looks like this:
- Ranks – ranks are a major contributing factor to traffic. The more visible you are, the more people visit your site.
- Traffic – Traffic is a major contributing factor to conversions. The more people that visit your site (traffic) and move through the conversion funnel, the more conversions.
- On-site Metrics – Data that indicates how users behave once they are on your site. Things like bounce rate, in-page time, flow, exit pages, pages/per visit and much more.
- Conversions – Conversions are a product of everything that occurs both on your site and through your SEO and content marketing efforts.
These main factors, as well as a host of other sub-factors, is what we track and report on in order to judge our efforts, determine strategy, and identify issues and opportunities.
Ready to Get Started on Your Law Firm’s SEO?
If your law firm is ready to start attracting new clients on the web, give us a call. We can walk you through the basics, the implementation, and the path to a lead generation machine that churns in the background of your practice.