Surefire Signs That Your SEO Is Full of It

Guest post from Hank Stout, Founding Partner, Sutiff & Stout, PLLC

In 2008, I co-founded a personal injury firm with my partner Graham Sutliff. When we started our insight into the world of internet marketing and SEO was limited to knowing we needed a website that was, preferably, on the first page of Google.   Since then we have learned a lot regarding search engine optimization (or “SEO”) and the companies that market such services to law firms. Our firm has hired and fired 5 different SEO companies and interviewed at least 25 others.

This article provides some of the things we look for in evaluating our SEO companies as well as some red flags we have found when dealing with SEO companies. My hope is that other law firms or lawyers can avoid wasting time and thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars on ineffective web marketing companies.

To put it simply, most SEO or internet marketing companies are completely full of “it.” While it is obvious that the emails promising to put you on the first page of Google are not legitimate, it is sometimes difficult to determine if a person or company can really add value to your internet marketing. Here are five signs that you need to consider when selecting an SEO company or when evaluating your current SEO company:

1. Their reporting focuses on “vanity” metrics.

Examples of vanity metrics include rankings for unimportant keywords, information about irrelevant referral traffic, and bare bones social media statistics. By way of example, I don’t care if my firm’s website ranks well for keywords like “Denny Crane” (due to a just-for-fun blog post about the greatest TV lawyers of all time) or some other term that has no relationship to the services I provide. What matters to me is how our firm is ranking for the keywords that drive business, like “Houston Personal Injury Lawyer.” Likewise, while I appreciate that long tail key words (“Houston best personal injury lawyer tx”) may drive some traffic, if this is the only key words you are ranking for then you will likely never be found.

Beware of getting lost in irrelevant numbers and data. There is a tremendous amount of data that is available that doesn’t have any real relationship to lead generation for a law firm. An example from our firm is referral traffic from a scholarship contest announcement that was distributed widely among high schools and colleges. While we are happy to help students who want to further their education, this traffic is fairly meaningless when it comes to lead generation. Also, statistics about the amount of retweets a tweet with a link to a blog post garners means little if the post itself wasn’t linked to by an influencer somewhere else online.

The three things we look at are ranking, traffic and conversions (these are listed in least meaningful to most meaningful). Meaningful performance metrics are those indicating conversion rates. When users come to our firm’s site, do they submit their information through our contact form? Do they spend more than a few seconds on the site, or come back for multiple visits in a 30-day period? When we sign a new client, did he or she find us online through search results? These are the kind of statistics that show whether your website – and your SEO – are really working for you.

2. They can’t explain what work has been completed over a given period or why.

Your SEO should be able to tell you what work has been completed in a given time frame and why that work was done. Did your SEO build out 25 new landing pages in one month? Ask them why they did this. They should have a concrete answer about why these pages were necessary and how they will help your firm achieve its goals.

A lot of SEO firms have a cookie cutter approach to the process and that may or may not work for you depending on the competitive nature of the market you are in. When we are looking to only rank for a specific term in a specific area of law, we have had some success with firms who take a cookie cutter approach. However, as the competition increases so too does the need to go away from the cookie cutter approach.

3. They have no clout within their own industry.

Be wary of any SEO that doesn’t have any influence in its own industry. Follow your SEO on Twitter, and connect with account managers on LinkedIn. Your account manager should be blogging regularly about SEO and speaking at conferences whenever possible. Examples of major SEO conferences include MozCon, SMX Advanced, PubCon, and the Inbound Marketing Summit.

Another way to look for clout that matters is to determine what key words are most competitive in your market and then Google such terms in other Geographically competitive markets (i.e. LA, New York, Chicago, Houston etc.). Then look at the bottom of the websites for those firms ranking well. Oftentimes, the name of their SEO company will be at the bottom of the page. While this is approach obviously has some downsides, it is nevertheless a good place to start.

4. The content they publish on your site is not written by an attorney.

If possible, the content on your law firm’s website should be written by an attorney whether that is someone in your office or someone you know who is an attorney. If you hire an attorney to help you with content, don’t be afraid to ask for references, and be sure to evaluate the quality of the content. In the end, high quality content is what really matters when it comes to search rankings.

5. They guarantee “page one” rankings.

If your SEO makes any guarantees about “page one” rankings, RUN AWAY! In SEO, there are no guarantees. Google and other search engines make frequent changes to their algorithms, which are proprietary and not known to the public (including SEOs). Quality SEOs do not guarantee that your firm will wind up at the top of page one of Google search results. However, they should be able to demonstrate past successes and explain to you in plain language how they can help your firm improve its visibility online.

I hope this information helps, and if you have any questions or would like to discuss, please feel free to email or call me.

First Amendment: Rated E for everyone, even lawyers

In a week where the news has been so bleak, it was heartening to see Stephen Fairley‘s short post, Federal Appeals Court Rules Attorneys Have Right to Publish Praise from Judges pop up in my Feedly today:

A federal appeals court issued a ruling yesterday that attorneys have a First Amendment right to publish ads that quote judges praising them ….

I have to confess, of all the amendments, the First Amendment is my favorite. The freedom it provides us Americans is unique to any other country or culture in our world. I love that the First Amendment, when properly employed, protects the speech I like and ascribe to, and, even more importantly, the speech I do not like and might abhor. How beautiful is that?

Which makes me wonder what the hell these bar associations, run by lawyers, are doing banning free speech? You can’t use the word “expert;” you can’t use client testimonials; you can’t … you can’t … you can’t ….

Yes, I know, private organizations v. the government, but come on … nothing like a bunch of lawyers doing the whole “do as I say, not as I do” routine. It’s getting old and tired.

So thank you, Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. And to all the attorneys in the jurisdiction, praise away. Just make sure to properly site it, and link to the decisions.

I’m hiring a law firm. Oy!

In my 20s I received a great piece of dating advice: Don’t answer the door on a first date wearing a wedding dress.

I would say similar advice applies to lawyers: Don’t show up for the first meeting with a potential client carrying a proposal and an engagement letter.

I am in the process of looking for a very specialized law firm to handle a very specialized matter for a specific type of business. I am the new president of my HOA, which is a stock corporation (coop), not a condominium. Our issues are different, as are the legal requirements set by the state, to be reflected in our governing documents.

I thought my email inquiry was clear: “Do you work with Stock Cooperative HOAs? We are looking for a firm to handle the updating and revising of all of our governing documents.

The reply back within hours from the administrative assistant included 1,818 words in the reply (that’s four full pages if you’re wondering), along with two attachments.

Wow. Holy boiler-plate.

I was looking for a yes or no answer and I got a whole crap load of copy-paste gunk, a 21-page proposal misidentifying our type of association as well as our governing documents, along with a 7-page fee agreement and engagement letter “signed” by one of the name partners. However, the did customize our association’s name on the cover of the proposal.

Sadly, my simple question was never really answered: Do you represent businesses like mine? The admin said yes, but their marketing materials don’t lead me to believe that is true.

If we were on a first date I would have been tempted to excuse myself to use the restroom and just keep on going out the back door.

Considering the admin didn’t even got my name right, my first inclination is to pass on the firm, even though they are considered one of the top in the field. That or send the admin an invitation to the next LMA-LA event so she can learn how to properly market her firm.

But I’ll speak with an attorney first before I pass on the firm. Bad legal marketing shouldn’t stand in the way of good legal work. Let’s face it, not everyone can be a legal marketer extraordinaire.

Helpful tip from my introvert friends: Brainwriting

I know my blog posts have slowed down as of late. On behalf of LMA, I’m in in the heart of a leadership training program, The SmithBucklin Leadership Institute, which is taking a lot of my blogging time (and it is well worth it).

I just returned from session four and very quickly want to share one of those “ah-ha” moments before I dig back into my work here at the firm:

Brainwriting v. brainstorming.

We all know what brainstorming is. Great fun. Lots of people shouting. A white board or giant pad of paper and different colored Sharpies to capture ideas and concepts.

As an extrovert I process externally. I think out loud and then sit back and reflect to find my answers. I LOVE to brainstorm.

Introverts are the exact opposite and brainstorming is very overwhelming for them. They need to collect their thoughts before they can process them, and they do that internally.

So here’s the tip: Next time you are in a meeting, rather than brainstorm an idea, have everyone write down their thoughts for 10-15 minutes. This will give the introverts time to process the information and form their ideas, and keep the extroverts from controlling the dialogue, which is the point to brainstorming: Get all the ideas into the pot so that the group can benefit from the richness of the diversity of thoughts.

Just make sure that when the writing time is over you call on the extroverts first. You’ll know who they are; they are the ones about to burst.

This is NOT legal marketing: Findlaw Edition

A recent article on FindLaw Selling Pre-SEO’d Websites has the Legal Marketers Extraordinaire group on Facebook debating: Is this ethical? Or just disgusting.

In short, Findlaw will “sell” (rent) you a website with pre-written content, which they will then update and attribute to the attorney, in an attempt to game the SEO and boost search results:

And now Eric Zentz owns rents the domain that Kajioka and Bloomfield presumably paid to have FindLaw build and optimize for them – including all of the legacy blog content and . . . links. Yup – despite the fact that Zentz started on the domain just this year, “his” blog posts stretch back well into the first quarter of last year and have the exact same content from the Kajioka era. Explains how he’s been able to rank #1 for a super competitive term in less than 3 months. And not to miss a black hat beat, FindLaw made sure to establish authorship for Eric . . . for pre-existing blog posts written long before he was their client. Note the date below . . .

Is this ethical? Rule 7.1 of the ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct’s says:

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer’s or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.

(ht Jaimie Field for the site)

First of all, I would like to stress to the community at large, and especially to our distracters, this is NOT legal marketing.

Our job, as legal marketers, is to bring out the best in the lawyers and firms we represent; to teach them how to identify what differentiates them from the competition, and how to communicate that outside their offices (when we can pry them out of there).

Our jobs are to bring best practices in business, client service, project management, communication, education, and more, to the forefront of an attorney’s legal practice, not to remain hidden away as an afterthought.

Legal marketers are not there to “game” the system, or break the rules of professional ethics and conduct provided by the various bar associations. We have to consistently and diligently blend best business practices with the “profession” of law.

The process outlined in this article does not fulfill any of these objectives, and therefore it is NOT legal marketing. It is a misleading communication, and therefore unethical, per my lawyer colleagues.  And I find it disgusting.

(Slightly edited on 7/24 for clarity, not context)

Big Titles are not the problem at Big Law

imageA momentary pause in my vacation to bring you the latest installment of the showdown in Texas between the “haves” (a JD) and have nots (“non-lawyer” professionals).

In his must-read post, Texas Scold ‘Em, RyanMcClead responds to Chrysta Castañeda‘s article from Texas Law Book entitled Get Wall Street Out of the Practice of Law. (Subscription Required)

From Ms. Castañeda’s article:

Hourly rates have gone up because that is how you increase profits in a law firm, and what the business school graduates who run Big Law know how to do is to measure profits. Increasing profits is how they get paid big bonuses (a potentially unethical practice, according to the opinion).

There is only so much cost-cutting you can do to increase profits, and the hourly rates have to pay for the Big Titles of the ever-increasing non-lawyer management ranks. As a result, every lawyer needs to bill more hours at a higher rate each year for the firm to look profitable in the year-over-year metrics that the non-legal managers live by. They have trained the lawyers to live by them too. Et voila: sky-high billing rates that only the most profitable corporations can afford.

Seriously? The skyrocketing costs of legal services has nothing to do with partner profits and associate salaries? A quick scan of the original AmLaw 50 firms finds partner profits tripling or more (even when adjusted for inflation) at many of the firms. Associate starting salaries go far beyond their skill and knowledge level. But that isn’t the problem either; I’ll save that for another post when I don’t have a dune buggy to pick up for the day.

Let’s just take the easy out and blame the half-dozen “chief” whatevers at the firm. Their salaries are just breaking the bank and driving those $700-$1500 hourly rates.

For those subscribing to Ms. Castañeda’s opinions, my friend and professional services consultant Ben Greenzweig has a question for all of you:

What makes the practice of law so different, so special, so unique that it’s business model must be so fundamentally different than other professions including professional services?

Let me let you in on a little secret: in my role as the senior marketing professional in my firm I do exert influence, and sometimes control, over the BUSINESS of law, but never the PRACTICE of law.

This exertion comes in the form of conversation, guidance, the drafting of letters and RFP responses, coaching, etc. It comes from going over the numbers and making suggestions based on my knowledge, education, and experience. And while I am not obligated under the California Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct, I am obligated under my employment contract with my firm to adhere to them nonetheless.

However, as much as I try, I cannot make a lawyer do anything they do not want to do. As a legal consultant once noted to me, “Lawyers pay a lot of money for good business advice they never take.”

Ms. Castañeda, I wish you well in your new career as a consultant to law firms, and look forward to seeing if your opinions have changed now that you have joined our ranks.

Oh, Brother. The Period Space v. Space Space debate. Again.

typewriter r. nial bradshaw

Hello. The ’80s called. They want their electric typewriter back.

As a legal marketer I often times debate with partners over whether or not it’s “period-space” or “period-space-space” in a document. As a writer, I often times debate this with random people in cocktail settings. Working with lawyers, who always want me to site my sources, I am always well prepared. Unfortunately, I don’t always carry my grammar books on me, so I will link my sources here for the inquisitive:

Chicago Manual of Style (online)

The view at CMOS is that there is no reason for two spaces after a period in published work. Some people, however—my colleagues included—prefer it, relegating this preference to their personal correspondence and notes. I’ve noticed in old American books printed in the few decades before and after the turn of the last century (ca. 1870–1930 at least) that there seemed to be a trend in publishing to use extra space (sometimes quite a bit of it) after periods. And many people were taught to use that extra space in typing class (I was). But introducing two spaces after the period causes problems: (1) it is inefficient, requiring an extra keystroke for every sentence; (2) even if a program is set to automatically put an extra space after a period, such automation is never foolproof; (3) there is no proof that an extra space actually improves readability—as your comment suggests, it’s probably just a matter of familiarity (Who knows? perhaps it’s actually more efficient to read with less regard for sentences as individual units of thought—many centuries ago, for example in ancient Greece, there were no spaces even between words, and no punctuation); (4) two spaces are harder to control for than one in electronic documents (I find that the earmark of a document that imposes a two-space rule is a smattering of instances of both three spaces and one space after a period, and two spaces in the middle of sentences); and (5) two spaces can cause problems with line breaks in certain programs.

So, in our efficient, modern world, I think there is no room for two spaces after a period. In the opinion of this particular copyeditor, this is a good thing.

Wikipedia has a full page dedicated to the topic, and another on language and style guides that references the spacing as well.

AP Stylebook:

Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

Gramamer Girl :

Although how many spaces you use is ultimately a style choice, using one space is by far the most widely accepted and logical style. The Chicago Manual of Style (1), the AP Stylebook (2), and the Modern Language Association (3) all recommend using one space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

And while Strunk and White have remained silent on the topic, you can see that they use the single space in their publication.

To me there really is no debate, but I am happy to compromise nonetheless. In personal correspondence, take your pick, but just be consistent. In any published piece coming out of the marketing department, it’s going to be a single space after a period.

For those of you who are looking for the loophole, here it is: Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history).

Photo credit: r. nial bradshaw on Flickr.

Although how many spaces you use is ultimately a style choice, using one space is by far the most widely accepted and logical style. The Chicago Manual of Style (1), the AP Stylebook (2), and the Modern Language Association (3) all recommend using one space after a period at the end of a sentence. – See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-many-spaces-after-a-period?page=1#sthash.Of5W7jmi.dpuf
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