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.