Yesterday’s high-end computer is today’s way-too-heavy paperweight.
Last decade’s unnecessarily animated website is this decade’s “This page can no longer be found.”
Your father’s Yellow Pages ad is the new generation’s Pay-Per-Click campaign.
You get our point… technology changes fast, and so do the ways we use it to market a law firm.
For nearly twenty years now, search engine optimization (SEO) has been the name of the game. But the rules of that game change so often that… well… it’s no wonder nobody likes to play it.
Still, he who plays not slays not (or whatever the millennials are saying these days), so if you want your law firm to stay ahead of your rivals on the Google results page, your SEO strategy has to stay “on fleek.” (Okay, People Magazine helped us out with that one. No more Millennial catchphrases, we promise. We may be techies, but we never said we’re that hip.)
The point is that what worked in SEO a few years ago may not work anymore.
In fact, SEO tactics that used to be effective can actually have the opposite effect in 2017.
Why so much change in search strategy? There are a lot of reasons:
- Website development is always changing. New standards, coding practices, HTML versions, etc.
- The ever-growing popularity of mobile devices and mobile operating systems.
- Increased competition from a mounting number of websites vying for the same search terms (this is especially true in the uber-crowded legal services space).
- Evolving preferences among web users. Search giants like Yahoo! and Google are constantly tweaking* their algorithms to give users what they want.
- Google is the leader of the pack and wants to stay that way, so some of this simply boils down to them defining (and re-defining) their own terms so that everyone else must scramble to keep up.
*Tweaking is putting it nicely. Some of these algorithm changes are full-scale paradigm shifts, no matter how nonchalantly Google rolls them out.
Have you ever had a client raise an obscure legal issue you hadn’t looked at since law school? You gave the answer you were taught only to find that, upon research, everything is different now…
SEO practices are a little like that, only Google doesn’t value precedent or stability nearly as much as the courts. But hey, as web marketers, that’s our problem, not yours.
Even if you have a digital marketing agency handling your law firm SEO, though, it’s still helpful for you to know which tactics are working today and which are washed-up tricks that’ll get you kicked down the Google results.
Are your marketers employing the right ones?
Below, we look at Five Fatal Sins in SEO — each of which were once considered a virtue.
1. An Excessive Focus on Keywords in Your Content
Search engines used to be very literal when it came to keywords. If you wanted to rank for “Poughkeepsie auto accident attorneys,” you needed to use that exact phrase over and over — in the headline, the subheadings, the body copy, and the metadata!
The problem with that? “Poughkeepsie auto accident attorneys” isn’t a very sexy phrase. (No offensive to the very lovely practitioners in Poughkeepsie, we’re sure.) Readers don’t want to read it over and over.
And that’s the thing. If readers don’t like it, Google won’t like it either. Not anymore. In a world where free-thinking robots may no longer be science fiction in just a few years, artificial intelligence has evolved at least this far for sure: web crawlers have adopted the same preferences as real human beings.
That’s no exaggeration. Google will value what its user values, and that means high-quality content that is both useful and pleasant to read. So the writing needs to be good, and the diction must be smart.
We’re not saying keywords don’t matter. They do. But Google’s algorithm uses latent semantic indexing (LSI) these days. In other words, their software understands what your page is talking about, even if it doesn’t use the same term repeatedly.
Stated differently, a thesaurus is better than a broken record. But simple synonym stuffing isn’t a whole lot wiser than keyword stuffing. You have to think like a reader when you write (even with metadata and headlines).
After all, which is better:
- A keyword-cluttered headline that catches a web crawler’s attention but turns off a reader?
- A headline that reads like a real, honest-to-God sentence?
We promise you people will click on the latter much more often. Moreover, the people doing the clicking will be the people you want: relevant search users who are actually looking for the service you provide. And that’s what it’s all about.
If you adopt only one of our SEO tactics in this article, let it be this one: keywords aren’t the Klondike Gold Rush they once were.
2. Mistaking Quantity for Quality in Your Backlink Strategy
You’ve probably heard it said that having other websites link back to yours can boost your rank.
That’s true. But it isn’t true that the site with the highest quantity of referral links will always win.
Google’s algorithm now looks at the quality of the site linking to yours, as well as the relevance of that link to what your page is actually about.
So if your best friend from high school owns the Poughkeesie RV Campground Resort, and he links to your Medical Malpractice webpage 15 times because he wants to do his old buddy a solid, well, your friend just might be towing you right out of Page One territory. Especially if his RV website is super spammy.
A human would probably ask, “What does an RV campground have to do with medical malpractice?” Google will think the same thing, and it just might punish your website for all those links.
So while backlinks are still important, you should only go after those that are relevant and come from a website in good standing.
3. Paying for Links
Even worse than your friend with a junky website? A third-party directory or link farm you pay to send traffic your way.
Believe it or not, this used to work. And a lot of these directory sites will try to convince you it still does. Don’t be fooled. Google got hip to this practice a long time ago, and their algorithm does not like it.
For starters, Google gives little to no weight to links coming from these sites. More importantly, they can even carry penalties.
In general, you want to avoid:
- SEO directories
- Buying links on social media
- Private link networks
- Article spinners
- Services like Fiverr
There’s an important distinction to make here, however. In advising you to avoid paying for backlinks, we are not talking about pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. While smart attorney PPC strategy is important, pay-per-click doesn’t have the same spammy reputation, and it can be remarkably effective when done the right way.
Another worthwhile clarification here: press releases. You can still get SEO mileage out of press releases, but be careful. Using a “press release farm” isn’t much different than buying a link outright, and Google has flagged some of these PR-heavy websites. Press releases are effective when their content and hyperlinks are organic and when they’re hosted on relevant, high-quality domains.
4. Sketchy Anchor Text Tactics
When you come across a link on a webpage, the underlined words you click on are referred to as that link’s anchor text.
Some sites have a tendency to get pretty sketchy with their anchor text. Examples include:
- Using words that aren’t really relevant to the page you’re linking to.
- Burying anchor text in tiny font (or at the bottom of a page) because it’s really only there for search engines, not people.
- Including too many internal links on one webpage.
- Stuffing extraneous keywords in the anchor text.
- Text that doesn’t read well or flow naturally.
Here again, the best SEO practices are those that don’t try to manipulate the user or the search engine.
5. Irrelevant Blogging
If one maxim of digital marketing has remained a constant across recent years, it’s “Content is King.”
Content hasn’t relinquished its crown. But this is one monarch you don’t want to manipulate.
We used to see law firms blogging about every topic under the sun, no matter how far removed from what their business actually does. The idea was, “Well, hey, we can create a fun space for our readers on miscellaneous topics, and we’ll bring in all this extra traffic.”
The problem with that: no one cares all that much about their lawyer’s opinion on which celebrity has the worst nose job. (With the possible exception of attorneys working in plastic surgery malpractice litigation!)
More to the point, the people searching for “botched facelifts of the rich and famous” don’t care one iota about you or your law firm, so why are you wasting time getting their attention?
We’re big fans of law firm blogging. It’s very healthy for your website and can be extremely SEO-effective. In fact, it’s one of the best SEO tactics out there. But blog honestly, organically, and only on relevant topics.
Put Better SEO Strategies to Work for Your Law Firm. Hire Black Fin.
We know a thing or two about how to rank well with SEO. After all, our agency has had the top spot for Attorney SEO searches on Google for years.
We got there with smart strategies, and we stay there by keeping up with the best practices in SEO, even as they constantly evolve. We do the same thing for the law firms that hire Black Fin to get them results.
If you want to improve your website’s results, we’re here to help. Get in touch with the team at Black Fin and learn more about what we can do for you. However, if you are not yet ready to hire an SEO agency and would rather handle SEO in-house, check out our SEO Training Program for attorneys.