Behind the scenes: exploring the tactics used at Black FinSchedule your consultation
How do we do what we do? This page will give you a sneak peek inside a process that has generated millions of dollars in revenue for our law firm clients each year. It’s success by process, not by chance. You can think of it as the “anti-gambler’s” way – no luck required. It’s a sound, proven strategy that will lead your law firm to dominate the search engine results.
Be warned: This web page is over 3,700 words long. There are pithier pages on our site, but if you really want to understand how Black Fin works and how we’re different – in other words, if you want to really understand what you’re spending your money on – this page will tell you everything you need to know. And I think you’ll walk away knowing why Black Fin is the best choice you can make.
There are probably law firms that manage to get by without a strong Internet presence, but that kind of law practice is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine with each passing year. Today’s clients look for their lawyers the same place they look for everything else: On the web. So when you hire us, you’re not just asking us to shine your shingle – you’re asking us to hang it at the very top of the ‘net.
We take what we do very seriously, because the livelihoods of our clients and their employees depend on it. This isn’t a hobby or a part-time operation we run out of the den. This is our full vocation, and you can expect the same duty and diligence from us that your clients count on with you.
I believe that other companies are unable to replicate our results because they don’t have the process that we’ve been developing over the last seven years… a process that is specific to the legal industry. Sure, SEO is fickle, and some of it gets complicated, but it’s not a black box. Search engine dominance is absolutely attainable for your firm, and it all comes down to sound strategy.
And hey, this is coming from the guy who has not one, not two, not three, but five front-page listings for “Law Firm SEO Expert” on Google. The Black Fin method works.
The first thing we do with each new client is assess their website’s existing SEO and conversion performance. We’ve learned that even great rankings aren’t enough, if your website design and copy are poorly constructed.
The title tag is the most SEO-relevant part of your web page. It’s the very first thing we code, and it determines how search engines display each page. Your tag should always include your firm’s name and a relevant keyword, but keep it short and to the point. There’s no need to stuff the title full of SEO terms – in fact, doing that hurts more than it helps (a common mistake).
The second most SEO-relevant part of your page is the headline, or in coding terms, the “H1.” This tag is important for a few reasons. First, Google gives it a lot of weight because of its prominence on your page. After all, it’s the one thing that every user will actually read when he or she first visits. That also makes it important from a conversion standpoint. You should tell your readers what the page is about and invoke some curiosity to keep them reading. This is difficult to do when the H1 is so important from an SEO perspective.
To kill both birds with the same stone, we can combine an H1 with a sub-head (H2) to accomplish the goal of being interesting, while also tapping into all of the SEO potential.
Now let’s move down the page and look at your content. We typically create multiple sub-heads (“H2” or “H3” tags) for you. This helps build a theme that Google will use to categorize the web page in its index. Additionally, it’s good to make sure that different variations of your keywords are included throughout. If you have a page on “car accidents,” you shouldn’t repeat “car accidents” excessively. Instead, use words like “auto accidents,” “car wrecks,” “car crashes,” and so forth.
Google isn’t an idiot. Too many SEO firms try to repeat the same words over and over again thinking that Google can’t categorize without excessive keyword density, but nothing could be further from the truth.
From a searcher’s perspective (and from Google’s), you’d be better off casting a broad net with keyword variations rather than repeating the same terms over and over. At Black Fin, we carefully optimize each page to achieve optimal keyword densities – not too little, not too much, but just right.
Some firms underemphasize the description tag (aka the “Meta Description”). The Meta Description is what you see beneath each title in the search results. It has absolutely no bearing on your search rankings, but it’s still highly determinative of whether someone will actually click on your listing. All the SEO in the world won’t help you if no one actually clicks, so we put a lot of thought into our Meta Descriptions, too.
We have three principal maxims for Meta Descriptions:
One of our most effective techniques is cross-linking between the various pages of your website. For example, your Auto Accidents page could discuss common auto injuries and include a link to your Brain Damage page. Cross-linking allows us to “pass the juice” from one page to the next. Google’s robots love the opportunity to jump around your site. It’s like we’re building a playground for their webcrawlers. It also helps your actual readers find relevant content.
Here again, keyword strategy is very important. We’re careful to hyperlink exactly the right words and use just the right number of links. Black Fin carefully calibrates all of this to maximize the SEO impact on every page.
The old adage that values an image at roughly 1,000 words also holds true in SEO. Pictures help build trust and enhance your website aesthetic, but they also bolster your rankings.
When we put together a website, we can help you choose images that strike just the right chord with the reader. Don’t shy away from emotion! The work you do is important and the emotional impact on your clients is very real. An image that illustrates tragedy or invokes emotion is entirely acceptable, so long as it is also tasteful. Ultimately, you want the image to connect with whatever your prospective clients are feeling. That’s true whether we’re talking about personal injury, business disputes, immigration law, family law or even estate planning.
Once the image is in place, we help Google read it with some strategic back-end coding. After all, Google is merely a software program; it can’t understand the complexities of most images. So we use descriptive ALT tags within the code to help define the image and associate it with your firm name, practice area, and targeted keywords.
Schema is a markup language that has become increasingly important over the last few years. While it’s always been a good idea to include your law firm’s NAME, ADDRESS, and PHONE (NAP) number on every page, we are now suggesting that this information be coded with the Schema markup language for Google’s benefit. Your users will not be able to tell the difference. Most often, NAP info appears in the footer or sidebar of your site. I also strongly recommend that phone numbers be clickable for mobile users. At Black Fin, we’re very mobile-minded, especially when it comes to contact information. We make it possible for mobile users to immediately access directions to your office or simply use a click-to-call feature and reach you right away.
Let’s face it – you’ve worked hard to earn your accolades and awards. Don’t be afraid to show them off on your website. Are you AV-rated? Show it off! Have a high AVVO rating? Show it off! Do you have 20 reviews on Yelp? Show them off! Sometimes it’s good to toot your own horn, and if done gracefully, it can build trust and set you up as an authoritative figure in your niche. We’ll help you showcase your record. Readers do pay attention to these things.
It’s no longer “just a nice thing” to have videos on your website. If you want to truly dominate Google as the preeminent attorney in your practice area, you MUST have videos. When done well, videos let you greet incoming clients face-to-face before the first consultation. If all those CLE Ethics courses have taught you anything, it’s that the practice of law is an intensely personal profession. Video lets you make that intimate connect right away.
But hey, I get it. Attorneys aren’t actors. They don’t give Oscars for great moot-clinic arguments in law school. A lot of lawyers feel uncomfortable in front of the camera, but these needn’t be high-pressure performances. At Black Fin, we can coach attorneys on creating personal messages that are consistent with the most effective website videos.
Just make sure that you’re authentic and speak from the heart. Share why you decided to practice law and how you love to help people pursue justice.
In addition to the obvious conversion benefit, videos can also help your SEO for two reasons:
At Black Fin, we’ve spent the last two years studying video marketing for law firms, fine-tuning our approach for success. Don’t leave your marketing to chance. We know how to make it work.
If your website has more than 20 web pages, it’s important that you create an XML sitemap to help Google and the other search engines find and index all of your content. That’s especially true with older blogs that may not have linkable archives, categories, and tags.
We also use the XML sitemap in conjunction with Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) to ensure that Google knows about every valuable page published on your site.
Who wrote your website copy? Did they steal it from someone else? Another law firm?
I had an interesting experience earlier this year with one law firm that had unwittingly copied content from a competitor’s website. Apparently, before we ever worked with this firm, they’d hired an outside writer who copied – verbatim – certain parts of the competitor’s website. The competitor filed a complaint, and Google proceeded to penalize the infringing firm’s website in the search results!
Naturally, as soon as we took the firm on as a client, we took immediate action to bring them back into good standing. After all, they didn’t know they’d hired a plagiarist as a copywriter. We removed the duplicative content, and the rankings were fortunately restored. But the whole incident begs the question: “Who wrote your copy?” Did they plagiarize from someone else? Will your rankings drop because of plagiarism? Are you at risk of a copyright infringement lawsuit and/or disciplinary action by the State Bar because your firm is unknowingly hosting plagiarized content online? It happens more often than you might think.
That’s why it’s so important that you work with a reputable provider. At Black Fin, we work with only the very best copywriters and utilize a professional-grade anti-plagiarism program to screen against any potential infringement.
There’s no question that regularly updated websites are providing a better user experience than those that never change. Google can easily monitor how often your website is updated and, indeed, checks for that.
Publishing high-quality written content on a regular, consistent basis is the only effective way to make your website the “King of Content” over all of your competitors. Well-written, evergreen content lands you in the search results for keywords that are valuable to your business. Additionally, adding fresh content shows your readers that you take pride in your firm. Our goal is to distinguish you from the dying cesspool of law firm websites. Black Fin ensures that your site is thriving, always growing, and truly educating the public. Google loves an article that is new, well written, and informative. We give Google what it wants.
We recommend that every law firm include Live Chat on its website. Live chat is the middle ground between a phone call and an email form. Your goal should be to receive ZERO email-form leads. ZERO. Let me explain why. With each minute that passes between your prospect sending an email and your reply, the odds of them actually using your firm diminish. This was proven in a recent study by MIT.
But also keep in mind that law firms intimidate many people. It can be daunting to pick up the phone and call your office. Give your prospects an easy out! Make it as easy for them as possible! Live Chat lets them contact your firm in a non-confrontational, non-stressful way. It also lets you give them an immediate response – before the competition.
Whether you decide to use Live Chat or not, Black Fin can install a feature on your website that sends an SMS text message to your phone (or your paralegal’s or secretary’s) whenever there’s an incoming prospect. That way, you or your team can get back with them right away.
I can’t tell you how many dead social media profiles I’ve seen from attorneys over the years. Our rule is: If you aren’t going to update your social media profiles, don’t create them in the first place – and if you don’t have a social media profile, you’ll likely look antiquated to about 50% of the population.
Social media is part of most of our daily lives. It’s how we communicate and stay up to date with our family and friends. I’m not going to tell you that you’ll generate clients via social media, but I can promise that, if you don’t keep your social media profiles up to date, you are LOSING business. It’s no longer just a nice thing to have. It’s critical. We help our clients maintain great-looking, professional, and social-savvy media accounts.
Speaking of social media, clients do research law firms. Why wouldn’t they? If they look at Yelp reviews for plumbers and Amazon ratings for electronics, it only stands to reason that they’ll do the same for something as important as a lawsuit or a criminal case.
In fact, your prospects are researching you and your law firm right now. What are they finding? In a recent research project conducted by our team here at Black Fin, we found that the most popular keyword for law firms – aside from the firm name itself – was the firm name plus the word “reviews.”
It’s more important than ever that you stay on top of your reputation and strive to improve it every month. We’re big believers in client testimonials. They lend credibility and forge a personal connection. They paint a picture of success. We urge all of our law-firm clients to request reviews from AVVO, Yelp, Google+ Local (i.e. Maps), and more… all in accordance with the applicable ethics standards, of course.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t find them either.” – Siri
For most local results, Google’s algorithm now values its maps as much as your prose. I miss the days when all you needed was to acquire a few good links and you were ranking on the first page for your primary keywords. But now you have to use location features, too.
The Google algorithm is more complex than ever. Black Fin will ensure that your Google+ Local listing (previously known as Google Maps or Google Places) is verified and properly filled out. This is imperative not only for capturing traffic from the 40 percent of users who search Google with their mobile phones but also for the desktop and laptop users who see Maps first in their local search results. Maps have absolutely emerged as an integral part of SEO, and too many marketers ignore that fact (to their clients’ detriment).
I really shouldn’t have to say this, but so many law firm websites load like snails on the way to the beach. This is a mix of poor coding, slow servers, and unoptimized images or CSS files.
Google has confirmed that a slow-loading site will hurt your rankings; but even if it didn’t, why would your users want to stick around when it takes forever for pages to load?
Get rid of the $0.99 hosting package or the $100 hosting package where you’re on a server with 10,000 other attorneys. Make sure that your server can manage whatever is thrown its way. We can help with that. We also like to make sure that your code is properly optimized for maximum loading speed, which includes doing things like:
Have you ever seen that message from Google while searching that says, “Site may be compromised?” Ouch. Get me out of here!
Site security is a really big deal – so much so that Google recently began rewarding sites using SSL with a minor boost in rankings. (SSL is the security feature that e-commerce sites use when processing credit cards.)
I don’t believe we should drop everything we’re doing to get SSL installed on every website online, but this does show us that Google cares about the security of its users. Certainly, hosting or transferring malware is unacceptable, and law firms should do everything possible to make their websites secure. Indeed, for attorneys, there are ethical considerations here, as well. Black Fin will check your site often to screen against any problems.
Do you make it easy for your clients to find and access your money pages? What is a money page?
A “money page” is designed to answer your prospects’ questions and give them the perception that you are the authority with the solutions to their problems. Sometimes these are practice area pages and sometimes they are “Why choose us?” pages. These are the pages that “make the sell” to your prospective clients.
Your website is a path that should eventually lead your prospects to contact your firm. Rarely do consumers land on your homepage, pick up the phone, and call you. No! First they find your homepage, then they check out your bio, then maybe they review a practice area page, and so on.
Think about the path that you want your prospects to follow. Black Fin will light the way with helpful virtual signals, continually underscoring your trustworthiness, credibility, and effectiveness as a legal advocate. These are the keys to conversion in the world of law firm marketing.
In just a few short years, mobile devices have become as popular and desktop computers. 40 percent of users access websites on a mobile device. Moreover, people are learning to judge a website (and the firm running it) by its mobile design. You MUST have a mobile-responsive website. Black Fin will make sure that your phone numbers are clickable, your phone layout is flexible, your tablet design is beautiful, and that GPS/Maps features actually work.
The future of the web is mobile. If prospects have a hard time using your site on a mobile device, they’ll just move one click down on Google instead. Don’t miss the boat on this one!
Those are the words that my original SEO mentor, Bruce Clay, spoke about nine years ago.
I believe that we’ve built the best process for ranking law firm websites online. However, that doesn’t give me permission to ignore our competitors because, sometimes, they come up with a good idea.
The only way to truly be successful is to literally think about the 100+ factors for success in your niche and focus every day on being the best at those factors.
What are those factors? Think of little things. For example:
Create your personal list of factors. Consistently watch the competition for new ideas and then “one up” them.
And now we reach the end of a very long (but hopefully helpful) explanation of the Black Fin approach, most of which has focused on what we do on your website. But believe it or not, as super-important as all that is, that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
In fact, we spend about 90 percent of our time on off-site factors. Specifically, I’m referring to the quality and quantity of third-party websites that link back to you.
It’s taken me seven years, but I’ve put together a list of the 143 websites on which every law firm should be listed. This proprietary “master list” is the product of years spent analyzing hundreds upon hundreds of law firm websites to determine what the most successful ones have in common.
We have found, from an off-site perspective, that the most successful websites are listed on some (never all) of these 143 websites.
This list is our Secret Sauce, and it can help your website rank in just about any niche.
The difficulty with SEO, and Internet marketing in general, is that it moves so quickly. In the past month alone, I’ve probably updated my list of 143 websites two or three times. I expect the same for next month. We’ve had updates in the last month that have changed the game… and in some cases, quite drastically.
Whichever marketing firm you choose in the end, make sure that they have a proven system for putting your law firm ahead of the competition. They have to absolutely love what they do, just like we do. The changes and flux in this industry get us excited for work each morning, and I think that’s the driving force behind Black Fin’s success.
While just a snapshot, I do hope this look at our “secret sauce” has given you a good sense of how we get results. It’s by no means a complete list, but it paints a picture of Black Fin as an agency that markets you online from top to bottom, side to side. We leave no facet unaddressed, no stone unturned.
Maybe you’re wondering why I decided to write this and share our “secret sauce” with the world.
I’m glad you asked. This outline – without the actual processes and systems behind it – is merely a collection of ideas. They’re powerful ideas, but they take years of experience to make possible.
We’re a rock star team, and we know our stuff. But that doesn’t explain our success. Black Fin is a group of professionals who are willing to roll with the punches month after month. Google throws a lot of change our way… and we love every minute of it.
-“Mr. Black Fin,” Gerrid Smith
Founder, CEO, & Chief Strategist, Black Fin Marketing