Monday, April 29, 2013

Linking From Your Firm Blog to Main Website - Guidance from Google

SEO "Best Practices" seem to change on a monthly basis. In January you are told to use keyword phrases in a certain way; by February, that way is out-dated. In April there is one approach for using links in a blog; by May that approach is considered counter-productive.


All of this can be baffling for an attorney working on marketing efforts. And it is the bane of existence for those who specialize in search engine optimization for law firms.

 The rapid change in many of the small SEO details actually makes it more important to simply stick with the big-picture ideas that have long been the most important part of converting searchers into clients online. That begins and ends with solid original content. That is why hiring legal content writers is perhaps the single best marketing investment for attorneys. They will produce a tangible product that can be used indefinitely and that is at the crux of attracting clients in the manner that is coming to dominate the market.

Of course, it still is not as simple as deciding to focus marketing efforts on legal content. There are still SEO details that must be factored into content like blog posts. For example: Links. How many should you use? Can you link to your own stuff? Should you have a separate separate site to help with cross-linking? Will that cross-linking be considered spam?

Google Provides Guidance - More of the "Goldilocks" Principle

Fortunately, this week Google officials provided some helpful advice on that one specific issue which has a bearing on legal blogging.

In a new video, the head of Google's search team answered the question: "Does linking two sites together violate quality guidelines?"  This is a pretty fundamental question for law firm blogs.  Many of them, including those created by Justia, LEXblog, and others, create "off-site" blogs.  That means that the blog is separate website, with its own URL.  The idea is that content added to the blog can then be linked back to the main firm website for SEO benefit.

This was standard practice as short as a few months ago, but concerns were raised recently about whether or not this practice would be looked down upon as Google continues its updates to require more unique content.

In answering the question the Google official explained that cross-linking was not per se a bad move.  Instead, he noted that it must be done moderately--following the Goldilocks Principle.  In fact, he noted that it makes complete sense for various sites to be linked together, especially if those sites have related, but different concepts/content.  In other words, it is logical for a lawyer to have a firm website, where basic information about the firm, its attorneys, its practice, contact information is found ON TOP OF a separate blog site where the firm provides more timely content about legal developments, news, etc.  Linking from one to the other is helpful, and will not result in penalties if done reasonably.

Instead, the Google search chief noted that problems only arise when there are a large number of sites--50, 100, 200--that are less related and continually link together.  That looks like a "linking scheme" which will violate the companies guidelines and result in penalties.

What does it mean for your legal blog?

Essentially, this explanation of Google guidelines is an affirmation of the merit of some basic law blog writing principles.  Most notably, separating the blog is still helpful.  Adding common sense links, occasionally, between the blog to the main site has merit.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Should I Hire Legal Content Writers, an SEO Firm, Both, or Neither?

You want to attract more clients for your law firm online.  You know it has something to do with "SEO," blogs, keywords, search engines, rankings, "content," and other such gobbldygook.

It basically comes down to three options: (1) You figure out how to do it yourself; (2) You assign a staff member to do it; or (3) You hire other people to do it.

Option 1 is great for attorneys who have a natural interest in technology and other online matters.  But even if you have an interest in this stuff, there is the sneaky problem of not having enough time to do it.  Option 2 might work, but chances are that if a staff member already knew how to do it--they'd be doing it.  They can teach themselves, but then again, they already have tasks.  Building a solid online foundation is not a throwaway task.  Do they really have the time to add it on and do it well?

That leaves Option 3.  There is a reason "SEO experts" have exploded over the last five to ten years.  When done right, these folks offer vital services--bringing in much more money than it costs to hire them. But let's be honest, SEO guys have "huckster" written all over them.  That is not because they ARE scammers but because there are so many that it is hard to differentiate the wheat from the chaff.

And on top of that you've got outside folks, like us, who seem to provide some ancillary services but maybe not the whole "SEO" package.  Is legal blog writing all you need for SEO?  Do you have to hire more than one person?  Is it all just a sham that will cost money and provide no benefit?

The Ideal
Here's what we think.  In a perfect world, you would hire both law content writers and an online marketing firm.  They are not the same.  In fact, if you hire only an online marketing team they will outsource writers for you.  Sometimes they hire us, and sometimes they hire others.  Those "others" are usually not attorneys and the quality is very iffy.  Obviously, our firm strives to provide the very best in online legal writing at a great value.

But at the same time, we do not pretend that we alone are all you need to maximize your online marketing efforts.  A solid online marketing firm can ensure you use the content we provide in the very best way possible, integrating it into blogs, web content, article submission, newsletters, and more.

In this way, as content writers, we are the grunt workers--producing the material that makes up the bulk of your online marketing efforts.  The marketing team is looking at the big picture, making sure the content is used to its maximum potential and integrated with other marketing efforts like pay-per-click ads, newsletters, and other efforts.

Quick Note: Not all online marketing firms are the same.  We often get asked by clients for recommendations for SEO-types.  We are usually leery in our recommendations, because, frankly, we know more poor SEO firms than quality ones.  The very best firms are much more than mere "optimizers."  Instead, we recommend hiring a team that considers themselves marketers first and SEO experts second.  The SEO should be part of the overall strategy, not the single strategy.  There are enough legal marketing people out there that you shouldn't settle for a team that talks about ranking well in Google and nothing else.

The Bottom Line: In our experience, the absolute best results are reached by firms with an SEO marketing team who uses specialized legal content creators (like us) to make magic.  BUT, there is still tremendous value that we can provide when working without SEO folks.  And if the SEO team is doing nothing more than switching a few words around and acting as a middle-man, then you can do without them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Google & Bing Wars - Does It Matter for Your Firm Blog and Website?

If you watch TV even a bit, chances are you've caught a commercial from the online search engine site known as "Bing."  The search site has been pushing a claim that people prefer Bing results compared to Google's in "blind" search tests.  Bing is a Microsoft project, and so it has significant weight behind it.

Google has dominated search for quite some time, and it is hard to image any competitor making much of a dent.  However, Bing is mounting the biggest challenge yet.

Does any of this matter for your law firm blog or website?  It might.  A quick run-down of the situation is below...

Make no mistake, Google still has a commanding lead when it comes to search.  The most recent reports suggest that Google has about 67% of the search market.  This compares with about 16.5% for Bing.  In other words...it isn't close.  There are still 4x as many Google searches as Bing searches.  Bing has shown slight gains in recent months, but they have not come at the expense of Google searches.  Instead, Bing's gain is the other major search player, Yahoo's, loss.  All told the "non-Google" search bunch has hovered around the same 27-30% for some time.

On one hand, you shouldn't completely discount the idea that Google will one day fall from the search perch.  After all, before Google, Yahoo was the clear leader.  But Google itself was able to fight its way to the top.  It is not impossible for the same thing to happen again.

On the other hand, Google is now much more than a search firm.  It dominates many different markets, from video (YouTube), email, and much more.  Google is integrated into the cultural lives of so many now that comparing it to the Yahoo of a decade ago is hard.

Should any of this matter to your law firm?

The most intricate details of the search world shouldn't take up much mental space.  But, if Bing begins to make even more inroads, then it may be relevant to at least understand the basics of how they calculate results that might in any way differ from Google.

Right now, SEO is focused almost entirely on one question: What will make me rank well in Google?  But if Google competitors start showing more movement, then it might be worth ensuring that there are not other big or small SEO steps that need to be taken to account for those searches.

Then again, even if that happens, it is hard to see how the major components of proper search will change much.  There is uniformity in the value of interesting content, social media connectivity, and similar steps.  In that way, law firm blogs and legal content writing will continue to be the critical component of maximizing your firm's online visibility.

Obviously that is another reason why investing in that original legal content now is a prudent move.  Its value will not go away.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Be Careful Of Cheap Legal Content Writers

Outsourcing.  It's been a buzzword for decades, usually in reference to jobs that are being shipped out of the U.S. for cheaper labor.  Most of the focus has been on factory work leaving, as more and more manufacturing is done outside the country.  Now, of course, there is also outsourcing of traditional "white collar" jobs, from reading x-rays to even some legal work.  While any issue that might draw away business should be investigated, it is important not to exaggerate the risk of outsourced lawyers.  After all,  beyond the unauthorized practice of law issue, there is the simple fact that legal work still requires specialized skill.

Long story short, outsourcing lawyers is not something that should causes trembles for the firm owner just yet.

But that is not to say that everything related to the business of the law may not be ripe for outsourcing.

Take legal content writing.

Marketing budgets are often tight, and when firms are deciding how to spent their money to attract clients, cost considerations are obviously high on the list.  When it comes to having assistance with law firm content writing and blogging, there are natural temptations to go with the lowest bidder.  Usually that means using writers from out of the country.  But it is absolutely critical to understand that quality matters in online content writing, particularly when it comes to writing in the name of respected professionals, like attorneys.

Using poor quality content hurts in two ways. First, it simply is not that valuable for SEO.  Websites like "watermyblog.com," for example, produce mini 150-200 word posts for any number of websites (including law firm blogs).  The price for these services is usually quite cheap, from $6-15 dollars per post.  But the fact is, those short snippets are of virtually no use to the reader and serve next to no SEO function.  Many attorneys have been duped into buying these packages to receive canned content that is far too short and not tailored to their specific needs.  It is simply wasted marketing money.

Second, poor content harms conversion rates.  SEO is about getting eyeballs to your website, but it does nothing to get the people who reach it to actually call and retain your services.  The best legal blog posts not only act as crucial SEO tools, but they provide useful information for a reader and help to convert them into clients.  Poor content does not do that, and actually may have the opposite effect. We have seen sample posts from competitors who use non-attorney writers from outside the country, and the difference is staggering.  Attorneys must never forget about their own online reputation, and putting obviously poor quality content on a site with a law firm stamp on it is poor business.

Quality + Price
Obviously our approach at Law Blog Writers is the exact opposite of cheap content mills.  While we understand that firms can purchase blog posts written by writers in India for cheaper than our team, we believe that quality cannot be sacrificed.  When you consider that a post written by a non-lawyer from a cheap labor pool only costs marginally less than an attorney in the United States, the need not to go with the bottom of the barrel is clear.  Your online image is vitally important, and buying valueless-content can do more harm than good.