If You Are Reading This, Then SEO Is NOT A Hoax.
There are many misconceptions around search engine optimization which have led to many professionals I know calling it a “hoax.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth. SEO is an extremely useful and valuable tool when it comes to marketing for your law firm. In today’s episode, I give a non-digital marketing perspective of SEO, demystify the myths around SEO, and help you ask the right questions when you hire a digital marketing agency.
In this episode we also discuss:
- Key questions you need to ask when you hire a marketing company to manage your SEO.
- Clean-up work needs to be done on your website when a marketing company starts to work with you.
- How to communicate appropriately with search engines.
- You have to partner with your marketing company and provide the right information to succeed.
- Which is the best marketing strategy that will work best for your law firm.
SEE THE FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Allison Williams: [00:00:05] Hi, everybody. It's Allison Williams here, your host of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys, we help you to grow your revenues, crush chaos in business, and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:26] Hi, everybody. It's Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. And welcome to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, where today I'm going to answer a very simple question, which is, is SEO a hoax?
Allison Williams: [00:00:41] Now, you probably are asking me the question, why would I possibly think that search engine optimization is a hoax? It's a service that I currently use in my own law firm and certainly is, is a service that I have helped our clients from across the country to secure for their law firms. Well, I decided to tackle this topic today because we have had a lot of people recently talking to us about whether or not they should be using one form of marketing versus another. And by people I'm talking about my clients. Of course, we have coaching clients from across the country, but I've also had people that have reached out to us for joint partnerships, who've reached out to us for inviting me or a member of our team to speak at their conference. And the topic of legal marketing has taken on a life of its own in recent years.
Allison Williams: [00:01:31] And one of the topics that always comes up from lawyers that are maybe newer in business or have less revenue. The question of search engine optimization, and I've always been particularly challenged by how to convey to someone who's not particularly well educated about search engine optimization what it is, how to use it, and how to be able to tell if you are getting the best value out of what you're purchasing if you choose to work with a digital marketing agency.
Allison Williams: [00:02:01] So this question about search engine optimization was kind of thrown out in a community that I'm in recently, and there was a very successful lawyer who answered that search engine optimization is a waste of time and money and it basically is a hoax.
Allison Williams: [00:02:17] So and having the conversation with this person, we explored why the person felt the way that they did. And ultimately what came out of that conversation was that she had been practicing for over 20 years and began her website soon after she began her law firm. So she has had a long dossier of content posted on her website of her name being referenced in different sites online from having speaking engagements and having assets that she's created, lead magnets that she's created that are kind of out there.
Allison Williams: [00:02:53] And as a result, her saying, I've never paid for SEO, I've always done it myself, and therefore I think it's a hoax because you're going to pay all this money and you're not going to get that much more than you could do on your own. And I had to, you know, I had to have a very challenging conversation with this person because this is someone I respect. Right. But that conversation ultimately led to several people asking the question, well, is it really a hoax? So I decided that I would tackle that on today's podcast so that I could give you all who are a little less educated about SEO, a guidepost as to answer the question of why SEO is frankly not a hoax, and how you can know that from working with your digital marketing company or even hiring the very first one if you choose to hire one.
Allison Williams: [00:03:40] So the first thing I want to talk to you about is the fact that when you are considering the topic of search engine optimization, you have to keep in mind that someone who's done it for a long time is going to have an advantage that you don't have if you have not been marketing yourself online for some period of time. Right. The reason for that is that the more content that is created on a website, the more data that there is to be searched by a search engine. Right. So when Google, or Bing, or Yahoo! Are crawling your website, they are looking for specific information that tells the search engine that you offer a particular service and generally in a particular area.
Allison Williams: [00:04:22] Now, some of you have federal practices, you have a region that is the United States, but most of us are state-specific practice areas. So that means when you put information up that you are in Louisville, Kentucky, and you are an estate planning attorney, a estate planning attorney in Louisville, Kentucky, is what the search engine is going to want to offer up to people in that region who are looking to hire an attorney. Right. When they're searching for that type of attorney in that region. And the more information that there is on your website, the easier it is for the search engine to say, yes, this is exactly what the searching party is looking for when this person's content comes into our awareness.
Allison Williams: [00:05:08] So the more content that a person has generated over a course of time, the more likely that they are to show up when they are doing things like altering keywords on their website, because they already have authority. They already have a reputation, if you will, with Google, or Bing, or whatever search engine that says this is a reputable source that is highly connected with the service that people are searching for. So that's one thing.
Allison Williams: [00:05:35] Another thing that I want to cover with you is this idea that a lot of people will believe that search engine optimization is a hoax because many, not all, but many providers of digital marketing services will tell you it takes about 6 to 9 months for them to really generate results in search engine optimization.
Allison Williams: [00:05:55] Now, frankly, I have never had it take that long, but I have been aggressively marketing myself online since I started my law firm in 2013. And so when someone comes to work with me, they already have a lot of content to work with. But even when we had just started, when I first started putting something out there, it wasn't a lot, right? I had a homemade blog on WordPress, you know, back in the days where when you named yourself the ABC Firm, you could literally name yourself ABC Firm and you still had WordPress.com at the end of it. If you didn't spend the five bucks a year to buy the domain and remove the WordPress.com at the end.
Allison Williams: [00:06:38] But even so, when, when a marketing company first started working with me, they told me it's going to take time. And I remember thinking, is this just a hoax? Right? If you're going to require of me this is back then if you're going to require of me a 12-month contract and you tell me it's going to take 6 to 9 months for you to get any results, then of course, you're not going to start cooking until about the last quarter of our contract, which makes it more likely that I'm going to buy the contract again in the future.
Allison Williams: [00:07:08] And it also sets a very low expectation. So skeptical me is saying that sounds like BS, right? That sounds like something that you're saying just so that you can justify charging me for a long time without getting a result. And if you get a result, then you have over delivered. And if you don't get a result, then I have no reason to be upset because that's what you told me was going to happen.
Allison Williams: [00:07:30] So I get it right. That's lawyer brain. That's how we think about things. But there is some truth to the 6 to 9-month time period. And I wanted to give you a non-digital marketers perspective on why that is.
Allison Williams: [00:07:44] So the first thing you have to keep in mind is that when a digital marketing company starts working with you, almost invariably they are going to have some cleanup work to do. Now, how much cleanup work is going to depend on whether you are starting at ground zero or you are working with another company that has already done something for you? The building and optimization of a website is an ongoing project. It's never something that is a set it and forget it. And the reason for that is because data is constantly changing online. You might build a link to a website and that website may ultimately move where your data is placed. It may remove your data from your website so that the link is ultimately broken. Or if the company decides that it's going to go in a different direction, it might choose to categorize your data. You're that link to your data in a different location online.
Allison Williams: [00:08:41] Now the challenge with that is that when you start looking at how data is maintained across the, the Internet, when data is moved around, if you have a specific link to a specific location that no longer exists, then that link being broken is something that a marketing company is going to have to come in and fix. Now, this is not a huge process. It's not a huge project, someone with any level of competency in this area can do it, but it does require some work, right? So the fixing of errors is one thing.
Allison Williams: [00:09:13] Another thing is that you will often find 404 errors. Now the 404 errors is typically that the page no longer exists, right? That's typically what you find when you go to ABC Law Firm dot Lead Magnet dot com, and lead magnet no longer exists. Or maybe they have changed the primary domain name. So a lot of times 404 errors will happen when you might have a very specific piece of content or information on your website that you have decided to remove from your website. But the, the front-end work of cleaning it up so that people don't ultimately land on that page has not happened. So you have to think about that.
Allison Williams: [00:09:54] Another thing that oftentimes digital marketing companies will do when they come in is they will remove duplicate content. Now, this is unfortunately something that's very common. If you hire a company that is not well versed in SEO or that frankly is just sloppy, they're trying to get your money. So they're trying to do as little as possible, as quickly as possible. When you start working with them, what you'll find is that they will oftentimes take content from other websites in other jurisdictions and then alter it so that it fits your jurisdiction.
Allison Williams: [00:10:26] And as you know, Google and other search engines will ultimately give you a demerit, if you will, if they see that you have content that is duplicated across the Internet. Right. So if you have content and somebody has copied and pasted your content, the question is going to be which got there first. If you find that your content is not the first content that landed right, somebody else's content was provided by this marketing company first before your content was loaded. Then you are ultimately going to be penalized for that.
Allison Williams: [00:10:59] So a lot of times what the marketer, the marketer will do when they come and work with you is that they will do a sweep of your website to make sure that you don't have duplicate content.
Allison Williams: [00:11:09] Another thing that's really, really common is really cleaning up the headings and subheadings. Now I'm sure we all have heard that sometimes because of the way that search engines ultimately find information, the digital marketing agency that you work with may ultimately recommend that you put a characterization of your service in your heading or subheading. So instead of being Personal Injury Attorney Montana, it might be truck driving injury. Attorney Montana, right. Because then you're giving a greater description so that when someone is searching and they search personal injury, truck driving attorney, they'll have that truck driving attorney as a more specific way of knowing that your service is the one that this person should be offered.
Allison Williams: [00:11:59] Now that in and of itself takes some time, not just because you are going to go in and rewrite the headings, right, rewriting headings doesn't take a whole lot of time, but once the headings and subheadings have to be revised, the next thing that they have to do is they have to make sure that they are appropriate and consistent across your website so that you don't have a hodgepodge of different headings. You have some level of continuity across what you're communicating so that when again, a search engine is searching your website, when it's crawling your content, it doesn't get some errant truck driving Montana attorney phrase that's mixed in with estate planning. Attorney Montana Right. Or if you're trying to put them in different locations, that they are clear that you're marketing different services, that there's not kind of an overlap.
Allison Williams: [00:12:50] Now, a lot of this is seemingly very, very much about changing words on screen, right the way we change words on paper. But there's more to it because of what has to happen on the back end. Now, I'm not going to get into a whole technical discussion about what happens on the back end. Frankly, I don't know that I can, because that's not my competency. I'll bring on someone that's going to talk to us about some of the back end of the search engine and how to communicate appropriately with search engine. But it happens through a process called coding. And what a lot of companies do is they hire Americans, English-speaking, oftentimes degreed individuals to be the front-facing communicator of your file. Right. So the person who is going to meet with you once every two weeks or once a month to go over your reports, to let you know what's going on, that's one type of person. But then behind the scenes, they will oftentimes have coders, the people who are writing all of that gobbledygook that goes to communicate on the Internet where one piece of data meets another. They will have those individuals be overseas. Sometimes they are US-born, but oftentimes they are not ever going to have any form of contact with you.
Allison Williams: [00:14:06] And the challenge with that, whether it is good or bad, is really kind of beside the point. The question is, can it get you the result that you want? The challenge with that is that oftentimes overseas coders are on a different time zone. They may have multiple projects for multiple companies that they are working for at a time, and that can delay the time that it takes to get your data updated, as well as to get you new information on your website at a time that you require.
[00:14:33] So it's important that that 6 to 9-month time period be evaluated. And you can simply ask the question about whether or not your marketing company is using overseas coders, because if they are, there can oftentimes be an additional time lag, not saying that they're universally is, but there oftentimes can be. So if you are concerned with having overseas coders and the, the possible delay that that can bring to your website and its evolution, you should talk to your marketing company about that either at the time of hire that's the best or after you hear this podcast, that would be the next best right to know whether or not that's actually having an impact.
Allison Williams: [00:15:15] The other thing that has to happen now, so that's kind of a technical thing, right? So once they come in and they kind of fix things up on your website, there is still more that has to happen in order for the marketing company to get to results. And part of the time period that 6 to 9-month window that is often cited, part of the reason why that time period is often cited, it's not universally cited. Again, depends on how much you had content-wise before they started working with you and how long your reputation, your digital reputation has existed. But the delay, if any, from start of hire to results can oftentimes be as a result of adaptation.
Allison Williams: [00:15:52] Adaptation is essentially that you have to recognize that digital marketing is part science, but it's also part art and the artistry of marketing a business is really about understanding the business, understanding the marketplace in which the business operates, right? So understanding generally speaking, what works for your type of law in your region with your audience.
Allison Williams: [00:16:19] So if you are a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio, Texas, you're going to have a different learning curve for a digital marketing company. Then, if you are a family law attorney in San Francisco, California. Why? Because each of those regions has a different number of people in the region. Right. You have an avatar, and so the number of people of your avatar that are available to be marketed to has to be considered. How are those people going to receive communications? Are they more likely to respond to a, a video or rolling text or flat text on screen or social media marketing? When the method of having data accessible to them is provided via your website, what is going to drive their behavior? Is it not just things that we know are pretty universal, like calls to action and strategically placed information boxes? But what is really going to drive their behavior? Is it going to be very pain-focused content? Is it going to be very aspirational content, very inspirational content? How much content and where does it need to be placed? Then of course, we have to look at kind of the, the marketing landscape of your website and where, where it exists.
Allison Williams: [00:17:44] So things such as what keywords are popular in the area where your law firm exists, right? There are some keywords that you can place for very quickly, very easily because they are less common. And then there are other keywords that are kind of the hot topic keyword, right? If you're a family law attorney, the word divorce is probably a very common word that most, if not all, family law, law firms that are marketing online are going to use.
Allison Williams: [00:18:11] So your marketing company can find out this information oftentimes by running reports and getting information on, on the Internet that really is separate and apart from you. But then they have to marry that with what you desire in terms of your law firm. Right. So who is the ideal client avatar that you are going after? How do you want to speak to that person? What type of message do you want for your law firm to communicate to them and how well is it being received? Right.
Allison Williams: [00:18:42] So all of that is about the information that you as the client are going to provide to the digital marketing company so that they can take your description of what you desire, convert it from not just legalese, but into English, and then into profoundly persuasive English so that whomever is communicating with you is going to receive your message and receive it well. And by the way, I just said English. I am presuming that most of you watching this video are English speaking, but of course we know that that is not always the case. So whatever the primary language is that you're going to be marketing in to whatever audience and the primary language of that audience is, ultimately the goal is to connect with whatever they need to understand about your service in order to hire you, so that process takes some time.
Allison Williams: [00:19:32] And then, of course, we also know that these things are not typically static, right? You might have a current ideal client avatar, but what we oftentimes see, especially for growing law firms, right, if you're watching this podcast, it is probably likely that you are somebody who wants to grow your law firm, you want to expand your business. And what we oftentimes see is that lawyers will decide at some point as they start to grow that they're going to leave some clients behind, some opportunities behind, and pursue others. Right. The law of sacrifice, letting go of something of a lower nature so that you can reach for something of a higher nature.
Allison Williams: [00:20:09] So as your avatar shifts and changes, oftentimes that will impact the success of the message that is on your website. I remember many years ago I was working with someone. This was before I was actually formerly a business coach. But I was essentially living out that purpose in my life before I had the, had the qualifications right. And someone had reached out to me for help and they'd said, you know, I'm having a challenge right now with my website. And I went to the person's website. It's beautifully designed. It had all of what we think of as the mission-critical pieces, right? They had the call to action. They had the telephone number prominently displayed in the top right-hand corner on the home page. The telephone number actually scrolled down the page as people scrolled on the page. So there were a lot of positive things on the website. And I read the copy and I said, Well, it sounds very impactful.
Allison Williams: [00:21:03] What is it that you are seeing as is on your side in terms of what people are saying on the phones? That's telling you that your website is not good and the person couldn't really answer the question. So I of course said, well, are you tracking what people are saying when they call you? Are you looking at the data of what a prospect says when they elect not to schedule a call, or if not that if you won't even get people calling your office? So it's not necessarily an intake issue so much, but people are calling in less frequency and they are not engaging the way that they used to. Are you trying out different messages? Are you A B testing? The person at the time said, I honestly don't know what my website company is doing. I basically I pay them every month and they're supposed to figure this out. And it's true that your digital marketing company, you're hiring a professional. The professional should be able to do the service, but you have to partner with them in order to give them the information that they can then use to change their approach to get to success for you.
Allison Williams: [00:22:07] So it's really important that you be proactive in making sure that you, that you fine-tune the message that's going out so that what comes back is ultimately going to work for you sooner rather than later.
Allison Williams: [00:22:22] The other thing I want to talk about just briefly is the idea that a, a digital marketing company and SEO firm could be buying itself time by giving you that long window. And I have had very real considerations, very real concerns brought to my attention by several of our clients over the course of time that they are meeting with their digital marketing company. They're getting some results, not what they'd like, and they just don't know where there's a disconnect.
Allison Williams: [00:22:49] And so I've given them a very simple exercise to find out why. I've said to them, go out and get a free audit from another SEO company. This can be very powerful, right? Now, this is not what we refer to as kind of a second opinion. I guess to some degree it is a second opinion, but the goal is not to simply continually go to digital marketing companies and have them waste time when you have no intention of exploring or changing your digital marketing company. But if you're working with someone, oftentimes what you'll find is that if they are outsourcing a portion of or all of your search engine optimization strategy to someone that is not in-house with them, that entity to whom they are outsourcing may have dropped the ball. And so you can have someone that is not your current company run a report and tell you, do you have broken backlinks? Do you have 404 errors? Is all of the content loading at the time that's appropriate or do you have something in the way that content is created on your website that is slowing your load time? Right. They should be able to give you that information and once you have it, you now are armed to be able to have an intelligent conversation with your digital marketing company.
Allison Williams: [00:24:06] Now, to be fair, it could very well be that some errors have happened or some issues have not been resolved because the company is only contracted with you to work a certain number of hours and you have given them responsibilities, projects, ideas, thoughts and things that you have said supersede kind of the run of the mill maintenance activity and thus they are focused elsewhere. But many times it isn't that. Many times it is that you have gotten to a subscription and so therefore you're in a set it and forget it mode and you have been forgotten. So it's important that you be able to ask those questions and having the SEO audit from another company is really empowering for you to know whether you need to end the relationship that you have and start a new relationship, or if you just need to shift your priorities.
Allison Williams: [00:24:54] Okay. Third and final thing I want to talk about to answer the question is SEO hoax is to talk about strategy.
Allison Williams: [00:25:01] Now, strategy is something that a lot of us have had an increasing awareness of. Right. We recognize that having the right strategy on your website and on your digital marketing is really going to be important. But one of the things that I think is, is very critical is that when you are talking to a digital marketing company, they should be able to tell you. Generally speaking, what the approach is going to be. Right. It may not be. Here's exactly what we're going to do every single day of every single week that we work with you over the next 52 weeks. If it's a year contract or over the next 26 weeks if it's a six month contract or whatever. Right. It isn't necessarily that they have to get down to brass tacks, nuts and bolts.
Allison Williams: [00:25:47] But you do want to ask them, what is the strategy that they will employ? They should be able to tell you, here's generally what we're going to do as a link-building strategy or is a content-building strategy or to increase your local reputation. They should be able to tell you whether or not they recommend that you start to do some paid advertising, in addition to search engine optimization, they should be able to tell you how much content is going to be needed and what they're going to be requiring of you to create that content as they are trying to market your website.
Allison Williams: [00:26:19] The goal of you having a relationship with an SEO firm is that they be able to market your business, but at the end of the day, your business is what is being offered to the marketplace. So that means people in the marketplace need to have a lot of access to what your business has to offer them in order to make the right decision. And some of that is about landing on the right content in the right way at the right time, right, depending on how urgent your service is.
Allison Williams: [00:26:47] But for many people, the service is even though necessary, not one that people are personally ready to undertake. At a given point in time, they may elect to delay or sit on their rights or not pursue an option. They may be embroiled in a legal dispute and ultimately pacify it, put it on hold, mediate it, whatever the case may be before you become involved and every opportunity that you create to get people aware of you and interested in working with you before they pull the trigger, is that much more likely to increase the, the likelihood that they are going to become your client?
Allison Williams: [00:27:26] So that's a little bit about search engine optimization. As I said before, I'm obviously not an expert at this. I don't, I'm not a digital marketer and I don't play one on TV. I have a great digital marketing company that I use for my law firm, and I'm very happy with what I have learned over the course of time through working with them and even working with some of the predecessors. But the thing that has always been important for me to convey to those who listen to this podcast is that it's important that we be armed with information so that when we are making a decision, we can always go in and make a fast decision, right?
Allison Williams: [00:28:02] Making a fast decision doesn't mean being whimsical or improvident or casual in the way we make decisions. It means getting us through and to a decision as soon as possible so that we can get to the outcome that we desire. The sooner that we start working toward our goals, the more urgency, and energy that we put toward the objective that we have ahead of us, the more likely we are to get there and to not peter out before we do.
Allison Williams: [00:28:31] All right, everyone, you've been listening to Allison Williams. You're a Law Firm Mentor here at the Law Firm Mentor organization. You've been listening to The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, and I'll see you on our next episode.
Allison Williams: [00:28:49] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today's show and take advantage of the resources mentioned. Check out our show notes. And if you enjoy today's episode, take a moment to follow the podcast wherever you get your podcast and leave us a rating and review. This helps us to reach even more law firm owners from around the country who want to crush chaos in business and make more money. I'm Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor everyone. Have a great day.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest-growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm by 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest-growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining, and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications, and money management in law firms.