Open up your internet browser and go to Google. Type in a couple of words that describe your firm’s practice areas and click search. Ignore the sponsored ads at the top of the page that firms pay for you to see and start scrolling through the results of the search. Keep searching until you find where your firm naturally appears on the search results. How many pages at the bottom of the Google search do you have to flip through before you find your firm?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of maximizing online content to organically (and not through sponsored ads) achieve higher listings on search engine platforms. Clearly, your firm’s organic appearance at the top of a search will increase the likelihood of a potential client contacting your firm for a consultation. If you disagree, think about the last time you used a company that you found more than one page deep into a Google search. The same is true for the potential clients searching for your firm.
To be successful in achieving higher SEO rankings, firms must understand popular keywords and key phrases, create quality content centered on those words, link the content to websites and social media platforms, measure results, and continuously improve throughout the process to obtain higher search rankings.1
Finding Popular Key Phrases
Keywords are single words that are used to find items on a search engine. For instance, searching the word “bankruptcy” in Google will yield a featured snippet2 from Debt.org, bankruptcy resources from United States courts, and definitions from Wikipedia and Investopedia. The collective resources appear at the top of Google’s search engine not because those groups have paid for higher search listings or ads (like the law firm ads you see at the top of a keyword search) but because the resources on the higher-ranked websites contain popular keywords that are frequently viewed.
Christopher C. Shattuck, Univ. of La Verne College of Law 2009, M.B.A. U.W.-Oshkosh 2015, is manager of Practice411™, the State Bar’s law practice assistance program. If you have questions about the business aspects of your practice, call (800) 957-4670 or email.
Spencer X. Smith is the founder of AmpliPhi Digital Marketing & Social Media Technologies and an instructor at the University of Wisconsin and Rutgers University in their mini-MBA programs. He formerly was a vice president of sales for two Fortune 100 companies. He has been called a “Social Media Expert” by Forbes. (608) 571-4944
A bankruptcy firm looking to drive traffic to its website should have resources centered on the keyword “bankruptcy.” The firm would also want to have key phrases (two or more keywords), such as “bankruptcy attorney” or “bankruptcy attorney [name of city where the firm is located].” To do this, the firm would need to know what other keywords or key phrases the public is searching.
It is very easy and free to find popular key phrases that competitors use to drive SEO traffic to their websites. Simply go to Google Keyword Planner and log in with a Google account (or create a free account).3 Click the Discover New Keywords option and then click Start With a Website. Type in the name of a competitor’s domain to do a search.
The search results will yield the keyword ideas, which can be sorted by relevance, average monthly searches, competition, ad impression share, and the range for the bids appearing at the top of the page. Creating an ad plan will reveal additional insights. Completing this process is crucial to understanding both the internet traffic that is being driven to the websites of competitors and the key phrases that should be included in an SEO campaign.
Creating Quality Content
Colonizing a website with resources that contain thousands of keywords will not help a firm achieve higher SEO rankings. Search engine algorithms actively look out for websites that try to artificially obtain higher SEO rankings. To achieve higher search rankings, you must create quality content.
When creating quality content, keep in mind some basic principles. The content should contain popular keywords that naturally appear in the article, as with the bankruptcy snippet discussed above. Consider whether other websites would link content from their website to information or resources on your website (otherwise known as backlinks) or if other people would share the information on social media pages. Also, try to follow typical best practices for writing: a catchy title, well-structured paragraphs, interesting content that will keep readers’ attention, and length of approximately 1,500 words.
Backlinks help bolster the organic traffic that is driven to a website. For instance, a quality article on bankruptcy may be linked to thousands of websites. When the search engine algorithms search for quality content and see a website resource that has been linked on several thousand other website pages and receives significant internet traffic, that content will be placed higher than other content that does not receive as many backlinks or internet traffic.
Linked tweets, likes, views, and shares (known as impressions) of quality content from your website on social media platforms increase your firm’s exposure to a wider audience. As impressions increase, so will your firm’s brand recognition and goodwill. You see this quite frequently when people share products that helped improve their lives. Simply put, glowing reviews or positive perspectives from clients or potential clients will help produce more internet traffic and higher SEO rankings than will paid ads.
Another vital aspect of creating quality content is having a content-messaging plan. Law firms that have seasonal clients, such as snowmobilers or motorcyclists, will want to time the content of their quality articles around those seasons. Nonseasonal practice areas can schedule content around historical data regarding popular keyword searches. Whatever the case, firms should start each year with a content-messaging plan.
Ready to Put Your Marketing Dollars to Work?
Are you stuck in the SEO rankings process and need guidance on how to get out? Attend the Practice411™ Lawyer Marketing and Networking Expo on Jan. 13, 2021. Spencer X. Smith is the keynote speaker discussing DIY websites, social media, and SEO for lawyers. You’ll learn tips on how to:
- Build a website
- Create effective marketing content
- Use advanced SEO approaches
- Integrate social media marketing and advertising strategies
- And much more
Registration for this online event is $49 for State Bar of Wisconsin members ($69 for nonmembers). There are dedicated networking and live Q&A sessions, a virtual vendor hall to talk with exhibitors, and prize giveaways. Register or learn more at wisbar.org/marketingexpo.
Additional information regarding other speakers, networking opportunities, and registration information can be found at wisbar.org/marketingexpo.
Measuring results requires accurate data points and analysis. Fortunately, the Google Keyword Planner can be used to quickly determine the keywords or key phrases that are driving traffic to your website. You’ll want to look closely at your content strategy to ensure that your traffic is being driven by the key phrases you forecasted. If you are receiving significant traffic from other key phrases on your website, you should consider adding more content focused on those popular key phrases.
Tracking referrals from higher SEO rankings or web resources will help determine the return on investment (ROI) from marketing activities. ROI is important, because a lawyer who is spending time creating website resources will have less time to spend on billable hours. Accounting for the value of referrals received from higher SEO ranking or web resources is necessary to determine the amount of time you should allocate to creating resources. Even if a lawyer has excess time to work on SEO content, the website work represents a bundle of time that could be invested elsewhere.
Increased goodwill built on helpful resources from a greater SEO presence is an unmeasurable benefit. Other lawyers, clients, or referral sources might make a connection to a resource on a website and forget about the specific content but remember that the lawyer with the resource was a good person to contact to find out more information. And sometimes, people who review resources and then contact law firms for consultations forget how they heard about the law firm. In any event, creating quality content and helpful resources will help drive additional traffic and goodwill to a firm.
When first starting your quest for higher SEO rankings, it is easy to get discouraged. Remember that you are competing against firms that have been successfully competing in the SEO rankings process for years. Some firms even have dedicated staff and marketing personnel who are responsible for the firm’s messaging. Obtaining higher SEO rankings takes time, patience, and dedication.
Be sure to structure content around the information needs of potential clients. Typically, consumers are looking for answers to their questions and might not use the same terminology or shorthand as lawyers.4 In the beginning, a good strategy is to have a friend or family member with a nonlegal background read an article and explain in their own words the article’s meaning. If they don’t grasp the concepts, then you should rewrite the content to better reach the audience of potential clients.
The process of continuous improvement requires that you regularly examine the process outlined above and determine whether additional efficiencies can be adopted. If your website is only generating minimal traffic, look to see how many quality resources you’ve developed or that have been shared on social media. If you have established a significant content library but many people on the internet are not viewing your resources, consider modifying your content to reach those users. Perhaps the content is too complicated, does not grab your audience’s attention, or is not helpful to resolving specific issues.
The process of achieving higher SEO rankings takes time and patience, especially in the early stages. Developing quality content based on popular keywords and key phrases will help drive additional traffic to a website and increase SEO rankings. Measuring the results of the interactions and continually improving content are vital to obtaining higher rankings. Successful firms will also experience an increase in goodwill and referrals. If you want to catch up to your competition, get started now.
Cite to 93. Wis. Law. 53-55 (December 2020).
Meet Our Contributors
How did you find your way to your current position?
In 2017, I was in private practice and managing a department in a creditors’ rights firm in Milwaukee. I had recently completed my MBA and was searching for a position that would allow me to use my combined business and law degrees, along with my experience, to make a meaningful impact in the legal profession. Upon discovering the job opening seeking a law practice assistance manager for the State Bar of Wisconsin, I immediately applied. I was fortunate to receive an offer and have been working for the State Bar of Wisconsin since November 2017.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to provide confidential consultations to law firms, speak at continuing legal education programs, publish articles, and expand partnerships with organizations such as the Wisconsin Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators and local bar associations. If you have any practice management questions, feel free to call Practice411™ at (800) 957-4670 for a confidential consultation.
Christopher C. Shattuck, State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison.
What is one of the biggest challenges you deal with in your position?
My biggest challenge is both researching and learning what’s new in digital marketing and social media marketing. One of the most important jobs we have as consultants is assisting our clients with understanding what not to do. Said another way, what are we putting on our “not-doing” list to supplement with our to-do list? So many platforms and technologies in our space are new and novel, and it’s our job to help reinforce consistency.
There’s an old adage in business development that I learned after thousands of sales meetings – things work so well, you stop doing them. Staying focused with marketing and business development is key, and my team and I need to know what’s possible, and if appropriate, what should be implemented.
Spencer X. Smith, AmpliPhi Digital Marketing & Social Media Technologies, Madison.
Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email email@example.com. Check out our writing and submission guidelines.
1 See Corey Frankosky, SEO Tutorial for Beginners 2020 (Aug 17. 2020).
2 Google’s featured snippet works by providing a preview of the article that its search algorithms determine will be of use to you in your search. The feature snippet will display a link, title, and URL of the page.
3 See Frankosky, supra note 1; Google Keyword Planner.
4 AmpliPhi, SEO Case Study: Florida Law Firm Articles (Sept. 30, 2020).