WARNING about SEO Services!
Unless you have a firm grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of Search Engine Optimization…
…the following information could save you time, effort, and a TON of money in the promotion of your Small-Firm Law Practice or Legal Services Business.
Apart from some basic tips (provided below), I do not recommend SEO as a starting strategy for clients.
Small business owners NEED accountable marketing methods that can quickly establish return-on-investment. SEO is a long-term strategy and it’s difficult to easily calculate return on the effort and expense required to make it work.
Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC) is the better way to get started attracting visitors to your website from Google and other search engines.
Paid advertising is:
- MORE VISIBLE
- MORE ACCOUNTABLE FOR RETURN-ON-INVESTMENT
- GREAT FOR TESTING SEO STRATEGY
Don’t get me wrong: SEO is an excellent and necessary strategy. But if you’re looking for help to promote your website, PPC should be your First Priority.
On this page I explain why, and provide some basic SEO tips that you can perform yourself.
What is SEO and Why is it Controversial?
SEO is the process of optimizing both the content and technical “metadata” of your website so it is indexed more favourably by search engines. The goal is to rank higher in search results for keywords related to your business.
The average person experiences “search fatigue” after looking through only a few pages of results. If your site doesn’t rank high enough to get on those pages, the person may give up or find a competitor before they find you. Overall traffic to your website also suffers.
SEO is difficult because indexing algorithms are closely-guarded secrets – no one outside of the search engine companies knows the whole truth about what works best. Google et al provide best practice guidelines and drop occasional hints, but no hard instructions are available. SEO experts continually experiment and develop theories for what will work, but in the end a lot of this practice is guesswork.
It’s generally accepted that one way to rank well is to create original, informative, relevant content on your website. Also, the more links you can get to this content from other (legitimate) websites, the better.
SEO is NOT “Free Traffic”!
Budget-conscious business owners avoid considering paid online advertising because of a misconception that SEO website traffic is “free”.
It’s true that once your site ranks well, you can attract significant visitors without additional cost.
But getting to that point requires a LOT of time and effort to create detailed, original content, build links to it, and then continuously repeat this process. You must take into account these significant costs to your business.
It also takes time for your efforts to have any effect, with no way to predict where you’ll end up. Consider also that everyone else with a website is making the same effort. And the significant head-start advantage enjoyed by the sites that already rank highest.
Then, if you don’t have the expertise, skills, or time to do this work yourself, you will have to hire someone. Which creates additional problems…
Research Your SEO Service Provider
If you run a business website, you will commonly receive offers for SEO services.
Beware of inexperienced or shady marketing consultants. They can make big promises and charge big fees, then walk away with vague excuses when you don’t see big results. (Or, they encourage you to keep at it “Just another month…”)
Even worse, outdated strategies or methods to game the system can penalize your rankings or even get you blacklisted from search engines altogether. Don’t be fooled by promises to get you on Page 1 with tricks that “Google can’t detect!” Even if methods like this did work, one simple change to the indexing algorithm and you could find yourself on the wrong end of a Google slap. An example are Google’s well-known “Panda” and “Penguin” updates, which have often caused huge changes to search results.
Protect Yourself – Educate Yourself! Take the time to ask your service provider exactly what they do to improve your rankings. They must be able to explain their process in plain English, with goals based on more than “vanity metrics”. Big numbers of “hits”, “likes”, and “shares” are great, but they don’t put clients on your roster or money in your bank account.
PPC is the Better Option to Start
As long as you understand the costs involved, SEO is definitely a strategy that you should implement. Great website content and strong links do attract visitors without extra cost.
BUT if you’re just getting started with Online Marketing, or if you only have the budget for ONE method, paid advertising offers significant benefits over SEO.
PPC is FASTER
You can set up ads on Google, for the exact keywords your potential clients are using, and begin appearing on Page 1 of search results immediately.
Ads also don’t require large amounts of website content, which is especially good if you’re just starting out. A single lead generation landing page can be very effective at promoting your business and encouraging phone calls.
PPC is MORE VISIBLE
Google Ads appear above the “organic” search results and are the first items viewed on the page. Recent changes to ad presentation have removed the “yellow box” effect and made them appear much more like regular listings. People in need of legal services DO click on ads!
Consider also that as mobile devices become more popular, the importance of having your listing as high as possible on Page 1 increases. Mobile users don’t scroll through search pages the way they do on desktop computers.
Another benefit is direct control over your message. You can’t control which of your web pages will show up in the organic results, so your listings will tend to be more general. Ads let you present a specific message for a specific audience and attract visitors more successfully.
PPC is COST-EFFECTIVE
Most areas of law practice can attract significant website traffic with a budget of $30 or less per day. You can easily scale this number up or down to modify your results, and good optimization practices can stretch your budget further.
That said, lawyers are understandably afraid of the high “per-click” costs of some legal keywords. For example, in some markets, a term like “personal injury lawyer” can require bids of $50 per-click or more.
But “Cost-per-Click” is misleading by itself. You must factor it against the other elements of your marketing campaign and your sales process. If you successfully convert many visitors to your website into clients, and those clients provide significant value to your practice, then the cost of your clicks is less relevant.
“Cost-per-Acquisition” is the better measurement. As long as you’re signing clients at a value that’s less than the overall cost of acquiring them, your campaign is profitable, no matter how high the “Cost-per-Click”.
PPC is MORE ACCOUNTABLE FOR RETURN-ON-INVESTMENT
With PPC, all advertising costs are tracked to the penny, and your results are directly linked to the specific keywords that generated the traffic. Within days or weeks, you can learn which search terms are profitable (scale them up) or not (eliminate them). Compare this with SEO where detailed results for keywords may not be trackable at all, and certainly not as quickly.
PPC is GREAT FOR TESTING SEO STRATEGY
Certain keywords may appear to be popular, but may not work in your market or for your specific audience. Ads can test if keywords are profitable before you sink time, effort and money into optimizing content for them.
Do-It-Yourself SEO Tips
PPC should be your first priority online marketing strategy, but that doesn’t mean you have to let SEO slide. There are number of simple things you can do to improve your SEO now, without hiring a service provider.
- Use keyword analysis tools to build a list of potential search keywords for your business. Examples: Google Trends, Google AdWords Keyword Planner, 3rd-party tools (e.g. KeywordSpy)
- Develop a blogging habit. Even a short post once a month or more on topics of popular interest can get you started indexed. Bonus: This establishes your expertise and builds trust with potential clients.
- Get involved on Social Media. Links to content on your website may or may not rank, but social media profiles definitely do. And these platforms are increasingly being used as de facto search engines where you may be more easily found.
- If your website is based on WordPress, install the Yoast SEO plugin. It automatically handles most of the basic technical aspects of SEO, and provides tips on creating better content. Similar plugins are available for other content management platforms.
Learn More about PPC and Google Advertising
Visit my Google Services page for more information about getting started with paid search advertising.