Another Indicator That Your “SEO Content” Is Awful

I’ve been railing against the conventional wisdom that more content is the magic SEO bullet for years now. In fact, for many of our clients, we’ve been proactively working on decreasing pagecount, instead of increasing it. There’s a great framework for assessing the value of investing more money on more content in a Searchengine Land article I wrote that essentially shows how to evaluate the efficacy of content in actually generating traffic. Simple stuff, but often overlooked – which is crazy given the vast investment many lawyers make in vomiting out more content at a regular clip.

There’s an even easier way to review this through a very simple report in Google Search Console. This simple report shows the number of pages in your sitemap compared to the number of pages in your sitemap that are actually indexed. In the extreme example below, less than 12% of their sitemap is actually indexed. This means while Google knows about the content, they don’t actually care and those pages will NEVER surface in search results.

Note that this could be for a variety of reasons:

  1. The sitemap is dated and/or broken and showing pages that don’t exist (this happens more frequently than you can imagine)
  2. The site has a tone of content, yet lacks the authority (backlinks) to support the volume of content.
  3. The content on the site is extremely poor and/or copied.

Assuming the sitemap is correctly configured…if the vast majority of your blog isn’t being indexed…why would one continue generating content?

How to Inadvertently Hide Your Content (And Gut Your Site) with Pop Ups

Got another call from a lawyer whose website, he thought, was underperforming. A quick review of the site shows why….

While the site is visually fine, note that all of his practice areas display as pop ups on the same URL…the individual practice area content doesn’t actually exists at his URL: http://grenierlawgroup.com/practice-areas/. (Note below – the URL for this practice area is stuck at /practice-areas/, as is all their other practice area content.

And you can see that Google can’t find any pages about specific practice areas:

I’ve seen this with attorney profile pages as well. So…when you are DIYing (and you really can) your websites…be sure that all of your content has a page (read: distinct URL) on which to reside.

Flossing and Blogging

Ahhh… new years resolutions.  Like “I’m going to blog more.”

I remember my business school friend, Josh Strauss proudly proclaiming to our MBA section that his new years resolution was to floss – and now I think of him every time I pick a stray strand of overcook beef leftover from lunch from my teeth with some waxed string.

Its early January and lawyers across the country are reinvigorated and optimistic – time to “take their firm to the next level” and “up their game” with a renewed commitment to marketing.  Which often entail promises of blogging to feed the “Content is King” beast.  (Turns out content is NOT king, but I digress.)

Blogging is a commitment – call it an annual commitment and not one to be taken lightly.  And just like that tiny roll of overpriced string in your medicine cabinet – if you stop half way through the year, things start to decay.  Nothing looks sadder and more marketing pathetic than a blog long abandoned but still posted on the homepage.

“This post from 2015…..” screams “I’ve given up and I have nothing left to say.”

Now, don’t get me wrong – blogging is super valuable.  (Especially when you do it on your own site to improve your SEO performance and not another domain, but I digress again.)  Blogging can generate links.  Can generate inbound traffic. Can establish your thought leadership. Can forge relationships. Can generate business.   These are all good things.

But.

If you are going to abandon your blog, just like Josh abandoned his flossing regimen some time around April, you are better off not getting started at all.  My guess is that those of you with the self discipline to pull out that floss once a day will do just fine blogging, but otherwise… try something else.

 

(oh – and incidentally, less I turn into a hypocrite – my new year’s resolution…. publish something every business day.)

Should law firms have a blog?

law firms with blogs
Not every law firm has a blog. In fact, most don’t.

The number of firms with blogs has been holding steady at about 26 percent. Still, the fact that only one in four law firms has a blog doesn’t stop the common misperception that it’s a marketing necessity. Like most things related to marketing, the question of whether you or your firm should have a blog has an unsatisfyingly vague answer: it depends.

The reality is, blogging can be an extremely effective tool for building a brand, differentiating your business, and driving inquiries. On the flip side, it can also be a huge time suck that detracts from other easier opportunities that would yield greater results.

A post from Above the Law on the value of lawyers having a blog makes the point nicely, stating:

“The thing about blogging, despite whatever anyone says, is that it’s work. It takes time and effort to regularly sit down in front of a blank screen and churn out 1,000 words. You have to enjoy writing or you’re not going to do it… blogging is a pie-eating contest, and the prize is more pie.”

What does that mean for you? Should your firm bother with having a blog?

Before you decide, answer the following questions.

  • Do you like writing?
  • Do you have a distinct voice or something interesting to say?
  • Will you be consistent in your efforts?
  • Is this the best use of your time?

If the answer to any of those questions is “no” then you have a pretty clear answer as to whether your firm should have a blog. As tempting as it is to follow the (perceived) norm, there’s a reason 75-percent of law firms aren’t making blogging a part of their marketing strategy. I can guarantee you it’s not because 3 out of 4 firms are too lazy to blog consistently (although some most certainly are) but rather because they’ve decided other efforts will yield better results.

You don’t need to blog to be successful

Anyone who tells you blogging is an essential part of your marketing strategy is being misleading at best and dishonest at worst. A great blog is a fantastic way to market yourself and your firm, but it’s also only one possible component of a successful marketing mix. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for being successful, and authenticity matters. If you’re not a natural writer, don’t have an interest in publishing content regularly, or have a laundry list of other items that need to be addressed, you should scrap the idea of blogging all together.

The only thing sadder than a “blog” page on your site with a list of articles that hasn’t been updated since 2015 is having an external blog that’s costing you a couple hundred dollars each month to be a “thought leader” no one knows about.

Be honest with yourself and set your firm up for success by only taking on a blog if you’re committed to making it work. You can’t dip a toe in and expect anything. You have to genuinely enjoy it, and even then, it’s hard work finding an audience. However, if time is money, think long and hard about what you’re giving up in order to write another post that gets 4 or 5 visits and 0 comments.

Back to Basics: On-Page SEO for Law Firm Websites

This blog post is specifically aimed at helping you optimize a page on your WordPress site, and even more specifically assumes you are using the Yoast SEO plugin. However, you can use these tips and tricks on pretty much any content management system.

There is no shortage of advice and articles out there about optimizing for on-page ranking factors. In this post, we’ll avoid the highly technical and look at some of the easiest, most basic wins.

Page Elements You Can (and Should) Optimize

  1. H1 tag
  2. URL
  3. Content: internal linking and images
  4. Title tag
  5. Meta description

My Not-So-Scientific Methodology

From the “Edit Post” or “Edit Page” view in WordPress, I simply work my way down from top to bottom and left to right: H1, URL, content, categories & tags (if blog post) title tag, meta description (Yoast SEO).

Optimizing Your H1 Tag

Your H1 is the title to your page and should describe the page appropriately. That is the most basic, and also most important thing to get correct. Search engines look at the title tag (we’ll get to this later) and the H1 to help them determine what the page content is going to be about.

Optimizing Your URL

Things to do: Keep it short, keep it human (avoid random strings of numbers and characters), and keep keywords to the front. Look to this post’s URL slug as an example; there are no stop words, my most important keywords “on-page-seo” are at the front, and it’s very easy to read and type as a human being.

Don’t allow WordPress to decide the URL for you or stuff it with unnecessary stop words (such as “the”) and keywords.

Optimizing Your Page Content

I could dedicate an entire blog post to this section, but in an effort to keep this post short and digestible, here is my bulleted list of the most important things to get correct.

  • Images: try and use images within the content when possible, and make sure that each one has alt text describing what that image portrays.
  • Internal linking: make sure that you are linking to relevant pages when it makes sense. For example, if you have a call to action such as “contact us for a free consultation,” that’s a great opportunity to link to your contact page. Or, if your page on personal injury describes more specific areas such as “motorcycle accidents”, that’s another great internal linking opportunity. 1-3 internal links per page is optimal.

Optimizing Your Meta Title (or Title Tag)

Your title tag is the most important piece to on-page SEO. This is your chance to tell the search engines what the page is about. Above all, you have to optimize this element.  Far too often we see our clients with uninformative title tags like “home” for their homepage, or “injury lawyers” for an important practice area page. Google usually displays somewhere around the first 65 characters and you should use all of that space. If you’re not sure where to start, here is a very safe and typical format to be used for law firms: “Practice Area | City, State | Brand Name”

By using this format, you are 1) putting your most valuable keywords first (this is important for ranking), 2) optimizing for specific location you serve, and 3) showing the searcher that you are actually a law firm. See example below of how this format would show up in search results.

Title Tag Google Results Example

Optimizing Meta Description

This is your chance to give the searcher a sneak peek at your page’s content. This is where you draw the actual click. You get roughly 160 characters to try and compel the searcher to click so use it wisely. You want to describe the page as concisely as possible; here’s the meta description I wrote for the post you’re reading right now… “This post describes how to optimize a page on your law firm’s WordPress site in under 15 minutes using the Yoast SEO plugin. Easy for anyone to learn!” Maybe not my best work, but at least it gives the reader insight into what they can expect from this post.

Wrapping Up

If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of these factors and how to capitalize on them, please feel free to reach out to me directly: dustin[at]mockingbirdmarketing.com. If you would like to learn more on your own, here are a few of my favorite additional resources on the topic:

 http://backlinko.com/on-page-seo
https://moz.com/blog/category/on-page-seo
http://neilpatel.com/blog/the-on-page-seo-cheat-sheet/

Don’t Optimize for “Child Pornography” or: Why Titles Matter

A few weeks ago we were talking to an attorney that’s made a priority to produce an abundance of highly informative video content. However, during that discussion he asked us to look at his YouTube channel to see if there were any opportunities he may have missed when uploading and marketing his videos.

Here’s the first one I saw:

Definitely Not Child Pornography
Well…now we’ve got something to talk about…

One of the things he’d specifically asked about was whether we had any input on what he should be titling his videos.

The main point of optimizing your titles is to make sure expectations are clearly defined and your article or video aligns with the search intent of your potential audience. That’s why super generic titles are usually a bad idea in the first place.

However, for something as immediately off-putting as child pornography, it’s even more important to make it 100% clear what your video is about and why it’s not actually offensive content.

A better title would be, “Criminal Charges for Possession of Child Pornography” or anything else that clearly captures what the video is going to be about and increases the likelihood it will be found by someone worried about this scenario.

Granted, this is an extreme example of when generic titles go bad, but it illustrates the importance of fine-tuning titles for any content you intend to publish.

Not only is this a scary example of YouTube search traffic you don’t want to capture, it’s also likely this video’s nonspecific title will prevent it from appearing for searches where it would be totally relevant.

In short, if you’re going to take the time to publish content online it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to think through what it’s about and title it appropriately for its desired audience. That goes triple when you’re dealing with child pornography.

Hat tip to Christopher Morales for letting us use this example.

How to Write Website Copy for Diverse Practice Areas

For sole-practitioners and firms that handle a wide variety of case types, it can be challenging to win over visitors that expect a “specialist” rather than a “jack of all trades.” We’ve seen this messaging problem tackled a few ways and with varying results.

Some of the most common solutions include:

• Immediately funneling visitors to the appropriate landing pages (good idea)
• Building each practice area page as if it’s a home page (potentially effective)
• Creating different “specialist” websites for each practice area (usually a bad idea)
• Ignoring the problem and trying to be all things to all people (not actually a solution)

Short of specializing in one niche, there’s always going to be a possibility of losing prospects to competitors claiming to be focused only on one specific type of case. However, there’s a lot you can do with your messaging to mitigate that risk and turn “shoppers” into signed clients.

This is a good example of how to quickly move prospects to the practice area they actually care about.

(Screenshot courtesy of Gershburg Law)

As I’ve written before, all your clients really care about is what you can do for them. Regardless of the case type, if they’re shopping your site, it’s to determine whether you’re able to help solve their problem. If you’re focused on providing solutions to potential clients, the diversity of your practice becomes less important.

What sort of information are clients looking for?

Research from Avvo suggests that the most valued online resources are actual cases, laws, or court decisions. Even if you handle a diverse set of cases, you can leverage this by building out each practice area section of your website with information about previous cases you’ve handled, successful past results, and articles pre-emptively addressing questions you know clients typically have when they’re looking to hire you within that area of your practice.

It’s less about being a “specialist” and more about convincing visitors that you’re capable of solving their problem. In fact, you don’t just want to be capable, you want to be the ideal solution.

What can you do to set yourself apart?

We consistently see attorney bios showing up as one of the most trafficked pages for clients. People researching lawyers care who they’ll be entrusting with their case and want to know more about that person than where they went to school. You can use this to your advantage by telling your story not just on the bio page, but across the entire site.

Despite concerns to the contrary, a diverse practice is a lot less likely to cost you potential clients than failing to provide the basic information people expect when researching attorneys. Establishing trust with potential clients becomes more difficult when you’re having to build resources and write content across a diverse set of practice areas, but as long as you’re consistently tying your writing back to your core strengths as an attorney and reiterating your ability to provide value to your clients, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

In Summary

  • Build a unifying theme across your entire website by describing what clients can expect when they hire you to represent them.
  • Make it easy for prospects to find the section of your site relevant to their specific needs.
  • Use practice area pages to build on your overarching theme and offer information and solutions within that section of your practice.
  • Showcase your knowledge, experience, past results, and solutions for previous clients.
  • Inject enough personality that prospects feel like they know what the experience is going to be like before they even contact you.

It’s a lot easier said than done, but if you do all these things, the fact that you’re handling multiple case types shouldn’t turn off even the pickiest of potential prospects.

Focus on What Your Clients Care About

How do I decide what to include on my website?
When in doubt, consult the website content flowchart.

This might be one of the most obvious blog posts out there, but given the number of sites we run across that seem to be missing this critical piece of advice, it’s worth repeating. The way to turn prospects into clients is by focusing on what the client cares about and offering a solution to their problem.

Most clients aren’t overly concerned with where you went to school, whether you’re a Lawyer of Distinction, or what your Martindale Hubbell rating is. All they care about is whether you’re going to be able to help them. What exactly does that mean though?

How should you be selling yourself to prospective clients?

According to Avvo’s white paper on How to Adapt to the New Legal Consumer, “three out of five legal consumers go online at some point to investigate and/or try to resolve their legal issue.” This shouldn’t be shocking news, but that means 60% of your potential customers are coming to your website with a specific problem in mind and a hope you can help solve it.

As a result, tailoring your messaging, blog posts, and resources to what your clients are most concerned with will pay off in the form of increased traffic and conversions.

Your focus should be positioning yourself as an expert and doing everything you can to answer the questions facing your clients. If your messaging isn’t built around how you can help your clients solve THEIR problem, you’re doing it wrong.

The more resources you can provide to potential clients the more likely they are to view you as an authority in your practice area. Proactively answering questions and addressing the issues your clients care about before they contact you is a great way to signal visitors that you’re the right person to hire for their case.

This doesn’t mean you need to build 1000s of resources to answer every possible question a prospective client might have. All it means is that if you’re not focusing on answering the four or five most common concerns facing your clients you’re missing an opportunity to start building a relationship with clients before ever speaking with them.

The same Avvo study on the “new legal consumer” also found that “37% of consumers try to resolve their situation themselves once their issue is triggered.” While some of those clients might be successful, and may never need to contact you, there’s still a significant percentage that will ultimately fill out a contact form or pick up the phone.

None of this is to suggest you stop sharing your achievements, showcasing your credentials, or even posting a few select badges on your website. All it’s suggesting is that you don’t lose sight of what’s driving your customers to contact you in the first place.

Given the limited attention spans of people visiting a website, your initial message should focus on what they’re looking for, address what they’re concerned about, and show them why there’s no need to look anywhere else.

If prospective clients landing on your website feel like you’re providing a solution instead of talking past their needs, you’ll be in a great position to convert your site’s traffic into actual revenue.

Latest Fallacy: Technical SEO is Dead

Update: Excuse the language that follows, but when alleged experts post dangerously inaccurate recommendations with consequences that can decimate a small business, it gets my hackles up.

Over the past week there have been two moronic posts circulated about the uselessness of technical SEO.  The first, by Clayburn Griffin, was surprisingly on Search Engine Land:  The role technical SEO should play: It’s makeup.  The article was dumb, misleading, misinformed and spectacularly sexist – essentially positing that the only reason agencies engage in technical best practices was to doll themselves up for a date with an apparently stupid prospective client, who will be easily wooed by complex technical jargon.

Being attractive is a nice advantage. People are more inclined to like you if you’re attractive. And makeup can make anyone look better. It can touch up blemishes and smooth out your skin. It can outline your eyes and make them stand out.

What’s an agency to do?  Most of the time, it seems like they turn to more and more technical SEO. Agencies are always on the lookout for great technical SEOs. More makeup to slather on their clients’ websites.

The article was widely pilloried across the nerd community – including a counterpost on SEL.

And yesterday, not to be outdone (and perhaps inexplicably desperate for the negative notoriety generated by Griffin), Jayson Demers posted this drivel at Entrepreneur: Why Modern SEO Requires Almost No Technical Expertise.  Included within this fetid pile of garbage:

Ignore all the technical terms, all the details of execution and all your preconceived notions for a moment and focus on this: the happier your users are when they visit your site, the higher you’re going to rank.

Modern SEO really is that simple.

So – a picture being worth a thousand words – let me demonstrate visually what happens when you totally fuck up the technology. Let’s see just how simple modern SEO is when you ignore the technology. =What follows are the results on two sites we have been called in to fix after they went through a website redesign that ignored technical fundamentals. We call this Janitorial SEO – the cleaning up of others’ messes.  And 90% of the time, those messes are created unintentionally by people who just don’t know better (sometimes called designers).  What’s more galling is idiots like Demers and Griffin (who should know better) espousing willfully and deliberately overlooking technical fundamentals.

But are they really wrong?  Do these two know something we don’t and is the future of SEO one devoid of technical hurdles? In both of the cases below, you are seeing the result of poorly implemented website redesigns that utterly scrambled the technical platform.  I haven’t seen anything more dramatic than the disaster that occurred when a law firm launched their “new and improved” website that ignored pretty basic SEO foundations. And lets not even consider the business ramifications of losing essentially 80% of their traffic overnight.

AG

The second tanking (below) is less dramatic and frankly more typical – a roughly 30% loss in organic traffic after a website redesign onto a new platform with a completely blind eye towards basic SEO technology.  In both cases, the financial implications to the firm were severe.

AG2

Still think technical SEO doesn’t matter?  Fortunately there are plenty of SEO “consultants” out there, eager to take your money and make your SEO traffic slide into the abyss.