You might want to stop reading this right now because the conclusion of this post is (at least to me) forehead-smackingly self evident:
More law firm website traffic generates more law firm business.
I frankly wouldn’t even bother to write this post; other than a testy exchange last month between myself and LexBlog founder, Kevin O’Keefe debating if lawyers should focus on traffic when evaluating the efficacy of their marketing efforts. In his post entitled Law Firm Publishers Screwing Up by Chasing Traffic, Kevin writes:
When publishing, you don’t have to follow all the other law firms off the traffic cliff.
I wouldn’t look at traffic and scaling up as measures of success.
As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, I couldn’t disagree more – especially for firms interested in generating business. Ever since I ran marketing at Avvo – I’ve used traffic as a measure of success – and that holds true with my law firm clients today. Last year, the study we conducted for the ABA showed a very high correlation between increased traffic and increased inquiries to law firms.
So now we have a great visual demonstrating the point. One of my Account Executives shared the graph below on our internal #humblebrag Slack channel. And the reason I love this graph is that we’ve had a drastic increase in traffic and a corresponding exceptional increase in inbound inquiries. The lines essentially move together. Note that the graph for this specific client doesn’t look at just phone calls (as our ABA study did), but also includes both form fills and chat.
So, if you’ve ever wondered if you should consider traffic an important goal in evaluating the efficacy of your marketing efforts? This picture is worth a thousand words (or prospects):
So should you follow those other law firms off the traffic cliff? Only if you don’t want them earning the business that used to be yours.
I took the time to review the ABA’s Top 100 Blawgs Blogs for 2016…. and must commend the selection team on pulling together a great list. My personal reflection is that there was a heavy focus on finding sites with interesting, well written timely and thoughtful content — exactly the stuff that can make a blog successful.
In doing so, I found a few very interesting patterns.
Less Than Half of the Blogs Were from Law Firms
By my rough count, less than half of the blogs cited were from actual law firms – leading me to believe there is still a lot of room for (extremely high quality) content development coming out of law firms. Naturally, there were a lot of law professors and news writers with a legal bent as well as advocacy/reform type content, like Prison Law Blog. (Which incidentally is written by a currently incarcerated, Christopher Zoukis, who plans on going to law school upon his release – inspirational story.)
BigLaw Dominates the List
Of the blogs that represented law firms – roughly two out of three were from large firms…. and down at the bottom end of the size market, just 4 solos made the list. Perhaps this is a reflection of the marketing/PR departments lobbying for list inclusion, but there’s got to be more room for the little guys!
Some Law Firms Don’t Own Their Blog
One of the most surprising findings was that two of the domains were not registered to the law firm, but to their agency instead. Historically, FindLaw has been notorious for this practice – in which the firm doesn’t own the asset they are paying for. If the domain isn’t registered to your firm, you don’t control that domain and your agency holds all of the cards. Put another way: you rent your site; you don’t own it. Nervous? I wrote a post on How to Use Who.is to See if You Own Your Domain; you can see from the WhoIs listings below that the blogs for Constangy Brooks Smith and Prophete and Franczek Radelet are registered to their agency, LexBlog instead of the firm.
80% of Blogs are OFF Primary Domain
Of the law firm blogs – 4 out of 5 of them live on standalone domains. This runs against foundational SEO theory – in which the consolidation of a blog’s natural linkbuilding prowess helps the firm rank in both local and organic search. I suspect much of this is due to the internal politics of getting a subject specific blog launched amidst a wide reaching BigLaw environment. Gyi Tsakalakis has argued that highly technical, subject specific, stand-alone blogs are very appropriate for law firms attracting referrals from b-to-b lawyers seeking specialists, instead of consumer-facing practices like car accidents or divorce. BUT…. from a marketing perspective when SEO is concerned, there is widespread consensus that blogs belong on a firm’s primary domain.
I can’t tell if the parrot on the ball is dancing or in love. But Google thinks that Rick’s George’s legal technology blog is about parrots and tennis balls. We’ll come back to this later….
I’ve been reading LexBlog founder, Kevin O’Keefe’s anti-SEO commentary for years now and suffice to say, he and I sit on opposite ends of the spectrum. For the most part, I’ve bit my tongue; but thought it is time to write a measured counterpoint to LexBlog’s anti-SEO stance. I’ve outlined the fundamentals of our disagreement so you make up your own minds. But first, let me give away the punchline as to why I believe LexBlog has consistently pushed an anti-SEO agenda:
LexBlog’s product – stand-alone blogs – runs counter to widely accepted SEO theory, to such a strong extent that if you believe the search is powerful in generating clients for law firms, you’d never remotely consider a stand-alone blog.
Here’s a smattering of LexBlog posts on the dangers of SEO:
Top 10 Signs your SEO company is a quack.
SEO shenanigans pose a danger to law blogs
Do Law firms Needlessly Worry About SEO?
SEO Ain’t Cheap
Is your Law firm SEO company doing more harm on Google than good?
Good law blog content trumps SEO
5 Myths about SEO
Blogging for SEO or meaning?
Law blogs are solely for SEO and law firm rankings?
Right before Christmas, I unintentionally ended up in a snarky exchange with Kevin in the comments on yet another anti-SEO post called: You Don’t Need to Game Google. The genesis of the interaction, was my pointing out that the results he was claiming (top google rankings without worrying about SEO) just didn’t pan out in the actual search results. Kevin cited a post from aforementioned attorney Rick Georges who claimed that he ranks at the top of Google for the term “legal technology” without requiring SEO to do so. A tempting thought – especially if you are a law firm dropping 4, 5 or 6 figures on search agencies like mine.
However, a little digging showed Kevin’s example to be 100% inaccurate. You’ll note below a quick review of the SERP results for “legal technology” are entirely devoid of Rick’s presence – I scrolled through 8 pages and never encountered his blog. Try it out for yourself and see. So much for ignoring SEO right?
And this isn’t the first time Kevin has made unsubstantiated claims about SEO success without the need for engaging in SEO fundamentals.
The blogging lawyers I mentioned above do not spend one cent on SEO. Yet they rank above most all of the lawyers who do.
This refrain – “ignore SEO and you’ll outrank those who pay for it” – is a dangerously expensive misrepresentation to broadcast to the legal industry. What follows is the explanation of my opinion of why Kevin tenaciously sticks to his anti-SEO message.
The assessment is very simple: SEO is a threat to stand-alone blogs and remember, LexBlog sells blogs as a standalone product. When you are a hammer everything is the world is a nail. Make up your own mind, but if you are considering a standalone blog – critically consider these four talking points from the Lexblog sales pitch before overlooking the importance of SEO.
“Blogs Belong on Their Own Domain”
It’s common sense that a blog is an independent publication.
In my opinion, LexBlog continues to badmouth SEO simply because their primary product – standalone blogs – runs afoul of foundational SEO theory. The widely accepted theory, that in almost every case, you should consolidate authority (links) to create a single, strong powerful domain. Mathematically (and grossly oversimplified) – 20 links to one domain are more than twice as effective than 10 links to two. And that domain should be the law firm’s website that is listed in directories and cited by local media sources; not a social media driven blog. Put differently, marketing two websites is more than twice as expensive as marketing one.
And Kevin understands this entirely:
Blogs by their nature are link magnets. And links from relevant blogs/websites are the holy grail of SEO.
In hypercompetitive markets like legal, links are the differentiator in both organic and local search. Linkbuilding is the tough, expensive, uncertain practice that, as Kevin notes, drives SEO success. And SEO success leads to traffic and in turn, more business. Due to their more causal and timely nature, blogs can be extremely effective in generating links. Segmenting blog content onto a stand-alone domain guts a site’s linkbuilding potential. We saw one beautiful example of this: after watching traffic dry up to their stand-alone niche blog, one client landed a $1.5 million check simply by migrating their good content from their impotent blog, onto the firm’s primary domain. The traffic returned, as did the phone calls, and then the client. More: How Our ex-Client Made $1,500,000 by Firing Us.
Kevin understands that blogs are link magnets and that links are foundational to good SEO. This is the reason Kevin’s own blog lives on LexBlog.com, instead of as a stand-alone publication:
“Traffic Doesn’t Matter”
The goal is not to draw traffic and attention.
There’s a full LexBlog post on this: “Traffic is not the measure of a law blog’s influence” and I couldn’t disagree with this statement any more. SEO generates traffic and website traffic – especially traffic from within your geographic market – generates inbound inquiries at a rate of about 3.3 calls per 100 sessions (4.5 for PI lawyers). So if the goal for your firm is new business, a reasonable objective of your website is traffic. It’s a very direct and indisputable correlation. Saying traffic doesn’t matter is like having your retirement planner telling you the size of your 401(k) is immaterial.
“SEO Doesn’t Build Relationships”
I don’t know about Rick, but there is a world of lawyers who get their work by word of mouth and relationships, with the Internet just enhancing and accelerating this.
Its nice to build relationships – we all like to do so. But, building relationships with new prospects requires attracting new prospects with which to build relationships. There’s simply no easier, more scaleable way for the Internet to enhance and accelerate your relationship building than SEO initiating new relationships with prospects who are searching for what you offer, but don’t know who you are.
And those SEO sparked relationships frequently turn into clients.
“Content is King”
Kevin is right that content is king.
The legal marketing industry has been preaching the garbage about content is king for years now. Let’s face it – there’s not a paucity of content on the web about legal issues. Today’s question is, which content surfaces, not does it exist? The focus on content – more content – more pages – more blogs – has been used by lazy agencies for years to shift the responsibility for the agency’s marketing failure to the feet of their clients. “You’d finally get a client if you blogged twice a week instead of twice a month.” So law firms have dutifully hired hoards of underemployed English majors and vomited out content…. and nothing has happened. The agency’s answer…. keep writing. Think I’m overstating the case here? try looking for a “lesbian car accident lawyer in atlanta”:
There’s a wealth of individual pages, gay specific layer directories, as well as a gay friendly result for directory behemoth Lawyers.com. Think your little Atlanta PI firm can compete by simply launching a lesbian car accident blog into this mountain of content without considering SEO? Think again. You need SEO to compete. (Note – if you scroll far enough you will find a blog in the search results for lesbian car accident lawyer in Atlanta – but this content lives on the law firm’s primary domain – not as a standalone blog – which incidentally helps drive traffic to the entire site.)
Mockingbird has taken the anti-content perspective so far as to deliberately prune content from (many of our clients’ sites – and we’ve seen an increase in traffic and business for our clients. (See – there’s that pesky correlation between website traffic and new business again). Here’s the analysis I posted to Search Engine Land: More Content, Less Traffic Part I.
More content alone isn’t going to build your business; this is simply an inconvenient truth that most legal marketers would have you believe because it conveniently absolves them of accountability.
Why Rick’s Blog Doesn’t Perform to its Potential
Back to the parrot and the tennis ball….A quick review of Rick’s site showed a litany of technical SEO failures – no H1s, thousands of erroneous indexed pages (including our friend the parrot) etc. so I wasn’t surprised in my findings. Further, Ricks’ perceived success was most likely due to personalized results – he saw his own Google Plus page… on the third page of results. A classic false positive. In the parrot example – Rick’s dated blog has an entire page with nothing on it but the amorous parrot – and a stupid computer has no way of knowing that this parrot page is more or less important and relevant than the legal technology pages on the site.
The technical infrastructure behind Rick’s site is horrendously dated. There are numerous Google indexed “pages” with similar imagery:
And the heading for hundreds of pages is the exact same or missing altogether:
Furthermore, depending on your browser configuration – Rick’s site displays horrendously (see below) because it is running scripts from an unauthenticated sources on a site with an SSL certificate. (The SEO culprit here is a simple hardcoded link to his stylesheet that wasn’t updated to include the”s” in https, which causes it to be unauthenticated and not load.) Don’t understand the technical lexicon? You shouldn’t have to, but know that this is what you might look like when you ignore SEO:
Rick could build so many more relationships with prospective clients if the Google thought his Legal Technology Blog was about legal technology or could differentiate the content in the pages on his blog by their distinct headings or if his blog’s technology wasn’t broken. These are basic, SEO 101 errors. It makes me sad to see attorneys working so hard on the wrong things, convinced otherwise by erroneous ranking reports.
In the end, this is why SEO matters:
The SEO reality is, a well done blog will generate just as much, if not more business for the entire firm when housed on the firm’s primary domain.