This primary focus of my BLOG is on law firm web design.   However, a beautiful website design that converts is wasted if potential clients can’t find you.  Today attorneys are being constantly barraged by sales people selling SEO services.  If you are considering SEO its important to do your due-diligence:

1)   Check Rankings:

An SEO company should be held accountable to produce excellent rankings in competitive markets.  Before hiring an SEO company you should try and verify that ability.

  • A Numbers Game:  Most SEO companies that have been around for awhile will have a few “showcase” clients that rank very well in some competitive metros.   it makes sense then that a salesperson will leverage that success in trying to sell new prospects.  Consider Cleveland, a very competitive market, where a prominent legal SEO company has a client ranking high in the maps for a number of competitive terms.  This is great, but when you consider that same company has 40 other sites that are optimized for personal injury in Cleveland, you soon realize that the ranking client is the exception, not the rule.   Therefore when you are selecting an SEO company you need to consider the odds and make sure you are going with a company that gets consistently great rankings for all of their clients.
  • Get Recent Examples:  Since the various Penguin update, it is now harder than ever to rank in Google.   Therefore, in your due diligence it is critical to have an SEO company show you examples of sites released post penguin (Within the last two years) in competitive markets.  If an SEO company is truly any good they will have been able to achieve ranking progress with newer websites..  This is important because there are times where an older site is ranking through no fault of the current SEO company or a website is not ranking because of penalties incurred by a previous SEO company.    Evaluating new sites is a great way to remove a lot of the variables.
  • Check rankings of internal pages:  When you are doing you due diligence, you should check the internal page rankings.   A properly optimized site should rank for scores of important keywords, not just a handful of vanity searches.
  • Don’t rely on a portfolio to gauge rankings.    Some design/SEO firms will showcase designs on a portfolio page on their website.   I have spoken to a number of attorneys who conducted a ranking analysis based on the law firm websites in a given design portfolio.  The problem with this approach is that not all sites in a design portfolio are doing ongoing SEO and therefore would not expect to rank for competitive searches.   I know with our company, there are many attorneys who come to us for design only services.   The other problem is that some website portfolios only highlight top performing SEO clients.   I am aware of one competitor who highlights just one law firm client on their homepage. This is misleading in that this one client’s great performance is a massive outlier compared to all of their other clients.

2)  Avoid Task Driven SEO programs:

Before Penguin struck most SEO companies offered link packages, in which a client would expect to get a certain amount of links built to their site every month.  For many SEO companies this became a metric to judge an SEO consultant’s activity.  This started a cottage industry in places like India where low quality directories were mass produced with the sole purpose of manipulating Google and satisfying the demand for ever more links.  This all changed when Penguin struck.   My company never did that type of linking, and we lost quite a few deals because we weren’t able to commit to a set number of links.  Today we are seeing the same thing with Blogging and social media.  Blogging, like linking, is an easily outsourced activity so it is being offered as part of many SEO packages.      This type of unauthentic, mass-produced blogging by non-attorneys is the new easy button for SEO companies.   Like low quality links, Google is not going to give your site preference because of low quality BLOGs.   When an SEO company offers you a monthly deliverable (x amount of links, x amount of Blogs, x amount of social media mentions) you should run.   In fact I would avoid any long term SEO contract at all.  A month to month SEO program gives you the ability to evaluate progress and performance (the only metric that should matter) and hold your SEO company accountable every month.

3)  Clients Vs SEO consultants:

This is an important metric.  If you are doing SEO the right way, you are building great content and then doing public outreach to make sure other webmasters are aware of that content.   This requires creativity, intelligence and a lot of man hours.   I visited an SEO firm in Phoenix.   They had just three SEO consultants, 15 salespeople and hundreds of clients.    When you do your analysis, find out how many SEO consultants a company employs vs the number of SEO clients.  This is critical because it speaks the amount of time they will be able to spend on your site.

4) Be wary of a link network:

Some of the larger legal SEO companies have developed a large network of authoritative legal websites.  They then use these sites to link back to their website clients.   For years this gave some companies an unfair advantage, since just by virtue of being linked to company X, your site would have a better chance of ranking.   This made sense for larger legal SEO companies since they had to scale SEO across thousands of legal websites.  The problem is that this type of topology is against Google’s guidelines and as the Google algorithm gets more sophisticated, the more likely these networks will stop working and may even hurt you.  The other downside of relying on a link network, is what happens when you leave that company.     Anytime you stop doing SEO your site will likely drop in the rankings over time, however, if most of your link authority was manufactured by being linked to a select site(s), the drop will be much more dramatic when you leave.   If on the other hand you are doing SEO the right way, building great content that people actually want to link too and then doing public outreach to make webmasters aware of that content, the links are likely not going away just because you left the SEO company.

5) How to Deal with Penguin Penalties:

With so many legal websites affected by Penguin, there is a very good chance you may have some bad links in your profile.   Even if your site has not been affected,  it does not mean it wont be affected in the future.   At the very least a prospective SEO company should do an analysis on your link profile and determine the best course of action.   The prospective SEO company should also provide evidence of successfully remediating a client that was affected by Penguin.   If you are not sure if you were affected by Penguin, you can compare your traffic report to the 5 major Penguin updates listed here.  If you saw a sharp drop in traffic or rankings on those dates you were likely affected.