When it comes to digital marketing, SEO for law firms is in a class of its own, yet some legal agencies still question whether they even need it to build their client roster. Search engine optimization is no longer a business luxury, it is a necessity, and this is due to the way in which consumers search for legal representation. According to Google, Internet accounts for more than 98% of methods people use to find services (print advertising, TV and word of mouth remain at the bottom of the barrel). If your law firm is ready to pull the trigger on SEO, you have three options: in-house, freelancer or agency.
Buyer Beware of the SEO Crooks
Before we delve into the pros and cons of these three, there is something all law firms need to be aware of. Because SEO, as an industry, is not regulated nor are there certifications that testify to one’s true capabilities, the digital marketing agency is full of fraudulent “fake it to make it” types, and these hacks reside in your large 500+ employee agencies all the way down to the one-man-show that does SEO out of his garage.
Large Agencies – Many of these run on a business model of high sales volume with limited contact between the agency and the client. This means their client retention is low, but onboarding through phone sales is high enough to make it profitable. Many large agencies also hire through the revolving door system–they recruit a bunch of 20 year olds who know as much about SEO as they do patent law. Because there is little client-facing care in larger agencies, they can afford to recruit minimum wage candidates, and replace them as needed. Most large agencies are all talk, rely on smoke and mirrors, and treat their clients (and sometimes their employees) like a number.
In-House SEO Candidates – These guys can either be knowledgeable and worth the investment, or clueless. Most truly skilled SEO experts don’t last long in large agencies because they can’t deal with the incompetence and politics. Many in this situation seek in-house opportunities. Then you have your novices that have a very elementary understanding of SEO, but know how to sell themselves in interviews. But even the skilled SEOs who flee bad agencies present a downside; there has been zero investment in their professional growth and little opportunity for them to excel, so they can be rusty and not current with best practices.
The One Man Show – This is the guy in his mom’s basement who is your quintessential nerd with Star Trek memorabilia everywhere. Often, these guys tend to only be good in one area of digital marketing, and usually it is web development. But even if you find one who is an SEO genius, they have no resources for things like PPC, backlinks, and other vital components that require an entire team to execute at a high level.
Boutique Mid-Size SEO Agencies
Though there is chicanery in all agency types, mid-range boutique SEO companies are generally more trustworthy as they are known for hiring true experts and offering white-glove customer care with a more client-facing approach. If you are thinking about reaching out to some mid-size SEO agencies, here are some things to consider:
Client Roster – Does the company have enterprise clients mixed with legal and medical clients, or do they have a bunch of mom and pop shops like “Bob the landscaper” or “Betty’s scrapbooking shop”? Avoid SEO agencies that work with small change businesses–it is indicative of their inability to perform at high levels needed to provide quality services to law firms or larger client-types that actually know about marketing and can recognize high-level service.
Agency Growth – Do they have multiple offices? If so, this is a good sign because it shows they are growing but staying true to the boutique model of service. What about the team? Make sure the agency is built with true experts for SEO, PPC, Inbound, Content Marketing, and Technical. SEO for law firms needs to be robust, as competition in this space is fierce. This means you need a team large enough to market your agency at a high-quality level, but not the big revolving door agency where claw firms are numbers filed alongside car washes and pizza joints in some file.
Level of Communication – It is important your law firm has direct contact with the person who is actually performing the work, and not some “account manager”. One of the areas where large agencies drop the ball is this constant back-and-forth between the account manager and the SEO guy, and the PPC guy, and the web dev guy. Time is wasted, the quality is poor, and your voice is never translated directly to the person responsible executing services. The best SEO agencies put clients in direct contact with the person who does the SEO or the PPC, and not some middle man. If you were representing a client in a malpractice suit, would you send some “go between guy” to defend their case in court? Demand the best SEO services, from the best agencies who put you in direct contact with your SEO specialist who communicates timely, and as needed.
The Agency’s Online Reputation – If you are interviewing SEO agencies, check out their website. How polished does it look? How in depth is their blog? Who are their senior people, and the specialists they hired? A simple search on LinkedIn can let you know how reputable someone is, and you can even take this a step further and look into their Facebook and Twitter to gauge what kind of knowledge they share with their peers, clients, and the businesses that engage them.
Benefits of In-House SEO
If you have truly found a qualified person to power your law firm’s SEO, there are some in-house benefits that are not found in agencies. Your firm can exert more direct control over strategies, projects, and objectives. Cross-departmental and cross-functional efforts will also offer greater ease.
In order to run successful in-house SEO, you need the following:
Project / SEO Manager – Someone who can plan, oversee and gauge SEO strategies, goals, and KPIs. This person should be fluent in Google Analytics, have experience with various SEO tracking tools, and know how to create and manage optimized content. They will need to have experience in backlinking, web development, coding, and be a wizard when it comes to SEO best practices.
Technical Manager – This is someone who can run audits on the law firm’s website, understand error codes and how to resolve them, identify toxic links, know when to use canonicals, and much more.
Content Developers – These are SEO specialists who would work under the manager to create content meant to rank according to Google’s current algorithms. This would include web page content, onsite blogs, off site blogs, and any legal assets distributed through inbound marketing campaigns.
The Downside of In-House SEO for Law Firms
Law firms tend to lack people with the necessary knowledge to hire the right team; after all, your HR is not SEU savvy. However, the biggest challenge is the lack of time it takes for them to perform tasks at a high level. Additionally, most people who know SEO are technologically illiterate, and vice versa. So hiring a robust team who are ninjas in their own area is going to take lots of your law firm’s time, resources, and money. As their employer, you would need to pay for all the SEO tools needed to track the site’s progress, which can run thousands of dollars a month. You would also be responsible for their training which includes sending them to digital marketing conventions if you want them to stay current in the field.
The Benefits of Working with SEO Agencies
When you find a Google partner SEO agency that is midsize, staffed by true experts, and boutique in nature, you will get a high-quality level of service with a great personal touch. Some of the benefits associated with SEO for law firms from agencies is you will have people managing your marketing who have zero personal biases you would otherwise find internally. Also, their knowledge will be bars above anything in-house that you can put together, as the top SEO agencies attend all the big digital marketing conventions, seminars, and even guest speak at various functions. They also have lots of contacts within the industry, which can come in handy if your law firm requires more advanced, specialty services such as growth hacking. Outsourcing an SEO agency is also more cost-efficient, and working with an agency will free up time between your IT and marketing person. A good SEO agency can check your competition, determine your keywords, create an aggressive content marketing strategy, and work with your contact person to make sure the firm’s tone and brand are presented.
Why SEO for Law Firms is Trickier than Most
SEO for law firms requires a team with experience capable of writing legal language, following guidelines set for legal purposes, and creating content that resonates with your firm’s potential clients. This is not like doing SEO for a horse-riding academy or a hotel chain. Often, people who do a little online exploring for legal representation aren’t even sure they need the service at the point they are searching. Many are looking due to the emotional “what ifs”, and any good SEO agency with experience in working with law firms will know how to capture that traffic and convert them into filled out contact forms or phone calls.
SEO guidelines are constantly evolving, and as competitive as the digital space is for law firms, an agency will be best equipped to stay on the forefront of best practices, while ensuring you are well on your way to the top of the SERPs.