The term SEO gets thrown around so much these days that it’s actually become an ambiguous term. Contrary to common perception, search engine optimization is a simple and straight-forward process. Hiring a consultant who understands that process is crucial to your firm’s future success. Knowing what to look for in an SEO consultant is, therefore, important to any law firm. Let’s talk about what to look for when deciding whether an SEO consultant has ‘da mojo that your firm needs.

I decided to write this article due to several conversations I’ve had with potential clients of our attorney website design service in recent weeks. I typically have to spend quite a bit of time explaining what SEO is and what it is not to attorneys. This confusion is understandable given the high number of sleezy, incompetent, snake-oil salesmen SEO professionals who are always cold calling law firms and offering services. These people typically promise to “get you to the first page of Google,” etc. The problem is that if one doesn’t know what to look for in a consultant/web designer then it becomes difficult to separate the good from the bad. Let’s start with what SEO is before discussing what it is not. I’ll wrap up with what to look for in professional. By then end of this article you’ll know how to ask the right questions and you’ll be able to hire this guy:

Professional developing a website plan

and you won’t have to worry about getting an SEO consultant who looks like this guy:

Used car salesman

Let’s get to it.

Attorneys need to understand that SEO translates to giving people relevant and useful information along with a good user experience

Put yourself in the role of a search engine for a moment. If you own Google then you’re entire job, besides figuring out how to not pay taxes, is to provide your users with the most relevant information for a given query. If you are providing people with irrelevant information then they are going to stop using your product. So if site “A” has a lack of useful information and site “B” has this same lack, then Google has no reason to return one site above the other. Apply this to law firm websites – most attorney sites are full of “we’ll fight for you” language but have little actual substance. This means that Google has no reason to rank any of these legal sites above the others. Now suppose your site provides information, in layperson terms, regarding what the law is on a particular topic, how an attorney can help with the situation, and why one should hire a particular attorney (namely yourself). This type of information speaks directly to the curiosities of those searching for an attorney. This, in turn, makes your site relevant to people which means it is then relevant to search engines. This is why you often hear the phrase “content is king” (although I believe that usefulness is key when it comes to attorney website and blog content). The first step in doing well with the search engines, therefore, is content.

The next step in doing well in search is to provide a good user experience. If people are frustrated in trying to use your site then they’re unlikely to use the search engine which told them to visit that site. Fortunately, providing a “good user experience” isn’t as subjective as it sounds. The search engines provide objective webmaster guidelines as to what the user experience should entail and they make it known when these standards change, which occurs quite often. Hiring a web developer/consultant who’s going to follow these standards is crucial.

I’m not going to rehash what constitutes good content and a good user experience. I’ve written several posts on the topic of content such as how lawyers can make their blogs useful with niche writing and how attorneys can make their blog content valuable. I’ve also talked quite a bit about user experience, such as when I discussed common mistakes attorneys make when using WordPress. My manifesto opinions as to what constitutes good content aren’t so much the purpose of this article as is the need to express the importance of content and user experience (which includes technical aspects, such a site speed, that the end user doesn’t necessarily see).

Matt Cutts made the point of focusing on content/user experience, in a round about way, earlier in 2014. Here’s his talk on the subject (be patient as the point is a little scattered throughout the video):

Again, SEO is about useful content and what Google considers to be a quality user experience.

Right now you’re asking “what about stuff like backlinks?” Going about SEO the right way results in quality backlinks to your site. Going about it the right way includes things such as in-depth blogging, etc. As long as you focus on content and experience then the other things you need will flow naturally from that.

Attorneys need to understand what is not SEO when they talk to a web developer

I’ll make this simple. Anything that revolves around something other than content and user experience is “black hat” SEO that will wind up getting your site dinged in an algorithm update. Think about it for a minute. Google’s goal is to return relevant information at the top of search. The goal of black hat SEO is to get a site ranking in search even though the site owner hasn’t generated that useful information. This goes against the entire purpose of the search engines and algorithm updates are simply the engines’ way of weeding out the riff raff. This means, in turn, that if you get dinged by an algorithm update then you’re the riff raff (thanks to your so-called SEO professional).

When you’re hiring a consultant it should be simple. If they can’t articulate how they’re going to help you rank in search then don’t hire them. Also, if the centerpiece of their strategy is anything other than content and user experience (as defined by Google’s guidelines and nothing else) then don’t hire them. Having that criteria will help narrow the field of applicants real fast.

Why do so many attorneys hire an SEO professional without knowing what they should be looking for? Chime in on the comment form below.