I have been working in SEO professionally for over a decade. SEO is an ever-evolving field, and hardly anything that applied to SEO ten years ago is relevant today. Not much from five years ago has carried over either, but fundamental concepts like content marketing, link building, and on-site optimization are still relatively similar. Local SEO has changed completely, and other disciplines are fairly new. Such disciplines include Conversion Rate Optimization (i.e., being mindful of how well your digital assets are converting) and emerging paid campaigns.

SEOs Want You to Think They Are More Complex than They Are

SEO is arguably the most frustrating it has ever been, especially in how it applies to the legal industry. You might think SEO is frustrating because the competition has gotten smarter, but it has not. You might think SEO is frustrating because Google has attempted to monetize nearly everything, but that is not the reason either. You might think SEO is frustrating because it does not work anymore, but SEO does work as rationalized by many agencies everyday in form of discernible ROI. The reason SEO is so frustrating is that SEOs have made nearly zero headway in presenting their campaigns in a transparent, honest, and meaningful way. The black box approach is still as prevalent as it has always been, and change is long overdue.

SEOs have a habit of making their craft elusive and out of reach. Many SEOs will use jargon, including “proprietary,” “secret sauce,” or “cracked the code.” The SEOs do not bother to share what these terms or expressions mean, thus making SEO inaccessible to others. People often assume that SEO is very technical and complex, yet this is not true. Many SEOs start with absolutely no coding or programming experience, save some comprehension of HTML and CSS for web aesthetics. In fact, many SEOs could not tell you with confidence how a website even works. After speaking with countless SEOs and viewing the course requirements and syllabi for institutions teaching SEO to aspiring marketers, I can attest to the fact that SEOs start with very little technical training.

Many digital marketers will make you believe SEO is equally cerebral and intensive as some of the most difficult postgraduate programs. I know I am writing this blog in a semi-dichotomous way, as I do consider myself an SEO. I think it is fair to say that there is a difference between a traditional SEO role and my experience coding web crawlers and automated website response code programs in Python, modifying the PHP of WordPress plugins, and having learned useless SQL and other website database commands by heart.

Basic SEO Concepts to Understand

Business owners should know that SEO is not a proprietary set of complex tasks and ambiguous practices that magically boost your way to higher rankings. SEO is a series of straightforward (and often simple) best practices that require patience and attention to detail. The fundamentals of SEO never change. You always need a thorough and thoughtful content marketing plan for pages and blogs on your website. This content will be added to your website with the use of optimization. Your website will require backlinks through a link-building process, which will build your website’s authority and assist with improving your rankings in turn.

Not all of the concepts surrounding SEO are obvious or easy to understand in one paragraph. Still, you should know that all of these concepts:

  • Can be 100% transparent, from the links you acquire to the content you receive
  • Can be done systematically and predictably
  • Can be done by people without a high degree of technical knowledge

This is the very reason that people often assume that all SEO companies do the same thing. Many people receive proposals from various SEOs that seem very similar. The reason for this is that the fundamentals of SEO never change. An SEO company that says you do not need a content strategy would likely be missing the mark…by a lot. Likewise, an SEO company that says you do not need a plan for building links to your website wouldn’t be setting you up for long-term success. These are the cornerstones of SEO performing well, and any respectable company would not alter these strategies.

How to Differentiate SEOs

Once you get past the fundamentals, there are two major ways SEOs (either freelancing individuals or an agency) differ. The first difference is found in SEOs ability to execute the fundamentals and the timely/trending aspects of SEO and digital marketing. As of me writing this in October of 2021, this may be Core Web Vitals or trends in LSAs, but generally being on top of Google algorithm updates. The second difference is in the SEO’s ability to communicate why they are performing these tasks and how they intend to measure the impact and success afterward.  This is clear and ethical reporting and access to a marketing dashboard at all times. 

You should pay attention to what the SEO is telling you. If the SEO says, “We’re always working to prepare you for Google’s latest algorithm,” they may be working reactively. In addition, when an SEO tells you that something is great for your website traffic, they are probably only telling you what they know you want to hear.

Modern SEO Is Transparent

The great thing about SEO today is how transparent it really is. There are timestamps for your content via your blog feed, your sitemap, and your Content Management System’s internal posting date. You can find out what links are coming into your website via plenty of reliable tools, such as SpyFu, SEMRush, and Ahrefs. You can track changes to your website’s pages through your Content Management System as well. The days of the black box mentality should be over, but the SEO experience is still such a mystery to some people.

As a business owner, a busy lawyer, or both, it is not your job to go behind your SEO partner to make sure they are doing consistent work. You will rely on meetings, emails, and reporting from your SEO partner. They should inform you of what has been performed and what has been working. You should make sure that you and your SEO partner are on the same page when it comes to defining what counts as a success. For example, we know that we would place more weight on calls, emails, form submissions, and chat sessions with potential clients than organic traffic, rankings, social interactions, and improvements to website time on site and bounce rate. Though the latter metrics are great indicators of an SEO campaign moving in the right direction, they are by no means the ultimate measure of success.

SEOs Rely on Key Performance Indicators 

SEOs rely on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to know how far on track the campaign is before it will begin yielding quality leads or a higher volume of quality leads. SEOs also know better than to string along clients for months, if not years, with KPIs taking the place of actual leads. When KPIs are emphasized at the beginning of the campaign (3-6 months), we know we are “ramping up.” We count on these metrics to help us predict when success will occur; however, we should not look to KPIs past this point. When KPIs remain the prime focus past the beginning of the campaign, this could be a smoke and mirrors approach to misleading the law firm on what matters the most for their growth.

The now-defunct Yodle (currently, Enspire) created what I like to call “string along marketing.” Yodle would focus only on any metrics that showed the campaign in a positive light and completely omit anything that could be perceived as negative. With Yodle, you could look forward to a genuinely cherry-picked monthly status report.

Lawyers have become more empowered because they now have access to things like Google Analytics and other SEO tools. Lawyers should have access to lead reports, not just rankings and traffic. This is where an elevated approach to SEO comes in, which includes creating partnerships with vendors that go beyond “taking their word for it.”  This level of transparency is a two-way street. This simultaneously holds lawyers accountable for acknowledging qualified leads on which SEOs can accurately report.

If your firm has a horrible intake or a gap-riddled intake, you are simply going to get less business. SEOs are only as good as the leads they get, but they should at least make an effort to advise on how to convert your qualified leads and traffic with complementary technologies and vendors for after-hours, chat services, business coaching, and so on.

Other Articles on the Philosophy of Doing SEO the “Right Way”

If you have been wondering about aspects of your own marketing campaign (content, backlinks, traffic, etc.), this article can give you insight into your ongoing digital marketing.

In addition, here is an article that shares what SEOs often tell clients.

There are some common SEO sayings from this article that I still agree with, but I agree for different reasons. Take “Write for People, Not Robots” as an example. This is one of those baseless statements that people used to say more often. I am not a robot, so I do not know how to write for a robot. The point is that writing for your audience has and always will be the starting point for any content you create, and writing SEO first typically does not help your SEO. Even if it did help your SEO, it would not convert your visitors to clients.

The above article also addresses buying links. Everyone buys a link one way or another, and there is no point in believing otherwise. For every 10,000 blogs a law firm creates with the intention that it will garner backlinks on its own as a reference, there are maybe one or two that actually will do so. People and other websites naturally do not link to law firm websites as references. If they do, it is very rare. Now you know why you get so many emails from so-and-so about linking to their resource or doing a link exchange. Good links are expensive, both timewise and monetarily. Do not let them have a link that easily. Give them your PayPal account email or Venmo at least.

SEO and Digital Marketing

The information that flies around in the world of legal marketing is often unsubstantiated, sensationalized, and intuitive. Remember when COVID-19 started, and Facebook advertising was going to be a lawyer’s best friend? Turns out, that was half right: Many more people were on Facebook. It also turns out that people were finding themselves with far fewer legal issues since they were stuck inside. Even the overzealous bankruptcy attorneys were scratching their heads as to why their augmented digital marketing efforts did not pay off.

In digital marketing, there is more effort put toward understanding the form of marketing than how the form of marketing applies to the ideal audience. For example, I can explain how SEO will work:

The goal of our SEO campaign is to ensure your digital assets (aka, your website) will be positioned prominently for a slew of different search queries consumers throw in their website browsers nowadays. We will create blogs to answer questions and address high-intent long-tailed queries, pages for the strong and consistent short-tailed, all the while building authority to your website via a link building campaign to improve the aforementioned keywords showcased by your web content, and observing Google on-site best practices from both an SEO standpoint and a user experience standpoint”.

These are the goals of SEO, but SEO cannot be a catch-all for every practice area, every single firm, every demographic, and every trend.

For example, I do not always advise SEO to B2B clients because, depending on the practice area, businesses will go within their professional circles and not touch Google at all. For example, there may be a zero percent chance they would click a Google Ad for something related to Mergers and Acquisitions.

Some businesses thought more people at home on Facebook warranted more ad spend to Facebook ads towards a larger audience. What sounds good on the front end (social advertising at the height of social engagement) needs to have the support on the back end. As much as SEOs work with data and numbers and claim to understand it, data seems to be absent in so many claims about what is working and what is not.

SEO is Driven by Data

What works for one website will not always work for another. What works for a dozen websites will likely work for another. An SEO needs to be able to make informed assertions about what works in SEO and other forms of digital marketing. 

Conducting a survey with 25 to 50 respondents will have too much anomalous data to skew all of the results. Surveys with 250 to 500 respondents will make outliers easy to spot and create a more accurate picture of the insight in question.

SEO is a very data-driven form of marketing, which makes it even easier to replicate and understand its impact. Own that data like you deserve it, or at the very least, have it presented to you in a way you can rely on it to elevate every aspect of your firm.

For other tidbits on what SEOs are commonly doing wrong, the following podcast is helpful

Thanks for reading, let me know your thoughts.

-Ryan Klein

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