Law firms vying for Google’s attention have, more than likely, experienced the unrelenting tug of war, between the needs of people and the needs of robots.
Robots (Google’s web crawling spiders) are constantly on the lookout for new tags, keywords and links to fulfill search requests with the most suitable matches online. While people (your audience) are seeking compelling content that not only answers their queries, but also helps them to connect with the actual human beings on the other side.
People are the ultimate point of a website. We all know that. Even so, sometimes the robot agenda becomes louder or more urgent. It can't be helped. In many areas of law, if robots don't find your site, neither will people. On the flip side, if the robot agenda wins in every respect, people will find your site. But they won't want to stay.
The problem is you really want both sides to win.
That being the case, rather than repeat the lectures you’ve probably heard before about quality marketing and SEO best practices, I thought there would be greater value in constructing some guidelines around when to give in to which agenda. These guidelines result in a more integrated approach that takes into account the best interests of your firm as a whole, rather than focusing on just web data.
7 online legal marketing compromises you should never make, for either robots or people:
1. A default voice driven by keywords rather than the firm’s professional identity:
Pick one. Passionate, controversial and assertive statements that reflect the positions of the law firm’s partners. Or, a stiff robotic application of an exact keyphrase. Which would you rather read? Most people will pick the one that tells them to expect to speak to a real human being that might even align with their values. Establishing a real voice on a law firm website isn’t actually contradictory to the SEO agenda. But it takes a lot of skill and creativity to execute well.
2. Forfeiting your firm's name - in favour of keywords - in search results:
Search results have three sections, a title, a url and a description. All are fed by the tags programmed into the back end of your website. Some firms choose to focus both the title and description on keywords. Others include, or even prioritize, their firm name. Why? When people see your name come up, over and over, on search results, they start to recognize it. This is the beginning of the establishment of trust. That’s branding. There’s no need to remove your keywords. Just save some space for your firm’s name.
3. Misguided hierarchy of information throughout the website:
SEO has become a real science. There are some best practices that you are well advised to follow. But, there’s still a grey zone where you can get creative about meeting your people agenda too. Here’s an example. Headings and subheadings (coded as H1, H2, H3…) are used to tell Google what a page is about. But headings are visually prominent. So, they are also used to tell readers what a page is about. And readers respond to impactful messaging. Questions they can relate to and bold copy that speaks to their needs and concerns. The problem is, if you use your headings for Google, the message to the reader gets lost… and, ultimately, so does the reader! Instead, figure out a way to merge both agendas. Or customize tags such that the visually prominent headings that speak to people aren’t coded for Google.
4. Sounding like a broken record for the sake of meeting keyword targets:
It’s true that keywords need to be repeated a certain number of times to meet SEO density targets. But Google has been modifying its algorithm to more closely mimic human behaviour. As a result, the use of similar phrases (rather than just repeating the exact same phrase over and over) are now viewed more favourably by Google’s algorithm. So, if you mix it up, appropriately (still using your main keyword as the dominant phrase), then you will meet the needs of both robots and people.
5.Website development guided by SEO rather than firm objectives:
Your law firm website is a hub for all your online marketing and maybe even your offline marketing. That means that it is more than a digital brochure. Your website plays a critical role in your practice development plans. As such, your website strategy should begin with higher level objectives. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t account for SEO objectives. It just shouldn’t start there. The need to drive traffic to the site isn't enough of a starting point. For some people, this will be their first encounter with your firm. So, before your next refresh, give some thought to what you are building, for whom and why.
6. Rigidly structuring your site based on the structure of your firm:
Some legal services get a lot of search volume and others simply don't. In certain niche markets, people (and businesses) already know who the major players are. Or there are offline resources that connect people to service providers. The question is should your services that require SEO take on a higher priority online than your services that don’t? Structure has huge SEO implications. So, in this case, as long as it’s aligned with your firm’s goals and won’t negatively impact your readers’ experience, carefully consider what works best for the robots.
7. Content for the sake of it:
There’s huge pressure to churn out content, for the sake of SEO results. In an effort to meet the robot agenda, some firms prioritize volume over quality. But ask yourself if one of those web pages, blog articles or videos was the only thing a prospective client saw on your site, how would it reflect on your firm? The irony here is that robots aren’t just looking for volume. To align with what matters to people, they also looking for stickiness (visit duration). And pages with a high bounce rate (when readers leave quickly) aren’t good for SEO results either.
Take a fresh look at your website to see how well you’re doing with this list of compromises. Who’s winning the battle right now? The robots or the people?
What can you do to call a truce?
Integrate marketing, to align objectives and standards on both sides of the rope… as well as with your practice. Your firm will be better positioned to win this game of tug of war when neither people nor robots fall into the muck!
About the Author
Sandra Bekhor MBA, president of Bekhor Management, helps lawyers and other professionals build and enhance their practices, through marketing and management pro- grams aligned with core strengths.