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Top tips for more hits: search engine optimization

If you are looking for new clients and more business, it’s time to take your website to another level with search engine optimization.

Search engine optimization – or SEO – involves understanding how search engines index and rank websites with the goal of being at the top of the list.

When a prospective client does an online search for a divorce lawyer in New Jersey or a criminal defense attorney in Oregon, a firm that has successfully used website content, incoming links and coding should be higher on the results list, and therefore more likely to be contacted.

Most lawyers are unaware of the need for SEO, said Kevin O’Keefe, the president of LexBlog, a law technology and marketing company, and operator of Real Lawyers Have Blogs.

“Somehow, lawyers have not equated getting a website with getting their website found [by clients],” said O’Keefe, who was formerly a trial lawyer. “There is nothing more foolish that putting time and money into a website that can’t be found.”

Making sure that clients are able to find your website is crucial, agreed Sharon Nelson, a lawyer and the president of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a computer forensics and legal technology corporation based in Fairfax, Va.

“Over 65 percent of people – potential clients – start their search online,” said Nelson. “There is no way you are going to lose money by investing in your website since that is where the clients are.”

Dan Jaffe, who runs the Jaffe Law Firm in Scottsdale, Ariz., said there is “no doubt” that SEO has helped his business.

“The most important thing is to have good content on your site,” he said.

Top tips

While only insiders can claim to know how the Google algorithm actually works, experts offer a few suggestions on how to improve your search rankings:

Key words.

On your homepage and in the source code, you should mention two key areas that people commonly search for – the kind of law you practice and the geographic area you practice in, Nelson advised.

“And you should repeat those key words or phrases again on subsequent pages to the extent it’s not silly,” she said.

Instead of repeating the name of the firm, use phrases like “an Arizona family law practice,” Nelson explained. “You will get a lot more weight out of that than ‘The Nelson Law Firm.'”

Think about it as a catalog system, O’Keefe added.

“If you put a title on every page, then Google can index every page, and it increases your opportunity for hits if you have five pages on your website with the type of law you practice.”

Content and more content.

“In the old days, we used to design home pages to fit on a single screen,” Nelson said. “But that is no longer true. To be optimized you want to have significant content on the homepage.”

While it “shouldn’t go on forever,” you should strive to “get a reasonable amount of text that includes a lot of key words or phrases,” she said.

Experts recommend having at least 250 words per page on a specific subject.

But be careful – using key search terms too frequently in your content may result in it being considered spam by the search engines.

And when adding content to his site, “I write for the end user, not the search engines,” Jaffe said.

O’Keefe agreed.

“People who are online are searching for substantive information on the subject they are dealing with – they aren’t looking for a brochure,” he said.

Update frequently.

Google knows when things have been updated, so it helps to have new content.

But “there’s no need to change things just for the sake of changing,” Jaffe said. “It’s more important to update it with something useful.”

O’Keefe suggested updating at least once a month, “although twice a month is better and once a week is best.”

He also suggested keeping a legal pad on hand to jot down client questions that could be posted (obviously without violating the attorney-client privilege) with answers on the website.

“That way you can spend less time trying to come up with an idea of what to write about – all lawyers get questions from their clients that they could answer for an interesting post,” O’Keefe said.

Make friends.

Your rankings will increase when other sites link to yours. But how do you convince other people to link to your website?

“Incoming links are the Holy Grail,” O’Keefe said.

Building a network takes time but the return “isn’t fleeting,” he explained. ‘By putting interesting and helpful content on your site that other people link to, you are building your reputation.’

Google will ban websites that pay for links, so Nelson advises solos and small firms to start a blog.

Having a blog under the same domain name as your website allows you to continue to put content on the site and keep it current, and may increase your chances of other sites linking to you, she said.

Nelson noted that adding a blog to an existing website means lawyers won’t be able to use a free blogging service, but the approximately $150 annual fee is worth it.

Be careful who you hire.

“Never trust anybody that cold-calls you [to provide SEO services],” Jaffe cautioned.

He said he experienced a near-miss a few years ago when he paid a company to help him optimize his site traffic but then noticed malicious code embedded in his site. “Luckily, I noticed it before Google did and spent an entire night removing it,” he said.

He found out that the company’s other clients were later banned because they had similar code on their sites.

Always be sure to check references if you decide to use a company for SEO purposes, O’Keefe recommended.

And never trust a company that guarantees high rankings, added Nelson – there is no such thing, unless someone is breaking the rules.

Questions or comments can be directed to the writer at: correy.stephenson@lawyersusaonline.com