10 Questions To Ask Before Hiring A Legal SEO

1.   When will I be ranked #1? What guarantees can you give me?

(How will you measure success?)

Be careful if the answer is ‘yes’. Your BS detector should be ringing if the SEO says that they can guarantee success, ranking, or traffic. Even when utilizing the best legal SEO practices, the process isn’t guaranteed. It’s possible that the SEO is misleading you or protecting themselves with fine print or industry jargon.  Or they might simply be drunk… and over promising to get the business.

Additionally, our firm will be the first to tell you that ranking for money search-terms is great, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into traffic, and it is relevant traffic that results in new cases. Dishonest claims of guaranteed success are an unethical sales technique to get the business and the contract without regard to delivery.

These are simply rules of thumb and pricing shouldn’t be your first consideration when choosing an SEO firm to implement your law firm’s marketing plan online. It is a question that should be asked often and early in the SEO selection process.

Choose an SEO company that practices ethical marketing and sales techniques and will not over promise and under deliver. Most importantly, be weary and use your best judgment when hiring an SEO for your firm. It’s a serious business, and SEO can truly make or break your law firm.

2.       Do you know state advertising rules regarding advertising for attorneys?

This question however obvious is probably the most overlooked question that should be asked of every SEO hired to conduct marketing on behalf of a law firm. You trust this person / company to represent not only your firm but also, in most cases, your name personally. You do not want to be brought in front of the board of professional responsibility for unethical advertising practices that, although acceptable in most industries, is considered disciplinary behavior in the legal field.

  • Unsubstantiated claims of expertise
  • Payment of testimonials
  • Use of fictionalized persons
  • Communication restrictions
  • Misleading advertisements

These are only some of the examples of mistakes an SEO with no knowledge of advertising rules in your state could commit on your behalf. Don’t assume, be sure and ask this question.

3. Please name 3 of my direct core competitors?

This is a question that is important to determine if the SEO has done their homework on your firm. SEO is at its core competitive strategy and analysis.  If an SEO hasn’t researched your firm and determined your position in a competitive environment, including 3 likely competitors, then they will not be competent to do an accurate job of developing a marketing strategy for your firm. If you would like to take an analytical approach to competitive analysis to determine your competitive advantages and weaknesses, I personally prefer Porter’s 5 Forces model over the more popular SWOT analysis. In addition to helping you form a competitive advantage, it will help you define your core competitors.

Porter Five Forces

4. Can you provide 3 law firm references that have been clients over a year?

When seeking help with your firm’s SEO strategy, it’s a good idea to hire someone with experience in not only legal marketing but also SEO. There are many ethical pitfalls when performing SEO, and depending on your state you may be jeopardizing your license to practice law. Additionally, asking an SEO vendor for three referrals will allow you to learn about their work style and past experience. Treat the process of hiring an SEO the same way you might hire an office manager or legal marketer with your firm. SEO isn’t a short term strategy. It’s a long term strategy that requires a strong relationship between the SEO organization and the client for a minimum of six months to a year, and if it’s effective – most likely longer than that. So, if you vet your employees, do the same with a potential SEO before signing a contract because, like hiring an employee, this isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it marketing channel. It’s a relationship.

5.       What is your greatest SEO Failure? Have you or one of your clients even been penalized by a search engine?

This is a question to really root out the fly-by-night SEOs that give our industry a bad name. I can honestly tell you that one of my greatest failures came at the hands of one of my greatest strengths. I am a huge proponent of the old adage “if you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen.”

With that said I used call tracking strategies to track the effectiveness of different marketing campaigns. This, however, negatively affects the core of local search optimization online and thus most likely had a negative effect on my client. Overall our relationship was a great success and they were very happy with the results. However, hindsight is 20/20. I often wonder how much better things could have been if I had not used tracking numbers in the campaign.

Also, if anyone is curious, I have not, nor have any of my clients been penalized by a search engine and I hope to keep it that way. I like to play by the rules and avoid gaming the system, as there is a lot at stake for our clients, including their reputation, livelihoods, and the livelihoods of their employees.

The bottom line is if you are experimenting and trying new ideas, you are going to experience failure. I strongly believe that anyone who hasn’t experienced failure as an SEO isn’t trying hard enough, and if they tell you that they have always bowled a perfect game, every game, be weary.

“Fail. Fail Again.  Fail Better.” – Samuel Beckett

6.       Do you do content marketing? If so, who writes your content?

This is a very important question, but often overlooked. Having come from an in-house legal marketing management position, I was often managing marketing agencies that had been hired prior to my taking over the marketing for the firm. One example that I can recall very distinctly is a regional marketing firm that had completed the firm’s website and was hired to perform SEO services for the client.

These “SEO” services primarily consisted of article marketing at a dismal rate of 1 article a month that would be published on one of the many article sites like ezinearticles, articlebase, etc. This would be advised now, considering Google’s Panda update has made most of them obsolete.

Their choice of venue wasn’t the problem. It was that they were posting as a past client of the firm using a false name, and on top of all of that, they didn’t label the commissioned advertisement as required by state advertising rules. We moved quickly to correct their behavior and eventually brought our SEO in house as I was taking over the reins. But this begs for the question: What is an attorney’s responsibility regarding outsourced advertising and how can a lawyer trust a regional marketing firm with their SEO strategy? Are they responsible for ethics rules violations?

It’s important to know who is writing your content and where it’s being distributed. It is also a good practice to read and approve all content before publishing to prevent mistakes and possible tainting of a solid reputation. There are marketing agencies and firms that understand ethics rules and advertising that may allow you more piece of mind when hiring an SEO for content marketing.

7.       Can you explain your on-site and off-site marketing strategies in plain English?

Violating Google’s terms of service is not something for the faint of heart. More importantly, it’s not something that you want to find out about after the fact. On-site marketing strategies are usually a pretty safe game as long as you are not attempting to mislead visitors and are creating your own engaging original content. However, where the SEO community diverges is where many attorneys should be paying attention.

Black-hat SEOs play fast and dangerously by violating Google’s terms of service with offsite SEO strategies, which can result in your website being banned by Google. This, in turn, could be the end of your law firm. There are even some very notable examples of legal SEO firms selling links to clients that directly violate Google’s Terms Of Service and could have resulted in those who purchase links in being excluded from Google’ search engine.  I doubt that these firms included that piece of information in its marketing copy when it sold links to law firms in an attempt to increase rankings.

Transparency is the name of the game. Find an SEO that can and will answer your questions, and explain all of the options and the risks and rewards to each strategy. I often receive questions regarding the effectiveness of buying links. I can explain to a client how it works, why people are interested in buying links, the risks of doing so, and most importantly, that a better rank doesn’t always correspond to increased revenue.

8.       How would you describe your SEO firm compared to your competition? How are you different? Who is one of your most respected competitors?

If you have read some of my past articles, you know that I am all about competition and finding your niche. Why would this blog be any different? Just like you, your SEO should know how they fit into the competitive landscape.

This question will provide important information that will allow you to find the best fit for your firm. For example, we are first a Legal SEO marketing agency, we do SEO for law firms better than our other offerings. We cannot be all things to all people, so we focus on a tight niche of space and we excel at being the best in this field. Your SEO should be able to answer this question similarly.

9.       What are your top 3 SEO tools and why?

Great SEOs use great tools to create effective campaigns. Our firm subscribes to a number of SEO tools to conduct our business, including Majestic SEO, Google Keyword Tool, and Screaming Frog to name a few. However, a tool is only as good as the craftsman using it and our knowledgeable team is the true force around the effectiveness of our tools.  We use these tools to conduct competitive analysis, and design comprehensive marketing campaigns for our clients.

10.       How much does SEO Cost?

SEO pricing varies. Some low-quality SEO companies that are based in India charge very little for SEO services. Like many things, you get what you pay for with regards to SEO. According to a SearchEngineLand.com survey at the beginning of 2012, the following SEO pricing information was accurate. It is common to charge up to $150/hour for by-the-hour SEO consulting, although this is only one of the top four pricing strategies SEOs use when they set pricing for their services. Project-based pricing, which is also very common for SEOS, ranges between $2,500 – $5,000 per project, which is also approximately the amount charged in most monthly-retainer agreements between SEOs and clients. Because this is the legal industry, it’s acceptable to assume a premium for vendors that provide additional industry experience or particular labor-intensive services.

seo pricing
Infographic by SEOmoz & AYTM Market Research
Conclusion

Measuring success in a competitive environment like the World Wide Web isn’t much different than out here. We have rankings like SuperLawyers, and others. But most law firms realize that rankings like those don’t have as much value as they appear to have and rarely, if ever, consider your SuperLawyer ranking relevant when making law firm growth decisions. However, most firms do benchmark, perform competitive analysis, and work hard to provide a value to their clients. In doing so, they build solid firms through niche marketing and reputation-building. Define a metric to measure with your SEO, such as visitors, conversions, new clients, and my personal favorite – return on investment. Read more about tracking SEO campaign success here.

Photo at http://www.flickr.com/photos/drachmann/327122302/