Your Law Firm’s SEO Playbook for 2012

Over at SearchEngineLand, Tom Schmitz gives us his SEO Playbook for 2012:

During 2011 the conservative attitude toward code crossed chasm to apply to content. For years, websites churned-out poorly written, generic articles in the name of long-tail keyword optimization. It worked so well some people turned crappy content into startups.

Now, thanks to Panda, Google’s site-wide penalty for having too much low quality content, people are asking why anyone would put pages on a website that no one wants to read, share or link to? Without taking potshots at the past, most of those articles look juvenile and antiquated.

Made in Japan went from signifying cheap to marvelous. Made for the Web is growing-up too. It is this evolution which guides my SEO highlights for 2012. I separate things to keep in mind by code, design and content.

Without beating a dead horse here, if your law firm’s “SEO strategy” has been centered around cranking out a huge quantity of pretty low-quality content, your days of success are probably coming to an end in 2012. And without getting into all the boring details of Google’s Panda, let me just say that Google (and likely other search engines) have undergone a major evolutionary shift.

Search engines, and really the web as a whole, are becoming much more sophisticated. More people are contributing. More people are connected. That means more people have voices and votes. In order for the web to be a worthwhile marketing channel for your law firm, you need these people to be conversing, sharing, endorsing, voting for, etc, you and your law practice. As Tom puts it:

Emphasize Community and Conversation. If your business depends on the Internet and you have the budget to hire one more person, consider employing a community evangelist. High rankings require authority. Authority comes from off-site links and, to an extent, brand mentions.

Earning enough links to make a dent in your SEO requires a continuous stream of link worthy content combined with forging and fostering relationships with people who create links or influence lots of others through online conversation. This requires a large commitment of time to work with writers and designers and to network. Even when decentralized, this rarely works without a strong empowered leader.

As the web and search undergo this metamorphosis, SEO looks a lot less like traditional advertising and marketing channels and more an more like a medium for conversation, interaction, sharing, reviewing, rating, connecting, endorsing, warning, and learning.

If you embrace this evolution, the web will serve a vital role in complementing your business development. If you resist, and insist on holding onto old ways of doing SEO, your investments of both time and money, will become less and less effective. You’ll find yourself wondering things like:

  • Why aren’t all these links that I’m paying for helping me?
  • Why aren’t all these articles I’m adding to my website working?
  • What aren’t all these auto-tweets generating more visitors?
  • Why am I dropping out of search results altogether?

If you’re more comfortable with advertising, then stick to paid search campaigns. That’s what they’re there for.

But if you’re really looking to build a powerful, sustaining online beachhead, then make investments into researching what your audiences are demanding from the web, deliver content that satisfies that demand, and continue to build and strengthen relationships, via both online and offline interaction.