Selecting the right SEO company can feel like a daunting task. Many lawyers simply don't know enough about SEO to make an informed decision. So, inspired by Rand's recent post, I figured I would share some advice about how I would go about choosing an SEO company if it were my law firm.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I'm the founder of a company that provides SEO services to lawyers. So, you can give my opinions as much or as little weight as you seem fit. In fact, don't give them any weight. Send this post to others and ask them what they think.
Rand suggests that using Google as your filter is a mistake. Generally, I agree with him. Just because an SEO company ranks for the term you used to search, doesn't mean that they'll do a good job for you. Further, it's important to understand why they're ranking. Are they gaming Google? If so, they may employ the same tactics to get your law firm website to rank. While these short-term tactics might help you rank for some amount of time, you may eventually find yourself facing a manual action which hurts your visibility in search results.
To me, this depends entirely on the list. Did the companies pay to be on the list? Are they kicking commissions back to the list owner? How can you tell? If you have reason to believe that the list is reliable, then maybe those companies warrant consideration. How can you tell if the list is reliable? Here are a few questions to answer:
Without pointing fingers at any particular list, know this: Most of the "Best SEO Company Lists" that appear highly in Google are pay-to-play. Not all, but most. Read the fine print.
No. Everyone wishes there was some magic bullet to get pages to rank that drive the perfect clients. There aren't any. But even if there were (there aren't), think about the risks involved with someone doing secret stuff online on your behalf. Ask yourself whether it makes sense to hire someone to market your practice online with tactics that they aren't willing to share with you. Are they familiar with your professional ethical obligations?
Any SEO company should be willing to share specifically what they intend to do on your behalf and the reasons behind why they are suggesting doing it. Require prior approval!
Otherwise, you will eventually say uh-oh.
Similar to the "Best SEO Company Lists," some SEO companies pitch their services on awards that they have won. I have nothing against awards generally. The question is what is the award for? Who are the judges? Who were the contestants? Hiring an SEO company because they've won awards for building pretty websites is a mistake. These awards are not likely to be good indicators of success as measured by return on investment.
Some lawyers will search Google for keywords they want to rank for to see who currently ranks. They'll click-through to competitor law firm websites and scroll to the bottom to look for the link that says:
They're reasoning is that if the company was able to get their competitor to rank, they'll likely be able to get their own site to rank. Huge mistake.
First, there's an inherent conflict of interest. For any given search query, there can be only one firm in the top position. In other words, the SEO company can't have your best interests and your competitor's best interest in mind. When you ask what it will take to beat the competitor site, guess what they'll suggest? Hint: it rhymes with "honey" but starts with an "m."
Second, just because the company appears to be having success with your competitor's site, doesn't mean they'll have success with yours. There are hundreds of factors that determine which sites rank. It's likely that the company won't be able to replicate the signal pattern across multiple sites.
Third, here are the real reasons SEO and web design companies do this:
Don't hire your competitors' SEO company!
No one can guarantee a number one ranking on Google. Those that make this guarantee are lying to you. It's that easy. Even if they do get your to rank number one for a keyword, ask the following questions:
Guaranteed rankings might make you feel all warm and fuzzy. They're typically a scam. If you want a guarantee, ask for a guarantee that they'll be completely transparent about what they're doing on your behalf. Define what meaningful success look like in advance.
Maybe. I have seen many instances where having someone knowledgeable about SEO and internet marketing in-house at the firm is greatly beneficial. Usually, for firms that want to compete in competitive practice areas and geographies, a single in-house person isn't enough. That's not always the case, but in my experience, the best situations are a combination of experienced in-house marketing people and an external agency. Agencies are able to allocate resources from a variety of disciplines. Typically, replicating an agencies capabilities would require an in-house team. Usually, it's more expensive to build a dedicated team in-house than work with an agency. Again, not always true, but that's been my experience.
I would do a lot of the things Rand recommends. Definitely define your goals in advance. Ultimately, these goals should tie back to some business metric at your firm. Here are just a few suggestions:
Whatever your goals, they should relate to the organic search channel. Anything else simply isn't SEO.
Definitely ask people you trust for recommendations. Ask other lawyers (who aren't directly competing with you). Ask other business owners who have business that are somewhat similar to yours. Maybe you know other local professional service providers like:
Find out what / who has been working well for them.
See what other lawyers are saying about them online. Ask their competitors what they think of them.
I'd also suggest you look for companies that have experience specifically with law firms. SEO for law firms presents unique challenges that don't exist with other businesses.
Definitely ask the companies you are considering what they would do on your behalf. Request examples of specific law firm SEO campaigns they've executed in the past. Ask for references.
Closely review their contract, terms, and pricing structure. Specifically, make sure that:
Once you've chosen an SEO company for your law firm, hold them accountable. Make sure they're doing what they said they were going to do. If they don't, move on.