The Case For Optimization

Gyi Tsakalakis
July 5, 2010

To optimize or not to optimize, that is the question discussed in Kevin O'keefe's The non-optimized law blog.  Or is it?  When the title first appeared in my reader, I thought, is Kevin really telling lawyers not to optimize their law blogs?   But on further review, I took his post to contain a different meaning.

Before we dive into what I took away from Kevin's post, we have to establish some common ground about what search engine optimization means (at least as it pertains to this post).

SEO is an acronym for "search engine optimization" or "search engine optimizer."

- Google Webmaster Central

Search engine optimization includes the entire universe of strategies, methods, and techniques used to maximize your website's visibility in search engines.  Search engine optimizers, or "SEOs", are the people who execute these strategies.

Just like there are good lawyers and not-so-good ones, there are good and not-so-good SEOs and optimization techniques.  And, just like in the legal profession, the actions of the bad apples tarnish the reputation of the entire bunch.  However, this is not a reason to completely ignore and abandon seo altogether.

And despite his title, I don't take Kevin to be advocating complete abandonment of search engine optimization altogether.  In fact, Kevin's own blog has been expertly optimized and even contains a category on seo with some great information for lawyers on how to blog with search engines in mind.

In fact, while he uses different terminology, Kevin is actually advocating the most effective seo techniques:

"Creating something worth reading is hard work. It requires thought. This makes people's head hurt. Nobody likes a hurting head.

Creating something involves risk. People may read your creation and tell you they hate it. They may say you're stupid and ignorant and despicably ugly. There is no shortage of critics."

Creating something worth reading, generally translates into creating something worth linking to,a core component to seo.

It also translates into developing new relationships (one of the core focuses of the LexBlog approach).  Steve Matthews, of Stem Legal articulates how these relationships translate into search engine optimization:

"Relationships are the number one objective for your marketing success online; which brings me to the second central message of the column, SEO without spam.

Great SEO is dependent on these relationships, especially relationships with other online publishers. Let me spell it out in SEO terms:

  • a large social network translates into reciprocal linking (linking to and from others in your online social circle) ;
  • that network of links will grow in size boosting your link popularity (Google PageRank, and the like);
  • link networks are not only valuable when in sizable number, but also in terms of domain diversity (not the same people always linking in – new relationships help shape this diversity);
  • websites that link in based on similar topic coverage are better aligned and authentic (also valued by the search engines);
  • similar subject websites also generate links within thebody of the page’s text (valued more by the search engines, compared to blogroll links or footer links)."

When properly executed, search engine optimization can add tremendous value to a lawyer's professional reputation.  It can help you connect with other legal professionals online.  It can help you connect with legal thought leaders and legal media professionals.  And yes, it can help you connect with potential clients.

So, I don't think Kevin is trying to say don't optimize.  What I take him to mean is that search engine optimization should always be done to improve and enhance one's professional reputation and never at the risk of harming it.  Which begs the question, how does a lawyer build their professional reputation online without harming it?

Just as with professional reputation building in other media (TV, radio, and print), each lawyer must decide what's appropriate and effective for themselves.  The marketing methods with which a legal professional is comfortable will vary greatly from lawyer to lawyer.  The problem is, that when it comes to the Internet, it is not so easy to discern what's appropriate and effective.

That is why it is so important to understand what you, or your web marketing consultant, is doing with your name online.  Once you have a good understanding of how web marketing works, you can make an informed decision about what techniques and strategies are appropriate for you.

If you're looking for a good place to get started, check out Google's Webmaster Central and Google's SEO Starter Guide.  When you're ready for some more advanced concepts, stop by SEOmoz and SEO Book.  And of course, check out Real Lawyers Have Blogs.

But make no mistake, if you choose to completely ignore search engine optimization, you won't take full advantage of the opportunities that online professional reputation building can afford.  In fact, you may even be making a common seo mistake that significantly inhibits the visibility of your professional brand online.

Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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Steve Matthews
13 years ago

It really is a question of balance. Of course staying creative and challenging ideas are important; but a little added thought to the process can yield traffic for years to come. And as we both know, getting traffic to move beyond commentary and over to service pages isn't always an easy task - especially when we know that transition needs to happen in order for work to be generated.
Lexblog's services get a big boost from this balanced style of SEO - construct things well, and teach lawyers to stay professional with their commentary. When authors listen, and establish *some* social circles, it's a very effective combination. When they get spammy (no matter how good the delivery vehicle) the results are rarely there.
I think the critique of both O'Keefe & Greenfeld comes from dealing with colleagues who can't get their balancing act correct. Seeing lawyers who are way off on the black-hat SEO side, and can't be bothered with writing something insightful. Unfortunately, this critique comes off as being too far in the opposite direction, saying 'write great stuff', forget SEO and readers will come.
The truth is, neither strategy is very effective by itself. You can't simply pick a side with this stuff. You can't say: this approach is far more important than the other. Both are necessary to improve your chances. ... And yes, I do have trouble understanding why anyone would intentionally place limits on their efforts. It's like playing an entire golf course with your driver. I'm not shooting under par with either approach, but I like my chances with a full bag.

Gyi Tsakalakis
13 years ago

Steve, thanks for your time on this. I think you really nailed it.
I agree with you that most lawyers, most likely at the suggestion of their web consultants (not that it is an excuse), come down on the "spammy side of things."
While I myself "buy in" to the LexBlog approach, I think that reputation management is really a decision for each lawyer to make.
Just like not all injury attorneys are interested in branding themselves with tasteless TV ads, not all lawyers are interested in taking advantage of the latest local injury news on their blogs, or other less dignified SEO strategies. But some are.
While it's ABSOLUTELY each lawyers responsibility to guard their own professional reputation, I think the majority of attorneys out there are acting on bad advice. At least the younger, idealistic, perhaps naive side of me wants to believe that.
However, some simply don't guard their professional reputations as vigilantly.
Nonetheless, I think we both recognize the value of "good" SEO. We have worked with several firms that have fairly significant blog reputations that have also greatly benefited from even some "SEO basics".
Anyway, I think your point about balance is right on.

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