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.