SEO for Lawyers, Your Reputation, and Legal Ethics
I know, you want to rank #1 in Google. And while this desire demonstrates a simplistic understanding of internet marketing and search engines, there are some serious consequences of trying to rank #1 at all costs. Contrary to what your internet marketing guru says, SEO for lawyers is quite different from SEO for insurance, mortgages, and erectile dysfunction medication.
You know (or you’ll learn) that your reputation is your most valuable asset. Yep, even more valuable than ranking #1 in Google. What you might not know is how inexperienced, unscrupulous, or irresponsible SEO can hurt your reputation as a lawyer. Here are some quick examples:
- Blog Comment Spam – This is where your internet marketer (or automated comment software) goes out and comments on blogs either under your name, if they’re a real rookie, or under a pseudonym, if they think they’re clever, with a link back to your site. The intent is to build a link, albeit a “nofollow” link, and perhaps generate a couple clicks if it’s a highly trafficked blog. Problem is, the comments suck, and the suckiness is tied to your website. You’ll claim that you didn’t know that you ninjas were doing this, but it won’t matter. You better be clear that your SEO isn’t commenting on your behalf.
- Article Marketing – This is where your internet marketer (and they have software for this one too), goes out and posts crappy articles on article directories and spam blogs. Again, the intent is to build links back to your website for search engine juice. Once again, the problem is that the articles suck. If you’re lucky they’re illegible, and if you’re not, the spread bad information under your name. Again, the “clever” ninjas will use pseudonyms, or awesome names like “los angeles criminal defense lawyer” to protect your identity. Unfortunately for you, it’s easy to trace it back to you by clicking on that pesky link to your website. Other people read these articles and think to themselves, this lawyer is either full of herself (it’s self-promotional), how did they get a law degree (if it’s illegible), or incompetent if it’s just flat wrong.
- Social Media Spam – This is where your internet marketer (you guessed it, or software) goes out and tweets, friend requests, connects, status updates, shares, etc, on your behalf. Again, the underlying issue is that these communications are usually self-promotional and over all pretty lousy. Further, they’re usually a one-way street. Which defeats the entire purpose of social networking. Again, the intent here is to build links, grow a network of followers (albeit most likely of other spam accounts), and build “awareness.” It’s crap. Don’t do this.
And while your reputation is your most valuable asset, there’s something else that might just be equally as important. And that’s your law license.
What if your law firm SEO consultant said, “I can get you to #1 in Google, but you might lose your license to practice.” Would you sign-up? Maybe you would. But more likely, you probably can’t see how internet marketing and search engine optimization could get you into hot water with your state Bar. Here’s how.
Let’s start with ABA Model Rule 7.1:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.
My bet is that even if your state’s rule doesn’t track this word for word, it’s pretty close. And so, fake, false, or misleading blog post comments, website content, tweets, status updates, and client testimonials (yep, they do this too) violate this rule.
Now I know some of you are thinking, “But I’m not the one making the communication. It was my ninja.” But then there’s Rule 5.3:
With respect to a nonlawyer employed or retained by or associated with a lawyer:
(a) a partner, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority in a law firm shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that the person’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer;
(b) a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the person’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and
(c) a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of such a person that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer if:
(1) the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or
(2) the lawyer is a partner or has comparable managerial authority in the law firm in which the person is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the person, and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action.
And this is why when lawyers get their hands caught in the internet marketing cookie jar, they cry, “But I didn’t know that my ninja was doing this.” And maybe this works, and maybe it doesn’t. I guess it comes down to how much risk you want to take to rank #1 in Google.
Oh, but did I mention, most of this stuff doesn’t work at all. Don’t believe me? Spend some time watching videos here.
And so, while you keep paying your ninja a lot of money to go out there and “build links”, “create buzz”, and “build your brand”, the truth is, they’re likely hurting your reputation, putting your license in jeopardy, and actually hurting your chances of reaching that coveted #1 in spot in Google.
SEO for Lawyers the “Right Way”
So, what can you do to grow your practice’s visibility online. The answer is,
alot . Let’s face it, there are many firms that are spending a lot of money on internet marketing because they’re seeing the value for their firm. Does that mean it’s right for you? Not necessarily. It really depends on your practice, your goals, and your marketing budget.
Without getting into all the gory details about all the different law firm SEO strategies that work, we can boil things down to a pretty simple idea:
Spend time creating excellent web content that supplies your audience’s demand for information, and get that content in front of people who are ready, willing, and able to consume it, and further publicize it.
Put your reputation first, follow the rules, and be strategic.
Sure, there are technical aspects to search engine optimization. However, perhaps even more important, are the creative aspects involved in publishing web content that people actually want to read and share. And let’s not kid ourselves, doing that is tough. And it’s not going to be effectively accomplished by someone without both experience and understanding with the web, as well as, a deep understanding of your practice.
And finally, work to make the web better.