SEO Campaign Basics for Law Firms


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Guest post by Ethan Stanislawski

Law firms have a variety of online marketing methods to choose from, in addition to traditional methods like television and print. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) certainly has buzzword appeal in the business world these days, but such an appeal make make some lawyers unsure of SEO’s effectiveness and hesitant to apply their marketing budget to a newer method of marketing. Yet for law firms, especially small firms, SEO may be the most efficient and cost-effective marketing strategy available today.

If you are a new firm looking to get your name out there and acquire new clients, consider your options: You could spend money on television ads, which regularly cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce, and even more thousands to circulate regularly on cable television.

While television ads guarantee eyeballs and can be segmented based on audience demographics, the main problems are 1) it is exceedingly difficult to track the effectiveness of television ad campaigns, and most relatively effective methods require small law firms to spend even more money, and 2) depending on your area of practice, television ads can work nightmares for reputation management. Just check out these two videos about lawyer ads. One is from CurrentTV’s infoMania, which caters mainly to an under-30, media savvy audience who has seen multiple local business and lawyer ads before:

Or consider this clip from the movie Deconstructing Harry (1997), which caters to an older audience with a very different set of assumptions and standards for lawyers and television ads:

For both audiences, the reputation of television advertisements for lawyers are seen as unethical, irritating, and avoidable. Unless your practice works in an area like mesothelioma where the law is relatively well-established and based purely on awareness, a television advertising campaign can dampen a small firm’s reputation.

However, to run an effective SEO campaign, the basic cost is the time of qualified, experienced SEO consultant, a handful of paid directories and services that that consultant would recommend. Spending $10,000 a year on an SEO campaign is considered a premium price, and can regularly get lawyers into the top search rankings for their location and area of practice, especially in markets where SEO competition is less well established.

I used to provide SEO services through the marketing arm of LexisNexis, where the demand for services for local practices across the country was at such a high pace that the company could barely keep up. I currently work freelance, and provide consulting services for a personal injury law firm in the Bronx, a rather competitive market as far as SEO is concerned. Yet we regularly receive top rankings for popular search queries directly related to the practice area.

Additionally, an SEO campaign is generally able to attract a much more targeted audience than a television ad: while cable companies can provide businesses with general demographics and sizes of audience, people who find your website via a search engine are often directly looking for your services. It is also much easier and cheaper to track the effectiveness of a campaign using SEO: while television ads may require further audience outreach services to tell which viewers are interested, all your website needs is a basic free analytics tool like Google Analytics to see who is reaching your website via search, and who is contacting your firm because of search engine optimization. To make up the cost of an effective television ad campaign, you would need multiple clients who you could verify found your law firm via an advertisement. For a search campaign, one client can often make up the entire costs of an operation, and you can immediately track where that client came from.

With multiple options for spending publicity money, it’s difficult for any business to establish a reliable strategy for ROI, giving the cost structure, cultural forces, and revenue streams associated with a law firm, SEO is such an effective strategy that it’s a wonder you still see ads for law firms anymore.

Ethan Stanislawski is a writer and freelance online marketing consultant with a specialty in Search Engine Optimization. He has worked with AOL, LexisNexis, and Sony Music, and has worked with over 20 law firms, including managing the current campaign of The Law Offices of William A. Gallina. He will be enrolling in the master’s program at Indiana University’s School of Journalism in the fall.


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  • Gyi Tsakalakis

    @Ethan Great points of comparison to television advertising. “people who find your website via a search engine are often directly looking for your services.” That’s the difference.

    Caution: Choosing an SEO professional needs to be done carefully.

    There is a low barrier of entry to getting into the “seo consulting business”. Thus, there are a lot of questionable seo shops, and some down-right fraudulent. In fact, I recently read a phone transcript where the search marketer advised against incoming links and argued that “seo is all about optimizing meta tags”. It’s a scary world out there.

    What are the right questions to ask during an interview of a potential SEO specialist candidate?

    Should I hire a consultant or handle seo on my own?

  • Ethan,
    Great post. You make many good points about the value of SEO vs traditional advertising methods. In that same vein, we recently wrote a blog post commenting on the revelations made by legal marketing superstar Heather Milligan on the subject of where to spend your marketing dollars. Here’s a link:

    Can midsized firms beat the AmLaw 100? Social media levels the field.

    I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

  • Although SEO is important, it is also frequently overrated. Anyone looking to improve search engine rankings should focus first on high quality, frequently-updated content. Once you have that, a good SEO consultant can help you get into the top search engine rankings—if you aren’t there already, that is.

    If you can’t or won’t focus on content, spend money on SEO, but know that you probably won’t do as well as the diligent blogger in the office next door.

    Finally, make sure your SEO consultant is willing to give you an exclusive contract. If they represent multiple law firms doing the same thing, they can’t very well get all of you to the top.

  • Gyi Tsakalakis

    “focus first on high quality, frequently-updated content”

    Absolutely. However, don’t fall victim to the “if you write it, they will come” philosophy. You have to get your great content in front of your target audience, as well as, linkerati (people who have the readiness, willingness, and ability to link to your content).

  • Agreed, although that doesn’t necessarily mean an SEO consultant. I was getting 15,000 visits/month to Caveat Emptor with no more consideration of SEO than writing titles with keywords in them and some guest posting on other consumer blogs.

  • Gyi Tsakalakis

    That’s impressive.

    I see your agreement (don’t necessarily need a consultant) and raise you an agreed (using keywords in titles and text has its place).

    Using keywords in text and titles may be enough for longer tail and less-competitive searches. However, for head search terms and more competitive keywords, more aggressive strategies are helpful.

    But “link building” without content is usually a waste of time and money.

  • Just know what you’re getting into, and don’t let anyone convince you they can sprinkle some fairy dust and magically turn your website into a high-ranking, profit machine. It’s going to take months of effort to see any traction. And the most successful attorney SEO campaigns involve heavy cooperation with the attorneys themselves. The website that I’ve seen draw the highest traffic far-and-away was copywritten almost entirely by the lawyer herself. She included extensive detail about her area of law and about how her law firm can benefit clients. Finally, I’ll point out the greatest differentiator between SEO campaigns is the acquisition of links. To that end, you or your SEO provide needs to create good content or other website features that people will want to link to. Your SEO provider is no less than a public relations professional as he works to draw links to your website; only choose an SEO provider you feel comfortable representing your law firm.

  • Ethan Stanislawski

    I agree with all your guys points: while SEO does produce most ROI, the biggest issue from the laywers standpoint is both finding a reliable and affordable SEO consultant and setting proper expectations. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, the services could be used inefficiently, although the same principle applies to all forms of marketing/advertising, of course ;). Thanks for all your comments!

  • Excellent post on what I consider a huge market opportunity. SEO is a very targeted way to gain new business. We hired a company that has done a great job so far and I knew to do it because all my leads wee coming form Google searches. Insightful here, makes me realize we did the right thing.