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Find the sweet spot in legal marketing by writing timely, substantive content that satisfies search engines and human readers.
We've been fascinated with artificial intelligence since we first heard Hal, the sentient computer, in the movie 2001. We saw living computers again in the science fiction films The Matrix and Terminator.
It's no longer science fiction, it's science reality. “RankBrain is Google's name for a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that's used to help process its search results,” according to Search Engine Land.
Because many potential clients use Google to find and validate lawyers, this means that getting found online is changing. Meanwhile, lawyers must be wary of SEO grifters and pay-per-click con artists.
Old Digital Marketing is Kaput
Here is what has stopped working:
Link building and other link schemes: This has led to severe penalties against sites suspected of buying and selling links.
Keyword stuffing: This refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group or out of context (not as natural prose). If the footer on every page lists all the cities where you practice, that's keyword stuffing.Cramming articles full of search terms, duplicate content, and sneaky redirects is a surefire way to get in trouble with Google.
“Auto-generated” content: This is content that is written by a computer program. Often it consists of paragraphs of random text that make no sense to the reader but may contain search keywords.
Thin or duplicate content: This is material taken from another website and modified slightly before republishing it. Google has cracked down on “content farms” that scrape and rewrite published material.
URL scamming: Putting search terms in a domain name is a cheap trick.
Cloaking: This is the practice of presenting one version of your website to search engines and a different version to human users. Google can tell.
Sneaky redirects: These techniques funnel visitors to a different Web address than the one they initially requested. This is verboten by Google.
Hidden text and links: This includes white text on white background – the visitor cannot see it, but Google can. Other examples include locating text behind an image, setting the font size to zero, or hiding a link in one character, like a hyphen.
The tactics above are shady techniques employed by search engine optimization (SEO) vendors. The Web is full of articles by SEO vendors whining that their tactics don't work anymore. You should understand that “onsite” optimization of a Web page is “one and done.” Off-site optimization is snake oil.
“The acronym ‘SEO,' when sold as a way to manipulate Google and other search engines, is an ineffective scam,” says attorney Dan Jaffe, CEO of LawLytics.
The goal of SEO is to reverse-engineer the search algorithm by building and curating a suite of sites, designed to drive traffic to the main website. The means to accomplish this goal are by embedding keywords throughout pages, having in-links from other “credible” sites, creating shadow sites – including mobile and social – and submitting pages to search engine crawlers.
“Hiring somebody to do SEO can be an expensive, or even fatal, lesson when an attorney doesn't understand the fundamentals,” Jaffe says. “Unfortunately, it's still a very predatory industry in which there are bad actors at every level.”
Pay-per-click Con Artists
Close behind SEO grifters are the con artists who create pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns. This type of marketing is disposable and ceases to work the moment a lawyer stops spending money on it. Unscrupulous PPC vendors will often bid on the same advertising keywords sought by two competing law firms.
Legal terms are 20 out of the top 25 most expensive Google keyword search terms, according to Search Engine Watch. In fact, 78 of the most expensive 100 Google keyword search terms are legal terms.
“Some PPC management companies are middlemen who regularly engage in obvious conflicts of interest by not limiting their clientele to one operator in each competitive space,” Jaffe says. “If they are bidding for the same phrases for both you and your competitor, they are driving up the prices for both, and profiting from the higher ad spend by both law firms.”
What Works Now
Knowing that their website must satisfy an artificial intelligence, smart law firms will take a straightforward approach:
Quality: Make pages for potential clients, not search engines. Visitors should feel that they are looking at articulate, intelligent, and high-quality information on your site.
Simplicity of design: Don't get hung up on design. You are a lawyer, not a Web designer. If your site is simple to use, then you've given potential clients what they want.
Mobile friendliness: Having a “responsive” website that displays perfectly on a cell phone, tablet, or portable device is essential. Google highlights mobile-friendly sites in mobile searches.
In-depth articles: Publishing long-form, practical content that is useful to website visitors will put a law firm higher up in search engine results.
Timely material: Google favors fresh material that is newly published, giving a boost to law firms that report current events.
Localized Information: Most people are searching for a business in their vicinity, and Google presents its findings accordingly.
“Content is the way to attract people,” Jaffe says. “It creates thought leadership, and empowers an attorney to become an influencer online. This frees law firms from dependence on a never-ending cycle of paying for disposable advertising in an increasingly crowded marketplace that is increasingly ad-blind.”
“The more often you contribute high-quality content that adds to the collective intelligence, as opposed to just posting for sheer volume, the more likely your business is to experience success with the human users of Google,” he added. “You'll create an expectation of rewards with your human readers and with the search engines, and the reward is reading what you write next.”