Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top 3 Myths of Search Engine Optimization

Over the last year, I’ve talked to dozens of lawyers that were enamored with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a tactic for generating new clients through the Internet. The attraction to SEO is understandable: a web user types a search term into Google and your site shows up in the results. Its undeniable that when that occurs, it is extremely satisfying. However, through all of the conversations that I’ve had, I’ve come to realize how misunderstood SEO is among lawyers looking to use the Internet to market their practice.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Before you hire someone to optimize your site, you need to do some homework and have a basic understanding of the process. Read this Wikipedia entry for an excellent overview of SEO.

Now that you have a general understanding of what it is, let’s discuss a few of the myths about SEO.

Myth #1: SEO is free and/or inexpensive

The expression, “you get what you pay for” applies in spades to SEO. Because there are so many SEO consultants out there (including many overseas), it’s easy to be seduced by low cost consultants that promise to “get you found on Google.” I’ve come across many that offer to perform SEO services for very low fees – as low as a few hundred $$. Just to make sure I was not missing out on anything, I’ve tried this approach many times. Every single time, I’ve come away disappointed. While it’s true that these firms can get your site ranked for a handful of keywords, that usually does not amount to much in terms of visitors to your website. As a general rule of thumb, you should plan to spend $5,000 to $10,000 per month in SEO consulting if you want to generate a meaningful amount of traffic to your site.

Myth #2: SEO lasts forever (or a very long time)

One of the big selling points behind SEO is that, once you achieve a “page 1” ranking, your site will stay there forever. The sales pitch is that, while the initial cost might seem high, once you amortize that cost over a lifetime of visitors, the fees seem justified. While there is some truth to this line of thinking, you’re never done with your SEO efforts. Keep in mind, Google’s overall goal is to provide the web searcher with the best websites that match the consumer’s search phrase. There are many, many web sites that are constantly competing for those spots. Once Google determines there is a better site out there, your ranking will fall. So, you must continue to invest in improving your website to maintain any rankings you have achieved.

Myth #3: SEO is the best strategy for attracting new clients

Because lawyers buy into the sales pitch in Myths #1 and #2, they deduce that SEO must be the best strategy for using the Internet to attract new clients. However, even those Myths were reality, it would still not be the case. In order to attract new clients, you must understand how consumers search and how they come to find a lawyer. Before I wrote this post, I looked at the keywords that resulted in web searches finding a lawyers website (I happened to have access to this data for about 25 clients). About 95% of the keywords that resulted in a web searcher visiting a lawyer’s website contained the lawyer’s name. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does bring attention to one major shortcoming. How many consumers that are looking for an attorney know your name and know what types of law you practice. Not many. If you want to attract new clients – ones that don’t know your name – you need to focus on keywords that are general and don’t include your name. This is where SEO becomes really complicated (and really expensive).
I’m a huge believer in SEO for building web traffic. My company focuses on SEO to generate traffic to our websites. It works. But, it’s not cheap and it’s not quick. And it should not be the only thing that you do.


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