SEO For Lawyers: Does It Ever End Well?
SEO. Your law firm. I know what you’re thinking. Panic is setting in. Can it get anymore uncertain? It’s downright frightening, isn’t it? And yet, here we are again. It’s time to find yet another law firm SEO agency. Well, if you’ve ever wondered why SEO for lawyers rarely works: keep reading.
“Agencies are optimized for profits; not clients.” — Josh Brown
Trust – A Four Letter Word
Law firm seo agencies: Slow, profit-motivated, and overworked. And, possibly… a business model you might be growing tired of.
Their staff–do they really know what they are doing?
Ask yourself: When was the last time you spoke to a colleague who said, “Yeah, my contract with ‘lawyer SEO agency X’ ended great!”
The purpose of this piece is to inform you on how to survive your existing SEO agency contract and make the most of it. Or, what your other options are if you don’t want to go the agency route (yes, they do exist).
Counselor, We Have a Problem
I’m not going to waste your billable hours extolling the virtues of law firm SEO when your presence on this page tells me one thing: you already know attorney SEO works more effectively than any other digital marketing channels.
The problem is the word of these agencies.
The issue I think we all have with lawyer marketing agencies is that they underdeliver on their promises:
There are reasons for this and most are institutional. Most agency owners aren’t bad people; some truly care about their clients.
But at the end of the day, you can’t cash good intentions at the bank. Results matter.
For the very first time, as a veteran of the lawyer marketing industry, I’m going to openly discuss the problems with lawyer SEO agencies.
STOP! Who Are You?
Hi, my name is Josh, founder of Josh Brown Consulting. Over the past decade, I’ve held senior positions as an elite-level SEO operator at some of the top, most prestigious lawyer marketing agencies on God’s green earth.
You know what? I realize I’m serving forbidden fruit. You’re not supposed to hear this. There is an unspoken oath between agency owners bonded in cash to not speak certain truths to law firm founders. Where do I get off depositioning an entire business model in a 10 minute read?
You may ask yourself, how do I know so much about some of the top law firm SEO agency’s processes?
Simple. I built them.
After having ranked some of the largest PI firms in the country to transforming small and solo practitioners into multi-location powerhouses, I realized how much some clients have grown to dislike agencies. So I created something better.
The Time For Change Is Now
So, take a seat in your high back executive leather chair, grab that Mont Blanc, clasp your finest linen notepad… and throw out the window.
Instead, strap on a camouflage ghillie suit, army crawl into the weeds with me and let’s dive into the deep end of agency SEO!
Counselor, here are five survival tips on how to make your pursuit for the next lawyer SEO expert a worthwhile endeavor.
Survival Tip #1: Don’t Expect The World Overnight
I’m rather hard on agencies in this article, but it’s not entirely their fault. A big chunk of lackluster results stem from a very poor talent pool in the SEO industry. No one talks about this, but I’ll give it to you straight: if you had any idea of the level of talent working on your campaign, you’d sidekick the laptop you’re reading this on into your finely appointed oak wall paneling.
Yes, I’m talking about domestic talent, too. Don’t get me started on agencies who outsource your account, either.
These operators just don’t have the ability to do it. The level of commitment it takes to be an expert is jaw dropping. As a fiercely competitive attorney, you already know what I’m talking about.
Are you telling me some bloggers are willing to sacrifice their entire life for 10 years to master the art of SEO? Very few. And those that do, don’t stay employees long. They’ve become Founders & CEO’s.
To make matters worse, the agency will strap on a wideload of 15+ clients to the back of said operator.
If you’ve ever wondered why tasks aren’t executed, why you’re not seeing results, why your emails aren’t being answered, why your operator seems so stressed or disorganized — well, now you know.
Recommendations: Be patient. Be reasonable. If you are in a low to medium competitive location, and your site has link equity, you have a higher chance of success out the gate. They might be able to ride your momentum without much effort.
Tired of under-qualified, overworked employees? Find proven, results-driven operators here.
Survival Tip #2: All That Glitters Is Gold
Money doesn’t just talk in SEO, money moves it.
By that I mean, you really do get what you pay for. I’m not just saying that because I’m in the industry. SEO is extremely expensive and taking action now counts. SEO will never be as affordable and easy as it is right this very second. From here on out, it will become even more difficult and expensive.
Local Service Ads will soon skyrocket in price, cost-per-click buy-ins are mammoth, and you’ve got competitors dropping serious loot to earn Google Maps & organic placements. There’s a reason it costs money, not to mention the skill to achieve it.
I know you hear this often, but SEO for lawyers really is an investment. Treat it as such. You definitely don’t want an operator cutting corners on content, or worse, links. We’ll get into more about backlinks below.
Recommendations: Always negotiate. A good agency tracks their hours and knows their numbers, but few are this granular. Still, they should have a solid idea as to what will make them profitable and therefore, how far down in price they can go.
Due to the hard costs and labor involved, if you cannot afford a $5,000 minimum monthly engagement and can’t wait 9-12 months for results, SEO is not for you at this time. Try paid traffic, build up your coffers with some wins, and then go for an evergreen solution.
For those of you in more competitive locations, expect a much higher engagement. If you are quoted lower by your lawyer SEO agency, maintain suspicion. Corners are being cut somewhere (most likely links). I guarantee it.
Just keep in mind you’re dealing with an agency. They have oodles of overhead so their abilities may be rather limited depending on the company.
The average SEO agency spends 10% on your marketing. Yes, just 10%. Consultants operate lean and can afford to invest more–way more. Click here to receive a just investment.
Survival Tip #3: Beware The Bottom Line
Many lawyer marketing agencies will demand a new law firm website be built out upon engagement. That’s fine–if you need it.
A new lawyer website should be developed when the need is present to improve conversions and all that goes with it (e.g. instill trust, branding, etc.), or to enable an SEO-friendly backend, like WordPress.
Sometimes agencies will implement mandatory design policies to fatten their bottom line. I think that’s wrong.
Recommendations: Ask for compelling arguments as to why you need a new site design. If none exist, see if you can roll that investment into your SEO retainer spread out over 3 months or into a special link building package as a kickstart. I’m not saying to avoid the investment; just put the resources to work in a more efficient manner.
Lastly, I suggest owning all digital assets you pay for, website included. “Custom CMS” is sometimes a codeword for “yours until we part ways.” Beware.
Interested in a no-pressure consultation to find out what your campaign really needs to succeed without needless five-figure upsells? Click here to discover the data-driven truth.
Survival Tip #4: Links… The Ultimate Sin
Are you ready? OK. Here goes.
Every law firm SEO agency buys links. Yes, even your agency.
I don’t mean just a little. I mean a lot. Millions of dollars — enough to rival a small country’s GDP — are transacted each year in backlinks in the name of SEO for lawyers.
“Content is King,” some might say. Let’s be real here. Yes, content is important, but is more foundational.
To put it another way: If good content is akin to a bodybuilder’s physique, links are anabolic steroids and most top ranked firms are juiced to the max, brah!
Now, here’s where agencies typically screw it up.
They cut costs to optimize profit.
Makes sense to any business owner, right? Sure it does. But, allow me to put it into context. Going back to our bodybuilder on performance enhancements analogy, cheap links is like taking our amazing physique and stuffing it with fast food, soda, and steroids made in some shady dealers bathtub.
A fully optimized website needs the best digital assets to compete and sustain its dominance for years. The latter is where they are short sighted, for what a campaign does now will reflect where that site will be a year from now.
I’ll tell you this: onsite SEO (content distribution) is fairly simple. Link building, particularly manipulation of anchor text and link relevance, is a very serious, high level skill. The latter is what separates the experts from the specialists.
Recommendations: Require adequate link metrics baked into your contract. In your monthly execution summary, have your account manager include the Domain Rating (link power) and estimated monthly traffic of each link placement for auditing purposes.
It goes deeper. Make sure the links, especially guest posts, are properly vetted for abuse and toxicity.
Also, consider negotiating a minimum number of links. You may receive serious pushback, but try to at least get some links going every month. Maintaining a consistent link push is important, because of link velocity. To achieve top position, not only do you have to meet your competitors’ existing link achievements, you have to beat their current link acquisition in real time.
Other agency owners will curse me for saying this, but never let them stop building quality, relevant links. Your competitors won’t.
Survival Tip #5: Demand Radical Transparency
Most agencies reference transparency in their reporting:
- Rank tracker reports
- Analytics access
- Perhaps even a dashboard
But you deserve more than that.
Recommendations: Not only should you demand a list of links along with their power and traffic, ask what percentage of your retainer has been spent that month on your marketing. In fact, if you wanted to, you could even ask how many marketing dollars were invested.
What’s to hide?
Hasn’t our industry seen enough “SEO voodoo” for a lifetime?
If results aren’t there, accountability matters in an effort to sort things out.
Agency vs Consultant
As a consultant, I am biased, but I’m not dishonest: not all SEO for lawyers agencies are bad. Some do get great results for their clients. The difference between an agency versus consultant is that agencies lean towards working with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of clients. This, among other potential issues, is where things may begin to break down.
A consultant will work with a select few, enabling them to provide a more personal relationship with their client roster.
Additionally, the level of expertise found with consultants is often much higher than those found with a base employee.
Conversely, what are the pros of an agency?
- If you desire a hands-off approach to your digital marketing, an agency might be a better fit.
- If you have loads of menial requests that may tax a consultant’s infrastructure, choose an agency.
- If you don’t have the budget, there are agencies that will take on your campaign.
Recommendations: Consult with both and see which is the best fit for your firm. It’s that simple.
With a strategic partnership, your next SEO engagement doesn’t have to end poorly; it can flourish in grand spendor for many moons to come.
The news and editorial staff of the Bay Area News Group had no role in this post’s preparation.