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Beyond Page Rank: Looking to beef up your online marketing? Stop fixating on search engine rank

Posted Nov 4, 2013 11:19 PM CST
By By Mark Jacobsen

Many law firms share a common bias about online marketing: It’s all about how high you rank in search engine results. Many attorneys also believe that placing at or near the top of search results for so-called head-term phrases that contain a practice area, location and either “attorney” or “lawyer” — e.g., “San Diego DWI lawyer” — will unlock digital success.

Unfortunately, those are flawed assumptions.

They are understandable, however. Online search is now the way for consumers to find local businesses. And search engine optimization (SEO) has mushroomed into a big business.

The problem is that rank can be an unpredictable metric. And as a recent FindLaw research study found, even the most sought after head-term phrases have negligible impact on law firm website traffic.

How rank works

Search engines use proprietary algorithms to deliver results. Those algorithms weigh the relevance of particular Web pages to an individual user’s query, along with the user’s location, search history, type of device and browser and more. One result: Search results vary by individual user. What you see when you search for a specific phrase usually differs from what someone else sees, making it impossible to guarantee where your firm will rank.

What about head-term phrases? Earlier this year, FindLaw analyzed traffic to thousands of U.S. law firm websites. Two key findings:

• 48.8 percent of all traffic originates from search engines

• Of that 48.8 percent, only 0.4 percent — or about one visitor out of every 250 to the typical law firm site — comes from head-term phrases.

Without question, rank for head-term phrase search results can be valuable. But you shouldn’t rely solely on it. Prospects often find your site through key phrases that are different than what you would anticipate.

What’s more, you also need to consider what happens once visitors arrive at your site. With that in mind, here are some equally important elements to consider when crafting your online marketing approach.

Element #1: Content and design

You want to make a memorable first impression and offer visitors reasons to stick around. A professional design makes a compelling statement about your firm. An intuitive navigation structure shows your attention to detail. And content such as blog posts showcase your expertise and help your site attract traffic from those “unpredictable” queries that you didn’t anticipate.

Element #2: Conversion

If content and design are the opening elements in a dialogue with a prospect, conversion is akin to sealing the deal. The phrase refers to using site elements to create a user experience that converts Web visitors into clients. How? Through design that offers users clear pathways to your firm’s services. Through copy that addresses prospect’s needs. By prominently displayed contact information. With tools such as online chat that make it easy for visitors to connect with your firm.

Element #3: Multi-device capability

Per several recent studies, up to 34 percent of all Web users search exclusively with mobile devices. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile, visitors won’t stay for long — no matter how high you rank in search results.

Element #4: Awareness-building tactics

By itself, a highly ranked website will attract visitors. But other techniques will help expand your online presence. Facebook and LinkedIn can refine your positioning and help engage prospects. Paid search advertising can quickly raise your firm’s visibility. Lead generation campaigns can deliver a steady flow of new clients.

Bottom line: A broad-based, integrated marketing strategy is the most productive way to reach prospects.

FindLaw Senior Director of Strategic Development and Thought Leadership Mark Jacobsen leads the development of breakthrough products and services that help law firms achieve their marketing objectives. Before joining FindLaw, Mark was a pioneer in the software and Web development sectors and is now a regular speaker at industry conferences on such topics as digital marketing strategy, online search, Web development, online learning and more.

FindLaw is a part of Thomson Reuters, delivering industry-defining content, expertise, and technologies to those who practice, support, create, and enforce the law. See a better way forward at

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