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SEO Matters: A Q&A with Sarah Hadden

I’ll be candid: Search engine optimization, or SEO, isn’t a cornerstone of what we do for our clients, simply because most of our clients get their work through referrals and not Google searches. As a result, SEO is secondary in the hierarchy of our clients’ content marketing activities.

However, the work that we do makes a positive impact on their SEO, even though that’s not our primary goal. By planning and helping our clients create content that reflects their clients’ and prospective clients’ concerns, we help our clients improve their SEO by ensuring their websites present fresh and relevant information.

When our clients have more technical optimization needs (such as a practice that relies heavily on clients finding them through online search engines), we work with Sarah Hadden of Words and Pictures Marketing.

I asked Sarah to give me her best SEO advice for law firms, regardless of whether they rely on it for finding the bulk of their clients. Here’s what she told me.

Need help turning your legal marketing to-do list into reality? We’ve got you covered! Muse Communications was named one of Dallas’ best legal public relations firms by the readers of Texas Lawyer (although we represent clients all over Texas). Drop us a line.

1) How does SEO work?

No idea. And by that, I mean SEO tactics and best practices are always evolving because search engines are always evolving. We’re never going to outsmart Google, so we have to consistently apply the tactics and best practices the SEO community endorses, while constantly sharpening our skills and staying vigilant – because whatever’s working today will be replaced by more creative and sophisticated tactics down the road.

I can tell you how SEO doesn’t work. There’s no super-secret SEO trick that a developer can perform on the back end of your site that will guarantee front page results. None. There’s a technical side to SEO, yes, and it’s critical and will probably require a professional consultation at some point – but a content strategy is the foundation of any solid SEO plan today. Any vendor who ignores your content and tries to hook you with tech-only solutions is hoping for a big monthly retainer and counting on you not asking questions.

The best SEO pros start by asking you questions. What’s your overall marketing goal? How are you currently getting clients? Do you have a content strategy? No vendor can boost your rankings without a deep understanding of your niche, your competition and your goals.

2) What common SEO mistakes do you see people make?

Producing content without a plan. We’ve all heard “content is king” for so long, I think many have adopted the idea that if some is good, more is better. So they produce more (and more) words in the hope that search engines will reward them for all that activity. It just doesn’t work like that.

I remind clients that people don’t go online in search of a sales pitch. You just won an award or launched a new service offering? That’s great – add something to your website about that and share it on social media. But that kind of content isn’t going to drive organic traffic to your site because your potential clients aren’t looking for it. People use search engines to find answers to questions or solutions to problems. So writing for SEO means creating high-quality content that people are already looking for.

Another common mistake? Ignoring the basics of technical SEO. In spite of giving the technical stuff a brush-off a moment ago, you really do need to pay attention to the basics. Your best bet is to install a reliable SEO plug-in – Yoast is the industry go-to – and filling in the boxes it provide to you every time you add content to your site. I’m referring here to things like meta-descriptions and image tags, which help search engines understand what your content is about and why it might be relevant to search queries.

I’ll also wave a flag for having an SEO consultant or skilled marketing professional perform occasional site audits. And for Pete’s sake have someone maintain your website.

You wouldn’t buy a new car or a house without a maintenance plan in mind, but I regularly speak to business owners who have paid (handsomely) for beautiful websites but reject the notion that they need someone to look after it. Software updates, speed tests, broken link checks – these things should be done on a monthly basis. Ignore website maintenance at your own peril. Stuff breaks. Your website is an important business asset. Don’t let the fact that you don’t fully understand your website prevent you from taking care of it.

3) What’s your favorite piece of SEO advice?

View it as a long game. SEO isn’t set-it-and-forget-it, and it’s not a one-time fix. Rather, it’s a mindset and an ongoing discipline just like any other marketing channel. You wouldn’t base your entire business development strategy on attending one trade show or networking event, right? Nor can you expect to build a steady stream of clients by “doing SEO” for 90 days.

4) Most of our clients get their business through referrals, rather than organic searches or PPC. How do SEO concepts apply to them?

Be sure to address your local SEO. A referrer might recommend you to someone but without providing or even knowing the complete and proper name of your law firm. Make it easy for someone to track you down by building out your Google My Business profile. Including photos, detailed information about services and client testimonials if possible.

You’ll be annoyed to expend that effort when your real goal is to get people to your website, but Google’s goal is to satisfy a search query right there on the search engine results page (SERP) – like in the map pack or knowledge pack – without the searcher having to click through to a website. Remember, Google is really, really good at location-based search. If someone is in your city and is looking for an attorney who does what you do, make it easy on them by having an up-to-date business profile with your contact information front and center.

5) What are your favorite SEO tools?

I like to nerd out with tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs. You can get incredible insights not only about your own website but those of competitors, and they’re unequalled when it comes to auditing a site for technical errors or crafting a keyword strategy. They’re also expensive and have a steep learning curve.

For a motivated DIY website owner or a marketer who wants to be little more SEO savvy, I’m a fan of SEO Site Checkup. Super-clean user interface, easy to understand, and there’s a free version. Go run a scan of your site on it right now if you want a quick snapshot of the current state of your technical SEO.

6) If content is so important for SEO, what’s the game plan for making sure it does the job?

You said it right there: have a plan. Let me go back to the house analogy for a moment. Have you ever seen one of those wacky houses where the homeowner moved walls around or added an extra room every few years as the need for more space arose? Looks fine from the outside, but when you enter it makes no sense. Rooms that can only be accessed via other rooms, rooms with no windows, hallways leading nowhere. You get the picture. Follow a blueprint, in other words.

The most user-friendly and search engine-friendly websites were built with – and grow with – an orderly, coherent plan. Draw pictures of your website’s structure, then imagine you are a search bot and are literally crawling through your pages. Do you have a zillion pages that do not link to one another?

Links are how bots get from one page to another (and from one website to another) so no links means bots will get frustrated. And when they’re frustrated, they don’t stick around long. On the other hand, do you have a small number of super-valuable “cornerstone” pages providing evergreen content, with a large number of supporting pages that point back to them? Bingo. That means the “rooms” of your site have an organized layout and hierarchy. Search engines, and users, appreciate that.

And one more plea for creating content that’s valuable to users. We all know online competition is stiff and attention spans are short. That doesn’t mean cranking out reams of short, lightweight, easy-to-digest articles that play well on social media. You’ll have some of that, and that’s fine.

But, over time, the real workhorse content on your site – the stuff that will attract readers and drive traffic to your site for years to come – is going to take some time and some resources to produce. Hire a writer. Aim for the best wordsmith you can afford. Ask for long-form content that’s well-researched, comprehensive and thorough. Seek to fully answer a potential client’s questions and solve their problem, as doing so positions you as a trusted authority. That’s the kind of content that turns searchers into readers and readers into clients.

7) Why is SEO expensive?

Because it’s valuable. And time-consuming. And because the best SEO consultants only work with a few clients at any one time. You’re basically paying someone outside your business to care deeply and sincerely about your success and to pay slavish attention to things you don’t have time to fool with.

This is an important function today, and that level of devotion comes at a price. My advice? Start with a high-level flyover from an SEO consultant, and include your marketing staff and content creators in the process. As with any business relationships, the best ones are long-term and are with people you trust.

Amy Boardman Hunt Muse CommunicationsAmy Boardman Hunt is the president of Muse Communications LLC, which provides content marketing and public relations to the legal profession. She began her career in legal journalism and has worked in legal marketing and public relations since 1997. She can be reached at amy.hunt@muselegalpr.com.

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