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10 Mistakes to Avoid when Hiring an SEO Company

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Attorneys spend thousands of dollars each year on search engine optimization.  How can you ensure that your money is well spent?  Here is what you need to know so that you can ask the right questions before hiring an SEO company.

  1. Don’t hire an SEO company offering fixed package quotes that hasn’t previously taken the time to understand your market. This is like a lawyer accepting a case on a fixed-fee basis without knowing what the case is about.  Companies that offer these quotes often have “one size fits all” programs that are not targeted to customer needs.
  1. Before an SEO Plan is developed, a competitive analysis should be undertaken. In order to develop a cost effective and targeted SEO plan, it’s necessary to clearly understand the competitive environment for the search terms for which high rankings are desired.  As an example, the competition for “personal injury lawyer” in Chicago will be much higher than for the same term Peoria. consequently, there will be a significant difference in the SEO work required to obtain high rankings for firms in these cities.  An SEO expert will want to analyze the efforts being undertaken by the relevant firms in each market receiving high rankings in order to better understand the type and level of efforts required.
  1. Understand exactly what is involved in the SEO plan. An SEO company should tell you exactly what they are going to do, and why they are going to be doing it.  If they won’t tell you, or if they tell you their program is proprietary, or if they imply that you won’t be able to understand what they are doing, use someone else.  Even Google cautions against this technique. Remember – you have ethical obligations concerning marketing, so you will want to know exactly what is being done so that compliance can be assured.
  1. No companies have a monopoly or inside path to high rankings on search engines such as Google. If a company tries to imply that they have a special relationship with Google or “a priority submit” because of their size or paid marketing, don’t use them, because they don’t have any special relationship.
  1. There are not any “must be in” directories for high rankings. 
  1. Be willing to pay for SEO plan development. A good SEO company may charge a premium for plan development, and may also create incentives for you to use their services after the plan is developed.  While a good plan is critical to an effective campaign, so too is knowing how to effectively implement the plan, so chances are that if the SEO company has developed a solid plan and are proposing a reasonable fee for implementation, you’re going to be better off having them execute the plan rather than trying to do so yourself (especially considering your hourly rate). 
  1. Don’t enter into a contract that ties website hosting with “ongoing optimization.” There is no “ongoing optimization” required for hosting (such as continuing to “tweak” a website).

For most law firms, hosting should cost between $4 - $20 per month.  SEO needs will likely vary over time depending upon the competitive market, the rankings being received, and a firm’s SEO objectives and budget.  Your website developer/hosting provider may or may not be the best company for your firm’s SEO work. In any event SEO should be a separate cost component.

New website content that is original and helpful, such as educational blog postings about a firm’s practices, will almost always be helpful for SEO and new client development – but these efforts are a part of an SEO plan, not hosting.

  1. Massive link building campaigns will likely hurt your site. A number of years ago, having hundreds or thousands of incoming links helped rankings.  Now, incoming purchased or acquired links from manipulative SEO practices not only won’t help, but instead will actually hurt, website rankings.  In extreme cases, these practices can permanently damage a domain so that high rankings for a domain may no longer be possible.
  1. If an SEO company mentions special link-building directories that they have developed for their clients, run – don’t walk – from them. Some SEO companies have created special directories and even “fake” websites devoted solely to increasing the rankings for their clients.

In one egregious case that we saw, a “reputable” SEO company created a link farm on a website of a law firm without the firm’s knowledge, which consisted of pages and several hundred links to the websites of the SEO company’s other clients.  Subsequently, this firm went from the first page of the rankings for most key terms to virtually being unranked for anything.  Ultimately, a new website had to be created on a new domain.

If an SEO company discusses “secret techniques” for gaming Google and generating high rankings, understand that such practices will likely be considered “black hat” and unacceptable by Google.  While they may work in the short term, once they are uncovered, the consequences can be significant.

  1. What Works Well for Achieving High Rankings? Google and the other search engines (like Bing and Yahoo!) want to deliver results based upon what is the most desired by those searching on their domain.  The key aspects discussed by these search engines usually include:
    • Authority – having the content that users are seeking, and having a website that is recognized by others as “authoritative,” and
    • Good User Experience. Content is presented in ways in which the user can easily access content, the site loads fast, the site it not overly-crowded with ads, and other aspects of a user experience.

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