Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lawyers and SEO

I did a post a while back about Lawyers and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Basically, SEO involves doing things that help a website rank well on search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. Currently I do well on a variety of keywords on all the search engines. I do surprisingly well on Yahoo and MSN for keywords where I probably shouldn't do that well. For example, if you search Yahoo for speeding tickets, you'll see that I (at least at the moment) rank #1 in the world. Search MSN for DWI and I also rank #1 in the world.

I think that works for speeding tickets because that term has relatively little competition. Terms like personal injury and lawyer are much more competitive, so I don't rank as well on that. I still do well when such terms are combined with local place name keywords, such as Albany Lawyer (#7 and #8 on Google) or Albany NY Lawyer (#1 and #2 on Google).

When you look at the broader market, you see a number of companies trying to do well on search engines for the big law-related keywords. I'll focus on Google since it accounts for roughly half of all web searches.

Search for lawyer and lawyers.com comes up #1. Lawyers.com is owned by Martindale-Hubbell, which comes up as #3 and #4. FindLaw.com, the biggest competitor overall, ranks #5. Lawyers.com is also the top sponsored link, with FindLaw.com next. I just noticed that the lawyers.com ad says "Attorneys in Maryland", which is probably not the best ad title for that search, but that's a different subject.

You wouldn't think this would be that different, but search for lawyers (instead of the singular lawyer), and now FindLaw has vaulted to #2.

Now search for attorney, and FindLaw is #1, Martindale is #2, and lawyers.com is not in the top 10.

Findlaw.com and lawyers.com make their money by getting attorneys to pay them to be listed in their directories. Martindale has been doing this for years in its print directory. I suspect they are spending $1 million plus per year on SEO, and also on the sponsored links.

Search for "personal injury" or "personal injury lawyers" and you get a whole new set of competitors. And another group for "dui" or "dwi". There's some who do well on regular "organic" listings (the ones you don't pay Google for), and others who are paying a lot to do well on the sponsored links. The ones at the top are probably paying in the ballpark of $20 per click.

The companies that do this call me, maybe once a week, to sell me a listing on their sites. Usually their prices are outrageous. I am actually listed on one of them, DUI.com because their fee is reasonable. Through Google Analytics I'm able to track how many clicks I get from this site, and the cost per click is comparable to what I'm paying for clicks in my own PPC campaign. It's not a tremendous bargain, but reasonable. It costs far more per click than my average overall, and maybe a little more than the typical DWI or DUI click, but it's cheaper than the cost to be the top sponsored link on the keyword DUI.

I suspect that in the long run lawyers running their own PPC campaigns will outbid these guys and their PPC campaigns. But it's going to be tough for any law firm to maintain a high ranking on organic searches for terms without place names (my success on Yahoo and MSN will probably not last). It is said that 80% of clicks are on organic listings, and that users do not want to click on the paid links. That will probably change too. We think our site is relevant to what you're searching for, and we feel so strongly about it that we're willing to pay Google if you click on our ad. For now it seems that many advertisers are inefficient in their advertising, using keywords that really aren't appropriate for what they do. Over time this should get more efficient and users will find the paid links to be more useful.

I find it much more cost-effective to manage my own web presence, but that may be too difficult for most lawyers. I put an awful lot of time into this, and I have about 30 years of experience programming computers (since the late 70s on the Commodore 4K Pet). I've been writing my own websites for about 5 or 6 years. And I have learned enough to realize that at a certain point, I have hire other people to do things to make my web presence stronger. So I hired a graphic designer who made my website look professional. I worked with a programmer to create a dynamic version of my main law firm website. Now I'm working with a programmer to create a more general law-related website that will both enhance my site's ranking and allow me to sell listings to lawyers.

Deep down I wonder if I should really be a lawyer or if I should migrate to designing and managing websites for lawyers, or creating legal content on the web and selling listings and links from such sites. I love the work of being a lawyer - the wonderful feeling I get when I actually help someone. I also like working with the web.

For now, the web stuff is both a key aspect of my business (managing my firm website) and a hobby (creating legal content on the web). And then there's my interest in screenwriting and making movies, but that's for another day. :-)
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