Guest post from Hank Stout, Founding Partner, Sutiff & Stout, PLLC

In 2008, I co-founded a personal injury firm with my partner Graham Sutliff. When we started our insight into the world of internet marketing and SEO was limited to knowing we needed a website that was, preferably, on the first page of Google.   Since then we have learned a lot regarding search engine optimization (or “SEO”) and the companies that market such services to law firms. Our firm has hired and fired 5 different SEO companies and interviewed at least 25 others.

This article provides some of the things we look for in evaluating our SEO companies as well as some red flags we have found when dealing with SEO companies. My hope is that other law firms or lawyers can avoid wasting time and thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars on ineffective web marketing companies.

To put it simply, most SEO or internet marketing companies are completely full of “it.” While it is obvious that the emails promising to put you on the first page of Google are not legitimate, it is sometimes difficult to determine if a person or company can really add value to your internet marketing. Here are five signs that you need to consider when selecting an SEO company or when evaluating your current SEO company:

1. Their reporting focuses on “vanity” metrics.

Examples of vanity metrics include rankings for unimportant keywords, information about irrelevant referral traffic, and bare bones social media statistics. By way of example, I don’t care if my firm’s website ranks well for keywords like “Denny Crane” (due to a just-for-fun blog post about the greatest TV lawyers of all time) or some other term that has no relationship to the services I provide. What matters to me is how our firm is ranking for the keywords that drive business, like “Houston Personal Injury Lawyer.” Likewise, while I appreciate that long tail key words (“Houston best personal injury lawyer tx”) may drive some traffic, if this is the only key words you are ranking for then you will likely never be found.

Beware of getting lost in irrelevant numbers and data. There is a tremendous amount of data that is available that doesn’t have any real relationship to lead generation for a law firm. An example from our firm is referral traffic from a scholarship contest announcement that was distributed widely among high schools and colleges. While we are happy to help students who want to further their education, this traffic is fairly meaningless when it comes to lead generation. Also, statistics about the amount of retweets a tweet with a link to a blog post garners means little if the post itself wasn’t linked to by an influencer somewhere else online.

The three things we look at are ranking, traffic and conversions (these are listed in least meaningful to most meaningful). Meaningful performance metrics are those indicating conversion rates. When users come to our firm’s site, do they submit their information through our contact form? Do they spend more than a few seconds on the site, or come back for multiple visits in a 30-day period? When we sign a new client, did he or she find us online through search results? These are the kind of statistics that show whether your website – and your SEO – are really working for you.

2. They can’t explain what work has been completed over a given period or why.

Your SEO should be able to tell you what work has been completed in a given time frame and why that work was done. Did your SEO build out 25 new landing pages in one month? Ask them why they did this. They should have a concrete answer about why these pages were necessary and how they will help your firm achieve its goals.

A lot of SEO firms have a cookie cutter approach to the process and that may or may not work for you depending on the competitive nature of the market you are in. When we are looking to only rank for a specific term in a specific area of law, we have had some success with firms who take a cookie cutter approach. However, as the competition increases so too does the need to go away from the cookie cutter approach.

3. They have no clout within their own industry.

Be wary of any SEO that doesn’t have any influence in its own industry. Follow your SEO on Twitter, and connect with account managers on LinkedIn. Your account manager should be blogging regularly about SEO and speaking at conferences whenever possible. Examples of major SEO conferences include MozCon, SMX Advanced, PubCon, and the Inbound Marketing Summit.

Another way to look for clout that matters is to determine what key words are most competitive in your market and then Google such terms in other Geographically competitive markets (i.e. LA, New York, Chicago, Houston etc.). Then look at the bottom of the websites for those firms ranking well. Oftentimes, the name of their SEO company will be at the bottom of the page. While this is approach obviously has some downsides, it is nevertheless a good place to start.

4. The content they publish on your site is not written by an attorney.

If possible, the content on your law firm’s website should be written by an attorney whether that is someone in your office or someone you know who is an attorney. If you hire an attorney to help you with content, don’t be afraid to ask for references, and be sure to evaluate the quality of the content. In the end, high quality content is what really matters when it comes to search rankings.

5. They guarantee “page one” rankings.

If your SEO makes any guarantees about “page one” rankings, RUN AWAY! In SEO, there are no guarantees. Google and other search engines make frequent changes to their algorithms, which are proprietary and not known to the public (including SEOs). Quality SEOs do not guarantee that your firm will wind up at the top of page one of Google search results. However, they should be able to demonstrate past successes and explain to you in plain language how they can help your firm improve its visibility online.

I hope this information helps, and if you have any questions or would like to discuss, please feel free to email or call me.

While I might play an uber-techie at work, I really depend upon much smarter and techier people than me to make sense out of all this stuff flying at me on a daily (hourly) basis. For instance, one of my go-to smarties is Jayne Navarre for all things digital technology in the legal space.

Via a LinkedIn Group that I scan, Eric Peter Hoffman posted the following video on the new (now implemented) algorithms of Hummingbird and Penguin (sounds like a couple of Batman villains) that finally makes sense.

It is also a simple explanation as to why law firm blogs really must use the services of JD Supra, Lexology, YouTube, Wikipedia, and the like to push our content to the top search results pages. SEO alone ain’t gonna get you there alone.

Some pictures just say it all, and Matt Homann nailed it with this one: 20131029-145415.jpg
As I am listening to Deb McMurray review her study, 2012-2013 AM Law 100 Websites Foundational Best Practices Survey, gotta say, some things just never change. When I am going over a bio review with my partners I tell them to read the bio from your clients’ viewpoint, and answer this series of questions:

Do you represent companies like mine? With business issues like mine? And do you have the solutions I am seeking?

If you cannot answer these simple questions, then your bio is crap to the reader. They are not there to figure out if you are a Super Lawyer, but if you can solve the problem that is keeping them up at night. If you cannot answer these simple questions, don’t worry about SEO, navigation, or any other concerns a web consultant is concerned about. It doesn’t matter if the content isn’t there and relevant to the visitor. So, once again: 1. Do you represent companies like mine? 2. Do you handle BUSINESS problems like mine? 3. Can you SOLVE business problems like mine? HT to Jeff Yerkey/Right Hat because he is sitting next to me and asked me to say hi.

Kevin O'Keefe & Me at the Clipper's Game.
Kevin O’Keefe & Me at the Clipper’s Game.
I’m lucky to know some really cool and smart people out “there.” These really cool and smart people have individual thoughts and opinions, sometimes contrary to what the other really smart and cool people think, believe, and hold dear. I like hanging out and around people who get social marketing. They don’t all agree what that means, how to do it, and what the best practices are, but we have really great conversations. Some will say that social marketing is about the content. Others will say that it’s about the promotion. And others about the opportunity for engagement. I say that it’s a cycle: Content > Promotion > Engagement > Content > Promotion > Engagement. And not necessarily in that order. I got to spend some time with Kevin O’Keefe last week and we talked about using social tools for engagement. And how you identify and build relationships. Yesterday I got to spend time with Adrian Lurssen in my office and we discussed creating content. He wrote a blog piece, What Does Marketing Mean Anyway (Maybe the Opposite of What You First Think …), that was inspired by our meeting, which had great bullet point actions for lawyers to take:

  • Look at your analytics. They’ll take the guesswork out of what interests your market. Technology can tell you exactly what interests these people.
  • Once a month, look closely at which of your articles did well, and which did not. Look for patterns and trends. Try to figure out why (lots of shares? Means it struck a common chord. Pick-up by another blog or press outlet? etc.)
  • Escalate the content that does well. Write another post on the topic. Turn it into a series, a webinar, a video, a stand-alone blog of its own. (All of these are options, depending on how big the reception, and how much you want to be known for this topic.)
  • Look at the searches that drove people to your content. Why are you being found? These keywords are, among other things, a pretty clear expression of what interests your readers right now.
  • Look at who is coming to your work – which companies? which subscribers? which networks? All of it valuable insight into the current interests swirling through your marketplace.
  • Ask your clients what they want to know about. Think how pleased they’ll be to a) see you care, and b) read your thoughtful response.
  • Read industry periodicals with an eye to how editors frame the issues.
  • Rely on your own insights. You know your clients and what makes them tick. Don’t go looking for something else to write about; write what you know.
  • Join active LinkedIn groups populated by professionals in the industries you serve. Listen to their conversations in those groups.
  • Once a month, measure who socially shares your written work. What are they saying? If a share leads to conversation, be pleased with the compliments. Use the negative comments as fodder for your next writing assignment – you know what your audience cares about…

The cool thing is, I don’t have to agree with all or any of these bullet points, or any of his article, really (although I do). I just get to be inspired by his inspiration that was inspired by an engagement which was inspired by some content. And Adrian’s blog post inspired me to write this, which makes him a valuable asset in my arsenal of doing a good job. And Kevin reminds me again and again about engagement. What I have found, over these years, is that content, promotion and engagement are one activity. Rinsed and repeated over and over again. I cannot promote what’s in someone’s head (mine or anyone else), so I need that content (a blog post, an article, a tweet). My formula for successful content marketing and business development:

  • Create content of value (determined through trial and error, measured by analytics).
  • Promote content via social media tools (blogging, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube).
  • Engage with other people out there (retweet, @, hyperlinks, LinkedIn connections).
  • Build network of value (Twitter Lists, Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, etc).
  • Engage some more.
  • Rinse and repeat.

Over time, and not a long amount of time, you will attract and meet people you didn’t otherwise know. Your social marketing will convert these strangers into people you do know. (I picked that up from a nifty slide Adrian had yesterday). And it is with these people that you now know, with whom you will develop relationships, where you will find new business opportunities (direct or referred). Increasing that pipeline, baby.

Some more really cool and smart people
It’s a symbiotic relationship: content + promotion + engagement. As are our personal relationships. Alone, none of them mean a thing, or can be successful. Together, they can be magical. Adrian was worried that my big leave behind from yesterday’s meeting was that Google Reader is being retired (don’t get me started again). But it wasn’t. The leave behind for me was this: To get a lawyer to open up his or her mind and to pour their thoughts out so that I can turn that intellectual capital into content, that can then be promoted, and eventually used to engage new people and build trusting relationships, that will lead to new business opportunities, they have to be inspired. And for the lawyers in my firm to be inspired, I have to be inspired. And I get inspired by really smart and cool people. Thank you Kevin and Adrian. You inspire me. You really do. (as do Gail, Gina, Laura, Tim, Laura, Lindsay, Rebecca and Nancy, and so many, many others). Viva Las Vegas!

I invited JD Supra’s Adrian Lurssen to my San Francisco office to give a presentation to our lawyers up here. Fire them up to take our blogging and content to the next level. We had a full house. Great discussion. And then he broke the news to me about Google Reader being retired.

Just had a cool working lunch with @heather_morse at @bargerwolen in SF. Biggest takeaway for Heather: Google Reader is shutting down. 🙂

— Adrian Lurssen (@AdrianLurssen) March 14, 2013

I had my own little tantrum. But I have to say, Hitler sums it up for me below. Enjoy. Damn you Google.

I’m at the Hildebrandt/West LegalEdcenter “Social and Digital Media for Law Firms 2012” conference. Lots of great content.

But the BEST thing I have heard today came from my buddy Amy Knapp, Knapp Marketing (@knappmarketing).

We’re talking about the ol’ hub & spoke. Website (for me the blogs) in the center, with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc. pointing towards that.

Amy challenged us that the model is old and outdated.

CONTENT is the center of the hub, with everything pointing to it, especially JD Supra and Lexology.

I’ll give Amy credit three times, then the idea will just morph into one of mine. So far, two down, Amy.

OK. I play the G+ game, but that’s really what it is. A game which I’ll explain below.

I ran across this story, Facebook Gets Pluses From Google’s Mounting Minuses, via my Google Reader (which I can no longer share with you) today.

I have to admit, I didn’t read the article too carefully once I saw this graphic:

I’m not surprised. Google+ sucks. But, damn it, I was posting links to our firm’s G+ page earlier today.



We play the G+ game because of search, and that’s it.

So, don’t worry that the G+ emperor has no users. It has something better. The +1 button. Which can help bump you to that coveted page 1 of search results.

And if you like this, please +1 using the handy, nifty button below (happy smile, with a wink).

Does your firm blog? Does Google know it?? I’ve been traveling and pretty busy, as many of you know, and I’m catching up on different posts and what’s happening in the industry. Now that Mad Men is over for the season, I need to find my inspiration elsewhere. Guest blogger Jon Ivanco‘s post,  Dear Law Firms: Stop Hiding Your Blogs, caught my eye over on Adrian Dayton‘s blog, Marketing Strategy and the Law – Social Media Edition.

Last week I was tasked with creating a list of all the blogs that were run by AmLaw firms numbered 101-200.  I visited every firm’s website one by one to see what blogs they were currently publishing to the public.  This was a nightmare.  Blogging by and large is not prominently displayed on the vast majority of their websites. The concept behind creating content for people to read and gain knowledge relies on their ability to find it.  Content should be easily accessible when navigating these websites.  It does not strike me as being too difficult to accomplish this; every website had a newsletter or publications tab, yet only about one third of the sites had a direct link to their blog(s).

A lot of firms are still hiding their blogs, if they have them. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this, but if you write it, don’t you want them to read it?? It’s like making the office locations part of a treasure hunt. I know you want your firm’s website to be cool and all original, but why hide the office locations?? I don’t get it. My firm doesn’t make the AmLaw 200, or the NLJ 250 … but did we pass the test?? The Google Test?? Do this:

  1. Google your firm.
  2. Look at the results.
  3. Is a link to your blogs in the results?

If not, you need to fix your website. As for my firm … we passed with flying colors! Phew.


As I mentioned here, I was invited to participate on a panel at the Legal Marketing Association-Bay Area Chapter’s 12th Annual Technology Program on a panel, Beyond Print: Moving Marketing Communications into the Audio and Video Realms.

The panel was moderated by Jen Klein from Blattel, and included Joe Calve, CMO, MoFo; Brian Colucci, Director of Marketing, Townsend; and Dave Pistoni, Principal and Creative Director, doubledave (great company name, by the way).

First of all, kudos for Jen leading a great session. We had our notes, our questions, who was going to take the lead when and where. But we collectively agreed to let the audience drive the content. Come on. We can talk AT you and tell you what WE think you want to hear as an audience member, or we can actually discern what YOU want to hear and respond accordingly.

Jen asked the first questions, then we, as a panel, began interacting with the audience.

Sometimes the questions came from Jen, sometimes the audience, sometimes the audience were talking amongst themselves, sharing their experiences. It allowed for a lot of energy, and as we (the panel), discussed afterward that we all LEARNED something too. I got some great ideas, and left the room more energized than I was when I arrived.

Obviously, I couldn’t take notes while on the panel, so Lydia Bednerik rocked it by tweeting the program via #lmatech.

After the jump, I’m going to pull a few of her comments out, and elaborate. Continue Reading Beyond Print … Marketing Communications Continues to Evolve

I was asked today by a colleague and friend, “What innovative things are you doing there?” (at my firm). My first reaction was to feel a little shame … and guilt. We’re not rolling out any new software, or launching any new programs. I have a proposal in to redo our website with some forward thinking features, and I have a Facebook page ready to launch as soon as I get the green light. Nothing really “innovative” there. And then I thought, “Well, what is innovative?” To tell you the truth, I don’t know what “innovative” is, and I don’t think it really matters. What matters is that our lawyers are busy, and our clients are happy. All things being equal, clients hire attorneys they know, like and trust. It’s been like this for the 12 years I’ve been in legal marketing, and I’m sure it was like that before I joined my first firm, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. I believe what has changed is within the “knowing” and “liking” parts of the equation. I do not think the “trusting” part has changed much. So how has a client getting to know an attorney changed?

  • We know that general counsel are turning more and more to Google for legal research and due diligence.
  • We know that general counsel no longer depend solely on referrals from trusted colleagues, current counsel and Martindale-Hubbell.
  • Law firms have more direct control in how we position the firm and the attorneys via our blogs, attorney profiles, SEO, etc.
  • Advertising, while not dead, has certainly morphed away from magazine placements, to targeted online placements.
  • By-lined articles and newsletters, while not dead, have given way to blog posts and e-zines.
  • Monthly breakfast briefings have given way to webinars.

So how has a client getting to “like” an attorney changed?

  • Through blogging, expanded LinkedIn profiles, Twitter and inviting clients into your “personal” space, via Facebook, for instance. These online tools and applications open up an attorney’s personal interests to the client in a non-aggressive manner. It allows for the sharing of content that includes both professional (a news article), and personal (you’re off to see a favorite band play, or you just received your iPhone4). Clients get to discover and uncover commonalities, through such subtleties as the Groups you join via LinkedIn, which might not be revealed any other way.

I have two stories here from Facebook. Both interactions took someone from my “external” circle of “friends,” and brought them closer:

  • I have a colleague in Florida whom I have yet to meet in person. Through a Facebook note, I realized that she (Vivian) is married to her high school sweetheart, Darl. Well, my grandmother’s name is Vivienne Darl. What a coincidence. That coincidence drew us into a deeper personal conversation, which has allowed us to uncover more commonalities, heightening our level of knowing, liking and trusting one another.
  • I’m working on my family tree and have one ancestor, William Jay Doyle, traced back to Philadelphia in the 18th Century. Unfortunately, there are two William Doyles living in Phillie at that time, and I am having a hard time confirming which one is mine. I noticed a colleague, whom I had met at a recent LMA Conference, and then “friended” on Facebook, changed her town to Doylestown, PA. I recounted my story. Low and behold, she did a little digging, and her town was founded by a William Doyle. Is it MY William Doyle … I’m not sure, but it’s a great lead! Once again, how would that information EVER be uncovered, other than by chance of a status update? As for me and my “pal,” well, Doylestown, and a visit to her farm and family, are definitely on my list of future vacation spots with my family.

Through all of the changes in technology we’ve experienced in the past few years, what hasn’t changed is the “trust” factor. We might get introduced, researched and “found” via “innovative” technologies, but, when it comes down to it, trust is built when we “log-off and meet-up.” Sometimes this is via a phone call, but, at some point, it has to come down to “face-time.” Lawyers must continue to get in front of clients to solidify relationships that have been introduced and developed via technology (either the phone, email or Internet/social networking). I think a lot of firms, in the name of “saving travel costs” are sacrificing in-person client development to the detriment of building and strengthening relationships. So, what is my firm doing that’s innovative these days? We’re getting out of the office and spending the day with our clients. We’re getting on planes and visiting our clients in their business headquarters. We’re taking our CLE seminars in-house. We’re walking the halls, and we’re shaking hands. It might not seem innovative, but, really, what is?