Somewhere in the three to ten days after we launch a new website for a client, I am invariably asked, “So when we will start ranking on page one of search results?” There seems to be a common misconception that a brand new website will immediately get noticed by Google and start appearing on the very first page of search results.
That’s just not going to happen. Ever.
Search engine optimization takes time and effort, and I can guarantee you no website begins ranking overnight. Any website takes a minimum of six to twelve months before Google even considers noticing it exists, so make sure you have realistic expectations when launching a new website. Your website starts off with an SEO baseline – and that is where you will measure your progress from. Your website’s SEO baseline includes traffic, website design, website content, domain age, domain structure, geographic location, competition, and target market. A good SEO strategy starts the process with an audit of your website to measure all of these factors and more. Then, he or she will create a content plan, produce content on an ongoing basis, obtain inbound links (also called backlinks), work with a virtually limitless number of digital citations, and even get your site some awesome social media signals.
But if your website is well-established and you’re STILL not ranking for anything at all, you could be committing one of these digital cardinal sins:
NAPS AREN’T JUST FOR KIDS
One of the most important elements of search engine optimization is NAP, or Name Address Phone. These three elements communicate to Google the legitimacy of your business, and provide Google with a real and physical location for the entity. The name, address, and phone number for your firm should be 100% consistent across all citations – digital or otherwise.
This is where it’s easy to make a seemingly innocuous mistake. If one phone bill or one online software subscription lists a different phone number or address, that information eventually makes its way to a data collection company. These companies collect, verify, and distribute business data for companies like Google and Yelp. (These companies are why your business can be found on sites like Yellow Pages, Google, and Yelp – even if you never created the listing.) When Google attempts to reconcile the NAP you provide through your website with the NAP provided by data collection companies, any inconsistencies will hurt your website’s SEO value. Your local search rankings are heavily influenced by whether or not Google finds the information consistent across all data sources, including major data providers, post office records, state business filings, telephone records, and more.
SELECTING ENTIRELY WRONG KEYWORD PHRASES
Let’s face it: a website will not rank for “personal injury lawyer” in a large market after a few days/weeks/months, if ever. Don’t focus on highly competitive keyword phrases right off the bat. Instead, start optimizing your website for long tail keywords to help the website gain authority with Google first.
For example, if your personal injury firm specializes in maritime accidents, optimize the content pages for keyword phrases like “maritime vessel transfer accident lawyer” or “types of offshore accidents.” These are called long tail keywords, and are much less competitive than something like “maritime lawyer.” As the website gains traction with Google for these longer keyword phrases, and natural bump occurs over time for the more competitive phrases.
‘COPY AND PASTE’ IS YOUR GREATEST ENEMY
Google absolutely HATES duplicate content. From Google’s perspective, it’s constantly looking for unique content and stories from websites demonstrating authority on a subject matter by providing new information. Duplicating that content signals to Google your firm and/or website is not an expert. So why would Google serve that information to searchers?
Among lawyers, duplicative content is most notable in online directory listings. It’s easy to copy and paste your biography from the website to your AVVO profile, SuperLawyers profile, and more. But this is hurting your website’s SEO value in the long run. Google generally rewards uniqueness, assuming the content is providing added value to the searcher. So a great rule of thumb is to avoid ‘copy and paste’ at all times.
When it comes to SEO, these three are just the tip of the iceberg. So many other factors can influence your ranking, including site age, backlinks, reviews, internal domain name structure, and more. And just when everything is running smoothly, Google invariably releases an update to its algorithm. While many great tools exist for those wishing to do it themselves, in the end we recommend hiring a search engine optimization professional for the best results.
Search Engine Optimization Requires A Longterm Commitment
When most law firms start spending money on search engine optimization (SEO), they both hope and expect to see results quickly. While implementing an SEO strategy does lead to immediate changes – like fresh content and better site structure organization – ever the over-achievers, lawyers generally want to see page one, result one organic search results on all major search engines as soon as possible.
The bottom line is that you will start seeing results in six months, meaning initial increases in organic rankings, and after about 12 months, you’ll see true impactful results – while keeping in mind SEO results grow, fluctuate, and eventually level off over time. Bottom line: if you can’t budget for at minimum six months of SEO work, you should spend your money elsewhere. So why should law firms invest in search engine optimization at all? SEO delivers a better rate of return than any other form of online marketing, as 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine and Google gets 92% of that.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION IS NOT ADVERTISING
Lawyers want to see their SEO results match the results of their paid advertising (whether online or off) – and that is simply impossible because SEO IS NOT ADVERTISING. We know our law firms need the SEO work we recommend and do for them. But SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Other marketing vendors selling SEO services to the legal industry don’t do real marketers any favors in this department either – selling snake oil and quick fixes that won’t work but sound great really undermine the hard work the rest of us put in toward long-term SEO goals. It’s also important to remember that vendors promising immediate results may be able to deliver…. for a while. Ultimately, Google recognizes the shady practices used to achieve those results, and your domain name and website may permanently end up on a Google blacklist – someplace you definitely don’t want to be.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE SEO TO WORK?
Consistency is important when it comes to any kind of SEO. Stick with your marketing plan, even if you aren’t seeing noticeable results after month four or even month six; time and commitment will get you the search engine traffic results you want to see. While most law firms are likely to quit right about the time that SEO starts to begin its real work (around six months in), this is just when organic rankings will begin to increase. And, if you quit after a few months and come back to SEO later, most or all of your previous efforts have likely worn off and were a waste of time and money. It usually takes between 8-12 months for new websites in competitive niches to make SEO work in full.
SEPARATE THE LIARS FROM THE EXPERTS
So if your SEO vendor tells you that it’s going to take anywhere from six months to one year to achieve awesome results, they’re telling you the truth… And on the flip side, if you’re talking to a vendor and they tell you they’ll get you ranked #1 in a few months or less, you’ll get a huge amount of traffic overnight, and/or you can do SEO once and rank well forever, you know they’re lying. With everything in the search industry continually changing, and with Google rolling out new algorithms and updating old ones, if you think SEO will get you quick results, think again.