Founder at AttorneySync and EPL Digital, digital marketing services with a focus on search.
Recently, I was lurking on a thread in a private Facebook group where lawyers were discussing how to find and hire a digital agency. They were primarily talking about SEO and website design, but there were also some questions related to online advertising and marketing a law practice more generally.
Here are some of the bad recommendations I saw:
• Just search for “SEO agency” on Google and hire whoever appears first.
• Search for your city and practice area plus the word “lawyer.” Click on the first firm that appears. Scroll to the bottom of the site, and just hire the company they use.
• Never hire an SEO agency — they’re all scammers.
• Just have your paralegal update your page titles, and you’re good to go.
• Search for “best SEO company,” and choose one from a list of ranked companies.
There were more awful suggestions, but I’m going to focus on just three of them and explain why they are terrible ways to search for a digital legal marketing agency. Then, I’ll share some of my advice on what to do instead.
Bad Advice On Searching For A Digital Legal Marketing Agency
1. Just search for “SEO agency” on Google, and hire whoever appears first.
The theory here is that if the company ranks for their target queries, it will be the best at helping you rank for yours. Hopefully, as soon as you read that, you saw the flaws.
First, you’re spot-checking for a single query. The reasons it’s showing up prominently in that one instance say little to nothing about its ability to drive organic business for itself, let alone for you.
Second, even assuming they’re doing a wonderful job for themselves, what makes you believe they’ll have the same success for you? Maybe they spend all of their resources marketing their own site. Maybe they’re just a white label agency. Maybe they’re just a lead-generation company. Can you tell whether they have any experience in marketing law firms like yours?
Please don’t hire an SEO agency solely based on who ranks first in a single search on Google.
2. Search for your city and practice area plus the word “lawyer.” Click on the first firm that appears. Scroll to the bottom of the site and just hire the company they use.
Admittedly, this one is a bit more reasonable. As I’ll explain, it’s still fraught with problems, but at least it’s in the realm of rational thinking.
The theory goes that if they got that other law firm to rank, they’re more likely to be successful with your firm. In fact, years ago, I wouldn’t have taken as much umbrage with this reasoning. There were website vendors that had a lot of success merely linking all of their clients’ sites together. The bigger the network of linked sites, the better their rankings. Those days are mostly gone.
Today, even if that theory held (which it really doesn’t), you would still have several issues. First, assuming you used a competitive query, you’re going to get a list of your competitors. So if you hire a competitor’s digital marketing agency, there’s an inherent conflict. Sure, maybe they may create some internal information barrier, but more likely, they’ll focus on the client who pays them the most.
This brings up the second issue: You don’t know the scope of their digital services. For example, is the web vendor listed in the footer doing all the work? Or does the competitor firm have additional digital marketing resources (e.g., in-house specialists or additional external ones)? It’s simply not comparing apples to apples.
Even if you choose a noncompetitive practice area, there are just too many factors to give much weight to the footer look-up strategy.
3. Never hire an SEO agency — they’re all scammers.
Admittedly, as an SEO agency founder, I’m biased here. But I’m also really sympathetic. I see the same outrageous SEO scam spam that you do. In fact, because I sign up and click so you don’t have to, I probably see a lot more than you do.
So you should definitely approach the decision of whether to hire any SEO person with a healthy amount of skepticism and education. That said, if you look at any competitive search engine results pages, particularly in legal, chances are that the businesses and firms with the most organic share of voice are working with full-time professional SEOs. Sure, there are rare exceptions, but for the most part, sites that rank in competitive spaces have significant resources dedicated to SEO. Not all of us are scammers.
So How Should You Hire A Digital Legal Marketing Agency?
Now that we’ve explored some of the worst ways to vet digital agencies, what’s a lawyer to do? First, learn SEO. No, you don’t need to become an expert, but arm yourself with enough knowledge to be able to at least speak the same language.
Second, ask for case studies for businesses or law firms similar to yours for which they’ve had success. However, be skeptical. Assume they’re cherry-picking their best clients. Also, make sure you understand specifically what their role was in getting the results for the client, including what the client’s budget was.
Third, ask a lot of questions, particularly with respect to what success should look like and when you can expect it. Admittedly, SEO forecasting can be challenging. I don’t think you necessarily need hard targets, but certainly have a lot of conversations about business metrics as opposed to indirect metrics (i.e., the amount of content, quantity of links, etc.).
Finally, shop around. Talk to several providers. You’ll start to get a sense of who values accountability, transparency and service (and more importantly, who doesn’t).
If you’re looking for additional questions to ask potential providers, check out Google’s “Do you need an SEO?“