Search Engine And E-Newsletter Optimization

Good external search engine rankings are important, but it’s also important to understand your internal web site statistics and the potential of your electronic newsletter.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 5/1/2002; Law Practice Management magazine, “nothing.but.net” column; American Bar Association

If people search for “patent attorney” on Google and find my firm, they are more likely to hire me. Right? Well, maybe. Good external search engine rankings are important, but it’s also important to understand your internal web site statistics and the potential of your electronic newsletter.

Submission Services vs. Optimization Services

For most law firms, a great deal of web site traffic originates from search engines, directories, and portals such as Google, AltaVista, and MSN (which I’ll collectively refer to as “search engines”). If your firm’s site has been cataloged by these search engines, you are more likely to be found.

Like submission services, search engine optimization companies try to get your firm listed in a particular directory. But unlike submission services, search engine optimization companies try to get your URLs listed in the first few pages for relevant searches. Before you hire a search engine optimization company, consider fine-tuning your site yourself. Here’s what I did.

Seven Steps to Better Search Engine Results

First, I identified the top 20 keywords and phrases (which I’ll call “keywords”) that I’d like to have associated with my firm.

Second, I searched for my 20 keywords on my three favorite search engines (Google, AltaVista, and Lycos) and looked at the first three pages for each search term. I then viewed the HTML source of each top-ranked page, examined the “keywords” in any meta tags for these pages, and added them to my list of keywords.

Third, I added variations of my existing keywords to my list. I combined two words into one word (such as “patentlawyer”), added common misspellings (such as “patent laywer”), and added location descriptors (such as “Massachusetts patent attorney”). The more words that you enter into a search engine, the fewer and more relevant results you’ll get.

Fourth, I ranked my top 40 keywords by popularity and kept the top 30. I determined the popularity of each keyword by using Overture (http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/). Overture provides this service because it sells “sponsored links.” In other words, Overture and other search engines will now let you buy various keywords to guarantee top placement for these searches.

Fifth, I wrote a 250-character description of my firm for the “description” meta tag.. Some search engines limit how many characters they will display, and 250 characters works well with most of them.

Sixth, I coded the keywords and description into the HTML meta tags on my site.

Seventh, I used Submit-It! (http://www.submitit.com) to resubmit my site to the top search engines.

Search Engine Results – External and Internal

I don’t know how long it takes for search engines to re-index web sites, but I waited six months for results. By searching Google for “clocktowerlaw.com site:clocktowerlaw.com” (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&as_qdr=all&q=clocktowerlaw.com+site%3Aclocktowerlaw.com) I was able to confirm that Google indexed 1190 pages from my web site.

When I searched for my top 30 keywords at my top three search engines, the results were fantastic! I had two top-10 rankings with Google including a number two ranking for “Massachusetts patent attorney” (http://www.google.com/search?q=Massachusetts+patent+attorney), five top-10 rankings with AltaVista, and three top-10 rankings with Lycos. In all I had 10 top-10 rankings and 18 top-30 rankings! In only six months, I had achieved top-30 placements for 60% of my chosen keywords! But did it really matter?

Top placement with search engines doesn’t necessarily translate into users actually clicking through to your web site. I use The Webalizer (http://www.mrunix.net/webalizer/) to analyze my web site log files, and when I looked at my web site statistics, I determined three very interesting things. First, visitors to my site use different search engines than I use. (The top three search engines were Google, MSN, and Lycos). Second, only two of my chosen keywords appeared consistently in the top 20 searches on my site. In other words, people were using search engines to find my site, but they were using search terms other than my top 30 keywords.

I then took the analysis a step further. I always ask my clients how they found me, and I am pleased to report that my web site does generate clients. Unfortunately, none of my clients who found me via the web used my top 30 keywords to find me. But at least one found me because of an article I wrote for Law Practice Management magazine!

Electronic Newsletter Statistics

I enjoy writing articles and hearing feedback from people about them. But I also get immediate and valuable feedback from my electronic newsletter. Until now, I have been unable to determine how many people read my newsletter, whether my subscribers forward it on to others, and whether anyone who reads it actually visits my web site. A new product called Pathwise (http://www.pathwise.com) from Atlantis Technology (http://www.atlantistech.com) solves many of these problems for me.

Pathwise basically works like a turbo-charged read receipt for e-mail messages that you send to your clients (or newsletter subscribers) and for subsequent web site visits by those clients. In this way, I am able to tell when clients read a particular message and then when they view pages on my web site. Since Pathwise uses HTML-formatted e-mail to send the “read receipt” information back to the Pathwise web site, it will not work with anyone who views e-mail offline or with plain-text viewers (which was fewer than 1% in my case). I address privacy concerns by always telling my clients when I am using Pathwise.

According to Pathwise’s statistics, two-thirds of my subscribers read the newsletter within five days, and 25% of the subscribers read the newsletter more than once and/or passed it on to others! Pathwise’s statistics are much more valuable to me than any web site statistics, because I know who receives my newsletter, and now I know what they are doing with it.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Internet marketing is an ongoing process. I continue to modify my site’s keywords based on both how I hope people will find me (and the external validation I get from search engine rankings) and how users actually find me (based on the internal validation I get from web site statistics). I continue to write about topics that interest me, since clients have found me based on articles I’ve written, whether or not those articles are ranked high with search engines or in my log file statistics. Finally, I’ll continue to send my electronic newsletter and track those results with Pathwise.

Write about what you love, the clients will follow. Better yet, write about what you love in Law Practice Management magazine!

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