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Digital Marketing

Don’t Let Spammy Content Ruin Your Law Firm’s Website

By Nancy Slome

Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and spammy content written for search algorithms.

There’s a generic style of copy and design that permeates the webpages of professional practitioners, ranging from real estate brokers, dentists and plastic surgeons to personal injury lawyers. Pages of the same stock photos of beautiful smiles, before-and-after shots of nose jobs and tummy tucks, moving boxes in empty living rooms, ambulances, dog bites, car wrecks, and sad-looking patients lying in hospital beds. And the accompanying text has a distinct style that is borderline incoherent.

“Nassau County Dog Bite Lawyers

Say what? Is that a typo in the subhead? Perhaps it’s a story about a dog from Long Island’s Nassau County who bit a lawyer? No, it is not a typo — nor has a word or punctuation mark gone missing.

This is the language of highly localized, spammy SEO.

Here’s an equally clumsy example:

“Many Garden City residents do not know who to turn to for legal representation when faced with an accident caused by a distracted driver.”

In this instance, the location information serves as an adjective, where there should be none. I suppose it’s debatable whether many Garden City residents know whom to turn to – or not.

But wait, there’s more! On the “Dog Bites” section of one Long Island and Brooklyn law firm’s website, I spotted 52 instances of the word “dog” on one page. Their marketers are likely trying to game the system because the cost of Google ads in Nassau County and Brooklyn is quite pricey.

Who writes like this? For starters, it must work. Otherwise, this writing convention wouldn’t exist. Or does it?

Why Is Spammy Content So Pervasive?

Well, when you’re the marketer, part of your job is to keep the pipeline full of viable prospects, which, in practice, should convert to clients. No doubt, SEO plays a key role in making sure the right prospects find you. But engaging a particular breed of SEO experts often means buying into their spammy SEO techniques. They may reel in your new clients, and their job is done.

Years ago, a veteran talent agent said to me, “It’s my job to bring in the business, but a great photographer’s portfolio should close the sale.” Here, the SEO marketer brings the prospects (patients and clients) to the door, but will the website copy be helpful and effective or repel your potential future clients?

Who Buys This?

Time to call in the trusted advisors. The first person I spoke to was Melanie Trudeau, Jaffe’s New Business & Digital Strategies Director. I’ve worked with Melanie, and she is super smart when it comes to SEO. “Web content — especially for law firms — needs to be substantive and provide value to users. And it needs to be better than other web pages at presenting the information — plus, more popular than other web content — to outrank your peer firms’ webpages,” Melanie said. “Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and other tactics for manipulating search algorithms. Shortcuts don’t exist anymore. Content needs to be user-centric and should provide value and answers to readers’ questions.

“Bottom line: Content creation on a website is hard work, and you can’t cut corners.”

Joe Giovannoli, founder and CEO of 9sail, an SEO and pay-per-click management agency, added:

“Search engines value high-quality content that is written for humans, not crawlers.”

Read that quote again. This is why spammy copywriting isn’t helping your results.

As for tips on SEO tactics that work, Joe believes in taking the time to build backlinks from authoritative websites: “Quality backlinks are key to improving the ranking of your website. It’s an often-overlooked practice because it’s tedious and time-consuming. However, the results are definitely worth the effort.”

He also said it’s important to fix website performance issues to boost desktop and mobile page speed. Joe noted that according to Google, “53% of visitors will leave a website that takes more than three seconds to load.” If your page speed is slow, your bounce rate will increase, negatively affecting your rankings — not to mention your lead conversion rate.

Experienced marketers understand their audiences and strive to write for real people, not search engines. Katherine McCoy Rivera, who is one of my go-to legal marketers, said, “If the content reads like an encyclopedia and gives unnecessary background, people will notice. If you know the frustration of scrolling through a blog post to find a recipe buried below 2,000 words, you know what I’m talking about.”

Katherine’s advice should give personal injury lawyers cause for pause.

What’s a Lawyer or Law Firm Marketer to Do?

Today’s search engine optimization methods have evolved. You can take advantage of SEO tactics without the tacky content.

  • First, determine if your site is spammy. According to Melanie, “You’ll see it [spammy SEO] in your analytics, like engagement — bounce rates and average time spent on a page, say under 12 seconds, and especially the readers’ exit rates.”
  • Identify the words and phrases that appear unnaturally. “Nassau County Dog Bite Lawyers” might be helpful for search but will likely confuse your readers.
  • Delete unnecessary content. You need not overeducate your reader with encyclopedic knowledge. Sometimes more is not necessarily better on the web.
  • Yes, you can still apply the “long-tail” approach in your copy, but … Tuck those long-tail phrases into the text in a natural way. Want to learn more? Here is Yoast’s excellent introduction to long-tail keywords.
  • Work your analytics. Theoretically, everyone in the firm should be on the same page. (Pun intended!) Yet, in some larger law firms, the data resides with the tech team and is not shared with the marketing team.
  • Aim higher. Even if your peers’ websites are knee-deep in SEO-laden copy, adopting a more natural and authentic style will set your firm apart.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Nancy Slome Lawyers Bio Service Nancy Slome

Nancy Slome heads up Lawyers Biography Service and is a seasoned legal marketing consultant with more than a decade of experience advising attorneys on strategic marketing initiatives and creating compelling content for law firm websites. She was recently the VP of Content Strategy at Jaffe and a principal with One to One Interactive. Nancy has held marketing director positions at Pillsbury and White & Case and served on the Board of Directors for the Metro New York Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association. She is a regular presenter at industry conferences. Follow her @LawBioService.

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