We recently conducted an internal study, looking at how law firm marketing companies manage working for competing law firms. If a company is providing search engine optimization services, this is of particular importance, as there are only 10-15 natural listings between standard and local.
Over the last four years, the number of online marketing firms which claim to focus on attorneys has dramatically increased. Much of this is due to the economic downturn that started in 2008; many search marketing firms looked to lawyers to maintain their revenue, as law firms in many practice areas were not as severely effected by the economy as other industries.
Some search engine optimization companies offer exclusives, agreeing to only work for one law firm per city and practice area. Others, like SEO | Law Firm, limit their market size to three attorneys per keyphrase – thus, they would not work with more than three “Boston family law attorneys” or “Miami personal injury lawyers,” and so on, and they offer exclusives to interested firms.
When conducting this study, we found several companies that do not limit their number of SEO clients; they work with an unlimited number of law firms competing in the same city with the same practice areas. We found this to be troubling, because, as we researched their progress, we discovered that this unrestricted acceptance of new law firms means these marketing companies are knowingly taking money from firms that can never see the first page of Google.
Looking at markets in San Francisco, CA and Tampa, FL, we searched for various practice areas, from personal injury and family law to bankruptcy and corporate law.
Personal injury is the most commonly oversold practice area by marketing firms that don't limit their competing clients. We found one company working with 13 competing firms in the same city that focus entirely on personal injury. For that keyword, Google is displaying 10 natural search results. That means the company knows they are taking money from at least three law firms that cannot possibly make it to the first page of Google.
The reality,of course, is that the page one results are not going to only consist of law firms working with the same SEO company. In this case, where the marketing company had 13 competing clients, only three of them were on the first page of Google for their most popular keyphrases.
To make sure your firm's marketing company is not betting against you, here a few tips:
Look for a Partner – Find a company with a strong track record that will truly have your best interest at heart. This is more easily achieved with a small-to mid-size company, as they can become more involved with your success. Smaller companies can also be more agile and quickly adapt to changes in search engine marketing.
Require Full Disclosure – Require that your marketing firm tell you if they are working with a competitor – not just at the beginning when they are hired, but also if they start working with any new competing law firms after you retain them.
Seek Limitations – Getting exclusivity is a little more expensive, so if that is not within your online marketing budget, at least require limits. By limiting the number of competing firms in a market to three, it's realistic that those three clients can all enjoy a high-lead generating, page one ranking. If the limit is more than that, keep in mind that most natural search engine traffic goes to the top three results, so while you may be on the first page at position nine, your traffic will be minimal until higher on the page.
Having a strong marketing partner is crucial to the growth of every law firm. By doing a little research and making several reasonable demands, you can make sure that your legal marketing company is not betting against you.