Publishing for SEO

Law firms, bar associations and legal publishing companies looking to achieve optimal search engine performance for their expert content should be publishing on independent niche sites, not on their websites.

Search algorithms do not know how to recognize you and your content otherwise.

That’s the message from a piece yesterday by Adweek’s Sami Main (@samimain) regarding About.com’s recent decision to move away from its signature “cover it all content” on one site to niche publications on focused verticals. Each publication on a separate site and on a separate domain.

In what may be the the largest source of expert content on the net, About.com is a major publisher of information, how-to pieces and insight on countless verticals. In its 20th year, About.com is the 50th largest site on the net.

But keeping all of the expert insight on one website no longer worked. Per CEO Neil Vogel (@neilvogel):

We blew up the old About.com and put it back together—better. Algorithms didn’t know how to recognize About, but they can see these as specific sites.

Rather than publishing all content at the hub website (a mistake misguided legal industry publishers are making), About.com will publish vertical specific publications such as:

  • Verywell (verywell.com), which answers all your health questions without “making you feel scared.”
  • The Balance (thebalance.com), a hub for all things personal finance.
  • Lifewire (lifewire.com), a tech-help site.

Vogel told Main that users trust you as a publisher of specific sites. “When users trust you, the algorithm trusts you and traffic is up…”

Adweek’s approach and the approach of law bloggers making a name for themselves blogging on independent blog sites makes all the sense in the world. There’s far greater trust with a niche publications on focused verticals.

Trust is established by web users linking to your niche site and its articles/posts. Links from news articles, blog posts, reference sites or shares on social media — it doesn’t matter, they’re all “votes” establishing trust.

Take the example of all the law firms writing on the Dodd-Frank created, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an agency of the United States government responsible for consumer protection in the financial sector.

CFPB jurisdiction concerns the type of clients major law firms want — banks, credit unions, securities firms, payday lenders, mortgage-servicing operations, foreclosure relief services, debt collectors and other financial companies.

Do a Google search on CFPB. The only law firm with any presence, at least going five pages deep, is Ballard Spahr. Why? Because Ballard Spahr’s attorneys with expertise in the area are publishing the “CFPB Monitor” (cfpbmonitor.com), an independent and trusted publication living apart from the firm’s website.

The same is the case for solo and small firm attorneys publishing on independent niche sites. Look at Jason Shinn (@jason_shinn), and his Michigan Employment Law Advisor (michiganemploymentlawadvisor.com). Do a Google search for Michigan Employment Law and his blog is the third result. No coincidence that the first result is a Michigan employment law publication run by a lawyer independent of the firm’s web site.

How about the China Law Blog (chinalawblog.com) published by the Seattle law firm of Harris and Moure. Do a search on China Law and you find their niche publication off the website ranking first, ahead of two Wikipedia entries, a Harvard University Library site and the Library of Congress.

While law firms large and small pay for SEO to get seen, these lawyers and law firms pay nothing for SEO. Google ranks trust and authority it can clearly see.

When publishing on independent niche sites, Google gets a clear signal of what you are trusted for. Your content and all the links coming to the independent publication are about the subject on which you are an authority.

Not the case with a law firm, bar association or legal publishing company’s main website. Those sites are chockful of a zillion different things. Bios, office locations, press releases, content on numerous areas of the law and more present a mystery for search engines. Darn few reporters, bloggers and social media users are linking to organization websites and their expert’s content — no trust.

Bar associations need to get practice area newsletters and articles, many written by practicing lawyers, off their association website. Law firms need to get their niche focused blogs, newsletters, alerts and articles of their law firm websites. Legal publishing companies, though a black hole of content for search engines, would be best served by independent publications.

Rather than do what you’ve always done or following the counsel of a website developer, take a page out of the playbook of an innovative publisher such as About.com.

Blow your site up and put it back together — better. For the sake of search.