By Kevin O'Keefe

Lawyer blogs and Web sites, what’s the truth about meta tags?

Every time I talk to lawyers about getting the world (their target audience) to their lawyer blog or Web site, we end up talking about meta tags. I don’t bring it up, I bring up search engine optimization and what needs to be on the legal blog or Web site to achieve this.

It’s the lawyer or their marketing person who brings up meta tags saying they’ve got search engine optimization covered by keyword meta tags or site description meta tags in the html code for their site.

I then know the law firm was sold a package of BS by some Web developer who did not know what they were doing or by some search engine optimization person they are paying who is not doing step one to get the law firm blog or Web site optimized.

If I had a dollar for every law firm site I’ve seen that could not appear in the first 1,000 results pages when people are searching for a lawyer on the search engines, I’d be having a pretty good year. And these are good looking sites that medium and large firms spent a lot of money on that are chock full of meta tags.

Law firms need to know there are an awful lot of very good blog and Web sites done by top of the line developers that include no meta tags and that are achieving very high search engine rankings – in some cases first on the page at Google and Yahoo.

Let’s do some straight talking on meta tags and this stuff is not complicated.

Meta tags are special HTML tags which can be read by Web browsers or other programs. In the ancient history of search engines (almost 10 years ago – remember golden oldies like Magellan and Excite) Webmasters put meta tags in their sites so search engines could tell what their site was about. Search engines also used these tags to determine the ranking of a site in search results.

Though there are lots of different meta tags, the only ones of significance when discussing search engines are the ‘DESCRIPTION’ meta tags and ‘KEYWORD’ meta tags.

Keywords meta tag

The keywords meta tag was created a long time ago as an indexing tool so that the creator of a Web page could tell search engines what the page was about. The site creator did this by keywords included in a meta tag. When people typed in these keywords at a search engine the Web page would then come up in the search engine results.

The keyword meta tag was important in the past but not that important today. Some search engines look at them but many do not. Supposedly Inktomi, which is blended into part of the new Yahoo search and serves as the MSN search for today, does but Google does not.

Law firms should spend relatively little time on this meta tag. There are some general rules to follow, and these are only guides to begin with, that I picked up in Peter Kent’s Search Engine Optimization for Dummies:

  • Limit the tag to 10 or 12 words, not the 105 you see for most law firm sites
  • Seperate each keyword with a comma or space, not both
  • Make sure most of the keywords are in the body of the page
  • Don’t use a lot of repetition
  • Use lower case, some search engines are case sensitive

Description meta tag

The description meta tag describes the page to some search engines. In some cases, search engines will use the description verbatim when your page is returned in the search results. You would see the title of the page and then right below it in the search results, this description.

Most of the time Google does not use the description you provide in the description meta tag. Google pulls from the body of the page a block of text that it believes includes relevant keywords that were searched on.

Using the description meta tag is still important for other reasons:

  • Sometimes Google uses the description provided to describe the page
  • Google and other search engines indexes the description (stores the text on their servers, which makes it possible to retrieve in a search)
  • Other Search engines use it

What to do? Use the description meta tag for your law blog or Web site and create a nicely worded description of about 250 characters, including spaces, of what this page is about. This is not where you throw a hoge poge of keywords together – this is a phrase that a person reads.

It is okay to repeat the most important keywords once or twice. Do not repeat such words over again and again. This is spamming the meta tags and your site will be penalized.

A description meta tag may read: Pittsburgh environmental lawyers and attorneys serving Pennsylvania and Ohio including businesses and people in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Cleveland, Columbus and Akron… (you get the idea)

Bottom line,meta tags are blown way out of proportion by law firms. Spend time on the stuff that is much more important for people finding your law firm via search engines:

  • Links from sites that have a high Google ranking
  • Title tags with keywords your target audience is using in search engines
  • Keywords in the body of the page
  • Good content in the body of the page – content is king and this begins and is most important on the first page of the lawyer blog or Web site

Lawyers may kick and scream to let go of their meta tags but lawyers are always slow to adapt to new technology. Law firms who are slow to adapt here are throwing marketing money away.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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