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For lawyers is the world really all about Google rankings?

January 24, 2010

I love Google. Google’s given us access to more information from more people than we could have ever dreamed of only a few years ago.

I love lawyers and the legal profession. I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little kid. In almost 30 years as a lawyer I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great people in our profession. Judges, fellow lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries, clerks, bailiffs, reporters, doctors, witnesses – you name ’em. More importantly, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity of helping so many people and seeing other great folks in our legal profession help so many more people.

So I was struck when over 220 lawyers from 30 states gathered in Seattle for Avvo’s Internet marketing conference that the lion’s share of the discussion was all about getting to the top of the search results at Google. Little on how to be a better lawyer or how to help more people as a lawyer.

I know the conference was on Internet marketing, and it was a fine conference. But nothing on what we stand for as lawyers, the obligation we had to the American public, or what we could do to improve the failing image of our profession. I don’t see those concepts and Internet marketing for a lawyer as mutually exclusive.

On Friday evening after the conference a lawyer was trying to convince John Day, one of the best trial lawyers in Tennessee, that what he needs to do is sprinkle artificial links into his existing blog posts. From his blog John was advised to link phrases such a ‘wrongful death’ or ‘auto accident’ to pages on John’s website addressing wrongful death or personal injury, respectively. The logic being that Google gives greater weight to text in links so Google will rank his blog posts higher for searches on such terms.

So that’s what being a good lawyer and serving others, something at the heart of being a lawyer, is all about. Gaming Google. I don’t buy it and I don’t believe gaming Google is what’s needed to excel as a lawyer – and to get the clients we want.

As good as the information being shared at Avvo’s conference was, I couldn’t help but think, if not Google, would lawyers have been listening to how to make the best yellow page ad, how to make the right ad buys on TV or radio, and what type of logo makes consumers most apt to choose you as a lawyer.

In the pre-internet days, I served as a board member of my state’s trial lawyer’s association. I was a sustaining member of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and attended their conferences. Though we talked among each other about how we got our new clients and had a few presentations on same, we didn’t spend days on the subject. We spent our time on how to improve what we did as lawyers. What we could do better to obtain justice for our clients.

I used to tell everyone in our law office that the more people we helped, the more successful our law firm would be. So I was pretty pumped in 1996 when I discovered that marketing a lawyer’s services on the Internet was all about helping people.

I started on the Internet at AOL. I answered people’s injury, medical malpractice, and worker’s comp questions. The more questions I answered, the more work our firm got and the more successful we became. The more I listened to others and the more engaged I became, the more I enjoyed myself and the more people who contacted me to help them.

I discovered that Internet marketing was not all about me. It was about what I, as a lawyer, could do to help other people. Rather than buying cheesy yellow page ads and running expensive TV ads, I could get good legal work by helping people.

How great was that. I could have everything I wanted so long as I helped enough other people get everything they wanted. My firm’s mission of becoming successful by serving others was in perfect harmony with my law firm’s marketing.

Plus I was improving the image of our profession. Seeing what I was doing, US Today said “If OKeefe didn’t stop what he was doing, he would give lawyers a good name.”

13 years later it’s still the same. The more you, as a lawyer, help your target audience through the Internet, the more successful you will be in your Internet marketing.

Google, whose motto is “Don’t do evil,” will tell you the same. The following is from Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (pdf).

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means. Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site’s reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed that you can’t keep up with other lawyers on Internet marketing, go back to your roots for why you wanted to become a lawyer. If, like me, it was to serve others, the Internet provides incredible opportunities for marketing your services.

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