Search engine optimization dominates many discussions of how to make a law firm website the cornerstone of an internet marketing strategy. This stands to reason because people cannot even become potential clients unless they know a law firm exists. The discovery process starts with a search via Google, Bing, Yahoo, or some other search engine, so staying as visible as possible via keywords and phrases represents a key to web marketing success.
Too often overlooked in the lists of tips and best practices for lawyer SEO are considerations of ethics. Attorneys are held to high standards for honesty, professionalism, and client service. Those rules do not relax when it comes to advertising legal services and showcasing expertise.
When the Legal EFX web development and internet marketing team works with a law firm, we share the following five pieces of advice. Boosting SEO should never come at the cost of compromising ethics.
Use Only Actual Quotes From Real Clients in Testimonials
Nothing will ever outperform word-of-mouth from satisfied clients when it comes to attracting new cases and consultations. Putting the right words in the mouths of the wrong — or fictitious — people can never become an option, however. Misrepresenting the identities of clients or manufacturing quotes opens a law firm and its partners to charges of fraud.
Attorneys must also avoid pressuring clients to provide testimonials or post positive reviews on sites like Angie’s List, Yelp, Avvo.com, and Google. A request to appear in firm marketing materials can be included in end-of-case paperwork, but an attorney crosses a bright red line when he or she makes providing a testimonial seem mandatory.
Never Make False or Misleading Statements
Honesty and accuracy must be watchwords for every article, blog post, press release, testimonial, video, or other piece of content on a law firm’s website. Any misinformation or, worse, intentionally misleading statement represents a disservice to current and potential clients. Untrue or unsupportable information on a law firm’s website can also open its attorneys up to formal ethics charges and license suspensions or revocations.
Special attention must be paid to ensuring the factuality of attorney bios, case result summaries, and announcements of professional certifications and awards. Exaggerating accomplishments on a law firm website equates to falsifying a resume or CV.
Be Wary of Paying for Links
Search engines reward sites for earning incoming links. In English, this means that a website’s chances for appearing on the first page of Google results increase each time some other site connects to it.
At the same time, Google and the other search engines penalize sites that appear to draw links from unrelated websites. A law firm, according to the people who create search engine algorithms, should connect to other firms, social media accounts of attorneys, law publications, and general legal information sites like NOLO and Justia. When a majority of incoming links originate on nonlegal sites, a firm’s search score deceases. This does not apply to paid or pay-per-click ads, which can appear anywhere and do not count as incoming links.
Going through that explanation was necessary to explain this: Paying to generate links from non-industry related websites often backfires. The marketing tactic is not necessarily unethical, but it is usually counterproductive. Creating quality content that other lawyers and legal sites find useful to reference and quote avoids ethical gray areas and improves SEO.
Your state’s laws or professional code of conduct for lawyers may require you to include a statement like, “Previous case results are not guarantees of future outcomes,” or “Nothing on this website constitutes legal advice, nor should anything be read to imply or create an attorney-client relationship” somewhere on your website.
Even if doing so is not mandated, developing and posting such disclaimers can prevent ethics problems related to accusations of making false promises. Also, even if potential clients fail to see the disclaimers, making them available offers a first-line defense against breach of contract and legal malpractice lawsuits.
Make Sure People on Your Website Always Know How to Contact You
Providing an office phone number and online contact options on each page of the law firm’s website serves two essential purposes of web marketing. First, it increases the likelihood that a website visitor will convert him or herself into a law firm client.
Second, including contact information affirms ownership of, and faith in, the information presented. Potential clients will place greater trust in what they see and read when they understand the website creator is not trying hide.