We recently encountered a situation that was a textbook example of how strict adherence to SEO guidelines can potentially do more harm than good for a law firm.
The case involved a small multi-practice firm seeking to drive up web traffic for its personal injury business. The firm’s web provider had done a good job in optimizing the site for PI, splashing all of the keywords and images across any and all of the site’s pages. The firm’s experience in handling PI was highlighted throughout and attorney bios emphasized personal backgrounds in this area of the law. Not surprisingly, traffic to the site increased several-fold. All of this would, under normal circumstances be considered a good thing.
Except that in this case, it was not.
The bulk of the firm’s revenue stemmed from practice areas geared more towards business and government than towards the general public. Its target audience, which often included business decision makers and governmental officials, was far less prone to visiting web sites based on online directory searches than it was to visiting web sites as a means for learning more about the firm as based upon professional referrals. Visitors to the site wanted to ascertain the depth of understanding the firm had in regards to business and governmental matters, the experience its attorneys had in these areas and the range of services the firm might provide.
Yet, when such visitors came to the site, they were besieged by headlines, photos and verbiage that screamed “Personal Injury” – in some cases, even on pages that had nothing to do with that topic. Instead of coming away with the perception that this was a firm with many practice areas, one of which was PI, the net takeaway was that this was, in fact, a personal injury law practice that, yes, “dabbled” in a few other areas as well. In short, the firm lost its opportunity to convey its legal acumen in areas where it was critical that they do. When one considers that personal injury did not represent even the largest of the firm’s revenue segments, it’s not hard to see how detrimental the SEO initiative was to the overall health of the firm.
This is why it is so very, very important to take a holistic approach to the task of business generation. Things are not always as they seem. In this case, there was a discussion to be had that probably never took place. That discussion would have elicited 3 possible approaches to address this dilemma. First, the firm might have taken a balanced approach and done the best that it could in highlighting all practice areas including PI. Second, it might have determined that personal injury represented the greatest potential revenue stream, all other practice groups be damned. Or third, it might have understood that optimizing for PI might cannibalize its other revenue sources and decided to have two sites, one focusing on the firm at large and the other, dedicated to personal injury and optimized to the hilt.
In deciding on a marketing approach – whatever type of business development tools are being used, it is important to understand how such tools fit into the big picture. Failing to do so only risks having that big picture become not so big.