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Thursday, January 10, 2013

On-site vs. Off-site Optimization

SEO, meta tags, SEM, cloaking, bots, latent semantic indexing, white hat, black hat, algorithms, PPC, keyword cannibalization…search engine optimization can be overwhelming and downright confusing to law firms trying to build a powerful online presence and increase site visibility. While you don’t need to master all of the optimization lingo to develop and maintain an effective website, it is important that you understand the basics of SEO to ensure you don’t fall victim to the many SEO scams pitched to law firms each and every day.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is strategy employed to increase your website’s ranking in the organic search engine results. It’s important to note that SEO does not encompass paid advertising such as Google’s Adwords, also known as Pay Per Click (PPC), which places your website in the “sponsored results” for assigned keywords. Generally, any form of paid placement strategy is referred to as search engine marketing (SEM). While PPC can be effective at getting visitors to your website, it can be very costly if you are in a metropolitan location with a great deal of competition. SEO, on the other hand requires a bit more work, but over the long-haul, it can save your firm thousands in expensive PPC campaigns and enhance site visibility exponentially.  Of course, you don’t necessarily have to choose one over the other.

Generally speaking, there are two types of search engine optimization: on-site optimization and off-site optimization.

On-site Optimization
On-site optimization refers to techniques that can be used on your site to help its ranking within the search engine result pages (SERPS). On site optimization includes code optimization, internal structure and dynamic content. Code optimization has little to do with what the user sees and consists of meta tags which include title, keywords, descriptions and robot tags. Years ago, meta tags were an integral part of a sound SEO campaign but in recent years their significance has largely diminished. Google has publicly stated that meta keywords carry no relevance and meta descriptions are now solely used for the visitor (they will see this below the link to your site in the SERPs), not your site’s ranking. Meta titles are still important but they are just one piece of a much larger SEO puzzle.

Internal structure refers to the setup of the site which includes things like page depth (how many clicks it takes for a visitor to travel from the home page to inner pages) and internal link setup. While this may seem very technical, and to an extent it is, Google is searching for the best possible experience for users when ranking sites. If your site structure is hard to crawl for Google, they will assume it is difficult for the visitor. Take time and explore your site. Is it hard to get to the inner pages? Slow to load? Do all of the links take you where they should? With a good content management system and a responsive website host, you should be able to rectify any issues to ensure the site visitor, and Google, look favorably on your site.

More important than ever before in SEO is dynamic content strategy. Google’s business model is based on delivering the best sites to search engine users based upon their search queries. Users want answers to their questions, not a spam site which has properly coded meta tags but lacks quality information. If you want your site to rank well, you have to add quality content and do so on a regular basis. Don’t try to stuff your pages with keywords; write naturally and you’re likely to include a great variation of possible search terms which will get you found with a wider audience. Posting frequent blog entries and even the monthly firm newsletter is a great way to add content without requiring too much of your law firm’s time.

Off-site Optimization
The name speaks for itself – off-site optimization consists of actions you can take off of your website to enhance your site’s ranking. Off-site optimization is all about link building to increase your PageRank (PR). When determining where links to your website should be placed, it’s important to remember that link building is not a numbers game. It’s better to have 5 links from relevant websites (e.g.: a local charity that you do pro-bono work for or a colleague in the next state who refers site visitors to your helpful blog) than to have 685 links from sites that have little or no relevance (the florist down the block or the Toyota dealership where you bought your last Camry). The problem with general “SEO experts” is that they promise to get links to your site but they don’t have contacts with reputable sites in the legal industry. Several months ago, Google announced the Panda update which would actually penalize sites with too many irrelevant links with the understanding that these sites were simply trying to increase PageRank and game the system. Before hiring an SEO consultant, make certain that they present you with a full list of sites so you can ensure relevance to your law practice. Also, remember that paid links don’t count towards your PR so don’t waste your dollars on directories.

An experienced website developer can help to make sure your site has the right structure and tools to allow for ongoing site optimization. At Amicus Creative, we include basic on-site optimization on all sites we develop  as part of our standard service. With our team of programmers making certain that your site’s code and structure are well optimized and with 24/7 access to our Site Manager, your site will be well optimized and your firm will be well on its way to building a powerful online presence.  
 


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