Most law firms have a company or individual handling search engine optimization (SEO) and another that handles public relations of some sort; this is a very smart choice because these are two separate skill sets. What is not good is that these companies rarely communicate. Quality news hits and great SEO can and should go hand in hand, but often one happens without consideration of the other.
In a competitive market such as Los Angeles, having marketing and public relations working together is absolutely necessary for a law firm to be effective in its efforts to promote its work and grab the attention of new, prospective clients. The firms more willing to behave this way will have a competitive advantage over peer firms and ultimately get a better return on investment (ROI) for dollars spent.
PR and SEO Should Complete Each Other, Not Compete with Each Other
Getting quality news hits and mentions leads to great SEO, and if SEO professionals and PR professionals are working together, it makes life much easier for both parties and creates a more cohesive synergy. In fact, SEO is a major component of PR because when a reporter is working on a story, s/he will use Google the same way, trying to find experts on a given topic. Unfortunately, most PR professionals are working hard to get their clients in the press, but ignoring the SEO value and SEO professionals are doing the same, getting higher rankings for clients but not seeing any potential PR value of their work.
Public relations professionals look for quality stories their clients are involved in. For personal injury attorneys, it’s a remarkable lawsuit involving some David vs. Goliath issue. For criminal attorneys, it’s a front-page story about police mishandling evidence. For corporate lawyers, it’s a mega-merger that causes chaos on Wall Street. Whatever the case may be, a PR pro will jump into action looking for the right media outlets to cover the story.
In most cases, these media hits will land in publications that have great authority with Google. The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, NBC, Wall Street Journal and others are highly ranked in search results because Google values content from credible and authoritative websites. Media outlet websites are also highly trafficked, which leads to great rankings, natural social media hits and more. Whenever a potential client searches Google, s/he will no doubt see websites that have been put together with organic rankings in mind. However, in most cases the user will also see publications within the first ten choices.
For example, type in the term “car accident” into Google and half of the top items will be news outlet websites; the term “police misconduct lawsuit” also has several news items on the first page of search results. While getting positive press puts your name on the site, or trusted third-party websites, the ever-changing world of SEO makes life a constant battle for online marketers. To make the matter more complex, Google is always evolving and looking at new information.
Google’s EAT Algorithm & YMYL Websites
In late-2018 Google and their Search Quality Evaluators started placing more emphasis on a little-known acronym called “EAT” to influence website rankings (either directly or indirectly). This acronym stands for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. Essentially, Google is looking to see if the owner/publisher of a website is credible and has a leadership voice, especially when it comes to topics that cover health, money and the law – also known as YMYL websites (Your Money or Your Life). The EAT element of Google’s algorithm looks not only at links from authoritative websites, but (among other things) also takes into consideration “mentions” of your name and/or brand in the news, even without a link to your website. This places a whole new value on effective PR and making it into a story on credible news websites, and also restraining from press releases that provide little value to Users.
Here’s a video on how news mentions, and unlinked references to your law firm can potentially help with SEO:
Avoiding Spam Press Releases
At some point in the early 2000s it became accepted that if a business/law firm published a bunch of online press releases it would be extremely beneficial for SEO. Indeed, press releases get syndicated to dozens or even hundreds of websites, but that doesn’t mean it’s valuable information. It may have worked at one time, but that’s no longer the case because most press release websites now assign a “No Follow” attribute to links within a press release, rendering the backlink virtually worthless for SEO. Google can also spot fluff press releases, but that still doesn’t stop the onslaught of press releases like “Law Firm Announces Free Consultations”, “Law Firm Announces Now Serving Neighboring City”, or “Law Firm Announces No Win, No Fee Arrangements”. Save press releases for newsworthy announcements, and make them count.
We would be remiss if we didn’t address a major hurdle in wrangling Public Relations and SEO professionals – they need to play well in the sandbox together. Many times, the SEO is the website gatekeeper and is prioritizing maximum impact for rankings. However, that may not always be the best use or presentation of the story. Additionally, sometimes PR professionals want information to present a certain way that isn’t always SEO friendly. The best advice for a law firm would be to make sure both professionals know how to work effectively with each other and prioritize your needs over their own. They need to be able to operate independently of the client when there’s breaking news, so when a story hits you’re not juggling reporters, news crews, scheduling, interviews and playing the go-between with your PR rep and website person.
Written by: Joe Marchelewski and Doug Bradley