After I announced my willingness to help lawyers build better, more beautiful, easier-to-maintain websites, a few attorneys have asked me what they can do to increase their prominence on Google's search results. Many of them have the sense that SEO ("search engine optimization") is some magic dust that techies can sprinkle onto their website that will lift the site up into the first page of search results. (Of course, many have this sense because SEO "experts" market themselves as the 21st-century's dark magicians.)
Sorry, it doesn't work like that.
Certainly, there are some best practices you can use when creating pages and titling blog posts that will help search engines determine whether what you're saying will be responsive to a particular query from a user. But, beyond a few very basic premises (which we'll be discussing at this summer's Commonwealth Justice Conference—sign up for email updates), the reality of increasing your prominence online is that you have to actually provide value to people. Gyi Tsakalakis explains this in a useful blog post. I particularly enjoyed his list of activities that real law firms engage in.
The idea, folks, is that you start getting better results online only after you start achieving better results offline. Do something in the world worth telling people about and then tell them on your site. Or, do something online that brings people together in a new and unique way. Over time, documenting the real work that your law firm does and providing real value to your online community will naturally translate into better search results. But, this is important: you do the things not to get better search results but because the things are important to do. They're important to you, your clients, your community. Maybe the traffic from search results comes, maybe it doesn't. But, either way, you've done something worthwhile with your limited time and energy.