Online Marketing and SEO Basics for Lawyers: How the Internet Works
If you search for “SEO for lawyers,” you’ll see something interesting. Most of the top results are from SEO consultants, looking to make money off lawyers. But the very top result (at least in my Google search) is an article from the Lawyerist.com website.
Why? Because that site has a ton of credibility, and Google recognized it as potentially relevant. (Correctly, as it turns out, because I was looking for articles about SEO for lawyers, not an SEO consultant, since I’m getting ready to tell you how to avoid paying them.)
Always remember the goal of SEO: To position your site as a trusted resource which search engines want to send users to.
Before we can get into the details, you need to understand a little bit about how the Internet works.
#1. How the Internet Works
In order to understand SEO, it’s useful to have a basic grasp of how the Internet works. You could spend hours learning about this stuff, but I’ll give you the five-minute version, hitting on the most important vocabulary that we’ll need later.
What’s a URL?
Any website you visit on the Internet is identified by its URL, or uniform resource locator. This is the text you type in your web browser to visit a site: www.nytimes.com, thegirlsguidetolawschool.com, etc.
(It doesn’t really matter if you include the “www” part in most cases, since “nytimes.com” and “www.nytimes.com” should end up at the same place. If not, you’ll need to fix this on your website.)
We use URLs because it’s easier than having to remember a bunch of IP addresses, which are just a string of random numbers.
What happens when you visit a webpage?
When you type the URL of a site you want to visit into your browser (or, more likely, click on a search result link you want to visit), your computer requests the web page from a server where it’s hosted or stored. (A bunch of stuff happens to make this work, but it’s irrelevant here so I won’t talk about it.)
The web page is sent from the server as HTML, or hypertext markup language, which your web browser reads and assembles into the page you see.
Why does this matter for SEO purposes?
HTML is a structured markup language, and each page contains a lot of stuff you don’t normally see. (If you’re curious to see what HTML looks like, right click in any browser and select “View Page Source.” This will show you exactly what text the browser is using to render the page.)
The reason this matters is that some of the stuff you don’t normally see matters for SEO purposes.
For example, look at the top of the browser you’re reading this in. Do you see the page title? (“Online Marketing and SEO Basics for Lawyers: How the Internet Works”) The text that displays there — which is very important for SEO purposes — is controlled by an HTML tag called “<title>” (the less than and greater than characters tell you this is a special HTML tag).
If you view the page source, you’ll also see some tags that start with “meta.” Some of these can also make a difference in your SEO, as we’ll discuss.
Now look down the page source until you find the actual text. Do you see tags starting with “a href”? These are very important! They’re anchor tags for links.
Can you decipher what’s going on? Let’s look at an example:
Say you see the following:
<a href=”http://lawschooltoolbox.com/tutoring-for-law-school-success/”>Law School Tutoring</a>
Go back to the page in the web browser. What shows up? You see “Law School Tutoring” as a link, right?
What does it link to? If you scroll over the link (or click on it), you’ll see that it links to “http://lawschooltoolbox.com/tutoring-for-law-school-success,” the URL contained inside of the quotation marks.
It’s not critical that you remember every detail of this.
The key takeaway is that the “Law School Tutoring” part is called the “anchor text.”
It’s what shows up on the web page, and it’s an important signal search engines (and people) use to figure out what the linked-to page is about.
Also notice that the link itself uses natural language, so you can look at it and tell what it’s about (“tutoring for law school success”). As we’ll discuss, this is also a useful SEO strategy.
How do search engines work?
Modern search engines are incredibly complex, but they work on fairly simple principles.
Basically, they follow links and index the HTML content they find at these URLs into giant databases. When someone submits a search query, they search these databases to try to return the most relevant results, which they then present to the user.
(This is a drastic oversimplification, but it gives you the basic idea.)
So, you can pretty quickly guess that links are important. Getting a bunch of links to your content (from web pages and social media) is the holy grail of search engine optimization. Therefore, there are lots of shady people out there who offer to somehow procure a bunch of links for your new site. How do they do this? They write to people like me who run websites and offer to pay to slide a link to your (generally unrelated) content into my site.
I say no, but not everyone’s so scrupulous.
You’ll have to decide whether you want to try and buy links, but I don’t think it’s a great long-term strategy. Google and the other search engines are getting pretty good at detecting fake links, and they’re not afraid to ban sites or downgrade them severely.
And, of course, there’s always the risk that you could lose your law license!
If you’re not totally confused now, we’ll move on and talk about the best way to set up your website, so your life is as easy as possible.
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For more helpful advice, check out all the posts in the Online Marketing & SEO Basics series:
- Online Marketing Basics for Lawyers and Law Students
- Defining Useful Goals for Your Online Legal Marketing
- Defining Your Ideal Client
- What Is Your Ideal Client Searching For?
- How the Internet Works (from an SEO Perspective)
Got questions on search engine optimization? Leave your questions in the comments!