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Episode 84: Getting the SEO Help You Need: What You Need to Know with Chris Walker, Founder of Advocate SEO

Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today my guest is legal entrepreneur, Chris Walker. Chris founded the firm, Advocate SEO, SEO of course standing for Search Engine Optimization. Today we’ll hear about Chris’ path to founding this company, his philosophy regarding online marketing and the importance of high rankings in order the gain a valuable competitive edge and we’ll also discuss the importance of doubling down on online marketing during this challenging time. Chris, welcome to the program.

Chris:   Thank you very much, Sharon. I appreciate it. Good to be here.

Sharon: We’re glad to have you. Can you tell us about your career path and how it is that you ended up in this line of business, so to speak?

Chris:   Well, I was looking for something that was a little mobile and things were changing at the time and I knew websites were becoming a big thing, so I ran into SEO shortly after that and just kind of really, really enjoyed it. It’s the analytical nature of it I think that’s enjoyable for me and so I kind of latched onto that and kind of let go.

Sharon: Were you working websites, and did you see how things were sort of shifting to the importance of not just having a website, but where it ranked?

Chris:   Yeah, yeah, in general, I mean powerful search was becoming and specifically at the time of Google, right?

Sharon: Yes.

Chris:   It was just becoming so powerful and everybody was using Google to find everything that they needed, and people were talking about throwing their yellow pages and this, that and the other and things were really changing, and I thought, “Well, this is not going to stop. It’s not going to stop anytime soon, so let’s check this out and see what’s going on with it.”

Sharon: And how is it that you decided to look at the lawyer market? You’re not a lawyer, so how did you–

Chris:   No, no, well, the lawyer market’s interesting because I really kind of stumbled on it by accident. I was doing some research and I was researching the top fifteen most competitive areas in the United States and I was curious because everybody always said, “O.K., law firm SEO’s extremely competitive. Law firms are really to rank.” I said, “O.K., let’s check it out, so I started to dig, and I dug some more. I pulled the top five firms with the largest web presence from each of those fifteen locations and I dug into each one of the SEO campaigns from an analytical perspective and I looked at both the onsite SEO, the content that they had created and the offsite SEO aspect, the content that had been created offsite, the links that were coming to all the pages and what I found out is that a lot of law firms are under-optimized badly.

Sharon: In what way?

Chris:   In lots of ways. They don’t have what I would call resourceful content. Maybe they don’t have relevant back links, or they don’t have any back lines pointing to their website other than automated kind of stuff that happens naturally. Both of those are a big one.  Internal linking’s another one. A lot of these websites don’t have proper internal linking structures and just bad optimization. To give you an idea of how many were well-optimized. It was 3%.

Sharon: Wow! Now one point—because this is always a point, I want to make to law firms—is that the top firms that you found, they weren’t the ones that came up highest in the rankings. They weren’t necessarily the largest firms, right?

Chris:   No, not at all, not at all and that’s the thing. You don’t necessarily have to be the largest firm and there are lots of large firms with a horrible online presence, surprisingly. I mean you’ve done other kinds of marketing well; you’ve been successful with the sales and what have you throughout the years, but your online presence—there’s a huge gap there.

Sharon: There’s been a resistance toward SEO among lawyers in the past few years, but I think it’s now changing to more of a recognition about the importance of SEO to lawyers and law firms and they don’t want to look at tables of analyses. I mean it’s great that you want to, but to most lawyers, it’s the last thing they want to do, especially if it’s not related to a client or something like that. So how can you tell if your SEO is doing a good job in that area?

Chris:   Well, it’s not always cut and dried, but the most important thing I like to look at is if you hired an SEO firm right out the gate and assuming they’re creating content for you, take a piece of content that they just created and compare it to the pages that are ranking well. So, if it’s a local page about let’s say car accidents, is your local page that they just created, is it as well done, as much of a resource as the firms that are ranking in the top few? That’s important because if they’ve created you a page that’s four or five, six hundred words and it’s not very in-depth, that’s a red flag right away because if you go to the folks that are ranking at the top, the content is in-depth typically. Unless you’re in a very, very small area, the content is going to be in-depth and you should be matching that content or exceeding that content and providing a better resource or as much of a resource as you possibly can showing that you are an authority on the subject matter.

Sharon: So, it seems that you—I guess there are different ways to approach this and maybe that’s changed and narrowed down, but you emphasize the content and the credibility that you’re creating from.

Chris:   Yeah, yeah, the content is important. Just a few years back, things were very different.  The algorithm was very different. They’ve really come a long way and what Google is looking at now–they want to make sure that your website is an authority on your subject matter. First and foremost, they want your website to be an authority before they even really consider ranking you for particular terms. They look at your overall—it’s really an entity. Your website is treated as an entity and your entity to Google is either an authority on a subject matter or it’s not and the only way you can become an authority on a subject matter is to write that in-depth content and if you don’t write that in-depth content, it is an uphill battle as far as rankings are concerned. You can do as much offsite SEO as you want, but it’s going to be a challenge for you. Content is super, super important and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

Sharon: I’m not any kind of expert in this area and that’s why there are firms like yours that you do this, but from what I understand, content—it used to be the emphasis was on write at least a thousand words and even the more, the better–

Chris:   Yes.

Sharon: And the last I heard it was like, “No, it’s five hundred words.”  What are we talking about today?

Chris:   Well, today’s a little bit different, but you’re right. When the internet wasn’t as large as it is now—yeah, just writing a few hundred words would suffice and you were the one that would show up because nobody else had written anything about it or very few people had. Now when people write a piece of content, it’s typically much more in-depth and so the challenge is meeting that depth of expertise that your competitors are putting there.  They’re putting out there that, “O.K., if you want to cover this topic, you’re going to have to cover it better than us.” And so, you’re in a competitive landscape. If somebody’s pages—and it’s not necessarily a length matter, but it’s more about aspects of the topic—you should cover those and a lot of that has to do with natural language processing that Google’s looking at, but yeah, the short answer to your question is: if you’re getting five-hundred-work blog posts from your SEO agency, it’s probably not a good thing unless it’s–

Sharon: Unless it’s in addition to the really in-depth stuff.

Chris:   Yeah.

Sharon: O.K., so when you say natural language, what do you mean?

Chris:   For instance, when we’re looking at natural language to help clients out, we’ll analyze the top ten, top twenty results and we’ll analyze that and see, “O.K., what are these results talking about?” Because Google has already given us what they want as far as rankings are concerned, one to ten, they’re on the front page. It’s as plain as day.  They’re giving us exactly what they want and so we analyze those pages just to make sure that when we’re creating a resource that we’re covering as many points of the topic as anyone else would be.

Sharon: So, what about back links because it seems like every time you talk to a rankings firm, they’re like, “Well, you don’t have enough rankings. You don’t have enough reviews,” maybe because that’s the easiest thing to say as opposed to, “You need to be writing heavy-duty articles or something.” I don’t know.

Chris:   Well, it’s the easiest thing to put in a report. From that perspective, it’s easy for me to show you that I’ve done something that month, but that may not even matter if you’re not doing it correctly. The three things—and this is straight from Google—so it’s content, back links and rank brain.  Those are the three things, the major things, that Google looks at in determining whether your page is going to be pulled up for certain search results.

Sharon: Excuse me, did you say rank brain?

Chris:   Rank brain, yeah, it’s their AI; it’s Google’s AI. So, it’s constantly evolving, so there are so many aspects to it, but a lot of rank brain has to do with natural language processing, yeah.

Sharon: O.K., so expressing it as a normal person as opposed to real legalese or something, is that what you’re saying?

Chris:   Yes, well, it’s about providing as much of a resource as you can as your other competitors are providing really. If we already see what Google’s rewarding in the top spots, we need to make sure that we’re covering that topic with as much relevance and we’re providing as much value as those folks that are already in the top spots because if we’re doing that, we’re feeding the search engine. That’s exactly what they want. They’ve already shown us and if we can provide that kind of information and plus go a little bit above and beyond, well then, we’re going to be looking pretty good.

Sharon: So how do you know that the Google algorithm has changed? Was it just because, “I was number one three weeks ago and now I’m number three?” How do you know that it changes? They don’t send out a memo.

Chris:   Not always, not always. Sometimes they do and people typically freak out when they do. Clients will be sending messages, “The Google algorithm just updated.” O.K., that’s O.K., but yeah, I mean sure if you’re website fluctuates drastically, possibly there was an update, but there are updates every single day. That’s the thing.

Sharon: Yeah, that’s the thing.

Chris:   It’s literally every single day.

Sharon: Oh gosh!  Can you give us a couple of examples of where a law firms calls you in because they just want to rank better and what your successes have been?

Chris:   Yeah, I’m not sure I want to give a specific example here because I think that sometimes I can bend those to my will to make things look fantastic, but one of the key points I do want to touch on there—and I’m not sure a lot of firms are doing this—but what we find lately as that we’ll bring on a firm and we’ll analyze their content and typically if we’re taking over from another SEO firm or what have you, we’ll run into a situation like you said. O.K., there are bunch of pages that are five hundred words. Well, what we found is that nine times out of ten is that we can look at this website; we can analyze those pages, see if they’re actually feeding the search engines. If you look in Google’s search console, you can see, “O.K., are my pages getting impressions?”  That’s a quick way to figure out if Google likes your website or not and if your pages aren’t getting impressions, if they aren’t getting clicks, well then maybe you can eliminate those pages and a lot of times, we’re able to eliminate pages of a website, sometimes cut in half or more, and keep rankings or make rankings go up, depending on the position that firm is currently in. So there are so many variables in SEO, but the big thing is pruning content right now, is just getting rid of old things and if the old stuff is kind of on point, then we can expand on that and work with what’s there, but a lot of times, we’ll go in and just tear a website apart and I always feel a little bit sad in doing that because I feel like it’s reporting really bad news because you know that this individual or group of individuals has been paying another firm for a long, long time and they’ve been creating all this content, but it wasn’t really doing them any good.

Sharon: When you say they’ve been doing it a long time, that to me raises a question: how long should you wait until you—like when you bring a new firm on, whether it’s your first or fiftieth, how long should you give them before you say, “O.K., you’re doing a great job” or “We’ve got to move on to the next firm?”

Chris:   Yeah, it’s tough because everybody’s situation is different and so just a firm the other day established—we were able to go in there, change the language on the page, build a few links and bump them up thirty spots almost overnight, but not everybody’s like that and so most of it is going to be content. So if you’re looking at the content—because of the time an SEO firm is going to be creating content for you on your site and you want to—say they wrote a blog post and there’s obviously a particular keyword or set of keywords that they’re trying to target, I would take that keyword, put it into Google, see what shows up in the top few spots, the results that are similar to you. If it was a law firm aggregator, you wouldn’t want to necessarily look at that page, but if it was a competitor, you would want to look at that page and say, “O.K., is the piece of content that our SEO firm created for us, is it authoritative? Is it providing value to the user and is it in-depth? Is it a resource?” That’s our saying around here is, “Every page a resource” and if they’re creating resources for you, it’s probably a good sign. I’d say that’s one of the good signs to look at and that doesn’t take a long time. I mean depending on your situation, typically you’re going to find out what kind of content they’ll create for you pretty quickly.

Sharon: I guess it depends on how quick you can get the lawyers or if they insist. Sometimes they insist on writing it, which is great, but that can take a long time sometimes.

Chris:   Yes, yes, anytime you have a lot of back and forth, it creates complications, yes.

Sharon: Yes, so in today’s world, it’s so much more complicated than it used to be in terms of online marketing because you have things coming from so many different angles. You have reviews and back links, and you have social media. How much of an impact does your social have on your rankings?

Chris:   Social media’s important. You have to keep in mind that Google—and let’s go back to rank brain as we talked about before. Rank brain is a mapping data. They get data from Firefox; they get data from Chrome; they obviously own Chrome and so they know where traffic is going in that browser. Everything you’re doing is being recorded and so they’re looking at, “Does this firm have a Facebook page? Do they have a Twitter page?” It’s kind of online branding 101 essentially. First and foremost, they want to see that you have these pages on these large websites because that is a sign that your website is alive, but they are also looking at activity that’s coming from those social media resources as well.

Sharon: And you were reading my mind because I was going to say what if they had Twitter, Facebook, all of that, but it’s dormant because with a lot of firms, they put it up and then they’re like, “O.K., now what” and they move on to the next thing. Do you have to have like a lot of activity coming from the Facebook page jumping to the website? What makes a difference?

Chris:   That can make a difference, depending on what you’re doing in certain situations. The most important thing is having the pages up, I would say, but yes, the other side of it if there is a lot of activity, they do log that; they know that it’s there; they know that it’s happening.

Sharon: My sense is that a lot of firms, especially when you’re looking at the younger generation, millennials, whatever, really emphasize the social media and don’t pay—it’s almost like people saying that Facebook is past due—or not past due, but “Oh, forget.  We’ve moved on.”

Chris:   Sure.

Sharon: If a firm is just really emphasizing the social media and the websites are up, that’s fine.  How does that affect things or does it?

Chris:   Well, I mean if you want to ignore Google, I suppose you could, but what you can’t ignore is the fact that so many people—what you shouldn’t ignore, I guess, is the fact that so many people are going there still every month, every day and they’re searching for what it is that you do. They’re searching for someone to help them and we’ve got the data. I mean we use Ahrens which is a fantastic tool.

Sharon: What is that?

Chris:   It’s called; it’s Ahrefs.com. It is a tool that a lot of us in the SEO industry use; we’ve used them for a long, long time. They’re fantastic because they purchase internet service provider data and what that does for us it gives us a really great grasp on how many searches are being done for a particular term, for a particular keyword or set of keywords and so when we have that data, it’s very hard to ignore it and that traffic is typically highly valuable, especially if they’re searching for a car accident attorney or something specific. You know that that individual is looking for that exactly and you would want to be there in front of them.

Sharon: O.K., that’s makes sense and maybe this is a naïve question, but is Google—when it does its searches, is it not taking into account social media because so many times, LinkedIn will come up or Facebook or whatever if you do a search?

Chris:   Typically, it’s different. What they’re trying to do is reward more of typical authorities now and they’ve gotten so much better at this and that’s why creating resources on your website is so important because Google is really looking to reward topical authorities and so if you’re a topical authority, you’re going to be a whole lot more likely to show up in the search results and even beating out larger websites. It’s definitely possible. It’s easy in a lot of circumstances.

Sharon: Does Google look at original content? I mean couldn’t somebody just start copying and pasting things from another source onto their website? Do you they look at original content or what? How does that work?

Chris:   Yeah, they do look at original content and they’re getting even better at that. They’re looking down into snippet levels now and they’re looking at the way the words flow and comparing—almost like a Thesaurus-type thing, but yeah, they want your content to be unique and they’re going to reward unique content. Their goal is to eliminate spam. To answer your question, I guess and the easier way is if you publish a piece of content and you’re the first one to publish it, Google sees that and they’re going to stick with rewarding you and there are a lot of dirty tricks that people have performed over the years to circumvent that, but typically the first one to publish is going to be rewarded.

Sharon: I’m not advocating plagiarism, but let’s say, I have written the first piece of original content and all of a sudden, I see it on three other websites. It’s the same thing basically, maybe a word or two changed. Does the Google recognize that?

Chris:   They do. They do. Typically, they do a pretty good job of it and they’ve gotten better, and I think they’re going to continue to get even better over the coming year.

Sharon: So, when the head of a marketing department or a managing partner of a firm calls you in, what are the questions they should be asking? I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where they say, “You’re the third firm we’ve had, and I just don’t believe in this.”

Chris:   Yes.

Sharon: What do you say to sort of assuage their feelings, give them some comfort and also just differentiate yourself?

Chris:   Sometimes it’s difficult because they do come in a little bit jaded and it happens a lot, but the things that we like to talk about in that we’re different—typically I’ll look at some of their competitors and I’ll look at their website and they’ll say, “But we’ve been writing content and it just doesn’t seem to be—we’re not moving; nothing’s happening.” Well, it goes back to every page is a resource. That’s the theme around here and it works really well and that’s a typical one and then I get a lot of folks that are like this one just a couple of weeks ago; this guy’s like, “We built back links. We built fifty back links to this particular page and it didn’t do anything.” There’s always a story. You kind of want to dig in and I say, “O.K., well let me take a look at that and let me see why that is” and so I dug in and came to find out they were some kind of spammy back links. They’re not natural, but I explained that to them. They were a little bit disappointed I’m sure, but I explained to them why that didn’t work and what the difference is and basically Google had already looked at these websites and they didn’t value these websites because the websites themselves that they were getting linked from, they didn’t rank for any Q word terms at all in Google and they had no traffic coming to them. So, if Google doesn’t value a website that’s linking to you, why would they value that link and a lot of times, it’s just digging in a little bit and figuring out, “O.K., you did this, but what did you do or what did the firm that you were working with do” and just kind of explaining to them and once we’re able to do that, things change. You usually get a little twinkle in their eye. They start to understand and believe in our process.

Sharon: There used to be—with my firm, a lawyer would say, “Well, I don’t need a website” and then that sort of changed and then it was search engine optimization. A lot of times, I just sort of felt, “O.K., if I got you to believe in a website, I’m ahead of the game. I’m not even going to push the SEO even though we might talk about it and suggest it, but there’s a lot of resistance.” How do you overcome some of that resistance?

Chris:   Well, if there’s a ton of resistance, maybe you can’t overcome it—education really, right? I think when we do a market analysis, we dig in and we see O.K., what kind of potential does this market hold? How many searches are being performed for that service in this particular area and if there’s a number there or if their top competitors or getting a ton of traffic for particular search terms, you could show them that and if that doesn’t sway them, I don’t know what would because that’s the kind of stuff that—I mean searches for exactly what you do are pretty darn powerful.

Sharon: Are there times when for example—because we’ve talked about the fact that you do a lot of work with personal injury. I presume you work with defense firms too in terms of intellectual property, things that people are really looking for, but—I don’t know—are there times when you just say, “Hey, you’re doing well?” Like if a firm in the middle of Iowa comes to you and says, “We’re the biggest maritime firm here?”

Chris:   Yeah, it does happen. Sometimes you’re already dominating and then maybe there’s no need to change anything or maybe you want to grow outside of your area and then that can be a discussion, but yeah, there are times when we say, “O.K., well, you’re doing O.K. where you’re at” and give them direction that we could help them go if they’re ready for that. Yeah, it does happen.

Sharon: It used to be that—and we talked a little bit about this and this is eons ago. You could say to a firm or a lawyer within a firm, “O.K., I understand the firm doesn’t want to do SEO, but here are things you can do yourself in terms of writing content with key words or whatever.” Is that still possible or are there just too many—now you have social media; you have reviews; you have everything. Is it just impossible or did you need a firm like yours in your arsenal in a sense?

Chris:   Well, I think it depends on where you’re at in the country, how big a city you serve. Sometimes you can. I mean if you’re a prolific writer—and this is just a fact—I think prolific writers have an advantage in search engine optimization today. If you can put out content that’s better than what everybody else in your space is doing, then by gosh go for it, but if writing is not your thing and you know that you’re going to spend hours and hours and hours writing a piece of content and then you’re going to spend the next day reviewing it, it may not be a wise decision. It’s totally dependent—it’s kind of where you’re at and how staunch the competition is.

Sharon: Do you teach lawyers how to do it? Don’t you have a program or a class to teach lawyers how to do SEO?

Chris:   Yeah, yeah, we do. We have a pretty great training program that teaches lawyers exactly that, how to do SEO, the ins and outs of it and it really educates you in the process because I think that there’s a ton of misinformation out there today and that’s one of the reasons why we created the training program because there is a ton of misinformation and we just kind of like to cut to what works and this does that as well and I wanted to do this as a gift to those that are here listening. If you want to jump on over to a website, attorneySEOtraining.com.

Sharon: We’ll put it in the links, O.K., attorney SEO—say that again.

Chris:   AttorneySEOtraining.com/lawfirmmarketingcatalyst, just one word. If you go to that link, SEOtraining.com/lawfirmmarketingcatalyst, you will be able to get into our SEO training via that link and we won’t charge you anything for it. Don’t tell anybody.

Sharon: Oh wow, that’s very generous; that’s great, wow! O.K., thank you very much.

Chris:   Yeah, you’re welcome.

Sharon: Why at this time with the pandemic and everything going on and people running around–I think finally maybe the new normal—it hasn’t become normal, but at least there’s more of an even keel and O.K., people have gotten used to working remotely and that sort of thing, why is it more important than ever to really be doubling down on your online marketing?

Chris:   I think it’s the same with any time. If your competitors aren’t doing it, which there’s a huge opportunity right now where everybody cuts back, if you jump in and you’re the one in front of the people that are looking, you’re a lot more likely to grab that opportunity and that’s just the case in any time. Never stop.

Sharon: That’s hard to do sometimes, but that’s so critical because there are so many times when firms want to pull back or you just want to say, “O.K., we’ve done enough. Let’s put our attention over here” or whatever.

Chris:   Right, right.

Sharon: Chris, thank you so much for being here today. This has really been very enlightening and interesting, and one just has to keep on their toes in this area because it is always changing and what last year may not apply this year.

Chris:   Yeah, that’s a fact. You’re very welcome, Sharon, thank you.

Sharon: We greatly appreciate it and we’ll have that link for everybody in the show notes, so do you want to give to us again because it keeps going out of my mind?

Chris:   Yeah, it’s attorneySEOtraining.com/lawfirmmarketingcatalyst.

Sharon: All right, thank you so much for being here and we hope that we’re all back to the real normal, whatever the real normal is, as opposed to just the newer normal that’s temporary and I look forward to talking with you again.

Chris:   Yeah, thank you, Sharon, I appreciate it.

Sharon: We hope you apply what you learned here today to propel your firm forward.  If you have questions or want even more resources, go to Berbay.com. and as always, thank you for listening.



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