Becoming more visible online is difficult for solicitors – but outsourcing is not the only way to achieve increased hits.

Irwin Mitchell appeared to have been ‘penalised’ for its search engine optimisation tactics by Google recently, but it is not the only case that I have heard about within the legal profession.

Understandably the realm of SEO is the sort of topic that quickly sends most of us to sleep, but the importance of the internet means that it cannot be ignored. 

Despite all the hype about Google’s algorithms, at heart one of their fundamental objectives is to provide high-quality search results for their users. If you think back a few years, all searches for any legal terms resulted in several pages of poor-quality listings before you found an actual law firm.

That is not the case now.

Nowadays, an internet search generally provides a very good selection of relevant websites – whether you are searching for ‘dog-friendly luxury gastro pub’ or ‘lawyer to advise on settlement agreement in Barchester’.

To do this, Google compares your set of website content with the others – albeit the evaluation process is not so simple. Because SEO agencies try to play the system, Google has to amend its algorithms to counteract these ‘black-hat’ techniques.

If you wish to be found for ‘settlement agreements’,  ‘probate disputes’ or ‘copyright infringement’ then a good first step is simply to see whether there is adequate content on your website to demonstrate to Google that a) you are an expert and b) you are more of an expert than the other solicitors active in this practice area.

One mention in a long list of services is unlikely to be enough.

It can be hard to take a bird’s-eye view of your own law firm’s website content. It is easy to omit information on whole practice areas, or write about it in a way that hardly mentions the issue at hand, simply because you are so close to the subject matter.

Content is king on the internet, but writing good content for a website or blog does not come easily to all solicitors. It requires a different writing style to drafting contracts and pleadings, and even writing a news release or feature article. But the real issue for solicitors, and the one that has driven so many law firms into the arms of SEO consultants, is that doing it well takes time – time which can be used more profitably elsewhere.

Faced with the dilemma of how to appeal to Google and the prospect of getting your solicitors to write web-friendly content, it may be tempting to hand over this mysterious problem to an external agency and tick that job off your ‘to do’ list.

However, there are alternatives, and I foresee that every content provider and his spouse will have something to add to this discussion, so readers should have plenty of options to choose from quite soon. I simply recommend that you ask for a detailed quotation and make sure that you understand exactly what service will be provided.

Sue Bramall is managing director of Berners Marketing and advises law firms in the UK and overseas