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Published: 2008-03-26

Ten Ways To Improve Your Search Engine Ranking



When a person goes online looking for a lawyer, there are several common avenues that they will likely take. One, of course, is through an established legal portal, such as FindLaw and our directory of attorneys, the FindLaw Lawyer Directory (here's the product plug: http://directory.findlaw.com). Another popular method is to perform a search on a search engine.

The art of ensuring that your Web site shows up high in the rankings of search engines is known as "search engine optimization," or "SEO" for short. SEO is a constantly evolving battle between search engines and Web sites. Web sites are always trying to get the #1 listing on search engines. Search engines are always changing the way they rank Web sites so that the Web sites cannot manipulate the rankings. To consistently be at the top of search engine rankings, you need to spend a lot of time on SEO, or you need to hire professionals to do SEO for you (there will be another product plug later on that which addresses this point).

Without further ado, here are ten tips to improve your SEO:

1. Learn Basic HTML
Most lawyers' heads are already so filled with statutes and codes that it is hard to fathom learning something other than the law. Unfortunately, to do SEO yourself, you need to have a rudimentary understanding of HTML programming. Go to your local bookstore and buy a few basic HTML books. Also, when learning HTML, it is helpful to compare your site's HTML to that of other, similar sites. To see the "source code" of another site, surf over to that site and then click on "View" at the top left part of your page. Then, click on "Source" to see the source code.

2. Understand the Difference Between Search Engines
There are basically four types of search engines in use today, and each has different methods of ranking sites. There are "spiders" which use a computer program to search millions of Web sites and categorize them (an example of a spider is AltaVista). There are human-edited sites, which rely on humans to find Web sites and categorize them (an example would be DMOZ.org). There are page-ranking sites, which combine spidering with the number of other Web sites that link to a particular site (Google is the leader in this field). And finally, there are pay-for-placement search engines, which rank sites based on how much a site is willing to pay (Overture is an example). SEO is most effective for spiders and page-ranking sites, simply because SEO is a technique which changes your HTML code to convince a computer program into thinking you are more relevant than another site. For human-edited sites and pay-for-placement sites, you will need to either submit your site for inclusion (so that the human-editors know that your site exists), or you will have to pay to be listed.

3. The Quick Fix: Meta-Titles
The easiest way to see immediate results from SEO is to change your meta-title. The meta-title appears in your source code near the top of the HTML. It will look something like this (this is an example from Orbitz.com, a travel site): {title} Orbitz: Airline Tickets, Hotels, Car Rentals, Travel Deals{/title}. The meta-title serves as the heading at the top of a user's Internet page, and it is also one of the main ways that search engines rank Web sites. For this reason, it is important to include keywords in your meta-title that are relevant to your Web site. For example, if you are a personal injury attorney in San Diego, you're meta-title could read something like this: . By the way, if you search for the word "airline tickets" on Google, you will notice that Orbitz shows up as the #4 ranking because they have this word in their meta-title (we will discuss below some possible reasons why they didn't show up as #1).

4. The More Links, The Better
Google's increasing popularity has resulted in an increased importance on the number of quality links you have going to your site. Note that I say "quality" links. Although Google will not reveal their exact method for determining what is and is not a quality link, you can pretty much assume that a quality link is one of two things: either a link from a site that is similar to yours (from another law firm, from a legal portal, etc,) or a link from a very popular site (Yahoo, FindLaw, and so on). A link from a shoe store to a law firm probably will not cut it. Going back to the example about the search for "airline tickets," let's take a look at how many links each of the first four sites listed on Google have coming into their sites. To do this, simply go to Google and type in link: webaddress.com (example: link: orbitz.com). We get the following results: the #1 listing, Travelocity, has 14,700 links; #2, Priceline, has 3,950; #3, CheapTickets.com, has 4,860; and #4, Orbitz, has 4,420. With the exception of Priceline, the ranking of these four sites goes in order of the number of links coming into each site (and all the sites have the word "airline tickets" in the meta-title). It is possible that Priceline is ahead of CheapTickets and Orbitz because it has more relevant links. There may, however, be yet another piece of the puzzle to explain this ranking. Read on.

5. The Content of Your Content Matters
Search engines also have the technology to look at the actual content (or words) you put on your page. So, if a user types in a search for a particular keyword, the more often that keyword appears on your site (and the closer it is to the top of the page), the more weight your site will receive, and the higher it will probably be ranked. It turns out that the "airline tickets" example does not give us much insight into how important content is. All of the first four rankings on Google mention the word "airline tickets" at least once in the content of their homepage.

6. What About Keywords?
A few years ago, keywords, or "meta-keywords" as they are sometimes known, were all of the rage in SEO. Meta-keywords are also something you find in the source code of a Web page. Unlike meta-titles, however, meta-keywords serve no other purpose than to try to convince search engines that a Web site should be highly ranked. Because meta-keywords are never seen by the end-user, they tend not to make any grammatical sense. Again, from Orbitz, this is what meta-keywords look like in source code: {meta name="keywords" content="Orbitz, airline tickets hotels car rentals travel deals vacation packages low fares airfare hotel reservations travel cruises"}. Note again that the word "airline tickets" shows up in the meta-keywords. Of course, it also shows up in the meta-keywords of the other top four sites. In general, meta-keywords play less of a roll today than they did a few years ago in SEO, but they are still worth putting in your HTML pages.

7. Experiment The best way to improve your search engine ranking is to continue to experiment with different meta-titles, meta-keywords, content, and linking strategies. Because most search engines (at least spiders and page-rankers) update their listings on a regular basis, if one attempt at SEO does not work well for you, try changing things around to see if you get better results.

8. Avoid Dirty Tactics
There are many ways to try to trick search engines. I say "try" because often times these tactics work for a little while, until the search engine discovers your trickery and decides not to rank your Web site at all! For this reason, I recommend avoiding any SEO technique that is not a commonly accepted practice (note: all of the suggestions I mention above are accepted practices).

9. Paid-Inclusion is an Option
Sometimes, despite your best SEO efforts, you just cannot seem to crack the rankings of a particular search engine. This can be the case especially with human-edited sites, such as Yahoo. In this instance, you may want to try a paid-inclusion program. For a fee (sometimes one-time, sometimes annually, and sometimes on a per-click basis), you can guarantee that a search engine will see your Web site, and that your Web site will be ranked. While the search engines do not guarantee how high you will be ranked, you can often do quite well with paid-inclusion. Each search engine has a different system for paid-inclusion, so check the particular search engine for more information, or contact your SEO firm.

10. When in Doubt, Use a Professional
The world of SEO changes constantly, and keeping on top of it all can be very tiring. I try my best to keep up-to-date, but I will be the first to admit that I am no expert. Fortunately for you, many Web site designers have full-time SEO personnel to do the work for you. And now for the product-plug I hinted at above: FirmSite -- FindLaw's Web site builder and designer, has an entire staff of SEO professionals dedicated exclusively to getting top rankings for law firms on major search engines. They will develop your source code, submit your site to human-editors, do the paid-inclusion, and even monitor and adjust your code as needed. To learn more about FirmSite, go to FindLaw's LawyerMarketing.com. After all, at the end of the day, your job is to practice law, not to worry about HTML!