SEO: How Long Will It Take?

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“How long until we see results?” It’s a rather common question that law firms ask when considering a new search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, and one with so many variables that it is nearly impossible to answer. To start a new campaign requires a ton of upfront work just to assess a firm’s current situation, determine what goals they want to achieve, and plan out an initial strategy. That alone can take several months. Once the technical work has actually begun, it can take a while for the campaign to get any traction and for the firm to start seeing results.

While organic search results are very powerful, they do take time to obtain. Multichannel approaches that include PPC advertising, content development and promotion, and other online and offline activities can provide results while a firm’s website is in the process of attaining organic rankings. In a competitive industry, this can be a lengthy process.

This article is meant not necessarily to explicitly answer the question of “how long?”, but to try to give you a better understanding of the factors involved in determining the answer to that question in a particular firm’s case. Just “how long” will depend on factors surrounding the firm’s current marketing efforts, competition, history, current website, and myriad other subjects.

Below are examples with rough timelines of some activities involved in building a strong foundation for an SEO campaign and designing a comprehensive strategy. Also outlined are select variables that Google takes into consideration when ranking a website. By looking at all of these factors, you can get a better grasp of how much time it will take to perform the activities and see results.

location pinlocation pinCompetition and Geographic Location

Two factors that will affect how quickly a firm will see success from its SEO campaign are its location and the intensity of SEO competition in its target market. Results will be seen much more quickly – months sooner – in a less densely populated area outside of New York City than they will in Manhattan. The competition for organic search terms involving downtown New York is extremely high compared to smaller cities and towns in outlying areas. The same could be said for any metro area. The more online competitors there are in a market area, and the higher their investments in online marketing, the more difficult it will be for a firm to outcompete them and gain visibility and high rankings.

typewriter with mousetypewriter with mouseDomain Age

An older web address, or URL, has domain age in its favor in terms of SEO value, but it is a relatively small benefit. Older law firm websites often have older code and structure and a less-optimal user interface. When these items are not updated to current standards, it can affect the overall site’s performance. However, in the case of a brand-new firm that launches a new site with a new URL, it may have a modern website, but no domain age. Additionally, it has no domain authority, no links, no citations, and really nothing else going for it in terms of SEO value. The campaign is starting from scratch and may be going up against strong competition. In a situation like that, a firm would have a longer time and more resources to invest before seeing results from their organic search campaign.

Locaudit contentaudit contental Business Audit

One of the most important aspects of a law firm’s SEO campaign is its local profile, which consists of its listings and citations on various online platforms. The more a firm’s NAP, or Name, Address, and Phone number, appear on high-authority directories and other platforms online, the more evidence there is that they are a well-known and quality business. Also, these citations need to be consistent, showing exactly the same information for your firm across listings. This is known as NAP consistency, and makes search engines more likely to rank a firm higher in search results.

So, the first step in building a great local profile is to scour the internet for your firm’s current citations, assuming there are any. This will be critical when moving on to the citation cleanup phase. This process involves using various tools to pull reports and performing manual searches to find all the possible listings for your law firm. You may be thinking, “well, that’s not that complicated.” However, we have to consider things like:

  • Has your firm changed its name since the dawn of the internet? If so, you have to search for all old business names to identify out-of-date listings.
  • Have you used new phone numbers or retired any old ones? You’ll need to search for all old phone numbers to find those incorrect listings.
  • Have you moved locations in the past 1-2 years? There will be listings with your firm’s old address to identify as well.
  • Do you have new attorneys from other firms? You’ll need to find the attorneys’ individual listings that likely link to their old firm.
  • Are there former attorneys to consider who now work at other firms? You’ll have to discover those listings as well.

The time involved with a local business audit can vary greatly, depending on the above and other factors. For a solo practitioner, an estimate would be 10 to 15 hours of work spread across multiple tools, reports, and manual searches. If you have a larger firm with multiple attorneys or locations, or alternative phone numbers and old addresses, this can increase the work to 15-25 hours or more. At Consultwebs, we perform a local business audit at the start of each new client campaign that we launch.

tackle boxtackle boxCitation Cleanup

The cleanup process that is required after the initial local business audit is often a very laborious and time-consuming process. This involves updating information on some listings, claiming others, removing and merging duplicate listings, changing the listed firm and links on individual attorneys’ listings, and more to correct all of the incorrect citations you found in the local business audit. We find that most law firms have at least one of the following issues that can make cleanup much more complicated:

  • Old firm names – These can require reverification and claiming to update.
  • Old locations – These can appear in listings and require updates or removal.
  • Incorrectly listed attorneys – Attorney listings should only contain the attorney’s name, not the firm’s name, in the title, and links should point to their current law firm.
  • Missing logins – This necessitates resetting passwords, tracking down logins from previous vendors, or creating new listings. Then those listings need to be verified and old listings need to be removed.

If any of these issues are in play, the work involved often expands to a timeframe of several months or more, and the time involved can easily exceed 40 hours. Over this time, listings are claimed and verified, duplicates are reported, and data is updated. It often requires multiple rounds of outreach to some sites’ owners or webmasters to claim and update listings manually. Many firms find that they do not have the time to perform this type of work themselves and enlist the help of an online marketing company.

During the time that you are cleaning up citations (or having it done for you), you should also be claiming and submitting information to the key data aggregators. These are a set of platforms that provide data to hundreds of websites each. The issue here is it can take anywhere from two to four weeks to over 12 months for the sites that receive the data to request and update the information. This means that missing or inaccurate listings will continue to show up, and, unfortunately, you’ll have no control over when the updates will occur.

All you can do is make sure the data listed on them is correct and that duplicates are caught. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a comprehensive list of old business names and phone numbers, and haven’t found all old listings, outdated information could be fed from those incorrect listings at a later date. In that scenario, that could mean starting the process over again with a new local business audit.

ReviewKeyReviewKeyContent Audit

The legal industry is one of the most competitive when it comes to online marketing. In order to see where your firm’s site stacks up in terms of content, it is recommended that you have a content audit performed. This is an in-depth look at all the pages and blog posts on your website. If you have an agency working on your online marketing, this is something they should do at the beginning of your campaign.

A content audit allows you to examine the pages and posts on your site to identify what should stay, what should be updated or changed, and what should be eliminated. Our team looks at the amount of traffic each page or post is getting, the word count of pages, technical elements and more. Based on some of the initial data, we then take a deeper look at the page to determine what purpose it serves and if it provides good user experience.

The content audit itself can take two to five hours or more, depending on the amount of content on a site. However it will help to strategize a content plan for the early part of the campaign, to eliminate valueless content, add pages to help answer visitors’ questions, and improve user experience.

Content Improvement, New Content Creation

A couple of years ago, writing 300-500 words on a page and targeting a specific phrase was a quick and easy way to rank. Now ranking a page is much more about providing great user experience. Does the page answer the question(s) the visitor is asking? Is it authoritative and does Google trust it?

At Consultwebs, we take the results of our content audits and begin to brainstorm about changes to make on certain pages. We look to see if key pieces of information are missing, and often we will have pages rewritten. For each page that is written or rewritten, this may take between two and six hours. An old-style 500-word article may take between one and two hours, while a newer comprehensive page at 1,500-2,000 words could take four to six hours to write, and another 30 minutes to an hour to edit.

In our process, we will then have a designer take a look at pages and add visual elements to increase user engagement. Then we send the page to our client for review and final approval. Sometimes there are further edits required, which can take additional time.

The whole process for developing a page of content with design elements and written by a lawyer or experienced legal writer on our team usually ends up taking about two weeks or 10 business days (longer with secondary edits).

update auditupdate auditA/B Testing

Proper A/B testing of a website can provide great insight and help you improve your pages and increase the amount of business you get from your website. The process involves comparing two pages that are very similar, but with one key difference to see which performs better. To run a proper A/B test you need to:

  • Create a page
  • Create a variation of that page with one key difference
  • Drive sufficient traffic to the pages to get meaningful data

In some cases, it can take 10,000 visits before you have accurate data. If your firm is located in a smaller location, that could mean two to four months or more of testing. So why take the time to do this? Say one of our clients gets 2,000 visitors a month to their website, and in five months has 10,000 visits. Based on the results, we determine that test page B has a 1% higher conversion rate. If that page had an 8% conversion rate (the percentage of visitors who contact the firm) and testing provided information to improve the page and increase contacts by 1%, then the client sees the following results:

Original page: 2,000 visits and an 8% conversion rate yields 160 leads.

Improved page: 2,000 visits and a 9% conversion rate yields 180 leads.

Additional leads: 20 per month.

Now let’s say our client signs 10% of their leads. That’s an additional 20 leads per month, which will give them an extra two cases per month, or 24 new cases a year. Seems worth the wait for five months. Additional A/B testing can yield more improvements that can further increase conversion rate and caseload. This type of work can take time to yield results, but imagine that testing increases the conversion rate, over the course of a few years, to 12%. Then those same 2,000 visits would yield 240 leads and 24 cases. That’s eight additional cases per month over the original 16, or 96 more cases a year!

Check markCheck markTechnical Audits

Another key item in developing a strong base for your SEO campaign is performing a technical audit. In our process, this is a huge assessment of 15 aspects of your website. The technical audit covers everything from page speed to optimization and business information. Our team takes around 15-20 hours just to perform a technical audit. Beyond that, the issues we discover can lead to hundreds of hours of cleanup and corrective work. We address the most crucial items first and continue down the list until the site is sound from a technical standpoint.

Link Earning

This is a critical aspect of any online campaign. A Google representative recently confirmed that links are still one of the most important signals for search ranking.

From our experience, this is also one of the most difficult and labor-intensive processes in SEO.  You might spend five hours developing a piece of content for your website and another two to four hours or more in outreach to earn a single link.

A larger project, like a creative asset on the website, might take 40+ hours of work, involving multiple team members and could cost thousands of dollars and several intensive rounds of outreach to earn a larger number of links.

For the best results, this has to be done on an ongoing basis, every month. Building a strong link profile, which is key to getting your website to rank for critical terms that will drive traffic and new potential customers, takes time… lots of time.

PPCPPCSupporting Your Organic Campaign with Paid Traffic

Organic search results take time and a lot of hours of work. If you’re looking for a great way to support your upfront investment into an organic search marketing campaign, you should strongly consider the following additional online marketing activities we recommend to clients:

Pay Per Click (PPC) – The concept here is simple, your ad is displayed in search result listings, and each time your ad is clicked, you pay a related fee. Depending on your competition and market, the cost per click can range widely.

While your organic presence is steadily building as a result of your SEO campaign, you can get immediate traffic with PPC. This traffic can, of course, bring in leads, but can also provide data to help you make improvements to your website. PPC can also be a great way to test new markets or new practice areas to get more information and help strategize for organic search opportunities.

It is highly recommended that, as a part of an online marketing campaign, you leverage PPC as an additional channel. By hitting multiple channels you cover more ground and pull in more traffic, which means more leads, and in turn, more cases. Taking a multi-channel approach is ideal so your traffic is diversified, leaving you less susceptible to algorithm changes or other changes that could affect your organic traffic from time to time.

Social Media Promotions – Leveraging sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Instagram can bring additional traffic to your site as well. Promoting content on these platforms can expose your firm to new audiences outside of your existing followers. Many platforms provide great segmentation options, and with a bit of creativity, you can see some really good exposure for your investment.

In Summary

Engaging in an online marketing campaign is a large commitment. It may be just as complicated as managing some of your firm’s clients’ cases. At Consultwebs, dozens of team members work for thousands of hours every month to make our clients’ campaigns effective and successful. Seeing results and finding traction can take a while, and depends on lots of factors.

In a competitive market like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, it may even take a couple of years of focused execution of a great strategy to start to move the needle. Those markets obviously have greater potential returns as well, and incremental increases in conversion rate can lead to fantastic ROI, if you’re willing to go the distance.

In the end, it’s like growing a fruit tree. You have to dig a hole, plant the seed, and water and tend to it. If you’re hoping for fruit that very first year, you should probably rethink the idea. SEO is a long-term investment, but can yield fantastic results when you approach it with the right attitude, the right strategy, and the right tools.