SEO for Professional Services Firms: Common Missteps

August 11, 2009 •

About two months ago, I put together a post on the five ways professional services firms should use Twitter.  From a readership standpoint, that post represents one of the all-time top five posts on Marketing Trenches.  More importantly, we received a number of emails from professional services types praising the content and asking for more.

If it’s more you want, it’s more we’ll give.  This time, we’ll address search engine optimization, also known as SEO, and the common mistakes that professional services firms make in an attempt to address this area.

One quick note: While these mistakes are pretty typical in the professional services arena, most of these are universal mistakes that any type of organization can make.  You’ll just have to trust me on that, as I’ve seen some pretty poor SEO efforts.

That being said, here are some of the most common areas in which professional services firms falter with regards to SEO:

1. Setting unrealistic goals for SEO with regards to rankings, timing and business impact.

As we’ve said before in this blog, SEO is a necessary tactic for just about every professional services firm.  Your firm will not, however, be able to secure a top 10 ranking on a keyword like “tax attorney” without a focused, long-term SEO strategy.  Your firm will also not be able to secure any type of top 10 rankings, with the exception of true long tail keywords, for at least 3-6 months.  And SEO, generally speaking, will not turn around the fortunes of a professional services firm.

SEO is necessary, but it should be a component of a larger marketing strategy, and not THE marketing strategy.

2. Assuming that SEO work can be done in-house entirely.

Let me clarify something quickly.  SEO work can be done in-house, but only if your professional services firm falls into one of these categories:

  • You have a legitimate SEO expert on staff.  This is highly unlikely in most professional services firms that aren’t in the marketing category.
  • You have someone on staff that can write well, code well, understands SEO basics and is willing to put in the significant time required to learn advanced SEO tactics and to put in the actual work required to execute those tactics.
  • You have someone on staff that possesses some of the qualities above and is working in parallel with an external SEO expert to implement your firm’s SEO program.

If your firm doesn’t fall into one of those categories, consider hiring a company that knows what they’re doing.  Just be careful about your evaluation of these firms, as for every legit SEO firm you will run into a snake oil salesman or two.

3. Ignoring off-page SEO.

Not long ago, on-page SEO was considered the blocking and tackling component of SEO, and off-page SEO was considered “advanced”.  Not anymore.  If your SEO effort stops at putting up some meta tags and walking away, don’t count on any significant SEO success.

4. Not taking advantage of existing content in the form of web pages, video, pdfs, press releases, etc.

Once again, let me remind you that content is king for marketing.  If you have it – and most professional services firms have it in abundance – and you’re not using it for SEO purposes, you’re missing the boat.  Why would you NOT use content you’ve already produced if it’s going to improve your chances of achieving your SEO goals?

5. Downplaying the SEO value of blogging.

The blog post you are reading right now will be read by more people, and eventually rank higher in the search engines, than 80% of the pages on our primary corporate website.  There are a variety of reasons for that, but it should serve as a clear illustration for why you should not ignore blogging as a major factor in search engine optimization and overall marketing success.

6. Not installing some type of web analytics prior to making SEO changes, or not installing analytics at all.

Everyone loves before and after pictures, videos…and website stats.  Install website analytics before the SEO effort to gather at least a baseline measure of the what organic search is driving before you make the changes, and then look at the reports 2-3 months down the road.  If your firm is taking the correct approach to SEO, you ought to be looking at a very impressive before-and-after picture for your marketing department and the firm as a whole.

7. Tagging all site pages with the same meta tags.

This is still a very common mistake.  Almost every page on your site should have a different set of title, description and keyword tags.  Why?  Because in theory, each page on your site ought to address a different topic.  And because you want search engines to index and rank as many pages as possible.

Let’s use the example of a typical corporate law firm.  The firm has at least 5-15 practice areas.  Each practice area has its own page on the site, complete with already-written copy.  You write some meta tags for the Real Estate Law page, and for whatever reason you decide that those tags also work for the Sports Law and Labor Law pages.  Congratulations – you just rendered the Sports Law and Labor Law pages pretty meaningless to search engines, and devalued the work you did in structuring the site and writing the copy in the first place.

8. Writing long-winded, meaningless meta description tags.

As if I haven’t already given you enough to think about, let me introduce a new wrinkle.  You can absolutely crush your SEO effort, and achieve some top 10 rankings on valuable keywords, and never receive significant website traffic from that effort.

How does that work?

Your organic search listing is not unlike any type of advertisement.  The first step is placement.  Solid placement means people will at least look at your ad.  The second step is creative, the part that gets people to stop and possibly take action.

Write a rambling or disjointed description tag, and that top 10 ranking won’t really matter because your creative fails.

9. Avoiding the use of geo-modifiers.

Geo-modifier is just a fancy way of saying, “tell people where you operate from.”  If you’re a regional firm that handles primarily clients in the Southeast, then acknowledge that as many searchers will be looking for firms in a particular geographic region.

If you are truly a national firm with clients spread out everywhere, this gets a little trickier, but there are still plenty of SEO tactics designed to localize a national or global business for SEO purposes.

10. Posting your press releases on the company site, but not on a newswire.

Ok, let’s say it one last time.  Content is king.  Press releases represent well-written, keyword-rich content if done right.  There are plenty of free or relatively inexpensive newswire services out there that will significantly impact organic search listings.

You’re already using the press releases for traditional public relations purposes.  Why wouldn’t you make those press releases even more valuable by turning them into SEO-drivers?

About the Author

As managing partner and chief strategy officer for Right Source, Mike Sweeney is responsible for all content marketing initiatives, including growing the company’s content marketing practice, guiding all client content marketing strategy, and recruiting and growing a team of modern marketers. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame. You can find Mike on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn, or read his other posts.

  • your article is really very helpful for SEO specially for on page optimization. and i really like your thought about met tag [pra no 7] really very useful thanks and keep it up

    Ruchir Parekh

  • Bahadur

    I used to work for an SEO company that had extremely poor processes and the clients they brought on were just so horrible. Well I guess they were only horrible because they had TOTALLY different expectations created by the sales department and by the time we started executing our campaigns, they had no idea what was even going on. I’ve had to deal with clients that I called months after their campaign had began and they would ask, WHAT IS SEO? Unbelievable, how I even survived in that company for half a year.

    Working for a lot more stable and experience company – it is a website design company ( http://www.9thsphere.com/home.html ) and their internet marketing department is also well developed. One of the most crucial things to keep clients satisfied is to provide them with all the things that they should be expecting. Therefore, when the campaign gets rolling, they understand first and foremost that they will not be seeing rankings over night at all. It is a slow and gradual process. Many clients come with unreasonable expectations and leave unsatisfied. Information and conveying it to the client is the key from what I have experienced so far.

    Great post, nevertheless.

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