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   May/June 2002


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TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE

NOTHING.BUT.NET WITH ERIK J. HEELS

Optimize It!

How can you get more marketing bang from the Internet? Optimize your search engine rankings and electronic readership.

Most law firms get a great deal of their Web site traffic from search engines, directories and portals such as Google, AltaVista and MSN. So if your site is cataloged by these major groups, you are on top of your Internet marketing, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. You want to achieve good search engine rankings by optimizing your site. You also might optimize the potential of your e-newsletter while you’re at it. Understand how potential clients could find you.

Seven Steps to Better Search Engine Results

Various submission services will submit your Web site to multiple search engines and directories to help increase your Internet traffic. Similarly, search engine optimization companies try to get your site listed, but they also seek to get your URL ranked higher in search results. Ideally, you want to be listed in the first few pages for relevant searches. This requires having the right keywords and phrases registered with the search engines. But before you hire a search engine optimization company, consider fine-tuning your site yourself. Here’s what I did.

Step 1: I identified the top 20 keywords and phrases (which I’ll collectively call keywords) that I’d like to have associated with my firm.

Step 2: I searched for those 20 keywords on my three favorite search engines (Google, AltaVista and Lycos) and looked at the first three pages for each search term. I then viewed the HTML source of each top-ranked page, examined the keywords in any metatags for these pages, and added them to my list of keywords.

Step 3: I added variations of my existing keywords to my list. I combined two words into one word (such as "patentlawyer"), added common misspellings (such as "patent laywer") and added location descriptors (such as "Massachusetts patent attorney"). The more words that you enter into a search engine, the fewer and more relevant results you will get.

Step 4: I ranked my top 40 keywords by popularity and kept the top 30. I determined the popularity of each keyword by using Overture (http:// inventory.overture.com/d/search

inventory/suggestion). Overture provides this service because it sells "sponsored links." In other words, Overture, and other search engines, will let you buy various keywords to guarantee top placement for those searches.

Step 5: I wrote a 250-character description of my firm for the "description" metatag. Some search engines limit how many characters they will display, but 250 characters works well with most of them.

Step 6: I coded the keywords and description into the HTML meta-tags on my site.

Step 7: I used Submit-It! (www.sub mitit.com) to resubmit my site to the top search engines.

The New Results: Externaland Internal Data

I don’t know how long it takes for search engines to re-index Web sites, but I waited six months for results on my resubmittal. At last, by searching Google for "heels.com site:heels.com" I was able to confirm that Google indexed 1,190 pages from my Web site.

When I searched for my top 30 keywords at my top three search engines, the results were fantastic. I had two top-10 rankings with Google, including a number two ranking for "Massachusetts patent attorney" (www.google.com/search?q=Massachusetts+patent+attorney). I also had five top-10 rankings with AltaVista and three top-10 rankings with Lycos.

In total, I had 10 top-10 rankings and 18 top-30 rankings. In only six months, happily I had achieved top 30 placements for 60 percent of my chosen keywords. But did it really matter? Top placement with search engines didn’t necessarily translate into users actually clicking to my site.

So, I used The Webalizer (www .mrunix.net/webalizer) to analyze my Web site log files. When I looked at my site statistics, I learned some very interesting things. First, visitors to my site used different search engines than I use. (The top three engines were Google, MSN and Lycos.) Second, only two of my chosen keywords consistently appeared in the top 20 searches on my site. This meant that while people were using search engines to find me, they were using search terms other than my top 30 keywords.

I then took the analysis further and checked my existing client base. I am pleased to report that my Web site does generate clients. (I know because I always ask my clients how they found me.) However, I learned through my analysis that none of the clients who found me through the Web had done so using my top 30 keywords. That fact will be food for thought as I continue to optimize my site. At least one client, though, found me because of an article I wrote for Law Practice Management.

Electronic Newsletter Statistics: The Who Plus What

I enjoy writing and getting feedback on my work. But until recently, I had been unable to determine how many people read my electronic newsletter, whether my subscribers forward it on to others, and whether anyone who reads it actually visits my Web site for follow-up. Now, a product called Pathwise (www.pathwise.com) from Atlantis Technology answers many of these questions for me.

Pathwise basically works like a turbo-charged read receipt for e-mails that you send—whether to clients or newsletter subscribers—and for subsequent Web site visits by those recipients. In this way, I can track when clients read a particular message and then when they view pages on my site. Because Pathwise uses HTML-formatted e-mail to send the "read receipt" information back to the Pathwise Web site, it will not work with anyone who views e-mail offline or with plain-text viewers (which was fewer than 1 percent in my case). To address privacy concerns, I always tell my clients when I am using Pathwise. According to my Pathwise statistics, two-thirds of subscribers read my newsletter within five days of receiving it. The statistics also show that 25 percent read the newsletter more than once or pass it on to others—or do both. These statistics are extremely valuable to me because, while I know who receives my newsletter, now I also know what they do with it.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Internet marketing is not a one-time process. I continue to modify my site’s keywords based both on how I hope people will find me (and the external validation I get from search engine rankings) and how users actually find me (based on the internal validation I get from site statistics). I also continue to write about topics that interest me, regardless of whether those articles rank high with search engines or in log file statistics. I know from tracking my e-newsletter that clients are reading it—and I also know that clients have found me because of my writings.

Stay on top of your Web site and keep it optimized for the best marketing results. But don’t forget the benefits of being a good old-fashioned wordsmith. Write about what you love, and the clients will follow. Better yet, write about what you love in Law Practice Management.

ERIK J. HEELS (info@heels.com) is a patent attorney and co-author of the ABA book

Law Law Law on the Internet: The Best Legal Web Sites and More. To read nothing.but.net online, visit www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine.

[SIDEBAR]

LINKS

• Spider Food:

http://spider-food.net.

Comprehensive guide to issues about search engine submission and optimization. Lots of how-to information.

• Search Engine Success —10 Easy Steps: http://websearch.about.com/internet/websearch/library/weekly/aa040400a.htm.

Overviews the basics of search engine optimization, with many links for further information.

• Targeted Listings Search Engine Tips:

www.targetedlistings.com/SE_tips.html.

A variety of tips and background on optimizing your pages.

• Web Ranking Tools:

www.bruceclay.com/web_rank.htm.

Bruce Clay provides a page outlining his optimization strategies.

• Kaleidoscope’s Search Engine Secrets:

www.kaleidoscope-dts.com/secrets.html.

Tips and links relating to search engine optimization.