Over at the Legal Blogging Group on Linked In, someone asked the following:

What are your best recommendations to enhance SEO? Have you found a particular method or series of steps to be particularly effective? To what extent do you interpret and utilize analytics? Do you think outside SEO vendors are worthwhile?”

Personally, I’ve never understood the fascination with SEO. Out of nowhere it seems like a lot of people came out of the woodwork as SEO/Social media experts. Instead of agonizing over some well placed link or key phrase, why not worry about actually updating your blog on a regular basis or writing actual, good, helpful content? That’s worth a week’s worth of SEO optimization.  I was ready to jump in and dismiss it but I found that Greg from law:/dev/null had already done so, and much better than I could have (he’s a comp sci grad turned law student). His response:

I’m going to tackle your questions in a slightly different order —

A big chunk of the SEO industry is a scam to make $$$ off people who don’t know any better, and they use coding techniques that don’t actually work anymore (thinks like link clouds, keyword-packing, and other BS).

I’d save the money you were going to spend on a SEO vendor; if you really want to spend it, hire a college kid to go over the underlying code of your website 🙂

In terms of SEO “strategies,” there are really only a few key tips you need (and none of them are particularly surprising or difficult):

* Tight, standards-compliant code: when a browser or search index bot pulls up your website, the source code should properly validate to some standard somewhere. In addition to validating, the source code should be as efficiently coded as possible to reduce load time — the faster pages load, the more of them can be crawled by a bot (bots typically only crawl sites during a limited window of time, to minimize load on the webserver). See the W3C validator link below for the validation, and Google’s Webmaster Tools for info on crawl efficiency

* Sitemaps: a sitemap is basically an XML file that resides on your webserver and contains the URL to every single publicly-accessible page on your site. Since search index bots only get to pages by crawling them (accessing the main page, and then accessing every linked page off of that main page), any stand-alone material on your site gets ignored — unless you have a sitemap directing the bot to it. There are plenty of sitemap generators available online, and if you’re using a Content Management System (WordPress for a blog or something more complex) there are usually free sitemap plugins available too.

* Descriptive file names and metadata: Files on your server should have names that indicate what the file is or does. For example, if you’ve put up a website with employment law information, the URL should be something like “yoursite.com/employment-law-key-points.html” or something similar, instead of “yoursite.com/page4.html”. In addition, the HTML specifications allow <meta> tags to include information about the document that you should also use. For example, an “author” meta tag with your name in it, a “description” meta tag to explain what a particular page is about, and so on (you can view the source code for my blog at lawdevnull.com to see how the meta tags get used).

* Dynamic content: if you’re running a blog or something with more-than-nonzero updates, regularly posting original, fresh content works wonders for SEO purposes. Many of the biggest search engines, particularly Google and Bing, use pretty advanced heuristic algorithms that can decipher what’s original content from what’s boilerplate garbage no one wants to actually read (after all, they’ve got billions of other webpages to compare against!). If you’re updating content regularly and it’s original stuff, your website’s search engine rankings will go up on their own over time.

On the analytics side, I keep track of what happens on the website through log analysis (Analog and AWStats), Google’s Webmaster Tools, and Google Analytics.

I’ve never used any of the information to change my content though. For me, it’s more done to make sure I don’t have any broken links / missing entries, and to keep comment spammers at bay.

Here are some URLs for more info –

• Validation for HTML/XHTML: http://validator.w3.org/
• Google Webmaster Tools: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/
• Google mod_pagespeed module: http://code.google.com/speed/page-speed/
• HTML <META> elements: http://www.w3schools.com/html/html_meta.asp
• Google Analytics: http://www.google.com/analytics/

Hope that helps! -TGD

Bam! That’s all there is to it. Don’t waste money on SEO people! My reply in the same thread:

Greg certainly has a better technical understanding of SEO/optimization/etc than I do but my experience with rapidly growing a blog over a short period of time (Nothing to ranked #46 on avvo.com in 6 months) mirrors what he states above. I’ve done ZERO SEO crap and instead focused on regularly posting (what I hope is) quality content on a consistent basis. I’ve also focused on reaching out and interacting/communicating with a few selected websites and blogs whose interests match my own and where I thought I could provide some value to the conversation.

I’ve done nothing more than interact with people online as I always have, but brought to bear in the online legal field as I am nearing graduation from law school [2 more weeks, then freedom! Then Bar. 🙁 ] I only wish I had started sooner like Greg. I think the problem facing many older lawyers is the lack of familiarity with the nature of conducting themselves online.

I don’t want to presume to speak for Greg but I would imagine that, like me, he has years and years of posting on messageboards, forums, etc. well before Facebook, Twitter, and the like even existed. As such, it was easy to jump into blogging/social media, there’s really just no that much to it. It also makes you wonder what the fuss is about.

For example, check Greg’s last Stat Update.

How many legal blogs with all their SEO-optimized bull crap can claim over a quarter million page views? Probably very few. Instead, Greg did it “the old fashioned way” by getting out there and writing about what he was passionate about, establishing relationships with other people online, and engaging in conversations.

Kevin O’Keefe’s last post highlights this as well.

Skip the SEO.

Write well, write passionately.

Form relationships, have conversations.

The rest will take care of itself.

Essentially it’s the same thing I said in my Statistical Report For New Law Bloggers.

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