Skeptical of your marketing efforts and wonder if all that work is really worth it? Rachel and Jessica get some great background on SEO from John McDougall, President of McDougall Interactive. Spoiler alert: good SEO practices can catapult your business to the next level.
Read on below for a transcribed version of our conversation, created by AI. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Hello, and welcome to Legal News Reach, the official podcast for the National Law Review. Stay tuned for a discussion on the latest trends in legal marketing, SEO, law firm best practices and more.
I’m Rachel, the Editorial Manager for the National Law Review.
And I’m Jessica, a web content specialist for the National Law Review. And we’re the co-hosts for Legal News Reach.
In this episode, we’re excited to talk to John McDougall, president of McDougall Interactive. John, would you like to introduce yourself to our listeners?
John McDougall 00:32
Yeah, sure. So welcome, everyone, and appreciate the opportunity to talk to you guys today. And I started in 95 at my father’s ad agency selling websites. So I kind of fell in love with it early on and have been doing SEO ever since. So now, I just started a class called Talk Marketing. In addition to the agency, McDougall Interactive, we do coaching and teaching.
Excellent, we’re excited to get your perspective on SEO. So just sort of moving into our first topic here, with how much Google’s has changed, and how much people’s habits with, you know, searching tends to change, why is it so hard to do SEO now?
John McDougall 01:34
Oh, it’s just so much to do. I mean, it’s like you need a small army to do it, you need organizational skills, and early SEO, you could just fly around and go to some conferences and do some, you know, pull it off yourself. I don’t know, somewhere in the 90s, I made a hearing aid website over a weekend I did the logo, design, the website, built it and hand coded in HTML, wrote the pages for different brands of hearing aids, and launched it over the weekend. And then it was ranking and Yahoo, like number one for hearing aids, and then a company bought my client. And then I started working for that company. So it was that easy, almost back in the day. And now, I mean, my God, we’ll get into it more as we go here. But there are just 1000 different things that can influence your SEO.
So moving more into legal industry specifics, is there a different approach for different types of law firms? So personal injury, or maybe more business-oriented law firms in terms of like website marketing?
John McDougall 02:37
I don’t have to sell a personal injury attorney on the idea of SEO, right, they’re there, they know that their customers are out there searching, you know, if you get bit by a dog or injured by a dangerous drug or medical device, you don’t necessarily even want to ask someone for a referral, if it’s embarrassing. Or if you’re in a rush, or you know, whatever it is. So you’re going to search Google, it’s a no brainer. On the other side, with business lawyers, there are some very big companies that, you know, business attorneys will say they’re just not going to search Google for me. And that may be true, but later they tell you, but if they do search for this certain niche kind of thing, I’d like my thought leadership content to be there at the top of Google. So ironically, I think that sometimes having good content that search optimized is maybe not as important as the obvious thing with personal injury, like I said, but pretty close to similar importance, right? So if it’s intellectual property, or international law, different things that are really important, if you’re going to impress the General Counsel, or some really high level people, they might want to see that you’re in search, not just in conversations with them and, and even if it’s not so much, they’re searching Google, when they get to your site, there should be an active, either a blog on your site, or separate off site blogs on niche topics that really just show highlight your thought leadership. So my argument would be if you if you have to do that anyway, because you want to show your thought leadership, at least put some effort into a fast loading website, good title and meta tags, consistent content, if weekly, if not, at least monthly. So some of the same things that you would tell a personal injury lawyer really do apply to business lawyers just at a slightly less exaggerated pace. You might not go out and do link building or like you probably will do PR but maybe not PR for link building like you would with personal injury potentially. A lot of spreading your thought leadership content should involve good quality content that is optimized for the internet. You know that a lot of that is his research some of its or social media. But, you know, so a lot of the same rules apply at different levels of exaggeration,
Right. And so once lawyers really get their feet into creating this really great content and optimizing SEO, how do they then keep up with all the changes that Google makes to its algorithm?
John McDougall 05:23
They have to either hire an agency who keeps up with it, or to help them and spoon feed what’s most important to them? That would be one way. The other way, if they’re going to be more do it yourselfers or the marketing department wants to keep up. I just have to keep reading things like search engine land Search Engine Journal, you know, HubSpot blog, things like that, you’re going to really need to keep up. And an agency has the benefit of testing across lots of sites. So for as an example, in 2012, I had 27 clients or something like that. And Google Penguin hit, which was an algorithm, Google designed to discredit low quality links. One day, I was looking at my ranks, and I said, Geez, this doesn’t look good. Something’s going on here. And I asked a guy that was a subcontractor of mine, he said, No, I’m not seeing anything unusual. He’s like, wait a minute, let me call you back. He goes and looks at his rankings across, he had hundreds of clients, he had a lower price point and the strategy of more clients, and he said, Oh, crap, we’re seeing like, significant drops consistently across all clients, it turned out that Google had just dropped the bomb of Google Penguin on people. And I think, later, they maybe regretted it, I’d like to think that they went too fast with it. So, you know, by having multiple clients, and asking a subcontractor to read lots of clients, we were able to see that this is not a made up trend. This is not my imagination, you know, this is how we’re keeping up with trends is networking with peers. And then of course, it broke within hours or days on search engine, journal, and Search Engine Land and things. But we were we were seeing it in multiple clients’ data. So if you’re a law firm, you have one site, just be aware of that, that, you know, you should be looking to others that have multiple clients are certainly at least the top, you know, SEO media magazine sites online, and you so that you can see what the trends are.
John McDougall 07:35
I think an editorial calendar is key. At the National Law Review, you have huge amounts of content, but you need to think like a magazine/ And if you don’t, you won’t be consistent. So that’s at the heart of it. And then find ways to either the attorneys involved, or the agency involved with the attorneys to generate content around topics. And we can get into that more in a minute.
We were going to ask you about each social media type, mostly because so many law firms now are realizing if they didn’t before, which they probably didn’t. But I think law firms and clients in general are realizing we can make the internet and like social media work for us. And they’re paying attention to what those numbers mean now. So I want to know, you know, I want to tack each type that we’re seeing more common output with so like podcasts. How does that help with SEO?
John McDougall 08:42
Yeah. And so I would tie that again, back into the last question, because I think it’s critical that people understand that you can do s SEO driven content through podcasting, and video, if you’re not using transcripts, for your podcasts in your videos, you just probably not getting as much mileage as you could. And a lot of people will make like a show note for your podcast. And that’s good, you know, a little couple paragraphs or something in this episode, you’ll see this in some bullet points. But in addition to that, having the transcript as an option, you can even make it so it can disappear and appear on the page. So the search engines can still read it. But having content with attorneys that are thought leaders isn’t always easy to get with having them write, you know, some of them are going to be rock stars they’re going to write, some of them just aren’t. And you might have categories that well, the intellectual property lawyer is writing just fine. But the international law or whatever law is the person’s amazing speaker but a terrible writer are just lazy or just doesn’t have time to write whatever it is. If you want SEO and consistent content, you can just do shorter ones, because every minute of podcasting, we get 130 words, even a 10 minute, say 12 minute podcast, you can get like 1500 words, that’s a really robust, deep piece of content. And the attorneys just talking, you know, they do that all the time, they’re good at it. So if your marketing team handles that, and just knocks those out to be consistent, you got to let go a little bit. And maybe occasionally do the half hour, the hour podcast, you’re gonna get a lot of consistent content, then you can turn some of that into short YouTube videos, or do remote YouTube videos, or in person YouTube videos that are like a minute, two minutes, you know, what is this particular law? You know, What is Brexit, even, you know, cover some of the things that if you’re a search engine algorithm, it’s going to be good to see on your website that you dispute, you know, ask the question, like, What is Brexit? Maybe somebody on their into Amazon Alexa, or Google Home is like, hey, Alexa, What is Brexit? So if you’re going to cover all of the gamuts of the way people are asking questions, you’re going to need lots of content. And if you’re waiting around for, you know, attorneys to write that aren’t necessarily writers. Sometimes it works great.
It’s really interesting that you mentioned podcasting and combining video with that, because that’s what we are doing. But it’s also like having the transcript for a podcast episode is the web content accessibility guideline that you’re supposed to have on a website, you’re usually supposed to have to be ADA compliant. Yeah. So it’s it to know it helps SEO is always good. So I’m sure would tell people listening to this, that, hey, that extra work actually does help you and you know, the people who need to access your site.
John McDougall 12:45
Yeah. So exactly like all this just for SEO, it’s a big pain in the butt. All of your content should have an alternative version, even an image should have as you hover over it an alt tag. And that was true in the 90s, and I think it’s part of the future of SEO and it’s been there and you really can’t ignore it anymore.
I think the pandemic especially made that very loud realization for so many people, not just the compliance part of a website, also, just with this SEO, all these numbers and tactics you have to use now on your site, because that’s where people are going. I mean, when the pandemic happened, you weren’t going into a place you were going to their site. So how has SEO changed? Besides like those couple of things? Are there any other characteristics you’ve noticed since the past year? So
John McDougall 14:25
I’d say the competition level is huge because of the pandemic. My father who had the ad agency, sent me an article six months or a year ago, the Wall Street Journal said that essentially the Mad Men era is done, exacerbated by SEO and Google ads. More and more important, I think podcast ads have taken over more than radio ads after the pandemic. It’s like the nail in the coffin. Now, most of advertising is controlled by the big Google, Facebook, Amazon for products, right? Because Amazon’s basically a search engine for the products. So those three alone, I mean, Google’s top five company and, you know, the old control that ad agencies had is basically gone. The Wall Street Journal saying basically, advertising is controlled by digital now. And what does that mean? That means there’s a crazy amount of competition. So if you’re doing SEO, like I was a long time ago, the hearing aids just cram it into the title and meta tags. And throughout the page, you’re done. You know, that’s not the case anymore. Now, type in something like Phone X, hearing aids or series, Siemens hearing aids online or something, and then see the page that ranks what is there, and it’s probably, you know, God knows how many SEO agencies have helped hearing aid companies make like the ultimate page, the ultimate guide to hearing aids, you know, this, like 10,000 word article? That’s, that’s a big change. And, you know, we can go in more into some of the specifics. But that’s more broadly, what I think is changed as competition is up, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I mean, what are you guys seeing with SEO? Overall? Are you seeing big changes? Or it’s harder than ever? What are you seeing?
I would say, probably one of the biggest things that we’ve seen make an impact in terms of like our clients content, when we see things do particularly well, it’s that they have, you know, really great keywords. So, you know, headers posed as questions, the articles are long, so they have like about 1200 words. Timeliness also seems to be a big contributing factor to content success. So if it comes to us, you know, around noon, rather than like, 5pm, on a Friday, those articles tend to do way better than ones that are short, you know, that don’t have like, you know, really great bullet points, really great formatting. I think in terms of people who are looking to sort of do well on our website, and things like that, it’s important to make your content really great for search engines. So you know, and also really readable for people. Yeah, so having really great headers, you know, thinking about what people who want to find your expertise, like what are they want to know about, and including that in your headers and things like that.
Definitely, that content competition is huge. Now, I mean, we already get a lot of content just because we have so many clients that we want to, you know, put out their information. You know, if we have a Supreme Court decision, that’s huge. I mean, we’ll get like multiple pieces on the same thing. And it’s kind of a game of like, who the slightest difference in formatting or word choices, keyword choices can really like make some articles do really well, as far as viewership just staying on the page and not bouncing versus other pages that for some reason, even on the same topic, maybe you just didn’t quite do the same level, you know, not as many views.
John McDougall 18:32
Historically, SEO people like myself will be more focused on the backlinks than on the social shares. Sometimes one helps the other. So one of my best case studies, we wrote an article for a bank, and it got on to NerdWallet. NerdWallet interviewed us to link to the content. But it was all started with just sharing it on Twitter and Facebook. So we were we were sharing the content. We were doing social media, but we weren’t holding our breath for to do that much except hoping we would get some people to link to the content. And we got backlinks from NerdWallet, which is like a massive financial website with a huge amount of credibility. Another one was lobsters, we ranked number two in Google for the single word lobsters. And I wrote an article because I have lobster traps and do fishing and things. And so I wrote an article 100 Fun Facts About lobsters and it got shared by the Huffington Post and a bunch of places no, suddenly, this little restaurant near me got hundreds of 1000s of views on a, you know, a silly page about lobsters with some historic photos and, you know, these crazy facts. Sometimes we’ll use social media to get links, you know, just getting the visibility out there and I agree that you know, if you can get it out there faster, you’re more likely to get all that to happen. And you can look at your top pages and look by top pages by social shares and top pages by backlinks. So I would just recommend to the audience and you guys, if you’re not doing it, check out where you rank in search. Are you like number four, or five, or God forbid, number six, because Top Five is where I forget, it’s like 67% of the eyeballs go, used to be want to be top 10 In Google. Now, really, top five is key. And a number one, of course, gets, you know, a huge amount of the lion’s share of eyeballs and clicks, you get a lot of leads, do you think from social media? Or is that part of the process?
The vast majority of our traffic does come from SEO and from Google. But we definitely see a connection between the social outreach that we do we have a pretty robust social media strategy and process where we try to, you know, use certain hashtags that are relevant, and also tagging specific people who we think would find the content to be specifically interesting to them. Social is definitely a big part of it. But it’s sort of like the larger picture of it’s just one of the things that we do, I think SEO is more important, but I think social kind of can tie in SEO in a way that the relevant people are finding it on a different channel
John McDougall 21:32
One of the things I speak to and I’ve done this with Jennifer, actually on a webinar is the seven main factors of SEO that I believe people need to think about, like technical SEO, which is a really a booming trend right now, a fast loading website is going to rank way better than a slow loading website. Because even if you do everything right, SEO wise, if it’s slow loading, Google is not going to give you as good a ranking. Number one is technical SEO – you can’t have too many broken links, no duplicate titles, and meta descriptions all over the place. And it’s not like it used to be, but it’s still on page SEO, and then content, fresh content, blogging, content, depth of content is important. And then off page SEO, or what we call link building, which is essentially PR. You need to get media sites or even small blogs, to link to you and link to individual pages. And then number four is user signals, and user experience. And then user signals are more like if you search Google for, you know, personal injury lawyer Boston. Seven is branding. So instead of just doing SEO, law firms should really be building a brand that’s known for something. And you guys are known in at least if you look at your backlinks and your social shares, again, Brexit, I think it was constitutional amendments, you guys get a lot of backlinks for that. So build your brand and be known for something and then have some content that you really stand out for. That is more the future of SEO is you can’t just do SEO, ironically, you need to be part of a brand.
The purpose of SEO and those tactics are good for people, because I think it makes the content more relevant. I think it makes things on the internet more valuable to people who need it. You know, everybody goes on the internet for information now. And now companies and websites are forced to make sure that they’re actually valuable. They’re not just filled with links for no reason and, you know, short little things that aren’t going to help someone so I think yeah, I don’t know if everybody agrees with that. But I think it actually makes it better for the audience that’s reading it and going to your site anyway. Personally, I think it’s good
John McDougall 24:42
Google is better at enforcing those things now. So that was sort of the goal always with the Internet. But because we could just game the system, you know, certainly low end SEO companies back in the day, just get crappy links build stupid pages that meant nothing. Those tactics should be dead. Unfortunately, it’s like, wow, no, it’s so hard. Like you didn’t have to go that far. Take some of those TV dollars or, or print dollars or event dollars. And actually, whether you pay agencies or do it internally, really train up and do it right. There’s a lot of proven workflows for this stuff. You just have to trust the three of us and other people doing this stuff, are people we’re not just making stuff up, you know, where we’re doing all those things we just discussed, and it takes time, each one of them. Add snippets to the site, you know, go into figure out Google Analytics for you know, use Google Search Console every week, you know, use SEMRush to use a draft. All this stuff is more time consuming now, but I like it. I think it’s more developed. It’s, you know, you have to be more aggressive. It’s not as easy. I mean, there’s certainly a lot to do. So. That’s the good news is, there’s stuff to do that does work if you keep at it. But yeah, if you’re not consistent, it’s never going to work. You get those social shares and even sometimes backlinks from very relevant partners or related people and Google can’t miss that, you know. So yeah, it’s all a win win. Yeah, I could go off way off on that one. But sounds like you guys are really doing the right thing with it and repurposing that content.
Yeah. It’s been a lot of fun. And we’ve had a great conversation with you, John, thank you so much for joining us.
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