Conducting studies in search engine marketing (SEM) is difficult, and we at Myers Freelance know it. Search engines change rapidly and without notice, and have a significant incentive to keep the details of those changes a secret. What works one day is not guaranteed to work, the next, and the complexities of the industry make misinformation in online marketing studies par for the course.
We don’t want our recent study to add to the noise. So we’re going to point out all of the reasons why you should take it with a grain of salt as you market your law firm online.
Our Study Showcased the Importance of Legal Blogging
To recap, here’s what our study found: In the largest 50 cities in the U.S., 72% of the law firm websites that ranked in the top three for the Google search “[name of city] criminal defense attorney” hosted a legal blog on their domain.
To us, this is a significant sign that legal blogging helps law firm websites rank well. After all, only around 26% of the law firms in the U.S. have a legal blog, according to the American Bar Association (ABA). That legal blogs are so prevalent at the top of the Google results page suggests that they contribute to their success.
Correlation Does Not Necessitate Causation
Of course, just because two things are correlated does not mean that one causes the other. It might be a coincidence. Obviously, we don’t think so. However, the possibility does still exist, and we recognize that.
Hosting a Legal Blog Does Not Mean You’re Blogging
We also recognize that one of the biggest limitations in our study was that we looked for the existence of a legal blog, not whether it was being updated. A legal blog that is displayed prominently on the main menu of a legal website’s front page can have daily additions, or can only have one single post from 2014. Our study didn’t look that far, in large part because we didn’t want to open the resulting can of worms: Legal Blog A was updated daily for three years, all the way up until last month, while Legal Blog B has gotten one new post every month for the past six. Tackling this conundrum would result in a totality of the circumstances test which, as we know, is another way for saying “my discretion counts.”
Instead, our study only noted the existence of a door that hosted a legal blog. We refused to open it. Therefore, for all we know, a bunch of the legal blogs that our study recognized could have had nothing in them.
National Listings and Local SEO
One of our important methodological decisions for our study was to conduct a search based on national results: Google’s adaptive search and location tracking abilities allows it to give results that are close to you, when you conduct the search. Because this would result in unique results based on what street intersection we were standing on, and because visiting all 50 cities in our study was less than feasible, and also because we didn’t want to potentially skew our results by arbitrarily choosing one zip code, rather than another, we performed our searches from a bird’s eye, national-level view by conducting our study through an IP address located in Taiwan.
This had two results. One of which was foreseen.
The expected result was that it eliminated local SEO efforts. Many law firms focus their search engine optimization (SEO) on their immediate vicinity. Much of that effort got lost in our study. For example, we only paid attention to the organic listings in the search engine results page (SERP), skipping right over the local box.
The unexpected result was that, by using an international IP address, two law firm websites completely denied us access, adding a little over a percentage point to our margin of error.
City Size and Keyword Competitiveness Are Not Tied
Finally, our study included the 50 largest cities, by population. However, just because there are a lot of people in a city does not mean that the keywords there are competitive. Law firms make the decision to market themselves online independently of one another, and the strength of that collective effort, together with the number of searches for a given keyword, help to determine the competitiveness of a given market. The final calculation is tricky, and often has a lot to do with the population in the region. However, it is not perfectly correlated with a city’s population.
Small Sample Size
Finally, our study only covered 150 results. In the grand scheme of the entirety of the internet, this was a fairly small sample size.