I was at a dinner recently with several plaintiffs lawyers, and one of them was picking my brain on how long it takes a search engine optimization campaign to generate a return. I get this question a lot, and the answer is complicated. My goal in writing this article is to:
- Help you understand the core activities that need to happen to get a meaningful return on investment.
- Show you how to see through fluff reports, and drill in on whether your SEO efforts are making meaningful progress.
My attorney friend was clearly frustrated, because his SEO agency did not set clear expectations of when certain milestones would be accomplished. More importantly to my friend, the phones were not ringing. Reports of, “Well, we rank fifth for XYZ search term,” are all well and good, but if you do not rank for what people are searching for, there will be no phone calls. This may sound familiar. Your campaign has been running for some time; you are getting reports that show good rankings for selected terms, but the conversion is not there. What is happening, and what can you do to get better results?
My answer to my friend was: “With the right resources, you can rank for a competitive term in 13 months.”
Why 13 months?
I speak from experience. In the last year, I have been personally ranked for two separate, competitive mass torts, and it took 13 months for each one to get to page one on Google results for those search terms.
Can it be done sooner?
Yes, if your keywords and geographic scope are narrower, then you could see results in one to two months.
Depending on how competitive your niche is, generally speaking, a year should be enough to have you in position or have you very close to being on page one for your “money term.”
If you find yourself in the same boat, or you are considering investing in SEO for your firm, the following may help you to drill in on key items that will let you know what is happening and whether you are making progress.
1. Identify Milestones For Things That Matter
Meet with your agency and get the answers to the following questions:
- When will a technical audit be complete?
- When will the fixes identified in the technical audit be complete?
- When will you start producing new content for my site? How much content will you produce and how often?
- Will you be performing link outreach services for us, and if so, how many contacts will you reach out to per month?
- How many quality links do you suspect you will acquire for our site in 12 months?
These questions probe at the core of effective SEO. That is:
- Excellent technical SEO.
- Regular quality content.
- Links from external, authoritative websites pointing to yours.
Generally speaking, the more competitive your market is online, the better you need to perform on these three areas, especially in the link building area.
Look for the following answers to (a) through (e) above:
- A technical audit should be completed at the outset to identify any technical issues that prevent your site from leveraging its authority to the max. This should be completed in month 1.
- The fixes identified in the audit should be completed in month 2 or shortly after the audit is complete.
- Google loves high-quality, useful content. First your agency should look to remove poor quality pages on your site, and convert them to excellent user resources. Good content will make link building easier. You should shoot for at least one piece of new, high-quality content per month, and preferably more.
- If your SEO agency is not building links, then you are likely spinning your wheels. Conversely, if your agency is building too many links, then they are putting you at risk of being penalized. You need links from real websites, that produce high-quality content relevant to your search terms, and that have strong metrics. It’s hard to get good-quality links, but I have found that quality links get better results than lots of lesser-quality links. Your agency needs to be contacting about 30 sites per month, in the hopes of converting one opportunity into a link.
- Twelve good-quality links over the course of 12 months has worked for me in competitive markets. A higher volume would make me nervous, a lower number may not be optimal with achieving rank as fast as you would like.
2. How To Know If You Are Making Progress Or Spinning Wheels
Once you have satisfied yourself that your agency is doing what it should be doing, then it is important to know what to look for to see if it is working.
First, remember that the first three months are really a setup phase, and you should not expect much in terms of results. But you should request some metrics to log every month, so that you can spot trends as they develop.
3. Google Search Console Clicks and Impressions For The Calendar Month
It’s not difficult for your agency to pull this. They should be using Google Search Console if they have a good technical structure in place.
This report will provide you two pieces of data: clicks and impressions.
Clicks. Clicks will show you specifically how many people clicked to visit your site from Google searches. This will likely not increase quickly, as it takes some time. But once you get to month six of your campaign, you should start seeing good jumps from month to month on this metric.
Impressions. An impression is a view of a search result. If I do a Google search and you show up at the bottom of page 1, your analytics will record 1 impression, as your result appeared. If your result was on page 2, and I did not visit page two, it will not trigger the impression. Ideally, you will see your impressions grow first. That is a good sign that in the early stages of an SEO campaign, your rank is broadening to additional keywords. Impressions should continue rising month on month when you start ranking for more keywords. This metric is key to knowing that the early stages of your SEO campaign are working.
4. Specific Rank For Keywords
Finally, you should request and look at your position in Google for “money terms.” Over the course of the year, you should see this increasing. However, your Google search results may bounce around a lot, so don’t be discouraged by seeing some volatility. The key is to look at each month with the Console report, and assess if your results are improving overall.
Keep an eye on these metrics, and question your SEO agency on all of the above. If they do their job, you will get results that you can be confident mean your site is advancing, and you will get a return on your investment after 13 months.
About the Author
Laurence Banville is an attorney and the co-founder of Ag Conexus, a digital marketing consulting firm focused on law firms. Contact Laurence at Laurence@agconexus.com.