Days after graduation, Emily Brady’s career took an unexpected turn. “Does anyone know what SEO is?” she remembers a colleague asking. She didn’t at the time. But as a content developer, she was naturally curious. So she learned. That was more than 10 years ago when the criterion for boosting SEO performance was a website that worked and had the right keywords in the content. Since then, Emily has helped countless law firms rise to the top of search engine results.
She’s Omnizant’s new director of SEO and an expert in the field of law firm SEO.
Emily credits the constantly changing nature of what resonates with search engines for piquing and keeping her interest in the hard work of getting websites to rank well. Plus, the SEO community—especially publications such as Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Journal —keeps her informed. She’s also an active member of the Women in Tech SEO community because it’s the best way to stay on top of all the digital marketing news, strategies, and continuous algorithm changes, she says.
“I could spend another decade doing digital marketing and not scratch the surface of everything there is to know,” she says.
The bulk of her career has been spent optimizing legal websites—specifically—for organic search. Emily has also gained experience in SEO at other marketing agencies and businesses that rely on local SEO and innovative tactics to grow. At Omnizant, she leads our largest team of SEO professionals, who are responsible for increasing the number of visitors to our clients’ websites with a variety of techniques and by analyzing performance data and adapting quickly.
While she’s focused on delivering results for our clients, Emily is generous in sharing the intricacies of SEO in 2023 with clients and colleagues. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from an interview with Emily, edited for length. She offers tips on how to stand out on Google and her two cents on artificial intelligence, or AI.
Q. How have you seen SEO for law firm websites change over time?
A. Oh gosh, it’s evolved so much! When I started doing SEO in 2012 “content” had a totally different meaning, and “high-quality content” meant something entirely different as well. The types of blogs that ranked back then were much less focused on being helpful and more focused on including the right keywords.
Today, Google is much better at understanding what content should rank by relevance—not just through keyword stuffing. So the way we approach SEO (and content specifically) is very different because now we get to focus fully on the needs of the people who will be reading the content and less on including the right words so Google knows it’s relevant. In short, content quality has improved by leaps and bounds and that’s a good thing for law firms and their clients.
Q. What’s unique about SEO for legal websites?
A. One thing that’s peculiar about SEO for legal websites is the local aspect. Google views searches for lawyers as “local” searches. That’s why you see a map show up when you search for “personal injury attorney” even if you don’t include the city you’re located in. Google just assumes you want a local attorney.
That said, not every area of law is “local” in the same way a plumbing business or dog walker is local. Class action lawsuits, for example. This creates a unique challenge for SEOs (and law firms) when it comes to optimizing their websites because Google has a strong preference to rank them locally, even if the firm serves a much larger geographic area.
Legal websites are unique in other ways too, such as the fact that the general topics discussed on them are very impactful to the financial and general well-being of clients. (Google calls these types of websites “Your Money, Your Life” content.) Because of this, having factual and helpful information on the website is super important—because lawyers are helping people when they need it the most, and the outcome of their cases will have a big impact on their money and their lives.
Q. What is the next big thing in SEO 1 year and 5 years from now?
A. I think we’re already seeing the next big thing in SEO, which is AI. At the most basic level, AI makes it possible for anyone to create “content” about a given topic, whether they have the expertise to do it well or not. This means we’re going to face (and we are already) a lot of content that is repetitive and just doesn’t have enough unique value to be useful to people.
So, in a way, standing out has become easier than ever because Google is not only better at understanding what pages are most relevant but SEOs and content marketers who aren’t willing to put in the time to do it right will have a hard time ranking, and those who are creating longform, robust content pages will come out on top.
That’s one thing to take into consideration with the advent of AI. The other consideration is this: How do we actually use it effectively? AI has the ability to help us create high-quality content faster, as well as the ability to automate other SEO tasks.
That’s why it’s so important to start figuring out how we use AI well now, so we don’t get left behind in the next five years. At the most basic level, AI should be something we’re exploring now and at least using as a tool to scale content creation—with writers at the helm who can edit and improve the content so it has the unique value and demonstrated expertise search engines are looking for.
Q. What’s the most significant issue SEOs are facing?
A. This is a tough question! I think it depends. In the legal space specifically, organic rankings tend to be very competitive. To my observation, law firms are one business type that adopted SEO early on and were willing to invest in organic search marketing from the beginning. Because of these, there are lots of businesses that have very strong organic rankings, which means it’s difficult to displace them. The search engine results pages (SERPs) are often saturated with strong websites so SEOs have to be very strategic about how they get their clients ranking for important terms. You can’t do it half-baked and expect to win in an industry as competitive as the legal industry.
That said, this also means there are marketing firms that have been doing SEO for law firms for a very long time, so working with the right team is the first step to getting traction on Google.
Q. How can law firms position themselves for SEO success, outside of working with the right agency?
A. This is related to my earlier answer regarding Google’s objective to surface the best possible search results, and the SEOs’ role in demonstrating that a given law firm is, in fact, the best result. There’s another piece to that equation, which is whether or not the firm actually is the best result. What I mean by that is, firstly, does the firm have the background to serve its client base as well or better than competitors? If not, it doesn’t mean SEO isn’t worth it, but it does mean that continuing to gain reviews and testimonials and case results is important.
The most successful SEO and marketing campaigns include a certain amount of involvement from the business itself. SEO never works in a vacuum. Creating a meaningful footprint in the local community—whether it be through charity drives, scholarship sponsorships, getting interviewed, or generally being newsworthy and involved—can influence your online success as well.
You’re not alone in wanting to grow your business. Get help from the legal SEO professionals at Omnizant (like Emily!).