How Will You Win the SEO Game?

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You can’t.

Before I could get married, I had to buy my prospective wife (Lisa) a diamond ring. That’s what I had been told. I’d also been told that it should cost two months’ salary (which is marketing genius of epic proportion—in fact, the whole fucking diamond scam is unbelievable, but we’ll save that for another rant).

So we went together to shop for a ring. Day one went well. We found some diamond rings that were suitable and affordable.

Day two went well also. We found some “better” rings that cost “a little more” and were “a little nicer.”

Day three (yes, we spread it out to completely “enjoy” the experience) went much like day two: “better,” “more,” and “nicer,” and that’s when it hit me.

There’s ALWAYS a better, nicer, and more expensive diamond. Those guys in South Africa keep digging as long as we keep paying. Day after day, it’s only going to get more expensive. There is no end to finding something better if you’re willing to spend more. THERE IS NO LIMIT.

That’s why, on day four, by myself, I went back to the last store and bought the nicest ring we’d seen. I realized that I had to cut it off or the sky would be the limit. There was no way to stop except to buy the ring of the moment and be done.

It worked. She was happy with the ring, and we’ve been married for 25 years. The ring is still where I put it on June 23, 1990 (see, I remember the date and everything).

The Real Costs of SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is like buying a diamond ring. There’s always something “better” you can do. Of course, it costs “a little more” and rankings will then be a little “nicer.” You can keep shopping, and you can keep spending.

Unfortunately, SEO costs WAY more than a diamond ring. In fact, you could buy a nice diamond ring each month for what many firms spend on SEO. Yep, a really nice diamond ring with excellent cut, carat, color, clarity, and certification. (“The 5 C’s”: the experience was so frightening that it’s seared into my brain. I recall the diamond sales bullshit like it was yesterday.)

With SEO, you’re in a pitched battle with the other lawyers in your market. You’re paying some guru thousands per month to rank better than they rank. They’re paying another SEO (in fact, sometimes the same SEO) to beat you. You spend more, they spend more, you spend more, and they spend more, and it goes up and up.

Have you met lawyers spending tens of thousands of dollars per month on SEO? I have. Usually, they’re winning—for the moment.

What’s the SEO End Game?

However, it’s just a matter of time until some other firm spends more and beats them. There’s always a better diamond, and you can spend more and more. There’s always more that an SEO can do as well.

This is not a fun game. This is not a good game. This is not a game you can win over time.

Play it out. What happens?

Lawyers spend to the point where they can’t sustain it (and I see that all the time). They’re working for the SEO instead of the other way around. The spend goes up constantly until one of two things happens:

  1. The spending lawyer says “enough” and quits spending (I call this approach “buys the last, best diamond”), or
  2. The lawyer goes broke. He believes the sales pitch and borrows enough money to keep paying the SEO. He pays and pays until he can’t pay anymore. Then he packs it in and lets the next sucker assume the number one position on Google (until he runs out of money as well). Of course, that lawyer still owes all that money.

The lawyer in the first situation, the one who quits spending, has seen the light, has recognized the mistake, and is making a good effort to reorganize, regroup, and market the practice in some other manner. Learning can be expensive.

The lawyer in the second situation, the one on the way to bankruptcy, is usually a big talker. He’s telling you how many lawyers his firm has, how the firm’s expanding into multiple cities and practice areas, how many websites he’s built, and how he’s got a giant Tesla parked out back. The talk usually runs out at the same time as the money. Then the SEO drives off in the Tesla to a meeting with another lawyer.

How to—and How Not to—Build a Practice

Gaming the search engines is not a viable approach to building a long-term, sustainable practice. It feels like playing one of these iPhone games where you have to spend money to buy more weapons (or whatever) in order to win the game. There’s no skill involved; it’s all about paying the money, and the minute you stop paying, you lose. That’d be fine if the price didn’t keep going up to unsustainable levels. But the price always goes up. They always want more.

There are plenty of ways to build a practice.

  • Building a content-rich website that’s useful to visitors is one approach.
  • Expanding your professional network is another.
  • Public speaking works.
  • So does writing articles and books.
  • Advertising can be effective.
  • Social media is magic for many lawyers skilled at building and maintaining relationships.

Paying for the magic dust of search engine optimization, at ever-increasing prices, is not a sustainable way to build a reputation. It’s not a long-term play that builds over time, allowing you to increase profits year after year. It’s a short-term game in which the rules change constantly and the optimizers ask for more money every time they call.

You can build a great website. It can have lots of visitors. It can become a resource that’s useful, helpful, and valuable to the readers. Should you pay someone some small amount to clean up title tags, get meta descriptions right, manage internal links, and get you set up properly? Sure. That’s fine.

But spending month after month to rank ever higher and higher is a quick road to nowhere. It’s not a path to long-term profitability. SEO is about quick hits, big expenses, and short-term results. Recognize what it is and what it’s not, and proceed accordingly. Spend that money on something that positions you over the long haul.

If you’re asking the question “How do I win the SEO game?” you’ve already lost.

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