With websites and digital media reigning supreme in the marketing arena, people talk a lot about search engine optimization (SEO) but may not have a working understanding of what it means. What does SEO do for lawyers and their websites?

SEO is the process of gaining organic (free) traffic to a website through search engines, such as Google, Bing, etc. The higher a lawyer’s site appears in a search result, the more likely it is that traffic to the site will increase.

The goal is not necessarily to be in the first position, although that’s a good thing. If a page shows up within the first 10 unpaid results, consider that an SEO success.

For marketing purposes, lawyers need to understand how search engine companies work — that is, how they determine who obtains the No. 1 spot in search results. Search engines use bots, aka crawlers, to scan the internet to find content and index websites. Through this process the search engines gather information from your website, such as the text in your site, the pages in your site, and the links in and out of your site.

The bots send the collected information to the search engines tocompile all of this data, run it through an algorithm and rank it in the order of authoritativeness, as determined by the search engines. Only people working at the search engine companies know exactly how these algorithms work. These companies are constantly changing their formulas and keep a very tight lid on their intellectual property.

This all sounds great, but the ultimate question is: How can SEO optimize my site and start showing up in search results? The short answer is to provide quality content for your viewers. If you blog it, they will come. The Google and Bing bots like to see fresh, quality content. The long answer is, as you could expect, much more complex.

Don’t Be Fooled

Because of the mystery surrounding how the search engines operate, a lot of SEO myths have arisen. Some of these myths are remnants of how things used to be. Below are five SEO myths that have developed but need to be put to rest.

Myth No 1: Frontloading keywords in text boosts search engine rankings. In web design of yesteryear, this may have been true. However it is no longer the case. What you are left with instead is a spammy-sounding website that is not showing up in search results. An example of this would be: Houston personal injury lawyer handles personal injury lawsuits all over Houston. Contact your Houston personal injury lawyer about your personal injury lawsuit today.

The algorithms used by Google and Bing are surprisingly smart. Engineers have programmed them to catch this overloading of keywords and drop offending sites down in the page rankings. Search engines are looking for quality content, not spam.

Myth 2: Having my website linked out and in is better for SEO than content, no matter where those links originate. Don’t get me wrong: Having internal, outgoing and incoming links is a great boost for your site — but not if those links are unnatural.

There are a number of websites that you can pay to have “thousands of websites worldwide” link to your site. At first blush, this sounds great. But the problem is that, once the search engines classify that host site as spam, your website will get the same classification.

Link building is a war of attrition. Consistently providing quality content makes people will want to link their sites to yours.

Myth 3: I optimized my website when it was created. I don’t need to worry about this anymore. Page rankings and the internet are evolving creatures; websites should be, too. What was relevant to SEO five years ago may no longer a determining factor (see Myth No. 1).

While lawyers might want to take a hands-off approach to technology, doing some research on what these engines look for will pay dividends. You are still aren’t using the same pick-up lines from college, are you?

Myth 4: I need meta tags to ensure the search engines will rank by website highly. Although metadata cannot hurt a website, it no longer helps it. Crawlers now can index sites without the aid of metatags. It’s more effective to focus time and attention elsewhere.

Myth 5: My social media use has nothing to do with my website’s SEO. With multiple social media platforms providing content, the lines between your website and your social media presence are blurring. Google has started to integrate its Google+ membership into its web results. Facebook has created their Open Graph search to find sites through Facebook. Although a lawyer’s social media and website technically may be separate, each affects the other.

No one person has all of the answers or knowledge to solve your SEO dilemma. Your best bet is to keep your website on your mind. Whether that means devoting time each month to maintenance, research and blogging or outsourcing the workload, your website needs attention, just like all of your other business tools.