Effective and Ethical Linkbuilding and PR Ideas: Interview with John Coffey

| September 20, 2013

Broad_chain_closeupJohn Oliver CoffeyIn our latest post, we were given the pleasure of interviewing +John Oliver Coffey of Net Midas, a premiere bi-lingual web marketing and design firm.  Today John gives us a candid look at link building and the true opportunities that are available for lawyers.

1. Welcome John! It’s taken too long for us to do this. We’ve collaborated on many projects but can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
First thank you for the opportunity Chris. I am from Ireland, live in Colombia, South America, and own a digital marketing agency that has three client/sector areas: large scale publications, law firms and travel in Latin America. We chose these focus areas because we believe that to be successful for our clients we need deep rather than broad knowledge as well as relationships in publications and amongst influencers in those fields. And also, there is little or no competitive advantage as a marketer in being a jack-of-all trades.

Location doesn’t matter, results and communication do. We work with clients in 5 countries and our team is also distributed between the US, Colombia, and Bolivia.

I have been online since the era of dial-up and before launching my company in 2005 I lived in NYC and worked in technology policy for the World Bank and the United Nations and once wrote a speech for the UN Secretary General. Giving back is very important for me and in fact we do pro bono work for an orphanage here in Colombia called Casita de Belen.

link-quote2. There are a lot of ways to get backlinks for an attorney’s website but what have you found to be some of the top methods for obtaining them?
There are small set of sites that are essential building blocks in terms of links and these include the local Bar Association, Avvo, Linkedin, Google+, and then the major citations sites. To me these are commodities where all law firms should be listed. After that it gets tough and you can’t beat simply earning your links through effort, innovation and smarts. An example of this is the accident map that I will discuss below but also, there are great opportunities if you know where to look and how to leverage them. This, it must be said, is in direct contrast to the idea of saturation bombing directories, article commenting, willy nilly guest article submissions and link exchanges with domains-with-seven-hyphens based in newly minted republics by a guy who is holding a shot glass of vodka in one hand (no disrespect to vodka or newly minted republics) and a mouse in the other.

Examples of real opportunities that meet all the best linkbuilding criteria: bankruptcy attorney offers community college get-out-of-debt classes, personal injury attorney publishing realtime traffic webcams in their websites to help people avoid heavy congestion during commute time, immigration attorneys publishing in foreign languages and sharing whitepapers with local NGOs.

Accident Map3. You’ve recently created an interactive accident map for personal injury lawyers. Can you tell our readers about it?
The accident map came about out of necessity. We had (and still have) a client that had a very weak profile in a major metropolitan area. So we had to come up with a link strategy that would scale fast and meet all the key local link building conditions. We obtained publicly available data, geocoded that data in to longitude and latitude points and then integrated that with google maps and google streetview. The maps we publish show all accidents over a 4 or 5 year period and we present that as a heat map to show the areas with the most accidents. And then the user can zoom into see the details of specific accidents, severity type and photo of the location where the accident occurred.

The accident map hits several bases: local, branding, useful, shareable, interesting to media and public, ethical. As you know only too well Chris the competition is fierce in the Personal Injury space. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the competition in an intelligent way so instead of mounting a campaign that screams ‘we are the best, we are the best’ our campaign is based on personal safety and the accident map is an element of that campaign. We provide resources of public interest that are genuinely useful and want our Attorneys to be associated with the idea of caring for the community in which they live.

4. How can it be used to improve SEO and public relations?

The accident map appeals to several interest groups. Realtors can show prospective buyers how safe a given neighborhood is in traffic and accident terms, people in local government can see where more money should be invested in traffic calming or signage, and very importantly local media love the accident report because it presents traffic issues in an easily consumable format for their readers and viewers. In fact we have had online newspapers embed the map in their own websites. We have had great success sharing the accident map with these interest groups and they have, in turn, shared the map on their sites and in their social networks.

Another great aspect is that the data can be mined to show accident trends. Take for example, we can get a report that shows the year-on-year decline in motorcycle accidents in Sacramento, then go to the local motorbike club, explain the findings and get mentioned on their site and social networks. And obviously this can also work for other interest groups from truck drivers to normal non motorized cyclists and cycle clubs.

5. Because many of these links are acquired locally would you say that the accident map can also be used to improve rankings in Google Maps and local results?
I don’t think there is a direct correlation between the Accident Map and rankings in Google Maps or at least we haven’t observed it. Smart linkbuilding and marketing as described above functions best at local level and this has dramatically improved the local visibility for our clients. View the Houston interactive accident map case study here.

Shareable Accident map6. How is it different from an infographic?

Infographics are static, the accident map is interactive. Also, the data gets updated every year, and that means that new trends emerge, and essentially new stories can be told and the media and outreach program can begin again. Also, while there are great infographics out there, publishers (ie. bloggers, media) tend to get inundated with requests to syndicate people’s infographics. The interactive accident map is an innovative idea and people have been very receptive for that reason.

7. It was a pleasure having you join us. Is there anything else you would like to mention?

For a long time search engine marketing was characterized by how fast you can take advantage of the latest exploit or tactic to get a site ranked high and fast. It was the ultimate in ‘short termism’; tricks and exploits tend to go out of date and rendered useless quickly in the best of cases, and cause site penalties in the worst of cases. I don’t compete against the Google engineers and I don’t advise anybody else to do so either. These days ranking is becoming more meritocratic. There are explicit signals at work (eg. anchor text) and also there are I believe implicit signals at work also that help signal to search engines that your brand and website deserve a high ranking because it serves the users of that search engine better than the competition.

Second, Digital marketing for Personal Injury law firms is very competitive. A lot of law firms are over-relying on paid ads (eg. Adwords) but this becomes very expensive fast (we’ve seen cost per clicks $60 and higher) and this is makes life very difficult for the solo and smaller firms who simply can’t compete based on budget. But they can compete by building up organic (non paid) search engine visibility and reduce the cost of acquiring new clients over time.

Lastly, to address a very good point by +Jeff Lapin made in the interview here, the bottom line for lawyers is they should know what is being done on behalf of their business. Watch traffic trends, measure conversions, monitor your reputation and ask your marketer for a link profile report.

We’d like to thank John for taking the time to answer a few of our questions.  You can learn more about his marketing agency at netmidas.com.  You can also follow him on Google Plus and Twitter.