“96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine.”
Google Consumer Survey 2013
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has traditionally been viewed by law firms as a ‘necessary evil’. The need to be ‘visible’ outweighs the in-house effort required, the expense of outsourcing it, and the risk of getting fingers burnt by SEO charlatans!
Understanding the essentials of SEO enables you to appreciate its value, have realistic expectations of what it can and can’t do, and to set budgets accordingly.
Few firms can afford to ignore the reality that almost everyone uses the Internet to search for legal advice: not for a specific legal firm necessarily, but to find legal assistance in their local area from a firm that can help with their particular issue:
“62% of legal searches are non-branded (ie. generic: “Phoenix divorce Attorney”)”
FindLaw U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey 2014
Furthermore, your ideal target clients (those earning over $150,000 per year) are the very people who are most likely to find a lawyer through online search.
This article shares the end-to-end process of managing a search engine optimization campaign that gets your law firm high enough in the rankings to drive traffic to your website.
Most businesses are now aware that websites occupying the top positions on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) receive a larger percentage of the total number of clicks associated with it. Results beyond the first page are almost inconsequential.
In fact, around 60% of clicks are generated by the top three results, and the average click-through rate for the number one site is 36.4%, according to a study by Optify.
Law firms are no exception to this rule, so it is important to be at the top of the page to boost your firm’s traffic and sales.
By the end of the article you will have a complete understanding of what SEO is, why it matters, what processes will enable your firm to get the most from it, and where to start. You will understand how to find your keywords, ensure your website is search-engine friendly, build links, and get your pages ranking for juicy legal terms.
By doing this you will have an important competitive edge for your firm because guess what? Most law firms do NOT understand SEO – and are therefore not doing it properly. That’s where we can help you differentiate your firm.
Let’s get started with the basics.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Where would we be without search engines? The likes of Google and Bing have become so central to our daily lives that if they were taken away many people would be frozen in a state of panic.
But how do they work? And why do we need all this SEO if search engines are so clever? Why can’t they work everything out for themselves?
Search engines are the real powerhouses of the Internet, crawling through billions of pages. But, like all machines, they need a little human help.
Essentially, search engines ‘crawl’ the Internet to find web pages, in order to provide their users with accurate, relevant, and useful information pertaining to what they are searching for.
Google’s number one asset is accuracy. Unless it returns relevant results to users, they would drift away to another search engine – and the advertising dollars would soon follow.
So Google ‘updates’ are frequent and are generally aimed at improving the accuracy of its results. The Google algorithm (its equations or programming) determines how websites are assessed. This contains an estimated 200+ ranking factors and is frequently updated. ‘Penguin’, ‘Panda’, and ‘Hummingbird’ are a few colourful names of updates to the Google algorithm in recent years.
SEO, then, can be viewed essentially as the practice of helping search engines understand what your site is about and what value it can bring to web users – by speaking in a language that search engines understand.
What is the ‘language’ of search engines?
SEO is about learning the ‘language’ of search engines and, just to make it more interesting, it changes – as we have seen with the updates. However the key elements still hold true.
Imagine if search engines had to trawl through every detail of every page of every website. They are powerful – but not that powerful. Instead, they use a type of ‘short hand’. This allows them to assess the relevance of every page according to three main criteria:
- The key features of the page itself (On-Page)
- How it is connected to the website’s other pages (Structure or ‘Architecture’)
- The amount of other websites that refer to it (Link Authority)
Having the right keywords on a page was all that used to be needed to rank your site well – but, as webmasters got wise to this, so did the search engines. That’s why many factors are used to help search engines define ‘relevance’.
When search engine ‘spiders’ arrive on a website they decipher the code from it and store the key elements in huge servers housed in data centers around the world.
These servers are accessed to return relevant search queries from users, as needed. They have become so powerful that we only have to wait fractions of seconds for relevant results to be returned.
Most of us understand how search engines work from there – providing answers ranked according to relevance to keyword searches and popularity – usually with 10 results per page.
While it may sound dauntingly technical to speak the ‘language’ of search engines, many marketers have thankfully already done the hard work in ‘translating’ what needs to be done. That’s essentially SEO.
Before we get into the ‘nitty gritty’ of what you need to be doing, here are some general tips provided by Google and Bing for improving rankings:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. This translates to creating content your potential customers will find valuable.
- Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links.
- Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
- Make sure that your elements (images, videos, media) are descriptive and accurate.
- Use keywords to create descriptive, human-friendly URLs.
- Ensure you have a clean, keyword rich URL structure.
Keyword Research: The Foundation of SEO
The foundation of your SEO efforts is still based around keywords and keyword phrases – despite changes in algorithms, the importance of links, and the role of content. Yet few law firms get this crucial part right.
Keyword research – or the practice of finding the words and phrases that best describe your business to your target audience – remains the starting place for all SEO campaigns; and there is little point in even discussing SEO without first discussing keywords.
The problems is that most firms (and, indeed, most other businesses) use little more than guesswork to find their keywords. And, yes, everyone goes after the same, most obvious keywords.
One of my favourite examples exists in the personal injury practice area. The logical term for a firm to target in this category is “personal injury lawyer,” right? Wrong…
The keyword “personal injury lawyer” will generate a number of searches and clicks, but it is also one of the most competitive and expensive terms in the entire legal industry due to the large commissions an attorney can earn. The result? High competition, and a hefty investment in a professional SEO campaign.
Now consider the keyword “car accident attorney.” Sure, there will be fewer searches for it than “personal injury lawyer” but it is more specific (which is always a good thing in SEO) and more importantly, it will have less competition.
The simple takeaway when choosing keywords is to identify ones that you have a realistic opportunity to rank highly for in the search results. I’ll discuss this in greater detail later in the article.
Narrow in on your practice areas
On the face of it, this isn’t difficult for a law firm. Most focus on a specific area of law, however, you need to be as specific and granular as possible when describing the services provided by your firm.
For instance, personal injury law can involve anything from car accidents caused by drunk drivers, to medical complications resulting from a physician’s carelessness, to dog bites from animals permitted to roam free.
Class action law firms can focus on asbestos and mesothelioma, employment or civil rights.
Criminal defence could be further broken down into DUI charges to charges of burglary or manslaughter. The same applies to almost every field of law.
Many businesses head straight for the Google Keyword Planner (GKP) here to try and come up with their keywords. However, while it is helpful further down the line, it can be a little limited in coming up with new keyword phrase ideas. It is not a very lateral ‘thinker’ and will only return suggestions that are very close variations of the original term.
Often the best keywords (those that will end up driving the most traffic to you) can be brainstormed before you work with the GKP.
A good place to start is to Google competitors of your law firm. Look at the title tags and keyword meta data to see where they are focusing their efforts.
Start with the obvious terms first, and be sure to include your location, as most people searching will be looking for a local firm – more about that later in the article.
If you own a family law firm in Calgary, for instance, you’ll likely want to look for terms such as:
Family law firm in Calgary, Calgary family law, law family Calgary (and so on)
To go a little deeper into this, let’s consider the three basic categories of keywords:
- Head Keywords: usually single-word general terms with high competition, like ‘lawyers’
- Body Keywords: 2-3 word phrases with a good search volume but more specific than head keywords – like ‘family law firms’
- Long Tail Keywords: 4+ word phrases that are very specific such as ‘divorce finance lawyers in Calgary’
As a general rule, it’s best to focus your efforts on ‘body’ keywords, plus a few ‘long tail’ keywords, because ‘head’ keywords are so competitive and generally do not convert well into paying customers.
In fact, a study by Conductor found that long tail keywords convert at 2.5 times the rate of head keywords.
A useful way to start this is to consider what your target audience would search for when seeking out a service such as yours. The key here is to temporarily become the searcher. Consider their:
- Hobbies and interests
- Key problems and challenges
- Main aims and goals
Once you have all the obvious terms, start thinking about what else they may search for – and this is where you are able to start burrowing a little deeper into the niche:
Matrimonial law, divorce law, adoption law, property settlements, paternity testing, child custody, family law case studies etc.
What you are looking for are terms that you can dominate the SERPs for: preferably low- competition phrases that are often searched for; or phrases where you can do a better job than your competitors in optimizing your pages and ranking for.
You should end up with quite a few phrases that are closely related to what you do – plus quite a few that are connected in some way.
Next, consider the context of the keyword. Is it a sales term that is likely to result in the purchase of your services? Or, is it an informational term in which someone is simply searching for additional information? Both have their place in an SEO campaign.
Typically, it is best to further categorize your terms based on the user’s intent. For example, the following terms would go in the sales category:
- Matrimonial lawyer
- Divorce lawyer
- Adoption lawyer
- Property settlements lawyer
Whereas the following longtail phrases would go into the informational category:
- Do I need a matrimonial lawyer for a will?
- How much does a divorce lawyer cost?
- How do I adopt a child?
- Can I remove my [husband/wife] from my property?
In short, take time to consider your customer’s path to purchasing your services. It helps to further pinpoint the keywords to target and the content you’ll need to develop on your website to do it.
After brainstorming you need a tool to help you get to the next level of keyword research. This is where Übersuggest comes in. It is a free tool that is used to find keyword opportunities that you didn’t catch in the brainstorming session. So it effectively widens the net of keywords to consider.
Übersuggest uses Google’s Search Suggest feature to display queries related to your keywords that people have searched for in the past. You can view the results as a list or in a word cloud – a visual representation with the most popular terms displayed largest:
Using Übersuggest is fairly simple. Start by entering in some of the main keywords you came up with during your brainstorming session.
Look through the list of keywords found by Übersuggest (and in the word cloud) on each search to see if there are keywords or adjectives that you missed or didn’t consider. You can then pop those keywords into the Übersuggest search box to see if you can expand even further.
With Übersuggest, you will be able to see terms and phrases that actual users have searched for, so you may discover some great synonyms that you never thought of. Simply save keywords as you go and download them at the end.
UPDATE: Added October 13, 2016
I’m excited to add the KeywordTool.io to our recommended keyword research tools. I hate to admit that until recently, I wasn’t aware that the tool was available. I can say that I’m very happy I came across it, and you should be too.
Unlike UberSuggest, the KeywordTool.io provides additional insight into informational queries. These terms are often ignored by firms or at best jammed onto a frequently asked questions page.
With the KeywordTool.io you enter a term into the search box, in this example I used the phrase “divorce lawyer” and it will provide a list of related terms much like UberSuggest. What makes it unique is the “questions” tab.
Clicking the questions tab will display hundreds of questions your potential customers are searching to find information regarding your services. The term “divorce lawyer” generated phrases such as “are divorce lawyer fees tax deductible” and “how much are divorce lawyers fees.”
These longtail keywords will have limited competition in Google’s search results making them easier to rank for organically. And, they are specific meaning they are more likely to result in a sales lead if the page answers their question and provides a potential solution.
Informational queries are my favourite type of term to target in SEO. They have little competition, they convert well, and they require limited resources to generate visibility in the search results.
Google Keyword Planner
The Google Keyword Planner can then be used to provide important information about your keywords. The key question you should ask is:
Which terms related to your firm’s practice have a high volume of monthly searches and low competition?
These will be the keywords that you should select to optimize your website around. In doing this, you may find variations of your keywords that warrant the creation of an additional web page or a blog post, for instance.
It should be noted that, in order to use the Keyword Planner, you must be logged into a Google account that has Adwords configured. Google sees the Keyword Planner as essentially an Adwords tool, even though it is useful for much more than just Adwords.
Using the keywords you’ve brainstormed and found through Übersuggest and KeywordTool.io, you’re going to search the Keyword Tool to find the data associated with these keywords, while also continuing to search for additional keywords that the tool suggests.
We like to search by using the “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category” field. You can use this to enter one or more keywords at a time. It’s useful to enter similar keywords at one time so the tool can get a good grasp on what you’re actually looking for, and suggest additional, relevant keywords.
Be sure to select your proper location target because Google will provide keyword data associated specifically with that location. What good is it to know how many people search for “Impaired Driving Law” in all of Canada per month when you’re only concerned with Calgary, Alberta?
While searching, we like to use the “Negative Keywords” function. This narrows the search results to find the keywords we really want. Setting a keyword as a negative will remove any queries which include the word or phrase. Typically, you want to remove words like free, courses, and jobs.
When you perform a search the Google Keyword Planner will display your Search terms, and two additional columns which are important. The first is the Avg. Monthly Searches column and a column for Competition. Here’s what they mean:
- Avg. Monthly Searches: The average number of times people have searched for this exact keyword based on the date range and targeting settings that you’ve selected. The metric represents the average number of searches for this exact keyword based on the date range, location, and Search Network targeting settings that you’ve selected (not including your language setting).
- Competition: The number of advertisers that showed on each keyword relative to all keywords across Google.
The ideal target keywords will have high Avg. Monthly Searches and low Competition. High Avg. Monthly Searches is important because it indicates people are actively searching for the terms, and low Competition represents keywords for which it will be easier to generate SEO rankings.
Save your chosen keywords to your “plan” as you go, so that you can download it in its entirety when you are finished. It’s useful to group relevant keywords into “ad groups” (even though this isn’t for an Adwords campaign) so that you can organize your keywords and sort your data easier later.
At the end of the research process you should have a number of keywords to optimize on your website and ideas for generating informational content.
The process of going from a list of keywords to integrating those terms into the website is coming up in the next section. If you’ve made it this far give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve well on your way to SEO success.
Website Architecture: A Common SEO Failing
Next, an area that has been the downfall of many a website – not just law firms. In fact, MOST businesses get their site architecture wrong.
The fundamental point here is that your rankings don’t just depend on what your site contains – they are also influenced by how it’s put together. Google’s search engines must be able to find and understand the content of your pages in order to be able to rank it favourably – so structure is important.
This comes down to planning out your site logically, rather than building it on a whim or with an ad hoc approach.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, right? Then, why would you build a website without a sitemap?
The need for planning, of course, will come as no surprise to a law firm. No lawyer would dream of representing a client without considerable planning – and the same applies when creating your website.
The problems here is that the planning is often left to web designers, who may be creatively excellent, but without the necessary knowledge of SEO to link all the pages together well enough; so the site remains un-optimized and does not attract the traffic it should.
Why is it important?
A clean, well-designed, logically put together site will help you on three important fronts:
- Indexing – it helps search engines find your pages and index them so that they can show up in the SERPs.
- Link Authority – you will see later that other sites linking to yours is a key component of good SEO.
- Usability – helping your visitors find what they need easily. Any SEO that damages the user experience is not worth anything.
Which areas should you pay attention to?
Best practice with site structure includes the following:
- Try to ensure that all key pages on the site are one click away from the home page – at most two. A ‘flat’ link structure like this demands a good menu with links from your home page. Don’t ‘bury’ important pages with unnecessary click requirements for the user – every click is likely to lose a potential customer!
- Keep it clear, simple, and logical. Use terms familiar to your audience, not jargon.
- Your services will include some main practice areas with different case types. Make sure that your site structure reflects this – as per the below example:
- List services in order of priority – so your main service should be clearly visible from the home page and included in your website’s global navigation system. If your specialist area is corporate law and most of your business is in the area of intellectual property then make sure that Google and your visitors know that; don’t give real estate law equal prominence if it doesn’t contribute as much to your business.
- Ensure that you carefully plan out where your keywords will be used. Generally, your leading or ‘head’ keywords will be used on the home page, body keywords on your practice area pages, and longer tail keywords targeted on the ‘deepest’ level pages – typically these are subcategories of a practice area (think of drug offences below the criminal defence practice area). But beware some common mistakes here, which are detailed in the next section.
A common SEO misconception
Many sites are designed from the angle that a single web page can be optimized to target 10 or 20 different keywords.
This is a mistake. A web page can only be optimized for one or two keywords, preferably only one. So, if you have uncovered a wide array of suitable keywords for your law firm from your research, your website’s architecture must be structured to accommodate them all.
A typical optimized law firm website might include a section for each of its practice areas and case types associated with each area. You have seen an example for personal injury above; a criminal defence lawyer could include criminal defence as a practice area, and then add pages focusing on drug offences, DUI, domestic violence, assault, etc. as sub pages to the criminal defence practice area.
The more granular the practice area and case type, the higher the likelihood of pages ranking for the specific terms.
The importance of linking
The amount of links pointing to a site is used by Google to determine its authority, and therefore contributes greatly to ranking. This makes sense if we consider that a research paper on a particular topic is generally deemed more authoritative if it has been cited by many other resources.
Google has always used backlinks as an indicator of authority – it considers them the equivalent of a vote of confidence or citation.
You will read more later on about how to go about link building. For now, it is enough to know that the backlinks you get for your site should point to the right pages.
You must know which are the most important pages on your site – those that generate leads and convert to paying customers. This could be the home page or a particular case type page. Use Google Analytics to tell you, and then promote these pages through the backlinks you generate.
A tight internal linking structure might then mean you add an extra link in the body copy of the home page (in addition to the menu) to your most profitable case type page, which will deliver more ‘link power’ to that page; and therefore generate more traffic.
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing a web page’s content and code for the search engines. This is where your research and planning starts to produce results.
Keyword usage, keyword placement, readability, image usage, URL optimization and other factors all come together to make it easy for search engines to understand the context of the information on a web page, and to rank that web page accordingly.
But there are plenty of misconceptions with this area of SEO too; and many law firms fail to prioritize what is most important. However, it’s not that difficult; 80% of it can be achieved by simply following a checklist and paying a little attention to detail.
There are essentially two areas to focus on, but there are ‘crossovers’ between them: Content-Related SEO (which your copywriters and video-makers will need to attend to) and Technical On-Page SEO (which your web developers will need to attend to).
Below we highlight all the key areas for your firm to focus on when creating your pages.
Content Related SEO
Hire a professional copywriter
There are many reasons to hire a professional copywriter – but to include your long-tail keywords in compelling copy is one of the most important ones. Long tail keywords are perhaps the most difficult to optimize pages for, because including them in copy while still making it sound convincing can be a big challenge. Only a professional writer can usually accomplish this.
Make your URLs SEO-friendly
The general rule here is: keep your URLs short and keyword-rich, wherever possible. The first 3-5 words in a URL are the most important for Google – so this is where your keywords need to be.
Use keywords early in the page
Your primary keyword (remember that a web page should only be optimized for one keyword) should be used within the first 100 words of the page. Google then quickly understands what it is about – as does the reader. Then use the keyword naturally throughout the text (no ‘cramming’) and apply ‘latent semantic indexing’, which simply means using terms and phrases related to the subject matter. If you are focusing on high quality content then this should come quite naturally.
Add images and video
Not only will your users appreciate this, but search engines will too: add optimized images, video, diagrams and other media to your text. It keep visitors on your site and shows search engines that you are interacting with your users, raising its perceived value and attracting more links. Images should use your target keyword in the Title and Alt-text to drive ‘image search’ traffic too.
Linking out to relevant sites shows search engines that you are part of a wider community in your specialist area, and that you are providing an information resource to visitors. You should link to quality sites that highlight case studies, contain legal libraries, or provide other content that enhances the user experience.
We’ve already spoken about site architecture and its importance to search engines. But there is another reason why you should link your site together: adding internal links to the start of blog posts and articles can lower the ‘bounce rate’ and increase the likelihood that your visitors stay on your site longer. That looks good to search engines – so it’s good for SEO.
Get the title and description tags right
Getting your title and description tags correct is the single most important activity for your on-page SEO. As a general rule, get your keywords at the start of your title tag and include them again in the description. Take note of the Google character limits for each.
For law firms attempting to attract local customers, we recommend incorporating “local hooks” into your title tag as well. This includes your postal code/zip code and telephone number with your area code.
Pay attention to H1 Tags
An ‘H1 tag’ tells search engines the title of your page or article – so it should contain a keyword. Most WordPress themes automatically add H1 tags to your titles, but some themes (and other CMS software) are not so intuitive. It’s best to double check your code. There should only be one H1 tag per page and it should look something like this:
A quick note about H2 and H3 tags, which are used for page sub-headings: they are far less important – but, as a general rule, try to use the target keyword in a sub-header once on each page.
Write 2,000 words rather than 200
In recent years longer content has consistently ranked highly in the SERPS. It has long been known that anything under 300 words carries little SEO value; but, increasingly, 2000-word-plus content performs the best. The time and/or expense involved in producing in-depth, informative, high quality, keyword-based content that solves problems for your target audience is ultimately worth it. That’s because this will get you repeat visitors, shares, links, time on site, Chrome bookmarks – all of which Google loves!
Make it ‘dwell-able’
The ‘dwell time’ of a page is a measure of how long a searcher stays, before hitting the BACK button. Google rightly interprets a low ‘dwell time’ as a negative ranking factor, as it suggests low quality and/or low relevance to the search. Again, you can ensure long dwell times with unique, high quality, relevant, long-form content that adds value to the user experience.
TECHNICAL ON-PAGE SEO
A few of the points below overlap with the previous section on site architecture, but it doesn’t hurt to hammer the points home!
Keep it snappy!
We have it from the horse’s mouth: Google says that page-loading speed matters for SEO. That means you need to keep it to less than 4 or 5 seconds. The best way to ensure this is to select a premium hosting platform and pay a little more than the standard $5 per month– it’s usually worth it. Also try compressing images, and a Content Delivery Network (CDN) server will help maintain high availability and fast performance. Use http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ to check your site’s loading times.
Make it sharable
Social media matters for SEO too: add social sharing buttons to your pages. Even though they won’t ‘make or break’ your page rankings yet, the ability to share easily means that potentially more people read your content – and the more links you get. And that’s good for business!
Optimize for location
Your location will probably be included in your keywords, e.g. criminal law firm, Calgary. It’s important, then, to optimize these pages for the location. Embed a Google Map with a ‘Google My Business’ listing embedded in it; and include your business name, address, and phone number (‘NAP’) on every page of the site.
Make it mobile-friendly
It should be a no-brainer these days, but many law firms are slow to adjust to the mobile revolution. Potential customers are more likely to check your site out from a mobile device than a desktop PC, so make sure that your pages are optimized for viewing on all major mobile devices. You can check this very easily using Google’s Mobile Friendly test.
This has been mainly covered in the ‘Website Architecture’ section above, but it bears repeating here: you need to ensure that search engine spiders can crawl your site to index all the pages. Is your website unintentionally blocking crawlers using meta robots or the robots.txt file? Here’s a quick test: Google your brand name; if you see something like this… it’s bad.
Tagging your location with Schema.org html markup helps Google connect your Google Local listing with the location listed on your website. This is helpful for your local SEO efforts and will increase the likelihood of your site appearing in the Top 3 local search results. Add this html markup anywhere on your site that lists your location information, typically in the footer and on your contact page(s).
Create an XML sitemap that you can submit to Google through your Google Search Console. This is important so that Google can crawl your website quicker and easier, and ensures all your site’s pages are indexed properly.
Geo sitemaps include an XML and a KML file. These act as other ways for you to communicate to Google where your business is located, and are therefore important to local SEO strategy. Follow the steps explained in the Geositemap generator tool, then upload the files to the root directory of your website. Submit the XML geo sitemap to the Google Search Console the same way you would submit a regular sitemap.
Canonicalizing your website is the process of ‘301 redirecting’ all versions of your site to one version of your domain. For example, redirecting both http://example.com and http://example.com/home.html to http://www.example.com. This means that only one version of your website and home page are accessible to the public and duplicate content is avoided. You can ‘301 redirect’ using WordPress plugins or through your .htaccess file.
Geo meta data
Adding Geo meta tags to your website is yet another way to communicate your location to Google and to boost your local SEO. You can generate tags through this online geo tag generator tool.
“As a general rule, it’s wise to build as vast and varied a link profile as possible, as this brings the best search engine results. Any link building pattern that appears non-standard, unnatural, or manipulative will eventually become a target for advancing search algorithms to discount.”
You already know about the ‘importance of linking’ from the section above; and you also understand the difference between internal and external links (‘backlinks’). But what is good practice for encouraging other sites to link to you?
Remember, the more back-links you can cultivate, the more perceived authority you have in your field. Google deems high quality backlinks as signifiers of relevance, popularity, and value.
But not all external links are the same.
The question of how search engines assign value to links is one that has preoccupied SEO professionals for years. It is enough for our purposes to summarize the general consensus as follows:
- The more popular and important a site is, the more important its links are.
- Links from sites within a topic-specific community matter more than links from general or off-topic sites.
- Anchor text matters – this is the visible text that makes up the actual link – usually highlighted in blue.
- Trust matters – links from sites with a high ‘trustrank’ value are worth more than those from low-trust sites. Think universities, government websites and non-profit organizations.
- The ‘link neighborhood’ matters – so only associate yourself with reputable sites or you may lose credibility by association with ‘spammy’ ones.
- Links need to remain ‘live’ and ‘fresh’ to remain relevant – keep adding new ones.
- It’s beneficial to have your material shared socially and linked to – but nobody is quite sure why.
Where should you focus your link-building efforts?
As a law firm, credibility is extremely important, so this needs to be at the back of your mind at all times when building your link profile.
Like most SEO practices discussed here, your link building strategy should focus on mid- to long-term results rather than ‘quick wins’. There are essentially three ways to approach it:
- Natural Links – links provided by sites that associate with your content and want to link to it for their users’ benefit.
- Manual Links – links you request from like-minded sites, bloggers, authorities, directories (maybe paid listings), as a mutually beneficial action.
- Self-Created Links – links through forum signatures, blog comments etc. These are generally the lowest value links and the system is frequently abused: best to avoid, or you may end up being penalized.
You may have heard of ‘No-follow links’. These are used by webmasters to instruct search engines that the link should not influence the target site’s ranking in the search engine’s index. This is to avoid the type of scenario described in Point 3 above, where spam comments just aimed at providing a link to an external site get the target site penalized. Assigning these links as ‘No follow’ protects against this.
A good strategy for your law firm will focus on garnering links from the following areas:
- University external scholarships
- Legal associations
- Local & legal directories
- Guest blogging on legal sites
- Volunteering – for instance with Legal Aid
- ‘Linkbait’ such as infographics and rich media
- Links from partner businesses
There may be some customers who can provide valuable links to you – so you can request these too. Also, concentrate on creating relevant, original, and high quality content via a blog; this will effectively become ‘linkbait’ by getting read, shared, and linked to, through an ‘organic’ process. Getting a name for producing quality content is probably the single best link building strategy you can follow.
Another important part of the SEO focus for any law firm looking to dominate its local market is building citations.
Citations are ‘mentions’ of your business name, address and telephone number, rather than hyperlinks. It can still be useful for your law firm to be listed online, even it is not accompanied by a link to your website – and there are several directories in your sphere that will offer this possibility.
Google and Bing consider citations from well-established and reliable online portals an important ranking factor, because they add credibility, context, relevance, and authenticity to a business. The logic is that, if a business is mentioned multiple times by other well-established sites, there is a high likelihood of it being a real business of value in that particular category. Citations therefore confirm to the search engines that your business is exactly what it says it is, and is part of a wider community in that niche.
As legal services are quite a competitive area, citations can add a little more credibility and they sprinkle a little more SEO ‘juice’ over your business for local search.
Types of citations
In general there are two types of citations relevant to law firms:
Structured citations: these are the most common form of citation. They are found in online directories like Yellow Pages, Yelp, Lawyers.com, and Avvo.
Unstructured citations: these are citations found on blogs, government websites, media websites, etc. They still contain your firm’s business information but can be in many different formats.
Where should you seek citations for your law firm?
We will turn to Moz here. The site has already done the hard work for you and listed the top 10 citation sources for attorneys:
You may also like to consider approaching it from the angle of your location. Remember that it is important for the search engines to associate your law firm with a particular town or city to return relevant searches for people in your area. Use this page to find the best citation sources for your city.
Your ‘Google My Business’ account
You can also set up a Google My Business listing for free. This has replaced Google Local and Google Places, which you may recall from a few years back. If you haven’t updated your information or logged in for a while, chances are your law firm’s information has been migrated over to Google My Business anyway.
You may need to verify the information again and, to enable this, you will receive a postcard from Google with a special code. This information includes business name, address, website and phone number, business hours, and business category.
Information from your Google My Business account is used on Google Plus, Google Maps and Google Search, so consider it as your central account information for these other services.
It’s very important to optimize all your business information here to help gain accurate citations across the web. Here are a few pointers for adding your listing:
- Enter your business location correctly on the map, so users can find you easily.
- List your authoritative and official business website.
- Add information such as opening hours and payment types accepted.
- Be sure that your business name, physical address, and phone number(s) are correct and consistent with your other listings, as Google aggregates your business information from around the web. Keep addresses EXACTLY the same.
- Choose the most appropriate category for your firm, to enable it show up in the right searches. The more specific the better, as generic categories are more competitive.
- Add a few photographs – of yourself, your staff, and your business premises
- Consider adding a 360-degree ‘virtual tour’ of your office – possibly not so relevant for law firms, but if you have stunning offices then show them off.
- Describe the key points of your business, use keywords, and add links in the ‘Introduction’
- Solicit reviews about your firm – more about that in the next section.
- Post news, updates, announcements, photos, FAQs, and other useful information to your Google Plus page – it overlaps with your Google My Business information.
Multiple practitioners in one location?
A big challenge for some law firms is when multiple practitioners work from one location. What do you do with your Google My Business listings in this case?
Google has addressed this problem directly. If the practitioner is one of several public-facing practitioners at this location:
- The organization should create a page for this location, separate from that of the practitioner
- The title of the page for the practitioner should include only the name of the practitioner, and shouldn’t include the name of the organization
- The practitioner’s Google My Business listing should link to his or her specific practitioner page on the website
- If possible, each practitioner’s address should include a different suite number
Another exceptional case is where solo practitioners belong to branded organizations.
In this case, if a practitioner is the only public-facing practitioner at a location and represents a branded organization, the practitioner should share a page with the organization. Create a single page, named using the following format: [brand/company]: [practitioner name].
Acceptable: “Allstate: Joe Miller” (if Joe is the sole public-facing practitioner at this Allstate-branded location)
Reviews have come to matter to many businesses – but for lawyers they are an essential component of SEO strategy. They are used as a ranking indicator and also help real people understand your services better.
Credibility is a hard-fought commodity offline and online – and one that is very easily lost online; so requesting reviews, responding to them, and managing the entire review process is important. Remember that even negative reviews, when handled correctly, can be turned into opportunities to make positive changes to your business and to create positive PR.
The BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey 2015 found that:
- 92% of consumers now read online reviews (vs. 88% in 2014)
- 40% of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1-3 reviews (vs. 29% in 2014)
- Star rating is #1 factor used by consumers to judge a business
- 44% say a review must be written within 1 month to be relevant
- Only 13% of consumers consider using a business that has a 1 or 2 star rating
- 68% say positive reviews make them trust a local business more (vs. 72% in 2014)
How you can get customers to leave more reviews?
This is the golden question for any local business:
“Since reviews are so powerful, how can I get more customers to leave them?”
The most important thing is also the most obvious: Ask for them!
Prime customers to review you at the start of your relationship
Let customers know that their feedback is welcome and expected. For example, include this in the description of your process, or tell the customer on the phone that you request reviews after a successful result in their case.
Remind customers to review you at the end of the transaction
After a case file is completed, your job isn’t finished. Requesting a review should be a normal part of your business activities. Not only does feedback allow you to improve upon your service offering, but the reviews positively impact your business’s digital profile.
How this looks will depend on how you do business, but be explicit in your request. Identify the most important sites for your firm (and where you’re already being reviewed). This will likely include Google Reviews, Yelp, Lawyers.com, and Avvo.
You want to make it as easy as possible for people to review you, so focus on the platforms that your customers are already using.
Make sure you know the rules of engagement for each review platform
Different sites have different rules when it comes to how and where you can ask for reviews.
For example, Yelp expressly forbids asking or incentivizing customer reviews, but if you’re trying to get reviews on your own website, no such rules apply.
Google has no problem with you asking customers to review you, but they’ll discount reviews filled out on an in-store kiosk or computer (too many reviews from the same IP address).
Be patient and timely
Even if you implement a great review-capturing process, it’ll take a while before you’ve built up a solid body of feedback. Don’t get discouraged. Sustain your effort and keep on plugging away. Asking for a review weeks or even months after a transaction is a poor strategy; instead, develop a system that reminds people you’d love their feedback as quickly as possible.
Showcase the reviews you have
Displaying reviews is a powerful way to show people that you take them seriously. On your website, create review sections. Show reviewers’ faces as a way of proving that the reviews were left by real people – and that their feedback is making a difference.
Use ‘Get 5 Stars’ reviews
‘Get 5 Stars’ reviews pegs itself as a platform which helps you automate the customer feedback process to capture a Net Promoter Score, testimonials, and online reviews. If you’re having trouble managing the review solicitation process, check it out.
Not to be confused with the ‘Get 5 Stars’ software, a law firm can attract additional visibility in Google’s search results by acquiring at least five Google Reviews. Once five reviews are acquired the star rating in Google’s local search results will appear for the business. Just look at the amount of increased visibility the business gains!
Measuring and monitoring progress
We have come to the final section of law firm SEO strategy – and it’s the part that many firms miss entirely.
SEO strategy has never been ‘set and forget’. Because of the ever-changing nature of search and search engines, your strategy needs constant monitoring and tweaking.
Fortunately, there are some great free tools available to help you keep track of it all – not least of which is Google Analytics.
What questions can Google Analytics help you answer?
Here are the types of questions that you need to be asking consistently – and which Google Analytics can help you answer:
- Where are our visitors coming from?
- How are they engaging with our website?
- Which pages are resulting in sales leads?
- How much are we paying to acquire sales leads?
- Which pages are receiving the most visitors and engagement?
- Which pages are generating the most sales leads?
- Is the website continuing to improve its performance over time?
How can you answer these questions? Well, there are tools within your Google Analytics account that help you do this.
In particular you should monitor the following:
- Sessions: A group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame. In most cases, it will register as a visit to your website.
- Bounce rate: The percentage of single-page sessions (i.e. sessions in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page). A low bounce rate represents higher performance.
- Top pages: The most-viewed pages on your website.
- Traffic sources: The location from which visitors to your website have originated. Includes referrals such as direct traffic, search engines, and social media.
- Goal completions: The number of actions completed on your website. Goals for lawyers typically represent sales leads.
You want to generate more sales leads through the web? The above guidelines will help you do that. We hope that by covering the above, you are in a much stronger position to either:
- Manage your law firm’s SEO internally, or
- Outsource SEO in full possession of the facts about what’s most important – so that you can be confident that the SEO firm you hire is taking you down the right path.
A solid SEO strategy starts with finding the right keywords that can set your business apart from the competition, and which form the basis for ranking highly for searches that your target audience makes.
Next, your strategy should ensure that your website is specifically structured to be search-engine friendly so that all your pages are indexed correctly; it should then optimize the content on your pages around these keywords; and then embark on a link-building strategy that builds credibility and authority for your site; then it needs to cultivate citations to help you dominate locally, and focus on gathering reviews for your firm.
Finally, there is no ‘finally’. You must continue to monitor and tweak your strategy to keep your SERP rankings and remain as the best and most visible option to your searching customers.