So, you’re now at the point where you’re thinking about your law firm’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, and you’re being bombarded by a barrage of companies claiming to specialize in lawyer SEO or SEO for law firms. Don’t worry; we can assure you that this guide is designed to educate, not sell, you on the fundamental principles you need to understand in order to craft your law firm’s search engine optimization strategy. When you’ve helped as many law firms and attorneys as we have over the years, you become keenly aware of the overwhelming amount of information that attorneys have to sift through in order to get a straight answer to a simple question.
Mainly, what is lawyer SEO and why do I need it?
This guide is designed to give you a complete answer to both questions, so let’s start with the basics regarding the second question before getting into the first.
A Comprehensive Lawyer SEO Guide
At its basic level, Google itself defines search engine optimization or SEO as the process of making your website better for search engines, but that is a deceptively simple definition to a rather complex process. As of February of 2021, it’s estimated that Google is processing at least 2 trillion searches per year; a sizable increase from the 1.2 trillion searches per year that Google claimed to be processing in 2012. These searches cover a broad range of topics, from leisure to research and of course, business. Consequently, search engine optimization is the process of implementing a set of best practices to make your website easier for search engines to understand and analyze.
The end result or goal of SEO for lawyers is to make your website easier for new potential clients to locate when they are searching for legal services associated with your area of expertise on a search engine. Moreover, the key to implementing the most effective law firm SEO strategy into your practice is to formulate a set of best practices for both your website and your office, and that concept, making your online and in-person SEO strategies work in harmony, is something that is often overlooked by even the most experienced marketing agencies that provide attorney SEO services.
Why is Lawyer SEO Important?
The reasons why lawyer SEO is critical for any law firm seeking to grow can be summed with two words, competitors and clients. From a competition perspective, law firm SEO allows you to compete against those law firms that are already actively investing in lawyer SEO and to capitalize on the weaknesses of your competitors who aren’t investing in law firm SEO or aren’t investing enough in SEO. Let’s take a look at some quick facts regarding how your competitors are managing their marketing or lack thereof:
- More Than 50% of All Law Firms Don’t Have a Marketing Budget (Source: American Bar Association)
- Lawyer SEO is Considered One of the Most Competitive SEO Markets (Source: Search Engine Journal)
- 32% of Law Firms Either Don’t Have a Mobile-Friendly Website or Don’t Know If They Have a Mobile-Friendly Website
Source: American Bar Association
- 29.7% of Law Firms that Experienced Stagnation in 2020 Had No Long-Term Marketing Strategy and 21.6% of These Same Law Firms Made an Insufficient Investment in Marketing Technology
Source: Above the Law
- 65% of Law Firms Don’t Engage in Video Advertising
Source: American Bar Association (ABA)
These statistics really represent the tip of the iceberg as far as how lawyers are behind the curve in the SEO arena, and the ABA’s annual TechReport is an excellent place to gather additional information concerning lawyer SEO trends and bad habits. From a client perspective, contrast the information concerning how lawyers are marketing their practice online with how clients are searching for legal services online:
- 96% of People Seeking Legal Advice Use a Search Engine, and 74% of Consumers Visit a Law Firm’s Website to Take Action
Source: ABA Journal
- 60% of Smartphone Users Have Contacted a Business Using Google’s Search Results
Source: Think With Google
- 47% of Consumers Reviewed Online Reviews Before Making a Legal Hiring Decision
Source: ABA Journal
- The Average Duration of a Google Search Session is Less Than a Minute
Source: Search Engine Journal
- 76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a related business within a day, and 28% of those searches result in a purchase
Source: Think With Google
Law Firm SEO Bridges the Gap Between Clients’ Shopping Behavior and a Law Firm’s Marketing Strategy
As these statistics demonstrate, when clients are in need of legal services, a majority of clients will search online to find them. Similarly, these clients expect to find the information they are looking for quickly and will make purchasing decisions quickly based on the information they find online, including a lawyer’s online reputation.
In contrast, many law firms are either failing to properly market their practice online or worse, aren’t marketing their practice through online channels at all. The result of this disconnect is that the small population of law firms that do actively implement an effective law firm SEO strategy will receive most, if not all, of the massive population of clients who search for legal services online.
Lawyer SEO, therefore, upsets this dynamic and allows you to effectively compete in the modern legal marketplace by gaining a prominent position on search engines like Google and an easily accessible online presence in general. In the end, law firm SEO allows you to gain access to clients who are actively seeking your services through the various digital marketing channels they use on a day-to-day basis, and to put it mildly, law firms are slowly moving to the point where lawyer SEO is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury.
But that of course begs the question, just what is lawyer SEO?
What is Law Firm SEO?
As we stated earlier, lawyer SEO can be defined as a set of best practices for marketing your practice online and in person. Some of these techniques are technical, while others require little to no technological knowledge at all. However, the components of the SEO process itself do not exist in a vacuum; you need to have at least an understanding of both the technical and non-technical aspects of the SEO process in order to make informed marketing decisions.
So let’s take a look at all of the various components that comprise what is collectively referred to as search engine optimization or SEO, each of which will be covered in detail in this guide:
- Google’s Ranking Structure: the most fundamental aspect of SEO is understanding how Google ranks websites because this information should influence your global lawyer SEO strategy
- Keyword Research: the process of analyzing which keywords users are entering into Google when they are searching for legal services in your area of expertise.
- On-Site Lawyer SEO: the technical and content-based techniques for making your website easier for Google to understand and for enhancing each user’s overall experience when they visit your website
- Offsite Law Firm SEO: the interplay between your website and other websites online that refer to your website as an authoritative source for legal information
- Local SEO for Law Firms: the process of establishing a local presence online across all digital marketing channels to maximize the amount of local clients your website can reach based on the client’s geographic location
- Tracking a Lawyer SEO Campaign with Analytics: utilizing analytics programs offered to websites for free by Google to track each SEO strategy’s efficacy, make modifications to under-performing strategies, and test new strategies.
Ready to get started? Let’s go! Just remember, the navigation menu on the left-hand side of your screen will allow you to jump from topic to topic, so if you’re interested in a particular chapter, just click on it to be taken there immediately!
How Does Google Rank Law Firm Websites?
To answer this question, it’s best for you to first understand, in general, how Google works. Google itself is the equivalent of a massive (and that’s an understatement) online library that catalogs web pages on the internet twenty-four seven. This task is accomplished through the use of a computer program called a “crawler,” and the process of fetching and indexing web pages is referred to as “crawling” the page.
At this point, you might be asking, “how does Google know where to send crawlers?” Crawlers locate web pages through a host of different sources, but the primary ways they find web pages are through links from known web pages that lead to new web pages and sitemaps, which are maps that are submitted to Google by website owners that tell it the page structure of the owner’s website. Once a web page has been crawled, it is then “indexed.” Indexing is the process by which Google’s computer programs attempt to “understand” what a web page is about in order to catalog it correctly based on the web page’s topic. The ranking process occurs when the computer program is crawling and indexing a web page, and a web page’s PageRank is the numerical rank it receives for a particular topic or search term.
Google’s Top Ten Ranking Factors
Google uses over two hundred factors to rank a web page, and no one (except maybe people who work for Google) knows what all of these factors are. However, we do know about some because Google has admitted that they use these factors, and typically, if Google says that a factor is important, then it’s important, really really important. So let’s take a look at the factors that Google itself says are important:
- Content Quality: Google ranks a webpage’s content based on its quality, relevance, and useability. As Google itself says, its goal is to return search results with “content [that] demonstrates expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.”
- Mobile-Friendliness: Google announced in 2016 that it was going to begin shifting towards giving mobile-friendly web pages priority over desktop-only webpages. Today, that shift is now complete and Google now gives preference to mobile-friendly web pages in its search results.
- Page Loading Speeds: How quickly a page loads has been a ranking factor for Google for quite some time (since 2010 to be precise), but Google has taken it a step further. Now, a page’s load speed is a ranking factor across the board for all searches, mobile and desktop alike.
- Page Experience: The term “page experience” encompasses many things, but for our purposes, we look at this term through the lens of “core web vitals”.” What that means according to Google is that “[t]he page provides a good user experience, focusing on the aspects of loading, interactivity, and visual stability.” In simple terms, this factor focuses on whether your site’s web pages load quickly, entice users to engage with the page quickly, and offer a diverse array of reliable, media content for users to enjoy.
- Content Freshness: Remember, Google’s mission when it returns results in response to a search is to provide the most relevant results, and in a world that is literally changing from minute to minute, the relevance of a web page’s content often turns on when it was created. Consequently, keeping content up to date and regularly posting new content is one of Google’s most basic and important ranking factors.
- Internal Linking Structure: Users want to be able to navigate a website with ease, and Google wants to be able to crawl a website with ease. Thus, how you internally link your website’s web pages affects both a user’s ability to navigate your site and Google’s ability to crawl your site. This is why Google uses your internal linking structure as a ranking factor because websites that don’t internally link their web pages offer an inferior user experience and make it more difficult for Google to explore their entire website.
- Authoritative External Linking: Think about your experience with this web page for a moment. Why are there links for every factor on this list? It’s for two reasons, credibility and curiosity. If our website says that these are factors that Google uses, shouldn’t we prove it by providing you with our source, i.e. Google, and shouldn’t we also provide you with our sources in case you want additional information?
Of course! Google uses the authoritativeness of the sources you use as a ranking factor because authoritative sources add to the user experience and increase online engagement. Moreover, authoritative websites tend to only link to other authoritative websites, and authoritative sources allow users to verify that what they are reading is accurate and true information.
- Inbound Links or Backlinks: An inbound link or “backlink” is a link from another website to your website that the owner of the other website chooses to implement. According to Google, “relevant, quality inbound links can affect your PageRank (one of many factors in our ranking algorithm).” In short, receiving a natural backlink from another website is a complement to you from that website’s owner indicating that they believe your website is authoritative, and it sends a signal to Google that other website owners believe your website is authoritative. Consequently, the number of backlinks a website receives and the number of backlinks an individual web page receives can affect the site’s rankings.
- Page Structure: Google considers the use of descriptive title, heading, and meta tags on each webpage to be a “simple and accepted” SEO technique. In addition to writing about this factor in its blog, Google also writes about it in its guidelines, so it is always critically important that you use a proper title and heading tag structure (title tag, h1, h2, etc.). The structure of each page should be like an outline with headings describing the topic discussed below them.
- Bounce Rate: Have you ever clicked on a web page and within seconds, you leave because you figured out that the web site didn’t have the information you were looking for? Well that’s the common scenario that causes a “bounce.” Google calculates your website’s bounce rate (the number of bounces divided by the total number of sessions or visits to your site), and in general, a high bounce rate can negatively affect your rankings.
However, there is a catch. The ranking weight given to a website’s bounce rate is industry specific, and a high bounce rate is common in the legal industry. With that being said, law firm websites with lower bounce rates tend to rank better on Google because the low bounce rate indicates high engagement.
The factors discussed above represent the foundation of the body of principles that encompass Google’s ranking process, and indeed, you will find detailed discussions of some of these factors elsewhere in this guide. However, understanding SEO practices that Google prohibits is just as important as understanding how Google grades a website.
Black Hat SEO Practices Prohibited by Google
If you want to enhance your website’s performance on Google, the worst way to do it is to engage in prohibited lawyer SEO practices, commonly referred to as “black hat” SEO practices. In case you were wondering, not only could these techniques be considered unethical and possibly prohibited in your jurisdiction’s version of Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4, but they might also be illegal in certain situations and carry a certain degree of financial liability.
More than one legal scholar has made such an argument while also advocating for regulation of the SEO industry, as a whole, at the federal level to prohibit these techniques. Consequently, no matter what you do or who you hire to assist with your firm’s lawyer SEO campaign, you should always be on the lookout for these prohibited practices:
- Automatically generated content
- Sneaky Redirects, i.e. sending a user to a different URL than the one they selected
- Link Schemes, such as buying links or exchanging links (you link to me, and I’ll link to you)
- Thin or Scraped Content, i.e. content that is taken from other websites
- Keyword stuffing, occurs when you purposely pack keywords into a web page in places where they don’t make sense
- Hidden text and links
The techniques above are some of the main black hat techniques we see in the SEO industry today, but there are others outlined in Google’s Quality Guidelines. Engaging in these techniques can either cause you to be punished through what Google calls a manual action or taken off of Google altogether, so be cautious with who you trust to provide you with lawyer SEO services.
How do Lawyers Conduct Keyword Research?
Keyword research is probably one of the most important aspects of lawyer SEO because according to Google’s explanation of how it determines the relevance of a web page, “[t]he most basic signal that information is relevant is when a webpage contains the same keywords as your search query.” Consequently, keyword research allows you to determine what terms users are inputting into Google when they are searching for legal services in your area of practice and to incorporate those terms into the web pages of your website. But before you jump into researching keywords for your website, you’re going to want to have a basic understanding of how Google analyzes keywords in the context of a search.
Using Keyword Clusters for Lawyer SEO
When a new potential client inputs a search term into Google, Google attempts to ascertain the “intent” of the user based on what they are searching for. This allows Google to return the most relevant web pages in response to the search, but ascertaining the intent of the user is not always easy.
Consequently, Google will look beyond the keywords entered and consider terms that related web pages tend to use in conjunction with the keyword, and this process is known as “keyword association.” Moreover, we know that Google uses this method for two reasons. First, Google publicly indicates as much on its own website about how its search algorithm works, and second, Google holds patents regarding the implementation of this technique into its search algorithm.
How to Identify Keyword Clusters for Lawyer SEO Campaigns
You can identify keyword clusters from a number of different sources including the various keyword research tools discussed below, but remember, keyword clusters are usually logical or natural outgrowths of a particular group of terms. Take, for example, the diagram below:
As an attorney or legal professional, we know that people tend to use the terms lawyer and attorney interchangeably, and we also know that the terms “personal injury attorney” and “car accident attorney” are synonymous. Similarly, since many personal injury attorneys handle car accident claims, it would make sense for the term “car accident” to be associated with the term “personal injury attorney.” Thus, as you can see, ascertaining appropriate keyword clusters can be done naturally to a certain extent.
But what if a new potential client views the keyword “personal injury attorney” differently then you do? In other words, what should you do if your clients associate different words with a particular term than you do? The answer is simple; don’t stop your research with what you think. Look at multiple sources. One source that you can easily access is Google itself. Let’s check it out:
You may have seen the above prompt when you have used Google in the past, but this is the result we received when we typed “personal injury attorney” into Google. The questions listed are what Google has deemed to be common, related questions to our search term. In other words, these topics are associated with our search term, and if you want more ideas, look at what happens when we open and close the last question:
We get two more questions added to the list. These questions can be used as heading or title tags or even topics for blog posts, but they give you an idea of what terms other people associate with a particular search term. Let’s see what other freebies a Google search has to offer:
The “related searches” area of Google also shows what other searches are associated with your search and can provide you with some insight into search terms that are related to the search term you have selected. Consequently, these terms can either serve as potential content ideas, heading tags, or evening secondary search terms that you can target with a page posted to your website, but don’t stop your research there. Next, you should consult some keyword research software.
Free vs. Paid Keyword Research Software for Lawyer SEO
There are multiple companies that offer keyword research software, but you want to be cautious and use a program that is well known throughout the SEO industry. Moreover, the program you choose should reflect both the amount of resources you have at your disposal and how much time you have to invest in learning how best to use the program you have chosen. Since most lawyers need a program that is user-friendly and affordable, let’s start by discussing the free keyword research software options you can use.
Google Adwords’ Keyword Planner Function
Let’s face it, we all know that Google, above all, has the most accurate keyword-related data around, but Google also doesn’t always give us all of the information it has stored on its servers. With that being said, they do provide enough information, for free, for you to be able to effectively conduct novice-level keyword research for your law firm SEO campaign. To gain access to their research software, you need to create a Google Adwords account and complete the following steps:
- Click the “Start Now” button in the top, right-hand corner.
- Next, you’re going to be asked for your Gmail information. If you have a Gmail account for your firm, sign in with that, or if you don’t have a Gmail account, create one. It’s a good idea to have an individual Gmail account for your marketing because all of the accounts you create for any Google program will be associated with the Gmail account you create the account with. Consequently, it’s always easier to just have a dedicated Gmail account for all of the Google programs associated with your lawyer SEO campaign.
- Once you sign in, Google is going to take you through the steps to create your first Google ad. Your screen should look like this:
- Work through the steps by clicking the next button and entering in the information Google is asking you for. This exercise will also give you some experience with creating things such as title tags and meta descriptions (both of which are discussed in detail in the on-page SEO section).
- You will be prompted by Google to enter your credit card information after you finish creating your first ad. Don’t worry; by entering the credit card information, you will have a temporary, fifty-dollar hold placed on your account. However, this money will be returned within two to three days, and you will not be charged anything in the future as long as you pause your first ad. By this point, you should be on a screen that looks like this:
- Click on the “view campaign” link located under the ad that you created, and you will be taken to the campaign page associated with the ad.
- Next, click on the button in the right-hand corner under the title of your add and select the “pause campaign” option. After you select that, you will be taken to a page titled “before you pause,” but you can just select the “pause campaign” button at the bottom and exit out of the survey that pops up after you click on the pause campaign button. Now that your account is set up, click on the “tools & settings” option in the top right-hand corner of your screen and select the “Keyword Planner” option:
- Once you do, click on the “discover new keywords” option, and you will be taken to the “discover new keywords” page where you can input all of the keywords you are thinking about using and doing research on. Just simply type in a keyword, press enter, and type in another keyword.
- Once you’re done, click on the “get results” button as shown below.
- The result you receive will show you a number of things. The column titled “avg. monthly searches” shows you the monthly search rate or the average amount of times per month people searched for the keywords you selected. It also shows the monthly search rate for the keywords associated with the keywords you selected, which are located under the “keyword ideas” section.
- Moreover, you also will be shown the level of competition associated with each particular keyword, but keep in mind, that this is the level of competition associated with how many people are targeting the keyword through pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. However, this information still gives you an idea of what the level of competition is for keywords you want to use in your lawyer SEO campaign.
- If you want to filter keywords by search rate, i.e. modify the order of the keywords displayed from those with the highest search rate to those with the lowest, simply click on the “avg. monthly searches” column heading; you can do the same thing for the competition column as well. If you want to add other keywords to your list, simply click on the top search bar next to the magnifying glass to add unlisted keywords.
Once you have a group of keywords you like, select them by clicking the boxes to the left of each keyword displayed. After you have selected all of the keywords you’re interested in, click the “add keywords to plan” option above the column headings. Once you do, simply go to the “saved keywords” section on the left side of your screen to view the list of keywords you have selected. This list can be downloaded or simply referred to in Google Ads in the future, and it includes all of the metrics for each keyword. If you want more training using Google Adwords, they have a free certification course that’s well worth your time.
Keywords everywhere is a freemium service that offers a useful free extension for Google Chrome, and it’s a great tool to use when you are thinking about possible keywords to research. Even if you decide to use a paid-for keyword research software program or the Keyword Planner function in Google Adwords, it never hurts to receive data from multiple sources, and keywords everywhere is a very user friendly tool. Simply download the keywords everywhere extension for Google Chrome, and once it’s installed, the tool will automatically generate keyword information each time you perform a Google search and display it on the right-hand side of your screen. The results look like this:
The free version of keywords everywhere provides you with a host of different types of information such as related keywords, other keywords people have searched for, and even information about your competitor’s websites such as the number of backlinks they have and their domain authority. Consequently, this tool is a good complement to your Google Adwords account because it allows you to gain further insights into your competition and keyword-related data.
Premium Keyword Research Software Programs for Lawyer SEO Campaigns
Two of the biggest names in premium keyword research programs are Ahrefs and Semrush with Ahrefs being the most well known in the SEO community. The upside to these programs is they provide you with all of the same information that the free tools do and more. With both programs, you’re able to view the number of backlinks to your website, actively monitor your website’s rankings on a monthly or weekly basis, and receive notifications regarding technical issues such as broken links and loading errors. What’s the downside? The downside to these programs is two-fold.
How Much Do Premium Keyword Research Programs Cost?
First, the price of the programs can be a downside depending on the size of your firm and your budget. Both programs operate on a monthly subscription basis. The price of an Ahrefs subscription starts at as low as $99 per month and can be as high as $999 per month depending on which plan you select. Semrush starts with subscriptions priced as low as $119.95 per month and as high as $449.95 per month depending on which plan you select.
How Much Technical Knowledge Do I Need to Use These Programs?
Second, you will need a little bit of technical knowledge to effectively use these programs and to understand the information they give you concerning both your website and the keywords you are researching. Thus, the usefulness of these programs is often contingent on the depth of your SEO knowledge.
So Should I Buy a Subscription to a Keyword Research Platform?
With that being said, both platforms offer extensive training on how to use and understand their programs, and using these platforms can give you the competitive advantage you need to beat out your competitors online. So don’t write off using these powerful platforms immediately because they are worth the investment if you can make it.
On-Site SEO for Lawyers
In general, there are two types of SEO techniques that revolve around your website, on-site and off-site SEO. In the context of a law firm SEO campaign, off-site SEO refers to techniques designed to purposely entice other website owners to link to your website from their own website, a topic discussed in more detail in the next chapter.
In contrast, on-site SEO refers to the process of making your website easier for Google to understand and analyze from a technical perspective and to making your website more useful, engaging, and accessible from a user perspective. It’s important to understand that there is a significant amount of overlap between these two perspectives because many of the technical aspects to on-site SEO actually add to the user experience, so let’s get started!
Everything in an On-site Lawyer SEO Campaign Begins with Content
Content that is engaging, useful, and well-sourced is at the heart of every lawyer SEO campaign, and in many cases, your training as a legal professional has already given you the skills you need to create useful content that new potential clients want to consume. Consider for a moment the types of people who might visit your website; they can often be broken down into two categories, users doing research and new potential clients seeking out an attorney. Both groups of people are looking for substantive information, not a sales pitch, so give them what they are looking for by doing the following:
Write Content that’s Authoritative
Using legal terminology and citations demonstrates authoritativeness. Unfortunately, many attorneys are worried that if they use legal terminology, they will confuse the user or write content that’s too complex for the user to understand, but all you need to do is to define the terms you are using or explain what they mean. Remember, Google expects your website to demonstrate that you are a legal expert, so you need to write in a way that demonstrates that you are. Let’s take a look at an example:
Example of Content That’s Not Authoritative
If you have been a victim of medical malpractice, you could be entitled to compensation for your injuries to cover things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Example of Content That is Authoritative
If you have been a victim of medical malpractice, you may be able to recover damages for the physical and emotional injuries you have sustained as a result of the offending physician’s negligence. In most cases, a medical malpractice victim is able to recover both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic or hard damages compensate victims for things such as medical bills, lost wages, and medications, whereas noneconomic or soft damages compensate victims for emotional injuries such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish.
Notice how authoritative writing still uses legal terms such as negligence, economic and non-economic damages, and mental anguish, while at the same time, points out the definitions to most of these terms or presents them in a way that the average user can understand.
Utilize a Logical Heading and Title Structure with Smaller Paragraphs for Mobile Users
While you do want to write authoritatively, you also want to utilize a logical heading and title structure. What this means is that any title you select should accurately reflect what the page is about, and every page on your website should have a title. Google recently announced certain changes to the way in which it displays title tags; the search engine may now display heading tags if it feels that they reflect the topic of a webpage more accurately than the title.
This reinforces why a logical heading structure is so important. According to Google’s recommended best practices for heading tags, each page should:
- Have a heading structure that is similar to a topical outline (h1, h2, h3, etc.)
- Have headings that are descriptive and that highlight important text
- Not overuse headings to the point where it makes it difficult for users to skim content
Ensure that Each Web Page Has a Meta Description and Breadcrumbs
Meta descriptions, like title tags, are important because they both inform Google of what a web page is about and are used by Google when it’s displaying search results. Moreover, you should always strive to incorporate the keywords you are targeting into a page’s meta description and title tag without engaging in keyword stuffing, i.e. putting keywords in places where they don’t make sense.
Moreover, both meta descriptions and breadcrumbs are used by Google to create snippets, i.e. enhanced content with images in addition to text, in its search results. Breadcrumbs are pieces of background code that indicate a web page’s position in a website’s page hierarchy, and Google has now finished its transition to a coding language called schema.org that is the product of a collaborative project undertaken collectively by Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Lawyers have their own schema markup, so incorporating this coding language into your website will allow Google to better understand what your website is about and increase your chances of having your web pages displayed with enhanced characteristics.
Optimize Your Law Firm’s Website Using Mobile SEO Techniques
Ever since Google introduced mobile-first indexing, optimizing websites for mobile users has now become the industry norm. About 85% of Americans own a cell phone of some kind according to the Pew Research Center, which means that a huge percentage of the new potential clients that you’re seeking to attract will more than likely visit your website with a mobile device. Consequently, mobile SEO is a process designed to accommodate these mobile users by incorporating mobile-friendly content into each aspect of your law firm SEO strategy.
Structuring Content for Mobile Users
When you’re writing for mobile users, you have to think about the amount of effort it will take for them to actually read your content. Dense, long paragraphs are often difficult to read on a smartphone, so try to use short, concise paragraphs that are between 100 to 200 words with regular spaces in between them.
Similarly, your website’s coding language needs to be written with mobile users in mind. This is typically accomplished by using responsive web design techniques that allow your website to respond to users’ actions by presenting web pages in different ways based on the device a user has chosen to view your website with.
In essence, when a user views your website with a mobile device, the website automatically changes a web page’s structure to “fit” the users screen. Nothing about the layout is changed, but the web page shrinks or expands depending on the size of the screen the user’s device has. Google specifically recommends that website owners implement responsive web design techniques into their sites, and most of the major web hosting software programs such as WordPress utilize a responsive coding language by default.
Use a Targeted, User-Friendly Linking Structure
Internal links or links from one page on your website to another page allow mobile and desktop users alike to easily navigate your website. Not only does this allow users to actively explore your website thereby increasing engagement, but also, it allows your website to convert traffic into leads. According to Google, your website’s internal linking structure should:
- Provide intuitive navigation for users that allows them to navigate your website even if they don’t use a search bar or drop down menu
- Use text links that are obvious, descriptive, and made with code that makes it easy for search engines to crawl. Google itself recommends using the following HTML code for internal links because its easy for search engines to find: <a href=”new-page”>text link</a>
- Focus on the user experience, not technical requirements, so it’s best to create a linking structure designed to benefit the user, not according to some technical formula
External links, in contrast, are links from your website to other websites. These links are most commonly used as a way to provide users with sources used to support claims made on a web page, but they can also be used to show users where to find information or resources. For example, according to the ABA’s 2020 TechReport, less than 20% of law firm websites provide users with:
- Court/administrative links
- Links to outside legal articles
- Links to outside guides/forms
Failing to do these things represents a missed opportunity for law firms in the context of lawyer SEO. Remember, the goal of both external linking in general and lawyer SEO specifically is to turn your website into a resource for users; by failing to incorporate these resources into their website’s architecture, your competitors are reducing the value offered by their website to new potential clients. However, when you decide to link to an outside website, choose the websites carefully.
How do I Know Which Websites I Should Link to?
Linking to a website is a complement to the website’s owner, but linking to low-quality, spammy websites can actually hurt your website’s rankings. This occurs because Google takes the position that authoritative websites tend to link to other authoritative websites, and malicious websites tend to link to other low-quality websites. Consequently, here are some lawyer SEO tips to guide your external linking strategy:
- As a general rule, government and educational websites are the ideal websites to use as sources, and they can be identified by looking at their URLs, .gov for government and .edu for education.
- When linking to websites other than those listed above, ask yourself, “how well known is this website?” If the website isn’t a widely-accepted source of information, don’t link to it. Normally, you’re safe linking to established news organizations or local organizations like your local bar association.
- Don’t use generic anchor text like “click here.” Use descriptive anchor text such as “bar association’s website.”
- Include enough external links to allow users to understand that your content is well sourced and authoritative, but not so many that users get confused (Google recommends no more than 100 per web page).
Optimize Web Pages to Increase Page Speed
Google has made it very well known that page speed is both an important aspect of the overall user experience and an important ranking factor Google uses when generating search results. In fact, page speed is so important that Google has released an online tool, pagespeed insights, dedicated to measuring the page speed of individual webpages.
To use the tool, simply copy and paste a web page’s URL into the analysis bar, click the “analyze” button, and get your web page’s page speed score along with recommendations regarding how you can increase the page’s load speed.
Page speed is affected by a number of different factors such as coding, traffic volume, and server capacity, but one of the biggest things that can hinder a web page’s ability to load quickly is poorly optimized media.
Optimizing Videos and Images for Mobile SEO and Page Speed
While writing engaging content is important, so is content diversity. Content diversity is the idea that you should offer an array of different types of content to keep users engaged because many users will get bored and leave if the only content presented is text. However, Google’s algorithm can’t understand what an image depicts or what someone says in a video. Moreover, videos and images take longer to load than text, so to decrease load times you need to optimize your website’s media offerings.
How do I Optimize Images for Lawyer SEO?
Though Google keeps its complete ranking structure secret, it never hides the ball when it comes to making your website more efficient and user-friendly. Consequently, Google has published a set of best practices for optimizing images. These practices include:
- Using load-friendly image formats such as PNG, JPEG, and WebP
- Compress your images as much as possible but not so much that you lower the image’s quality
- Use lazy loading to improve load times. Lazy loading is a technique where images only load when they are needed, typically as the user scrolls down the page. This makes it to where a web page is only loading the content that is “above the line,” i.e. above what the user can see on their screen without scrolling down.
- Always create descriptive captions, alt text, and file names for each image, so Google knows what the images are about (this is also a good place to use keywords as well)
How do Optimize Videos for Lawyer SEO?
According to the ABA, about 76% of law firms don’t use video as a part of their law firm SEO strategy, but users pretty much expect to see videos when they visit a website because it is one of the most common ways they consume information. Thus, videos can provide you with a competitive edge in the online marketplace, and they are a lawyer SEO goldmine because the transcripts from videos often contain a ton of keywords.
With that being said, the key to using videos for lawyer SEO is to make sure that they load effectively and are incorporated into your website in a way that allows Google to understand what the videos are about. Just like with images, Google has published a set of video best practices to guide your lawyer SEO strategy with respect to videos. Some of these practices are so important that Google has even drawn attention to them in their blog (these practices are marked with asterisk “*” below). The best practices include:
- Verify that your videos are crawlable by ensuring that you’re not using a robot.txt URL that doesn’t allow Google to crawl the video.*
- Telling Google which countries your video can be played in by using a “restriction tag.”*
- Indicate clearly when videos have been removed to protect the user experience.*
- Use a Google-friendly file type that can be fetched by Google. Google can currently fetch the following file types: 3GP, 3G2, ASF, AVI, DivX, M2V, M3U, M4V, MKV, MOV, MP4, MPEG, OGV, QVT, RAM, RM, VOB, WebM, WMV, XAP.
- Provide a high-quality thumbnail for each video
- Use structured data to describe to Google what the video is about (this is where the video transcript is located)
What is Offsite Lawyer SEO & How do Lawyers Use It?
One of the single most important factors Google uses to decide a website’s rank and authority is the number of inbound or backlinks that the site has. Backlinks are links from other websites that lead to your website, basically the inverse of external links. Google views these links as a significant indication of a website’s authoritativeness because when a backlink is given, the owner giving the backlink is using your website as a source or resource. Now that you know how important these links are, you’re probably saying, “ok, so how do I get some backlinks?”
Backlinking Techniques for Law Firm SEO
Proper backlinking often occurs naturally when your website can be used as a legal resource. Remember, just because your goal is to attract new clients doesn’t mean that you can’t take your lawyer SEO a step further and transform your website into a resource for the public. Google has a list of its own backlinking techniques, and we have modified this list by running it through a legal lens and supporting it with legal marketing data:
- 73% of law firms don’t have a blog according to the ABA, so you should start and actively add to a blog for your law firm’s website because it can be used as a resource for bloggers, news organizations, and the public in general when they are conducting legal research.
- As we said before, less than 20% of all law firms incorporate links to outside legal articles, outside legal guides & forms, and court/administrative resources according to the ABA; by doing this, you will transform your website into a tool that the general public can and will use.
- Less than 20% of law firms post community announcements on their website according to the ABA; doing this will make your website a place where users visit, even if they don’t need your services. True, these users will not become leads, but they will help your website rank higher on Google, which will allow you to gain more leads. So, if there is a big State or Federal Supreme Court case that’s going to be decided, post about it and give the community your take on it. If the legislature is about to change the law in a way that will have an impact on your community, post about it and explain the legal ramifications of the legislature’s actions.
- Incorporate links to your own website in any activities that you engage in online for your local bar association or other legal organizations. If you write an article for your local bar association, make sure it has a backlink to your site and have the link’s text match keywords that you’re targeting for a particular, relevant web page on your website.
- Always include links to your website in any online profiles you maintain, but be careful. Sometimes lawyers make the mistake of posting profiles to spammy online directories. Links from these sites can actually hurt your website’s rankings; you want high-quality backlinks going to your website. Consequently, it’s better for you to have no backlink at all than to have a backlink from a site that is malicious.
Backlinking Techniques that Lawyers Should Avoid
While proper backlinking is a great way to increase your ranking on Google, improper or prohibited backlinking can either hurt your rankings on Google or even get you banned from the search engine entirely. Consequently, you should always be skeptical when companies guarantee backlinks or propose questionable lawyer SEO techniques. Google refers to these black hat backlinking techniques as link schemes, and it defines this term as encompassing tactics such as:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank, including exchanging money, goods (free or discounted), or services for links, or posts that contain links
- Large-scale link exchanges or partner pages just for the sake of mutual, i.e. exchanged, backlinks
- Large-scale guest blog posting campaigns with backlinks that consist of targeted keywords
- Utilizing automated computer programs to create links for your site
- Requiring a backlink as part of terms of service, contract, or other arrangements without giving the backlinking party the ability to qualify the backlink
The key to ensuring that you’re not engaging in black hat SEO techniques is to always err on the side of caution. If something even closely resembles one of the tactics referenced above, don’t do it.
Local SEO for Lawyers & Law Firms
Local SEO or local listing optimization is the process of ensuring that all of the information posted on your website, location(s), phone number(s), practice areas, etc., is consistent across all of your online business and lawyer profiles. Why is local SEO important? Let’s take a look at some statistics provided by Google:
- People visit 1.5 billion places per month related to their Google searches, so if people are finding your law firm when they do a Google search, they will more than likely end up in your office.
- From 2015 to 2016, Google found that “near me” searches (think bankruptcy attorney near me or personal injury attorney near me) grew 136% year-over-year! This shows that more and more people are actually searching for businesses located close to their geographic location.
- 88% of people who conduct a local search visited a related store in a week; meaning that if a new potential client is doing a local search for legal services, they’re more than likely going to end up in an attorney’s office within a week.
- Mobile makes up a whopping 84% of all “near me” searches, which makes sense when you consider that the majority of local searches end up resulting in a physical visit within a week.
When we combine these data points, the behavior of most consumers becomes compellingly clear. Most people looking to hire an attorney will use their mobile device to search their local area for attorneys that are located in close proximity to where they live, and this type of purchasing behavior will soon become the norm if it hasn’t already. Next, when new potential clients find a law firm in their area, they will typically take action within a week of finding the law firm on Google.
That’s why local SEO is a critical aspect of any law firm SEO strategy; It helps you maximize the number of local clients you can reach based on the physical proximity of the client to your practice or whether the client attaches a geographic location to their search term. For example, if a client enters the search term “car accident attorney new york city” and your practice is located in New York City, local SEO ensures that the location of your law firm is displayed in Google’s search results.
How do Law Firms Use Google My Business for Local SEO?
The start of any local SEO campaign always begins with the creation of a free Google My Business account. Once you create your account, you need to fill out the information for your practice entirely and ensure that all of your practice areas are listed within your profile. Google uses the contact and location information you provide to display buttons under your business profile when it’s displayed on Google, and each piece of information you provide generally has a purpose. The address of each location you have is used to provide users with directions to your office; the phone number to your practice is used by Google in the form of a call button that allows users to contact your business directly on their mobile device; and your hours of operation are prominently displayed to allow users to learn when your practice is open or closed. Check it out:
The problem that most attorneys run into is that they don’t fill out their profile completely or they don’t actively maintain their profile. This, in turn, causes their profile to lose some of its value. Your Google My Business profile is designed for you to actively engage with your local community, so put as much information as possible in your profile including pictures of your office, links to your social media profiles, and public messages for new potential clients to view when they see your profile. Take a look at how this additional information is displayed by Google.
This additional information entices users to research your law firm’s reputation, and it’s a great way to build goodwill with a client before they contact your office. However, the most valuable portion of your Google My Business profile from both a lawyer SEO perspective and user perspective is the reviews section of your profile.
How do Client Reviews Influence Your Law Firm’s Rankings on Google?
About 42% of users listed online reviews as a feature that would most increase their likelihood of buying a product, and about 60% of users use the call button feature, which is located right below a business’ review rating, to contact a business directly.
In short, customer reviews influence buying decisions, and law firms need positive reviews to attract new clients and for lawyer SEO purposes, since these reviews do affect your website’s rankings on Google. Similarly, it’s not just reviews on Google that you need to monitor; Google displays reviews from other places on the web as well. Take a look.
Consequently, your law firm needs to develop an overall customer review strategy that outlines how you’re going to gain positive customer reviews and how you’re going to respond to negative reviews should you ever receive one.
Developing a Customer Review Strategy
Gaining customer reviews is often accomplished by harmonizing your marketing strategy with the standard operating procedures you incorporate into your practice. Most lawyers accomplish this by asking their clients for a Google review at the conclusion of a case, but it’s best for you to pick and choose which clients you’re going to ask in order to avoid receiving reviews with a rating lower than five stars.
Similarly, you want to make it as easy as possible for clients to leave reviews. The most efficient way to do this is to send your clients a text with a link that takes them directly to the reviews section of your Google My Business profile, which can be done either with your computer, through a free program such as Google Voice, or your cell phone. Each Google My business profile includes a specific link that will take clients to the reviews section, and Google My Business has posted instructions on where you can find your unique profile review link.
Once you have your link, just make it a standard practice to send clients a request for a review at the conclusion of their case; make sure to pick a time when the client has the highest positive feelings about your performance, such as when you deliver a settlement check to them, in order to maximize the value and content of the review.
How to Handle Negative Reviews
At one point or another, you may have to respond to a negative review about your practice, regardless of whether the review has any merit. Here are some tips to help you respond appropriately and to minimize the damage a negative review can have on your website’s performance:
- Always respond to negative reviews and try to take the conversation offline by encouraging the client to contact your office because the last thing you want to do is engage in a virtual argument
- Be courteous and apologetic even if the reviewer is being unreasonable because this leaves a positive impression on other potential clients who might look at the negative review
- Always try to offer a way to “fix” the problem such as offering to speak with the client to find a solution to their issue
A negative review will by no means destroy your online rankings, but it’s best to make every effort to try and avoid receiving one at all costs.
Other Ways Law Firms Implement a Local SEO Strategy
Your local SEO strategy for your law firm should not stop with creating a Google My Business account because the overall goal of a local SEO campaign is to ensure that the information associated with your law firm is consistent across all platforms. Consequently, you need to go beyond fully developing your Google My Business profile and ensure that the same information that’s on Google My Business is also posted to any online profile your law firm maintains. Consequently, you need to ensure that you
- Actively create online profiles with reputable social websites like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. and post information about your practice that is identical to the information contained in your Google My Business profile. This allows Google to verify that the information about your practice is accurate and allows you to attract local clients from multiple sources.
- Keep any online profiles up to date. If you have a profile through your local bar association, make sure that it reflects the same information as your Google My Business account.
- Post your information to reputable online directories when appropriate, but err on the side of caution because many online directories are low-quality spammy websites. The key is always consistency, so if you do post your information to a directory, make sure that’s consistent.
Tracking Your Lawyer SEO Campaign’s Performance
Lawyer SEO is by no means a one-time process. It involves actively evaluating performance and modifying your techniques because even if you have a web page ranked at #1 on Google, your competitors will always be competing to knock your website down. But to distinguish between which techniques are working and which aren’t, you need performance data, and of course, Google is more than happy to help you gather it.
To get started, you’re going to want to install two free tracking programs Google offers onto your website, Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Each of these programs serves a unique purpose. Google Analytics will provide you with data about how users interact with your website, whereas Google Search Console tracks how Google interacts with your website.
How to Use Google Analytics to Evaluate Your Law Firm SEO Campaign
In simple terms, Google Analytics is a program that collects data from your website and organizes it into reports. You can install Analytics by inputting a piece of source code into each page of your website. If you’re using a web hosting program such as wordpress, you can normally integrate the Analytics code into your website’s theme, and this will automatically cause the code to be integrated into every web page on your site.
The most powerful aspect of the Analytics platform is the reports function that allows you to create custom reports that focus on global datasets as well as data subsets. Here are some tips on how to efficiently use Analytics reports to evaluate your lawyer SEO campaign.
Using Analytics Reports to Analyze Website Performance
The analytics program will provide you with detailed user behavior data, so it’s best to generate a report that focuses exclusively on the user. You need to answer three fundamental questions. First, is the number of users visiting your website growing, declining, or stagnant?
This can be accomplished by clicking on the audience tab on the left side of your screen, choosing the overview function, and creating two separate reports, one for the most recent month and one for the month prior. Each report will provide you with the following information:
- The number of users (which includes both new and returning users) and new users that visited your website during the month.
- The number of sessions (i.e. visits) and sessions per user your website experience for the month
- The number of page views and pages per session your website handled for the month
- And finally, the average session duration on your website and its bounce rate
When you do a month-over-month comparison of this data, you will be able to gauge on a global level whether your website is one, attracting visitors and two, keeping visitors engaged by providing them with content that they want to explore and consume.
Using Analytics Reports to Analyze User Attributes
The second question you want to answer is, what types of people are visiting my website? Google Analytics provides you with data on a website user’s location, age, gender, and interests. The significance of these data points varies based on your practice areas. For example, if you specialize in personal injury and primarily focus on car accidents, it probably doesn’t matter to you what the age and gender of your website’s visitors are, but if you focus on social security disability law, the age of your website’s visitors is probably significant.
However, regardless of which practice area you specialize in, a user’s location is highly significant because it can be used to gauge how effective your local SEO efforts are. Moreover, Analytics allows you to view geographic information all the way down to what city a user is located in, so a month-over-month comparison of local data is a useful way to measure the efficacy of your local SEO strategy.
Using Analytics Reports to Evaluate Marketing Channels and Mobile-Friendliness
The last question you want to consider is, how are users finding my website and what technology are they using to get there? (Yes, we realize this is technically two questions but hey, who’s counting!) Within the audience tab, there is an option titled “mobile” that allows you to see the type of devices that users are using to visit your website. This information allows you to ascertain your website’s mobile-friendliness by evaluating whether mobile users are actively visiting your website.
Similarly, the mobile data lets you see how mobile users are engaging with your website by showing you data points like the number of sessions associated with mobile users, their average session duration, and the number of pages mobile users viewed per session. All of this information provides you with insights into whether or not your website is appealing to desktop and mobile users alike.
Now that you know what types of devices users are utilizing to view your website, it’s time for you to see where they are coming from. You will find this information under the “acquisition” tab on the left-hand side of your screen.
The overview option within the acquisition tab allows you to see how users visited your website based on broad, channel categories. This information gives you a macro-level view of each medium’s performance.
However, you’re going to want to dig deeper and evaluate where users are coming from specifically. This can be accomplished by clicking on the “all traffic” option within the acquisition tab, and then clicking on the channels option.
Once you do that, you will be shown specific performance data for each channel category. Now, click on each category to see precisely which websites have been sending traffic to your website.
You will also notice Analytics also displays the user-engagement data associated with each individual channel. This allows you to evaluate different marketing channels with precision and to modify different lawyer SEO techniques based on performance.
Resources for Analytics Training
While Google Analytics is an amazing program that can provide you with useful information, it also takes a little while to learn how to use it. There are two tools to help you with this. The first is the free Google Analytics Certification course. Regardless of whether you’re doing SEO on your own or having an agency do it, we would recommend that you take the training course because it gives you in-depth information about the Analytics program, data points, filtering options, and more. And since it’s free, you really can’t go wrong by taking it.
However, if you don’t have time to do the training, Google offers an online demo version of Analytics that you can use for practice. This is a good option if you just want to get some hands-on experience with the program. Now that you’re up to speed with Analytics, let’s talk about Google Search Console.
How to Use Google Search Console to Evaluate Law Firm SEO Techniques
Google Search Console was created by Google to allow website owners to receive data on how their website interacts with search engines in general and Google specifically. The program is essential for any law firm SEO campaign because it allows you to monitor data points such as the total number of clicks your site received after appearing on Google, crawl errors, mobile-friendliness performance, and performance data on enhancement functions like videos, breadcrumbs, and search bars. As with Google Analytics, Google Search Console is free for you to use, and Google has provided detailed instructions on how to establish a Google Search Console account.
To use Search Console efficiently, consider breaking down your monthly review of the data the program collects into three categories: search engine performance, technical performance, and website maintenance.
How to Use Search Console to Evaluate Your Website’s Rankings on Google
Search engine performance has two components, appearance, and clicks. From an appearance perspective, you need to evaluate which search queries your website is appearing in on Google and the average position of your website within the rankings when it appears. This can be done by clicking on the performance tab on the left-hand side of your screen.
When you click on this option, Search Console will generate a report that includes the top queries your website appears in on Google based on the number of clicks your website received from the queries.
When you click on an individual query, you will be given detailed information about how your website performs on Google in connection with the chosen query, including your site’s average position in the ranks, the total number of clicks your website received from the query, and the average click-through rate of the query.
This allows you to see whether the lawyer SEO techniques you employed to target specific keywords have been effective. Moreover, the number of clicks associated with each query gives you insights into how effective page elements like title tags and meta descriptions are based on a page’s position within Google’s rankings and the number of clicks it receives.
In other words, if a page is appearing at number one in the search results but only receiving a few clicks per month, you might want to consider changing the title tag or meta description because users don’t think that the page is relevant, given that they are choosing not to click on it.
Using Google Search Console to Evaluate Technical SEO Techniques
The overview tab within Search Console will generate a report that is broken down into four parts: performance, coverage, experience, and enhancements. You have the option of generating detailed reports for each category by clicking on the “open report” option on the top right-hand side of each category graph.
The coverage report shows you the crawl data associated with your site, and it allows you to monitor whether Google has been able to find the web pages on your website and if so, what it does when it finds them. Remember, not every web page that’s crawled by Google is indexed by Google, so you want to verify whether each page has been crawled and indexed. If a web page has been crawled but not indexed, you may want to consider redesigning the web page because Google has determined that it is not a high-quality web page that deserves to be indexed.
The mobile usability report allows you to monitor whether Google’s mobile crawler can crawl your website, which is important from a mobile-first indexing perspective. Similarly, the enhancements report allows to monitor whether Google has detected any errors associated with your breadcrumbs, videos, or search functions. These reports are a great way to ensure that all of the technical SEO techniques you’ve employed are working properly, and if you receive an error report message on Search Console, you should always work to correct the issue immediately and request that Google validate that the issue has been fixed!
Maintaining Your Website with Google Search Console
One of the most powerful tools Google Search Console offers is the “URL inspection” tool. This tool has two uses. One, it allows you to confirm that a specific web page has been crawled and that the page’s enhancements features are working properly by inputting the web page’s URL into the search bar at the top of the screen. Second, it allows you to request that a web page be crawled by Google. This is an excellent way to get new web pages indexed as quickly as possible because you don’t need to wait for Google to “find” a web page. Rather, you can tell Google where to crawl!
Lawyer SEO Agency Serving Law Firms Nationwide
The SMB Team is a Lawyer SEO agency that serves attorneys and law firms from all over the United States, and we have dedicated our careers to helping lawyers just like you grow their practices through the use of highly advanced SEO techniques. If you’re looking to get your law firm’s website into the number one slot on Google and to lead the legal industry in your area of legal expertise, contact the lawyer SEO experts on the SMB Team today! Our SEO specialists are available 24 hours a day, and we are ready to start working on your website now!