Google now processes over two trillion searches per year. That’s a lot of people searching online, so it’s no surprise that search engine optimization (SEO) is a hot topic in marketing circles. If you have a law firm website, you’ve likely heard of the importance of SEO for lawyers.
But what is SEO? How much effort does it take? And how can you implement it effectively at your law firm? We answer those questions and more in this quick guide to SEO for lawyers.
SEO is a broad topic—there are plenty of blogs and websites devoted entirely to sharing the latest updates on SEO. This guide will provide you with a primer on SEO, as well as a few tidbits that are relevant to lawyers specifically.
Table of contents
- What is SEO?
- How to choose which keywords to rank for
- The importance of Local SEO for lawyers—and how to do it
- 5 Law Firm SEO Best Practices
- What’s next?
What is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, refers to the practice of optimizing websites so that they appear near the top of search results for relevant keywords.
The internet is made up of over a billion websites. To better help you find what you need, search engines “crawl” the pages of the web to create an index of potential search results. When someone enters a search term, the engine looks to its index. Your site then has a chance of being ranked among relevant search results for that term.
For example, if you’re a family lawyer in L.A., you may want your website to appear when someone searches “L.A. divorce attorney.”
However, this isn’t easy to do. Search engines are smart, but they’re not as smart as humans—they need virtual signposts in order to find your content and identify what it’s about.
You’ll need to construct your website in a search engine-friendly way to ensure it gets crawled, indexed, and ranked against other websites in a favorable way. Additionally, there are many other L.A. family lawyers who may also want to rank at the top of search results for “L.A. divorce attorney,” so you’ll have lots of competition when it comes to your SEO efforts.
How to choose which keywords to rank for
Part of a successful SEO strategy includes choosing the right keywords to try to rank highly for.
Keywords (sometimes also called keyword phrases) are words or phrases that represent the topics you construct your pages around, like ‘L.A. Divorce Attorney’ in our example. Simply put, these are the search terms that internet users enter into Google or other search engines. Your keyword—and/or semantically similar variations of it—should appear in key places on your webpage to signal to search engines that your page is relevant to that topic.
So, how do you choose which keywords to try and rank highly for?
It starts with two steps:
1. Think about how your clients search
When your potential clients are looking for a lawyer online, what do they type into Google’s search bar? Are they searching for ‘Los Angeles attorney’, or ‘cheap divorce lawyer’? Consider the many search terms your clients could possibly use when sourcing your services.
Do your research—Use tools like Google Trends to look for popular topics related to your practice area. Better yet, ask your clients how they found you and what they searched for as part of your client intake process.
Also, think about your potential clients’ intent when they’re entering certain terms. Are they conducting an ‘informational’ search, where they’re just looking for specific information? Or a ‘transactional’ search, where they’re looking for a solution to their problem? You’ll likely want to focus on transactional terms because that person is more likely to be ready to make a decision about their representation, but keep in mind that writing blog posts around informational terms can also help draw potential clients to your site.
Note: If you want more information on this, SEO agency Moz has written a more in-depth overview of the different types of searches.
2. Dive into keyword research
Once you have a few topics and keywords in mind, it’s time to do some more in-depth keyword research.
Use tools like Google Keyword Planner to get insight into search volume and competition for the keywords that match with the type of client you want to attract. ‘Search volume’ gives you an idea of how many times people are searching for that keyword (usually shown as a monthly average), while ‘competition’ gives you an idea of how many listings already exist that are relevant to that keyword.
A keyword like ‘lawyer’ may have a lot of search volume, but there are probably also a lot of existing pages targeting that term. It likely won’t be worth trying to rank for that term with your law firm website—better to focus on something more specific, like ‘L.A. divorce lawyer’ because it will be easier and will drive more relevant traffic to your website. You can get even more specific—trying to rank for ‘L.A. divorce lawyer’ won’t help if you’re actually located in an L.A. suburb, or if you focus on custody cases.
Usually, it’s best to focus on longtail keywords, or keyword phrases that are more than three or four words long. These are more specific versions of general keywords, like in the example above. They’ll usually have less search volume, but they’ll also have less competition, and will be more relevant to the potential clients you’re aiming to connect with.
Once you’ve got some keywords to target, how exactly do you target them with the pages on your website? Jump to our section on SEO best practices for some tips.
For now, we’re going to dive into another very important SEO topic for lawyers—local SEO.
The importance of Local SEO for lawyers—and how to do it
We talked about informational and transactional searcher intent, but what about local search intent? This is key for lawyers—if someone living in London searches for ‘divorce lawyer,’ they’re likely looking for a lawyer in their neighborhood, not the top divorce lawyer in Europe.
Search engines know this, and they aim to give their visitors exactly what they’re looking for. For example, if a search has local intent, Google will return local business listings along with their locations and proximities to the searcher in Google Maps.
Google creates these listings by pulling information from relevant websites, but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of appearing in local search results for lawyers in your area.
First, claim your business listing on Google. This lets you have some control over your listing (and stops someone else from wrongfully claiming your business online—Here’s how to handle a situation like that). You’ll be able to add pictures and hours of operation, and a contact number to help potential clients get in touch. There’s even a place for a short description—adding a few keywords relevant to your practice area and services you offer here can help with local SEO.
Second, you’ll notice that you’re able to leave reviews on local business listings on Google. This social proof helps with SEO, and entices potential clients to click on your result—your law firm may not pop up first, but if you have more positive reviews, that can make you more desirable. Reach out to satisfied clients to ask for positive reviews, but also monitor your listing for negative reviews and handle them in an ethical manner. We’ve got tips for how to do that in this post on online reputation management for lawyers.
It’s also worth claiming your listing on Bing places and on other networks people might search for you online. Google is the overwhelming favorite when it comes to search engines, but it isn’t the only one people use, so make sure your bases are covered. Check out this post on the 10 Ways Lawyers Can Advertise Online For Free for more tips on where to claim online listings.
Bonus Tip: Take a look at The Lawyer’s Local Search Toolkit to learn about five tools that can help drive local search traffic to your law firm website.
5 Law Firm SEO Best Practices
There are supposedly over 200 factors that Google takes into account when ranking your website (although some say this is a myth). Regardless, the number of SEO factors lawyers should consider can seem overwhelming, but there are a few basic best practices you can follow to give your website the best chance of being found by search engines—and of being ranked highly for relevant keywords.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Make sure your keyword appears on the page
If you want to rank for the keywords you’ve determined are relevant to your law firm and are good candidates for targeting, you’ll want them to appear on your website.
If you do a bit of your own research into SEO, you might see the phrase ‘keyword density’ come up a lot, which refers to the idea that your keyword should appear on your page a certain number of times in order to appear relevant to search engines. There’s a bit of debate over how much keyword density really matters—Search engines are constantly changing the algorithms they use to rank webpages, so it likely matters less than it once used to.
However, using keywords in the content of your webpages is still important because if you are writing about a given topic, keywords related to that topic should naturally occur in your writing. For example, if you are a real estate attorney writing a blog post about the importance of getting a home inspection before buying a house, the words “home inspection” or “before buying” should be included.
Ideally, and if it works naturally with your content, your keyword should appear:
- In the heading of your webpage
- In the first few paragraphs of content
- In at least one subheading
If your keyword doesn’t fit naturally in these places, your topic or page may not truly line up with that keyword! Consider targeting a different one.
Finally, search engines also use Latent Semantic Indexing to determine the topic of a page, so avoid keyword stuffing (using the same keyword over and over) and instead include plenty of related terms to signal what your page is about. For example, if you’re writing a page about how you’re a divorce lawyer in L.A., it may also be useful to include terms like ‘family law,’ ‘divorce proceedings,’ or ‘divorce attorney.’
2. Format images correctly, and use alt text
A picture is worth a thousand words, and when it comes to SEO, pictures are key for conveying meaning. You’ll likely want to include photos on your website to make it visually appealing, but you’ll need to make sure they’re search-engine friendly.
First, you’ll want to use alt text to add a description to your images. This is an important ranking signal—both the filename of an image and its alt text help describe what’s in the photo and cue what the surrounding content is about. The alt text for your images may include keywords, but the focus should be on describing the image for those who can’t see it, as visitors with low vision may use a screen reader to interpret the image.
Second, use high-quality images, but make sure they’re sized correctly. A large image can drastically slow down the speed at which your website loads, which can negatively affect your ranking. Try using a lower resolution version of your photos—if they still look professional and refined, this will be better for your overall site speed.
3. Follow web design best practices
The design of your overall website will play a big part in how search engines see you. For example, in recent years, Google has started penalizing sites that are not mobile-friendly. Having a responsive design for your website—i.e., a design that changes depending on whether your website is being viewed on mobile or on a desktop—is the best option for addressing this issue. Another option would be to create a separate mobile site, but this will be more cumbersome to maintain and often leaves screen sizes in between, like tablets, with a bad experience.
At a minimum, you’ll also want to display your contact information prominently, and structure the information on your site in a logical way. Follow our law firm website checklist to ensure your firm’s site is up to snuff.
4. Update your site regularly
Search engines aim to give their visitors the correct result—and that means providing them with up-to-date information. That means you need to regularly update the information on your law firm website.
Have you moved? Has your contact information changed? Have you recently won an award or spoken at a conference? Your website should be updated to include all of these points.
Blogging is another way to keep your site updated. This is called content marketing—distributing valuable content relevant to informational searches to position yourself as a subject matter expert for those who are likely to need your services. For example, a blog post entitled “Things to Consider When Filing For a Divorce” may rank highly for a term like ‘filing for a divorce,’ and may attract someone looking for a divorce attorney. That person may be more likely to remember your site and your post if the time comes to hire a family lawyer.
Note: If you’re interested in blogging but not sure where to start, check out this guide to blogging for law firms.
5. Build backlinks
Backlinks, or links to your site from external websites, help build your site’s authority and act as a strong signal for SEO. Good quality, relevant backlinks can be difficult to get (links from any old website won’t improve your site’s search engine ranking), so make sure you take opportunities to gain backlinks for your site when they arise.
For example, if you do a guest blog post on your practice area for another website, make sure that you get a link back to your site. If you see that you’re mentioned in a local news article, or elsewhere online, reach out to the publication and ask for a link back to your site.
This process of gaining backlinks for your website is called link building, and it can be time-consuming, but rewarding. This post from Juris Digital has plenty of link building ideas geared specifically for lawyers to get you started.
If you’re serious about SEO for your law firm website, you’ll want to do a lot more research. Basic SEO best practices are a great starting point, but you’ll need to put in some serious time to beat the competition.
Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO is a great place to get a bit more depth on some of the topics discussed in this guide. It’s also worth subscribing to the Moz Blog and SEO publications like Search Engine Land.
Finally, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a professional. SEO is a full-time job for some, so don’t be surprised if it’s difficult to do in addition to practicing law 12 hours a day. If you go this route, be sure to read our list of things to watch out for when hiring an SEO specialist before making your decision.