For law firms looking to drum up business, search engine optimization (SEO) is often one of the first things that comes to mind. And for good reason—according to the 2017 Legal Trends Report, 37% of legal consumers looked for a lawyer via online search.
Perhaps you’ve recently heard a friend or colleague talk about the power of SEO, and you’re considering the impact it could have on your law firm. SEO can seem difficult to get your head around, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have any experience with marketing or websites.
This post will provide you with a simple overview of SEO, including context and tips that are relevant to the most law firms. By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you should understand what SEO is, the basics of how to do SEO, and what to look for in an SEO consultant for your law firm.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of driving more visitors to your law firm’s website by increasing your website’s position in search engine results pages.
It’s pretty simple: If your law firm tends to appears near the top of search engine results, you’ll get more visitors on your website, and (presumably) more inquiries from potential customers.
How do you get your law firm to the top? There are no foolproof plans or sure things—but there are a variety of SEO factors that can influence your search engine rankings. There are also more than a few things that you can do to show Google (and your customers) that you’re the best law firm in town.
These SEO ranking factors can be broken down into three categories:
- Content: The words and other content on the pages of your website.
- Links (and off-page factors): The impression that your law firm has left on the internet.
- Technical SEO: The user and Google-friendliness of your law firm’s website.
Factor #1: Content
What does good website content look like as far as law firm SEO is concerned? In my opinion, there are just three things that website content needs to accomplish for SEO:
1) The content on a page needs to provide satisfactory answers related to the keyword entered
For example, if you want your firm’s website to show up for the keyword “criminal lawyer in maryland”, you need to have satisfactory content on your website that speaks to your expertise as a criminal lawyer in Maryland. Think about it from the perspective of a potential legal client. If they come on your website, they’re probably wondering:
- Is this law firm in Maryland?
- Does this law firm practice criminal law?
- Can this law firm service my particular need?
- Is this law firm any good?
- Is this law firm in my price range?
- Do I want to do business with this law firm?
The content on your website should answer all of the questions of a potential client to their full satisfaction. Search engines want to send their users to the best place possible to get their questions answered.
Tip: Be sure to think about the best way to answer a visitor’s questions. This might include clear services descriptions, transparent pricing, or customer testimonials. Also make sure that the content and answers on your site are up to date!
Tip #2: For examples of proven content, do a Google search of the keywords you want to target, and look at the pages that rank well.
2) The content on a page needs to be keyword optimized
Answering a visitor’s questions is great, but how does a search engine know that you’re doing just that?
One answer is keywords. When Google (or another search engine) evaluates your website, they send an automated bot to read the content on your site, and it tries to understand what each web page is about. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) that Google uses has come a long way, but it’s not perfect. You have to make it clear which topic is covered by each page on your law firm’s website—that means using obvious and prominent keywords in the content you write. This makes it clear not only to visitors, but also to Google, that you are indeed a “criminal lawyer in maryland”.
Tip: Here are some places that you should put keywords related to your page’s topic, in order of importance:
- The web page’s meta title
- The web page’s meta description
- The web page’s headings
- The web page’s paragraphs
- The web page’s URL
Keyword optimization is a fascinating discipline, and it has gotten more intricate as Google’s ability to interpret content has improved. If you want to go deeper on keyword optimization, we highly recommend this article on advanced SEO concepts.
3) The content on the different pages of a website need just the right amount of overlap
This is one of the more difficult parts of law firm SEO. It involves sorting keywords into topic groups that all address “pretty much the same thing”, and then writing one page for each of those topics. Identifying the right way to group your content is important because if your content has too much overlap, search engines might have difficulty figuring out which page on your website is the best one to show for a search.
For example, it would be unnecessary to create different pages on your firm’s website that answer questions related to the keywords:
- “criminal lawyer in maryland”
- “defense attorneys in maryland”
- “criminal law firm in baltimore”
For the most part, the questions that customers have related to these keywords are all the same. On the other hand, you may service different types of customers, with different questions, requiring different answers and content. Always think about what your potential customers are looking for!
Factor #2: Links and off page factors
Great content is one thing, but the internet is a big place—with lots (and lots and lots) of content. How does Google know what content is the best content? How does Google know that you know what you’re talking about?
One answer is backlinks. Backlinks are the links (like this) placed on other websites that point to your website.
For SEO, links work like a popularity contest. If your law firm gets lots of links from other popular websites, they function as votes, indicating that “the attorneys at this law firm know what they’re talking about!”. But if your law firm’s website has only few links, that’s a signal that your popularity is low.
Remember, search engines want to send their users to the best place possible to get their questions answered! If search engines see that your law firm’s content has many links from other credible websites, then they see that you’re trusted, and that you’re “popular”—by internet standards at least.
More than just links
The “popularity contest” metaphor can be extended beyond links. Your law firm shows up in all kinds of places around the web. Here are some examples of off-page citations that should play a role in your law firm’s SEO:
- Legal directories, like Avvo
- Local directories, like Google My Business
- Social profiles, like Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- Shares of your content on social media
- Reviews and endorsements on other websites
Where to get links
Link building is a time-intensive process, but it yields results. Link building should involve doing things that don’t just earn you links, but also earn your law firm other types of exposure. Here are a few places that your law firm might be able to get some links:
- Offer free legal expertise or analysis to a local media organization
- Write interesting blog articles related to your legal expertise, and ask your network to share them (or better yet, make them so good that people share them without being asked)
- Present at local events
To get the ball rolling on more link-building ideas that will boost your law firm’s SEO, I recommend this very exhaustive list.
Factor #3: Technical SEO
We saved the best for last: Technical SEO. Like no other factor, technical SEO can make or break your law firm’s SEO performance. It’s also the hardest to get right—especially if you aren’t an SEO expert.
Technical SEO is (in very basic terms) a measure of how “Google-friendly” your law firm’s website is. This is kind of similar to user-friendliness, but technical SEO also extends to other things like security and sitemaps. It can get complicated, so we’d suggest you hire an SEO consultant for your law firm rather than try to handle everything yourself. Here are some things to keep in mind with regard to technical SEO:
- Make sure your firm’s website follows all of Google’s guidelines. Google is actually quite transparent about the things you can do to improve your law firm’s technical SEO. Familiarize yourself with the Webmaster Guidelines for tips on technical SEO.
- Make sure your firm’s website is fast and mobile friendly. Two basic (but important) factors for technical SEO are to make sure your website loads fast (try for under three seconds), and that it renders well on a variety of screen sizes, especially mobile phones.
- Make sure your firm’s website is easy to navigate. If your website is easy for a person to navigate, then chances are that a robot sent by Google to investigate your law firm’s website will be able to a) find all your pages, b) and understand what they’re about. Create simple and easy-to-use menus; and link to other important pages on your website frequently.
- Get everything set up properly. One good thing about technical SEO is that you just have to make sure you are set up with strong technical SEO from the beginning. Once that’s done, you should be able to work stress-free for the most part.
I’ve covered the highlights of technical SEO here, but there’s a lot that goes into technical SEO, and not much of it is specific to law firms. For more, I suggest you get up to speed by reading this post.
How to do SEO at your law firm
There are two ways to get your law firm’s website to rank well in the search engine result pages. You can do it yourself, or you can hire an SEO expert to help you out.
Option #1: Do It Yourself
1) Learn more
2) Do keyword research
Here’s a quick way to generate some ideas for the content that your website should cover:
- Write down all of your law firm’s specialties, services, and locations
- For each practice area/service and city combination, use synonyms to generate three or four alternate ways of saying the same thing
3) Make sure things are technically sound when you start
Unless you’re technically inclined (or willing to learn), you may want to get some help with your website setup. A good web designer will make your website stand out visually, and an SEO consultant will be able to provide a developer that ensures your law firm’s technical SEO is taken care of.
- Set up your website according to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you’re going at it alone, I recommend starting with WordPress or a basic shared web host.
- Choose a theme, and install the Yoast SEO plugin to help you optimize your technical SEO and content.
- Set up Google Search Console so you can receive reports from Google about your law firm’s SEO performance and technical issues.
4) Write and publish the content for your website
Here are the steps:
- For each practice area and city combination that you identified in step #2 (keyword research), create another list of the top 20 priorities that a customer might have when considering hiring you. Consult your client intake notes for inspiration.
- For each practice area and city combination, write an easy-to-understand summary of your legal service that includes information about all of your customers’ priorities.
- Look for opportunities to add some of your keywords, but don’t go overboard. Remember to use keywords in the title, meta description, and headings.
- Publish each summary on a separate page of your website.
- Use website Calls-to-action (CTAs) to capture interest.
- And finally, don’t forget the other law firm website basics.
5) Build your presence and links
- Claim all of your online profiles, especially Google My Business.
- Invest in a tool like Brightlocal to automate submitting your law firm to various local directories.
- Encourage your customers to leave reviews by following these tips.
- Keep your content up to date by blogging and updating your website pages monthly.
- Pick at least five backlink building projects from this list, and aim for five new links every month.
Option #2: Hire an SEO expert
If the steps above seemed like a lot of work—that’s because they are! SEO is a very rewarding, but time-intensive task. The reality of the situation is that many lawyers simply don’t have the time or inclination to learn a new discipline. If that sounds like you, here are some things to keep in mind when looking for an expert that will help boost your law firm’s SEO.
How much do you charge for your services? A good SEO expert will likely charge a similar hourly rate; maybe a little less. And as I just mentioned, SEO is a time-intensive task. About $1000-$2000 per month is what you’ll need to get started; so be sure to include it in your law firm’s budget. You might be able to get by with a little less; but more certainly won’t hurt if you can afford it! Shop around.
Where to find an SEO expert for your law firm
Here’s a catch-22: The best SEO experts don’t have time to work on their own websites, so you might not find them through a simple Google search! Try asking other lawyers in your network for a referral.
What to look for
Overall, you should hear a potential SEO expert speak using similar language to that’s used in this blog post. Ask them about the role of content, links and technical SEO; and listen for examples of their expertise. Finally, be sure to check an SEO expert’s references. They should have multiple law firms or other local services businesses willing to give them glowing reviews.
SEO consultant red flags
- You should not ask for—or expect—an SEO consultant to guarantee results for your law firm. If they do, look elsewhere.
- Be wary of an SEO consultant that is quick to appeal to your desire for clicks, traffic, and leads. Find someone who’s willing to explain their process and be upfront with you about the efforts required and the results that you can expect.
- Make sure that you’re not paying for them to do paid search advertising, which is different from SEO (though it is a viable alternative to SEO).
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
You will not see SEO results right away for your law firm. That’s okay. Keep focusing on writing great new content (without overlapping your existing content), building backlinks, following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and generating positive reviews. If you can do it all better than your competitors, you’ll rise up the rankings eventually.
Your law firm’s SEO relies on your ability to write great content, keyword-optimize that content, promote it across the internet, maintain your law firm’s online reputation, and stay on top of technical issues. Alternatively, you can hire a great SEO consultant to take care of those tasks for you. Whichever path you choose, we hope that we’ve provided you with some actionable advice that will help your law firm drive traffic, leads, and growth from SEO.
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