Clients are turning to the internet more and more to find a lawyer to hire. So wouldn’t it be nice if whenever someone searched for an attorney in your city, you popped up at the top of the search results? That type of high ranking, organic search presence comes from top notch search engine optimization, or SEO. It’s basically the holy grail of online marketing, but it’s highly competitive, and can be expensive and time-consuming to get there. This post lays out the basics of SEO for law firms to help you improve your local search engine ranking and land more clients from Google searches.
A Basic Guide to SEO for Law Firms
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of developing and iterating a website over time to improve it’s visibility in search results on the major search engines. SEO is not easy, and it’s a long haul requiring hard work and dedication. But, it’s really important to understand how SEO for law firms works and put a plan in place, because if your SEO is good, you’ll find yourself getting more clients than you can even handle.
Google is by far the market leader for search, so this post will focus primarily on optimizing for Google’s search algorithm, but Yahoo and Bing are also important to keep in mind. Nobody, other than these search companies themselves, knows exactly how their search algorithms function. But, we do know what many of the important factors are that affect the rankings of search results.
The following is a list of some of the major factors to keep in mind when developing an SEO plan for a law firm website.
Your domain is important to search rankings for several reasons. First of all, having a domain with keywords that relate to a particular search term can be helpful. For example, if your website address is LosAngelesDUILaywer.com, you would get a slight SEO boost for search terms related to “Los Angles DUI lawyer.” However, the importance of this factor does not seem to be as great as it was in previous versions of the Google search algorithm.
Other attributes of a domain that affect search results are the age of the domain, as well as how far into the future it is registered. Google favors websites that are built to last, so if you have had the same web address for 10 years as opposed to 6 months, you get a slight SEO boost.
Also, registering your domain for many years in advance is a signal of credibility and intent to “stick around.” So it’s often worth paying upfront to register your domain for the next 5 years rather than renewing it every year (believe it or not, it’s actually not just another GoDaddy up-sell).
Finally, there is some importance placed on domain ownership history. Constantly changing Whois data, private Whois records, or registration by a domain owner that has been penalized for something in the past can be negative SEO signals. Basically, you want to show Google that you are the proud owner of your domain, use a domain that relates to what you do, and indicate that you intend to keep it that way long-term.
Keywords are the actual words used in the website content. Things like the site’s meta tags, title attribute, headings, and the actual content are all factored into search results. But, don’t just try to stuff your site with keywords as many times as possible because Google has caught on to those shady types of practices and will penalize you for it.
You should definitely have a title for your website that is relevant to your law firm name and your practice area. You should also have plenty of content with an appropriate mix of keywords, meaning be sure to use keywords that match the search terms you’re targeting, but don’t overdo it.
Also, having URLs on your site with exact match keywords can give you an SEO boost. So maybe you want to have an article on your website about the consequences of DUIs. Using a URL like “yourwebsite.com/DUI-consequences” would be a good idea. You should also use that same keyword in an H1 tag (header) on that page, and a few times in the actual article itself for optimal keyword usage.
It may be tempting to use every single keyword you can think of in an article, but it’s actually smarter to just focus on a single, common keyword phrase for each article. You’ll be better off having more articles, each with it’s own focus keyword. If you have a WordPress law firm blog, the Yoast SEO plugin is an excellent tool to help optimize your content for keywords.
Links are a very important signal for SEO. They allow both search engine crawlers, and actual internet users, to navigate around the web. It’s wise to have a balanced link profile with plenty of inbound links (meaning another site linking to your site) and outbound links (your site linking to another site).
It’s also crucial that the links are to and from quality websites. Google has caught on to spammers building worthless websites that are essentially just link farms. So don’t use links to or from any websites that seem low quality. Try to get links to your site from other quality websites that are on topics related to what you do.
It’s also important that your outbound links are not broken. If a link no longer works or goes to a non-existent page, that’s a signal to Google that your website is outdated, so be sure to keep watch over all your links to make sure they’re functioning properly.
If you’re running a law firm blog, linking related pieces of content to each other is a great idea. It helps search engines navigate through your website and associate content with similar keywords together, building up your overall “authority” for a particular set of search terms.
So, let me give you an example. I know you’re probably a lawyer if you’re reading this post, so you would probably also interested in reading about how to improve your LinkedIn profile, or maybe this post about the best cloud software for small law firms.
Social media has become really important for SEO in recent times. Not only is social media a great way to get your content discovered by potential clients, but Google actually appears to factor in the number of Tweets, Facebook likes, Pinterest pins, Google +1’s, LinkedIn shares, etc. for a particular page’s SEO rank.
So, it should go without saying that you should have social sharing buttons easily accessible on every article you write. You should also be Tweeting out and sharing your content across all your social media networks to get more likes, shares, retweets, etc. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google also places high value on shares and +1’s from it’s own social network, Google+.
Google also seems to factor in the authority of social media accounts that share particular pages – so a Tweet from an account like Justin Bieber’s which is verified by Twitter and has millions of followers is more valuable than a Tweet by a brand new Twitter account that was just set up yesterday. That means building up your own social media following is worthwhile for more reasons than just showing how popular you are. You may also seek to network with popular social media figures in your industry in hopes of getting them to share your content.
Finally, social shares also build up backlinks to your website. Google automatically includes a property known as “nofollow” to backlinks from social media websites. This means that they’re not as valuable as their counterpart “dofollow” links in terms of SEO, but they are still important sources of referral traffic to your website, and the more traffic you have, the more established your presence in the search results will become.
How users actually interact with your website is becoming increasingly important to Google’s algorithm. And in many ways, this makes a lot more sense than ranking pages based on keyword frequency or some of the other, older SEO tactics. If a user searches for a particular keyword, their subsequent clicks and other behaviors would seem to be a good indicator of how well a particular search result addressed their query.
That means that things like click through rate from the search results, page load speed, time on site, bounce rate, page views, and other user behaviors and interactions matter for your overall SEO. The total amount of web traffic your site receives is also an important factor – if your site was not popular or did not contain valuable information that people were looking for, why would people continue to go there?
So, this means that your focus needs to be on optimizing your website and/or law blog to address users’ specific concerns and needs. If they are looking for a lawyer, make sure there are prominent links to contact you and get in touch. If they are looking for legal information, make sure you have plenty of interlinking articles on your site to answer many of the most common and basic questions your target clients are likely to have.
You want people to land on your site, spend as much time as possible, and click around to view multiple pages. This is where having a lot of content and a good web design that is easy to navigate become very important
Finally, having high quality content is extremely important for SEO, mostly because good content encompasses nearly all of the other factors discussed above. Good content will encourage people to share on social media. It will lead to longer time on site, more page views, and better click through rates. And good content is more likely to be optimized for keywords and URL structure, with well-written HTML code and good UI/UX design principles.
So how do you provide quality content on a law firm website? Here are a few tips:
- Length – Google seems to favor longer content over shorter content; more information is better, but don’t overdo it
- Relevance – do your research and find a single focus keyword for each article or blogpost; don’t stray from that topic
- Originality – sites with duplicate content are often penalized; don’t copy/paste or re-use content from other pages
- Freshness – frequently updated content often performs better in search results, so keep your website up-to-date
- Reading Level – easy-to-read content often ranks better than content with too many big words and long sentences
- Multimedia – rich content ranks better than plain text, so use videos, high resolution images, infographics, etc.
- Spelling and Grammar – it’s speculated that poor grammar and spelling mistakes can even drop your SEO rank
The point is, SEO for law firms is no different than SEO for other types of websites. If you are looking to improve SEO on your law firm website, don’t cut corners and hire cheap content writers and web developers. Google has wised up and will penalize poorly constructed websites with bad link structure and poorly written or keyword-stuffed content.
Focus on giving your website visitors what they’re looking for, and make it easy for them to navigate your site and click around to related pages. And keep in mind, it’s a marathon, and not a sprint. Building up a strong SEO presence can take years of work and dedication, but the results will certainly be worth the effort.