Did you know that 57 per cent of consumers look for a lawyer on their own as opposed to seeking a referral, and most start their search online? People are searching by what a business does rather than who you are. If you’re not there or fail to show up at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs) in your area for your legal niche, you are failing to capitalize on one of the most direct paths potential clients can take to engage your firm. Rest assured, your most successful competitors aren’t making the same mistake.
One major area they are focusing on is search engine optimization (SEO).
No doubt you already have a loose grasp of SEO for law firms. Perhaps you’ve even dabbled in it before with middling results. However, if you want to ensure the long-term growth and sustainability of your legal practice, it needs to be an essential part of your firm’s overall marketing strategy.
To set you on the right track, we’ve compiled this comprehensive primer on law firm SEO to ensure you receive a solid ROI on your investment.
Are you ready to see your law firm website on the first page of search results and dramatically increase your case load? Then let’s get started.
What is search engine optimization?
Before we go any further, we should take a moment to define SEO, as there are more than a few misconceptions out there. In a nutshell, it is the process of driving more potential clients to your law firm website by increasing its position in the organic section of search engine results pages (SERPs) – these are the links that show up after you enter a search term on Google or any another search engine.
Organic traffic specifically refers to the website visits a firm receives from online searches, as opposed to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, where you pay for optimal placement.
It often takes longer to see results with law firm SEO than with PPC, but it pays dividends in the long run. The latter is not sustainable and quickly plateaus. Organic search results receive the lion’s share of clicks, much more than PPC advertisements, which only account for 2.8 per cent of online traffic!
That being said, the most effective digital marketing strategies will use SEO and PPC in tandem to rank higher in search results. This approach is known collectively as search engine marketing (SEM).
Difference between on-page law firm SEO and off-page SEO
There are two different subsets to SEO for law firms that you should know about – on-page and off-page SEO.
Simply put, on-page SEO is the practice of optimizing web page content for search engines and users (i.e., content, internal links) on your law firm website. Providing an optimal user experience is an important part of this process, as it can make or break your success. Since Google is constantly updating its algorithms, there are a lot of moving parts to this.
Conversely, off-site SEO for law firms is optimizing everything that happens away from your law firm website (i.e., backlinks/link building). You shouldn’t neglect either, as both are important, but you have more control over what happens on your site. Make sure the information you post there is relevant and contains the same keywords as people’s search queries.
Why SEO for lawyers is important
Law firm SEO is a cost-efficient strategy that your firm needs to see long-term success. By achieving a high ranking for your keywords, you’ll avoid spending boatloads of money on paid search and can re-invest those savings into other marketing strategies for your firm.
Diving in a little deeper, there’s no real reason not to. With 68 per cent of all online experiences beginning with a query through a search engine and SEO alone driving 1,000 per cent more traffic than using just organic social media, you’d be missing out on a lot of potential clients.
Legal SEO builds trust and authority with search engines, which trickles down to consumers. The more visible you are there, the more you solidify your law firm as a reputable authority in your niche. The benefits to law firm SEO include:
- Boosting organic traffic to your website
- Increasing foot traffic to your law firm
- Generating more leads
- Remaining competitive within your niche
Keep in mind, people searching for legal services are going to be thorough and do their homework. The target audience is searching online for a lawyer because they need very specific help and want to work with a lawyer in their geographical region who appears to understand these specific needs.
That is why a family lawyer website, for example, needs to be optimized for searches more specific than “lawyer” or “attorney,” opting instead to focus on keywords such as “family law” and “divorce lawyer.” Better still, optimizing for such keywords as “joint custody” and “spousal support,” really gets to the heart of the matter where family law firm SEO is concerned. Your law firm’s website should simplify that decision-making process by being educational and clearly outlining the services on offer, so that prospective clients can call, email or contact you without much hassle. With the right law firm SEO, the site information will be visible on the first page of local searches in your niche, maximizing your efforts.
What makes legal SEO different?
When doing SEO for law firms, most struggle getting their firm to the top of organic search engines. The truth is that there is no bulletproof plan. But once you understand the important factors search engine algorithms evaluate when they decide which is the best site for online consumers, it becomes easier to raise your visibility and catch the eye of prospects.
All of the basics of SEO still apply to legal SEO. Just like any other industry, you cannot pay your way into the first page of organic search results and your topic authority is built within the search engines. It takes times and a lot of online activity to build this authority. While you can use PPC to drive quick results, it doesn’t establish search credibility with users of Google and is expensive in the long run.
However, there are a few key differences to law firm SEO that require a more nuanced approach. It differs in that:
- Law-related keywords are among the most expensive on the market.
- The focus and optimizations are centered on the local audience.
- Soliciting online reviews for legal professionals can be more difficult.
- Due to the nature of the business, most firms will avoid using hard-to-prove adjectives (i.e., “best”) or overpromise on outcomes.
With 46 per cent of all Google searches having local intent, local SEO should not be neglected. But there is a particular emphasis on local search in the legal sector. Most law firms serve clients within a specific geographical area.
To do well, law firms will want to land in the coveted 3-Pack on Google (the top three results of a local SERP, based on the location of the search query), as this increases law firm website traffic and ultimately their bottom line. This 3-Pack appears directly underneath the Google My Business (GMB) section in many local search results or else under paid listings.
Speaking of GMB, it is closely tied to your local SEO efforts. The location of your firm needs to be added through GMB and rest of the information is pulled up from there. If you’re looking to create or just optimize one, we go in-depth about properly setting up your GMB account here.
SEO for lawyers: Ranking factors
To ensure that your law firm appears on the first page of Google search results, you need to be aware of the criteria search engines use to rank your site. They are as follows:
1) CONTENT – This is a major ranking factor. Google and any search engine for that matter, wants to connect searchers with the most useful content. It does this primarily by homing in on the text to see if it matches the user’s online search.
If the visitor ends up finding what they are looking for and stays on your firm’s site, the search engine is more likely to refer your content for similar searches in the future..
As long as you produce fresh, relevant content, your efforts will be successful, irrespective of your budget and the size of your firm.
2) EXPERIENCE & STRUCTURE – A poorly designed site will struggle to rank higher and convert visitors into leads, even if it is filled to the brim with useful, fresh content.
This is the practical side of SEO for lawyers. In our fast-paced society with so many things competing for our attention, people’s patience is largely limited. That’s why it’s essential to have an intuitively structured law firm website, where people can quickly find what they’re looking for and easily digest your content.
Guide your potential clients through all the key actions they need to take to educate, qualify, convince and convert them. The better you do this, the more they will trust you, which is essential for increasing revenue.
3) COMPLIANCE – Your law firm needs to comply with Google’s webmaster guidelines. In general, you want to provide high-quality original content and avoid manipulating the user (i.e., buying links), as this is punished. No matter the size or resources of your firm, you won’t have to worry about competitors who are willing to risk trying to trick Google to succeed.
4) AUTHORITY – This measures your law firm website’s relevance in your location(s) and legal practice area(s). It is based on the usefulness of your content, how easily it can be accessed and the quality of your inbound links. Inbound links, in particular, can help your progress, depending on where they come from. The general rule of thumb is that you should earn them through content instead of trying to purchase or manipulate the system, to avoid repercussions.
Building an effective law firm SEO strategy
The focus of your law firm’s SEO efforts should always be at least 70 per cent quality content, 20 per cent user experience and ten per cent of everything else. Here are eight steps you’ll want to take to maintain this balance and build out a successful law firm SEO strategy.
#1: Find out where your law firm website visitors are coming from
One of the most important parts of crafting successful SEO tactics is to have the necessary data on your visitors, so you can tailor your approach accordingly. You’ll want to understand where they are located geographically, what devices they are using, what sites are referring them and what search terms they’re using.
To unearth these details, you can implement Google Search Console (GSC) and Google Analytics on your site. This is also how you’ll be measuring the ROI of your law firm SEO efforts when it comes to site traffic and search engine rankings.
#2: Conduct law firm keyword research
Keyword research is an essential part of great SEO for law firms. Why? You need to know what legal issues and questions people are actually searching for before you can create content and optimize your site to match that intent and drive traffic.
There are no shortcuts to this process. As mentioned, law-related keywords are among the most expensive on the market, so it is better to earn your way to the top of SERPs.
So, what keywords are you looking for? The most commonly searched terms will vary depending on your particular niche in the legal industry. When doing law firm SEO, you are targeting ones with commercial and research intent that have good traffic but not impossibly competitive.
Commercial keywords tend to carry less traffic but are easier to rank for and convert, since people are specifically looking for a service, not just information.
Research-based keywords often start with “why” or “how,” since people are seeking answers to their problems. Although this group may not quite be ready for legal services, it is a good idea to get in front of them and stir them into the pot for the future.
What you don’t want to do is select the wrong ones, as you’ll miss out on potential clients in your market. Here’s a pro tip – if you think a keyword is important, but no one is searching for it, then it is not important and you’re wasting your time.
There are plenty of tools out there that will help you uncover the relevant keywords. If you choose to use a tool, keep in mind that the best ones are generally not free. Depending on your budget, we recommend using one of the following:
- Google Keyword Planner
If you don’t feel comfortable doing things on your own or are strapped for time, you can always outsource your keyword research to experts such as the Mike Agency, as we specialize in SEO for lawyers.
#3: Build out your law firm’s website to claim your stake on the major search engines
To maximize your success, you’ll want to rethink the way your website looks. On average, a law firm’s website contains 15 to 20 pages and has the standard sections such as “Home,” “About Us” and “FAQ.” This may be fine starting point, but it doesn’t take into account all the sub-specialties of most legal practices – in our experience, personal injury and criminal defense offer the most.
To rank for all of these, you should build out your law firm website by creating separate pages for each service that they offer, with city modifiers (i.e., Toronto Car Accidents, Toronto Slip and Fall, Toronto Catastrophic Injuries, etc.).
Depending on the size of your law firm, if you provide services in locations outside of your primary city, you can also create additional pages for each of these sub-cities for even more exposure.
While you’re at it, focus on creating quality content that drives awareness to your site. Take the time to answer the most frequently asked questions with dedicated blog posts, according to your legal niche and geographical area.
How much space you dedicate to answering these will largely depend on the level of competition from other law firms for that question. Just make sure that they are error-free, easy to read and use quality links. Done right, you’ll find yourself appearing in Google’s Featured Snippet.
You can also opt to create how-to guides, eBooks, checklists, and interviews with industry professionals. Use social media to promote this material; this is also a great space to speak to current events in your niche.
#4: Optimize your pages for search engines
Once you’ve created these additional pages on your website, you’ll need to optimize them for on-page SEO. The goal is to help the search engine understand what each one is about and determine how relevant it is to the searcher.
Firstly, you’ll want to ensure that your practice pages are ranking well in search results. Research shows that when visiting a site, users tend to go to the practice pages first and then to attorney profiles and About Us pages. Ensure your law firm’s practices are as prominent as possible in the navigation bar on the home page, as this signals more authority to the Google algorithm.
But don’t clutter your navigation menu with too many pages as this will have the opposite impact. We recommend adding a sidebar instead to each individual page, so that the user can explore topics deeper at their leisure.
Give a thoughtful consideration to how you present each of these pages on your site too. Why? When people find your site organically through a search, they will likely land on one of these and not necessarily your home page.
Secondly, each page of content should have the following:
- Unique title tag on each page
- H1 Tag restating that Title Tag on each page
- Images named with primary keywords
- URL with page keyword
- Anchor Text on each page and built into footer (City Name [Niche Keyword])
- Create an XML Sitemap and submit it to Google Webmaster Tools
Lastly, you’ll want to use the keywords you identified during your research in the copy of your content. Make sure you don’t overdo it and that you maintain a natural flow, as you will be penalized for keyword stuffing.
#5: Great user experience makes the difference
As you are optimizing your content on your site, you’ll need to account for the experience of the user. This requires a few key considerations.
Make sure there is a logical organization and structure to your law firm’s site, so that visitors can easily find the info they need. This includes making it mobile-friendly, so that it dynamically adjusts for all devices and screen sizes.
Don’t be afraid to use as many visuals as possible. More people search by images than you might believe – they could easily stumble upon one of your blog posts before venturing through the rest of your site.
It’s a good idea to sprinkle testimonials and reviews throughout your law firm’s site instead of limiting them to a designated page. People really place a premium on reviews, especially in the legal sector, so you want to have those front and centre.
Follow the three clicks rule. All your information should be reachable within a few clicks. If it’s a maze, visitors will give up and leave, especially if they’re new to your site. It’s also important for law firm SEO, as a search engine will comb through your site for links and index the pages.
In terms of your content, don’t be afraid to use white space. Readers generally scan through articles at first to see if it addresses their concerns – make this as easy as possible. Use bolding and bullet points when appropriate to set words apart and break up large blocks of text. Keep your paragraph length to a minimum; ideally, they should be no longer than three sentences.
#6: Insert quality inbound links (aka backlinks)
Inbound links or backlinks are the SEO version of referrals. Together with outbound links, they provide a vote of confidence to search engines and searchers alike that your content has merit. The more quality inbound links you have on your website pages, the more likely your law firm secures optimal placement in organic search results and is seen by your target audience.
How do you go about getting these links? You can start by creating lead magnets that other sites may want to link to as an asset. This includes things like high-value downloadable legal forms.
Consider creating interesting content and articles about your niche. This is one of the best sources of inbound links for a law firm, as you can create something and push it out to thousands of article directory sites, each with a link back to a specific page on your site.
Make sure you include links to your site from any industry associations to which your firm belongs to such as bar associations, law firm networking groups, your local chamber of commerce and so forth.
Getting listed in reputable directories for attorneys (i.e., Yahoo Local Directory, AVVO) is another excellent way to get more inbound links to your site. If you’re struggling with your listings, the Mike Agency and its RAMP platform can help.
One thing you want to avoid at all costs is low quality backlinks from nefarious sources, as they can do considerable damage. Never buy links – you’re better off earning them with quality content. If you’re being inundated with spam links, it’s a good idea to use Google’s disavow tool to notify Google, so you don’t get unjustly penalized.
#7: Develop an SEO culture
If your goal is to build a great law firm SEO strategy, it’s important that everyone at your firm is on the same page. They should all understand how SEO affects their work and what they can do to level up their contributions.
Clearly outline your law firm’s SEO strategy, including the keywords that you are trying to rank for. Explain to them why certain keywords are important to a firm because they closely match the legal service offerings that you provide. Demonstrate the impact of your work that you do with SEO by setting up dashboards in Google Analytics and walking them through the data.
Incubating SEO strategies and tactics into the culture of your firm is has a number of benefits. For one, it instills a sense of ownership for all team members. Not only that but it saves time for your marketing department because they won’t need to rewrite content not originally written with SEO for lawyers in mind.
#8: Don’t neglect structured data
As they are developing their law firm SEO strategy, many overlook the technical side. This is an important consideration as it contributes to your firm’s findability in search results and how your content is interpreted.
We cover this more in depth in our primer on website design, but you need to include an attorney-related schema markup – this is a code that you place on your website to help search engines return more informative results for searchers.
In it, you’ll highlight the following elements on your website: LegalService (identify the site as providing legal services), Organization (mention all your key details like address and founding date), Place (address, map, logo, telephone) and Local Business (opening hours, price range of services).
There’s no sugar coating it – the legal vertical is very competitive in the digital space. SEO remains one of the best methods to build up your online presence and increase your client base.
But it requires a smart, savvy approach and setting reasonable expectations. The results won’t be immediate, and it is not a “set it and forget it” strategy – you’re in this for the long-term.
You will have to be patient and continually evolve as the algorithm, markets and user preferences change. Optimizing on-site user experience, tailoring content for keyword or topical ranking, and creating a diverse portfolio of backlinks is a great start. After that, it’s a matter of benchmarking your success using all the tools at your disposal and tweaking your strategy accordingly.
It may seem like a lot, and it is. But we guarantee that this is what your competitors who always seem to appear at the top of search results are doing. They made this commitment months or years ago, and today enjoy a steady stream of new clients to their firm.
There is nothing stopping you from doing likewise other than committing to it and seeing it through.
►What is SEO for lawyers?
There are more than a few misconceptions out there about search engine optimization (SEO). In a nutshell, it is the process of driving more potential clients to your law firm’s website by increasing your website’s position in the organic section of search engine results pages (SERPs) – these are the links that show up after you enter something on Google or any another search engine.
There are two different subsets to SEO for lawyers every firm should know about – on-page and off-page.
Simply put, on-page SEO is the practice of optimizing web page content for the search algorithm and users (i.e., content, internal links) on your firm’s site. Providing an optimal user experience is an important part of this process, as it can make or break your law firm SEO success. Since Google is constantly updating its algorithms, there are a lot of moving parts to this.
Conversely, off-page SEO is optimizing everything that happens away from your website (i.e., backlinks). You shouldn’t neglect either, as both are important, but you have more control over what happens on your site. Make sure the information you post there is relevant and contains the same keywords as people’s search queries.
►Do law firms need SEO?
In 2017, an AccuRanker Study found the legal SEO niche is one of the most competitive. To compete in this space and attract local clients, law firms require a customized approach towards traffic generation. This is where SEO comes in.
How long it takes for your efforts to bear fruit depends on how much effort or resources that you bring to the table. There are several factors to consider, including:
- The amount, quality and uniqueness of the content on your website.
- The formatting of your content.
- The ease of use and architecture of your website.
- The competitiveness of your market.
- How narrow or broad your geographic targeting is.
SEO builds trust and authority with search engines, which trickles down to consumers. The more visible you are there, the more you solidify your attorneys and law firm as a reputable authority in your niche.
►How does SEO help law firms?
Most potential clients use Google and the other search engines to search for answers. However, they rarely input general, simple searches when searching for legal services (i.e., “Toronto DUI attorney” or “Vancouver personal injury lawyer”). The vast majority are looking for specific information (searches like “who pays for medical expenses and rental car after an accident in Toronto” and “will I lose my pilot’s license after a marijuana DUI in Winnipeg”), then you’re wasting your time and money.
If you’re optimizing for general terms instead of focusing in on more specific queries, you’re expending a lot energy and money to receive more clicks, but very few of these will bring in additional viable cases for your firm.
Coincidentally, attorneys who choose to concentrate on specific search phrases with a high likelihood of conversion tend to see their websites start to rank very well for more general searches as a side effect.
► How long does it take to see results from a law firm SEO campaign?
Law firm SEO is a long-term strategy, so it will take several months to build on initial results. Law firm search engine optimization is a marathon rather than a sprint.
The initial steps are mainly about solving any existing issues and building your profile on Google. After that, it’s a matter of creating high-quality content, building links to authoritative external sites and making incremental tweaks. As things progress, you can easily track improvements and any challenges using tools such as Google Analytics.
We tell all our clients that they should expect 3-6 months to see solid results from their SEO campaigns. This is because high quality legal keyword research, optimization of your law firm’s website, in-depth quality content and more take time to develop. Moreover, it takes time for Google (and any other search engine) to crawl and “score” a law firm website and begin ranking it for specific keywords.
►Can a competitor sabotage my law firm’s SEO?
As with anything, it is very difficult (but not impossible) for a competitor of your law firm to sabotage your law firm’s SEO efforts. Usually, it is easier and more cost-effective for a law firm to build their own ranking up rather than to degrade a competitor’s ranking.
Whenever we get this question from our law firm clients, we’ll only investigate further when we see that they are doing everything else correctly and at a high level, without bearing fruit. It’s rarely something that the competitor has done to them. More often than not, they’ve just overlooked a key area of SEO optimization.
►Does the density of keywords on a page of a law firm’s website affect SEO?
In the infancy of SEO, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, keyword density was a hot-button topic. The idea was that there is a “right” ratio of a desired keyword to other words on the page. When you reach this threshold, you’d have a better chance of ranking for that particular keyword.
With the maturation of search engines and Google’s algorithms, there is less of an emphasis on specific keywords. More of a premium is now placed on context and the intended meaning of the words on a page. If you are just stuffing keywords or phrases to please a search engine, it will not sound natural and you will be penalized.
Law firm websites can rank well for synonyms of keywords. For example, if you put together a solid article about hiring an “attorney,” it can do very well in searches about hiring a “lawyer” even though the word “lawyer” is never used on the page.
Search engines are smart enough to recognize that your content is relevant to that particular topic and the intent of the searcher. As such, your focus should always be to create useful content, rather than optimizing your keyword density.
Select Keywords used in the past month to find lawyers:
As a way to help illustrate what we are talking, below is a chart of select keywords used to find a variety of lawyers in Google searches, along with the associated monthly search volume for each phrase
|law firm near me||12,100|
|real estate lawyers||27,100|
|real estate attorney||40,500|
|lawyers near me||90,500|
|personal injury lawyer near me||18,100|
|free legal advice||18,100|
|lawyers for wills||5,400|
|family law attorneys||40,500|
|family attorney near me||9,900|
|estate planning attorney near me||8,100|
|attorneys near me||40,500|
|criminal lawyers near me||12,100|
|real estate lawyer near me||18,100|
Need more help? Consider hiring a professional.
The experts at the Mike Agency have helped numerous law firms over the years with their SEO and legal marketing needs. Contact the Mike Agency today to speak to our team of qualified experts and schedule a free consultation, so you can focus on what matters – winning cases and running your law firm!