SEO for Lawyers: Grow Your Firm with Search Engine Optimization
As attorneys grapple with increasing online competition, changing consumer shopping behavior, and technical barriers related to online marketing, the need for search engine optimization education is evident.
SEO is the practice of configuring on-site and off-site elements of a website so it ranks well in search results for keyword terms or phrases. Google has the dominant market share of search engines, with somewhere between 60 and 80% of searchers using its service. Many tactics for optimizing websites are applicable across a variety of industries, but SEO strategies need to be tailored to the legal industry to be most effective. Marketing in the legal vertical is different because of rules and regulations set forth by state bar associations.
Attorneys need to be careful about representing their firms online. After working in the legal marketing vertical for more than a decade, I’ve seen some of the stiff penalties that state bar associations can impose on law firms for violating ethics and advertising guidelines. Below are several actionable SEO tips for lawyers to get their sites ranking on Page 1 of search results in an ethical manner.
Keyword Research and Discovery
Keyword research is the first step before an attorney can start optimizing a website. Lawyers should focus on purchase intent keywords which indicate the searcher is ready to sign up for legal services. Those terms should also have decent search volume to ensure a website will receive traffic. For example, “Houston car accident lawyer” may receive more searches than “Houston car accident attorney," as there are more searches for “attorney” than for “lawyer.”
The key is to find out what people are typing into search engines and what they are looking for based on those searches. Attorneys can follow these tips as a guide to keyword research and which phrases to target first:
• Find terms related to your practice area.
• Compare variations of your target keyword phrases to see what people are searching for.
• Go after phrases with high search volume but moderate competition.
• Find low competition keywords that can be targeted.
• Use phrases and terms related to your main target keyword phrase for a page (words that are synonymous).
• See what phrases your competition is ranking for and try to make your content better than theirs.
Attorney-Specific Calls to Action
A call to action (CTA) on any site is designed to get the visitor to take action; CTAs for lawyers are different and require additional strategy as it relates to SEO. Lawyers should place their calls to action above the fold (the point at which people have to start scrolling to see more information) and a phone number should be on every page of the website in a prominent location (such as the header).
There should be more than one method for contacting the law firm. Do not only just a phone number or a contact form; provide multiple ways visitors can reach you.
Schema is HTML code applied to content to make it machine-understandable; it helps search engines figure out the relationships among different pieces of content. The legal industry has its own set of schema that lets search engines know content is related to a legal professional or law firm.
Schema should be applied to the following content on a law firm’s website:
• Phone Numbers
• Attorney Names
• Attorney Biographies
Schema markup takes many forms. It accompanies text snippets as star reviews and can show up as site links, breadcrumbs, and video thumbnails. This doesn't seem exciting until you compare dressed up snippets to the plain Jane search results Google displays by default. Marking up content with schema helps increase click-through rates on search results.
Creating Legal Content Umbrellas
Google crawls and indexes content in a methodical and systematic way. Organization of the internet’s information works best when there is a page for each practice area and when practice areas are categorized in a logical manner, which also makes it easier for people to find content on an attorney's website.
Lawyers should follow this format when organizing site content:
• The website should focus on one overall theme (such as personal injury law).
• The site should drill down into subtopics of the central theme (for personal injury law, that would be car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, etc.).
• Each page on the site should be about a singular topic area.
Building content this way helps search engines organize it and visitors find it.
Content Written for Lawyers by Lawyers
Another unique aspect of lawyer SEO is the fact that content needs to be drafted by legal professionals, such as paralegals, JDs, or lawyers. Some states have strict guidelines about publishing legal advice online. Attorneys generating content should write it in-house, hire a JD or lawyer, or outsource the task to an agency with the appropriate resources.
Local Attorney SEO: Maintaining Visibility in Search
Lawyers serve captive local demographics and there is often no shortage of competition, making local SEO important. Additionally, Google is moving toward monetizing local search with ads that compete for valuable local search real estate in Google My Business.
Here are some strategies for staying visible in local search:
• Join local legal and traditional directories.
• Claim your AVVO profile.
• Claim your Google My Business profile, fill it out completely, and verify it.
• Claim your Bing Business listing.
• Sign up for Yext and get listed on hundreds of local websites.
• Make a location-specific page with location-based terms on it.
Link Building for Lawyers
Google announced in 2016 that links were one of the top factors that influenced where pages rank in search. Not all links are created equal, though. Attorneys need to spend time acquiring links from contextually relevant and high-quality sources, such as AVVO, Justia, Lawerys[.]com, and NOLO. The greater the number of high-quality links pointing at an attorney's website, the more likely that site is to rank well for its target keyword phrases.
Marketing a site online is no longer optional for lawyers. Many consumers are going online to find information about legal services, and a comprehensive search marketing plan is essential to make sure you show up on the first page of search results.
Chris Dreyer is the CEO and founder of Rankings.io, a unique search engine optimization and website design agency for lawyers, physicians, and small businesses.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.