Peter Boyd is an attorney and the Founder of PaperStreet. He has successfully helped 1,500 law firms with their websites and marketing.
Years ago, many law firms wanted to start their business name with the letter “A.” Why? So they would show up first in the alphabetical phone book listings.
While phone books are museum pieces these days, we have a more complicated modern equivalent. Everyone wants to show up at the top of a search engine results page. To rank high with organic search results, a law firm needs to focus considerable effort on search engine optimization, or SEO. Below, I’ll explain some terms commonly thrown around and offer some basic SEO checklists for law firm websites.
The Many Facets of SEO
SEO is both an art and a science that strives to make a website attractive to popular search engines such as Google. The technical side involves taking measures that enable engines to assess the site’s content quickly and improve the overall performance of a site. The more artistic side of SEO involves creating content that appeals to search engines that are looking for a quick solution to users’ problems or requests for information. For the best chance of ranking high in searches, a law firm should pay attention to both technical issues and the more creative, content-oriented issues.
SEO Terms and Acronyms
Most discussions of SEO quickly devolve into an alphabet soup of acronyms and terms unique to the industry. Here are a few of the more common SEO terms:
• SERP: Search Engine Results Page. This is the page that users see after they type a query into the search engine.
• Organic: This is a type of result based on a site’s value and performance as opposed to paid placement.
• Keyword: A phrase or term that forms the backbone of a user’s search query.
• Black hat techniques: Practices that violate Google quality guidelines.
• Backlinks: Also known as inbound links, backlinks are created when other sites link to a law firm’s site. Backlinks add credibility and make a site more attractive to search engines.
• Bots: Also called crawlers or spiders, these devices rove to and fro through cyberspace searching for content.
• Orphan pages: Pages on a site that are not linked internally and, therefore, not indexed.
Local SEO Checklist
While some law firms work with clients around the country, most firms have a client base within a nearby geographic area, so it makes sense to focus on search engine results locally in that geographic area. With this in mind, here is a checklist for local SEO for law firms:
• Select and target local keywords. Potential clients often start by looking for firms in their neighborhood or town. By targeting keywords with a specific geographic area, a firm stands a much greater chance of ranking high in a search. For example, a law firm based in West Palm Beach, Florida, might want to target keywords/phrases such as “Palm Beach County lawyer” or “Palm Beach lawyer.”
• Make sure the firm is included in Google My Business. Having a firm listed literally puts that firm on the map that shows up in Google searches.
• Prominently display the firm’s name, address and phone number in a consistent format.
• Create some content designed specifically to increase backlinks. My top recommendations to secure backlinks from reputable sources include: adding your listing to your law school alumni directory (your undergraduate education as well) and reaching out to some of your favorite blogs and podcasts about guest posting opportunities.
• Focus on narrow practice areas. Competition for broad terms such as “injury lawyer” is often too fierce to tackle, particularly in densely-populated areas. By devoting web pages on a site to specific types of cases, such as motorcycle accidents or nursing home neglect, a firm can rank much higher in searches.
Including content that solves problems or answers questions for potential clients can not only make a site more attractive to search engines but can also increase the likelihood of converting a site visitor into a client.
Technical SEO Checklist
Technical SEO objectives aim to make a site function smoothly so that users have a good experience visiting the site. Search engines collect vast amounts of detailed information about how fast pages load, how mobile-friendly a site is and other aspects that affect a user’s interaction. The engines want to direct viewers to sites that provide a quality experience, so focusing on technical SEO helps in two ways. First, it increases a firm’s page ranking. Second, it decreases the chances of a potential client leaving in frustration because a picture of the lead partner’s cat took 20 seconds to load.
Here’s a checklist of basic technical SEO efforts to consider:
• Make sure the site is mobile-friendly.
• Check the firm’s website sitemap for errors and to ensure the site is registered with Google Search Console.
• Check to see if most pages are indexed. Take steps to address orphans and other problems.
• Remove or fix broken links, both internal and external.
• Ensure pages load quickly, ideally within two seconds.
Technical SEO issues can get much more complex than these, so to really focus on technical SEO improvements, it may be worth a consultation with a legal marketing professional who focuses on these types of issues.
SEO Practices Change Frequently
Efforts focused on SEO can pay off big for a law firm. However, internet search practices are continually evolving, so SEO professionals work non-stop to keep up with the latest strategies.
That means that by the time a firm works through a couple of SEO checklists, it may be time to schedule another website checkup. While it’s far more complicated than updating a listing in the phone book, the opportunity to show off a firm’s unique strengths is obviously much better online and really worth the investment of time and energy.