SEO for lawyers has become a necessity for almost every independent legal practitioner and boutique law firm. The first half of 2020 has already taught us about the power of the digital world. Many lawyers have minimized their brick-and-mortar physical presence and reduce their costs, while increasingly expanding the size of their virtual presence on the internet.
This guide provides an overview of SEO, which could help you expand your firm’s visibility in Google and other search engines.
What is SEO?
Literally speaking, the acronym stands for Search Engine Optimization. But on more practical terms, it includes digital techniques to boost traffic to your law firm’s website, based on search-engine results. Also, the emphasis is on growing your web traffic in an organic manner, as opposed to paid advertisements.
Next, you may wonder how this is relevant to you. As a lawyer, referrals are your primary source of business.
57% of people looking for a lawyer searched on their own (Clio, 2019)
70% of law firms’ website got them files (Finances Online, 2020)
74% end up visiting a lawyer uncovered by their digital search (National Law Review, 2015)
It is hence safe to assume that if you are a lawyer or run a law firm, your best, untapped opportunity to attract potential clients lies on the internet. The above statistics are not negligible by any standard, and the numbers are increasing. This is where SEO for lawyers becomes relevant.
Why is Law Firm SEO Important?
By this point, you’re sure to have smartened up to the critical need of having a strong web presence. But even with a well-developed website, your chances of reaching your client base significantly reduces without law firm SEO.
Here are some more interesting statistics on the impact of a Google search result.
30-35% of internet traffic goes to the first website featured in the result.
The lower your website is listed, the less traffic it will receive. And if you are not listed on the first page, the traffic has already fallen below 3%.
It is hence in a lawyer’s best interest to feature at the top of a Google search result.
Next, there is a clear science that determines the order in which Google lists websites. For this, Google has a crawler service to scout out all available web sites, award them a rank based on certain indicators, and index the website based on its ranking. The intention is to list the most useful and popular websites at the top, in order of their rank. So, top-listed websites are also top-ranked websites.
With law firm SEO, you strategically work on the indicators in order to secure a higher Google-rank.
Acing the Basics of SEO for Lawyers
How does one go about improving a law firm’s Google rank?
Fortunately for the digital world, Google is spectacularly clear on its search mission: “To organize the world’s information, and make it universally accessible and useful.”
With this, lawyer SEO is all about enhancing your website’s value, to potential clients. This can be done in 3 ways:
Enhancing the direct value provided by your website (on page optimization).
Enhancing the indirect value provided by your website (off page optimization).
Enhancing overall accessibility of the website.
We cover each in detail, below.
On-Page Optimization – Content is King
Here’s another interesting web statistic – a visitor will take 3 seconds to decide whether he stays or leaves your website.
The first thing that hits your visitor’s eye is your content, hence making its quality superlatively important. In fact, the domain-level and page-level content (especially including SEO keywords), accounts for a majority of your Google rank.
This is in turn determined by SEO keywords, relevance of your content to potential visitors, authority and popularity of your website in your industry, etc.
Here, SEO keywords are words frequently used by web users to find a business through Google (and other search engines). For instance, depending on your specialty and province of practice, potential clients may try to find you online, using popular keyword variations like, “divorce lawyer”, “criminal lawyer in <your province>”, “family lawyer near me”, etc.
The more you include such keywords organically and consistently in your content, the higher your website’s relevance and Google rank. That said, there is such a thing as overdoing keywords, which will incur a Google penalty.
Here are additional tips to improve the quality of your content:
Use SEO keywords in URL’s and headings so they are easily spotted by search engines.
Look up your top competitor’s web pages in order to find the most relevant SEO keyword variations relevant to your industry.
Use (paid and unpaid) analytic tools like Google Search Console, Google Ads Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Moz Keyword Explorer, SEMrush, Ubersuggest, etc. to dig up popular keywords in your area of business.
Make your content “shareable” on social media.
Include interesting audio/video media elements to increase “dwell time”
Provide legible websites, both for regular and smartphone users.
There are some things that you might not want to do.
Include your contact details in your content heading
If your contact details are easily visible through a Google search, potential clients may reach you directly without clicking on your site. However, Google may misunderstand this as a missed opportunity and lower your ranking.
Include media elements that are not web-optimized
Websites that load slowly and inconsistently are an invariable turn-off and can quickly lower your Google rank. For this reason, avoid using high-resolution image files, or media elements that do not load consistently across smartphones.
Include many “thin-content” pages
“Thin content” pages are those with little or no unique content, thus reducing your website’s value and rank.
For instance, if your law firm provides multiple pages with similar content, but different SEO keywords like “family lawyer”, “criminal lawyer”, “accident lawyer”, “<name of your city> lawyer”, etc., Google’s evolved algorithms will flag your entire website domain for duplicate content with little value, and award you a much lower rank.
Final note on content: As you may have guessed, good website content cannot be built overnight. But if you treat your website content as a long-term investment, you are more likely to reap long-lasting benefits.
Off Page Optimization – It’s All About the Links
The domain-level and page-level links attached to your website point out to search engines that your website is an authority on the subject of law. For this reason, some SEO experts focus exclusively on the links.
However, it can come across as “gimmicky” without high quality content to back it up. Some tips to keep in mind are listed below:
Include backlinks organically in your content
There are several ways to include links on a web page. But Google’s algorithms typically give higher consideration to links that organically flow into your content (like the ones listed right in the middle of a paragraph), then links that are intentionally inserted outside the main content piece (like side bar, or at the bottom).
Include both internal links and external links
Inclusion of internal links (within your own web domain) can help you increase the total number of links on a web page. For instance, you will want your blog pages to connect to another page on your website – like your practice area page or contact page with your contact details, useful for actual conversions.
On the other hand, inclusion of external links (outside your web domain) can help boost the relevance and ranking of your own web page. For instance, consider that your web content is liberally (yet organically) sprinkled with external links to other popular and certified web pages – like the Law society of Alberta, with its high ranking and popularity. Google will use this information to mark your website “relevant”, and thus award you a higher ranking.
Finally, there are also “most linked-to pages”, that can dramatically increase the rank of your website.
For instance, consider that you published a well-researched article on, “5 things to keep ready before contacting a divorce lawyer in Canada”. Further, this page goes viral, largely because a popular external website (like the Law society of Alberta) likes or links to this page, thus boosting web traffic to this page. Both occurrences are considered positively by Google, thus leading to a higher rank.
Include relevant anchor text for all links
Anchor text is the actual wording associated with a link when displayed in a web page. If Google algorithms find it relevant based on the keywords identified on the page and the final page that it links to, it is considered positive SEO by Google.
Optimizing Website Accessibility – Going Under the Hood
Your website needs to deliver a consistent and favorable experience to visitors in order to be considered sufficiently “accessible”. Tips to achieve this are listed below:
Ensure that your most important pages load in less than 1 second
If a webpage takes longer than 1 second to load, chances are that it is not mobile optimized, and you’ve hence lost the patronage of smartphone users. According to Google, “we’ll be switching to mobile-first indexing for all websites starting September 2020”.
This means how fast your website loads is a non-negotiable ranking factor.
Include an information architecture for your website
The information architecture of your website determines how you internally organize and connect various individual pages within a web domain. This information is in the form of a sitemap, which you should send to Google and other search engines so they know all the pages and posts for your website.
Use Analytical tools to optimize your website performance.
Unless you are an expert, you are sure to be unaware of the many slips that are inadvertently lowering your website’s performance (including speed, readability, consistency on smartphones, etc.). Fortunately, there are experts who’ve build tools to help us through this.
Popular performance-analysis tools include: Google Analytics (your first and foremost friend in the new world of SEO), Speed Test from Pingdom Tools, Google PageSpeed and law firm SEO based reports (by Moz, SEMRush, etc.). Yes, there is a whole world of SEO-based analytics to support your optimization efforts!
What if I don’t want to do SEO myself?
While it is indeed possible for you to do SEO yourself, initial efforts are likely to be rudimentary and hence less effective at best.
At worst, you may end up engaging in penalty-invoking SEO such as buying low-quality links. This goes on your website’s record, as would a criminal record in real life.
If your website is penalized, your website will not be ranked at the top of search engines. A major penalty will tank your site, putting it on Page 10 or worse. When was the last time you visited page 10 when searching on Google?
Is a bad backlink profile reversible? It is possible to expunge a low-quality backlink profile, though this takes months (and a lot more dollars) of effort.
Here are 3 direct benefits of hiring a consultant who specializes in law firm SEO:
Understand what content users are looking for when they are making a decision on which law firm to work with
Knowledge of competitor firms and what’s working for them
First hand knowledge of which backlink sources can generate business for your firm
With a DIY effort, you may save on initial costs of hiring a consultant. Yet, the long-term impact of this trial-and-error method is likely to be more expensive.
In closing, you can equate doing SEO yourself to representing yourself in court. Doable? Yes. Should you?