While referrals and networking will continue to play a role in your business development efforts, a lot of potential clients—both in the business and personal spheres—are looking online to find attorneys. In today's world, your search ranking is a strong indicator of your credibility and authority in your practice area. Your competitors are investing in law firm search engine optimization to elevate their authority in the market and be found online, and you should be too. Otherwise, you’re missing out on a potentially lucrative source of new leads for your firm.
While having an online presence is a given, you need to take it a step further and maximize your law firm’s opportunity to be at the top of search rankings by practice area and topic. Here are our starter recommendations of reliable SEO strategies tailored to law firms.
Your Law Firm Website as your SEO Foundation
An optimized website, well, starts with your website. Your law firm’s website serves as the foundation to implement SEO best practices. You’ll need all of the technical requirements to achieve good search rankings, including:
Consistent metadata: these age-old fields still over value for achieving rankings. The title tag is one of the most important pieces of content on the page and the meta description can be used to increase click-throughs.
Semantic HTML: this is the structure of your content in code. Your content's heirarchy needs to be explicit, using the heading structure just like a word document
A responsive website: you won’t show up in mobile searches if you don’t have one, and more Google searches happen on mobile devices than on computers in the U.S.
Fast page load times: if your site loads slowly, you’ll be penalized.
Structured data: this data uses HTML code to tell search engines what it needs to know about your site. The rich snippets that come from structured data are what appears in search results.
SSL certificate: An SSL certificate allows your website to be considered an HTTPS site (vs just HTTP) and protects your connection between a web server and browser. Google is invested in promoting a secure Internet and will reward sites with SSL certificates. Additionally, Google has recently determined that each website without an SSL certificate would be marked in search results as unsecure — and what law firm wants that!
The list above includes some of the basics, but it’s critical to make sure that your website is built on SEO best practices.
Law Firm SEO for Locations
When potential clients are searching online, it’s common to include a location in their searches, ie “Denver tax attorney” or “North Carolina construction attorney.” Of course, you want your website served up as a top result associating your firm with a specific practice area. So, how does that happen?
Location-Optimizing on Your Law Firm's Website
If you have multiple locations, you need a location page for each of your office locations. On these location pages, include a description of your law firm and feature important keywords that you want to rank for. In addition to using the city or region in the H1 (headline structured data that indicates importance), you’ll want to describe your city’s features. For example, note within the location page content that you’re within walking distance to the State Capital Building or just down the street from the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, where the Charlotte Hornets play and top bands perform.
Location-Optimizing on Your Law Firm Google My Business Listing
If you haven’t done this already, you should claim ownership of your Google My Business listing. Here’s what you need to do:
On the listing, if you see what’s below, it means that your business is not claimed.
Click on “Own this business” and claim the listing. This process isn’t immediate and can sometimes take several tries to get verified.
Once you have administrative access to the listing, you can upload photos, manage your business’s hours and note key practice areas. You’ll want to keep your GMB content updated and fresh, which shows your customers and Google that you’re an active business.
Law Firm Practice Area Pages
Each of your firm’s practice areas should have its own page. Even the most specialized firm often has subsets of a practice area that can be broken down. If you have just a few practice areas, elevate these to your website’s navigation so that website visitors know what you do right off the bat and can easily navigate to the area that is of interest. Your navigation contains HTML code that indicates to search engines that the words used in the navigation are very integral to your business.
Most importantly, think about how you’re naming your practice areas and how your clients might name them. We’ve found that there’s sometimes a discrepancy here.
While you may consider your practice area to be “family law,” most clients would start a search more specific than that, such as “divorce attorney” or “adoption attorney.” If you’re not comfortable naming your practice area with how your client is referring to them, be sure to include the most popular keywords—how they’re searched—early on and prominently in the practice area page. Online tools such as Moz are invaluable tools for conducting keyword research.
Website Content Addressing Your Target’s Legal Problems
The best way to optimize your website is to put yourself in the mindset of your target audience and address their challenges. Creating a content marketing plan that addresses your target’s problems will show that you understand their problems and that you have the experience and know-how to address their legal issues.
If you have content that matches a user’s search query, then your webpage or blog post can show up in search results (how high up on search results depends on many factors). Here are a few examples of content that could match a client’s challenge at hand:
When should my business file bankruptcy?
How to file a logo patent
How to appeal a tax audit
Having a blog that addresses your clients’ common concerns also provides you with a path for having fresh, updated content on your website. Many businesses, including law firms, make the mistake of putting an enormous amount of effort into launching a new website, but then let it just sit there and get stale. Google and other search engines will reward you for making regular updates to your website. And Google is pretty smart … simple language tweaks to existing pages won’t quite cut it.
Legal Links Back to Your Law Firm’s Website
Having other websites link back to your website is what’s called backlinks or inbound links. Think about it this way—having links from credible, high-trafficked websites indicates to search engines that your website is important and an authority for specific keywords.
Now, the key here is that your inbound links should be quality links from credible websites that make sense for your business model. Here are some starting points:
Utilize legal directories, including Findlaw.com, Lawyers.com, AVVO.com and Superlawyers.com. Your firm’s attorneys are likely already included in these directories, but you can optimize your presence by making sure that your practice areas, firm description and more are up-to-date and incorporate important keywords. For some of the directories, your firm will only come up in search results if a search is done by attorney name or firm name, but not by practice area unless you pay for listing profiles. For smaller law firms, this additional exposure may be worth the cost.
Identify opportunities to author legal articles or blog posts that would post back to your site. What organizations are you involved in that have blogs? If so, they’re likely to always be on the hunt for interesting articles by knowledgeable sources. Consider reaching out to the Chamber of Commerce, professional associations and even relevant media outlets. The important thing is not to make the article sales-y. Instead, think about what knowledge you can provide to their readers.
Any community organizations or events that your law firm supports through sponsorships should include a link to your firm on their website. Make sure that there’s a link (and that it works).
Media relations efforts can score you articles in relevant media outlets, which typically would then link back to your firm’s website. Media outlets are often highly trafficked, credible websites in the eyes of search engines.
How Long Until My Law Firm’s Rankings Improve?
A good SEO program takes time so have patience with it. It can often take up to 3-6 months to see results. While there’s some low-hanging fruit (like SSL certificates), building a search engine’s recognition of your law firm's authority in key legal topic areas will take some time.
Any financial planner will tell you not to check on your 401k or IRA on a daily or weekly basis. Similarly, expect some ups and downs that only time will tell the real trend. Plan to check in on key law firm website health indicators, such as organic search traffic, on a monthly basis with a more in-depth check-up on a quarterly basis.