I was reading a well written article by Nathan Safran from Conductor, Inc. about search rankings and competitive analysis the other day when I realized that, while we take similar steps all the time for our law firm clients, we have never blogged about it and we only touch on it a bit in our book, Online Law Practice Strategies.
Nathan’s article was very retail-industry oriented in its examples, but the core strategy still applies to law firms when managing their search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. I thought I would take some of his points and adapt it for law firm websites. Since we like to teach law firms, through our book and CLE trainings, “how to do,” not just “what to do,” I will give some example tools to use and ways to gather some of this data manually. As this has turned into a lengthy article, we will roll this out into three actionable blog posts.
1. Know your “Real” Search Engine Competition
As Nathan says in the above article “Before you even get started digging into the nitty gritty details of what your competition is doing, it pays to start by checking your assumptions of who you consider to be your competitors.”
While you may think you have a great grasp on the other successful law firms that work in similar practice areas in your town, they may not be the firms or websites that are doing a great job online.
After performing an SEO audit for a law firm, we have had many shocked faces around the room when we show them the competitors that are dominating their potential market online. I often here things like “Wow, that person is a solo law firm and doesn’t have a great reputation, how come they are at the top?” I don’t have empirical data on this, but I would say that, a majority of the time, two or three of the real competitors in the search engine results are not who the attorney would even have considered.
How do you check your “real” search engine competition? There are a bunch of tools out there, for local law firms that help you understand your competition in your particular region or city. Two that we like and use are BrightLocal and Whitespark.
If you want to go the manual route, open your web browser and make sure you have a fresh search window. In Google Chrome we usually do this by opening a new Incognito Window. Go to the Google search bar and type in your practice area and the word “attorney” or “lawyer” (in fact perform both of those searches). Take note of the following:
- When Google brings back the search results, click on Search Tools and make sure that the location is set to the right city you are targeting. Google will try to figure it out based on your IP address.
- Who seems to be paying the most for Google ads? Those firms will be the couple ads at the top and the first couple ads on the right side (just under the local search map).
- Next, look at who Google thinks is the best person in your city for this practice area by looking at the A-G listings (hopefully you see your firm name in the list). This map may or may not appear, depending on the search keywords you use.
- Finally, look at the other 7-10 search results; you will see a mix of national websites like AVVO or lawyers.com next to websites or blog posts from some local firms. You need to focus on the blog posts and websites of local firms.
Put these 7-10 firms in a spreadsheet list and repeat the search with other practice areas or modified terms for your practice area. One thing to remember is, “What do your potential clients call what you do?,” not what practice area categories you and your bar association use.
For example, few potential prospects know what the term “elder law” is, but many people may lump it into estate planning. Even though that may technically be too broad, that is your online competition because that is the search the average consumer uses.
In the next post we will talk about what to do with this list to get some actionable data to incorporate into your law firm website and your search engine optimization efforts.