Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is generally a very nebulous word that is thrown around by marketing agencies and attorneys alike. It frustrates us to hear it sold as some magical black box that only certain experts know how to do.
We created this page to help you understand the strategy and tactics behind law firm SEO. We hope that this will help make you a more informed buyer of SEO and marketing services or a more knowledgeable implementer of legal SEO strategy and tactics on your own website.
When you are looking for an answer to a question that is stumping you, trying to figure out if it’s worth going to that new restaurant that is opening up, or trying to compare prices of a product that you are looking to buy, how do you find that information?
You Google it. Whether you are on your phone, ask Siri or Alexa, or sitting at your desk on your computer, it’s now the first place people go to find information. You’ve probably clicked thousands of search results in Google without ever stopping to think why or how that result is there.
Understanding how Google decides which results it should put at the top of the SERPS (search engine results page) can be eye-opening, and can often change the way you look at the search results in the future.
How does Google decide which sites are worthy of a prime-time spot?
Introduction to SEO
At its core, SEO (search engine optimization), is simply the process of optimizing your web presence to increase visibility in the search landscape.
We use the term web presence because SEO is more than just optimizing a website. When we talk about SEO, we must leverage all of your web properties. These include your website, social media profiles, directory listings, and even content that lives on other websites.
Generally, SEO is divided into two categories:
- Onsite SEO: This is search engine optimization that is done on your website. Onsite SEO is the content that is on your site, the metadata on that content, the structure of the website, and even the speed.
- Offsite SEO: This is optimization done off of your website. It is creating, editing, and verifying directory listings, the optimization and activity on social media, and building backlinks to your website.
The First Step to SEO: Your goal
Legal services are one of the most competitive, cutthroat areas on the web. As a matter of fact, in 2017 Wordstream ranked Legal keywords as the 4th most expensive keyword in English speaking countries, with the average CPC (cost per click) coming in at a whopping $54.86! As a comparison, many e-commerce keywords that people search all the time are under $3.00 per click.
While this is paid search data, your organic search position still holds a very tangible value based on the keyword you are ranking for. For example, the search term “los angeles car accident attorney” costs $187 per click and is searched 1,300 times per month. If you were to hold the top spot for that keyword organically, that position could be valued at over $200,000!
Let’s be realistic, not many law firms can shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in AdWords spend. Many law firms also don’t have a budget to execute an legal SEO strategy that will yield them top results in a hyper-competitive market like Los Angeles for those money keywords.
That’s why an law firm’s SEO strategy comes down to one thing: your goal.
I’m sure you have heard of S.M.A.R.T goals. In order to set a goal, it must have 5 criteria:
- Time Bound
Your SEO strategy should map back to these 5 criteria.
A goal is not: “I want to rank number one for ‘car accident attorney.’
A proper goal is: “I want to hire two associate attorneys in October. Therefore, based on my average case value, I need to bring in 4 new car accident cases a month in order to be able to hire those associates and maintain my target margin.”
The difference is extremely noticeable. The second goal is specific: hire two associate attorneys in October.
It is measurable: 4 new car accident cases a month.
It is achievable. It is relevant. It is time bound.
Your law firm’s SEO strategy can now be created in order to meet this goal. A simplified example strategy would be:
Based on historical conversion rates of leads to cases, in order to get 4 new cases a month, on average, we need to bring in 20 more car accident leads a month. There are around 1200 searches a month for car accident related keywords in your area. On average, the top spot on Google receives around 20% of total clicks, which is about 240 clicks a month. Our average conversion rate on the site is 10%, which means we will bring in around 24 leads. Currently, your site is ranking in the 5th position, which receives about 9% of total clicks, leaving you with only 108 clicks to your site. Maintaining a 10% conversion rate will only yield you 10 leads a month for those keywords.
In order to meet your goal, we need to get your site to the top spot. We will leverage content creation, backlink acquisition methods, like the skyscraper method, and optimization of current content to move you up. This entire process will take 9 – 12 months.
As we mentioned, this is a simplified version of a strategy. If you are ranking on that term you are likely ranking on other terms that you would track that would affect traffic. Also, ranking higher sometimes leads to less qualified traffic and lower conversion rates that you would need to track, etc. But this example gives you the concept of using goals to drive the strategy.
Once you have a strategy in place, you use specific tactics in order to reach your goal.
SEO Tactics for Law Firms
The most important part of legal SEO is setting SMART goals and creating a strategy to advance those goals and the metrics to track them, everything else is a tactic.
Oftentimes, we hear attorneys, as well as other marketers, focus too much on specific keyword optimization and forget the other, very important tactics of SEO.
Most SEO tactics fall into a few main categories:
- Onsite SEO optimization: The hub of your online marketing efforts, your website, must be optimized for search. Having proper metadata, like title tags, meta descriptions, proper use of header tags like H1 and H2 tags, all factor into how well a specific page can rank for certain keywords. Adding rich markup, like Schema, is also a great way to communicate to Google what the page is about, highlighting certain elements on the page, like questions and answers, and describing images and videos.
- Content: The actual content on your site is arguably the most important factor when it comes to SEO (not to mention connecting and building trust with your prospective client). Your goal is to have a ton of high quality, informative content on your site that your audience likes to engage with. We always focus on quality over quantity. A well thought out article or how-to guide is always better than 10 low quality, 200-word blog posts. Your content is what helps Google understand what you do. Your content should be planned out ahead of time and always work towards your goal.
- Website Structure: Oftentimes the most overlooked, your website needs to be properly set up on the back end for success. Think of your website like a book. Your book has a cover (your homepage), an introduction section (content on the homepage), chapters (top-level navigation pages, also called parent pages), and paragraphs (actual content on the pages). A book with no chapters or structure would be extremely annoying and difficult to read. In addition to the structure of the pages, websites should be built for two things: mobile and speed. If your site doesn’t load quickly or look good on mobile, there is no way your site is going to rank in Google over the long term.
- Offsite SEO: The reason Google has remained the top search engine in the world is how they judge quality sites from crummy ones. It shows no sign of changing backlinks that drive Google’s ranking of sites. Backlinks are essentially an endorsement of your website from another website. The more endorsements (backlinks) you have, the more Google trusts that you are a legitimate resource. Of course, it’s not the only ranking signal, but if you look at the top ranking sites for any major practice area in your location, chances are they all have a higher number of backlinks compared to the rest of the field.
When you pair all of these together, you get a well-rounded web presence.
Don’t Forget About the Users!
Yes, SEO is extremely important, but if everything you write and optimize is for the search engines you are neglecting the most important person of all: your potential client!
One of the best practices in SEO is to put the user first.
Think about the signals that get sent to Google. If someone searches for your firm and your content reads like a robot wrote it, the site doesn’t relate to the prospect’s problems, there is no feeling of a brand vs. any other law firm, what are they going to do?
They are going to hit the back button and leave.
Someone leaving the site right after they visit is called a bounce. Your bounce rate is a signal that Google uses to judge the quality and relevancy of your content to the search intent of the user.
If you give that user a great experience from start to finish, you are going to have a very low bounce rate, which will send positive signals to Google.
It’s not just about the content, it’s also other factors like the ease of use of the website, the load time of the site, and having proper conversion elements in place. What’s the point of putting all this effort into improving your search rankings if you make it hard for people on the site to actually get a hold of you?
This is why we firmly believe a conversion-oriented site, complete with an understandable next action for the visitor to take, things like the best content to read, a phone number to call, forms to fill out, or text chat, are in the same general category as SEO.
Again, if people leave the site and don’t contact you, your site really isn’t optimized.
Give the users a great experience and you will benefit.
How Long Does SEO Take?
This is a question that we get asked quite a bit. Our answer: it depends. (we hear our lawyers use that answer so we figured it was ok, to be honest)
There are so many factors that go into a legal SEO strategy, and as we said earlier, it is all based on your goals.
Before we can answer that question, we need to understand your goals, evaluate your competition, and audit what you currently have.
How to Evaluate Your Competition
If you’ve ever talked to a marketing agency, you will be familiar with the term competitive audit. It is one of the first things we do in order to gauge your level of competition.
In this audit, we identify the keywords you want to rank for, all based on your agreed upon SMART goal, and do searches in your area to obtain the current search landscape. Common things we look for in a competitive audit include:
- Your current search position: If your goal is to be number 1 in your area and you are currently ranking on the 4th page, you have a lot of work to do. It might be a two to three-year investment to make the charge to the top, especially in a competitive market. If you are on page one or the top of page two, you most likely already have some positive inertia that we can use to our advantage. There is still an investment needed, but it likely won’t take years to accomplish.
- Your competitors’ search position: If your competition is currently holding the top spots, it means that one of two things are true:
- First, it means they are spending money. Using tools available to us, like SEM Rush, we can get a historical analysis of ranking data and get an idea of the value of traffic coming to the competitors’ site. It is likely that they’ve been spending a good deal of money for years in order to rise and hold that top spot. In order for you to compete, you either need to outspend them or develop a multi-year strategy to do some things better than them to take the top spot.
- Second, they could be in that top position simply because they were there first. Sadly, we see this happen quite often. Sites that haven’t been updated in 6 years still stay in the first position. Domain age definitely plays a factor that can be sometimes difficult to overcome in smaller markets. We believe that this is due to the lack of data available to Google. If you are in a small town and are a bankruptcy attorney, bankruptcy-related terms might get 100 searches a month. There are 100 billion searches a month, which means your bankruptcy searches account for only 0.000000009% of all searches. It takes Google a lot longer to run the data tests to prove that your better site should rank better than the one the algorithm has trusted for years.
- Opportunities: No website is perfect. There are always multiple ways to reclaim that top spot in Google. Part of an audit is to identify what the competitor is doing right, and where there are holes. Generally, those holes tend to fall between content creation opportunities and backlink acquisition opportunities, in time you will be able to take that top spot from them.
Understanding what your competition is doing is imperative in setting a solid legal SEO strategy. You don’t want to simply be on par with your competition, you want to be 10x better than them for the search algorithm to notice!
Where your site stands
The second half of the equation is all based on what your current marketing efforts are. If you don’t even have a website yet and want to start ranking for personal injury terms in Chicago, you are about 10+ years behind the curve.
If you are ranking on page 2, that means you’ve probably put some effort into your SEO in the past and now we just have to optimize the site and produce the right content to move you up.
Every market is different. We’ve seen sites rank within a month of them going live, and we’ve seen websites that take 2 years to break through to that first page. It depends on a multitude of factors.
Content is the Cornerstone of Your Online Web Presence
You’ve heard the phrase, “content is king” probably hundreds of times. Marketing bloggers all the time publish their “SEO Guides” or more click-bait articles focusing on what an effective SEO strategy is.
SEO = Content
We’ve seen Google evolve their algorithm enormously in the past, and every algorithm change is essentially trying to do the same thing. Provide better, more relevant results based on the search query.
Google determines relevancy and quality from the content that is on your site. It’s that simple.
Yes, there are basic SEO tactics that need to be done on a website. But without strong, compelling content, that time is wasted.
What Content Should I Focus On?
This is actually an easy question to answer. Like we just talked about above, look at your own site, look at your competition that is ranking, and start by filling in the gaps.
Typical types of content will be your homepage, attorney bios, practice area pages, and FAQs.
You should have at least as much content as your competition. If you practice in the same areas, make sure you have the same practice area pages they have.
Here’s the catch. Your content needs to be 10x better than theirs. If their practice area page about DUI is 600 words, make yours 3,000, or even 5,000!
The key to using content to crush your competition is to make it better than the content that is already ranking.
Ok, I Get This, But I Heard I Should Be Blogging
Why should you focus on writing 400-word blogs?
What is the goal with those blogs?
This is our biggest pet peeve in the legal marketing industry. People are stuck years behind the curve. Blogging for SEO reasons, the way most people say to blog doesn’t work anymore. Blogging isn’t bad, but don’t do put one on your site because your marketing agency said it will help with SEO.
We could write thousands of words on this topic alone in this page, but we’ve already talked about this quite extensively. Click here to read all about why we strongly believe legal blogging for SEO doesn’t work.
How GNGF Can Help
If you made it this far, hopefully we did our job in giving you an understanding of Legal SEO better.
At GNGF, we don’t just understand how to execute SEO strategies, we understand how to execute SEO strategies in one of the most competitive markets; legal.
We will never hide behind magical SEO secrets, but instead, pride ourselves on the full transparency of our process and progress, all while educating you on what we are doing and why. You will always have access to your Google Analytics and other tools we use (like SEM Rush) as we explain what we are measuring and using to adjust tactics.
If you are looking for a legal marketing agency that will include you in the process, work to understand your (SMART) goals, and then help you reach them, contact us for a free consultation.