Legal SEO guide for law firms: Practical and sensible tips
If you’re a law firm looking to enhance your online presence, you’ve come to the right place. This blog post is all about legal SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for law firms.
SEO can seem complex, especially when it’s not your primary area of expertise. That’s why in this legal SEO guide, we walk through the essentials you need to know without the usual technical minutiae and marketing language that’ll bore you.
You’re dedicated to your own legal practice areas, and you likely don’t have much time to read everything there is to know about SEO. Instead, you’ll be given actionable steps to plan and start optimizing your website right away.
|What is SEO?|
|Why SEO matters for lawyers: Does SEO even work?|
|Annotated brief of elements in search results|
|Understanding the basics of SEO|
|Moving beyond the basics|
A brief definition of SEO
SEO is the art, science and practice of creating content that is both helpful, relevant and trustworthy for any topic searched online. These efforts go towards the goal of winning top ranking positions in search engine results pages.
In terms of SEO for law firms, this practice is all about making your website more visible to people who are searching for services that your law firm provides.
Why SEO matters for lawyers: Does SEO even work?
SEO can truly help law firms not only increase website traffic, but eventually provide a steady stream of potential clients. However, there is no guarantee. Furthermore, the important caveat is to understand whether your firm needs it or not, and if it’s even a practical marketing strategy.
Clients are increasingly turning to search engines like Google to find legal services. It’s clear that visibility in search results (the fruit of SEO) can significantly increase the chances of attracting potential clients.
Annotated brief of elements in search results
Similar to a legal brief, this section serves as a quick and easy reference of the important elements on a search results page.
Refer to the GIF and additional notes below that break down a sample search experience on a desktop browser. Note: This is not an exhaustive list of how search results can appear.
1. The search bar
This is the box in which a user types in a keyword or phrase to search for. In this case a search for ‘family attorney in dallas‘ would be the keyword to optimize in your content.
2. Paid (or sponsored) search results
Ads appear at the top of the page and before organic search results. Attorneys and law firms paid Google to appear in these results that are exactly or somewhat related to the user’s search query.
Paid ads are always marked by ‘Sponsored‘ or ‘Ad” in bold above the site’s URL and page title. Businesses with the “GOOGLE SCREENED” badge are extensively screened.
3. Local results
These are the results called ‘local map packs’ that are typically marked by a “Businesses” heading or something similar like ‘Places’ depending on the search. They are related to the user’s geographic location, and can include reviews, addresses, phone numbers, and other contact information.
Local map packs also include a map of the area displaying the locations of the local listings. It is a useful tool for users to quickly identify the closest result to them.
4. People also ask
This search for ‘family attorney in dallas’ displays a type of featured snippet. Featured snippets “are special boxes where the format of a regular search result is reversed, showing the descriptive snippet first.”
Sometimes featured snippets are found within a related questions group called ‘People also ask.’ These are questions people commonly search on Google as shown above.
5. Organic (or natural search) results
These are the SEO results and appear after a user has entered a keyword or phrase. Yet notice they can appear after paid results with the most relevant results appearing first.
Google notes that organic results are not ads. Only ads are paid, and they’ll always be labeled with “Sponsored” or “Ad.” Some searches return ads and some don’t with only organic results.
Understanding the basics of SEO
Now that you’re more familiar with the appearance of search results in Google, let’s quickly cover the basics of SEO.
SEO is essentially a collection of strategies designed to improve your website’s visibility in search engine results. The aim is to attract more visitors to your site and later convert these visitors into clients.
1. Keyword research: The foundation of SEO
Keywords are the terms and phrases that people type into search engines. Your first task in optimizing your site is to identify relevant keywords, like ‘divorce lawyer in New York,’ ‘personal injury attorney,’ or ‘real estate lawyer near me.’
Try to think from the perspective of your potential clients. What terms would they use to search for the services you offer? There are a host of SEO tools that can help you identify popular keywords related to your practice.
Once you’ve identified your keywords, the next step is to incorporate them into your website. Which brings us to our next section for the basics of SEO — optimizing your site for those keywords.
2. Keyword intent
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of SEO that is surprisingly difficult to master.
Keyword intent is understanding what the customer is looking for when they type in a keyword. It’s important to understand the context of the keyword and what they’re trying to accomplish. If you can understand and create content that matches the user’s intent in their search query, you’ll have a much better chance of appearing in the search results.
If someone types in the search bar ’cause of action’, is that a legal plaintiff looking up the definition or a litigator that needs to identify elements for their case?
3. What’s the actual ‘optimization’ in ‘search engine optimization?’
The most common question I hear is, “What’s actually being optimized in SEO?” It’s a good question and it gets to the heart of what makes the needle move in search results.
Besides the keyword, below are the primary components that can be “optimized” for the keyword and its intent (more on this below).
1. Meta Tags
Also known as metadata, meta tags are the:
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions, and
- Headers used on your site
Title tag example
Meta description example
Ensure these include your keywords, and especially the title tag. However, avoid ‘keyword stuffing.’ Instead of spammy overuse of the keyword, the text should still read naturally and provide value to the visitor.
Regularly publish informative, engaging content that includes your keywords. This could be blog posts, articles, or updates about your firm. Youtube videos and social media also plays a role. Think of any of your firm’s digital assets that might surface in search results too.
3. Website speed
A slow-loading website can harm your search engine rankings. SEOs need to collaborate with developers and website administrators to make sure your website is fast and provides a pleasant experience both on a desktop and mobile browser. Imagine someone seeking legal advice comes to a slow page, and this can motivate you to make changes.
4. User experience
While this term encapsulates all of the above components that can be optimized, it’s helpful to think of user experience in an objective and subjective way.
- All of the above (Meta tags, content and website speed)
- Tone of voice
- Clear navigational queues like links, menus and buttons
- Visuals and art (if it matters)
- Mobile web browsing view
Digging deeper, numbers and our own experience show us that more and more people are using mobile devices to search for services. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly, meaning is it easy to read, watch, or take any action using a smart phone’s web browser on a small-ish screen.
Google’s E-E-A-T: The constitution of SEO best practices
This last section about understanding the basics invokes the almighty acronym from Google that guides SEO best practices: E-E-A-T, which stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
The concept of authority in legal research can loosely be tied to the importance of authorship and authority for SEO. Think of Google’s E-E-A-T as a constitutional guide containing doctrinal SEO principles to follow. These are key factors Google uses to evaluate and rank your law firm’s website and individual pages.
This concept measures the degree to which the content creator has personal knowledge or experience about the subject. For example, does your law firm have the wealth of experience to provide instruction on a specific legal subject?
This factor measures how much the content creator has the necessary knowledge or skill for the topic. Different topics require different levels and types of expertise to be trustworthy. What expertise can you bring to your site’s blog topics?
This considers how much the content creator or website is recognized as an authority on the subject. Think of the unique advantages you might be able to write about – things your community and clients have praised you for..
The concept of trust is the most important, and it is determined by the combination of the first three factors. Ask yourself or your law firm if your page is accurate, honest, safe, and reliable
Beyond the basics and toward a serious investment in SEO
The following is just a sample of more advanced tips and strategy for SEO.
Organize your legalese into clusters of topics using layman’s terms
When doing SEO for your law firm, you need to strategically think about and execute a plan for clusters, or groups of keywords. It’s much like building a topical hierarchy according to practice area and jurisdiction through which potential clients might find your website.
Replace your legalese with vernacular terms that are more easily understood. This will make it easier for search engines to index your website and for potential clients to better understand your content.
Some law firms can pull off an authoritative definition or summary via a featured snippet result as shown below.
Black Law’s Dictionary has cross-references wherever applicable. Creating clusters of legal topics achieves a similar goal of providing legal clients with the information and services they need.
This is done by cross-linking to other related topics on your site (called internal linking). By consistently creating fresh and relevant content, you can establish authority on the topics you are covering and further boost your rankings.
Local SEO for lawyers and firms
Local SEO is particularly important for law firms. This involves optimizing your website to appear in search results for your specific geographical area. Here are a few tips:
1. Google Business Profile
Create a Google Business Profile for your law firm. This will help your firm appear in local search results and Google Maps. There are ways to best optimize your profile based on your goals.
2. Local keywords
Include location-specific keywords in your content. From the example above, it could be ‘family attorney in dallas’ rather than just ‘family attorney.’
3. Online directories
Make sure your firm is listed in reputable online directories. These should include your firm’s name, address, and phone number.
What about technical SEO?
If you’ve heard and been warned about mastering technical SEO, there’s usually no need to worry too much. Content relevance and quality could be seen as equally, if not more, important for law firms’ SEO success.
Why? Google and other search engines are increasingly prioritizing user experience. This means that they are focusing on how relevant, useful, and engaging content is for the end user. This could mean providing clear, concise, and informative articles on legal topics, or something else helpful.
Technical SEO is certainly a component that can’t be overlooked. Unless you’re a global or international firm with offices in multiple countries with a massive library of content, this shouldn’t be a big concern.
And what about a backlink-building campaign?
Have you also come across blogs and articles trying to sell you on ‘backlink building?’ The practice of explicitly building backlinks has been overdone and rigged.
What are backlinks? Backlinks are links from other websites that link back to your website. They can be seen as a ‘vote’ or ‘endorsement’ from another website. Some years ago, backlinks were highly valued because it signaled to search engines that your website is credible and worthy of being seen.
Backlinks are still important, but they should be organic and natural. Gone are the days of soliciting backlinks from other sites or somehow reverse-engineering them. Instead, focus on creating high-quality, engaging content that will naturally lead to organic links.Monitor Google and related updates
Don’t rely completely on content like this to keep up with SEO best practices. Consider this law firm SEO guide (including other blogs) only a secondary source for your SEO research. Google’s documentation is the primary source to reference and rely on.
If you’re a legal professional that still doesn’t mind reading long documents, have at it with this 176-page Search Quality Guidelines document.
Ample time and money
It’s a common misnomer that SEO brings free traffic. It’s true that you pay for every click for paid search ads (via Google Ads and others) and you do not pay for every click on your organic results.
However, you have to put your time and effort into SEO work or pay others to do the ongoing work for you. The most advanced SEO entails serious time, energy, and effort to get results over the long haul.
Marco D. Chayet
Founder and Partner, Chayet & Danzo, LLC
Make sure clients find you first with our proven SEO solutions for law firms.
Planning and next steps
SEO for lawyers isn’t just about attracting more visitors to your website. It’s about attracting the right visitors—people who are in need of your legal services.
Remember, SEO is a long-term strategy. Results won’t happen overnight, but it can be worth the patience and persistence. Does this mean lawyers should do SEO on their own? It’s a fair question and I’d say yes, some lawyers – even solo attorneys – do a fine job of doing SEO. Whether you should do SEO as a practicing lawyer or partner is going to depend on your goals and how seriously you can commit to doing it.
You may think you have two choices: Do it yourself or hire an expert. However, it often comes down to a partnership where SEO experts need the domain expertise from legal professionals like you. Overtime, law firm partners, legal practitioners, or in-house marketing specialists can also master the art of SEO while forging ongoing expertise with consultants.