SEO for Lawyers: Why and How to Implement a Search Engine Optimization Strategy for Your Law Firm

Part I: The Basics of Law Firm SEO

Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Amy Geldean

Before we get into the thick of it, you should understand how search engines work. There’s no mysticism to it.

Part I: The Basics of Law Firm SEO

The process of appearing on a search engine results page (SERP) takes place in three phases:

  1. Crawling
  2. Indexing
  3. Ranking

Google has bots that automatically “explore” the internet and store new sites and pages for later retrieval. Whenever they come across a new page, the bots crawl it, picking up and storing information about content and page quality.

Then, the bots memorize websites through the process of indexing.

To put it simply: Google uses indexing to place particular pages and websites into the grand scheme of topics, and store it for later retrieval.

Finally, once law firm websites have been crawled and indexed, it’s time for ranking.

Google’s algorithms deliver the pages in the search results based on topics, content quality, backlinks and other ranking factors that also include each searcher’s preferences and intents.

For example, if someone in Chicago typed “personal injury attorney,” they wouldn’t see the results a New Yorker would.

And therein lies the brilliance of using SEO for law firm marketing: since Google’s first priority is providing the searchers with the most accurate results, a smart SEO strategy allows law firms to optimize their websites and become the ultimate resource.

Automatically, Google will position them higher in the rankings.

Crawling

Normally, Google takes a lot of time to find new websites – unless they’re being linked to from other websites. This is because Google bots use links to understand the internet, and organize it in a way that adapts to individual searchers and their queries.

However, attorneys can submit their sitemap through Google Search Console and speed up the process.

It’s an incredibly useful tool. GSC is essentially a SEO dashboard for any practice that wants to rank higher and get more leads.

Indexing

The sooner Google bots crawl and index a website, the faster will it start appearing in the search results. The first step towards speeding the process up is submitting a sitemap through the Search Console.

However, indexing is where the technical side of SEO takes precedence.

In order for bots to quickly crawl and properly index the website, law firms should:

  1. Monitor crawl and indexing status through the Google Search Console
  2. Use responsive web design and create mobile-friendly pages
  3. Update content as soon as new information about a subject has appeared
  4. Create a website hierarchy that allows visitors to access the most important pages within three clicks at most
  5. Improve their website speed

Once indexing has been completed, your law firm’s website will have been successfully stored in Google’s database.

Ranking

Finally, ranking is the part of the process where results start appearing, and it’s the most important part of law firm SEO.

Ranking Factors

Google has thousands of ranking factors (and counting).

However, they can be sorted into two categories:

  1. On-page ranking factors
  2. Off-page ranking factors

For example, content is an on-page ranking factor, and a part of on-page SEO.

Conversely, link building is a part of off-page ranking factors and off-page SEO.

We’ll cover both in greater detail later in the guide.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO deals with all the things a law firm and their SEO agency can control: content, website design, and technical specs like loading times:

  • Meta tags, URL structure, and headings
  • Internal links and website hierarchy
  • Website speed and design responsiveness
  • Image and code optimization

The main goal of on-page SEO is proving to Google that the website is valuable in the grand scheme of the topic.

The pages have to offer a good user experience and relevant, useful content in order to rank well on the on-page SEO side.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO pertains to all the ranking factors that cannot be directly manipulated by a law firm.

The most important part of this category are certainly links, as Google uses them to understand the value of individual sites.

Other off-page SEO factors include:

  • Social signals
  • Mentions
  • Outreach
  • Other marketing tactics for content and law firm promotion

Ranking Factors

There are three most important ranking factors:

  1. Content
  2. Links
  3. RankBrain

These three ranking factors are the ones that law firms can easily influence by adapting their optimization strategies.

While each comes with its own specifics and tactics, Google’s main goal is providing the searchers with the best possible experience.

Therefore, law firms have to keep searchers (their leads and potential clients) in mind as they optimize.

The process is quite intuitive, as both law firms and Google want the same thing.

 Content

Content is quite possibly one of the most discussed ranking factors, and there are a few rules of thumb when it comes to law firms creating content that both Google and their leads will love:

  1. Content has to target search queries
  2. Content has to satisfy user intents
  3. Content has to be unique and fresh
  4. Content has to have a high EAT (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) score
  5. Content has to be an in-depth resource updated frequently
  6. Content has to be readable and engaging

We’ll cover all of the aspects of SEO content creation later on in this guide.

However, all of these factors boil down to creating content that is interesting, useful, and trustworthy.

If law firms want to reach the top spot on Google results, their content has to feel like it was specifically made for their target audience. Personalization, relevance, and delight are key to SEO content creation.

Links

If a law firm wants to rank highly for their target keywords, they’ll need more than great content.

They’ll also need links from other sites that will increase their authority.

There are two key terms when we talk about the value of links for law firm SEO: Domain Authority and Page Authority.

The more links your page has, the better will it rank in SERPs.

Consequently, if your website has a lot of high-ranking pages, its domain authority will increase.

In the long term, this means that your law firm’s website will rank easily for new keywords and attract more visitors by appearing in the coveted top spot.

However, the quality of links matters.

A law firm that has a lot of links from topically unrelated websites won’t rank as highly as a law firm that has two or three links from authoritative legal websites.

Fortunately, we’ll cover strategies that you can use to get more links from other websites.

The last link category are internal links.

While internal links won’t immediately and directly improve your search rankings, they will improve user experience and show Google how thoroughly you’ve covered a topic on your website.

RankBrain

Google has been paying a lot of attention to user experience recently. They’re constantly modifying how they serve search results with the help of their machine learning algorithm RankBrain.

The goal of RankBrain is to understand user intent: what does the searcher really want to do by typing in a certain search query?

For example, RankBrain understands that when someone types in “personal injury attorney Florida price” they are considering hiring an attorney.

If they type in “personal injury laws,” they’re likely only looking for information.

This is why Google is now able to personalize results based on a variety of factors such as location, previous searches and so much more.

Then, it delivers customized results and evaluates whether they satisfied the searcher’s intent.

If they hadn’t, Google will serve new results the second time.

Optimizing for RankBrain is essentially optimizing for user experience.

Since Google uses RankBrain to understand whether a law firm’s website satisfies searcher intent, you should:

  • Create highly-targeted content
  • Write engaging meta descriptions which appear in the search results
  • Understand different searcher intents
  • Increase dwell time on your website

When your page gets plenty of click-throughs from search results and searchers stay on it for a long time, that sends a signal to Google that it should display your page more often.

Local Ranking Factors

Now, regular ranking factors can be applied to any type of business.

However, local SEO and local ranking factors are particularly important for law firms that want to attract more clients to their practices.

Law firms should first create their Google My Business profiles.

If they have multiple offices, there should be one GMB profile for each location.

It’s important for the profile to contain accurate information such as:

  • Categories and practice areas
  • Work hours
  • Addresses
  • Images
  • Descriptions of services

The second important local ranking factor is distance.

The entire point of local SEO for Google is to display businesses near the searcher.

Physical location determined by IP addresses and stated addresses on GMB profiles weighs into the search engine’s decision to display one result over others.

Finally, the main goal of local SEO is to appear in the first three listings on Google Maps or local results.

This can’t be done only with GMB profiles.

Instead, law firms have to take care of other SEO aspects (including links and reviews) to improve their reputation and prove to Google and searchers that they deserve to be in the top three.

Black-Hat and White-Hat SEO

There are a lot of SEO agencies promising law firms that they’ll rise to number one in SERPs in a few days.

This typically means link-building schemes and spammy tactics that Google has started penalizing with the latest algorithm updates.

They are black-hat SEO practices.

We can think of black-hat SEO as exploiting loopholes in the law, and even explicitly breaking the law in some cases.

Google has clear guidelines on what can and what can’t be done to manipulate search results, so black hat SEO is not a good idea under any condition.

Conversely, white-hat SEO is the type of optimization that ensures long-lasting results.

White-hat SEO includes approved tactics that focus on improving the reputation and standing of a law firm’s website, and generating more traffic by providing value with content.

Notable SERP Features for Law Firms

Different businesses can benefit from different search engine results pages’ features.

However, Google has been working to display some results more prominently and satisfy the searcher intent as soon and as fully as possible.

This is why results pages these days include:

  • Videos and images
  • Maps
  • Featured snippets
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Instant answers
  • Site links

And so much more!

Law firms that properly optimize their websites can get more search engine real estate by appearing not only in standard results, but in other features as well. It’s called optimizing for Position Zero, and we’ll cover it later on in the guide.

Mobile SEO

Finally, mobile SEO has never been more important than it is today. Around 60% of searches are now coming from mobile.

Google has recently decided to implement a mobile-first index.

It will evaluate the quality of law firms’ websites based on the mobile versions of their websites, not desktop (as it had previously).

This takes us back to user experience – it’s a priority for mobile optimization.

People search differently on mobile, and Google’s RankBrain recognizes it and adapts results accordingly.

For example, law firms should make their websites easy to browse, and display information clearly without too many interactive elements not meant to consume on mobile.

Since devices are different, you have to be careful not to serve the same site versions to searchers coming from mobile and searchers coming from desktop.

Law firm website design should be responsive; the website should display modified versions to searchers coming from different platforms.

Similarly, the majority of searchers won’t wait longer than 3 seconds for a page to load. Speed is crucial for mobile SEO.

Finally, people don’t just type search queries into their phones. They use voice search.

When optimizing for mobile and voice search, you should be careful to consider natural language processing and use the same words your clients would use.

For example, a regular client wouldn’t type in the following search query: “Statute of limitations applicable under personal injury law xyz.

Instead, they’d likely type: “How long do I have to sue for personal injury?

A law firm that understands how their clients discuss these topics can properly optimize for desktop, mobile, voice search, and reach the coveted top spot.