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

Part II: Keyword Research for Attorneys

Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Amy Geldean

Part II: Keyword Research for Attorneys

Keyword research is the foundation of good law firm SEO.

It’s to search engines what categories are to libraries; an indispensable way of organizing information that benefits readers, librarians, and writers themselves.

However, it’s not enough to just come up with a list of five generalized keywords and call it a day.

In order to gain traction, law firms have to strategize.

What Is Keyword Research (and Why Does It Matter)?

Keyword research is a process in SEO that identifies popular words and phrases searchers use to find content they are interested in.

Now, there are different types of keywords, both in length and in substance.

Each type is used by a particular group of potential clients with different intents.

A law firm that understands the intent behind different keyword groups can easily adapt content to satisfy searchers and drive more conversions.

Consequently, by serving personalized content that leads want to see and find useful, the law firm will rise in rank on Google as its content will be perceived as valuable.

Search Volume and Competition

One of the most important parts of keyword research is determining the competition and the search volume of particular keywords.

Competition itself is defined as a number of websites with high domain authority that are creating content for the same keywords.

For example, a small law firm that only started with SEO and wants to compete for “lawyers in Chicago” won’t have a lot of luck.

There are a lot of firms competing for that keyword, and if the small firm just started with SEO it likely doesn’t have enough backlinks yet. Consequently, without backlinks, the firm doesn’t have a high enough domain authority.   

Conversely, as a law firm attracts backlinks from reputable sites, it will rank higher even for the most competitive keywords.

Search volume defines how many people search for particular keywords on a regular basis.

Short-Tail and Long-Tail Keywords

As a rule of thumb, general, short-tail keywords (e.g. “lawyer”) are always more competitive.

However, just because the search volume for these keywords is high doesn’t mean that they convert many leads.

Due to the generalized nature of the keywords, they don’t provide specific answers for specific situations, and they’re typically informational.

Conversely, long-tail keywords (e.g. “tax attorney in Chicago”) convert more people. Searchers who type in those keywords are more likely to be interested in performing a transaction such as scheduling a consultation.

The goal of keyword research is finding keywords that don’t have a lot of competition, but still attract a decent search volume.

Again, Google is being quite intuitive about this.

A law firm that specializes in tax wouldn’t advertise itself as just “a law firm.”

Instead, it would put their practice area at the forefront, attracting the clients who need tax attorneys.

Determining Search Volume and Competition

The simplest way to determine search volume is with Google Keyword Planner.

While the tool was originally created for businesses that use Google Ads, it can also be used for SEO as it displays search volume accurately.

It’s the best way to validate keywords and gauge leads’ interest in them.

Typically, long-tail keywords have less competition and more targeted traffic, even if the search volume isn’t as high.

When law firm leads type in long-tail search queries, they are more likely to know what they want and convert as soon as they land on your firm’s website.

Conversely, short-tail keywords have a high search volume, a lot of competition, but fail to convert as much as long-tails.

One caveat is that Keyword Planner displays keyword competition based on advertising data.

While this is not completely accurate data to base your SEO efforts on, it can be a good indicator of how competitive a keyword is.

Other tools that law firms can use to assess competition are:

As a rule of thumb, it’s good to use long-tail keywords when you’re first starting with search engine optimization.

They’re much easier to rank for (due to low competition) and offer targeted traffic.

And speaking of targeted traffic…

Search Query Intents

There is a specific intent behind each search query.

Google’s RankBrain is dedicated to understanding the intent behind each query and serving relevant results, which means that law firms have to do the same.

Search queries can be categorized into the following groups:

  1. Navigational search queries
  2. Transactional search queries
  3. Informational search queries

Navigational search queries are commonly used to find particular websites.

For example, a lead could search for particular law firms (e.g. “Johnson & Johnson tax attorneys”). These searches are usually performed by searchers who are already familiar with the law firm, and they’re high-converting.

Transactional search queries are performed by leads who are interested in making a transaction. For example, contacting a particular law firm.

Naturally, this type of search query converts easily, as the searcher intent behind it is to take action.

Finally, informational search queries are conducted by people who simply want more knowledge.

In terms of legal SEO, this could mean a lead typing in “how to sue for personal injury.” It’s a great opportunity for a law firm to publish a blog post explaining how to do it, and then direct the lead to their contact form.

Each type of search query/keyword has its place in a well-formed SEO strategy.

The best strategies for lead generation for law firms use all three.

How to Find the Right Law Firm Keywords

There are a lot of ways to find the right keywords. However, the search has to begin with a law firm’s audience and practice areas.

As with all things related to Google, user experience is crucial.

Law firms can start by asking questions, i.e. using AnswerThePublic to understand the terms their leads frequently search for.

Again, keywords are only meaningful in as much that they are words used by potential clients.

The keyword “statute of limitations personal injury” means very little to clients who are not familiar with legal terms and would search for “how long do you have to sue for personal injury” instead.

As far as keyword ideation tools go, AnswerThePublic is a great option for law firms that want to attract as many leads as possible through informational keywords.

Another option for finding frequently asked questions are message boards, either specific to legal matters or general ones like Reddit.

Not only will they serve as a good source of keywords, but they’ll also give law firms plenty of content ideas. And as Google values providing answers to FAQ (even has a featured snippet section in the SERPs for it), this approach will impact the page authority of a law firm’s pages in the long term.

Law firms can also start their keyword research by entering a seed keyword (e.g. tax lawyer Arizona) and going through:

  • Keyword Planner related keywords suggestions
  • Google suggestions in SERPs (Google Autocomplete, Related Searches, People Also Ask)
  • KWFinder, Ahrefs, SEMrush and Ubersuggest’s suggestions

Social media, message boards like Quora, and other websites can be great tools for keyword research, as well.

They are the best sources for finding natural keywords that clients frequently use.

In fact, some of them can be a great asset for competing for big keywords. The law firm that knows how its clients speak is the law firm that wins at SEO in the long term.

If your law firm has been using Google Search Console for a while, you’ll see keywords your leads often use to arrive on your site.

This can be a good way of finding keywords you may not have originally thought of.

And when GSC is integrated with Google Analytics, law firms can also understand which keywords bring the most conversions – even if they haven’t been optimizing their site before.

Finally, a competitive analysis can also be beneficial – especially if a law firm has a lot of competitors using SEO to improve their lead generation.

With competitive analysis, it’s important to go through content and the competitor’s results in SERPs.

Law firms should pay particular attention to highest ranking pages. This will not only inform keyword strategy, but content strategy, as well.

Evaluating Keywords

When you’ve created your keyword list, it’s time to validate each keyword.

Good keywords should be:

  • Popular – The keywords should have a good search volume
  • Relevant – The keywords should satisfy a particular searcher intent, and so should the content that is aiming to rank for the keyword
  • Rankable – The competition isn’t high and you stand a chance of competing for the keyword

Law firms should also incorporate LSI keywords – semantically related keywords.

For example, if the main keyword is “tax attorney,” a semantically related keyword you could add to a blog post would be “tax debt.”

Google uses LSI keywords to understand which words and phrases are related to a greater subject.

Consequently, when a law firm uses applicable LSI keywords, Google perceives its content as more thorough and valuable than other practices’ content that does not contain LSIs.

Since SEO is a long-term law firm marketing approach, law firms can also use Google Trends to understand the popularity of keywords over time.

The Trends search will display:

  • Popularity in an area
  • Popularity over time
  • Popularity in different search networks (e.g. Web Search, YouTube Search)
  • Interest over time
  • Related topics
  • Related queries

For example, a Google Trends search for “personal injury attorney Chicago” shows that personal injury leads’ interest for the topic peaked between January 6 and 12 in 2019.

Google Search Trends Personal Injury Attorney

Additionally, these searches can be compared against other searches.

This gives you the ability to assess different keywords, something that comes in handy if you plan on creating evergreen content.

Evaluating Keyword Intent

Finally, you should evaluate keyword intent.

As we already discussed, every lead searching for a particular keyword performs that action with a specific intent.

Some want to get more information on the subject, others are looking for specific firms, and the last group wants to get a lawyer as soon as possible.

When evaluating their keywords, law firms should understand what the lead wants to achieve by searching for that specific keyword.

Informational searches can be recognized by phrasing such as:

  • How to file a personal injury claim
  • How to hire a lawyer on retainer
  • Filing a lawsuit

The leads’ goal here is getting more information or legal counsel.

Consequently, these keywords can be incorporated into informative, educational content.

Transactional searches can be recognized by phrasing such as:

  • Schedule a consultation with an immigration lawyer
  • Chicago personal injury lawyer
  • Attorney pricing

The goal is performing a transaction. Typically, scheduling a consultation or inquiring about pricing.

Law firms can use their transactional keywords by creating intent-affirming pricing, scheduling, and practice pages.

After all, keywords are not only meant to be used in blogs.

Finally, navigational searches can be recognized by branded keywords (keywords denoting the name of your law firm).

In this case, the lead knows exactly which firm they want to hire and they are merely using Google to navigate to their website.

In general, the longest transactional keywords are usually the most profitable ones.

Understanding the intent behind each keyword helps law firms affirm it by personalizing their content.

This way, attorneys will be able to capture leads at all stages of the marketing funnel; from those merely looking for more information to those who trust the firm that produces such valuable content.

In that sense, SEO is a top-to-bottom funnel strategy that ensures long-term results.

And not only will it improve your law firms’ marketing results, but SEO will also help you understand your clients even better.