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

Part III: Technical SEO for Law Firms

Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Amy Geldean

Part III: Technical SEO for Law Firms

SEO is more focused on satisfying people than search engines.

As we already discussed, there are two parts of SEO: on-page and off-page optimization.

Technical SEO is in the on-page camp, as it covers the aspects that lawyers (or their SEOs) can optimize themselves immediately.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not enough to just have great content. The entire user experience should be great if you want your page (and your website) to rank.

Fortunately, there are quite a few things law firms can do to make sure they’ve set themselves up for success with the technical aspects of search engine optimization.

Website Design and Structure

The first item on our checklist is website design and structure.

Back in the good old days when Google was still chaotic, we could see websites with confusing design appear in the first place on SERPs. There were ten menus, an incomprehensible internal linking structure, and a lot of confusion for every lead that landed on the site.

However, organization and simplicity are the main SEO priorities nowadays.

The main thing to implement is responsive website design.

Google is rolling out the mobile-first index which means that law firm’s website quality will be judged by how the site is displayed on mobile.

Any unnecessary elements that don’t play well with mobile should be removed.

This is in part due to loading times and different experiences when browsing on mobile.

The majority of site visitors won’t wait longer than three seconds for content to load, and clunky elements can be a significant obstacle to speeding up pages.

Navigation and Internal Linking

Navigation should be simple.

The golden rule is:

The most important pages should be accessible within two-three clicks.

For example, a law firm should have a menu that helps leads reach pages like Practice Areas, About, Pricing in a few clicks.

This internal linking structure doesn’t just help searchers understand the site better. It also helps bots distinguish between important pages and less important pages.

The more a page is linked to from within a text or placed prominently in the menu or on the homepage, the higher chances it has of receiving a Sitelink position in the SERPs.

An example of a navigational SERP with sitelinks

An example of a navigational SERP with sitelinks

If you want to improve your link equity (the amount of attention each page on your law firm’s website gets), you can ask for all external mentions to link to your homepage, and then link to other pages on your website from it.

This way, link equity is shared equally between different pages on your site.

A good internal linking structure is crucial to ensuring that all of your pages are linking to one another, and that “link juice” is flowing between them.

When you receive an external link to from an authoritative website, you’ll be able to leverage it to improve the ranking of all the pages on your site.

The Solution for Site Speed

Sometimes attorneys have slow-loading sites and don’t know what the problem is.

In that case, it’s simple to run diagnostics and get suggestions for improvement with Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

Usually, it’s one of the following causes:

  • Large files
  • Hosting providers
  • Malfunctioning code

Large files and images can be compressed easily with plugins like Smush for WordPress, or external services like Compressor.io.

They reduce image file size without sacrificing quality or user experience.

Malfunctioning code can also be to blame for slow sites.

In that case, there are also plugins that minify HTML and other scripts, or manually stop them from loading first and consequently slowing down the rest of the site’s content.

This is a solid choice if your law firm wants to hang on to particular elements.

However, if the aforementioned elements are not absolutely necessary for good user experience, they should be removed.

Finally, sometimes a slow site can be blamed on your hosting provider.

Typically, cheapest hosting options are the ones where law firms share their website server space with other websites.

This means they cannot handle a significant volume of traffic, and they get bogged down by other sites’ traffic. In the long term, it’s much better to opt for private hosting.

URL Structures, Title Tags, and Meta Descriptions

Some aspects of technical SEO require professional help to be implemented.

However, URL structures, title tags and meta descriptions are usually simple enough for a beginner to set up and experience immediate results.

SEO URL Structure

URL Structures

Back in the day, it was fine to have a URL that went something like this: “xyzlaw.com/page/1234567.”

However, we know better these days, and Google demands us to do better because it likes it when we add keywords and descriptive words to our URLs.

There are two main URL structures being used today:

  1. Flat URL structure: xyzlaw.com/personal-injury-lawsuit
  2. Sub-directory structure: xyzlaw.com/services/personal-injury

The URL structure a particular law firm will use depends on their own business structure.

For example, a flat URL structure is great for firms that don’t have a lot of directories based on topic categories, locations, services, and so on. If they’re specialists, they don’t have to implement the sub-directory structure.

However, if a law firm specializes in different legal areas, it’s good to have multiple sub-directories to organize content for user experience.

The main caveat is keyword confusion.

When there are multiple keywords mentioned in the URL, search engines may choose to prioritize only some of them.

Conversely, a flat URL structure clearly shows search engines which keywords are being targeted.

Most SEOs believe that a flat structure is superior because there is no confusion about important keywords or length.

However, it can create confusion when it comes to internal linking and user experience.

Again, the URL structure a firm will choose depends on the way they do business; their service areas, locations, and much more. However, it’s all good as long as there is an organized URL structure that the firm adheres to consistently.

Title Tags

We can consider title tags to be the foundation of on-page SEO. They’re just that effective.

Not only do they tell bots what the content is about, but they also affirm leads’ searcher intent with keywords.

With title tags, it’s important to keep things simple.

Law firms should focus on one practice area in their title tag, and keep everything focused on the intent.

For example, if the query is informational, the title tag should include a keyword and reaffirm that intent: “How to File a Personal Injury Claim.”

Again, attorneys are at an advantage here because they can use local SEO modifiers such as “near me” and particular locations.

How to File a Personal Injury Claim in Nebraska” will always rank better for searchers in Nebraska than the regular garden variety “How to File a Personal Injury Claim” that can pertain to any state.

The more searchers can relate to results, the more clicks will the pages get.

Finally, content should utilize H1, H2 and H3 tags as a way of organizing content.

Search bots recognize them, and use them to understand how thoroughly a subject is being covered.

Meta Descriptions

If title tags announce what a page is about, then meta descriptions entice searchers to click on it.

The most common mistake law firms and websites in general make is that they repeat what they’ve already stated in the title.

This is a big no-no, as meta descriptions should be 160 characters max and they have to be put to good use.

When reading the meta description, leads should be convinced to click through.

Law firms can optimize by:

  • Using keywords
  • Using actionable words
  • Making a tangible offer in the meta description

In short, meta descriptions for law firms should be written like ad copy: enticing and engaging, with a promise of benefits to come.

Finally, there is no guarantee that Google will use your defined meta description for each page.

However, if the target keyword is mentioned in the description, you have a higher chance of your pre-set meta description appearing in SERPs.

Implementing URL Structures, Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Since majority of websites use WordPress, law firms can implement URL structures, title tags and meta descriptions with a plugin like Yoast SEO.

While the plugin is no match for a certified SEO professional, it can be a good solution for beginners and firms who want to start optimizing their content as soon as possible.

It also measures keyword density and readability, adhering to Google SEO best practices.

The URL structure can be modified in WordPress settings (Settings –> Permalinks), as well.

When all three elements are combined, we come to the intersection of SEO and UX:

  • The right keywords show leads (and bots) what the page is about
  • Clear and valuable information motivates leads to click and convert
  • Great copy improves CTR and makes leads an offer they can’t refuse

Ultimately, title tags, meta descriptions and URL structures all contribute to an improved searcher experience and better indexation.

Mobile Optimization

With Google’s mobile-first index, it’s important for law firm websites to optimize for mobile SEO, as well.

Website Design

website design is the foundation of mobile optimization. Law firms can choose between responsive design, dynamic serving, or completely separate sites for mobile visitors.

Normally, the majority of businesses go with responsive design as it requires less work and reduces the chances of missing or duplicate content.

It’s also recommended by Google.

Responsive design simply recognizes the device that’s being used to access a website and adapts content accordingly.

Law firms should avoid using Flash for dynamic content as it can’t be loaded on mobile. It’s much better to use HTML5, if it must be used.

Similarly, Google stipulates that resources like CSS, JavaScript and images should be fully crawlable on mobile.

Otherwise, bots may consider the mobile page to be malfunctioning and avoid serving it in search results.  

You can check if you’re accidentally blocking any resources in your robots.txt file.

The file is accessible through the website or through the Google Search Console. For errors, you can check by navigating to Google Index —> Blocked Resources.

Law firms should also avoid pop-ups that weren’t made for mobile as they can impair user experience. Instead, it’s better to use native mobile pop-ups.

While we can opt out of pop-ups completely, it’s good to keep them in the form of exit pop-ups appearing only when leads want to leave the site.

This way, there’s a minimal effect on user experience, and it could even improve dwell time.

Finally, keep mobile constraints in mind. On desktop, searchers use a mouse to click on buttons and browse websites.

However, mobile means fingers. Make sure that buttons are big enough, and that the content is readable without having to pinch to zoom in.

As a rule of thumb, content will be readable if:

  • The font is at least 14px
  • There are max 2 lines per paragraph
  • Line length is not more than 60 characters
  • The content is displayed as black text on white background
  • There is plenty of white space

Above the Fold Content

While phones were made for scrolling, plenty of searchers won’t hang around on websites that don’t display the most important information front and center.

This is why it’s important for law firms to state the most important offers and explanations above the fold (the portion of the screen that is visible without having to scroll down).

Above the fold constraints are particularly important in terms of landing pages.

For example, personal injury leads would be most interested in seeing how the practice can help.

Law firms should provide basic information containing an offer and add a call-to-action (CTA) button above the fold.

Simplification

Speed is crucial to mobile search engine optimization, so law firms should remove unnecessary:

  • Images
  • Videos
  • Code
  • Content

For example, background overlays could look good on desktop. However, on mobile they will take too long to load. It’s much better to avoid them.

Similarly, videos and images that don’t serve an action-driving purpose and distract the lead from the content should be avoided whenever possible.

If the element is not necessary, it has to be removed.

In cases where it’s not possible to remove elements or code, you can use plug-ins for minifying code and cache plugins like W3 Total Cache to speed up your pages for mobile leads.

Breadcrumbs

Complex menus and navigation bars are a thing of the past – or at least a thing of desktop websites.

With mobile, everything has to be minimized and completely focused on providing valuable information to leads to stand a chance at converting them and ranking highly on SERPs.

One of the most important things law firms can implement to organize their content are breadcrumb trails: simplified menus.

The most important type of breadcrumb trails for law firms are hierarchy breadcrumbs.

Hierarchy breadcrumbs are convenient for practices that have directory URL structures and a lot of pages.

For example, if a law firm operates in different cities and covers different practice areas, their hierarchical breadcrumb trail could be displayed as:

Home – Chicago – Tax Counsel.

If a law firm covers multiple practice areas, their breadcrumbs could be:

Home – Practice Areas – Personal Injury.

Breadcrumbs make it really easy for users to visit higher-level pages. And when it comes to mobile, they can even fully replace traditional menus for a smoother experience.

Finally, even Google loves breadcrumbs. The experts confirmed that it could positively influence a law firm’s rankings.

Checking Mobile Performance

The most important tool is Google’s Mobile Friendly test. It reviews pages to determine whether they’re mobile friendly or not.

The second most important tool for mobile performance is Fetch As Google.

Fetch is especially handy when pages contain media elements. It will help attorneys understand whether all the elements are properly loading for Google bots, or they’re at risk of their mobile page not being served to mobile searchers.

Additionally, Matt Kersley’s Responsive test will display different website versions. This way, you can see what your website and pages truly look like to visitors coming from different devices.

Schema Structured Markup

Schema markup is an incredible way for a law firm’s website to stand out from competitors in the search engine results.

Once implemented, the markup creates an enhanced description – rich snippet.

If you used Fetch as Google, you’ve probably noticed that Google sees things quite black and white. And if it crawls and indexes them as such, it ranks them as such.

When law firms use Schema, on the other hand, it brings metaphorical color to indexing and results.

Schema tells Google that there are avatars and images in the text, and specifies different elements and topics covered in the content.

[Please embed: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/images/enhance-site02-contacts.png ]

In this particular example, Schema was used to define contact information for this company, making it appear more prominently.

However, there are hundreds of data types.

Schema can also be used to specify practice areas for attorneys, contact information, addresses, CTAs, and much more.

It incorporates the best elements of general and local SEO to help your firm catch the attention of your leads.

Each separate page can contain specific microdata.

For example, blogs can use structured markup to specify events, professional credentials, reviews, and so much more.

With Schema, your law firm pages will stand out more prominently in the search results. 

After all, would you click on the first result with Schema and ratings, or the second result with just text?

[Please embed: https://moz-static.s3.amazonaws.com/learn/seo/schema-rich-snippets.png?mtime=20170104131459 ]
Image source: Moz

Generating Schema Code

You can create your Schema code with Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.

However, it’s better to consult a professional so you implement Schema properly and avoid messing up your website code.

Schema won’t directly influence your SEO results. However, it will make more people click through to your pages, improving your CTR and dwell time.

Ultimately, that’s what will tell Google to serve your site to more and more searchers, giving you all the leads your law firm needs.

Finally, you can test your Schema with Structured Data Testing Tool

Alt Text and Image Optimization

There are very few things on your law firm’s site that can’t be optimized.

Even images and alt text (text displayed when the image can’t be displayed) can be leveraged to improve your rankings and increase your visibility in different sections of search engine results pages.

For example, you can add keywords to image names.

If the image is displayed on a page about personal injury and depicts something related to it, you can title it: “personal injury lawyers Chicago.”

This way, your pages won’t only be displayed in typical Google Web Search.

They’ll be displayed on Image Search, as well, which counts for 22.6% of all searches in the US.

Similarly, alt text (which is used by Google bots to understand what your images represent) can be modified to specify what is happening in the image.

HTTP vs HTTPS / WWW vs non-WWW

Finally, Google has made it their priority to keep their searchers safe.

This is why the majority of high-ranking pages have SSL security certificates that prove their ownership of the website.

Otherwise, searchers will be directed to HTTP sites with a warning that the website could be fraudulent. If they’re browsing from Chrome, they’ll see a red opened padlock which can have a strong psychological effect.

If you want to make sure your pages are displaying properly, make sure you purchase a SSL certificate that will make you URL start with HTTPS (as opposed to HTTP) and prove to Google that you’re making security your priority.

WWW vs non-WWW

These days, Google gives site owners a choice between their websites being crawled, indexed and ranked as WWW and non-WWW.

There’s not much SEO value to it, but it’s important to specify a version and adhere to it.

Otherwise, Google will index the other version as a different site, affecting your rankings in the process.

Understanding Technical SEO for Law Firms

You and Google both want to provide a great experience to searchers (in your case, leads) in order to retain them.

Technical SEO is all about providing the foundations for great content.

By organizing and structuring information in a clear, efficient way, your law firm will be able to convert more leads to customers.