A Complete Guide to SEO for Lawyers
Ever wished there was a comprehensive guide to SEO for lawyers? If so, you’re in the right place. In today’s digital age, search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical part of attracting new clients and growing your law firm. It’s what gives you a boost when you need to stand out from the local competition or reach a wider audience, and it’s what puts you in front of your best potential clients when they search for lawyers and legal topics online.
The only problem is that it comes with a steep learning curve!
Lawyers that want to boost their growth with SEO can find themselves lost in the weeds pretty quickly. And, even if you ultimately have someone else handle it for you, you can’t make wise decisions about your strategy unless you understand what SEO is, why it’s important, and how it works to attract new clients to your firm.
So, get ready—we have a lot of ground to cover. Here is your clear and comprehensive guide to SEO for lawyers.
What Is Lawyer SEO and Why Is It Important?
When we talk about “lawyer SEO,” we’re talking about the process of optimizing a website to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific keywords related to the lawyer's practice areas. The optimization process involves a variety of techniques, including things like keyword research, on-page optimization, technical optimization, and link building. (We’ll get deep into all of that below.) It’s an important marketing strategy for any kind of business in today’s digital age, and lawyers are no exception.
By using the right mix of SEO techniques, lawyers can make their websites more attractive to search engines and potential clients, increase their law firm’s online presence and credibility, establish their expertise in their practice areas, and convert more website visitors into clients.
Honestly, all kinds of law firms benefit from a strong SEO strategy, but we often see the biggest results for the following types of lawyers:
- Personal injury
- Criminal defense
- Medical malpractice
- Social security
- Estate planning
Just like anything else you do to market your law firm, SEO takes some time and money to get right. However, it’s really what turns the internet into a channel of steady leads for your law firm, and the growth can be significant.
Ranking Factors: How Does Google Decide Who to Rank?
In the olden days of SEO, Google’s algorithm was directly looking for the keywords you typed into the search box. So, for example, if a potential client typed in “lawyer Austin TX,” Google would try to match the search with pages that contained the words “lawyer,” “Austin,” and “TX.”
Now, Google’s algorithms are much more sophisticated, using cutting-edge technology, innovation, and machine learning to decide how relevant, authoritative, and trustworthy a website is before sending it to the top of the results. And, while nobody knows the exact mix of factors that go into its secret algorithms, Google isn’t shy about sharing the broad methods they use to determine which sites rank highly.
For example, we know that Google weighs the authority of a website using the concept of E-E-A-T. It’s a set of quality guidelines for online content, and it stands for:
So, we don’t have to guess what Google is looking for—they’ve already told us that they’re looking for website content that is accurate, trustworthy, and produced by experts in the field. Google even knows that websites in the medical, financial, and legal industries are more likely to have a significant impact on people’s lives and health, so it holds those kinds of websites to higher quality standards.
As you can see, that’s miles away from simply putting the right keywords in the right places!
Taking it a step further, we also know that Google uses RankBrain—a “machine learning” or “AI” algorithm—to understand keywords in search, measure how users interact with search results, and gauge their satisfaction with what they found. With its machine-learning capabilities, the algorithm essentially adjusts itself based on actual user behaviors, like:
So, it’s no longer looking for pages that match the exact keywords someone types in. Instead, RankBrain looks at what searchers are actually doing and helps Google understand what they’re really looking for.
Of course, all this advanced methodology comes with frequent changes and updates, and that’s where lawyer SEO can get tough. Google is constantly adjusting and improving their search and ranking algorithms, and big Google updates can turn the SEO world on its head literally overnight.
When Google changes, lawyers have to follow. And the best way to deal with that is to pay attention and understand what’s coming. It’s rarely out of the blue, and Google has often “gently suggested” new guidelines for months or years before they become a big part of the algorithm.
So, the moral of the story is that lawyers should expect SEO to change and listen seriously when Google starts nudging everyone in a particular direction. Chances are, that “nudge” is going to become a great big push in the future.
What Is Local SEO?
Most law firms depend on finding clients in their immediate geographic area, a flavor of SEO referred to as “local SEO.” This is the process of optimizing a website to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific geographic locations.
Because it has more targeted goals, local SEO differs from traditional SEO in several ways. While traditional SEO focuses on ranking a website for broad keywords, local SEO focuses on:
- Local keywords
- Local citations, which are mentions of the law firm's name, address, and phone number (NAP) on other websites
- Google Business Profile optimization
- Placement in Google's local pack, which is a set of local search results that appear at the top of the SERP
Local SEO is specifically designed to help businesses target customers within a specific city, state, or region, and that’s often an important factor for law firms. After all, why waste time and energy marketing to the entire nation when you only want clients from your hometown or the state you’re licensed to practice in?
Overall, local SEO is more targeted and focused on helping businesses reach potential customers within a specific geographical area, while traditional SEO focuses on increasing a website's visibility and ranking for broad keywords. And, when you use the right mix of local and traditional SEO, you put yourself in the best position to attract the perfect clients for your firm.
9 Steps to Awesome Law Firm SEO
Now that you have a better understanding of SEO, local SEO, and why Google ranks websites the way it does, it’s time to get into how you can use it to grow your law firm. Good law firm SEO requires mastery of approximately 9 key components:
- Keyword research
- Content strategy
- On-page optimization
- Name, address, and phone number (NAP) listings
- Backlink building
- User experience (UX)
- Mobile usability
- Review generation
- Technical SEO
So, keep reading as we get deeper into each of these topics below.
1. Performing Keyword Research
Keyword research helps you determine:
- Which keywords and phrases are relevant to your practice areas
- Which keywords and phrases are being actively searched by your potential clients
This is such an important step in SEO for lawyers because your potential clients aren’t always using the kinds of keywords you might assume they’re using! So, there’s no sense in just trying to guess. Instead, here are some ways to get started with keyword research.
Identify your “perfect clients.”
Who is the “perfect client” you’re trying to attract to your law firm? What are their needs? How do they talk about their problems? What motivates them to take their questions to Google? Asking yourself these kinds of questions helps you narrow down the kinds of keywords and phrases they might be using to search for legal services. Before you do anything else to improve your search rankings, you should have a clear idea of that “perfect client” in your mind’s eye.
Compile a list of keywords.
With that perfect client in mind, start creating a list of keywords and phrases that relate to your practice areas. You can use tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, and Moz Keyword Explorer to generate keyword ideas and variations. Don’t be afraid to also include a few “long-tail keywords,” which are more specific and longer phrases. These phrases are often less competitive and can help you target a specific audience more effectively.
Analyze search volume and competition.
The next step is to use your keyword research tools to determine the search volume for each keyword and the level of competition for ranking in search results. Go through the list of keywords you came up with above, and look for the ones with a high search volume and low competition. These are the keywords that hit the “sweet spot” and are likely to give you the best results for your effort.
Once you have your keywords ready and researched, you’re ready to use them to build your website and content strategy. And that’s exactly what we’ll talk about next.
Of course, we should also mention that keyword research isn’t a one-time thing. You should regularly monitor your keyword rankings and adjust your strategy over time, which will keep you on top of changes in search behavior and keep you ranking for the most relevant keywords for your practice.
2. Building a Content Strategy
You have your keywords. What happens now? Well, it’s time to use those keywords to build up your website and build out a great content strategy. If you’re like most attorneys, you’ll probably find that the bulk of your best keywords are based around questions—things like, “what do I do after a car accident,” or “do I still need a will if I have a living trust.” So, you want to make sure that your website and content are totally focused on providing helpful and comprehensive answers.
Of course, all the pages on your website need content, whether that’s words, images, videos, or a combination of all the above. But different types of pages are meant to meet different goals. That’s why SEO experts like to divide website content into two categories: top-of-funnel (TOFU) and bottom of funnel (BOFU).
When people enter your website on your homepage or a major practice area page, they’re in the wide top end of the funnel. So, on those TOFU pages, you’ll want to use your more general keywords—the kinds of keywords that describe what you do and speak to the most common questions for your main practice areas. These kinds of pages should attract people searching for your keywords, but—even more importantly—they should continue to funnel visitors to pages that are more and more relevant and specific to their needs.
That’s when we start to get into the narrow bottom of the funnel. BOFU pages are things like your blogs, FAQs, and targeted offer or “free book” pages. This is where you should be using highly specific keywords and writing highly specific content that strongly resonates with the visitor’s problem.
So, for example, you might construct a top-of-funnel practice area page around phrases like “car accident lawyer,” and you might use that page to answer broad questions about what to do after an accident, when to talk to the insurance company, and when you might need an attorney. From there, you would start to build out more specific blogs, FAQs, and articles that go deeper into specific concerns. So, the visitor might funnel themselves down into a blog about cyclist’s rights after they’ve been hit by a car or what to do if you’ve been injured by a commercial vehicle.
Ultimately, that TOFU content is important, but BOFU content is likely what makes up the bulk of the pages on your website. As much as we like to think that the majority of our visitors come in through our homepages and practice area pages, the truth is that the best leads often come in from search on those highly specific BOFU pages. Your best leads may not be the 500 people that landed on your homepage. Instead, it’s probably the 5 people that were curious about pedestrian accidents plus the 8 people that downloaded your book about mesothelioma plus the 16 people that looked at your FAQ about commercial truck accidents, etc.
That’s why it’s so important to get on a consistent schedule of creating BOFU content that answers questions and speaks to real-life concerns. Your content strategy should be constantly putting out highly specific, highly relevant hooks that reel in highly relevant clients for your firm.
Potential clients will remember you for relevant content that speaks directly to their specific needs and concerns. And the relevance, quality, and expertise you demonstrate with that kind of content will keep you ranking highly with search engines.
3. Get Deep Into On-Page SEO
When most lawyers think about SEO, what they’re really thinking about is on-page SEO. This covers things like how to use keywords on a page, setting up titles and tags, and doing all the other nuts-and-bolts things that optimize a particular page for search.
It’s important to understand that whole websites don’t rank for keywords and searches; individual pages do. So, how you optimize every page of your law firm’s website matters.
Let’s talk about keywords first. Most law firms have a variety of keywords they’re trying to rank for. However, you don’t want to to stuff every keyword into every page of your website. Instead, you want to choose one keyword (and maybe a couple closely related variations) that is relevant to the page, and stick to that keyword throughout.
That doesn’t mean that you should stuff that keyword into your content in awkward places, though! You want to write something that is great for your potential clients to read. If your keyword is truly relevant to the content you’re writing, it will come up naturally as you go. That being said, though, there are some core places on the page that you want to make sure your keyword or a variation appears, such as:
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Main headlines and section headers
- URL slugs
Of course, keywords aren’t the only thing that go into on-page SEO for law firms. You also want to pay attention to “internal linking,” or the way that you can link pages on your website together to keep people engaged and moving in the right direction. So, for example, you might link to the story of a client’s successful work injury case from an article about that type of work injury. You might include a sidebar or panel with links to other articles about relevant topics. Or you might link back to a top-level practice area page from a more specific, bottom-of-the-funnel page.
Linking your content together in way that make sense can keep users on your site longer and give them a better experience as they navigate through your website. It builds relevancy, reinforces your expertise, and ideally answers more of their questions as they go. And that’s something that signals to search engines that your site is a place that people find answers and have a great experience.
(Learn more about how to use links on your website to improve law firm SEO.)
Similarly, you’ll want to keep an eye on the word count of your content, especially your BOFU content. We’ve found that longer content tends to outperform shorter content in search engine rankings, and there are lots of good reasons for that. Sure, it takes longer to read a 2000-word article than a 300-word article, and that means that people typically stick around longer. But longer content is also more likely to:
- Thoroughly answer the reader’s question
- Include lots of natural language that helps Google put you in front of the right searchers
We’re not saying that you have to make every piece of content on your site 3000+ words long. However, you do want to tend toward longer content that offers comprehensive answers and really covers what your audience wants and needs to know.
And one more note about on-page SEO before we move on: don’t forget about image alt tags. While photos and graphics really do bring your text to life, you want to make sure that they’re optimized and tagged according to best practices. One example is using alt tags to clearly describe images, not as a place to stuff keywords.
4. Optimize and Verify Your Business Listings
The SEO optimization on your website isn’t the only way people find you online. You also need to think about your Google Business Profile, local citations, and directory listings. In many cases, your potential clients will see these kinds of listings before they visit your website, and you want to be ready with optimized listings that show you at your best and most helpful.
First, let’s talk about your Google Business Profile. Having an optimized Google Business Profile is table stakes for lawyer SEO. The first step is to claim your listing. The next step is to optimize your profile. This might include adding your hours, contact information, a compelling description of what you do, and photos and videos. By implementing the best practices for optimizing your Google Business Profile, you can increase your online visibility (especially in the coveted “local pack”), establish yourself as credible and trustworthy, and attract more potential clients to your law firm.
And, for all your listings online, the most important thing you can do is pay attention to how your name, address, and phone number (NAP) are listed. Google's algorithm considers NAP consistency a critical factor in local SEO. By ensuring your NAP information is accurate and consistent across all online listings, Google can trust that your business information is up to date and credible, leading to higher search engine rankings. It’s also less confusing for potential clients when your information is accurate and consistent across the Web.
5. Build Backlinks That Increase Trust
“Backlinks” are links back to your website from outside sources. Google looks at the backlink profile of your website to determine how trustworthy you are and how much authority you might hold in your field. You don’t want just any backlinks—you want quality backlinks that reinforce the idea that your website is authoritative and worthy of trust. So, a link back from a well-known law school is a great backlink, while a link back from a spammy advertising site can drag you down.
In short, good backlinks improve your rankings and bring in qualified referral traffic; bad backlinks just make you look bad.
If you’re serious about law firm SEO, you definitely don’t want to wait around and hope that you get great backlinks. Instead, you want to put the work into building a strategy to intentionally attract them.
Some common backlink opportunities for lawyers include:
- Local citations and business sites. Were you included in a guide to your city’s best downtown businesses? Or maybe you’re listed in a local business directory? These kinds of local citations can provide awesome backlinks to your site.
- Lawyer-specific citation sites. Legal directories, like Avvo or Best Lawyers, are also important places to build backlinks. In some cases, searchers might see your Avvo listing before they find your website in their search results!
- Chamber of Commerce. Does your local Chamber of Commerce publish a list of local businesses? Depending on where you’re located, your Chamber of Commerce may be very active online, providing directory links, spotlight articles, and top-10 lists that are great sources of backlinks and local traffic.
- News articles and media coverage. Have you been interviewed by a media outlet? Ask if you can include a link to your website in the article or bio blurb. Have an upcoming event? Create a press release and send it out for syndication.
- Writing link-worthy content. Well-written, comprehensive content on your website can naturally generate great backlinks. So, as you write articles or develop videos, think about the types of content other sites might link to. For example, articles that present important statistical content in an approachable way are popular, as well as interesting studies and great explanations of complex concepts.
- Promoting content. If you’re creating link-worthy content, put it out there where people can link to it! You should promote your best content through social media, emails to your contact list, your newsletter, etc.
6. Focus on the User Experience
User experience (UX) is a critical aspect of SEO for law firms, and it refers to the overall experience that a user has while interacting with your website. The idea is to provide a positive experience that keep users on your website, keep them engaged, and satisfy their reasons for visiting. Google and other search engines can pick up on UX those signals, and user experience is one of the major factors in how your website ranks in search.
Not sure what goes into building a great user experience? Here are some of the most important ideas:
- Usability. Usability refers to the ease with which users can navigate and interact with a website. It should be easy to find what they’re looking for, and pages should be organized in a logical way. Everything should work correctly. And, overall, your website should be intuitive to use, with the most important information front and center. The user interface (UI) on your website makes a difference here, too. Everything from your layout and colors to your fonts and buttons should make sense, look great, and be easy to use.
- Accessibility. Accessibility is the concept of designing your website in a way that makes it accessible to people with disabilities. This includes things like using alt text for images, providing captions for videos, and designing websites that can be used with assistive technologies.
- Content. Just like we talked about above, the content of your website plays a crucial role in the user experience. High-quality content that is well-written and relevant to the user's needs can help create a positive user experience. The same goes for natural calls-to-action that aren’t overly sales-y or spammy.
- Performance. The performance of a website is critical to the user experience. Slow loading times, broken elements, or error messages can frustrate users and lead to a negative user experience.
- Mobile optimization. With the vast majority of website visitors now using mobile at least sometimes, this is a big deal. You want your website to be responsive to mobile users and give them an experience that is designed to work on their phone or tablet.
Overall, creating a positive user experience requires attention to lots of different aspects of website design and SEO. But, when it all comes together just right, you’re rewarded with happier visitors, better conversations, and higher rankings in search.
7. Prioritize Mobile Usability
We know we just mentioned this above, but it’s worth mentioning again. Mobile devices have become the primary way that people access the internet, making mobile usability more critical than ever.
Here are some reasons why mobile usability needs to be a priority for your law firm SEO:
- Increasing mobile usage. In recent years, mobile internet usage has surpassed desktop usage, with many people using their mobile devices to access websites. If a website isn’t designed with mobile usability in mind, it will likely be challenging to use on a mobile device.
- Mobile-first indexing. Google has implemented mobile-first indexing, which means that the search engine primarily uses the mobile version of a website to rank pages in search results. This means that websites that are not optimized for mobile will have a lower search engine ranking, leading to fewer visitors and lower traffic. For example, page speed is a big issue with mobile sites, but it can fly under the radar if you aren’t careful. The version of your site that appears for desktop users may be blazing fast, but your mobile site might take forever to load. So, you definitely want to test the mobile version of your site with tools like PageSpeed Insights, the speed report in Google Search Console, and Lighthouse. Even if you don’t know your mobile site is slow, Google and your visitors sure do!
- User expectations. With so many websites designed for mobile use, users have come to expect a seamless experience on their mobile devices. If a website or application is not designed with mobile usability in mind, it will stand out—and not in a good way. It’s likely that disappointed users will back away and choose to use a competitor's site that does meet their expectations.
- Conversion rates. Mobile usability can significantly impact conversion rates. If a website or application is difficult to use on a mobile device, users may abandon it before completing an action or filling out a form, leading to lost leads.
- Brand reputation. A poorly designed mobile website can damage a law firm’s reputation. Users that have a bad time on the mobile version of your website are likely to assume that they’ll have a negative experience with your brand in general.
So, to sum up, law firm websites that aren’t optimized for mobile may suffer from lower search engine rankings, lower traffic, lower conversion rates, and a damaged brand reputation. And that’s why it's so essential to prioritize mobile usability on your website.
8. Increase Your Local Presence With Reviews
While not a huge ranking factor, a high volume of good reviews can help your local presence and build more trust with potential clients. They show up on your Google Business Profile, and they’re something that real people really look at before choosing a lawyer.
So, even though you may not be directly pushing your rankings to the top with a great review profile, you are creating positive vibes that support everything else you’re doing and make potential clients more likely to convert.
9. Technical SEO Factors for Law Firms
Technical SEO is focused on optimizing the website's structure, coding, and backend processes to help search engine crawlers index and understand the website's content better.
Technical SEO is where we get really granular about the technical standards and elements that impact your rankings, and it includes measures of technical health like:
- Website architecture. The website's architecture should be structured in a way that is easy for search engines to crawl and understand. This involves optimizing the website's navigation, internal linking structure, and URL structure.
- Site speed. Site speed is an essential technical SEO element because it impacts both user experience and search engine rankings. A slow-loading website can negatively impact the user experience and lead to a lower search engine ranking.
- Mobile optimization. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. With more users accessing websites on mobile devices, it's essential to optimize the website for mobile use. This involves designing the website to be responsive, easy to navigate on smaller screens, and generally mobile-friendly.
- Schema markup. Schema markup is a way to provide search engines with additional information about a website's content. It can help search engines understand the website's content and improve its visibility in search engine results pages.
- Crawlability and indexing. It's essential to ensure that search engine crawlers can easily crawl and index your website's content. This involves things like optimizing the website's robots.txt file, XML sitemap, and canonical tags.
- Security. Websites that use HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) have a secure connection between the website and the user's browser, and search engines prioritize secure websites.
If you’re not sure how to assess your website’s technical health, or if you’re just not sure how to catch every little detail, there are great tools like Google Search Console and Screaming Frog that can help you root out any problems.
Organic SEO for Law Firms vs Paid Advertising
SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay-per-click) are two different digital marketing strategies used to increase website traffic and visibility. While both strategies aim to improve a website's search engine ranking, they do that in very different ways.
Of course, the biggest difference is that organic SEO is free. It’s based on attracting people from natural searches with the kinds of practices we’ve talked about throughout this guide. PPC, on the other hand, is essentially paid advertising. You compete with other law firms to bid on keywords and appear in the ad space at the top of the search results page, and you pay for every click you get when your ad is shown.
PPC also tends to be more of a short-term technique, while organic SEO tends to be a long-term investment.
So, what should you focus on, PPC or organic SEO? Well, it’s not a matter of choosing one or the other. Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you may even use both at the same time!
The important thing to understand is that PPC can be costly if not managed correctly, and it’s best used when you have a clear and simple goal in mind, like getting more people to download your book about mesothelioma, for example. Organic SEO, on the other hand, is best for generally increasing your rankings and making connections with potential clients in “micro-moments,” like when they have a burning question about their legal issues or are ready to hire a lawyer NOW.
Both organic SEO and PPC can be effective digital marketing strategies that increase your website traffic and visibility. However, both methods have different costs, timing, targeting options, and traffic sources, and law firms need to choose the best mix of methods based on their specific goals and budget.
Tools for Tracking Your Progress
If you’ve made it this far, you already have a pretty good idea of what it takes to do law firm SEO right. However, there is one more thing we need to talk about before we let you go.
Law firm SEO is an ongoing, evolving thing. You can’t optimize your website once and totally forget it after that. Instead, you or your experts need to be hands-on, constantly checking, adjusting, and verifying that what you’re doing is getting the kinds of results you want. It definitely takes some time to build up your perfect strategy. And, although things get easier and less time-consuming as you lay those foundations, there’s never a point when you’re “done” marketing yourself with SEO. (Find out more about how to get real about law firm SEO.)
So, you want to keep an eye on your progress using tools like:
- Google Analytics. Google Analytics gives you hard data and insight into how people use your site, what they do when they get there, how many people visit you, and more. Google is also gearing up to release a new version of Google Analytics (GA4) in 2023, which will shake up how data is measured and provide even more insight into user behaviors.
- Google Search Console. Google Analytics tells you about how users interact with your website, but Google Search Console gives you more insight into how your website performs in search. It’s a great tool for making sure that you’re hitting the mark, and it shows you where you need to improve.
- Web crawler for technical audits. The technical performance of your website matters, and you want to regularly check that you have a clean bill of health. These tools crawl your website looking for potential problems and give you a list of found issues and fixes.
Get on Top of Your Law Firm SEO and Start Seeing Real Growth
Law firm SEO is what makes you stand out from the competition online. With the right mix of SEO strategies, you can improve your website's ranking on search engines like Google, increase your website traffic, and grow your client base with more of the “perfect clients” that you really want and enjoy working with.
However, there is a steep learning curve, and there are a lot of different techniques, changing guidelines, and complex concepts to work through before you really become a master.
No time to become an SEO master? Or maybe you’re just looking for advice from actual experts with hands-on experience in SEO for law firms? Foster Web Marketing is here for you.
You can get started with a complimentary analysis of your current website and marketing plan, or you can reach out and talk to us at 888.886.0939.
Thanks for reading this guide, and let us know if you have any questions!