Law Firm Website Design and Content Guidelines

Wondering why your law firm’s website is doing so lousy in search? Perhaps you’re not following these design and content guidelines.

In order for your website to appear in organic search results, search engines must be able to crawl, index and rank your pages. Fortunately, most major search engines publish extensive guidelines to help webmasters understand how to improve their visibility within search results.

For example, in its Webmaster Guidelines, Google provides best practices to help them find, crawl and index your site. Let’s walk through Google’s design and content guidelines as they apply to law firm websites.

Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.

If your pages can’t be crawled and indexed by search engines, they will never appear in search results. Most search engines don’t use people to find, crawl and index websites. Instead, they use computer programs referred to as robots, bots or spiders.

These spiders find pages by crawling through links.

So, if your law firm website isn’t organized in a way that each page is accessible through a link, it’s unlikely that search engine spiders will be able to find those pages.

I’ve seen a lot of law firm websites that don’t follow this guideline. These sites have all sorts of crawling and indexation issues.

There are a variety of tools you can use to see whether or not your site follows this guideline. Screaming Frog, Raven Tools and Moz Analytics are useful in checking for site architecture and crawl problems. Ultimately, you should monitor page crawls and indexation in both Google and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map has an extremely large number of links, you may want to break the site map into multiple pages.

Google still recommends sitemaps, so I’m including them here. Unfortunately, many law firm websites misuse them. If you’ve been smart enough to use WordPress, Yoast’s plugin will handle this for you.

Sitemaps are a great way to troubleshoot common SEO issues. Google provides sitemap feedback and warnings in Webmaster Tools. You can get a sense of what “Google thinks” about your site based upon URLs submitted versus URLs indexed.

Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number.

Among the many signals that search engines use to understand and rank pages is a comparison of links pointing to a particular page and links pointing out from that page. You can learn more about this here.

In an effort to manipulate these signals, some webmasters will create pages with hundreds of links. This is a bad idea.

Instead, refer back to the first guideline related to site architecture. Include links on pages where they help users find other useful pages on your site. Give link priority to your most useful pages. It’s a mistake to think that you should put a link to every page other page of your site from every page.

While there’s really no bright-line rule on a specific number of links per page, most law firm websites probably shouldn’t exceed around 100 links on a page (and that’s probably overly generous).

Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.

This is probably the single most important content guideline. Unfortunately, it’s also the least actionable. Sure, create a useful site. Sure, include great information and create pages that describe your content. But what does this really mean?

Without tunneling too far down the content marketing rabbit hole, it means creating pages that supply your target audience’s demand for information and getting those pages in front people who are ready, willing and able to link to, share and further publicize it.

If you’re just getting started, read this.

Focus your efforts on the uniquely valuable part. Once you’ve come up with some ideas for pages that might be useful to your audience, get them in front of your target audience. Next, listen. What feedback are you receiving? Are people regularly complimenting you about your pages? Listen to what your audience really wants and deliver that to them.

Too many lawyers build websites for themselves. They are completely oblivious to what their target audience wants. These types of sites are unlikely to be linked to. They’re unlikely to be shared. Which means they’re unlikely to earn meaningful attention from search engines.

Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.

Now that you understand that you need to create pages for your target audience, this guideline should make complete sense. How does your target audience use the internet to find information about the legal issues with which you might be able to help them? What words do they use? What questions do they have?

Do they search for things like “premises liability lawyer”? Not likely.

Use this information to craft your pages. Create pages that answer these questions. Demonstrate your knowledge, skill and experience through those answers. Keep the focus on them, not on you.

Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. The Google crawler doesn’t recognize text contained in images. If you must use images for textual content, consider using the “ALT” attribute to include a few words of descriptive text.

I’d focus on the latter part of this guideline and use both text, as well as, images. The web continues to go visual. Search engines are working to catch up. In the meantime, use text to describe imagery on your pages. If you use video (and you should), include descriptive text on the page. This might be a straight transcription or it might be a synopsis of what’s contained in the video.

Make sure that your title elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate.

Page titles matter. Search engines use them to understand what your pages are about. Page titles also matter to users. Titles can make the difference between whether or not searchers click-through to your pages from search engines.

Focus on creating compelling page titles that show users that your pages contain the information for which they seek.

Check for broken links and correct HTML.

Broken links annoy users. Therefore, search engines work to avoid serving pages with broken links in their results. If your pages contain a lot dynamic, continuously changing content, be sure to regularly check your pages for broken links. Google Webmaster Tools is very useful for this.

If you decide to use dynamic pages (i.e., the URL contains a “?” character), be aware that not every search engine spider crawls dynamic pages as well as static pages. It helps to keep the parameters short and the number of them few.

This is another reason why a well-configured WordPress installation is favorable. URLs should reflect page content. Remember, if the search engine spider can’t crawl your URLs, they can’t index them and they can’t serve them in search results.

Okay, that covers the basics of Google’s design and content guidelines. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll avoid some of the most common mistakes.

If you have questions about any of these, feel free to post below.