Search engine optimization (SEO) can be a particularly effective way to earn new clients. However, there is a lot of misinformation about how law firm SEO and online legal marketing, more generally, actually work.
The best way to protect yourself from inexperienced and unscrupulous legal web marketing vendors is to learn a little about how this stuff works. Armed with the right knowledge and questions, you will avoid many of the most costly mistakes.
Law Firm SEO Is Not a Magic Legal Marketing Bullet
Before we dive into how it works, it’s important to understand that SEO won’t solve all of your client development issues. As we like to say, “You can’t SEO your way out of lousy client service.”
In fact, traditional notions of client development, like reputation and relationships, are useful for ranking and essential to an effective web presence.
How Does Lawyer SEO Lead to Clients?
Ultimately, any marketing, including SEO, should be measured by its ability to achieve a specific goal. With respect to legal marketing, this usually means earning more of the right type of clients.
If you haven’t noticed, smartphones have fundamentally changed the way we access media and information. When we have a question or need, we tend to seemingly sub-consciously reach for our smartphones to find an answer.
The overwhelming majority of these journeys will, at some point, go through a search engine, most likely Google.
Whether they search for you directly by name, or enter a legal question they have, your next clients expect to be able to find information about how you can help them solve their legal problem online.
Lawyers who are the most effective at supplying peoples’ relevant demand for information will be the ones who win.
How is law firm SEO different from SEO for other businesses?
Communicating the value of a lawyer’s services is not the same as selling shoes. The ways that legal services consumers will search for information and lawyers is vastly different from they way they are likely to look for information about buying consumer electronics. Therefore, conventional marketing wisdom from other industries is often inapplicable to legal marketing.
On the other hand, there are some things that can be learned from products businesses.
How do I hire a lawyer SEO expert?
If you’re considering hiring help with your web marketing, you should spend a lot of time doing research and asking questions. Here are some questions you should ask your prospective web vendor:
Who owns my domain, content and content management system (CMS)?
Some legal web marketing companies will retain ownership interests in one or more of them. Essentially, you are renting (licensing) your website from them. If you ever decide to go in a different direction, you may find yourself having to start from scratch. Don’t rent any key component of your web marketing.
How will I measure the effectiveness of your SEO strategies?
The effectiveness of online legal marketing, including SEO, can be tracked from click all of the way to client. You can’t pay your bills with likes, followers and tweets. Vendors that are selling you on these metrics are trying to divert your attention from meaningful business metrics. Instead, measure legal fees generated from organic search traffic. Track inquiries from potential clients attributable to SEO campaigns. Measure directional trends in relevant organic search traffic in the locations you in which you practice.
Avoid any legal web marketing vendor who claims their strategies are proprietary.
Are you performing online legal marketing services for any of my competitors?
For any given search query, there is only one number one position. Web marketing vendors who work with multiple firms in the same practice area(s) in the same location(s) have an inherent conflict of interest. There’s simply no way around this. Don’t work with web marketers who are helping your competitors beat you.
What is your experience working with law firms like mine?
As previously noted, marketing a law practice presents unique challenges and considerations. Don’t work with vendors who have little or no experience marketing law firms like yours.
Why Should SEO Matter to Lawyers?
When we started AttorneySync in 2008, many lawyers dismissed internet marketing generally, and search engine optimization specifically, as something that wasn’t really applicable to their practices.
The argument would tend to be some form of: “My clients don’t use the internet to find lawyers like me.”
If this is you, let me save you some time: This page is not intended to persuade you to change your mind.
Like most people, when legal services consumers, read potential clients, want information, they turn to the internet. At some point during this search for information, most of them will use a search engine in some way. Attorneys who want to earn meaningful attention from these legal services consumers benefit from search engine optimization (SEO).
Whether you’re an attorney SEO do-it-yourself’er, or you’re considering hiring someone to help, you’ll benefit from understanding a few basics about how search engines work.
Generally speaking, search engines work in the following three-stage process:
- Sort & Deliver Results
Admittedly, this is a major over-simplification. In fact, as search engines evolve, the third stage may be more accurately stated as:
But before we can run, we have to crawl.
How to Approach SEO for a Law Firm
Let’s assume you’re a lawyer, legal marketer or law firm SEO consultant. You’re tasked with earning organic search engine traffic that leads to clients.
In order to get the best law firm search engine optimization results, you need to begin with research. Too many people ignore this part. This starts with understanding your audience.
- What are the goals and objectives of your law firm SEO efforts?
- Who are the people you want to attract to your pages?
- What types of queries are they entering into search engines?
- What actions do you want them to take once they arrive at your pages?
Furthermore, research the firm itself and the competitive landscape. What does the firm do better than its competitors? Why should potential clients choose the lawyers at this firm?
You might be wondering what the answers to these questions have to do with search engine optimization.
The answer: everything.
You have to determine what it is about you that’s worth talking about, sharing and linking to.
Crawling & Indexing
Next, you need to make sure that your pages of your firm’s website can be properly crawled and indexed by search engines. Essentially, this means fixing technical problems with your pages. These technical SEO fixes involve improving on-page search engine ranking factors. This process includes fixing things like:
- Site architecture and internal linking structure.
- HTML meta tags including page titles, descriptions and headings.
- Structured data markup (i.e. schema).
- Page content.
- XML sitemap and robots.txt file
- User experience (mobile-friendly, page load speed)
Unfortunately, too many supposed lawyer search engine optimization experts fail to understand the importance of technical SEO. In fact, some are completely dismissive of it. Technical SEO really works.
In fact, there are some technical law firm website SEO issues that can prevent your pages from being crawled and indexed at all. Whether you’re fixing your own pages, or hiring someone to do it on your behalf, make sure you understand and resolve these technical issues first.
Sorting & Serving Results
Now that we have a solid technical SEO foundation in place, we can begin marketing your law firm’s pages. While this process begins with creating pages that people want to talk about, share and link to, it also includes a variety of marketing activities to promote these pages to the right people online.
Search engines use these “popularity signals” (off-page signals) to determine how to deliver your pages in their results. But these signals aren’t weighted equally. For example, quantities of high-quality links from highly relevant and authoritative sites can have an exponential (really logarithmic) impact on your pages’ visibility in search engine results.
Some of the best off-page search engine optimization for attorneys includes:
- Developing content assets that people want to link to.
- Getting those assets in front of people who are able to link to them.
- Competitor backlink analysis and link building.
- Social profile development and outreach.
- Relevant legal directory profile optimizations.
- Broken link building.
- PR-focused link building.
Hiring a Law Firm SEO Expert
If you’re considering hiring an attorney search engine marketing services provider, make sure you ask a lot of questions about how they plan to improve these off-page signals. If they start talking about proprietary SEO secrets, you should probably look elsewhere. The best attorney SEO agencies will tell you exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
They should be setting goals for success in advance. They should also discuss with you the role that social media plays in the search engine optimization process. Finally, they should understand the unique obligations of lawyers in marketing and advertising, including relevant legal ethics rules.
Local SEO for Attorneys
Many lawyers target potential clients at a local level. Search engines are trending toward serving localized results. In our experience, the most important local law firm SEO involves:
- Hyper-local link building.
- Developing hyper-local content.
- Local business listing management.
Local search engine optimization is incredibly powerful for attorneys. In recent updates, Google has given local pack results prominent positions in search engine results pages. Other search engines are also evolving to give higher visibility to local results. The best law firm SEO experts recognize the value of delivering hyper local SEO services that lead to clients.
Our Approach to Law Firm SEO
Our approach to search engine optimization (SEO) for attorneys is pretty simple:
Focus on growing meaningful organic traffic that turns into new client relationships.
Here’s an example from one of our client’s sites:
Our clients trust us to help them meet and exceed business goals.
That’s why we don’t hyper-focus on a specific number of new pages or links. Likewise, we’re not here to guarantee you rankings for particular keywords. That being said, we know that increasing visibility in organic search for target search queries impacts traffic, which in turn, impacts inquiries and clients.
While ranking trends can serve to provide directional insight into the health of a campaign, our clients understand that there are significant limitations spot-checking rankings.
If you’re looking for guaranteed rankings in 24 hours for a particular keyword, we’re not the right shop for you.
Whether they receive your name from someone they know and trust, are researching a legal question or are simply looking for a lawyer, your potential clients are turning to the web to get more information. At some point, most of them will turn to a search engine as part of this process. That makes being found in search engine results critical to your client development. However, search engine optimization (SEO) for attorneys is much different than SEO for other products and services.
Deciding to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) professional for your law firm is an important decision that can have a significant impact on your visibility online. While a skilled SEO can improve your site and save you a lot of time, an unskilled or irresponsible SEO can damage your site and, and even worse, your professional reputation. We recommend that you thoroughly research any potential SEO consultant.
Transparency & Accountability
We provide a variety of SEO services for lawyers. We specialize in working with law firms and are aware of the unique challenges and considerations involved with marketing a legal practice.
Our approach takes into consideration the specific marketing needs, budget, and goals of our clients.
It’s a fact, people use the internet to research their legal questions, get answers, and even to search for attorneys. However, how people use the internet to look for legal information and legal services is much different from how they use it shop for tennis shoes. Likewise, SEO for lawyers is much different than SEO for selling tennis shoes, and even different from SEO for other professional services.
This is probably the most common use for the internet as it relates to legal services. Someone gets arrested, gets hurt, has debt problems, decides they need a will, or a vast array of other legal issues and goes online to learn more about the subject.
Researchers may not even yet know that they have a legal issue. They may certainly be interested in learning about the subject. This will have a significant impact on the keywords they use to search and the websites they go to for answers.
Doing SEO for lawyers who are targeting researchers should be geared around providing answers to this demand. Content development should be focused on question and answer pages. Contributions should be made on relevant legal Q&A sites. From a media perspective, doing SEO for lawyers targeting researchers should identify opportunities for interviews and publications on trusted legal, as well as, news sites. Link attracting and social sharing should focus on providing topical information for those who are seeking it.
Similar to the researcher, the questioner is someone who has a question about a specific legal issue. On the other hand, the questioner is usually a little further along in the legal services search cycle than the researcher. Questioners are usually facing a pending legal issue. They may also include do-it-yourself types that are wondering whether they can or should handle their legal issue on their own.
Executing an attorney SEO campaign that targets questioners should likewise include content development strategies that answer their questions. It may sound redundant, but it’s important to keep in mind how questioners differ from researchers and supply content that meets their specific demand for answers.
Shoppers are people who are actively searching for a lawyer. These are the potential client prospects that lawyers want to get found by online. Shoppers use the internet in much different ways that researchers and questioners. The keywords they search on and the places they go to find lawyers are vastly different than those who are merely looking for answers. Their intent is also much different. For one reason, or another, they believe that they need a lawyer. Therefore, it’s likely that they use search terms that include terms like “lawyer,” “attorney,” or “law firm.”
Shoppers will often use websites and search engines more like traditional business directories. An SEO campaign that is targeting shoppers should focus on local SEO strategies, as well as, increasing trust signals such as those created by testimonials and reviews.
Whatever the purpose or goal, it’s important to keep in mind how different SEO for lawyers is from search marketing for products and other professional services. There are very important stakes on the line including the lawyer’s professional reputation, and in some instances, their license. No amount of web traffic or search great search engine rankings are worth damaging one’s professional reputation or sacrificing a hard-earned license to practice.
Of course, we also provide SEO reporting. That means developing tangible goals for our clients’ campaigns and reporting on our progress.
While there are a variety of SEO metrics that we can measure and report, we know that to be successful, we must increase our clients’ organic search engine traffic, potential client inquiries from organic search and paying clients.
If you’re looking for more general SEO information outside of the context of legal marketing, we recommend checking out the following: