You may have noticed that Google has been really shaking things up in their local search results. In this post, we'll explore some of the things that lawyers and legal marketing folks should be taking into account to earn meaningful attention from potential clients.
Let's take a look at a Google search result for "attorneys in chicago" on a desktop:
One of the first things to notice is the new position of the map. After paid search ads, it has the prime SERP real estate. In this example, putting your firm "on the map" is more important than ever. If you've had problems getting your firm to appear in map results for relevant local searches, it's probably good idea to contact a trusted local search company to help you identify issues.
However, as you will see, merely appearing on the map is just the starting point for attracting potential clients. Whether users click on the map itself, or on an individual listing (excluding the website or directions buttons), they will be taken to a "local knowledge panel."
Let's examine the first listing. First, this looks pretty spammy to me. There appear to be a variety of violations of Google's guidelines for representing your business. Furthermore, if this was the work of a law firm, or performed at the direction of a law firm, there are probably a few legal ethics violations here too. Unfortunately, Google still has a lot of work to do to eliminate spam.
Second, notice the prominence of Google reviews. One of the most important pieces of information that potential clients expect to be able to find about lawyers online is what other clients think of them.
This is at the core of how the web has empowered legal services consumers. In the past, a potential client might not have been able to identify a rude, combative and disrespectful lawyer until it was too late. Now, that information is as easy as pulling out a smartphone and performing a few simple searches.
Also notice the prominence of the date of the most recent review. Some lawyers and marketers think that once they've earned five positive reviews to achieve "star snippets" they're done. What impression do you think it leaves with a potential client when the last time anyone had anything to write about your firm was four years ago and it was awful?
Yet another reason why providing excellent client service must be a lawyer's foremost priority.
Third, take a look at the photo that appears with the listing. In this example, it's merely an image of the URL and not a very good one at that. This is the often the firm's first opportunity to "put a face with their name." Here's a novel idea, instead of an image of your URL or crappy stock imagery, use professional photographs of real people! Where appropriate and ethically permissible, consider including photos of lawyers at the firm with happy clients.
Here are a few examples of lawyers providing a much more compelling experience:
Also, be mindful of your image dimensions. Upon casual browsing, many firms have images that look something like this:
Next, as noted by Jennifer Slegg at TheSEMPost, Google has recently added organic search results to the local knowledge panel.
These organic web results relate to the focus business. In the context of law firms, with proper optimizations, the first web result ought to be the firm's website. After the firm's site, the next most common web results will likely be third-party review sites (i.e. Yelp, Avvo, Lawyers.com, FindLaw, Facebook, etc).
This reinforces the importance of claiming, completing and optimizing the major third-party directory / review sites.
When potential clients get your name from someone they know and trust, they're more and more likely to "look you up online." Most of these "look ups" will take place on Google. Which makes optimizing these local knowledge panels a lawyer's first opportunity to make a great first impression.