I talk to lawyers on a daily basis about marketing a law firm online. What is interesting is that for all the various complexities and unique considerations that arise for each individual firm, the same misconceptions about SEO and rankings appear time and again.
The problem is two-fold. The first part of the problem is that rankings are the most tangible, easy to understand component of search engine marketing. It makes sense that I type in "Chicago personal injury lawyer", a list of lawyers pops up, and a potential client calls a lawyer on the list. The second part of the problem is that rankings are what the majority of SEO companies are selling. The end result is a community of legal professionals that are obsessed with their firm's rankings on Google.
The truth is that your rankings on Google are a component of a good search marketing strategy, but they do not define the totality of a well executed SEO campaign. There are many ways people search online for an attorney. Some search Google as if it were a yellow pages directory as in the example in the previous paragraph. However, far more users are utilizing Google as a research tool. They are looking up answers to their legal questions and researching their specific issue. A good SEO campaign takes advantage of both of these segments. Unfortunately, an obsession with rankings often ignores the individuals performing research and solely focuses those that are typing in a specific search phrase.
Additionally, rankings for a keyword phrase are only valuable if they are resulting in increased traffic to the site. All too often, lawyers are sold on attaining rankings for a particular keyword phrase only to find after getting the desired rankings that there is not an increase in site traffic as a result. Rankings are important in so much as driving targeted visitors to your site. The next step is having an engaging website (with great content) that turns those visitors into phone calls and emails, eventually resulting in revenue for the firm. All of these factors are important considerations when assessing your law firm's SEO. Rankings for the sake of getting rankings doesn't help.
Finally, Google is moving more and more towards personalized search results. The results for each individual user varies depending on their search history, location, social connections, etc. As mobile search grows to become a more significant percentage of queries and Google continues to build the social layer on top of it's search results, having a universal ranking for a particular keyword phrase across all searches is going to become more difficult. It's important to think about where search is headed when putting together your strategy instead of focusing on where it's been. Instead of obsessing over your ranking for a specific keyword, think about SEO as a way to position your website, blog, profile, or other “professional online presence”, as a source of information, answers, and solutions to a potential client.