Understanding Legal Services Consumers' Local Search Behavior

Gyi Tsakalakis
May 8, 2014

What can lawyers learn about their potential clients' local search behavior from Google's latest study?

You don't need to be a search scientist to know that people search for local businesses online. In fact, you probably know this from personal experience.

In an effort to better understand consumer local search behavior, Google recently conducted, and published the results from, its Understanding Consumers' Local Search Behavior study.

The study focused on the behavior of 18+ year-olds who typically perform smartphone searches a few times per week. It focused on these partipants' behavior in 9 verticals:

  • Auto
  • CPG
  • Finance
  • Local Services
  • Media & Entertainment
  • Restaurant
  • Retail
  • Tech
  • and Travel

Here's what they concluded:

Consumers search with their location and proximity in mind

  • 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information.
  • They search on smartphone and computer/tablet for: store address, business hours, product availability and directions

Local searchers take action

  • 50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34% who searched on computer/tablet did the same.
  • Local searches lead to more purchases than non-local searches. 18% of local searches on smartphone lead to a purchase within a day vs. 7% of non-local searches.

Consumers prefer and act on location-based ads

  • 4 in 5 consumers want ads customized to their city, zip code or immediate surroundings.
  • More than 60% of consumers have used location information in ads. They say it’s important to have store address and phone number in ads on computer/tablet, and directions and the call button in ads on smartphone.

Many of you will likely quickly distinguish between the behavior of consumers looking for restaurants and those looking for law firms. And there is no doubt that there are many significant differences in the way that your potential clients look for lawyers like you and the way that they look for a place to eat. But there are some things that lawyers would be smart to consider from this study.

First, let's dispel with those "search is dying" myths. People still greatly favor search engines to find local information. Further, more and more of them are searching on mobile devices.

If you haven't updated your site to a responsive design that is easy to use on a smartphone, you are turning potential clients away. It's really that simple.

Second, the study sheds some useful insight into the types of things that local searchers want to know about local businesses. This information includes:

  • Business hours
  • Directions
  • Address

Law firms that seek to earn attention from local searchers need to think seriously about what the people who are searching for them want. In addition to basic contact and location information, they're likely to want to see:

  • What your other clients have to say about you.
  • What other lawyers have to say about you.
  • Whether or not you seem competent to handle their situation.
  • Whether or not they are likely to get along with you.
  • Whether or not you will be easy to get in-touch with.

Lawyers who make it difficult for people to learn about and contact them will miss out on new client opportunities.

Finally, proximity matters to local searchers.


This is something that is less intuitive for many lawyers, especially personal injury lawyers.

If you have a statewide practice, you probably don't think much of proximity. If they're a "good client" you'll be willing to travel great distances for them.

But for many local searchers, distance matters.

So, your efforts to appeal to local searchers who are searching in a location that's very far from your office will be largely futile.

We run into this all the time.

Lawyers who have offices outside of major cities demand local search visibility in the city.

Sometimes, search engines will show businesses across a large geographic region in their local search results. Most of the time, it's a very specific area. This is especially true for major metro areas.

personal injury attorneys   Google Maps

But even if you are able to achieve visibility beyond 5 miles, in many cases, it will be perceived as too far by your potential clients. Of course, you'll never know because they'll never contact you.

That's not say that it's impossible to earn meaningful attention and inquiries outside of a five mile radius. It's just that you're going to be less likely to earn that attention from searchers who are performing very localized searches.

This is why part of your SEO strategy should include targeting potential clients who are performing long-tail research and informational queries. You will be less likely to have to overcome this proximity bias.

Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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Matson Law
10 years ago

Good points. We do reasonably well with the long tail informational queries for statewide clients, but owning the local 5 mile radius visibility range makes total sense, and it is something we should work on.

Gyi Tsakalakis
10 years ago
Reply to  Matson Law

Exactly. Start targeting those Braintree, MA searchers! Lock down those local search ranking factors: http://moz.com/local-search-ranking-factors

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