Before I make any recommendations to a law firm about an internet marketing or search engine optimization campaign, I always ask them what they know about their competition. More often than not, the answer is not much.
While many lawyers have a pretty good idea about who there competition is generally, they don't really know that much about who their online competition is, and more importantly, what they are doing, and more importantly than that, what they are doing that is actually working.
Understanding your online competition may be the single most important factor in determining what kind of results you are likely to obtain from an SEO program. If you think about it, figuring out what your online competition is doing will give you a pretty good blueprint about what it will take to achieve visibility for a specific term or set of terms. After all, if you're properly identifying your competition, you know that these are the sites that are already "doing well" in organic search.
In order to identify who your online competition is, you have to start by identifying what your target keyword universe looks like. Developing and robust keyword list and prioritizing keyword targets is critical to understand who your online competition truly is.
After you have a pretty good idea about what you keywords you are going to target, one of the most simple ways to find your competitors is to search on your target keywords. Make sure that you have a properly configured browser. Make sure you're not logged in, have your location accurately set, and have cleared any cookies that might influence your search results.
Once you have a clean browser configuration, search on your target keywords. Who comes? Are there local results? Are you considering paid search results?
After you have performed several searches, look for patterns in terms of who is consistently showing up well.
Once you have a pretty good list of competitors (say between 5 and 10), check out their websites. Do they have several pages or very few pages? Are they blogging? What terms are they targeting in the title tag of their homepage?
Head on over to OSE and run some back link reports. Where are they getting links? Are they using an SEO company that links a bunch of websites together? Are they renting links from a major legal directory? Or are they building links more naturally? Do you see news sites linking to them? Are other bloggers linking to them? Do they have local links?
The number and quality of links and root linking domains pointing to your competitors' sites will give you a good indication of how difficult it may be for you to achieve similar rankings for similar terms. Of course, there are several other ranking factors (like age of domain, etc) that may also make a significant difference in you ability to surpass these competitors. While I don't recommend that you blindly copy your competitors' back links, identifying competitor back links that have value and pursuing those links will go a long way in terms of helping you beat your online competition.