SEO For Lawyers – A Guide to Search Engine Optimization

SEO for Lawyers is one of those subjects where people seem to fall into two categories:

  1. you feel that your law firm's SEO efforts are terrible and you're wasting simple opportunities;
  2. you care too much and you've turned into a weirdo.

As usual, somewhere in between these two extremes lies the best practice in terms of SEO for law firms.

seo for lawyers

Things Lawyers Need for Good SEO

Your job is to convince Google that your content addresses an identifiable issue the bestClick To Tweet

For this SEO guide to be helpful, you will need:

  • access to the back end of your website (I'll use some examples from WordPress, but most will be translatable to other platforms);
  • a little time to put the principles into practice;
  • the mental strength to let go of the thing you heard from your cousin's, sister's former room-mate who's an “expert” in SEO for lawyers.

On rare occasions, you might discover that your site is poorly built to accommodate these basic needs.

If that's the case – you need a new site.  That probably sounds worse than it really is, but if your site has no SEO capabilities built into it then you've either not updated it in a decade or you should be having a serious discussion with whoever made it for you.

Last but not least – Google changes its algorithm constantly (yes – pretty much daily), and you won't ever keep up. Having a little SEO knowledge can pay off for most lawyers. But you don't want to go so SEO mad that you forget about actually practising law.

Your job is simply to convince Google that your piece of content addresses an identifiable issue better than anyone else's does.

Easy, right?

What We're Not Going to Do

SEO for law firms can be simple if you let it

There are lists out there where you can see every single factor that people think Google takes into account.

They're fun to read if you're feeling geeky, but not that useful for lawyers.

Why? Because you'll never, ever be able to implement them into your content marketing strategy.

This guide is designed to be extremely practical – things you can actually do.

Why Should Lawyers Bother with SEO?

There's a lot of hoopla about social media, bots, apps, VR and all the rest of it at the moment.  But having a continued stream of readily available traffic to your website, of people who care about what you have to say (because they were looking for it) remains the absolute best long opportunity to capture more clients.

Bar none.

In fact, in pretty much every consultation I do, people want to focus their efforts on social media. It usually becomes quickly clear that their overall web marketing strategy is non-existent, and they want to be on social media because of hype rather than substance. I can't fault them for that – because there's a lot of noise about social right now – social is sexy.

Don't believe me?  The table below comes from an article by Moz which took a look at 5 popular social media marketing sites, and 5 popular sites focused on SEO.

Guess what? The organic search traffic that was headed to the sites on social media marketing was a WAY higher percentage than the traffic they got from social media.

SEO for Lawyers - Moz Graph
from Moz.com

 

There's really no question that SEO for lawyers should be a priority. I'm not saying that you should ditch contract law and learn SEO instead. I'm saying that spending 10 minutes to read this guide and a couple of hours putting the strategies in place is probably worth your while in the long run.

I'm also not saying that social media should be ignored – it's still a relevant and powerful tool. It also (ironically) factors in to some extent to your search engine results.

I'm saying that getting all excited about social media while your law firm has no SEO knowledge at all is a bad business decision.

SEO For Lawyers Isn't Just About Traffic – It's about Clients

Sure – being ranked in search engines will deliver you more traffic. But, much like getting a dozen likes on your Facebook page, getting traffic to your site is mostly useless when it comes to running a law firm. The fact that adopting good SEO for lawyers can result in increased traffic is incidental – at the end of the day you don't want traffic, you want clients.

Unless your law firm's website has been designed to turn the people that visit your site into warm leads that you can follow up on – then it's a waste of time. For most lawyers, that means getting into email marketing and ensuring their site is optimized to turn traffic into leads, and leads into clients.

If you're going to go to the trouble of writing well and improving your SEO knowledge, then make sure your site is doing its job as part of this whole exercise.

Killing Some SEO Myths that Some Law Firms Buy

Let's first dispose of a few misconceptions that keep hanging around.

Keyword Stuffing

Inevitably anyone who hears about keywords thinks that articles should look like this:

“We are Brisbane Litigation Lawyers.  As Brisbane Litigation Lawyers we practice Litigation Law in Brisbane. Based in Brisbane, our Litigation Lawyer daily travel to Brisbane to practice Litigation Law.  We are Brisbane's most eminent Litigation Lawyers. We are also award winning Brisbane Litigation Lawyers.  Call our Brisbane Litigation Lawyer office today.”

If that's you – don't do it.

Firstly, it doesn't work (if you don't believe me, then you'll probably believe this link here where Google tells you it doesn't work).

Second, you sound like an idiot.

Google has one job, and one job only – show people what it thinks are the best results for a given search query.

Your job is to convince Google that your piece of content is exactly that.

It's true that keywords play a role in this.  After all, Google can't tell that you're a Brisbane Litigation Lawyer unless you tell it that somehow, but there are other ways to deal with that.

Search Engine “Submission”

When you registered your domain name, there's a chance you got offered “search engine submission” to maximise your search engine presence?

It doesn't work.  It's garbage.

Search engines are “crawl” based.  Submitting your site using some kind of form is a complete and total waste of time and money.

Meta Tags

These have no direct effect on your search engine optimization.

Buying Ads

Does not boost your search engine presence.

Link Directories

Similarly to “search engine submission”, these link directories supposedly add your site to their index, which in turn delivers links back to your site.

Since links make a difference to your search engine results, surely this would help, right?

No.

The only links you should be trying for are relevant links from quality (by which I mean – non-spammy) sites.

Confession: I fell for this when I first started, so if you did too then don't feel bad.

Setting up SEO for your Law Firm

Provided you keep those things in mind, let's get started.

At its most simple, SEO for lawyers involves dealing with two aspects:

  1. what's happening on your page (“on page” SEO factors); and
  2. what's happening elsewhere (“off page” SEO factors).

Sounds simple – and it can be, if you let it.

SEO Starts with your Blog

SEO means words.

People search with words.

For lawyers at least, most people are looking for words.

Although you can get some SEO results with videos and podcasting, for the vast majority of lawyers you need to set up your law firm's blog, and it needs to be active and regularly updated.

On Page SEO For Lawyers

These are the SEO factors that you can actually influence directly – on your site.  Some are easier than others to tweak, so don't go crazy.

In short your job is:

  • make your site as fast as you can;
  • engage in sensible topic selection for your blog;
  • make it obvious to the Google-Bot what your article is about; and
  • produce the highest quality piece of content possible on the chosen topic.

Site Speed

The speed your site loads at affects your SEO in two main ways:

  • user experience – people staying on your site longer which in turn sends a message to Google; and
  • directly – Google takes it into account.

Getting your site running really fast is actually pretty tricky, but there are some basic things you can do:

  1. ensure you're using a high quality website host;
  2. don't run unnecessary plugins or scripts on your site just for the sake of it;
  3. make sure you optimise your images (you can do this with Photoshop, but I often use Kraken (affiliate link) as its just faster) before uploading them to your site.  That means:
    1. dimensions – get them as close to final dimensions as possible; and
    2. file size – you can strip out a lot of information from your images and the vast majority of people won't even notice.

There are lots of fancy schmancy things you can do of course, but if you have these covered then you're a good way there.  Head over to tools.pingdom.com if you want to check how a particular page is running.  Make sure you run the test 3 times from the SAME location, as that will ensure that the site is cached and you're getting a realistic result. If you're getting over 50 then you're probably doing fine.

For example, here's a speed test from a site running on StudioPress sites that I set up a little while back (which no longer exists) – if you are under 1 second you're doing extremely well:

SEO For Lawyers Speed Test

Topic Selection

Figure out with precision the issue you are dealing with before you pick up a... keyboard.Click To Tweet

With the exception of something called cornerstone content, you need to refine your normal blog topics to be fairly tight.

Why? Let's take an example. If I wanted to find out about how section 254 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 affected me and my business, would I search for:

  • “income tax tips”; or
  • “how does section 254 of the Income Tax Assessment Act work”?

In fact, there's a pretty good chance I might search for “how are trustees affected by section 254 of the ITAA 36”. More narrow, more niched.

There's a strong temptation to write articles like “17.2 Tax Tips” because it's trendy and lawyers think there is a greater chance someone might read the article that way.

But in selecting a broad topic like “tax tips” two problems arise:

  1. there are 23,200,000 articles on income tax tips; and
  2. the odds you can provide the best possible piece of content on “tax tips” are extremely slim.

You need to figure out with precision the issue you are dealing with before you pick up a… keyboard.

People search for things that are weighing on their mind at that moment. Most of the time that's something fairly specific.  They're not looking for “pants” they're looking for “black yoga pants that don't make me look bad”. Even in a boring practice area, you can get over a lot of hurdles if you're delivering high value to very specific queries or issues.

Your job is to tap into your comprehensive knowledge of your clients, and use that when you're selecting your topics – not just your legal expertise.

Headings ‘n' Stuff

It's a bit debatable how much impact using headings is going to have on your SEO (I've seen different opinions on it).  However, at the very least for a reader who has found your page and wants to skim it, headings and sub-headings are going to help them “get it” more quickly than a wall of text would.

So rather than using bold or manual underlining for your headings and sub-headings, use “H2” or “H3” tags (you can think of these as “Heading 2” and “Heading 3”).

This also means that, without keyword stuffing (see the myths above) you should try and ensure that your title, headings and sub-headings make it really obvious what your article is about.

SEO for Lawyers - Use Headings
The headings options in WordPress

 

Internal Links

If your firm has been blogging for a while (or is intending to… which you 100% are) then you've probably got relevant related topics already in your archives, right?

Use them.

Googlebot follows links through your site to help it understand what your site's about, and what your article is about.

Linking internally to other related articles offers some help on that front, and isn't hard to do.

It also helps your readers find more information on related topics.

As you write or edit your article, just find relevant anchor text (anchor text = the text upon which you will place your link) and link it up to an article.  You'll see plenty of examples in this article.

You don't need to say “see our relevant article on this topic here” – just do it naturally as you go.

Control What People See

Ignoring fancy stuff, the most common things people are going to see in the search engine results are these (in this case, searching for “legal drafting”):

 

Once set up correctly, most content management systems (like WordPress, Squarespace or Wix) will allow you to manipulate these to some extent, although it's ultimately up to Google what it chooses to show.  In WordPress, the most common plugin you would use is called “Yoast SEO” – this allows you to tweak what Google sees. The free version is fine for most people.

Some hot tips:

  1. Your “SEO” title and your Article Title don't need to be the same – in fact some people recommend that they not be.  Ensure your SEO version closely resembles what people are likely to search for (duh!)
  2. Search engines don't consider your “meta description” but people do.  Making your meta description clearly describe why people should read your article is worth the few seconds it will take. Obviously it should reflect what you have decided your article is about (having the title “ultimate guide to legal drafting” doesn't mean much if my meta description says “welcome to the world of bonsai” in it).

Off Page Factors

There are plenty I could list here, but I'm only going to go with one: external links to your site.

Getting Backlinks to your Law Firm's Website

Remember I said that your job is to convince Google that you've got the best stuff on Topic X?

One way Google tries to figure that out is by looking at who ELSE is linking to your site, and whether they are relevant and authoritative.

Think about it: Mohammad Ali could have gone around saying “I am the Greatest” all he wanted, but if nobody even came close to agreeing with him then it probably wasn't true.

Further, if the only person who agreed with him about it was Johnny who runs the garden shop down the road – that probably doesn't matter either.  It mattered when people in the boxing world paid attention.

Relevant, high authority links back to your site, or your articles in particular, will offer a much bigger SEO boost than most other things you might care to think about.

How to do it?

  1. Write content for other, relevant sites (industry publications, other blogs, barrister's chambers – find stuff and ask them!).  When you do, they will usually let you put a bio in – take the opportunity to include a link.  If it's allowed, you could also put some natural links back to relevant articles on your site in the text itself when you submit the article.  Some sites have rules about how many links you may include, so obviously respect that. Similarly, sometimes sites “no follow” external links to avoid passing “Google Juice”.  Their site – their rules.
  2. Reach out to people who have an interest in the topic you have written about – ask if they are interested in reading your article.  If they say yes – send it to them.
  3. News Jacking – if you've done an article on a particular topic that's making the rounds in the news cycle, then send it off to editors and writers that might find it helpful for their next piece.

This won't happen overnight, and takes some effort.

The effort is worth it!

Backlinks is a massive topic and we're only touching on it here, but you get the idea.  It's a significant factor – don't ignore it.

Should You Run an “SEO Campaign” With an SEO Company?

Given how long this basic guide to SEO for lawyers already is, it's certainly going to be tempting to simply dump all of your SEO problems onto someone else.

But while many people (like me) can help you with your law firm's SEO efforts, the best thing you can do by far is to get the basics under your own belt and into the hands of your content producers.

You see, in digital marketing overall your content and your SEO go hand in hand. It simply makes sense to get the people who are responsible for producing and publishing your content a little bit of training in the fundamentals of SEO.

Of course, you can often punt off keyword research, reviews and audits to a third party without too much grief.

But for ongoing dedication to good SEO, the best bet is going to be to ensure that you're doing the lion's share yourself.

Good SEO Will Build your Law Firm

SEO isn't a case of “ignore it and it will go away”.

Most of the SEO strategies we've discussed here should form part and parcel of your blogging process.

Sure – you could chase that rabbit down the whole, and point out that I've not listed about 295 factors that “definitely” factor in to SEO. Go your hardest. But most lawyers aren't even doing these things very well. Hone these first, and see the results.

If it's all simply too hard, then do this:

  1. pick topics that your clients actually care about;
  2. write the best possible article on those topics;
  3. choose a headline that uses the words your clients use when asking about those topics;
  4. send your extremely high quality article to a few people in your industry and ask if they'll share it with their audience.

Good health – and happy optimization!

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