Optimizing Your Website is Critical to Your Success
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the foundation of any comprehensive digital marketing plan. When it comes to promoting yourself online, it seems like every lawyer is the “best” lawyer – or at least competing for that designation.
It’s not enough to hope Google thinks you’re the best lawyer, you’ve got to convince Google and all its bots that you deserve top billing on the search results page (SERP).
To get ahead of the competition, SEO matters for lawyers and law firms. Since lawyers are fundamentally local professional service providers, by focusing on local SEO and optimizing your website, you can effectively reduce direct competition and use this tactical advantage to attract highly qualified leads who turn into the exact cases that meet your business development goals.
Since clients typically work with lawyers within a radius of their community, your SEO strategy needs to be heavily optimized for your local market, so you get your fair share of those queries for the “best personal injury attorney in San Francisco.”
Narrowing keywords from broad: lawyer, attorney to localized: divorce attorney in Lower Haight likely means lower search volume, but it also means less competition and higher “I need to schedule a consultation” intent.
To capture this traffic, your law firm needs a website that is optimized for SEO and strategically connected to all your other digital marketing efforts.
There are eleven website optimization factors that can’t be overlooked if you want a website that supports your SEO efforts, attracts clients, and captures the right attention from Google.
Pro tip: Core Web Vitals become a ranking signal in May 2021. Because Google’s ultimate goal is improving user experience (UX) on their platform and on your website, Core Web Vitals are how Google measures your website’s page experience. If you have issues with speed, visual stability, or mobile friendliness, these performance issues need to be addressed. And as with all things Google, the Core Web Vitals are not a static list but rather will be modified as conditions warrant across the web.
11 Components of SEO-Friendly Law Firm Websites
With law firms needing to take both strategic and creative approaches to winning more clients and cases, an SEO friendly website is the most important aspect of a comprehensive digital marketing plan.
The law is a highly competitive industry, with each niche and practice area concentrating competition even further.
The fundamentals of an SEO are universal.
At its core, a user-friendly SEO focused website targets the right search terms for your specialty and provides valuable content and educational information that attracts the right leads and satisfies the algorithms of the biggest search engines.
- Keyword Research
Before you do anything, you must have a keyword plan for your practice. Good keyword research is the most important component of your SEO strategy, and it informs everything you do online: from web content to ad copy.
In a competitive industry, it’s even more important to target the right keywords so you get the right kinds of highly qualified prospects. You don’t want to waste time on leads who can’t afford your services or who don’t need your services at all.
The goal is always to find keywords with high search volume and mid to low competition to bring the right people to your website. You can uncover keywords by understanding the motivations of your ideal clients and the words they use to describe your services.
Very few clients are going to be searching for help with “implied oral contracts” but they might turn to Google for an answer to the query “can my boss tell me I’ll get extra vacation days?”
Think of your keywords like a funnel: the broader the term, the higher the competition and the more education that prospect needs to become a viable or good client prospect. Focus content efforts on these terms.
As you get more specific, at the narrow neck of the funnel, search volume and competition drop off and you have prospects who are more aware of what they need and are closer to scheduling a consultation and becoming a client. These terms could make for viable pay per click (PPC) ads [link to PPC tips article] too.
Once you have your keywords planned, you’ll use these words and phrases as you develop your website content.
- Website Design
Structure and simplicity play major roles in designing a website for SEO. Your site should be built with SEO being considered from the start. Trying to make a clunky website design more Google friendly can mean a lot of headaches and complicated fixes that require assistance from a web developer.
- You want a design that is clean, clear, and easy to navigate with a site hierarchy and anchoring text that moves people (and Google bots) exactly where you want them to go.
- Page loading speeds need to be quick – under 3 seconds is ideal and meets the current Core Web Vitals standards.
- When pages load quickly, they are also more intuitive, meaning visitors click and get the results they are expecting. Good page speed stops rage clicking and visitor frustration that causes site bounces and throttling of SERP ranking.
- Keep your most important information “above the fold.” Visitors should be able to figure out in seconds that they are in the right place and that they will get what they want from your site.
- Keep fonts simple and minimal. Make sure contrast between content and background is balanced for readability and for accessibility.
- Layout should get visitors the information they want easily.
- Avoid stock images if possible and optimize your high-resolution images for file size and with alt tags that will contribute positively to SEO.
- Use clear calls to action so website visitors know how to take desired action.
- Audit all links, buttons, and forms to ensure they direct visitors to the proper resource, not a 404-error page.
- Use internal links with anchor text to move visitors logically around your site.
- Readability and “Dwell Time”
It’s easy to get caught up in the design side of your website, but as you develop an SEO-friendly site and optimize your content in accordance with your keyword plan, you want to think about ways to “beat the short attention span clock” and keep visitors on your site longer.
For a highly specialized industry like law that requires years of formal education, it can be way too easy to create content for other lawyers rather than your ideal clients.
Avoid jargon and legalese when you write for your site. Use common language and plain talk to connect with potential clients.
Design makes the first impression, but good content keeps them on your site.
You want your website to be visually appealing and helpful to site visitors.
- Keep fonts large enough to be read without difficulty and make sure they stand out against the background.
- Break up blocks of text with headings, subheadings, and bulleted lists. People skim. Make it easy for them to find what they need by making simplifying page layouts.
- Always draw the eye naturally to the page’s call to action button or contact form.
- Add multimedia elements, like video, to increase “dwell time” on your page.
The longer people stay on your site, the more relevant Google sees your site as being and rewards you with a higher position on SERP.
- Your Law Firm is a Brand
Branding is a consideration when designing an SEO friendly website. After all, your firm is a brand and brand awareness contributes to overall SEO results.
There are a lot of other attorneys and firms who do what you do. Smart, sophisticated branding can help you stand out in a sea of sameness.
But your brand isn’t just your color palette, font pairings, and logo.
It’s also the tone and messaging in your content and website copy. You need to communicate your value to prospective clients clearly and consistently.
By creating cohesion between how your brand looks and how your brand sounds online you build your reputation and establish your authority.
- Technical SEO
Even the best keyword plan, attractive site design and branding, won’t get strong SEO results if the technical side of your website’s SEO is ignored.
Technical SEO standards allow for easier crawling of your site by search engines. If your site structure is overly complicated or requires “deep clicking” to get around, you’ll be penalized on SERP.
But technical SEO isn’t all about robots. An overly complicated site structure also makes your site more difficult for humans to navigate as well. Think of how to get people to your site’s resources as simply as possible, in the fewest number of clicks.
Your technical SEO best practices encompass:
- Intuitive URL structure like “davislawfirm.com/estate-planning” rather than “davislawfirm.com/estateplanningattorneys”
- Having 404 error pages redirect users to active, live pages on your site
- Having an active SSL certificate so your site is “secure”
- Submitting a sitemap so Google understands your site and returns a better crawl
- Ensuring mobile compatibility across multiple devices
- Taking advantage of free analytics tools like Google Search Console and Google
- Analytics so you can monitor and optimize your site with real data
The technical aspects of SEO can often be the ones that are the most confusing. Plus, making a mistake here really can have long term negative effects on your website’s performance in search results. If you are even slightly unsure of how to handle the technical SEO, it’s a good idea to reach out to a web developer who can make sure your site’s structure is optimized for SEO.
- Optimized Header Tags Help Search Engines Understand Page Content
Optimizing your header tags is a good way to make your site more SEO-friendly.
- Header tags refer to the headings at the start of each section of your site’s content. These can also be referred to as H2, H3, or H4. Think about heading tags like a traditional outline. This is the structure that helps Google understand the content in context on your page.
- Your H1 (main title) should contain your keyword, but your descending tags should feature related keywords.
- Having your keyword in the H1 tag helps you rank for that term but having the associated related keyword in the minor tags presents an opportunity to rank for those keywords as well.
- Don’t use headers tags as a design feature – even if some website platforms make it appear as though header tags can be used as “design”.
- Don’t use header tags to emphasize text or numbers in your web page content.
- Headers should only be used to break up blocks of text and make it more consumable for site visitors and clarify context for site crawlers.
- SEO-friendly websites should have a heading structure that contributes to ranking potential, readability, and visitor retention on your site.
- Sell the Click in the Meta Description
When you check out a SERP, the first thing you see is the page’s title tag. This may or may not be the actual title that appears on the page. The title tag is designed to work within the character limitations of the SERP while still giving searchers a clear idea about what the page is about.
The meta description is what sells the searcher on clicking on your page over a competitor’s. A powerful and compelling meta description “sells the click” by telling someone exactly what you’re offering on your page over another result.
You want a meta description that is accurate, relevant, and sums up your page content concisely in about 150 characters to avoid truncation.
Always write your meta descriptions so that the most important details come at the beginning and check your character count to ensure you don’t end up losing critical details or end with an awkward cut.
It can take some time to get the hang of writing good, clear, concise, and compelling meta descriptions. But these descriptive little paragraphs are the key to more clicks on your content.
- On-Page Optimization Strategies
This is another place where your keyword plan gets into the action. You’re going to naturally incorporate your keywords on your web pages. “Naturally” being the key here.
There was a time when you could stuff a page full of the keywords you wanted to rank for, but Google is smart and only getting smarter.
The algorithm can’t be fooled into thinking that because your page says “divorce lawyer in Los Angeles” in every paragraph that your content will meet searcher intent for that keyword phrase.
The goal of on page optimization is to tell site visitors and Google what every page of your website is about. And that requires strategic use of your keywords.
Use your keywords where they make sense and in high value positions:
- One primary keyword per page or blog post
- Have a list of related keywords or keywords that are similar to or related to your target keyword
- Use your primary keyword in the page’s title tag
- If it makes sense, use the primary keyword in the on-page title (H1) or use a related keyword if that reads more naturally.
- Sprinkle your keyword and secondary or related keywords into the content of the page and make sure you’re providing good content.
- Use anchor text to create internal links to other related content on your site
- Add external links to serve as reputable sources for your content (just be sure not to link out to competitors)
- Add high quality images and illustrations and make sure they have keyword optimized alt tags for SEO and accessibility benefits
Your primary goal with on-page optimization is to create valuable content that builds your professional reputation and enhances your perceived expertise, authority, and trust with prospective clients.
Even though your focus is on SEO, when faced with a choice between bots or people, always optimize for people first. As Google places more and more emphasis on user experience, an on-page strategy that favors people will return better results.
- Off-Page Optimization Strategies
There are quite a few things that happen off your web pages that contribute to the overall SEO success of your website. And many of these off-page optimization strategies are in your control.
For law practices, the most effective places to focus off-page efforts:
- Review and ratings
- Optimizing for local visibility
- Earning backlinks
With reputation and social proof being two of the most significant influences for people seeking legal counsel, the more places that positively mention your firm, the better. Have a plan in place to solicit reviews from happy clients on respected, mainstream sites like social media platforms, Yelp, and Google.
You can increase your firm’s ranking by completing your Google My Business (GMB) profile. By letting Google know your office is “open for business” it helps your primary website get found and potential clients will see Google’s endorsement as a trust signal to select you as their lawyer.
One simple but critical thing to get right on your listings and outside pages: your name, address, and phone number (NAP). It sounds a little silly, but every time you drop a suite number or share a different phone number or firm name, you confuse Google and potentially suppress rankings.
Make sure your “NAP” is correct and consistent across the web.
In addition to your GMB page, by claiming and completing your listings in reputable online directories, you can earn powerful backlinks that signal Google your site is a trusted source of reliable information.
You can also earn backlinks by contributing to local community news articles, guest blogging on industry sites, or being featured in interviews. One word of caution here, make sure your backlinks are truly earned. Google will ignore backlinks it believes are bought, provided as a favor, or otherwise illegitimate. You don’t want that mark on your online reputation.
- Traffic is Nice but Leads Are What Matters
Just like SEO needs to be a consideration during your site build or revamp, by taking lead conversion into consideration early in your site planning, you increase the chances that website visitors will become clients.
With SEO it might seem that traffic is the goal, but the reality is, your website exists to generate leads for growing your firm. You want to provide a specific user experience that is designed to provide visitors the information they are looking for, clear ways to contact you, plus reviews, testimonials or other trust signals that demonstrate you can get desired results for clients.
From the very top navigation bar to the footer of your site, every element should contribute to converting visitors into clients.
- Use simple navigation and optimize it for mobile devices
- Have clickable contact information on every page
- Design attractive and compelling calls to action
- Include lead forms throughout your site
- Design a main menu that links to your most important pages
- Link internally using anchor text to move clients from one page to another relevant page
- Share client reviews, testimonials, and other trust signals like bar association or legal directory logos.
- Offer opt-ins for guides, ebooks, or a newsletter that gives the opportunity to share information that helps prospects become better quality clients when they’re ready
- Privacy policies, terms and conditions, and other relevant links in your footer
Provide website visitors with many ways to interact with your site and that give you ways to “stay in touch” and position yourself as a trusted advisor when it comes time to hire a lawyer.
- Content Marketing is Where It Comes Together
With your keyword plan in hand, it’s time to start considering how those keywords and the client journey will dictate your overall content strategy. It’s not enough to just publish a blog and hope potential clients stumble across it. To earn your competitive edge, you must have a content marketing strategy that informs, educates, and even entertains in order to attract new clients and cases to your law office.
While most of your content will live on your website, there will be off page places where you publish, post, and share relevant content. By employing a multi-channel marketing approach for your law firm, you maximize the effectiveness of your content, and you give potential clients even more places to get to know you or your firm.
Social media isn’t a direct ranking signal for SEO but there’s no denying that the more active you are online, the more you give search engines to work with. And legal content is anything but boring. You can produce a library of video content that can drive cases your way from an optimized YouTube channel. In fact, YouTube is the second largest search engine…so it makes sense to be there while the industry competition is still low.
By trying out several different types of content you can see what a good traffic driver is using your analytics on Google Search Console or Google Analytics, and tailor your content strategy using actual data points from your audience.
One thing to watch out for when creating content is duplicate content. This doesn’t mean plagiarized or other nefarious methods for copying published work. Something as innocuous as a boilerplate language on a page repeated over and over across your site can ding your ranking results.
Web Design and SEO
You are in control of your website design, but Google and other search engines are in charge of whether your site is found. SEO needs to be a primary consideration throughout the entire process from design concept to each blog you publish.
Being always mindful of SEO is the key, but you also need to understand your ideal client and how they are looking for legal services online. That knowledge will also inform your SEO strategy and keyword planning.
Your website alone isn’t enough to effectively market your firm. It’s only a strategic piece of your overall digital marketing plan. Understanding why SEO is so critical to your law firm’s success, knowing how to earn the attention of search engines, and then turn that traffic into reliable client acquisition is what drives your firm to success.