Some Quick Stats
Informed law firms have already figured this out and invested in their website and online presence. The smart firms have hired SEO companies to improve their organic traffic coming from search engines like Google.
The firms who haven’t still rely on old-school methods which can work great but inevitably leave a lot of business on the table. Small towns where old-fashioned advertising dominate the marketing strategies of local firms have a rude awakening the moment one firm decides to get with the times and embarks on a strategic SEO campaign.
This post is for folks in the legal space who are interested in starting an SEO campaign or those who are looking to optimize and get more results out of their efforts in this vertical.
The Search Engine Results for Legal Queries
Google’s search engine results pages changing at a very rapid pace. What a user sees when they Google something depends on the type of search being performed.
If we search for something like Louisville accident attorney we’ll find that several different result types get thrown back at us:
First there are 4 paid ads at the very top, 1 paid ad in the local pack, and 3 more paid ads at the bottom. These ads are the result of Google Ads campaigns and are billed on a pay-per-click (PPC) model. Meaning that each time someone clicks an ad it costs the advertiser pays the current auction bid price for their ad placement.
The PPC model is fine and works great for a lot of folks in the legal profession so long as the cost-per-customer-acquisition remains within a profitable range.
Below the top 4 ads we see a map that lists 3 organic local listings and 1 local listing ad. We call this section the Local Pack because it triggers when Google thinks the searcher’s intent is to find something local. Having a Google My Business listing is imperative to appearing in the local pack but that alone isn’t enough.
You’ll also notice that the map displays several points on the map. Each of these small red dots represents a business that Google will display in the map listings but take note that 4 of those pin points are much more prominent than the others. These four correspond with the top listings being shown below the map (3 red pins for the organic listings and 1 green pin representing the paid listing).
Take a look right above this sentence. You see the menu option that says More places? Clicking that will open up the full map results and display all of the other businesses that correspond with the small red dots on the map. Only a small fraction of searchers click this so your goal needs to be in the top 3 local results.
The third and final result type we see in our example search is the organic results. These are the 10 regular blue links that drive a majority of organic traffic to websites.
Unlike most searches for attorneys in a city, these results are primarily displaying the actual websites of individual attorneys (which won’t happen if we search for best louisville accident attorney). The search results for legal related queries are typically dominated by aggregator sites like FindLaw, SuperLawyers, Avvo, Thumbtack, etc.
When a person begins searching for an attorney they will often start by first researching that attorney. It’s a pretty expensive investment on their part so they want to make sure they feel comfortable before trusting their life in someone else’s hands. That’s why these aggregator sites dominate so much of the search results.
If we were targeting a query that was dominated by the aggregators we would typically need to rethink our strategy because the overall investment it takes to unseat them is often staggering. We have to take a more pragmatic approach to our campaign in instances like these.
The primary goal of an SEO campaign in this space is to increase qualified lead generation for the law firm. Anyone who focuses on keyword rankings, search traffic, dwell time, etc. is either naïve or sell you bullshit.
Higher keyword rankings, increased search traffic, longer time on page (dwell time) are all nice but at the end of the day they are only facilitators to the thing that actually makes law firms money: qualified lead generation.
If the cost to beat the aggregators is too much to tackle we might as well leverage them to our advantage. If you can’t beat ‘em, use ’em.
These three sites are pulling in nearly 6 million monthly organic visits combined! They’re established authorities in the legal space even if some attorney’s don’t like them.
These types of attorney aggregator sites all have their own proprietary algorithms that work to rank profiles on their platform internally.
You can also purchase ads with Avvo that are significantly cheaper than the average cost-per-click of Google Ads for attorney-related keywords.
Optimizing Keywords for Attorneys
We’ve written in the past how to find keywords for free. For now though, we’re going to focus on mapping the keywords we’re using on our pages (and profiles) to match searcher’s intent.
Here at Ardent Growth we break the marketing funnel into 4 stages:
Awareness: The searcher realizes they have a problem.
Interest: The searcher wants to learn more about their problem and understand it. They may also begin looking for solutions to their problem in this stage.
Consideration: The searcher is comparing various solutions on the market to their problem.
Conversion: The searcher is now ready to purchase something and convert to a buyer.
Let’s put these within the context of attorneys now.
The searcher may have recently been driving behind a commercial motor vehicle where a fatigued driver lost control of their CMV, ultimately causing a car accident. The searcher is now without a car, medical bills their insurance won’t cover completely, and on the verge of losing their job if they can’t figure out how to get back and forth to work soon.
Example Keywords: semi caused me to wreck, car accident with semi truck, semi truck accidents, semi accidents, hit by a semi, car hit by a semi, car accident with 18 wheeler, hit by a semi truck, big truck accident
The searcher gets online and begins searching for what they need to do if they’ve been in an accident caused by a semi-truck. The searcher will quickly discover that they likely have a legal case that can lead to financial compensation if taken to court or settled.
Example Keywords: 18 wheeler lawsuit settlements, truck accident settlements, sue a trucking company
The searcher is now looking at attorneys in their area to see if any have experience handling cases like theirs. They’re also trying to figure out how much it might cost them if it goes to trial, the likelihood of winning a settlement, and how much the settlement might be worth. In this example it really helps if your profile highlights information related to success rate, cost of services, and how much you’ve won for clients that you’re legally allowed to disclose.
Example Keywords: how much do accident lawsuits cost, how much will you get paid if a 18 wheeler hit you, how long does it take to settle a semi truck accident, louisville accident attorney reviews
Use the Assisted Conversions report to check for changes in conversions from Organic Search. If you see a decrease in conversions from search but your overall search traffic is remaining constant then your traffic from search isn’t quality traffic.
You can address this issue by focusing on keywords more likely to lead to conversions (e.g. bottom-of-funnel keywords). Note, you’ll need to rank for these more tightly refined keywords before you can expect to see them converting well.
The client is now for sure they want to hire an attorney is actively looking to retain one. They may be searching for attorneys in general at this point or even a specific attorney.
Example Keywords: personal injury attorneys near me, car wreck attorney louisville, louisville injury lawyer
This last group are your money keywords, when you can get someone to visit your site or call you after they have performed this kind of search you have a very high probability of landing a client.
We want to rank for terms like this but we also want to rank for everything in between. This is where I’ve seen a lot of local firms in my own area fail to capitalize on the available market.
By ranking for and capturing leads much earlier in the customer journey we can effectively increase our brand awareness by over 300% in most cases and convert visitors at a much higher percentage.
Mapping your keywords to searcher’s intent should be reflected in both your content strategy and website architecture as well. If someone is higher up in the funnel and lands on your home page it should be relatively easy for me to find out information and not feel like they’re constantly being pitched a sale.
Optimizing Site Architecture
As we just discussed, your site architecture needs to be easy to use for visitors (i.e. potential customers). It’s not just important for them, however, it’s also important to the bots that search engines use to crawl your site for indexation.
Everything needs to be organized and grouped in deliberate way. If you let just anyone work on your website this is where you’ll often run into problems. Nothing against web developers (I’m a full-stack dev myself), but most of them don’t know the first thing about SEO.
A quick way to test this is to take a look at the names of your images. If they’re saved as something like
IMG_2019-918.jpg then that’s a clear sign they do not understand how Google interprets and indexes images.
Ideally, an SEO would be involved in the development of your site from the very beginning. They’ll help form the architecture and organization of the site based on the needs of your content strategy.
How this all gets done for attorneys can vary depending on what type of firm is involved. The site architecture for a single service firm (i.e. divorce attorney) will differ from a firm that offers multiple services (i.e. a firm that offers criminal defense, personal injury, contract law, etc.). A firm which offers its services in multiple locations will have a different site architecture from both of these as well.
Single Service Law Firm SEO
For firms that specialize in a single area of the law, the structure of site should be set up in the following fashion:
Use Exact Match Domain Name
Only take this approach if you know you’re only ever going to practice one type of law. Otherwise, opt for something that allows you more space to expand such as
I know many firms opt to use their names but I promise you I can generate more organic traffic to a competitor’s website than your brand name version in a much shorter time frame.
Service Page Structure
Your service level pages should target each segment of your practice’s scope. For example:
Each one of these pages can target the keywords related to this type of case easier than broad pages that send mixed signals to Google. You can, and should, take this same approach to your blog as well.
Multi-Service Law Firm SEO
For firms that offer a few types of services, the structure of the site should be set up in the following fashion:
Branded Domain Name
Your brand name + a keyword will work great here. For example:
www.bryantlawfirm.com(better than bryantpsc.com)
If the domain name is taken, get creative.
Service Page Structure
Since you offer multiple types of services your URL structure should reflect that. For example:
Each one of these pages needs to be robust and treated as if it is a home page because it effectively will be. You want each one of these pages to be the landing page ranking in Google when someone searches for the keywords associated with it.
Stop trying to rank your home page for all your terms. You’re just confusing the shit out of Google when you do that.
You should also use additional sub-service pages as well. You don’t have to make one for each type of sub-service though. Each one will require resources to design, build, and fill with content so prioritize them based on the volume they can drive and their associated margins.
Even if the volume for some of the more niche services you offer aren’t that high you can take the profitability of those services into account and quickly realize the value of every single lead delivered by ranking for that keyword.
Multi-Location Law Firm SEO
If your firm is operating in multiple cities, congrats, you’re probably succeeding as a firm already!
If you’ve made it this far without a solid agency spearheading your SEO efforts then now is the time to ask yourself how much more market share could you be capturing?
Compare your current site structure to the one I’ve listed below and see if there’s additional room for improvement (and profitability).
Partition Your Site Structure by Location
Each location your firm has an office should have its own subdirectory branching off from your root domain. For example, let’s suppose you have offices in Louisville, Lexington, and Indianapolis:
You’re not limited to just service pages for these subdirectories though, consider adding about pages, contact pages, etc. so long as it makes sense.
…and so on.
Adding the city name to the URL string will help you rank your firm within that particular city while also keeping the URL shorter than it would be if you used a
Each one of these pages will need to be designed and developed as if they were pages that existed all on their own.
Ensure you’re not just reusing copy and content between location pages to avoid being smacked by a duplicate content penalty by Google.
Make it easy for people to switch between cities as well. You can imagine a scenario where someone accidentally lands on the Louisville page when they were really looking for the Lexington page.
If it isn’t easy for them to switch to the appropriate location you risk losing a potential lead.
You can make this easy for users by adding your locations above your navigation menu, in a global sidebar, the footer, and any other ways that provide a good user experience.
Just don’t try to reinvent the wheel here.
Other Website Optimizations
In addition to the items listed above you also need to add a meta description that is appropriately written for conversions. The meta description is that little snippet that appears just below the website link on the search results page.
You’ll also want to ensure your site has a well structured sitemap.xml file so Google can crawl it properly.
Optimizing Local SEO for Law Firms
All of the things discussed above form the foundation of SEO for law firm websites (and most service based businesses in general). This type of SEO is focused on optimizing for the organic search results. Now it’s time to address the local results.
Google My Business
Google My Business (GMB) is a free listing service provided by Google. If you’re not familiar with it already you need to get familiar with it and set up a list. I’m not going to go into how to set up your listing in granular detail here. You can learn exactly how to setup and optimize it in my step-by-step guide to setting up Google My Business.
GMB is vital to local SEO. If you do not have a listing then you will NOT show up in the local pack. In case you forgot what the local pack was, here it is again below:
The local pack triggers whenever Google thinks the searcher is looking for local services/information. The order is primarily based on the distance between the searcher and the business but a number of other factors come into play as well such as number of reviews, quality of reviews, your selected categories, backlinks, local citations, and a lot more.
You’ll need to ensure your GMB listing is verified for each location you operate out of. They’ll send you a post card in most instances that will contain a PIN number you can use to verify your location. This is pretty straightforward for single location firms but if you’re operating multiplication firm you’ll need to set up and establish a GMB listing for each individual location if you want to leverage the power of the local pack to deliver organic traffic to your site.
Ensure you categories are properly assigned and that your business description includes your primary keywords but in a coherent and easily readable manner. Don’t hesitate to link to your service pages as well from the description area.
Reviews are critically important to local SEO. Ensure you have a process in place to solicit reviews from your clients and keep an eye on them in the event anyone leaves you a bad review.
Whatever you do, DO NOT argue with people in the reviews section. It will only make you look like an ass.
Thank them for leaving a review and always inquire as to how you can make them happy again.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with these already. They are the profiles your business has on websites like FourSquare, BrownBook, etc. While these citations don’t always provide you with a dofollow link they still help by providing another instance of your phone number and address for people to find.
Ensuring that your Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) are consistent across all three is still considered by many to be an important ranking factor but I haven’t reviewed any recent literature on the topic. It doesn’t hurt to push for consistency either way though.
You’ll probably want to hire someone to create these for you. It’s a very tedious and time-consuming process. There are thousands of directory listings out there…
The Role of Content in Attorney SEO
Everything I’ve discussed previously comprises the more straightforward elements of optimizing your firm’s SEO. It will all be for naught if you do not have quality content on your site.
Do not go create content blindly either. The sheer amount of shit content I have encountered while crawling thousands of websites is staggering. I think people just put out content just to feel like they checked that box.
That is a bad strategy.
Think about all of the websites you have visited. Which ones really made an impact on you? I’m willing to bet it’s the ones that host high-quality content. Some websites may have a very appealing design but do you still visit them every week?
Which sites are you still visiting consistently? The ones with such good content that you consistently check them every week to see what’s new (this could be an industry blog, magazine, or online source of news).
The quality of a website’s content is one of my primary gauges for evaluating how good a website is. I don’t publish a lot of content on my own site but that’s because when I do it’s usually a massive damn tome of information (like this).
My content is the foundational upon which my business is built. It serves as the gateway for visitors to find me on the web and potentially become leads and customers.
Structuring Your Content
Your content should map to the searcher’s journey we previously discussed.
Put your money keywords in your /services/ pages and your informational keywords in your resource or blog post pages.
For the love of God do not make a blatant sales pitch on your informational pages. Do not underestimate the additional leads a well optimized informational piece of content can net you.
General Content Guidelines
Most of you know this already but many state BAR associations have regulations regarding the rights of the public and advertisers when it comes to marketing for legal services.
As a professional service provider you’re held to higher standards when it comes to marketing and advertising. As a general rule you should avoid the following:
- Do not publish information or content that can be considered misleading.
- Do not claim to be an attorney unless you are licensed and approved by your respective state’s BAR.
- Never guarantee anything. We’re not omniscient. You can agree to represent your client to the best of your ability but you cannot guarantee results.
Service Page Content Guidelines
Each page should target a single concept (it doesn’t necessarily have to be a single keyword; ever since Hummingbird and RankBrain Google is much better at discerning intent).
That being said, we still want to use our primary high-volume keyword in strategic points throughout the page:
Personal Injury Law Example
- URL: www.dentonlawfirm.com/services/medical-malpractice/
- Title: The #1 Louisville Medical Malpractice Law Firm – Morgan & Morgan
- H1 Heading: Compensation for Victims of Medical Malpractice | Contact the Top Louisville Medical Malpractice Law Firm
- Image Titles: louisville-medical-malpractice-law-firm-wins-major-settlement.jpg
- Alt Tags: Louisville Medical Malpractice Law Firm [Brand Name] Representing Client in Major Central Pontine Myelinolysis Case
- Content: The keyword should be used throughout the content where it makes sense but don’t just stuff it in there. Use synonyms and terms that you would naturally include if you were talking about medical malpractice.
I like to use statistical analysis on the top 10 organic pages by finding correlations for keyword usage, structure, and a few dozen other factors to inform my decisions.
I wouldn’t recommend this approach to folks unless they have a technical background and are working in a highly competitive industry.
It’s an insanely powerful and effective approach but it can be overkill for some scenarios.
Info Page Content Guidelines
If you just create content centered on your money keywords you’ll disappoint me (unless your a firm that’s competing with a firm I represent. If that’s the case then please, by all means, don’t create informational content).
One of the primary things SEOs have to do in order to increase the organic traffic a website receives is building backlinks to it.
Building backlinks to service based pages is so damn difficult that I don’t even bother with it even more. It’s a waste of time and effort. No one wants to link to a page where you’re pitching your services.
Don’t believe me? Have you ever been approached by the Huns on Facebook selling MLM type shit? Asking for a link to a sales page puts us in the same category as those folks.
I know it may come as a shock to you but people don’t really care about what you do. They care about what you can do for them.
The easiest way for you to create content that people will want to link to while simultaneously establishing your authority in your profession is by supplying information content to curious searchers at no cost. Aim for comprehensive content.
Our general guideline is to aim for 1300 words minimum. It’s okay if you go a little under this though, just be sure you’re writing content that covers a topic in depth.
The more complete it is the more keywords you’ll typically rank for.
If you don’t have a blog you’re wrong.
If you think writing a post titled, “5 Reasons Why Attorneys Are Necessary for Business” is a great idea, let me go ahead and stop you there. The folks in my industry do this shit as well:
- 10 Reasons Why Your Business Needs SEO
- 5 Reasons to Avoid “Affordable” SEO Services
These are really just posts where folks are trying to justify their services to people who don’t understand.
What are the odds that someone is going to believe me when I tell them my service is worthwhile and important? Of course I think it’s important, but that is not the kind of content that people walk away from thinking, “Damn, that was helpful.”
And that should be your goal. Every piece of content should aim to help the reader in some way. Help can come in many forms, it doesn’t always have to be informational/education, entertainment is a form of help as well.
I worked with a divorce attorney that had excellent content and his search traffic backed it up. His content ranked for keywords like:
- signs your ex is turning your child against you
- north carolina child support guidelines
- grandparents child support
This is the best kind of content that can capture potential leads very early in the marketing funnel.
You can leverage this by retargeting these visitors with advertisements on Facebook, YouTube, Google, etc. Retargeting visitors with ads whenever they search for a term later in the funnel can dramatically increase your conversion rate.
Backlinks: The Glue That Holds It All Together
Backlinks are still the primary variable that will get your page to the first page of the Google search results. There is a clear correlation between referring domains and the search traffic a website receives.
Note: Correlation ≠ Causation
There are a variety of ways to build backlinks to your site; I’m going to focus on the three most effective channels:
- Traditional White Hate Link Building
- Guest PostingLocal News
- Forum Links
Traditional White Hat Link Building
The good news is that building backlinks doesn’t have to be hard. If you have content that is legitimately helpful and information it can be quite easy to rank for the terms you’re targeting.
Let’s say you write an informational piece of content that covers the topic
no fault state meaning. This can apply to a lot of states, including the ones you don’t even practice in, so why would you bother doing this?
If you limit yourself to producing content that is only relevant within your state you will simultaneously limit your link building prospects as well. Don’t handicap yourself by doing this.
Links to the
no fault state meaning page, or any informational page for that matter, help raise the overall authority of your domain. You can then pass and share this link equity around to other pages on your site that you want to get a little boost on Google (i.e. your money pages that no one wanted to link to) via internal linking.
Link building is tedious but it is necessary if you want to solidify your ranking position for the long term.
We use ahrefs to identify backlink opportunities for our clients. If you’re already working with an agency, don’t be afraid to ask them what tools they’re using and their processes. If they say something about their methods being proprietary I would start hearing alarms. Every time I have ever heard an agency say this it is typically because they either don’t have a strategy or their strategy is questionable at best.
Ensure you’re building high-quality contextually relevant backlinks. Always ask yourself, “When a person sees this link will it legitimately be helpful for them if they click it?”
Guest posting is where you develop content and have it published on another website.
You can craft the perfect anchor text that links back to one of your pages (I suggest linking to an informational page) and leverage the authority of the host website to add to your authority.
It also helps because if that site has high traffic numbers that can translate to an increase in referral traffic to your site, which can often be a good thing especially if you’re posting on a website that is targeted at the same area your law firm operates in.
You can use advanced search operators on Google to find opportunities for guest posting:
legal “accepting guest posts”
legal "write for us"
legal "guest posts"
Using Ahrefs to Find Guest Posting Opportunities
You can derive as many different advanced search operations as you want or you can use Ahrefs Content Explorer tool to do the same thing.
Enter a word or phrase into the Content Explorer search box and it will generate a list of pages that mention that keyword. You can set all sorts of filters on the too (such as stipulating that the keyword must be in the title of the page and much more).
I like to search for the term, set a DR filter to only show me results with a DR of 20 or higher and turn on the option to only show me one page per domain (we’re look for opportunities here so one is sufficient).
Do not outsource this to someone in the Philippines. You can outsource it to an agency but make sure they have strict standards for guest posting.
Whenever we have to create content like this for clients we do not write it internally because we’re not lawyers.
Instead, we identify the topic, lay out a bit of structure, then find someone with legal credentials (usually another attorney or judge) to write the content within our framework. We don’t put too many constraints on our writers since they know the field better than we do.
Writing that comes from an expert reads better than someone who’s attempting to bullshit their way through it like it’s an undergraduate paper.
Forget doing press releases. They’re a waste of time. No one cares about what you’re doing. You’ll get more traffic from a social media post about what’s going on at your firm than you will from a press release.
If you want to generate a good backlink and traffic then reach out to you local news organizations. They’re always starving for content and most rely on the major media conglomerates to provide them with syndicated content.
If you offer to write some guest content for them for free they will often take you up on the offer. If they ask you to pay for it as part of a promotional fee just do it.
The fees are typically fair and our local news often needs the money more than local law firms do. It’s a small price to pay in exchange for a contextually relevant backlink from a local authority site.
Nothing is free in the world of marketing. If you’re not paying for money you’re paying for it with time. That holds true for SEO as well. If you hire an agency you’re obviously paying for it with money but if you’re doing it on your own you’re still going to pay for it with your time.
Don’t take this lightly. Measure your ROI and ensure your efforts are profitable.
There are a few key metrics you want to measure when it comes to SEO performance:
- Search Engine Visibility
- Organic Traffic
- Lead Generation Attributed to Organic Search
Search Engine Visibility
Get ready for it: SEO takes time!
Seriously. Get ready to put in 6-12 months of work just to begin seeing the needle noticeable move. In the meantime, you can use Google Search Console to measure your visibility on the search engines using their Impressions metric.
You want your impressions going up and to the right. 😉
Search Engine Visibility in Ahrefs
If you have a subscription to ahrefs, you can view your overall site visibility by viewing the Organic search tab of the Overview report.
You can view the organic traffic your website is receiving by opening up Google Analytics and navigating to the Channels report filtered by Organic Search.
Path: Acquisition → All Traffic → Channels
Learn all about these metrics and ways to measure SEO performance with Google Analytics and Google Search Console using our guide.
Organic Traffic Where it Counts: Our Money Pages
What’s really important is making sure that your traffic is bring in real value. You can do that by segmenting your Landing Page content by organic traffic.
Lead Generation Attributed to Organic Search
Remember when I said the primary goal of an SEO campaign was to increase qualified lead generation for the law firm?
You can measure this by segmenting your Goals Overview report by organic traffic.
While I have attempted to provide in-depth and actionable content, this guide is by no means comprehensive. There are many facets that influence the success of an SEO campaign that require professional knowledge, practice and experimentation to incorporate properly.
SEO is also an on-going game. If you’re doing well today in the search results there is no guarantee that you will continue to do so in the future. Take a look at this website in the medical niche that was hit hard (60% decrease in traffic) back in March 2019:
Hopefully you’ve learned something in this guide that you can benefit from and begin implementing in your own firm’s SEO strategy (whether your an attorney or an agency with attorney clients).
If you have any questions please ask them below. I’ll add more to this guide over time based on the feedback I receive from readers.