SEO for Lawyers | A Visual Guide to Law Firm SEO

Search Engine Optimization For Lawyers

This step-by-step guide is written for law firms who are looking to increase the number of phone calls & cases they get each month.

That being said, even experienced SEOs can get something from this guide if they’re looking to learn what’s working for law firms right now. We’ve broken down each component and listed them in the table of contents.

I highly encourage folks to jump around the guide to find what they’re looking for quickly. If you have any questions — don’t hesitate to reach out.

What is Attorney SEO?

Attorney search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of growing the quality and quantity of a law firm’s website traffic by increasing its ranking on search engines. SEO improves unpaid traffic and does not include direct and paid traffic.

There are a few primary ways people pick a lawyer to contact when they have a legal issue:

  1. Search engines
  2. Word of mouth
  3. Social media

Of these, search engines are not only the most popular but also the easiest to measure return on investment (ROI). Organic reach on social has dropped significantly over the past several years, forcing many businesses to adapt by advertising on those platforms instead.

Why is SEO so Effective for Law Firms and Lawyers?

People trust Google whenever they search for something, especially the non-paid results. Here’s some quick stats:

  • In fact, 53.3% of all website traffic comes from organic search sources, 27% from paid, and 20% from other (BrightEdge).
  • 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine (BrightEdge).
  • SEO drives 1000%+ more traffic than organic social media (BrightEdge).
  • Less than 1% of all searchers click on a result on the 2nd page (Backlinko).
  • Less than 6% of pages end up ranking in the top 10 results within a year of being published (Ahrefs).
SEO for Lawyers | A Visual Guide to Law Firm SEO 1

Ads tend to receive far fewer clicks than the organic results. Ranking high on Google whenever someone searches for something related to your business is an immediate win. It builds trust with the searcher from the get-go.

Showing that only 26% of clicks go to the paid listings for car accident attorney.
Less than 30% of all clicks are on ads for the search term: car accident attorney

Unlike paid advertising, the benefits of SEO are compounding and long-lasting. PPC advertising will get you quick results but they’re not sustainable. The moment you stop spending money on advertising the tap gets turned off and things begin to dry up.

The opposite is true with SEO. A single optimized piece of authoritative content can rank for thousands of keywords. Even if you stop spending money on an SEO campaign, it will continue to rank well for a while. This results in more revenue at a far lower cost than what an advertising campaign would take.

Take this piece of content we optimized for a personal injury law firm. When we started our campaign with this client this particular page only ranked for 2 keywords (in positions 50+).

Within 2 months we had it ranking on the first page for a handful of terms. Within a year we had it ranking for over 309 keywords — 153 of which were on the 1st page. Again, this was just one page targeting a particular mass tort lawsuit.

SEO for Lawyers | A Visual Guide to Law Firm SEO 2
Start of campaign: 0 rankings on the first page.
SEO for Lawyers | A Visual Guide to Law Firm SEO 3
After one year: 153 keywords ranking on the first page.

Great content also helps grow the authority of your site by attracting links over time.

We’ll discuss this more in-depth later but you can think of links like endorsements. The more endorsements you get from quality sources, the more authority you build.

Links are an important component of the ranking algorithms — especially Google’s.

You can kill two birds with one stone by creating high-quality content:

  1. Ranking for hundreds (if not thousands) of keywords with a single piece of content.
  2. Generating natural backlinks by being an authoritative source on a particular topic.

Why SEO is Important for Law Firms?

SEO is important for law firms because search is the main way people find answers to their questions.

If you want to generate new clients at reduced costs then you need to show up in search engines for the terms people search for.

Search is Where People Are

That’s only one search engine. Google controls roughly 87.35% of the search market there are a few others as well.

Over 2 trillion searches happen on Google each year.
 
That’s over 5.4 billion searches per day.
 
If you were to start counting the day you were born it would take approximately 244 years to count to 1 billion. Think about that the next time you toss around big numbers.
 

You Can Pinpoint Your Target Customers

Let’s use a few scenarios to compare marketing channels to each other.

  1. Billboards – You pay an annual fee to a local salesman to keep your billboards up in prominent areas around the city. You have no idea how many people actually notice your billboards or how many cases it actually brings in but you sure do like the way your photo looks up there…meanwhile you can’t fathom why Gallup polls don’t place lawyers higher on the trustworthy scale.
  2. Television – You run an ad in four positions a day to people in your local town. You pay a decent amount of money for this but have no idea whether or not people are actually paying attention when your ad is on. You also don’t know how many people watching your ad are actually people who can benefit from your counsel. You are convinced television is a good channel though so you keep spending money on it.
    You also happen to notice that every time a commercial comes on in your house that everyone is looking at their phone…hmm, isn’t that interesting?
  3. Social Media – You’ve been running ads on social media promoting your firm. However, you learned that boosting posts wasn’t quite as effective as using the real ads dashboard so you get points for that. Unfortunately, your ads aren’t performing as well as you wish they would. You get a lot of impressions but few calls. You’re not sure why…it may have something to do with your targeting…you did set up targeting properly with your pixel, right?
  4. Search Engines – You haven’t been focusing a lot on SEO for your law firm. Your competition has though. You decide to invest in a basic SEO campaign that generates new content on your site and backlinks. When someone searches for car accident attorney from somewhere nearby your website shows up in the top 3. You also seem to be getting a lot more calls for car accident lawsuit claims. Looking at your Google Analytics you’re able to see that a significant percentage of people that land on your blog posts from Google searches about car accident lawsuits subsequently use your live chat and contact forms — becoming leads…
This is common. When people search for something on Google they have an intent — they want something.
 
Target and rank well for the right search terms and you’ll be in the right place at the right time to turn a searcher into a lead.
 
When someone has intent they’re more likely to convert. And you’ll convert them with an organic result far better than you will with an ad.
 
If your tracking is set up the right way, you can tie cases and leads back to SEO. Unlike Google Ads, SEO is far more sustainable and will net you an increased ROI in the long term.

Why Attorneys & Law Firms Need a Website & SEO

The best websites are user-focused. Websites and SEO go hand-in-hand. In fact, I would argue that good SEO relies on good UX. 

Your Google My Business listing not enough by itself. You need your own website so that you can control the messaging, the format, and the data. 

Your website is often the first impression you’ll make on people. Businesses lose customers every day because of poor UX. Your website needs to be designed and developed by a professional. 

The main benefit of a website derives from creating and publishing industry-related content. Content that will rank for the types of terms real people search for.

The best websites are user-focused. Websites and SEO go hand-in-hand. In fact, I would argue that good SEO relies on good UX.
 
Your Google My Business listing not enough by itself. You need your own website so that you can control the messaging, the format, and the data.
 
Your website is often the first impression you’ll make on people. Businesses lose customers every day because of poor UX. Your website needs to be designed and developed by a professional.
 
The main benefit of a website derives from creating and publishing industry-related content. Content that will rank for the types of terms real people search for.

Are Websites Built by Findlaw, Justia, or Scorpion any Good?

They could be. In our experience, most of them are not though. They’re often built on outdated and messy frameworks like Divi builder. Divi has improved a lot over the years but it’s still a bloated mess of code that obfuscates and complicates things more than it needs to.

Every time we’ve dug into the backend of sites built by these companies they end up being such a mess that we have to rebuild them.

They often have the tell-tale markers of novice engineers who lack an understanding of key development principles and just keep bolting on new code instead of thinking about the extensibility of the code in the future.

We’ve seen this in the past with clients in other industries that outsourced their development work overseas.

We build sites for clients to be flexible and extensible. We code them in such a way so that they’re pretty easy to use even for non-technical folks who want a simple way to make web design changes.

This approach is the best of both worlds for us and our clients. It provides enough flexibility to permit professionals like ourselves to customize it and create our own custom code within its framework while also being easy and intuitive enough to use to allow bootstrapped law firms to make common updates to their sites like adding images, paragraphs, publishing blog posts and more.

I’d encourage other web design agencies to do this for your law firm clients as well. It’ll help both of you out.

Read the fine print. In many instances, companies like FindLaw and Scorpion own your website design as well (despite what you may think).

Whenever you leave them they will export all of your content into a file for you but you’ll be left to your own devices to get it deployed and designed somewhere else — if you’re even able to get it at all.

This is ridiculous and unethical in our opinion. If we had our druthers we would put every SEO company that engages in practices like this out of business.

Strap In, We’re About to Dive Deep

Any marketing strategy your law firm invests in should include SEO as a core pillar. It is one of the most effective means of digital marketing available. A well thought out SEO strategy can have you ranking on the first page for some of the most lucrative keywords in your practice area.

SEO is more complicated than keywords on a page. For law firms, the SEO services you’ll need should include both traditional SEO (so you can rank in the regular organic results) as well as public relation type services such as online reputation management (ORM) to help you get better online reviews and testimonials (this applies to platforms like Google My Business as well as other platforms like Avvo and Yelp).

We’ll cover all of this in more detail as we dive deeper. In the next section, we’ll discuss the primary ranking factors lawyers need to take into account when it comes to SEO.


What are the Top 3 Ranking Factors for Law Firms?

The top three ranking factors for law firms are:

  1. High-quality, contextually relevant content.
  2. High-quality, authoritative links from editorial sources.
  3. RankBrain (how Google processes and interprets natural language queries).

Before we can dive into how ranking factors affect law firms we have to understand the basics of how Google operates as a business.

The algorithm Google uses to rank websites in its search engine is pretty damn complex. A lot of money has been poured into improving the original algorithm Sergey Brin and Larry Page developed back during their days at Stanford.

Google states that it is guided by a commitment to provide you with the best information when you search for something. It does this so well that it has been able to claim 87.35% of the search engine market share.

If it were easy to rank in search then everyone would do it — and if that happened the search results would be volatile as hell, people would be less satisfied with Google as a search engine, and Google would lose market share — hurting its profitability.

We have to remember that Google is more than just a search engine — it’s a business. And as a business, it has one primary goal: to increase the profitability for its shareholders.

Now that we understand why Google wants to return the best results and why it’s not easy for just anyone to “be the best” we can dive into the top ranking signals.

Factor #1: Content

Content is the base upon which all sustainable search engine optimization (SEO) efforts should be built.  While you can rank a junk page with enough links (more about that in a moment) it will always be susceptible to a manual action by Google.

The same applies to pages that are lacking in content depth but supported with a high number of links. In fact, if your content quality is high enough you can rank pages with few to zero backlinks much higher than competitor pages with many backlinks.

For example, I managed to rank my Google My Business Guide #1 on Google before I even built any links to it. How was I able to do this? Because I know how to make great content and optimize it.

SEO for Lawyers | A Visual Guide to Law Firm SEO 4
The guide I wrote that outranked Google’s own page on the topic.

Searcher’s Intent

The most important thing your content must do is satisfy the searcher’s intent. This can be done by analyzing the SERPs to see what Google is ranking already.

This is why it’s going to be a waste of your time to attempt ranking for best attorneys in [city] unless you create a page along with several competitors. When people search for this they’re often looking for a page that compares attorneys, not a single page you’ve created that might state why you’re the best attorney for the job.

If your content doesn’t satisfy the searcher’s intent, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle the entire time to rank on the first page.

Depth is More Important than Length

Some studies have shown that long-form content tends to show up higher in the search rankings. This is just a correlational study, however.

It is our contention that longer pieces of content tend to cover a topic more in-depth and that it is depth, not the actual length of the content which matters more.

Ahrefs recently showed in a study that word length did not correlate with organic traffic.

SEO for Lawyers | A Visual Guide to Law Firm SEO 5
Source: Blog Post Length Study (Ahrefs)

Length alone is not sufficient nor necessary for depth to be met. That being said, in most cases, it is difficult to create an in-depth piece of content that is not lengthy.

Topical authority of pages in Google's Index – Ardent Growth Law Firm SEO Agency

A Quick History of How Topical Authority Overtook Keywords

Back in 2013 Google introduced an algorithm called Hummingbird that drastically changed the way the search algorithm worked.

Prior to the Hummingbird update, many people were able to game Google’s algorithm by stuffing their content with target keywords and building links with these keywords in the anchor text (the piece of text that is actually linked).

SEO for Lawyers | A Visual Guide to Law Firm SEO 6

The position and placement of keywords influenced things heavily as well. This included things like placing keywords in the domain name, title tags of pages, the first paragraph, heading tags (e.g. the H1 and H2 headings), in the alt text of images, and so on. If you’ve done any research into SEO  for lawyers you’ve likely already read about this.

Google relied on these things heavily pre-Hummingbird because it did not have a great way of understanding the semantic intent of a searcher’s query. That all began to change with Hummingbird.

Hummingbird provided Google with a way of evaluating content quality and topical relevance. This piece of the algorithm was just the beginning though. The common approaches to SEO that involved gaming the algorithm continued to work (and still do in many instances) but that has slowly been on the decline.

You can still take that approach and so long as no one else updates their SEO strategy to focus on modern practices then you’ll be fine.

Or you can get ahead of the curve and start producing topically relevant and authoritative content now. The benefit of doing so will be a massive increase in your website’s organic traffic and more ownership over the market share in your industry.

EAT: Expertise, Authority, & Trustworthiness

A lot of buzz occurs within the SEO community about EAT and its role in SEO. It’s a fairly contentious point in our community.

Some people have doubled down on it as a critical part of the future while others still swear they are able to bypass these requirements with enough link building and other manipulations of the algorithm.

I’m not a particular fan of trying to find work arounds the algorithm. Our approach keeps us from having to be concerned when an algorithm update rolls out. We’re in the business of building brands — not cutting corners and finding hacks.

Site impacted by a Google algorithm update in May 2020
A site impacted by the May 2020 update. They hired us in June 2020 to begin fixing things.

In keeping with the direction Google began heading with the Hummingbird update, additional emphasis was placed on favoring content judged to come from an authoritative source with expertise on the topic that could be trusted.

We know this because Google’s Search Quality Evaluator’s Guidelines state as much:

Google's Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness standards - Ardent Growth Law Firm SEO Agency

Topical authority is developed by creating content that covers a sufficient number of topics in such a way with enough depth to earn authority with Google’s algorithm.

The best way to do this is to analyze the Google search results as they currently exist. Google tells us exactly what it wants to rank in the top results — we just have to go and look. Determine what topics the pages are ranking for and cover those topics in-depth as well. Then, going further, continue to do this for side branches in semantic intent with additional pages to build out a cluster of content around a primary pillar page.

Okay, so what the hell does that even mean? Don’t worry. I’m going to break it down in detail and provide examples in the chapter over content marketing.

Factor #2: Links

Links are still a key factor influencing the rankings on Google. Google’s original algorithm was heavily based on links. This approach, called PageRank, used a weighted system of edges (links) between nodes (web pages) to distribute authority across the world wide web.

Each link one page gave another was essentially a vote for that page — much in the same way citing a resource in a paper is your way of deeming that source authoritative and trustworthy.

While it’s our contention that links are losing their importance over time we’re not quite ready to hang the hat up just yet — and neither are most other SEOs. For better or for worse, links are here to stay for the time being so you might as well understand how they work and how to acquire them.

Referring domains vs number of keywords rankings - Ardent Growth Law Firm SEO Agency

How Backlinks Work

As I previously mentioned, backlinks are like votes. Each link is a vote for a web page (not to be confused with a website). In this sense, it’s very similar to the way the popular vote works in the U.S.

However, it isn’t just the quantity of links that matter. Quality is an important element as well. Most models that predict Page Authority (Moz) or URL Authority (ahrefs) measure them using a logarithmic scale and place more emphasis on quality links versus the quantity.

We can think of this in the same way the electoral college works in the U.S election system. All votes are important but not all votes are equal — some votes carry more emphasis (e.g. swing) than others.

What Makes a Backlink High Quality?

There are a variety of factors research studies have found correlate with links that pack a punch. While there may be hundreds of factors, we can apply the Pareto Principle and focus on the following since they seem to be the most important:

Editorial Links in the Body of the Content

Links placed in the body of the content carry more weight than links found in footers or sidebars. Authoritative publishers take their reputation seriously and that means editorial content goes through a review process to some extent.

During a review, editors will often check the sources that writers link to in an effort to determine their relevance and legitimacy. Because of this, search algorithms trust these types of links more than links that can be bought as a promotion – like those often seen in sidebars.

The Authority of the Linking Page

Pages with a lot of links from unique web pages (and websites) are typically seen as more credible than one with merely a high volume of links.

Imagine someone is looking to hire a personal injury attorney and starts to ask around for recommendations. They ask 13 people in all.

One friend recommends Joe Lawyer, Esq. over and over and over again — they’re pretty insistent this particular attorney is the best.

However, a dozen other people all recommend a different attorney: Johnny Attorney, Esq.

Which attorney do you think is likely to be chosen and has a better chance of being “the best?” Let me assure you, it’s not typically going to be the one who had a hundred recommendations from the same person.

You can obtain quality backlinks via manual outreach to other websites following the same principles you would when trying to network with someone professionally. That means take your time and don’t ask them to link to you during your very first conversation — build a little rapport first!

The Number of Links the Referring Page is Referring Out

The more a page links out to other sites the less overall authority it has to pass around. A page only has so much authority to pass around. The more links it sends out the more divided the link equity becomes.

In keeping with our election analogies, imagine I have \$50,000 to donate to a political campaign. I can donate all \$50,000 to one political candidate or I can divide my campaign donations between a dozen candidates. The more I divide my donation the less overall impact it has for any one candidate.

Links work in the very same way. If a page is linking to many other pages the weight of any individual link is greatly diminished. That being said, this also depends on how many links the linking page is receiving from other pages itself as well.

It is also commonly believed that the overall link popularity of the domain as a whole plays a role. This is known as domain authority (Moz) or domain rating(Ahrefs).

Backlink factors vs on page SEO factors

Dofollow Links: Intentional Endorsements

Links come in a few flavors.

  • dofollow
  • nofollow
  • ugc
  • sponsored

These link types are defined by using a rel (relationship) attribute in HTML. A dofollow link is traditionally the best type of link and the one we would often seek to obtain from a website.

All links are dofollow unless otherwise specified. There is no explicit dofollow in the code — this is just a term that’s commonly used in the industry.

Links with a nofollow relation were traditionally not seen as important because they effectively told search engines not to follow the link (meaning no substantial edge was formed between the two nodes). However, that all changes as of March 2020 when Google begins following nofollow links.

While we don’t know whether or not authority will be passed from one page to another whenever a nofollow link is used, we at least will know that Google will start to follow the links between two sites.

In 2019 we saw two new types of links come into existence: ugc and sponsored. Links with a sponsored attribute serve as a way to recognize that there may be some compensation-based relationship between two entities.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean the link isn’t trustworthy we can reasonably assume the reason site A is linking to site B is biased.

If nothing else, it’s nice to know that the relationship exists in that matter — much in the same way affiliate sites are required to make it known that they may be compensated for their recommendations.

Links with the ugc attribute are links generated by users. These are typically in the comments found on pages or in the case of some websites, entire sections of their site’s content (e.g. saleshacker.com and wikipedia.com).

We’ll strive to get any link we can so long as it’s from a reputable source. Our goal is to secure dofollow links more than the others but we won’t pass up an opportunity for another type of link if it’s from a high-quality site. We would recommend you take the same approach.

Anchor Text: Be Reasonable

The original search algorithm was heavily reliant upon the anchor text used to hyperlink one page to another. The chosen anchor text was used as a key component for understanding the context within which the link was being used.

If one page has dozens of links from external sites that all use words related to dogs in some way, shape, or form then we can reasonably assume that particular page is about dogs.

The problem is that the importance based on the actual words used in the anchor text was exceedingly vulnerable to manipulation. People, like water, will often follow the path of least resistance. Many folks spammed the hell out of exact match anchor text when obtaining backlinks to their site that Google was forced to take action.

And take action they did: enter the first iteration of the Penguin algorithm. Penguin devastated the SEOs that were intentionally manipulating anchor text and resulting in many manual penalties and decreased rankings.

In a comprehensive study performed by Ahrefs it was found over and over again that anchor text carried a very weak to almost non-existent correlation with a page’s rankings.

Phrase match correlation across 19,800 SERPs

Ahrefs recommendation was to put the days of chasing exact match anchor text in the past. Why? Because they, like us, have concluded that Google is granting more weight to topics rather than keywords as time goes on.

Moreover, it’s an unjustified risk to receive a manual penalty given the weak correlations (note that this doesn’t seem to apply when building your own internal links between pages).

Factor #3: Rankbrain

Rankbrain is a fascinating bit of artificial intelligence that Google uses to automatically optimize the search results.

Many people mistakenly think that Rankbrain has to do with UX signals. They should re-read the patent though. Rankbrain, like BERT, has more to do with how Google interprets your search query.

However, UX signals are a good sign that your content matches the searcher’s intent. Imagine you surveyed visitors after they visited your site to find out if they got what they wanted when they visited.

That’s sort of how Rankbrain works except it uses user experience (UX) signals to determine this instead of actual surveys.

Pogo-Sticking

When a user visits your site and quickly realizes it isn’t providing them with what they’re looking for, they’ll often hit the back button and try another link or refine their search query – increasing the page’s bounce rate.

This is called pogo-sticking and Rankbrain takes notice of this behavior and acts accordingly. If a lot of people are pogo-sticking Rankbrain will automatically devalue that page for that particular query in the future.

Page speed is something we can consider here as well. If a page takes a long time to load (especially on mobile devices) we can presume that users will get frustrated quickly and return to the Google search engine results page to try a different result.

You can quickly get a grip on page speed and other useful metrics like impression count and click-through rate via Google Search Console. Other tools like Google Analytics can help you assess the dwell time on pages as well as their bounce rates.

This is just another case of pogo-sticking.

Some studies submit that dwell time and click-through rates are factors Rankbrain considers as well when ranking pages.

I haven’t been presented with sufficient data to call these first-order influences on the decisions Rankbrain makes, however.

The general thought is that pages with a higher click-through rate are seen as “better” and increases in dwell time is an indicator of a page being valuable enough to spend time with.

I submit that these are second-order correlational factors instead.

Increases in click-through rate alone shouldn’t impact search results if satisfying searcher’s intent is the primary focus — otherwise, clickbait headlines would impact results at a greater level.

Regarding dwell time, it can reasonably be assumed that pages that are more useful are going to tend to show increases in dwell time versus those that clearly do not provide value.

The common denominator?

Value. It’s that simple.

Google has stated numerous times that clicks do not directly impact rankings but serve as an indirect ranking signal. That is, they help train the machine learning algorithm.

This is why it is so important that you satisfy searcher’s intent with the content on your page. Rankbrain effectively takes the emphasis off of keyword research and optimization and places it on the usefulness of your content.

Rankbrain has made the job of SEO much easier for content creators that focus on the users and harder for people just looking to manipulate the results and rank higher (despite having low-quality content). This is something we happily welcome — and you should too.

The Future of Search: Semantic Analysis and Topical Intent

As Google’s algorithm gets increasing more intelligence link relevance will likely decrease. It has been a thorn in their side every since spammers first learned they could manipulate things. While Google has improved its ability to identify unnatural link building and punish people accordingly, there’s still plenty of cases that go undetected.

As artificial intelligence gets smarter through advancements in machine learning the logical shift is for Google to move toward topical authority build by consistently building up a corpus of authoritative content on a topic and brand building.

At Ardent Growth, we do this for our client using advanced methods of machine learning and natural language processing. Our clients see consistent growth and in many cases major upticks whenever a body of work gets published in rapid succession.

Ardent Growth Client Search Console Growth

Additional SEO Factors that Impact Law Firms

Everything we have just discussed largely applies to standard search engine results. Things change a bit when we add local SEO results into the mix (i.e. when maps with local search results begin appearing). Additional factors like the health of a company’s Google My Business listing and citations play major roles as well.

I know this bit might have been a little technical for the layperson, but don’t worry, we’re about to discuss a much more interesting topic: keyword research for law firms!


What is Keyword Research?

Keyword research is the practice of discovering which terms and phrases people use when using search engines. 

It is also identifying which of those keywords are the best to optimize a web page for with the goal of ranking higher in the search results for them.

Keyword research is the practice of discovering which terms and phrases people use when using search engines.
 
It is also identifying which of those keywords are the best to optimize a web page for with the goal of ranking higher in the search results for them.

Why is Keyword Research Important?

Without keyword research, you might as well be fumbling around in the dark. You can think of the keyword research process like the investigation and discovery process as you prep for trial.

Can you imagine going to trial without having a thorough understanding of the facts of the case? The same applies when you create content on your site. Content without keyword research is an unguided and inefficient mess.

By finding the right keywords and topics you’re better suited to target the most valuable keywords in your industry. Keyword research also helps you get into the minds of your potential customers — something that many people think they understand, but usually do not.

Keyword Research to Find Personal Injury Keywords

First off, this is a framework to go by. It is not a set-in-stone guide that you must 100% adhere to. Keyword research is not an exact science. However, there are certain things you should be doing in order to set yourself up for success.

Following this framework will cause drastic improvements to your website’s organic traffic.

Organic growth from SEO for law firm
2.4x Growth (YoY)

If you’re an attorney reviewing this guide yourself you may feel like some of this information is a little confusing. If that’s the case, I’d encourage you to keep reviewing it a few times until you get it.

You practice law. Trust me, if you can learn to interpret that myriad mess you can learn to do keyword research as well.

With that being said, let’s get started!

Seed Keywords: Starting with Very Basic Keywords

A seed keyword is a base word or phrase of words that really define your industry and help you figure out who your primary competitors are.

Ask yourself, “How might people search for me or my business?”

For personal injury these would include terms like:

  • accident attorney
  • accident law firm
  • accident lawyer
  • attorney
  • injury attorney
  • injury law firm
  • injury lawyer
  • lawyer
  • law firm
  • personal injury attorney
  • personal injury law firm
  • personal injury lawyer

You’ll come up with (discover) many more seed keywords later on but this is a nice place to start.

Finding Additional Keywords

Once you have your seed terms, it’s time for us to begin generating a list of other keywords that are relevant to them.

We’re going to show you how to find these other relevant terms using one of the best keyword research tools on the market: Ahrefs.

Normally we would include guides on how to do this for people on a tight budget (using free tools like google keyword planner) but this guide is for personal injury law firms.

If you want to be the best you need to be willing to invest in the best. You know that.

Ahrefs is a premium tool that has several pricing tiers to choose from. If you’re an attorney wanting to do your search engine optimization yourself we would suggest you opt for the Lite Plan (\$99/month). If you’re doing SEO for lawyers as a consultant or agency we’d suggest you opt for at least the Standard Plan (\$189/month) though you’ll get access to a lot of additional and useful data with the Advanced or Agency tier plans.

Note: I am not affiliated with Ahrefs in any way. I do not get any sort of incentive for recommending their products. I recommend them because they really are one of the best and most useful tools when it comes to SEO.

There are a lot of ways to go about finding additional new keywords using Ahrefs, you could:

  • Analyze your current keywords and your competitor’s keywords using Site Explorer’s Organic Keywords Report or Top Pages report.
  • You could use Keywords Explorer to take your seed keywords and generate a number of reports containing additional keyword suggestions.

However, each of these ways can quickly take an inexperienced person down a rabbit hole of data and leave them lost wondering how to act on it.

So instead, I’m going to show you a simple process you can use to find plenty of actionable keyword ideas for the next several months.

Finding Keywords Your Competitors Rank for That You Do Not

We can use Ahrefs to find keywords that your competitor’s rank for that you are not currently ranking for. This is a great starting point because these will be the keywords you’re essentially letting your competition have for free.

In order to identify these keywords, you’ll first need to identify a few of your closest competitors. I’m sure you have a list already forming in your mind but let me stop you right there.

Who you think your competitors are and who Google thinks your competitors are on Google are often somewhat different.

Finding Your True Competitors

Your competitor’s on Google are the websites that rank for the keywords you want to rank for. To figure these out you can start by using the Competing domains report.

  • Start by visiting https://ahrefs.com/site-explorer
  • Type in your website’s domain name stripped of the https:// and www prefixes and hit enter. We’re using edelmanthompson.com in our example.
entering a domain using site explorer
  • In the left-hand navigation column, click on Competing domains.
Selecting competing domains from Ahrefs
  • Copy the top three competing domains into a document. You’ll need them shortly.
Identifying SEO competitors

Now that we have the websites that have the most overlap with us on Google we want to find what I call the paragon competitor.

This competitor is another law firm that ranks well for several keywords across the whole country — even if they don’t take cases nationally.

Why do we need this paragon? Because more often than not, your local competitors will only rank for a small number of relevant keywords that you do not.

You’ll see what I mean shortly.

Finding Your Paragon Competitor

One great way to find a paragon to use is to do a Google search in an incognito window, search for a very general term relevant to your industry, and see who ranks high and is not a local competitor.

For example, we might search for something like injury lawsuit, car accident lawsuit or truck accident lawsuit. Since you’re incognito, Google might ask you for permission to use your location.

We want to say no because we do not want localized results to appear in the regular organic search listings — we want national results.

Look for a result that is an actual law firm. Not just an aggregator website like injuryclaimcoach.com, nolo.com, etc.

Using car accident lawsuit, we can see that several of the top results are websites like Nolo, Findlaw, and Alllaw.

We want to ignore these and find a competitor first. In this case, we have two options: Dolman Law and Crosley Law.

For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to use Crosley Law.

Personal injury law firm in the SERPs

Go ahead and copy that URL and put it with the other 3 competitor’s URLs you documented earlier.

Recommendation

If you’re searching for your paragon competitor and the search engine results page (SERP) keep showing you local law firms (e.g. if you see a local map pack with 3 results in it) then there’s a good chance you need to try a different keyword.

The primary thing you are looking for is a law firm that is ranking for terms and that is not a local competitor. This is why we chose words like lawsuit instead of lawyer. If you use words like law firm, lawyer, or attorney in your keyword, you’re probably going to keep getting local results.

Finding the Gaps with the Content Gap Report

Returning to Ahrefs we’re going to open up the Content Gap report found on the left-hand navigation pane.

Ahrefs content gap report

Once you open the Content gap report you will want to input the URLs of the 3 competitors you’ve identified.

You’ll need to add a target in order to add your Paragon competitor.

Ensure that the dropdown selections available on the far right of these fields are all set to *.domain/* Also ensure that you strip any preceding elements like https:// or www from the URLs.

Also, make sure that your website’s URL is in the bottom field underneath the label: But the following target doesn’t rank for.

attorney keyword research input competitors and search

Cleaning Up the Report

One of the first things you’ll want to do is clean up the report. There will be a ton of keywords listed that we don’t want to target right now. These include things like the names of the competing firms and the names of their attorneys.

We’ll filter out their names by typing them into the field containing Exclude keyword.

Tip

You could type in every variation of how your competitor’s brand names might appear or you can use a little trick called a wildcard. To do this, type in some core element of the term you know you want to filter out and append an asterisk onto the end.

You can add multiple terms by adding a comma after each one.

In our example we’re going to enter the following into the field and hit enter:

popham*,colgan*,crosley*

Filtering out branded keywords in the Content Gap report

We could go further and enter the attorney names as well but this is good enough to go ahead and export the report. You can do so by clicking the button that says Export.

When determining whether or not you should export a Quick Report or Full Report, just look at how many rows there are.

A Quick Report will return the top 1000 rows of data. If there are more rows than that you can opt for the Full Report if you’d like.

keyword research for attorneys export content gap report

You can open the report using Excel or Google Sheets. We prefer Google Sheets because it’s better for collaboration and we can automate a lot of things using scripts and free add ons.

Interpreting the Report: Finding the Best Keywords for Personal Injury Lawyers

Once you have the report open you can begin investigating which keywords your competitors rank for that you don’t.

Now, you can go through the report one element at a time or you can apply a nested sort to the data to make it more sensible.

To do this, highlight all of your data, then go to Data → Sort Range → Click the checkbox for Data has header row then add each competitor’s column to the sort (as shown in the GIF below).

Ensure the sort is set A → Z.

sorting content gap by overlap

This will show you all of the keywords in order that your competitor’s rank for that you do not.

Looking at this list of keywords we can see that keywords like dennis eagan and dirk vandever are likely the names of other lawyers, so we can ignore those.

However, we do see some keywords that stand out as great opportunities to tackle. The obvious ones include search terms like:

  • brain injury lawyer kansas city
  • kansas city discrimination lawyer
  • kansas workers compensation settlement calculator
  • kansas hostile work environment
  • sexual harassment attorney kansas city
  • hostile work environment missouri

Other opportunities exist though as well that look interesting like:

  • shoulder pain after car accident
  • car accident while delivering pizza
  • shoulder blade pain after car accident
  • eggshell theory
  • escalator injury

We can begin to prioritize these based on monthly search volume and keyword difficulty to find terms with low competition. The higher difficulty the more links you’ll likely need to rank in the top 10 for the term.

In most circumstances, the longer and more complex the keyword is the easier it is to rank for it. We call these keywords long-tail keywords.

Putting Keywords into Context with Quality Content

Once you’ve identified your preliminary set of keywords the next steps you should go through involve determining the searcher’s intent so you can write content for the target audience.

We’ll be covering that in that in the next section over content marketing for law firms. If you get search intent wrong, your content is going to have a much harder time ranking and an even more difficult time converting anyone. It’s as simple as that.


The Power of Content Marketing for Law Firms

Publishing high-quality content that satisfies searcher’s intent can help your law firm SEO and content marketing efforts generate more leads and dramatically increase your conversion rates.

Small businesses that blog generate 126% more leads and convert 6x more of those leads than those who do not.

Content marketing is not just throwing up blog posts about topics that you think are important. A content marketing strategy is about publishing content that people want — content that people are looking for.

Let me be clear here: creating content that talks about some new award that your firm received is not content marketing.

Answering questions that people have, teaching them new things, providing them with interesting data and stories.

That’s content marketing.

In this article, you’re going to learn why content marketing is effective, why most law firms aren’t the greatest at it, the types of pages you need to make as well as other key concepts to take into account when establishing authority online through content creation.

Why is Content Marketing so Effective?

When people have questions they usually search for answers on search engines like Google. Think about it. Isn’t that what you do?

Now imagine you can be there to answer people’s questions when they have them. That exposure to your law firm is critical to increasing your lead generation rate.

Does that mean they’ll convert right then and there — the moment they read your blog? No. In fact, it’s pretty rare.

Choosing the right attorney is not a process people just make on a whim. They look around the web, read reviews, ask friends and family, and so on.

The primary reason content marketing is so effective is that you leverage your ability to be helpful and present at each stage of their decision process.

This increased exposure increases the likelihood that when they are ready to make their choice — they’ll choose you.

An Example for Personal Injury Firms

So what does this look like in practice? Suppose someone was recently injured in a car accident. What topics do you think they’ll search for? Are they going to start by searching for “car accident lawyer”?

Of course not.

They’ll start by searching for something like:

Search TermSearches/Month
car accident not my fault what to do400
no fault state200
no fault accident who pays200

We call these types of searches Top of Funnel (TOFU) searches, meaning that people who search for these things are nowhere near being close to converting but they do fall within our target audience.

Ideally, we would target these sorts of terms and provide people with content that answers these questions and any potential follow up questions they might have.

Some percentage of people who search for answers to this question will be too lazy to want to hire an attorney to get them the best insurance payout and some won’t be eligible for anything that meets the injury threshold requirements for torts.

Of those that do, they will often have additional questions. With a little keyword research we can find things like:

Search TermSearches/Month
minor car accident settlement amounts350
no fault car accident settlement70
no injury car accident compensation40
how to get money from a car accident without a lawyer300
how much to expect from a car accident settlement300

These are called middle-of-funnel questions. Would you like people to land on your site whenever they have these sorts of questions? Then you need to start producing content!

These people are golden opportunities just asking to be converted! Even the people who are asking how to get money without hiring a lawyer!

You can tell them how to do it and then make them aware of how complicated it can be and how much easier it is to hire a professional attorney — not to mention how an attorney will typically be able to get them the most money from a settlement.

You can often guide people from this step directly into a conversion action closing your page out with a call to action that prompts them to get in contact with you or submit a question form.

Not everyone will convert though — including people who do plan on hiring an attorney.

Why is that?

There could be any number of reasons. People like to compare things. People sometimes prefer to find a local lawyer that can help them. Some already have a friend who practices law that can help them.

What matters is that some percentage of those people are converting right then and there and if you’re not there to catch them you’re missing out on case opportunities as well as not starting off with a head start on your competition.

The next thing people might start searching for could be comparisons of local attorneys or lawyers in general. So this might include things like:

Search TermSearches/Month
lawyers near me34,000

Damn! That looks great, right? 34,000 searches per month! That’s gotta be the term we should go after, right?

Not quite. The people who search for that may be pretty far from you (that search volume is the national average) and they also may not be looking for a personal injury attorney.

I’m also convinced that a fair percentage of those monthly searches are performed by lawyers checking to see where other lawyers rank!

So we’ll narrow things down a bit and dive deeper:

Search TermSearches/Month
car accident lawyer near me1300
car accident lawyer atlanta200

See how quickly that tapers off?

You do want to target those types of terms as well but you want to be sure you’re hitting as many of the TOFU and MOFU terms as possible.

Because even if you don’t convert them at those stages of the customer journey, you at least have a chance to build a bit of rapport.

That will make you a more recognizable (i.e. trustworthy) name when they begin searching for local car accident lawyers.

Bonus Tip

Content marketing spans more than just blogs and SEO by the way. Content can exist on social media also.

The real power of using SEO for content marketing is to capture interested parties early on so you can then retarget them with specific advertising on social media, YouTube, and so forth.

The trick is knowing how to target people effectively using the right audiences based on their behavior and the content most likely to resonate with them at their stage in the journey.

If that sounds confusing, I understand. That side of things falls outside of the scope of this guide but if you want to learn more you can reach out to us.

Now that we’ve talked about why content marketing is so effective we need to discuss some common pitfalls seen in the way law firms produce content.

Most Law Firms Suck at Making Great Content

Creating great content is about more than just the words you write and the images you use. It’s about the way you make people feel and what you’re able to do for them with your content (or empower them to do).

In essence, it’s about impact.

Think about some of the textbooks you’ve encountered over the years. You may not have put a lot of thought into it at the time but textbooks that are formatted and organized well are often easier to learn from.

If you can’t remember any examples of textbooks that had particularly poor design, think about books you’ve read — or hell, even emails you’ve received.

Content that is structured both visually and conceptually is far more useful (and consumable) to people than content that is not.

Be Relatable and Write for Your Audience, Not Your Peers

My personal preference is to use examples, analogies, stories, and a bit of humor to keep my content enjoyable for people. The most important thing is that I am writing for my audience — and you should too.

If you’ve read enough of this guide you’ve likely come across a few parts (especially within the ranking factors section) that left you a little confused. In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks didn’t think to themselves, “What the hell is he talking about?”

Trust me, this guide could be a lot more technical and bewildering. The goal is to eliminate as many of those potential points as possible.

I have to constantly remember that I am not writing this for other computer scientists to understand — I am writing it for attorneys, paralegals, et cetera.

As such, when you’re explaining a legal concept to someone it is an utter waste of your time to merely state the statute or to talk in the jargon of your profession.

If that’s what you normally do you need to stop. That will only make you look vain at best and unapproachable at worst.

I know this is hard for a lot of attorneys to do because they want to look professional and ensure they’re stating the facts as well.

I get that. First off, to the layperson, the one that’s going to hire you, you’ll still look professional. More importantly, you’ll be relatable.

Fun fact

People hire people they can relate to.

And let’s be honest here. What you’re really worried about is looking unprofessional in front of other lawyers who might check out your site. You want them to think highly of you right?

Of course you do, that’s why you have all of those awards and badges on your site that no one but other attorneys care about.

Seriously. This has been researched. The average person who’s going to hire you honestly doesn’t give a damn about those awards. They don’t know what they are or how hard it is to get them.

All they know is that nearly every law firm they look at has them and just assume they’re like the participation trophies given out to kids so their feelings aren’t hurt.

Keeping Things Legal

I get that there are many restrictions around what you can and cannot say. Your profession has, in its infinite wisdom, written more laws to restrict how it can and cannot be marketed than any other.

From the outside looking in this looks like kids making rules up whenever they don’t like the way other kids are playing.

I know some of you may take offense to that. And that’s okay. Nothing happens when you get offended. I’m just saying what I know a lot of you are thinking because I have to get you to understand what’s wrong with the way things are in order to get you to try anything different. We’ll talk later about why being a bit different can be good for you (i.e. get your firm more cases).

While my tone isn’t something I would recommend to most law firms it is beneficial for me because it weeds out the types of clients that aren’t a good fit. I don’t want to work with law firms who are stuffy, stuck in the past, and get their feelings hurt by a few words. I only want to work with firms that want to win — firms that want to beat the competition.

So what are you to do? My advice is to state the law and then follow it up with a summary for the layperson. Give them an analogy. If you’re not feeling that adventurous, give them a few example scenarios from caselaw.

And use your boilerplate disclaimers wherever pertinent as well. You know the drill — and if you don’t, your marketing firm should.

Okay, we’ve covered what not to do — now let’s talk about the two primary types of content you can produce on your site to position you in the path of your potential clients:

  1. Practice Area Pages
  2. Blog Posts/Resource Guides

Practice Area Pages

These are essentially your sales pages or what we often call “money page” in marketing. They are the primary pages which pitch your service to people in such a way to convince them to become a client.

They’ll include things like what service you provide, your results, customer testimonials and other social proof, contact forms, and other compelling calls to action. Again, the primary goal of these pages is to convert people who land on them.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can just talk about how fucking star-spangled awesome you are and expect visitors to just go, “Yep. That’s the person I want to work with!”

Answer Potential Objections

You can take a lesson from what we’ve discussed previously about the searcher’s journey and create a practice area page that answers a few of the most common questions people would ask right before they made a decision and let that flow naturally into an attempt to close them as a lead.

For example, you could answer questions like:

  • What do I need to file a case?
  • How long does it take to settle a case?
  • What do I have to do? Do I have to go to court for anything or miss any work?
  • How much can I expect from a settlement?

I know a lot of these questions cannot be universally answered. The same thing is true in my industry (how long does it take for SEO to work…).

You can provide answers anyway. The most important thing is that you be honest and transparent. Don’t just say, “The amounts awarded in a settlement vary case-by-case,” and so on.

That won’t satisfy anyone and won’t make you stand out to anyone. Instead, be frank with people. Explain why the settlements vary and why you can’t give clear cut numbers.

Also, talk about how you know that’s frustrating but that your hands are tied.

Follow that up immediately by letting people know that if they’ll call you for just 10 minutes you’ll be able to give them better answers that are more specific to their situation.

Let Others Do the Talking for You

Okay, I know this is going to be a radical concept but people trust what other people have to say about you more than what you have to say about yourself.

Leverage testimonials. If you don’t have any, get them. Even better, get video testimonials. Even just 2-3 people in a testimonial video is enough. The key is to have it edited in such a way to make it seem like more.

Here’s an example of a marketing video put together for a divorce attorney in North Carolina that is a shining example of what works well.

If you want to convert more visitors to your site include more of your clients and how they succeeded and less about yourself. Every customer is the hero in their own drama. It’s our job to be a supporting actor in that story — to help them succeed and win.

I know you can come up with something better than, “Get the compensation you deserve.”

Still want to include more of yourself on your pages because it makes you feel better? Fine. Take photos of yourself with your clients. Make them the prominent ones in the photo.

Why does this work so well? Because your site visitors can identify with them. They will see themselves in them and imagine themselves winning and being happy just like them.

When all they see is you, there’s a disconnect. They cannot identify with you because they are not like you. It’s as simple as that.

Blog Posts and Resource Guides

If you want to see specific examples jump to the Blog & Resource Page Examples section.

Blog posts are your secret weapon in the pursuit of ranking higher on Google.

This is where you’ll target those top of funnel topics that people search for before they’re aware they need an attorney as well as the middle of funnel topics that they search for when they’re seeking more information about lawsuits and legal matters.

So many firms execute this poorly. They make their blog posts too sales-oriented and turn off potential leads or they don’t create them at all.

This is fine. That’s your opportunity.

In addition to blog posts, you can make in-depth resource guides. There are several no-fault states. If you create and optimize a comprehensive piece of content that serves as a guide to no-fault laws in all 50 states and U.S. territories you can rank nationally for a term like no-fault states.

What’s the point of ranking highly for a term directly related to your profession nationally? It’s to build Authority.

We’ll talk about the concept of authority and its importance later but for now understand that when you establish a national reputation for topics related to your field, you will see a direct impact on your ability to rank your service pages for local based search terms as well.

To be clear, if you rank for no fault states nationally you’ll be able to easily rank for terms like car accident lawyer near me.

Resource guides and blog content make it much easier to build links, which we established the importance of in chapter 2.

Law Firm Practice Area Page Examples

Use a different page for each of the types of personal injury cases you take. For example, you could have separate pages like:

  • Boston Car Accident Lawyer
  • Boston Truck Accident Lawyer
  • Boston Medical Malpractice Lawyer

You can create a single “Personal Injury” page that serves as a hub for all of its subtopics, however. I would actually encourage this, especially if you have a large firm that takes on additional types of cases like divorce, criminal, estate, IP, et cetera.

For our purposes, we are using Zaner Harden Law from Denver.

Personal injury law firm website

They have a list of subcategories of personal injury below their practice areas navigation item. This is a great approach except for the fact that when you click on Auto Accidents it doesn’t actually take you anywhere.

Instead, when you hover over it a secondary menu appears on the side that provides you with additional options. This won’t impact their SEO much but it is bad UX.

Their page dedicated to car accident cases is a fantastic resource. They have a lot of statistics and answer a lot of questions. They could likely benefit from having some of this information separated onto blog posts instead but it’s working well for them here.

The only thing I would have done differently would have been including client testimonials higher up on the page.

They have a call to action button on the top of the page for people who are ready to contact them immediately as well as one at the very bottom of the page for people who need to be warmed up a bit before being pitched.

Law Firm Blogs and Resource Page Examples

Blog posts and resource pages are a lot more text-heavy in most cases. The information you’re giving people is the foremost priority of these types of pages.

The most important thing for these pages is that you’re answering the searcher’s question in a useful way.

Personal injury law firm website UX

This piece talks about slip and falls and addresses a common sentiment many people have: apathy. It’s a rally cry to not stand idle and hold people responsible.

I personally like it because it takes the best approach to combat apathy — making people realize their inaction could lead to others being harmed as well.

Many people can shrug off an injustice to themselves because they’re lazy but those same people will rally with righteous indignation at the idea of injustice occurring to others.

Creating Topic Clusters of Legal Content

The concept of topic clusters is not new. That being said, many websites that use them implement them poorly or flat out incorrectly.

This may get confusing. Bear with me.

When you build a topic cluster, you build your content around one main pillar or hub. The hub is the core topic you’re targeting and branching from it will be several subtopics or spokes.

Each of these spoke pages cover some facet of the primary topic (hub) and link back to it. They also interlink between each of the pages in the cluster but not to pages outside of the cluster.

How to Write In-Depth Content for Establish Topical Authority

Some folks may recommend that you need to write long-form content to keep users on the site for longer periods of time because dwell time is a ranking factor for Google.

We do not take the position that dwell time is a ranking factor. Folks who point toward dwell time as a ranking factor do so because Nick Frost, the head of Google Brain stated the following at a conference:

Google is now integrating machine learning into [the process of figuring out what the relationship between a search and the best page for that search is]. So then training models on when someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, when they go back or when they and trying to figure out exactly on that relationship.

Nick Frost, Head of Google Brain

However, Nick never said dwell time was a ranking factor. He stated that how long someone stays on a page and when they go back are inputs given to the training models for Google’s machine learning algorithm. This is not the same as being a ranking factor or variable.

However, Google does keep up with what you search for. As such, they can track whenever you perform a search, reach a page, hit the back button and perform another search or visit another page.

How do we know this? Watch the following:

How Google Tracks Pogo Sticking

In the example above Google tracked that we visited the US Concealed Carry website and returned to Google’s search results.

So what are they measuring? Whether the content satisfied the searcher’s intent.

When content satisfies your intent you may swipe back but that in and of itself is not bad. Perhaps your next search could have been something like “where to buy a gun?”

That is an entirely separate query from “concealed carry laws” and so the algorithm can reasonably assume the first page you visited answered your question sufficiently enough.

Had you returned to the search results and visited another page before concluding what we call the searcher’s journey, then that’s a signal to Google that the first result you visited was not sufficient.

When that happens often enough that’s a clear signal to Google to drop that pages lower in the search engine results page results.

Adhering to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness

On August 10, 2018 – Google filed a patent named Website Representation Vector to Generate Search Results and Classify Website. This patent has language that closely resembles expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT) principles established in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator’s Guidelines.

It also closely corresponds with the Broad Core algorithm update known as the Medic update that occurred on August 1st, 2018. This update caused dramatic shifts in the ranking results for many websites. Especially those in the health and financial industries.

This update showed that Google cares about information from credible sources.

How does this affect attorneys? Well, in a variety of ways. You can best position yourself by ensuring your reputation is well established throughout the web. That means on sites like Wikipedia, on review websites like Yelp and Avvo, in news articles, etc.

Establish author pages for your blog posts and articles. Include links to other properties where you appear online (especially third party website) as well as relevant biographical information like the university you graduated from, organizations you belong to, and other items you might include on a resume to establish your authority.


On-Page SEO for Attorneys

Your site architecture plays a critical role in how search engines crawl and understand your site. It also affects user experience and your ability to scale your firm. You may not intend on growing your firm into a multi-city operation but don’t write it off. It’s better to prepare for it just in case.

This chapter is going to get pretty dense and some concepts will require a fair bit of technical knowledge to execute. I will mark such sections with a ⚙️ symbol.

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 a deliberate way. If you indiscriminately let anyone work on your website this is where you’ll often run into problems.

Nothing against web developers (I  used to be a full-stack dev myself), but most of them don’t know the first thing about SEO, much less SEO for lawyers.

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. personal injury attorney) will differ from a firm that offers multiple services (i.e. a firm that offers criminal defense, personal injury, family law, etc.).

A firm that offers its services in multiple locations will have a different site architecture from both of these as well.

While we have focused primarily on personal injury up to this point we’ll now be discussing what you might do if your firm were to offer other services.

Single Service Law Firm SEO

For firms that specialize in a single area of the law, the structure of the site should be set up in the following fashion:

Use Exact Match Domain Name

e.g., www.louisvillepersonalinjurylawyers.com

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 www.louisvillelawyers.com.

I know many firms opt to use their names and that’s fine but ensure that you won’t ever need to change the firm name.

Morgan & Morgan have taken a great approach taking up the domain forthepeople.com. If you have a good tagline you can utilize I would encourage you to do so. It will be more immune to time.

Service Page Structure

Your service level pages should target each segment of your practice’s scope. For example:

  • www.domain.com/car-accidents/
  • www.domain.com/medical-malpractice/
  • www.domain.com/workers-compensation/

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.dentonlaw.com

www.bryantlawfirm.com (better than bryantpsc.com)

If the domain name is taken, get creative.

Service Page Structure

If you offer multiple types of services your URL structure should reflect that. For example:

  • www.dentonlaw.com/personal-injury/
  • www.dentonlaw.com/estate-planning/
  • www.dentonlaw.com/corporate-law/

Subdirectory Structure:

  • www.dentonlaw.com/services/personal-injury/
  • www.dentonlaw.com/services/estate-planning/
  • www.dentonlaw.com/services/corporate-law/

Each one of these pages needs to be robust and treated as if it were 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 homepage 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.

Flat Structure:

  • www.dentonlaw.com/incorporation/
  • www.dentonlaw.com/medical-negligence/

Subdirectory Structure:

  • www.dentonlaw.com/services/corporate-law/incorporation/
  • www.dentonlaw.com/services/personal-injury/medical-negligence/

Even if the volume for some of the more niche services you offer isn’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 check if there’s additional room for improvement (and profitability).

Partition Your Site Structure by Location

You can take a subdirectory approach here or a flat approach. For example, let’s suppose you have offices in Louisville & Lexington.

Flat Structure:

  • www.dentonlaw.com/louisville-car-accident-lawyer/
  • www.dentonlaw.com/lexington-car-accident-lawyer/

Subdirectory Structure:

  • www.dentonlaw.com/lexington/car-accident-lawyer/
  • www.dentonlaw.com/indianapolis/car-accident-lawyer/

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 /locations/louisville/ approach.

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 be careful when doing so as it can dilute your ability to pass equity developed via link building (which we’ll discuss in a later chapter) between pages.

Just don’t try to reinvent the wheel here.

You can rank a site using either architecture approach but our personal preference is to use the flat architecture. It’s easy to maintain and can be easily tested and manipulated to get better results by using optimal internal linking.

Optimizing Title Tags

There are a few common practices here that we recommend people follow.

  • Keep the title tag length between 50-60 characters.
  • Use lawyer instead of attorney — it tends to have a higher search volume.
  • Use the following format for your primary money pages: City + practice area + lawyer

Optimizing Meta Descriptions

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.

Law Firm result in the SERPs

You’ll also want to ensure your site has a well structured sitemap.xml file so Google can crawl it properly.

Page Speed Optimization: Just How Important is It?

Page speed in the SEO community is by and large a topic that gets blown way out of proportion. I will not deny that page speed is not important. It is a major factor when it comes to UX. It is also a confirmed ranking signal (albeit one of many).

Google would prefer to see everyone’s page loading in less than 3 seconds. However, given the vast number of sites on the web, this is still very far away from happening.

Graph depicting average page speed across various industries

Benchmark for Mobile Page Speed

You can check your page speed by visiting Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. Just enter the URL you want to check and you’ll see something like this:

Page speed insights score for law firm

Note: Not our client ↑ 

There are a variety of things you can do to improve your site speed. Most of the time optimizing your images by compressing them will dramatically improve page speed.

⚙️That being said, the best thing you can often do is reduce the number of elements on the page or at the very least defer the render-blocking Javascript from loading immediately.

Now I know that’s probably a foreign language to you. Your best bet beyond smushing your images with a tool like WP Rocket, if you’re on WordPress, is to work with a seasoned web developer who knows how to handle backend web development.

This is something we implement for people quite often. Our advice when looking for someone is to ensure they understand what is most important. They should discuss and be familiar with the documentation PageSpeed lighthouse uses.

A good litmus test is to ask them which of the 6 factors has the heaviest weight in their PageSpeed tool.

Google chrome page speed insights weights

The answer is time to interactive (TTI) — Source

Internal Linking Optimization: A Critical Lever at Your Disposal

What is an Internal Link?

An internal link is a hyperlink that you can click on that takes you to another page on the same website. If the link takes you to another website then it’s an external link.

The Importance of Optimizing Internal Links

Components of the original Google search algorithm are still used to this day — notably, PageRank. You can imagine each website like a state and each page on a website like a city or a town.

Within each state we have state highways (sometimes called routes, like KY-121) that connect the various cities and towns within the state together — these highways are like internal links between each page on a website.

Now, we can have ways to get to our states (and therefore towns) from other states as well. The major connectors between states are our interstate highways (and U.S. highways). We can think of these interstate highways like external links (a.k.a. backlinks) from one page on another website to a page on our own website.

So what’s the importance?

Twofold:

  1. These connections allow users to navigate our websites more easily.
  2. These connections between our pages allow information and topical identity to form — which in turn helps Google figure out what our web page (and website) is all about.

Understanding the Concept of Equity and Distribution

There is a concept known as link equity. Link equity is essentially an unknown value an individual webpage possesses that indicates how much it is worth relative to all other pages both on the website itself and the world wide web as a whole.

The more equity a particular page has the easier it is to rank for its target topics on search engines. Moreover, the more equity a page has flowing into it (from both external and internal links), the more it can distribute out to other pages on a website.

More often than not you will find that a small percentage of your website’s pages get the most external links.

These will often be the pages that other people would find most useful. For example, if your website has an in-depth guide that provides people with a lot of valuable information for free then it is incredibly useful to them.

Resources like that can often pick up several external links that help bolster their link equity.

Note: The pages that will often get the fewest links on your site will be your money pages (i.e. your service pages). People don’t typically like linking to commercial pages where the primary goal is to get someone to call you and hire you.

The pages that have built up equity from external websites are then able to distribute that equity to other pages on the site in the form of internal links.

How page rank works

⚙️The tricky part is setting up your internal linking in an optimal way. We rarely find a law firm website that has a well-thought-out and scientific approach to internal linking.

Every time you link to another page you are giving up equity (measured as an eigenvector called CheiRank).

Diving into how to optimize your internal linking structure is worthy of a doctoral dissertation. We have developed a tool internally that processes a ton of data to assist us when doing this for clients.

If you’re a technically savvy person who’s trying to do this for a law firm client and want to embark on this endeavor yourself a good starting point is Kevin Indig’s article INTERNAL LINK OPTIMIZATION WITH TIPR (note that some of his images do not seem to be loading at the moment but the important components of the article are still there in the form of text).

What the Hell is Schema and How to Optimize It

If you’ve made it through the internal links section and are worried this is going to be another overly complex section — put your fears at ease. Schema is far easier to understand and work with than the linear algebra it takes to optimize internal linking.

What is Schema?

When we talk about Schema we’re really talking about Schema.org, a community dedicated to developing schemas of structured data for the web. So what the hell is structured data?

Structured Data

Structured data is just a standardized way to organize information so that it can be read and understood. When a book is written top-left to bottom-right in English that is a form of structured data.

If the convention were to be broken we would have a much harder time interpreting what we were reading and getting the point of it.

When we talk about schema and structured data with respect to SEO, what we’re really talking about is a way to organize information so that search engines can understand it.

Using schema allows us to do some pretty cool things to our search results on Google. While there has been no confirmation that it helps pages rank higher in the results, it does have a definite impact on click-through rate (CTR).

So rather than talk about this abstractly, let me show you some examples of schema types you can use and others are using.

LegalService Schema

The LegalService schema is the primary form of schema you need to have for your website. It explicitly tells Google that your website is a business that provides legal services, advice and representation (e.g. a law firm).

You can also add other types of schema which are visually appealing to your site’s SERP result such as FAQPage and Review. These will cause your listing to take up additional real estate on the SERPs and pop out a bit more with review stars.

Legal schema markup for SEO law firms

There are a variety of SEO plugins for WordPress that will assist in the creation and implementation of structured data on your pages.

In addition to Schema.org you can also use Google’s Structured Data Testing tool to test your implementation.

This is one of those things that a member of your agency or internal development team should be more than capable of accomplishing.

Take a Breather

We’ve covered a lot in this chapter and know it may be a bit much to get your head wrapped around — and that’s okay.

We assume most firms out there already have a marketing agency that can implement these things for them or will be hiring an agency (or someone internal) to manage it at some point.

The content in this chapter can equip you to have more informed conversations with your agency and consultants.

In the next section, we’re going to dive into one of the most important aspects of SEO: linkbuilding.


Building Trust: Link Building for Lawyers

Backlinks are still one of the primary variables that influence getting your page to the first page of the Google search results. Several studies have shown that there is a clear correlation between referring domains and the search traffic a website receives.

Referring domains vs search traffic

Ahrefs Referring Domains Vs Search Traffic

Note: Correlation ≠ Causation

In this section of our SEO for Lawyers Guide, we’ll be covering a variety of ways to build backlinks to your site and the methods that work are constantly evolving.

What is Linkbuilding?

In case you haven’t read previous chapters, linkbuilding is the process of obtaining links from external websites.

Links may exist on other blogs, directories, forums, social media sites you belong to, and a number of other places. For our purposes, we’ll be focusing on blogs in this article as they’re the ones that carry the most weight.

Example of external link from Forbes to a personal injury law firm

Guest Posting for Law Firms

What is Guest Posting?

Guest posting is the process of writing and publishing articles and content on another website or blog. It often involves collaborating with publishers you already have connections with who your content and expertise would be beneficial for.

Guest posting is one of the most common forms of linkbuilding employed by SEOs and PR specialists and as such, has developed quite a poor reputation amongst many.

That being said, when employed ethically and correctly, and can be immensely effective. The first thing you should do is reach out to your pre-existing connections and business relationships. These will be the people most likely to accept posts on their site with you as the author.

Guest Posting Best Practices

Reach out to fellow attorneys who do not practice personal injury. For example, reach out to firms that specialize in criminal law, estate law, family law, etc. A mutual exchange can be established between both of you.

Some folks may recommend reaching out to sites that openly allow guest posting. They’ll list common ways to find these opportunities but we don’t like taking the same route. It’s far too overdone and will burn many bridges with people that could potentially become solid relationships down the road.

Plenty of people still take this approach though. So it’s not explicitly forbidden. If you take this route, be sure you’re offering some value on your part as well — not monetarily.

Resource Page Linkbuilding

Many websites out there have pages dedicated to providing people with resources that will benefit them in some way. Getting these sorts of links is a tried and true method. Pages that have done this have already shown a clear indication that they have no problem linking out to other sites.

There are a few things to take into account when choosing resource pages:

  1. Ensure the resource page is a quality page with authority.
  2. It’s preferable that the page has some sort of relevance to your practice. Even if it’s another local business who has a list of other local businesses they recommend.
  3. It’s better to get links from resource pages with fewer outbound links. If it looks like they’ll just link to anybody then it’s probably not worth that much effort. The link equity it passes on will be immensely diminished.

If you want to find resources easily you can use Ahrefs. If you input a competitor’s domain into Ahrefs Site Explorer, open the Backlinks report, set the link type to Dofollow, and then search for “resources” you can see if any opportunities are available.

You can use a tool like Hunter.io to locate the website administrator/owner’s email address. When you do reach out, give them a good reason why they should link to you. If your resource is better, make that known. If you’re a local business, bring that up as well.

Legal and Lawyer Directories

There are a variety of legal directories available online and we encourage you to get listed on as many quality directories as possible. Be aware that many of these directories do charge a fee for being a member.

We’ll be building out a directory for people to use in the next week. If this has been updated yet you can sign up to the list below to get notified when our list goes live.

Have Questions? Just Ask

Testimonial Links

Think about all of the tools you use and businesses you have pre-existing relationships with. Reach out to them about being featured in a testimonial. Provide them with a testimonial and receive a link in exchange.

You can use advanced search operators like the following to find opportunities via Google:

site:domain.com intitle:"our customers" OR intitle:"our clients"

site:domain.com testimonial

Also, it should go without saying but you should only reach out to company’s if you really love their product/service.

Some examples:

  • Clio
  • Bill4Time
  • MyCase
  • Needles

Reclaiming Unlinked Mentions

If a website mentions you but doesn’t link to you, that’s a perfect opportunity to attempt claiming a link.

If someone has already mentioned you or your business they likely already have positive feelings about your business. Simply reach out and ask them if they’d mind updating the web content to include a link back to your home page (or another relevant page).

An easy way to do this is within Ahrefs Content Explorer. Simply search for your brand name. You can enable an option in Content Explorer that will automatically highlight unlinked domains.

You can then export the list from Ahrefs and check the box that will only export unlinked domains.

Exporting backlink report from Ahrefs
Tip:

It’s helpful to use quotation marks around your search terms if you keep finding irrelevant results.

Find Pages that Link to Competitors

Finding pages that link to multiple competitors is something you should capitalize on immediately. Think about it, if a website is linking to a few of your competitors then there’s often a good chance that they’ll link to you as well.

To do this in Ahrefs you can open up the Link intersect report in Ahrefs, input your competitor’s domains, add yours to the bottom field and run the report.

Identify link intersect gaps in Ahrefs

Once you find these opportunities, export them and send them an email asking them if they would consider linking to you as well.

Bonus: Data-Driven Studies

This is probably the most effective form of link building available. Coincidentally it is also one of the hardest to execute. It will require that you have someone do a bit of research and data science but it’s worth it.

Find something you can perform original research on. Use open data sources available to everyone to find unique insights that you can wrangle into a meaningful and interesting narrative. Include a lot of statistics (reporters love statistics) and be willing to challenge the status quo a bit. Don’t be afraid to be polarizing — it will generate buzz.

After doing so, reach out to the press and other websites that might be interested to see if you can get a bit of virality going. The more people who are aware of it the more likely you’ll earn additional links.

We would recommend even throwing some of your advertising budget toward getting the word out there on social media. Again, the name of the game here is spreading the word.

Conclusion

We’ll be adding more strategies over time to this guide along with more in-depth tutorial videos on how to execute the tactics described. Be sure to check back in the future for updates to this chapter and the addition of new chapters.

If you want updates sent to you by mail just add yourself to our newsletter. We won’t spam you with bullshit. I promise. I hate it and I know you do too. We will make an honest effort to only send you emails whenever we think we have quality content that you can benefit from.

Have Questions? Just Ask

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Skyler Reeves Transparent Background

Article by:

Advocate for small business owners. Committed to educating others and helping people grow. 

Founder of Ardent Growth.

B.S. in Computer Science & B.S. in Philosophy from MSU (with honors).

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