According to the most recent data from the Pew Research Center, roughly 90% of U.S. adults use the internet. According to respondents surveyed by Statista, one third of people used the Internet daily to search for local businesses.
In other words, it behooves attorneys to find ways of enhancing their online presence. One of the most cost-effective, long lasting, and powerful ways of doing that is through SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
To perform well in search, a website must be structured in a way that makes it easy to find online.
For attorneys serving a local market, there are a specific set of tasks that can help them gain more visibility in search.
By harnessing the organic (or natural) traffic from search engines, they can drive more visitors to their sites.
More visitors means more leads, more clients, and more cases.
That being said, here’s an overview of what we will cover:
- What local SEO is and why it is important.
- All the moving parts that make up the local SEO landscape.
- How to optimize your website without diminishing user experience.
- The technical aspects of SEO.
- Why links are one of Google’s most important ranking factors and good sources to find them.
- SEO tools that can help you optimize your site for local SEO.
- How to leverage reviews, your firm’s physical location, and your practice area to improve your local SEO.
What is local SEO?
Local SEO is a sub-category of search engine optimization. It is a set of strategies and tactics to rank local business websites and other properties in Google search so that they can be found by location-based searchers. The target audience for these strategies is often searchers in the research or buying phase of their search process who are looking for local products or services to fill a need.
Why Should Attorneys Care?
People use the internet for information. It has become incredibly easy to get access to a wealth of information on all sorts of topics.
The internet is being used as a tool to research and evaluate local businesses like law firms. Where people traditionally used word-of-mouth or maybe the phone book to gather information and then make a decision, there is now an added layer of research online before they finally decide to hire an attorney.
They are visiting firm websites, reading reviews, articles, blog posts, and other content to “size up” a law firm before contacting them.
To compound this phenomenon, mobile device usage has surpassed that of desktop and people are more likely to be searching for local businesses while they are on the go as opposed to sitting at home.
A more dated study from the Yelp Blog and performed by Search Engine Land in 2012 reported that 85% of consumers use the internet to find local businesses.
The survey used local consumers in the U.S., Canada and U.K. There were over 2,800 respondents. The survey showed that only 15% of consumers had not used the internet to find a local business.
Benefits for Your Practice
Enhancing your presence in local search is also an opportunity to market your business. By performing some simple (and some not so simple) tasks related to SEO, attorneys have a chance to show up in front of customers that may not have known they were out there.
What does local SEO look like?
If you are new to optimizing a site for search, it can be hard to visualize all of the components. The diagram below shows some of the key areas of local SEO.
Here’s some more background on each of these elements:
Citations: These are mentions of your firm name across the internet. In SEO, it’s important to have consistent name, address, and phone information (NAP) any time it appears on other websites.
Reviews: Evaluations of your firm from your clients and/or your peers are great for local SEO. Star ratings in search engine results pages can improve click through rates and positive reviews can add more content to your online presence not to mention paint your firm in a positive light.
Local links: Links are one of the most important ranking factors in search. Local link signals can tell search engines that your site is more authoritative than other sites with fewer inbound local links.
User experience: Also known as UX, making your site easy to use is beneficial for ranking well in search. Elements like well-organized content, working internal linking, and a logical content hierarchy (among others) all help promote a positive user experience.
Google My Business: Also known as GMB, this is Google’s business listing that shows up for location-based searches. Claiming your GMB profile is one of the single most important parts of local optimization.
Keywords: The terms and phrases people use to find your firm are the foundation of everything else you do to optimize your website. Making sure you are targeting the right phrases is critical to your success with SEO.
Site speed: Google sometimes makes public the factors that it uses to rank websites and site speed is one of them. If your pages are loading slowly, Google is less likely to show your site for relevant searches and people are less likely to visit other pages on your site.
Local Content: Location-based content ranks very well for local searches. It provides search engines with relevant content to serve to searchers and it also makes visitors confident they’ve found the right pages.
All of these elements work in concert to improve a website’s position in search. There are also many other technical and content-based optimization tasks that need to be right before a website is good to go.
Local SEO content strategy
For any kind of SEO campaign, you should design and write for users first and think about search engines second. After all, the content on your site plays a critical role in SEO. The following are some examples of content written for search engines and content written for real people.
Examples of content written for search engines (and that should not be used) include:
- Spun content: This is content written by a software program. In general, they are hard for real people to read and have little to know editorial value.
- Keyword-stuffed content: This includes blog posts, articles, web page copy or any other text that is filled with a target keyword phrase. Generally these types of articles are so packed with one keyword phrase and its variants that it doesn’t sound natural.
- Cloaked Content: This is an advanced technique where a webmaster will show one type of content to users and another type to search engines.Search engines will think a page is about one particular topic when it is really about something completely different.
Examples of content written for real people include:
- Well researched articles, blog posts, or other copy that provide true value to website visitors.
Content written for search and written for real people can take the same form (i.e. blog posts, web copy, video, images, etc) but the key difference is that content for real people actually provides value.
No matter what you write about, try and approach it from the perspective of helping your readers. What content would they find useful? How can it help alleviate some kind of pain they are having? Consistently producing content that satisfies those things will create loyalty for your brand.
- Do keyword research to find out what phrases people are using to find information that your firm could help out with.
- Use best practices for keyword inclusion, LSI keywords, and other onsite optimization so it’s not obvious that the piece is optimized for search.
- Promote your content like crazy. Get other people to link to it, share it on social networks, etc.
Attorneys are unique when it comes to content marketing. Information related to their practice and to the law is highly technical, dependent on context, and if written improperly, could cause problems.
- Overly optimized content can cause algorithmic penalties.
- Portraying legal services as ‘the best’ or using other flamboyant language can get attorneys into hot water with state bar associations.
When looking for someone to generate content for an attorney website, find someone who has a JD. This goes for articles on web pages and blog posts or any content that could be seen as legal advice.
Optimize for search and for visitors
Before diving into the next section, it is helpful to understand what “on-site” optimization is.
For SEO, there are some tasks that can be performed to a website directly (such as having the right keywords in text) and others that are performed elsewhere on the internet (known as off-site tasks).
Tasks performed directly to a site are called on-site or on-page. Tasks performed on other websites are called off-site.
You’ll want to make sure you have the following elements squared away for your on-site optimization:
- Keyword + Location in meta description and title tag
- Keyword + Location in copy of page
- Your Firm address
- Attorney schema on the page (more on this later)
- Keyword + Location in URL of page
- Keyword + Location as file name of images rendered on the page and in their alt attributes if appropriate
Content should be well organized
Your website should have an overall theme on the home page and then drill down into sub-categories of that theme. For instance, a personal injury lawyer would have personal injury law as the over-arching theme.
Sub-categories of that site would be car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, slip and fall, etc.
Each page of the site should then be focused on a specific keyword. Each page should only talk about that keyword topic area. For instance a car accident page would only talk about car accident legal information.
For location pages, there should be one page for each specific location or office that the attorney has. Then if a firm is targeting a location-based phrase like personal injury lawyer Detroit, a page optimized for that phrase should be easier to rank.
If the practice is actually located in Detroit, it will rank very well for that localized query.
In the image below, a simple content umbrella architecture is illustrated.
Keyword + Location in copy of page
In the actual paragraphs of information on your page, you should have a target keyword phrase (for example “lawyers”) and the location your office is located in (i.e. Philadelphia).
Your page would then be trying to rank for the phrase “lawyers Philadelphia”.
Note that you could also rank for variations of this phrase like “Lawyers in Philadelphia”, “Philadelphia lawyers”, or “find a lawyer in Philadelphia”.
Those keyword variations as well as synonyms of those keywords should be included in the copy.
You can find appropriate synonyms to target (known as LSI or Latent Semantic Indexing) by looking at what people also searched for found in the footer of an SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
Address relevant to location on page
This would simply be your firm address. It should be located somewhere on your location-specific page.
What is Schema?
Schema is code that can be applied to content on your website that makes it machine understandable. That means that search engines will be able to interpret and understand it more like an actual person does.
For example a computer sees 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a string of alphanumeric characters.
By adding schema, the computer now knows this is an address of a physical location and that it has significance to Americans and their government.
Where Schema Should Be Used?
Schema can be applied to virtually any kind of content but lawyers should keep in mind their goals for search.
Here are some types of content attorneys definitely need to apply schema to:
- Firm name
- Phone number
- Articles or blog posts
- Operating hours for the office(s)
- Attorney names (on bio pages)
- Attorney emails (on bio pages)
Types of Schema
There are three types of structured data or schema markup.
- Microdata: This is specification that nests structured data within HTML. It’s an open-community standard and used to be the recommended standard by Google.
- RDFa: This is an HTML5 extension that leverages HTML tag attributes to make content machine understandable.
It’s great to have a topical knowledge of structured data however unless you are a developer or employ one, these standards will be difficult to implement on your own.
If you are a WordPress user, there are a variety of plugins online that will help you get schema going on your site easily (more on that later).
It should also be noted that schema will not cause your site to rank better in search but it will enhance the way results for your website appear in search. This can then make it more likely that a searcher will click on your SERP result.
Attorney Specific Schema
There are different types of schema and within those types there are specific schemas for different people, places, things and concepts.
For the purposes of this eBook, we’ll be talking about microdata and attorney schema. For an in-depth education on schema, you can learn more at schema.org.
The purpose of this section is to show the three ways to add schema to your site.
- Manually add HTML code to your content
- Use The Google Data Highlighter
- WordPress plugins
Google’s data highlighter
If you don’t have a working knowledge of HTML, you can still markup content on your site. Google has an excellent tool called the Data Highlighter in the Search Console interface.
You will have to verify your site with Search Console first in order to use the tool but it’s free through Google.
Attorneys can use point and click functionality to highlight text, images and URLs on their site to help Google learn about their content.
Note that you must have your website configured in Search Console in order to use Data Highlighter.
Start by logging into your account and visiting Google Search Console.
Once you’re in the Search Console interface, click on Search Appearance -> Data Highlighter.
The default page has a lot of information and a video on how to use the Data Highlighter. If you feel comfortable go ahead and click the “Start Highlighting” button.
After you click the button, a prompt will appear asking for the page and type of data that you want to teach Google about.
Once you submit the URL and other information, you’ll be taken to a view of the page from within the WMT interface.
Now all you have to do is highlight the text or images you want to submit to Google. Once you highlight something, a drop down menu will appear asking for the type of content that you’ve highlighted.
When you’re done, click the red publish button in the top right corner of the page.
The Data Highlighter works in the same way schema does. It creates structured data that Google can have a deeper understanding of.
Note that marking up your content won’t help your pages rank any higher in search but it will help Google to display your data more accurately and in new ways. This can help increase click through rates to your site.
Another important thing to mention is that using the data highlighter won’t help other search engines understand your content, only Google.
Local directories for attorneys
Directories are still a good source of links and traffic for attorneys. The trick is to submit your site to attorney-specific directories. You should also watch out for ones that provide little value. These are often easy to spot because they are shallow in terms of content and easy to submit your site to.
The following is a comprehensive list of more than 100 attorney-specific directories we’ve compiled with their corresponding cost, DR (Domain Rating) and where to sign up.
|Justia||88||Free (Check out our complete review of Justia here.)|
|NOLO||85||$1125 per/year (PI, Bank, Criminal), $750 (Family)|
|HG.org||78||$195 per/year (not including our reseller discount)|
|Lawinfo||74||$40 per/month profile link|
|Lawyer.com||73||$99 per/month (article submissions stay live after cancelation)|
|Just Great Lawyers||69||$199 per year|
|59||$32.95 per/month (Standard)|
|NAPIL||54||Accept payment by check only & price varies|
|Statelawyers.com||50||$50 per month|
|Divorce HQ||49||$99 - $149 per year|
|Find a DUI Attorney||48||$29.95 per/month (Standard)|
|PersonalInjury.com||40||$50 per month|
|Legal Reach||36||$40 per year|
|Halt.org||43||Free Listing or $25 for premium listing|
|BESTESQ||19||$4.99 / month (Basic)|
|32||$280 for 2 years|
|Legal Fee Financing||33||Free|
|Family Law Center||30||Free|
|Attorneys.us||27||$50 per year|
|26||$49.95 per month|
|Personal Injury Warriors||26||Free|
|Family Law Rights||25||Quote|
|Legal Services Link®||51||Free|
|My Legal Practice||26||Free|
|Law Listings||8||Silver -$9.95/mo Gold $19.95/mo Diamond $29.95/mo|
|ListaLegal||61||Free basic listing /$30/month featured|
|Mediate.com||78||Paid basic listing @ $36/month|
|LawyerDirectory.Legal||20||Free basic profile/ Pro listing $25/year|
|Super Lawyers||89||Free basic profile/ Paid advertising|
|Find A Car|
|Find A Personal|
Local citations: Mentions of your law firm across the web
It is estimated that more than 80% of internet users leverage a search engine to find what they are looking for online.
The more opportunities you can provide yourself to show up in search results, the more traffic you are likely to receive.
Local citations are simply mentions of your business name and information on some other website.
The primary goal should be to drive people to your website but you can increase the chances of that happening by making local citations.
These are third party websites where you can list your firm information. Common examples from listing sites include a Google My Business, a Bing Business listing, Yahoo’s business directory, Yellowpages.com, etc.
Creating Your Business Listings
Whether you have filled out 1 or 100 citation profiles online it is vital that you do it right, therefore here are some quick tips for filling out profiles correctly:
- NAP: This acronym stands for name, address and phone number. Make sure all profiles you fill out have at least your name, address and phone number (NAP)
- Keep the information consistent across all profiles
- Fill out listings completely
- Use keywords related to your practice
- Include your website and links to any social sites you are active on
- Remove duplicate listings
If you’ve been in business for a while, chances are that there is already basic business information on many of these kinds of sites (i.e. business listing websites).
Claiming your profile on these sites is all that is necessary instead of starting up new accounts.
If you are filling out profiles manually, make sure you search for your business name on a website first to see if a default profile already exists. If it does, follow the site’s instructions on how to claim the listing.
Filling Out Your Profiles Completely
Filling out profiles as completely as possible helps provide maximum opportunity to capture all available traffic in search. We want to point out that building citations manually is a very inefficient way to go about things and it’s better to use a software tool to do the job (which is covered in the next chapter).
- Add images and logos
- Add videos if you have them
- Fill out category information accurately and sub-category information as well. For example if you are a an attorney select that and if your practice area is available (such as personal injury), make sure that is selected as well
- Add keywords relevant to your practice if a space exists for that
- When you add images or video, make sure their file names, descriptions or other keyword fields associated with them have geo-specific keywords in them
- Make sure the description in a profile has your geo-specific location keywords inserted
NAP (name, address, and phone number) consistency
It’s important to make sure your name, address and phone number is consistent across your profiles.
Inaccurate information can result in confusion among searchers and search engines as to which information is the correct information.
Aside from smaller business listing sites, there are much larger data aggregation companies.
Smaller websites typically get their information from these larger data distributors.
These are important because if you don’t have the right information with these entities, chances are the rest of the information across the web about your business will also be inaccurate.
The major data aggregators include: (See appendix for a comprehensive list of smaller business listing sites)
- Neustar Localeze
If you don’t fill out business listing profiles on any other sites, you should still make sure your information is accurate with the larger organizations.
Optimizing your GMB profile
Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) profile is one of the most powerful local SEO activities lawyers can do. GMB listings are often the first things to show up for location-based searches. At the time of this writing, only three business listings are shown on the first page of results. More are shown on maps but far fewer users actually click through to look at those listings.
- Claiming your profile
Pretty much all law firms that have been around for a year or more have information on Google. Claiming your profile is the first step toward optimizing it.
- Enter Complete Data
Google gets its information from a variety of sources around the internet. That information may not always be accurate so Google relies on attorneys to provide that when claiming a GMB profile. Fill out every single field in your profile.
- Verify Your Listing
You can let Google and searchers know they’ve found a profile that has reliable information by verifying you are the owner. Google will typically do this either through regular mail or a combination PIN/phone verification. Verifying your listing builds trust with searchers and it also prevents people from editing your profile information.
- Manage Your Reviews
We go over how to get reviews on different platforms later in this guide but here are a couple of tips on reviews specific to Google. Respond to every review on your profile, not just the negative ones. The more content you have related to reviews, the better your profile will rank.
- Add Images
Profiles that have more images than their competition get far more views. Add at least 30-40 images to your profile. They can be pictures of your office, of your staff, your logos, the surrounding area, etc.
Another great optimization feature that attorneys can leverage are custom links for specific actions. For example attorneys can add a link to their contact or appointment scheduling page right in their GMB profile.
GEO-targeting your pages
Targeting pages with a combination of keyword + location name is an effective way of combating Centroid Bias (Google’s tendency to show GMB profiles based on the real world firm’s proximity to the city center).
Here is the basic strategy for making pages that rank well for location-based terms:
Step 1: Keyword Research
Find the keywords people are using to find your legal services. Make sure you find phrases that are not too broad, have a decent amount of search volume, and that will get you the kind of leads you are looking for. Phrases should also have some type of city, town, or region identifier in them because you are targeting searchers in that geographic region.
Step 2: Find LSI Keywords
LSI keywords are terms and phrases that are synonymous with your main target keyword phrase. LSI stands for latent semantic indexing and the easiest way to find these terms is by plugging your main phrase into Google and then scrolling to the bottom of the page.
Step 3: Make location-specific pages
Now all you have to do is include your location-specific keywords on a page on your site. The page should be all about that location. It helps to include a local phone number, address, and other relevant location information. It should also have the target location-based keyword in the title, in headings, in the meta description, and the copy of the page.
Social proof is all about how your practice looks online. What professional organizations you belong to, the accomplishments you’ve had, and the visual representations that go along with these are all great for your online presence.
A great resource for attorneys is local trade organizations, chambers of commerce, Better Business Bureau branches, and other similar authoritative entities.
When consumers can see that your practice belongs to these trustworthy organizations, it proves to them that you are a part of a community.
Developing a practice area-specific page
Location-specific pages are good for businesses including law firms but practice area-specific pages are a unique task that attorneys can take advantage of.
Building a practice area specific page is a lot like building a location specific page.
Finding your Target Keyword Phrase
For location pages you’re looking for keyword + location to optimize a page for. This time you’ll be optimizing for just practice area.
You can use another term with practice area however if you do a little bit of research, you’ll find that most combinations that aren’t just the practice area also include a location.
Structure of Your Page
Like other pages on your site, your practice area specific page should be just about the practice area. You should only use the keyword phrase (i.e. personal injury lawyers) along with its close variations.
Density of the keyword isn’t as important as that the overall theme of the page is about the practice area.
Keep the semantic web in mind when writing your practice area specific page. Words that are synonymous with the target keyword phrase, variations and relevant concepts should be used in your copy.
For instance if your practice area specific page focuses on the phrase “divorce lawyer”, using the terms lawyer and divorce in other combinations throughout the copy as well as the term “attorney” and “divorce attorney” is ok.
Tools for local SEO
If you are submitting local citations yourself, you will find that it is extremely tedious and time-consuming work. Websites that populate business-listing profiles allow you to get back to what you do best, working with clients.
This is one of the leading citation companies on the market. For a fee, Yext will populate dozens and dozens of business listing profiles on sites like Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, Yelp.com, and many others.
The way it works is that you create an account, log in and then fill out one profile on Yext’s interface with all of your business information.
You can include name, phone number, URL, social profiles, business description, keywords, photos, logos, videos and a host of other information.
Now you can sit back and relax while Yext disseminates the information to dozens of different websites.
This comes in extremely handy when you don’t have a lot of time to do the work yourself or if you need to change a lot of listings quickly.
Of all the citation services, Yext has a reasonable monthly service plan however, you have to sign up for a year in advance and you can’t actually pay monthly. When you consider the cost of doing all the work yourself though, it’s a bargain.
Google Search Console
This is a free service from Google that can tell you all sorts of things about your site. It used to be pretty limited but these days you can do and learn a lot with your site. For example with WMT you can:
- Test how a site appears in search
- Highlight data for Google to learn about
- Monitor HTML improvements
- Learn about your site links and demote them if necessary
- Learn about search queries people are using to find your site
- See data on internal links on your site
- Get alerted to any manual web spam actions leveled against your site
- Monitor your site’s index status
- Remove URLs from search
- Evaluate the keywords most prevalent on your site
- Submit URLs to Google’s index
- Identify security issues
- Get links to helpful resources
- Check out new tools that Google is testing out
In addition to all that you can monitor multiple sites, invite others to monitor your site, submit sitemaps, and export all of the data you see as many times as you want.
Ironically Google’s free web analytics tool is also one of the most widely used and it isn’t because it’s free. Google’s analytics platform is one of the most robust and versatile in the industry.
Granted you need some know-how to get it to work for you but other than that it’s completely free.
With Google Analytics you can see:
- Page views
- Bounce rate
- Number of pages viewed per visit
- Custom interactions like clicks on links and buttons
- Visitors common paths through your site
- Geo-location, device usage, browser usage and other data on visitors
- Real time information on your site
Other features include:
- The ability to export reports in a variety of formats
- Set up email alerts and automated reporting
- Filters for data
- Customizable dashboards and reporting
That’s only a fraction of the reporting and features you can get with analytics. Google also provides a library of videos call Conversion University where people can get tutorials on how to use features of analytics.
Search has become the method by which people find information about local businesses. Phone books and 411 has gone the way of the VCR, the Walkman and home phones.
Increasingly, people are using laptops, tablets and mobile smart phones to look up addresses, phone numbers, directions and a host of other locally relevant information.
Attorneys who do not have sites optimized for local are missing out.
These days if you can’t be found online, you aren’t relevant. This guide is here to help you bring your website to the next level and you should be well on your way if you apply these practices.
We understand that Local SEO is a highly technical, complicated (and boring) practice. Not everyone can do their own SEO work so if you’re finding yourself stuck in one spot with your search marketing efforts, contact Rankings.io today! We can help you articulate your goals and show you how local SEO can help you meet them.