Why is Lawyer SEO Challenging?
Lawyer SEO is challenging for four reasons. First, Google constantly changes its search algorithms. Second, Google continually changes the way it displays search results. Third, Google shows different search results to different people in different locations. Fourth, law firm SEO is highly competitive.
1. Google is Constantly Changing Its Search Algorithms
The first thing to understand about law firm SEO is that Google is CONSTANTLY changing its search results algorithms and, consequently, how your law firm website ranks on any given day. For example, in 2018, Google updated their search algorithm a whopping 3,234 times and ran thousands of experiments and tests as follows:
The point of illustrating all of the changes that Google regularly makes to its search algorithms is to show that lawyer SEO is a constant process and not a single event. Additionally, because of all the changes made by Google to their search results, lawyer SEO experts have to stay on top of their game. Specifically, techniques that work one month to rank a website highly may not work the next month or even cause a site to lose its ranking position.
2. Google is Constantly Changing the Way It Displays Search Results
Since Google launched its search service to the public in 1998, the way it now displays search results has changed significantly. Over time, Google has pushed organic search results lower by showing 3 to 4 paid ads first, the local 3-Pack (sometimes 4 with a paid spot), and then organic search listings. For example, here is a search for “divorce lawyers in charleston sc” that shows the paid listings, the local 3-Pack, and then our CEO’s law firm’s listing (charlestonlaw.net) as the #1 organic listing (at least as of today). The takeaway here is that it has become increasingly more important to rank at the top position organically because Google is first loading up search results with paid ads and other information.
3. Google Changes Search Engine Results for Different Users & Different Locations
Typically, the same search in Google run by two different people will produce two different results. Here’s why – Google has been “personalizing” search engine results since 2009, regardless of whether you use a Google product such as Gmail. Essentially, Google continuously tracks where you are, what you search for, and what you click on. Over time, Google “learns” more about your online habits and interests and, in turn, gives you different results than other searchers such as your family members, your neighbor across the street, or a stranger searching online 500 miles away from you.
For example, let’s say that you favor a particular news site such as CNN.com. Over time, Google will show you more results from CNN than from other news sites. Additionally, when you’re using Google on a mobile device, Google learns where you go each day based on your GPS coordinates when you perform a search or use a Google app such as Gmail. Based on this information, if someone from Topeka, Kansas searches for the term “criminal lawyer” on their mobile device without including any geographic information, Google will show the user criminal attorneys from Topeka.
For another example, if you search for “divorce lawyers near me” from my Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, our CEO’s law firm shows up in the local 3-pack as follows:
However, if you run the same search for “divorce lawyers near me” when you are in Charleston, SC instead of Mt. Pleasant, SC, you get different 3-pack results as follows:
4. Lawyer SEO is Remarkably Competitive
More than 90% of people looking for legal advice use a search engine, and over 70% of consumers visiting a law firm’s website to take action. The majority of search engine users are more likely to click on one of the first five suggestions in the search engine results pages. With ten organic positions on the 1st page of Google’s search results, law firms are financially investing heavily in appearing on the coveted top five spots of the first page of search results. Here is a specific example. If you search for “injury lawyers in new york city,” Google returns over 23,000,000 possible results!
With 23,000,000 likely websites for Google to show for “injury lawyers in new york city, and with hundreds (if not thousands) of personal injury lawyers vying for the first page of search results, you can begin to understand why lawyer SEO is so costly and competitive.
Why is Law Firm SEO Important?
SEO is important because: (1) organic search is a primary source of a law firm’s website, (2) SEO enhances the user’s experience, and (3) SEO increases your website’s “trust” factor.
1. Organic Search is the #1 Source of Traffic to Law Firms’ Websites
As indicated above, the overwhelming majority of people looking for legal aid use search engines such as Google and Bing, and the vast majority of visitors to a law firm’s website take action. Therefore, law firm SEO expert is a priority for any law firm looking to increase their caseload.
2. Lawyer SEO Enhances the User’s Experience
Google interprets favorable or unfavorable user experiences on your website. Therefore, positive user experiences have become a crucial element of a law firm website’s success. Consequently, professional law firm SEO expert focuses on the user experience and the usability of a web site. Usability is about achieving objectives and task completion. So when SEO professionals measure the effectiveness of a website, they evaluate:
- Whether searchers can achieve their goals and complete specific tasks via a search engine and your website.
- Whether searchers easily find their desired information, destination, or activity on your website.
- Whether there are impediments to searchers’ objectives and how those impediments can be eliminated.
3. Top Presence in Search Engine Results Increases Your Website’s Trust Factor
Users trust search engines, especially Google, to give them the best and most relevant search results. Via ranking high on search engines and thereby having a presence in the top positions for the keywords the user is searching, your law firm business will build trust and credibility with potential clients.
How Long Does Lawyer SEO Take to Work?
The question we get asked most often is, “How long will it take for you to get my website ranked #1 for my keywords?” This question is born out of the misconception that SEO is all about keyword rankings. When JustLegal begins the process of search engine optimization, we run keyword ranking reports. We run these reports as evidence of a “canary in the coal mine.” Mainly, if we observe that the law firm’s site isn’t showing within the search engine results, we know that site is in trouble and that it needs more TLC. Otherwise, the more meaningful metrics we use to measure SEO performance are: (1) the volume of site traffic and (2) whether visitors are engaging with the site by visiting other pages, filling out the site’s contact form, clicking to call, etc. The better question to ask is “How long will it take for SEO to start generating leads?” Unfortunately, the is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to that question. Specifically, the answer to that question depends on numerous SEO factors, including:
- The design of the law firm’s website
- How much content the website has
- How much SEO work has previously been done for the website
- How many backlinks there are to the website
- How much online competition there may be for your firm’s services
In our experience, you should start to see results within four to six months. Moreover, the results you get will be more significant over time. Here is an example of what happens during the first four months or so when JustLegal begins a new SEO strategy for a law firm:
- 1st Month – Website audit, keyword research and strategy, and planning within the first few weeks. After that, technical work begins by making modifications to the website (assuming the site does not need a complete redesign) and by building backlinks to the site. This process continues month-after-month, year-after-year.
- 2nd Month – Content creation, including blogging, firm information, and so on. You may see some improvements in rankings by the end of this month, but you may not see those rankings result in leads at this time.
- 3rd Month – The same process as Month 2 by which time you could experience an increase in rankings, traffic, and lead generation.
- 4th Month – With additional site content such as blogs, you now have something to share on social media. At this stage, you can include social media management to increase direct traffic to your website. You should see more organic traffic to your site, and your leads should increase. As traffic grows, your SEO expert now has more data from which to refine your website’s conversion rate by making adjustments to calls-to-action, contact forms, and web page designs throughout your site.
- Months 5 & Beyond – As you are working to improve your law firm website’s SEO, your competitors will take notice and actions to increase their visibility above and beyond yours. Therefore, each month is a continuing process, as described in Month’s 3 and 4 to maintain and improve your SEO indefinitely.
How Important is Keyword Ranking for Law Firm SEO?
There’s a connection between having a high ranking for a high-volume keyword or phrase and having that keyword or phrase bring your site search engine traffic. However, keyword rankings aren’t the “end-all-and-be-all” of search engine optimization, mainly for two reasons. First, search engine results are highly personalized and therefore vary for different users. Second, long-tail keywords and semantic search results mean that Google is returning results to users that are much more relevant than just a few keywords or phrases.
The way people search online for lawyers and legal services is becoming more intricate each year for two primary reasons. First, search engine users are savvier then they were nearly two decades ago. Instead of searching for a “drunk driving attorney,” they are using more complex words and phrases such as “I need a defense attorney for a drunk driving charge I got in Phoenix.” The second reason why searches are more intricate is that devices, especially mobile phones, easily allow searchers to voice, instead of type, complex queries. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather talk to my smartphone to search than to type out my question. Because searches are more intricate, there are two fundamental digital marketing terms that you should become familiar with – long-tail keywords and semantic search:
1) Long-Tail Keywords: Long-tail keywords are used to target niche demographics rather than mass audiences. In other words, they’re more specific and often less competitive than generic keyword terms.
Example: If you’re a criminal lawyer in Atlanta, the chances are that your pages may never appear near the top of an organic search for “lawyer” or “criminal lawyer” because there’s too much nationwide competition online. Even if we narrow the organic search down to “criminal lawyer in Atlanta,” the competition is still daunting. When I ran that search (using “incognito mode in Chrome to avoid “personalized” results), Google gave me 15,500,00 results. At the top of that list were significant sites such as Avvo, FindLaw, and Justia. However, let’s say that you’re a criminal lawyer in Atlanta who focuses on defending juveniles. Long-tail keywords like “juvenile justice defense lawyer in Atlanta” may help potential clients reliably find what they’re looking for – your firm!
Importance: Long-tail keywords help to target niche demographics and quality traffic rather than focusing on more general, and often highly competitive, generic keyword terms.
2) Semantic Search: Semantics is the science of the meaning of language. Semantic search is an attempt by Google and other search engines to improve the accuracy of search results by “understanding” the searcher’s intent and the contextual meaning of terms used by the searcher.
Example: Suppose someone searches for the term “bark.” Standing alone, the term “bark” may mean the sound a dog makes, the covering of a tree, or a three-masted sailing ship. However, Google attempts to determine the intent and the context of the search by analyzing other terms in the search. For example, if you searched “does bark make good kindling,” then Google associates the term kindling with “tree” bark and returns relevant results to match your search.
Importance: For purposes of SEO, semantic search means that although keywords and phrases still play a role in search results, the “context” and “intent” of the content of your law firm’s website is playing a much larger role with each passing year. Stated another way, creating quality, relevant content for your website is becoming much more important than just focusing on keywords.
Lawyer SEO Focuses on Content, Not Just Keywords
Most law firm websites get found and clicked on in Google and other search engines for thousands of different keyword combinations and phrases. Although digital marketers may do their best to identify a limited number of the best keywords and phrases that will attract new clients, there is no realistic way to optimize a law firm website for the thousands of other phrases that may bring you targeted visitors to your site.
Search engine optimization isn’t just about tweaking a law firm’s website to target keyword phrases; it’s also about having quality content that responds to a potential client’s needs. Potential clients need answers to their legal questions. Having numerous web pages that describe your law firm’s legal services doesn’t fulfill a potential client’s needs. However, if you create enough quality content on your website to give the best possible answers to these questions, then you will accomplish four crucial SEO goals. First, your site’s pages will begin to surface to the top of the search engine results in response to law-related search queries. Second, as the pages of your site rise in search results, you will drive more quality traffic to your website. Third, your content will establish you as an “authority” on the subject over your law firm’s competitors. Fourth, your online authority will convert your site’s visitors into potential clients who call or message you about your legal services.