Consumers perform the majority of searches for their business service needs online. When a consumer searches online for a lawyer, depending on the search query, search engines may display local results for law offices that serve areas in close proximity to where the search was performed.
So far, everything I’ve said is pretty much common knowledge. And obviously, local attorneys want to show up in the local search results. How to do this is a question better answered by local visibility experts, but even solo and small firm attorneys can perform specific tasks to begin to establish a local presence in online search.
If you already have a strong online local presence, that is really great. Keep doing what you’re doing. For lawyers who have not yet started to build their online local presence, you can use this road map to kick-start the process.
Objectives for Local Visibility
The goal for online local visibility on Google is to get your business displayed in one of the seven spots reserved for local businesses on page one of the search engine results pages (SERP). Bing and Yahoo! presently offer five spots for local businesses. Each one of the three search giants includes a link for more local results, but it’s safe to assume most consumers will not look beyond the initial list of local businesses results.
It is no easy task to rank in the top seven or top five local spots for relevant keywords in the three main search engines. It takes time and if your business is new, it will be pretty difficult to displace more established businesses that have a good local ranking. But law offices must try to become known and visible in their local markets if they wish to succeed in online local search.
Over the last six weeks I have personally spent a considerable amount of time working to establish my law office’s local visibility for various personal injury practice areas, such as motorcycle accidents. For example, when injured motorcyclists run the online search query for San Fernando Valley motorcycle accident lawyer, my goal is to show up in the local search results. (I haven’t achieved my objective, but it’s far too early to expect to see results.) Nevertheless, through trial and error I have already learned valuable lessons. Here’s what I would do, in the order that I would do it, if I was to start today–knowing what I know now.
- Make a website. Add great content; follow fundamental rules like properly displaying the name, address, and phone number (NAP) of your practice on every page of your site; don’t stuff your pages with keywords; and learn about title tags. Businesses in some industries don’t need a website to rank well in the local search results. But, in the legal industry, you probably do need a website–not only for purposes of ranking well locally, but also because potential clients expect your site to showcase your legal expertise.
- Target the right location. Make sure your office is located in or very near the city or cities within whose local searches you are trying to rank highly. If your office is in the suburbs but you want to rank well for searches like “[major city] lawyer” you may be out of luck. For better or worse, location always matters in local searches. It also may be misleading to potential clients if you advertise that you’re an attorney serving a particular city or group of neighboring cities unless you actually have an office space in that geographical area.
- Search for your local office address on Google. In the search results, if you find that your office address appears with your business name next to a gray balloon, that means Google has already created a Google+ Local place for your business (formerly called Google Places). You will then need to follow Google’s steps to claim the business and verify your ownership of the listing. If you do not find a place page for your business, you will need to create a “Google+” account. Make sure to follow Google’s guidelines. Input your address exactly the way you would write it on an envelope. Add the proper categories for your business; start with the preset categories, then you can add five applicable categories.Once you create your account, you will need to verify ownership of your business. To do this, a postcard with a PIN will be sent to your office address. Once you receive the postcard, open it, find the pin, sign into your + Local account and input the number. Your Google+ Local listing should now go live. Pay very close attention to the exact way Google published your office address. It is very important to maintain consistency with your address and contact information as you continue to update your business details on third-party websites that list profiles for your practice and others.
- Perform the same steps that you performed in No. 3, above, for Bing Business Portal. If you have to create a Bing local account, add your address exactly how it appears on your Google+ Local place. Bing will also send you a verification postcard.
- Perform the same steps that you performed in No. 3 and 4, for Yahoo Local. Yahoo will not send you a post card. They will perform their own review to verify that you are the owner of your business. This review can take up to three weeks.
- Spread the word. Once you have created your three primary local place pages on the main search engines, you can now add your business information to local citation sources such as Yelp, Merchant Circle, CitySearch, etc. One benefit of updating third-party sites with information about your practice is that you can usually add a link back to your website. That means more opportunity to receive contacts.Your business may already be listed on various third-party sites. One way to find out where your business is already listed is to use the free service on getlisted.org. When you input your business information on this website it will search for your information across the web and generate a list of citation sources where your business profile can be found.
- Gather client reviews. This is one of the most important factors that will affect your business’s local presence in search. Reviews are especially important for newer law offices. Even well-established law offices can improve their local visibility by accumulating online reviews. Getting client reviews on your three primary local place pages (i.e., Google, Bing, and Yahoo!) seems to be very important. You can also request online reviews on Avvo, Lawyers (Martindale-Hubbell), and citation sources such as Yelp, CitySearch, and others.
How long does it take to gain visibility in online search? An excellent discussion on this topic can be found in a blog post on local visibility specialist Phil Rozek’s website localvisibilitysystem.com. In his post, How Long Does Local Search Visibility Take?, no less than 11 local-search professionals, including Mr. Rozek, offer their opinions on this important topic. The general consensus among the panel of experts is that through their professional techniques, results will usually come in 2-6 months.
Keep At It
Getting your business to rank well in the local searches is really hard work. It would seem like the hardest part about establishing local visibility is just putting in the time to create accounts, like the ones mentioned in this post. But, in my experience, spending time to register your business listings is the easiest part. The hardest part is working through the bugs that seem to be far too present in many of the online business listing sites.
You can use the road map provided in this post to begin or to enhance your local visibility campaign, but you will invariably run into confusing situations that may require further research. At that point, if you choose to continue to work toward local visibility on your own, you will have to spend a good deal of time reading blogs that are written by trusted professionals. That is why I recommend hiring a local visibility professional to help you realize your goals.
But, if you’re like me and you’re drawn to complicated tasks, like a challenge, or love learning new skills–it can be a lot of fun. I wish you the best of luck getting found in local search results.