The baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Attorneys without an SEO strategy typically end up going nowhere in terms of their search marketing efforts. Optimizing a website for search has many variables based on a lawyer’s website and competition in his or her practice area. A clear roadmap on how, what, and when to make optimization changes will help attorneys maximize their time and budget for an SEO campaign.
SEO strategies for lawyers will certainly vary, but, in general, they should follow a three-part structure (even for existing sites that already have optimization work done).
- Define what success looks like
- Figure out how to measure success
- Perform/audit core SEO tasks
1. Define what success means for you
Too many attorneys start off optimization work without a clear idea of what success looks like. Success is not ranking on page 1. That is a crucial part of the equation; however, it is not the end game. The typical result lawyers are looking for is more clients.
Before you start SEO work or look for an SEO company, try to define what results you are looking for, and be as specific as possible in stating your goals.
Here is an example of a vague objective:
- I want to get more traffic from Google search.
Here is an example of a more specific objective:
- I want to generate more traffic from search, and, by doing so, get at least 5 more qualified inquiries per month.
Having a specific objective does not mean things will turn out exactly as you planned. However, it helps to get as close to success as possible and create meaningful results from your campaigns. Having a vague goal or no goal at all usually creates frustration because it is difficult to tell if your campaign is working.
2. Implement tracking tools
Lawyers need tools to generate the data they can use to tell if their campaigns are working, so it is important that these get installed and configured from the beginning. The best type of tracking configuration depends mostly on your campaign, but some tracking tools are foundational and can be further customized down the road.
- Google analytics: Google is not the only game in town when it comes to website analytics, but it is one of the many free tools out there. It is also relatively easy to learn—there are lots of learning resources for it, and installation is simple. Whether it’s Google Analytics or some other software, lawyers should set up tracking on their website before any SEO campaign is implemented.
- Google Webmaster Tools: Unlike Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools—now known as Search Console—is geared specifically toward tracking keyword positioning in search. Lawyers can access data that, among other things, reveals which keywords are related to which pages on their site, shows average positioning over time, and suggests site-wide structural improvements. Search Console is also free and very easy to set up.
Lawyers looking for more advanced information have some very detail-oriented and robust SEO reporting options available to them. When looking at paid solutions, remember that these tools tend to be more specialized than traditional web analytics platforms. For example, some are great for tracking link-building campaigns, while others are more effective at monitoring positioning for keywords. Still others are better for the technical aspects of SEO.
- Ahrefs: This one of the leading web-based software solutions for link tracking. If your SEO campaign involves active link outreach or the design and dissemination of linkable assets, Ahrefs is a great tool for tracking those types of activities. It is also awesome for analyzing backlink profiles and assessing competitor link profiles for link opportunities.
- Moz Open Site Explorer: Moz is one of the original and most trusted names in SEO knowledge and software. Open Site Explorer is good for tracking links, and you can also get proprietary metrics like spam scores on pages and link opportunities. One cool feature of Moz is that lawyers can use it on a limited basis for free before committing to a monthly subscription.
Once you have your tracking in place, it’s time to set benchmarks. In other words, determine a baseline that shows where your site is now so you can compare it 1, 2, 3, or 6 months down the road. Many analytics platforms (either from Google or one of the paid versions) allow for historical tracking of information. It is important to make note of when you started your SEO campaign so you can make accurate comparisons across time.
Here are some good things to record at the outset of a campaign:
- A site’s position in search for keyword phrases an attorney wants to rank for
- Average traffic from organic search overall
- Number of inbound referring domains
- Number of inbound links
- Domain Rating and/or Domain Authority
Record your initial metrics somewhere, like in a spreadsheet, so you can refer back to them. The whole point of this is to see if your campaign is gaining traction.
3. Execute on core SEO tasks
Now that you know your goals and how to measure them, you can begin implementing basic SEO tasks on your website. Note that not every tactic is good for every website, and if a site has already had optimization work done, some of the items below may just need review. These are all foundational tasks that help a site perform better in search.
On-site optimization refers to SEO work done to a website as opposed to work done elsewhere on the Internet. Here is a broad overview of the elements that should be covered. For a more in-depth ‘audit,’ Geoff Kenyon has written an amazing on-site audit checklist.
- Make sure practice area pages are targeting and optimized for your chosen keywords.
- Ensure that practice area pages have descriptive and compelling title, meta description, and page copy. Each page should target a different keyword phrase, which should be included throughout.
- The site should have a logical content hierarchy with a main content theme and sub-pages related to the main theme.
- An attorney website should leverage attorney-specific schema markup.
- Pages should load quickly and be indexed in search.
- URLs should be descriptive of their pages and easy to read.
- The primary keyword phrase should be contained in the main heading of your pages.
An active social presence is powerful for search. Attorneys who are active on social platforms as their professional selves or as their firms can get more content indexed in search. A robust network also allows content that attorneys create to be shared more frequently and creates a valuable source for backlinks.
Social activity has not been directly tied to good rankings, but there are strong correlations. Attorneys should set up profiles on leading social networks and be active on platforms where their audience is most engaged.
Local search is critical for attorney success with SEO because most people are looking for local lawyers. Here are some unique ways attorneys can boost their local presence:
- Use a citation service like Yext or Moz Local to create and distribute firm information throughout the web quickly and consistently.
- Claim your profile on Avvo and fill it out as completely as you possibly can.
- Leverage attorney-specific schema.
- Develop practice area pages and location-specific practice area pages.
- Put your firm name, address, and phone number on every page of your website.
- Acquire links from local directories like Avvo and other local entities.
Backlink acquisition strategy
Along with content, links are a huge part of ranking well in search. The more high-quality links attorneys can point at their website, the better their chances for ranking well (all other things being equal). That being said, it is important to develop a plan that outlines how you will acquire those links.
For example, many attorneys have had success building out a scholarship for students, making a page on their site dedicated to it, and then reaching out to universities to promote the initiative and link to the application page on their website. Running an effective scholarship campaign is an excellent way to get high-value .edu links pointed at your site.
Of course there are many other strategies for earning inbound links. Attorneys just need to get creative. Remember to stay away from spammy tactics or people that promise to build many links quickly. Earning links is more about quality than quantity.
There seem to be 66,543 pieces of information on the Internet about how to do SEO on your website, but far less in the way of credible resources. Attorneys should look to authoritative sources and develop a concrete action plan with realistic and measurable goals before they start making changes to their website. The key to being successful in search involves a combination of simplicity and execution. Figure out what you want, how you will measure the process of getting there, and the steps you need to take to make it happen.