How lawyers can stay competitive in Google’s 3-pack

Google business listings are a local search feature that lawyers should not ignore. People looking for legal services online are often presented with local results, and Google business listings are the first thing they see.

Google used to show up to 7 business listings in their local pack, but because of recent changes,[1] only 3 listings rotate in the main search results page. Read on for more information about the change, how lawyers can make their listing stand out, and how to rank well in local search.

What is the local 3-pack of Google business listings?

Dubbed the “3-pack” by SEOs and marketers, the term refers to the first 3 businesses that show up in the business listing area of a Google search engine results page. Previously, 7 listings appeared in search results, and they were organized and laid out much differently than they are now. Here are some of the latest changes.

Before:

  • Law firm addresses and phone numbers were displayed
  • 7 listings appeared on the main search results page instead of 3
  • Website URLs were displayed under the firm name
  • 1-click brought users to a firm’s Google My Business page
  • Links to attorney websites and Google Plus pages were accessible and appeared on the search results page

After:

  • No address and phone number information
  • 3 listings on the main search results page
  • Website URLs are not displayed
  • All 1-click functionality has been removed; instead, clicks bring up a list of competitors
  • Links to Google Plus pages have been removed

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The main difference here is pretty obvious. Fewer available spots means that it’s harder to get noticed and stand out among other law firms.

Staying competitive in the snack pack

Competition in the legal space for search positioning is incredibly aggressive. Lawyers should focus on a local search strategy, and a key part of that is having a good presence in Google’s 3-pack. Here are some ways lawyers can remain competitive.

Fill out Google business profiles completely

Fill out every single available field in the profile for a Google business listing. That includes:

  • Name of your firm
  • Practice areas
  • Phone number
  • Website
  • Address
  • Images of the firm
  • Logo
  • Any videos you may have
  • Operating hours (make sure these are always accurate)
  • Reviews

For the reviews portion of your listing, it is fine if lawyers do not have any just yet, but they should make it a priority to ask for them. Reviews help Google business listings stand out and, at the very least, put a listing in the same league as other listings that have reviews.

Consumers also read reviews online during the research phase of finding an attorney. The absence of reviews won’t necessarily cause someone to think badly of your firm, but you may lose a client to another firm with lots of reviews. Reviews just help people make more informed decisions.

Verify your firm’s listing

You probably have a listing in Google’s database—whether you created it or not. Listings created both manually and automatically must be verified before they are considered reliable and trustworthy. So, it goes without saying that lawyers should take time to verify their Google business listing. Simply search for your firm until the listing shows up in Google and then click on the “Own this business?” link.

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You will then be taken through the verification process. In some cases, you can verify your business by phone when Google sends an automated call to the phone number attached to the listing. Answer the phone, enter a pin into Google’s verification interface, and you’re done.

If the phone number on the listing is incorrect or if Google just deems it necessary, you will have the option of receiving a postcard in the mail that supplies the necessary pin.

Increase your firm’s prominence

Google outlines many of the tasks law firms must accomplish in order to have a profile that ranks well in search. One factor that influences the rank of a Google business listing is prominence; in other words, prominent businesses and brands are more likely to display for relevant searches. For example, the brand strength of large law firm that has been around for decades and is well known in the offline world will transfer into the online world. That being said, lawyers without that kind of name recognition can make their profiles more prominent through other means.

Links to an attorney website

The more links attorneys can obtain from high-domain authority websites, the more prominent their firm will become in search. Those signals push through to other services like Google business listings. Low-hanging fruit for links include:

  • Legal-specific directories
  • Social profiles
  • Guest posting opportunities
  • Collaboration with other businesses
  • Advertising opportunities
  • Citations (other business listings around the Internet)

Citations

A citation is simply a mention of a firm’s name and location information on another website. Citation services like Yext can help lawyers populate the Internet with dozens of consistent citations in a matter of hours. Not only do these citations accumulate links for lawyers, but they also increase the firm’s exposure on prominent websites.

Here are some of the most popular citation websites:

  • Avvo.com
  • Yellowpages.com
  • Whitepages.com
  • Manta.com
  • Yelp.com
  • Bing.com
  • Yahoo.com
  • Google business listings

Attorneys can help their chances of ranking higher in the 3-pack by focusing on off-site SEO strategies elsewhere on the web. For example, submitting a website to online legal-specific directories, earning links from high-authority and topically relevant websites, and getting articles published on notable legal-related websites can all help a business listing rank higher.

Local search

Ranking well in local search involves more than publicizing consistent information about your firm across the Internet. A good search optimization strategy takes a holistic and aggressive approach. Attorneys can perform a variety of on- and off-site tasks to get more exposure in local results.

Local link signals

Links from local sources can influence results for searches in specific geographic areas. For example, attorneys should work on getting links from relevant local directories, chambers of commerce, local educational institutions, and other local entities.

Location-based pages

Pages on a site that have content relevant to your law firm’s location are a good way to get more action in local search. Include your city name and a relevant keyword (typically your practice area) throughout copy on the page—for example, “Philadelphia personal injury lawyer.” Pages with location-specific content are more relevant to search engines and searchers.

Attorney schema

Attorney-specific schema[2] is good for location-based information like firm name, address, and phone number. Schema markup helps search engines understand what content means and how to display information more easily in search results pages.

Site-wide NAP

Name, address, and phone number information is critical for searchers looking for legal services. Having that information on every page of the site in the header creates a better user experience that indirectly creates other signals search engines look for[3]. Time on site and bounce rate are important indicators of how a page’s usefulness.

Local directories

Local directories like Avvo are authoritative websites that users trust for answers to legal questions and information about finding attorneys. Being listed on directory sites increases your firm’s the potential to show up in location-based results. Make sure to completely fill out your profile to make sure the information is accurate.

Get reviews on top directories

Often the first information about a firm people see on a search results page, user reviews play a critical role in local SEO for lawyers. They provide social proof about lawyers. In other words, they are real-life experiences of real people that searchers can use to determine if they are making a good choice.

Reviews from authoritative directories promote trust and help increase conversions for attorneys. User-generated content in search is a good way to get more attention, and consumers look at reviews on a variety of platforms when determining which legal professional to hire.

For example, getting reviews on a platform like Avvo puts out user-generated content on the Internet for search engines to find. Since that directory is already very popular, reviews tend to show up higher in search for related queries. People also trust these types of authoritative sites and, in turn, put that trust in the attorneys mentioned there.

The over-arching trend in Google search has been to show users more relevant information based on search phrases and location. Business listings and the 3-pack are an extension of that, and they are seen by millions of users every day. Lawyers can take simple steps to enhance the prominence of their listing in search results even if their regular website doesn’t rank that well.

[1] http://searchengineland.com/google-updates-the-local-pack-showing-3-instead-of-7-local-results-227368

[2] https://schema.org/Attorney

[3] https://moz.com/blog/traffic-engagement-metrics-their-correlation-to-google-rankings