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SEO for lawyers: Building an effective search engine optimization plan from the ground up

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is a complex and ever-changing maze of arcane tips, tricks and onsite improvements to increase the visibility of your content in the judgmental eyes of search engines while still maintaining overall readability and timely relevance to your equally judgmental potential clients. Unfortunately, there is no panacea to ranking highly in Google, Bing, and Yahoo (and other nameless search engines) but there are a variety of ways to appease the almighty algorithm and ensure you get the traffic you deserve.

Although SEO can seem like a black box of unknowable secrets, it needn’t be so confusing. Building a great SEO plan is similar to building a great house: the process can be daunting and there are many pitfalls, but if done right (by picking the right location, hiring the best team, using good fundamentals, and following expert advice), you can end up with the home(page) of your dreams.

All good SEO plans, whether it’s SEO for lawyers or other professionals, starts with patience, planning, and, in most cases unfortunately, dollars. Of course, if you don’t have a large budget, you can still build a winning strategy but, to offset costs, you’ll need equal amounts of elbow grease and sweat equity. And, just like building a house, if following the right steps, putting in the time and effort required, and hiring the right partners when needed, you and your firm can benefit greatly from the added exposure that SEO for lawyers can bring.

Law firm SEO: making a difficult job more difficult

If SEO in general is like building a house, SEO for lawyers is like trying to build your dream home in the hottest of real estate markets while interest rates are increasing daily. Why? Because law firm SEO is an incredibly competitive marketplace—especially SEO for personal injury firms and other consumer facing legal markets (e.g. SEO for family lawyers or SEO for employment lawyers). In addition to the general competitiveness of this market is its increased competitiveness in certain locations; competing for clicks in online real estate in highly populous areas can quickly inflate time and cost requirements for any poorly laid out search engine optimization strategies. For markets like these, it is imperative to identify a very focused strategy early on or you can quickly find yourself going house poor.

One final challenge that makes law firm SEO more challenging than most is the question of need. Often, business to business law firms (B2B law firms) don’t see the immediate benefit of marketing their firm or its services to the general public. Law firms of this nature are often “busy enough” or “already have a large referral network,” but, according to a 2019 study by CLIO, “17% of legal consumers looked for a lawyer via online search” which was tied with going directly to a firm’s website as the second highest way clients searched for a lawyer (first being “referral from friend/family member”), and beat out “referral from another lawyer” by several percentage points. Now, as we’ve all learned to transition to an increasingly digital world filled with endless zoom calls and cloud-based networking, it’s easy to see that being found online through organic searches will become an increasingly important tool for firms to get noticed.

SEO for lawyers: how to build your SEO dream home

In keeping with the home analogy (because it’s too late to switch now), there are several steps to building your SEO dream home.

The steps of a well-built and effective SEO plan are:

  1. Location, location, location – Just as with building a real home, your first step is to secure the best parcel of land, and, when building an online SEO plan for your law firm, that land is a domain name for your firm. Most of you will already have a domain name in place (and if you haven’t, it’s time to sell the fax machine), but a good domain is essential. Your domain should somehow tie in to what you do; either it is reflective of your name (e.g. www.torkinmanes.com) or reflective of what you do (e.g. www.ttlhealthlaw.com) or something very memorable (e.g. www.mofo.com). Avoid hyphens and deliberate misspellings and stick with the main top level domains (.com where possible). Keywords in your domain are a great way to increase search engine traffic but not always possible (e.g. we own www.torontolawyers.ca and get a lot of traffic for the search term “Toronto lawyers,” so go figure).
  2. Build a strong foundation – Every house needs a foundation, and for law firm SEO that foundation is crawlable and compelling content. For thousands of years (or at least it seems that long), generating purposeful, easily consumable, keyword-rich content has been the building block of modern websites. Finding the right wording requires diligent research, keyword planning and careful drafting to ensure that you are answering the right questions for the right audience by providing the right content in a timely and accessible manner. If your website fails to meet those requirements, or does so in a convoluted method, any potential lead will not hesitate to visit other, more content-friendly homes.
  3. Choose the right floor plan – Every house needs a floor plan and every site needs a good site structure. Carefully laying out the overarching content and linking structure of your site will ensure that you are providing keyword-rich content in a variety of accessible ways with a minimal number of clicks. Ensure you give visitors ample opportunities for finding other relevant content with a carefully developed deep-linking strategy that leads your visitors down a critical path toward goal fulfilment.
  4. Building the frame – Whether you already have a website or are building from scratch, it’s time to either get the walls up or reconfigure the rooms.  If you are just in the planning of a new site, now is the time to look at the materials you’re using to build. You want to ensure you’re using reputable contractors (e.g. us), quality building materials (e.g. a great CMS like Sitefinity) and that you plan for additional renovations later. Now is also a great time to ensure that you are building a very secure home, but that’s another blog post all its own.
  5. Install the plumbing, electrical and fax lines – This is the technical stuff that’s never very exciting when building a house but is essential to a functioning (and livable) home. For lawyer SEO, these are the underlying optimizations that help provide a great user experience: fast page speed, user-centric functionality, responsive design, and an attractive, accessible user interface (UI).
  6. Add the finishes – For a house, we’d start thinking about a coat of paint and the kitchen backsplash but when it comes to lawyer SEO, the finishes are any other additions that can help you get you noticed by search engines which includes items like proper titles, keyword descriptions, meta tags, schema markups, and keyword-rich urls. These are all fairly easy items to include (especially if you’ve chosen the right CMS) but are often overlooked, and, when done consistently, will readily increase the chance of getting a house call from Google.
  7. Add the curb appeal – For a house, curb appeal is the front porch and side garden. For lawyer SEO, it’s ensuring that your content is shareable and worthy of backlinks. Make it easy for others to post your content to their websites and social media accounts, and use large, readable headlines, bold and noticeable buttons, and an eye-pleasing design.
  8. Time to flip? – Ok, maybe we’re not actually looking to flip our website for profit, but we are looking to profit from all the hard work. So, much like how you’d hire a real estate agent to sell your property, it’s a good idea to employ a knowledgeable Search Engine Marketing (SEM) company (ahem) to help get the word out. Great SEO will help you bubble up the rankings over time, but great SEM can help you get noticed right away.
  9. Get appraised – Now that you’ve invested time and budget to ensure that your website is search engine optimized and that clients can find and consume your keyword-rich, informative content, it’s probably a good time to analyze the numbers to see what’s working and what’s not. There are various tools to assist with this, both free and paid. With data in hand, it’s imperative that you revisit the plan and find any gaps or underperforming pages which can be enhanced with a more focused approach or by capturing a larger audience with more long-tail keywords.

By following the steps above, you can start building a robust SEO plan for your lawyers or law firm, one that can help increase brand awareness and lead to new clients and increased conversions. In closing, lawyer SEO is an iterative process and a long-term play that requires a continual investment of time and budget to ensure that you stay ahead of your competitors. Still, if done right, and with ample planning and the right partners in place, you can turn your investment made during these initial stages into a sustainable and profitable lead generation tool that makes your website the must visit home in the neighborhood.

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