This is a guest post by Gerrid Smith, founder and CEO of Black Fin, a digital marketing agency for law firms.
We’re 27 years into this whole internet thing, but the term SEO still seems like a three-letter way to spell “mystery.”
I can remember an earlier time in my career — just a few years ago, really — when attorneys were calling me to ask exactly what SEO is.
I don’t get that call so much anymore. “SEO” now turns up in enough CLE courses, bar association emails, and marketing sales calls that even the most web-averse esquires have an adequate understanding of Search Engine Optimization and its central premise.
Today’s question is less of a “what” than a “how.” There’s the mystery. How can a law firm use this “SEO” thing to achieve what matters to them: beating their competitors and getting to the top of Google?
Accordingly, the sections that follow are all how-oriented. Step by step, I’m going to illuminate some essential, law-specific, purely digital marketing practices that will advance your Google rank. These are the same principles my agency, Black Fin, uses to get law firms to the top of Google every single day.
And that’s the point I really want to make above all else — Search Engine Optimization is no more a mystery than losing weight or getting out of debt.
Eat less; work out. Don’t spend; open a savings account. There’s a way to do these things, and none of them involve a spell book or transcendental meditation.
If you commit to taking the right steps and making an investment, steering clear of bad advice and excessively mystical “how to” pieces (the fad diets of SEO), your site will rise up in the search engine results.
And if you’re employing best practices, that increase in search rank will correlate with an increase in sales (or as we put it at Black Fin, “bigger cases from better clients.”)
So what are those best practices? Let’s look at five of the biggies in the sections that follow.
1. Content Creation: All Hail the King
There’s a saying in the digital marketing world: “Content is king.” And as kings go, he’s not too hard to serve.
Content refers to any information that contributes to a web user’s online experience. The classic example (and still the most important kind of content by far) is written text on a webpage. Other examples include YouTube videos, infographics, photographs, and podcasts.
Search engines use applications called web crawlers to read and make sense of the internet. Content is what they search. It’s the food they crave. It’s really the only thing they understand.
So just like a juicy steak on your front porch will bring dogs around, and rotting fruit on your kitchen floor will ensure a variety of infestations, fresh content will make your website a favorite destination for web crawlers of all kinds — especially Google’s.
Mind you, not any ol' content will do.
Google’s algorithms assign a quality score to every webpage and domain. If the Google gods deem your site worthwhile and relevant, you’ll earn a higher score, and a higher rank in turn.
In other words, Google gets judge-y. Here’s how to meet its standards:
- Get good at writing. Believe it or not, robots are decent literary critics. They can tell whether a webpage or blog article is well written, informative, grammatically apt, and easy to read. (They’re also good at studying users’ behavior to determine whether real human beings thing your content is any good.)
- Create new content frequently. Insects may enjoy expired food, but Google is more of a 5-star foodie. It likes its meals fresh. Sites that produce content on a regular basis are rewarded in the search rank.
- Choose topics and keywords strategically. Relevancy is a key metric in determining your website’s Google quality score. Write about the things your intended audience is looking for.
Content creation is probably the single most important aspect of law firm SEO, so you want to get it right. While other kinds of content might make sense in other industries, for attorneys, most content creation is going to center around practice area webpages (e.g., Branson Motorcycle Accident Lawyers) and blog articles (e.g., 5 Reasons to Hire a Real Estate Attorney When Buying a House).
You absolutely have to invest in high-quality writing if you want to see results... especially if you’re starting this late in the game, when the legal search results are so competitive and so many law firms’ rankings are already well ensconced.
2. Backlinks: Google’s Very Own Popularity Contest
In the last section, I told you Google can be a bit judgmental. Now I’m going to tell you it can get a little Mean Girls, too. (I promise I love you, Google! But it’s true.)
Google is obsessed with sending its users to the best-available information to match their query. One of the ways Google determines the “best” webpage is by looking at how many other websites link to it (i.e. popularity).
When someone else’s website links to yours, it’s called a backlink or endorsement. Each backlink is like a little gold star that tells Google your site is worth a look.
But backlinks aren’t as easy to score as they once were. In the early days of internet marketing, websites would simply “trade” links with each other. Sites had whole “Links” pages, and some domains consisted of nothing but links (with backlinks for sale!). The whole practice got so spammy and underhanded that Google began penalizing anything that looks remotely like a “link farm.”
Today, backlinks are still incredibly valuable, but only if they’re the right kind.
In terms of law firm SEO, I’m a big proponent of attorney guest articles, in which you write a blog as a “visiting expert” on someone else’s website.
Guest posts are good for everyone — your site, the host site, their readers, and so on.
Simply write an awesome article and include a link back to your own domain. It’s as easy as that. As a matter of fact, you’re reading a guest article right now, courtesy of my friends here at Smith.ai! (No relation, despite my last name.)
3. On-Page SEO: A Brief Foray into Mechanics
Here’s the section where I do that nerdy thing of using techy terms and bullet points. But hey, SEO is an inherently technical endeavor, and this stuff matters:
- Use H1 and H2 headings (and H3s whenever appropriate).
- Include your primary keyword in your title tag (the earlier in the title tag, the better).
- Try to use that same keyword within the first 100 words of your copy (not a hard and fast rule, but it helps). After that, use not only the keyword but also synonyms and closely related terms. This is called latent semantic indexing, or LSI.
- Avoid messy URLs.
- Embed original images and other visual content within your written pages whenever possible.
- End each webpage and article with a persuasive call to action.
... There’s a lot more than can be said about on-page SEO (a whole tome’s worth), but this is enough to get you started.
4. Google My Business: It’s a Noun, Not a Command
Local SEO is quickly becoming one of the most important fronts in the battle for better law firm SEO. And — surprise, surprise — Google is the biggest name in the game. While I could give a whole seminar on local search marketing, here are the most pertinent points for law firms:
- Nip your NAP problems. NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone Number. You might be surprised by how many websites and attorney directories have inaccurate / outdated contact info for your firm. That can be fairly disastrous because Google is now prioritizing NAP consistency (in addition to the fact that a single wrong phone number can mean a case you don’t land). So find someone to audit your NAP ASAP.
- Claim your Google My Business page. Google My Business listings are kind of like FEINs — every business has one. (And if you don’t, you better get one!) But who’s controlling the information on yours? If the answer is “nobody” or “I don’t know,” you want to change that fast. Fill your listing with lots of up-to-date information.
- Make sure you’re Google Maps-friendly. Open Google Maps on your iPhone right now. Search for your law firm. Do you come up? Is there a picture of your business? Can someone tap the phone button and call you right away? (You can manage a lot of this via Google My Business.)
- Ask for reviews. Each Google business listing includes reviews, and they count for a lot. The more 4- and 5-star reviews you have, the better. So encourage your clients to take a moment and share their honest thoughts in a Google review. (Just don’t offer incentives in return. There’s a strict zero-tolerance policy for that.)
- Create local content. As you create blog topics for your law firm website, be sure to target local topics, keywords, and events from time to time. You should also consider city-specific versions of all your practice area webpages.
5. Site Speed and Structure: Avoiding Performance Problems
I’m sorry, did I imply that #3 was the only time we’d get techy? Oops. Here it goes again. What a perfectly geeky way to end an article.
Behind all the content, data, and metadata you put on your website, there is the site itself. Just like interior design can only do so much to mask an older home’s crumbling infrastructure, you can’t blog your way out of bad site design.
Website speed is especially important. Google’s bots test load and response times. The sluggish get punished.
Mobile responsiveness is essential too. Does your law firm website load differently on a mobile device than on a desktop computer? It should.
And how well organized is your site? Do users have an easy time getting around? Is there a clearly defined sitemap? Does every “click here” go where it’s supposed to?
I’ve seen law firms invest a lot of time, money, and effort into content marketing (a good thing, certainly), only to find that their efforts were going nowhere because of bad site design. It’s the reason I always advise clients to begin their law firm SEO efforts with a site audit. Find out if there are any latent structural problems that are actively impairing your quality score.
Success in Legal Marketing Is a Mindset
Sitting around and hoping your website will start to score a better search rank isn’t much of a strategy. Blindly blogging with no sense of direction isn’t much better. But when you employ these five practices in tandem, well, your expectation of success begins to meet the reasonable person standard (*checks off gratuitous legal reference*).
In other words, there’s no reason you shouldn’t expect big results over time.
Ah yes, time. It’s an issue. Successful SEO never happens overnight, and as attorneys, you hardly have time to adopt online marketing as a second career.
To that end, successful law firm SEO is really a question of commitment. Are you willing to get the help you need to make it happen?
If you’re prepared to do what it takes to get a top spot on Google for relevant key terms, you can. And in the 21st century, that is the way to get bigger cases from better clients.
So make the most of the web. Put these five practices in action and contact an attorney marketing expert today.
Smith.ai clients get $100 off Black Fin services (for orders of $2,000 or more) and a free consultation with an SEO specialist -- just mention Smith.ai!
About Gerrid Smith
Gerrid Smith is the founder and CEO of Black Fin, a full-service digital marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms grow. Gerrid first established himself as a legal marketing authority in the early days of the internet, when he launched the largest directory of personal injury attorneys on the web. Today, Gerrid and his team have emerged as leaders in SEO, PPC, social media, and content marketing for lawyers. In 2017, Inc. magazine recognized Black Fin as one of the fastest-growing companies in America. If you need help improving your law firm’s web results, contact Gerrid at Black Fin today.