11Chapters

Law Firm SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Manifesto for Lawyers

BY Chris Dreyer

Introduction

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future. -Yoda

I’ve been in the SEO industry for over fourteen years and the legal SEO vertical for seven. In that time, I’ve seen the digital landscape change dramatically. The days where a few e-zine articles could rank a site, much less the old school link building strategies (compared to today’s complex architecture), are long gone. While there certainly are ebbs and flows to SEO strategy (which is to be expected, in such a dynamic field), there are specific elements that have remained time-tested and reliable.

My company only works with attorneys, which lends us a unique perspective on law firm SEO. We know, from our bird’s eye view, what affects search visibility for this very competitive vertical. We have an additional edge in that nearly ⅔ of our clientele is in personal injury, which is even more aggressive.

Unlike many other fields, the legal vertical is flooded with digital marketing agencies, so there’s a greater need for expertise. This creates a unique situation, where both customer and agency are under pressure: pressure for an agency to deliver and stand out from the pack (many of whom are fly-by-night) and pressure for a firm to do their due diligence and find the right agency on the first try.

In my day-to-day, I see two types of agencies: what Drew McClellan calls “artisan bread” agencies and “Bunny Bread factories.” Artisan bread agencies hand-craft (for quality) each campaign based on that specific client’s unique needs and situation. The Bunny Bread agencies attempt to apply a “one-size-fits-all” approach to every client, regardless of situation. This is not to say that the Bunny Bread SEOs can’t deliver some results; just that, over the long-term, their potential to make a sustained impact is limited. Simply put, in order to continue to make organic improvements, you have to iterate on your strategy…or die (i.e., rank on any page other than the first).

Without further ado, here is a collection of my thoughts on SEO in the legal vertical, based upon my personal experiences and the results we’ve generated for our clients.

Chris Dreyer Internet Marketing ExpertChris Dreyer
Founder & CEO
Rankings.io

1
Chapter 1

Why is Law Firm SEO Important?

The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. -Obi-Wan Kenobi

The way consumers find, research, and choose a law firm has changed dramatically in recent years. Search is a primary channel that people use to find information online and since Google’s founding in 1998, it has grown to command more than 60% of market share in the search space.

That means if you run a law firm and want to generate new clients, much of your success hinges on whether or not you can be found in Google search.

Attorney Search Engine Optimization (SEO) involves strategies, techniques, and tactics that help attract more prospective clients to a law firm’s website by obtaining first page ranking positions in search engines (such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo).

It’s already pretty clear that for most people, search is their go-to for finding legal services. Social and word of mouth certainly play a role, but online search almost always dominates the research phase.

Some elements of SEO also have the ability to compound or increase their benefits over time. Content, for example, presents two opportunities: the first is the potential to rank for more keywords and the second is that, through an exceptionally well-crafted piece of content, the potential exists for natural link building to occur.

Literally Everyone is Using the Internet to Search

The most recent data2 on search engine usage from the Pew Research Center states that 91% of online adults use search engines to find information on the web.

Granted, this data is from 2012 (six years on the internet might as well be a hundred), but it’s worth pointing out.

Search engines (especially Google) have only gotten better at understanding the meaning behind the phrases we type into them and are therefore used even more on the internet to cut through all the noise.

With so many people using search, it makes sense that lawyers marketing themselves online should ensure their websites are built and configured to be found easily using these tools.

No Rankings = Non-Existent

It’s already pretty clear that for most people, search is their go-to for finding legal services. Social and word of mouth certainly play a role, but online search almost always plays a role in the research phase.

Type in a phrase for which you think your firm should be ranking and see what comes up. The real estate in the local results, for example, is extremely limited. Other than paid lawyer ads, the rest of the results page only has 7 spots available and those are highly coveted.

Studies have shownthat the percentage of traffic from searchers drops to around 2-3% on the second page of results and then peters out from there.

Why does my law firm need a website and SEO

Let’s take a look one at a time:

Why Attorneys Need A Website
Your website is the foundation of all the marketing activity you do online as an attorney. Yes, there are other platforms where you can showcase your services; however, in no other area of the Internet will you have more control and freedom in how you present yourself than you do on your own website.

This is where you can control your firm’s brand image, your content, and how you want visitors to your site to interact with you.

Of course, not all websites are well-suited for your goals and you have to be careful how you set one up. In the legal industry, there are many providers (such as FindLaw, Justia, and others) that can provide a website. However, there are important caveats to consider:

  • Do you own the site (the actual files that make up the site)?
  • Do you control back-end functionality like hosting, the makeup of files on the site, and the domain registrar?
  • Can you have a third party developer make edits to your site if you decide you want to do a redesign or optimize for SEO in a unique way?

With many of the proprietary legal website platforms named above, you cannot.

This is why we recommend a self-hosted WordPress site: it’s the best possible option for control of your site, control of your content, and the ability to optimize for search.

Why Attorneys need SEO (Search Engine Optimization) 
There are a number of ways you can drive traffic to a site and the unique thing about lawyer SEO is the long-term dividends it pays even after no further optimization work is being performed.

Leasing Visibility 
By contrast, tactics like PPC (i.e. AdWords, Facebook ads, etc) are tantamount to leasing visibility for a law firm. Platforms like Findlaw or Justia are similar in that any promotional benefits law firms receive from those services disappear as soon as they go to another provider.

The Compounding Phenomenon of SEO 
The optimization work done for search is long-lasting and will continue to drive traffic and leads, even after work has ceased. That’s not to say law firms only need to optimize a site once and never again, but rather that the impact of SEO leaves a more lasting impression.

Some elements of SEO also have the ability to compound or increase their benefits over time. Content, for example, is produced as a way to get links built to a site. That content remains, even if no one is adding new content, and people can still link to it.

Other elements like citations, local business profiles, links from guest posts on other sites, etc, all remain in place after they have been built. They continue to flow positive link equity to a site for the foreseeable future.

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

While SEO’s growth potential is typically more gradual, its value compounds. PPC and sponsored directories can drive more immediate traffic, but their value added is somewhat temporary and subject to continued payment. SEO is an investment and PPC is a cost, the same way that a healthy diet is an investment vs. the cost of plastic surgery.

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Chapter 2

Understanding What Google Wants

This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it. -Admiral Motti

Google has one universal mission as it relates to their search engine4:“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

It really is that simple.

Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines5 (a set of guidelines and principles used by Google’s Search Quality Evaluators or Raters to help them evaluate and rate the quality of web pages in Google’s search results pages (SERPs)) primarily focus on Page Quality (PQ) and Needs Met Ratings (NM)6.

Page Quality Guidelines

In layman’s terms, Page Quality focuses on the purpose of a page and whether it has been created to help users, make money (with no thought for users), or harm users (scams and malware-infected pages).

Page Quality raters are supposed to evaluate pages based on their purpose. As it relates to law firm web pages, they are primarily designed to provide information about a specific type of legal practice area.

In other cases such as with blog posts, these pages are meant to convey information and build attorney authority. This accomplishes two goals for content marketing:

  1. Visitors might be able to better understand a course of action for their legal situation.
  2. Visitors are more likely to view the attorney as an authority in their respective practice area.

In order to satisfy that second goal, we encourage attorneys to link out to other authoritative references on the subject matter. As an example, we’ve created research guides specifically for practice area specializations7.

When generating content for their site, lawyers should keep their users in mind. For example:

  • What would someone want to know about their legal situation from an attorney who specializes in your practice area?
  • Does the page adequately help the visitor understand what steps to take next, what to expect, and/or provide as much information as possible on its topic?
  • Does the page contain relevant keywords, synonymous keywords, and their accompanying concepts so that the reader understands they are in the right place and have the content that is potentially most helpful to them?

Attorneys should be thinking of these things when generating pages or posts on their site.

In addition, legal content has its own dos and don’ts when it comes to quality.

We have created a legal style guide8 that can help attorneys build content of the highest caliber and quality.

Needs Met Ratings

Needs Met focuses specifically on mobile users and whether the page is helpful and satisfies the needs of this group.

Notice the specific emphasis on mobile: this is VERY important to understand. Mobile web browsing has already eclipsed that of desktop9and optimizing for this platform is of the utmost importance.

In fact, Google has now rolled out mobile-first indexing10. This means that Google now uses the mobile version of a page for indexing and ranking purposes over desktop.

Whenever you create a page that you want to rank in Google, you must make sure it offers expert advice, is authoritative (by having quality, relevant links pointing to it), and is trustworthy (that is, the information you present is accurate and is not created to mislead users).

A recent Google broad core algorithm update (August 1st, 2018 Medic Update)11 appeared to target what Google calls “Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)” pages. These are pages that could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.

This is important for law firms because, according to Google, legal information pages fall under YMYL pages.

Are you seen as an expert, authoritative, and trustworthy source of information?

If you are not, visitors may not see your page as valuable compared to others, click on your search results, or stay on the page for long. These factors influence where the page ranks in Google search.

You must always have the user’s best interests in mind when creating content for your law firm website and you must do your best to satisfy their search intent.

Google Ranks Pages, not Websites

Like we mentioned earlier, Google’s mission is to organize the information on the Internet. Attorneys should follow the same approach with the content on their site.

Each page of a law firm’s website should be optimized for a single topic. It should have its own parent keyword phrase and only be about that topic.

The reason this works is because when Google crawls and indexes web pages, it looks to see what a page’s topic is. Using elements like its title, URL, page headings, images, and content, Google’s algorithm pieces together a picture about the page.

Attorney practice area pages that speak about multiple practice areas, for example, are not going to rank well for any of those practice areas.

In other words, organizing your content into specific pages helps Google better understand a page.

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

Ultimately, Google wants to provide the best result for consumers’ intent. This means that your content has a better opportunity to fulfill that intent if it’s well-organized and well-written. As a result, you should always keep your ideal customer in mind when writing content.

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Chapter 3

Lawyer Advertising Ethics & Bar Regulations

A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. -Yoda

Attorneys in the United States are bound by a set of regulations that govern how they operate their practice; these are known as bar regulations. These rules govern many activities, but as it relates to marketing, attorneys must follow very specific rules12 for how they promote themselves both online and offline.

Bar regulations vary from state to state and when performing SEO activities on a site, attorneys and their agencies should always consult their local bar regulations to ensure compliance.

Reviews in Law Firm SEO
Soliciting reviews is one key area where attorneys need to be careful. Many bar associations, for example, have rules against directly asking clients for reviews of a law firm. Other associations may be more lenient and allow attorneys to ask for reviews only after clients are no longer working with the firm.

Common Lawyer Marketing Ethics Violations

As we mentioned before, each state has its own set of guidelines that lawyers should follow. Here are some of the most consistent rules that show up in some form no matter where you practice law.

Unverifiable Claims or False Statements
As it relates to advertising, making claims that are difficult or impossible to substantiate will be restricted by bar associations.

Some of the following are common phrases or characterizations that fit into this category:

  • The best in, at, or with…
  • Guaranteeing an outcome in a case.
  • The most preferred law firm or the most used law firm in a geographic area.
  • Guaranteeing a case outcome when specific types of evidence are available

Basically, any time an attorney makes a broad or sweeping statement that cannot be backed up by hard evidence, there is a good chance a state bar association won’t allow it to be used in advertising.

Making Comparisons with Other Law Firms
It’s common in the traditional world of marketing and advertising to see comparisons drawn among products and services. After all, companies are constantly trying to one-up each other to gain market share.

For lawyers though, that kind of language in marketing is frowned upon. For example, saying you’ve won more cases than such-and-such firm or saying that you spend more time with clients than your competitor is language you simply cannot have in your marketing.

Testimonials from Clients
Testimonials are allowed in all states. However, there are some important caveats to this for lawyers. Some bar associations, for example, do not allow attorneys to directly solicit their clients for reviews.

Others allow them, but with a few stipulations: the reviews must be real, must not guarantee similar results, and may not be acquired by providing compensation of any kind to the client. This could be in the form of monetary compensation or otherwise (i.e., gift cards, concert tickets, or other gifts).

Many state bar associations have become more lenient on law firms when it comes to online advertising, because many aspects of online marketing strategies can happen naturally without a law firm being in control. For instance, people can leave reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook regardless of whether an attorney asked them to do so.

It’s always best to consult your state bar whenever you or your agency are planning a new campaign.

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

Play by the rules and do your due diligence before publishing. SEO is a powerful driver of leads, but the hard work that you put into it will be for nothing if you run afoul of your state bar association.

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Chapter 4

Legal SEO Strategy

I suggest a new strategy, R2. C3PO

Online marketing in the legal vertical is extremely competitive. That’s why you need to know the best strategies for law firm SEO13.

No matter how you get there, your strategy should be a holistic approach focusing on keyword, content, on-site, local, and link building tactics unique to the legal industry.

SEO Keyword Strategy

One of the best ways to drive traffic is to rank for informational keywords. This allows you to later use internal linking to funnel PageRank (or “link juice”) to your legal service pages.

Practice Area Queries
When you start your keyword research, look for seed keywords related to your primary practice area. This will help keyword research tools find other phrases people might be using.

You will also be looking for sub-categories of keywords for which you can create additional service pages.

You should be targeting phrases related to the primary areas of law for which you/your firm want to be found online, such as:

Parent-level category: The main category for the site or page (i.e., Personal Injury Law)
Child-level category: A subcategory of the parent-level category that has its own page underneath the parent in the site architecture (i.e., car accident lawyer)

Long Tail Informational Queries
Once you start gathering data on your primary practice areas, you’ll find there are a lot of long tail (3 or more word) queries that are very specific. You will want to target phrases like these for a few reasons:

  • They draw people into your site (using blogs).
  • They help build authority for your firm and drive people to your service pages.
  • They can be easier to rank.

We will do a detailed walk-through of how to do keyword research in section VI of this guide. At this point, it’s enough for you to understand the idea behind how you will look for and choose the keywords for which you’ll try to rank.

SEO Legal Content Strategy

Once you have your keyword phrases selected, you will build out content around them on your site. There will be two primary types of content for basically all law firm websites:

Practice area/Service pages (bottom of the funnel).
Blog posts (top of the funnel).

Top of the Funnel (blogs)

In lawyer online marketing, you’re always guiding visitors to complete some kind of action. In SEO, informational content like blogs, articles, and similar types of content work to attract people to your site when they are in a research phase of their buying cycle.

In law firm SEO, these are people who are looking for information on their legal situation and are seeking out content that can help answer their questions.

Top funnel content, like blogs, typically meets some or all of the following criteria:

  • It is informative and helpful in nature.
  • It targets long tail, informational queries.
  • It tends to support practice area pages.
  • It directs visitors to bottom of the funnel practice area pages.

Bottom of the Funnel (practice area pages)

The bottom of the funnel is where you eventually want your website visitors to be; these are your service pages.

Ideally, once a visitor is satisfied that they have gotten all the information available about their situation, they decide they need help and are ready to contact an attorney.

Your service pages are those pages designed to convert your visitors to clients. They often contain some or all of the following:

  • A call to action (“Free Consultation,” etc.) to contact the firm.
  • Contact information for the firm.
  • Detailed content about the legal service.
  • Social proof or trust symbols (“As Seen In,” industry awards such as Super Lawyers).
  • Testimonials, reviews, or case results.

On-site SEO Strategy

On-site SEO refers to all of the modifications and organizational tactics a site owner does to their website to make it rank well in search.

For attorneys, a solid on-site strategy is a critical ingredient for ranking well in search and creating a positive user experience.

A sound on-site strategy will focus on these key areas and tactics:

  • Ensuring proper keyword placement and usage in the architecture of web pages.
  • Configuring images and their related attributes to be well-optimized for search.
  • Accounting for and managing the presence of duplicate content on the site.
  • Optimizing technical aspects of a site such as crawl accessibility, SSL, site speed, and structured data.
  • Providing for a good user experience across mobile, desktop, and tablet devices.
  • Using best practices for permalink creation and structure.

We will walk through how attorneys can optimize each one of these on-site areas (specific for the legal vertical) in the On-Site SEO section.

Local SEO Strategy

Of all the areas of SEO strategy on which attorneys should focus attention, local is probably the most important.

Most law firms serve geographically constrained areas, such as a limited number of cities or counties, or perhaps one whole state.

The real estate in search results is also limited, with only 3 spots in Google’s local pack for which law firms can compete. All of this makes the competition for local positioning in Google search incredibly competitive.

A winning local SEO strategy for lawyers should include:

  • Adherence to how Google determines local rankings14.
  • A strong presence and optimization strategy for GMB (Google My Business)
  • Consistent NAP (Name, address, and Phone number) across the internet using citation building services.
  • An active presence on locally focused legal and non-legal directories like Avvo, Lawyers.com, bbb.org, Facebook, Yelp, and other top data aggregators.

Attorneys must also have a clever on-site strategy for local that includes things like location-based pages, contact information in conspicuous locations, location data like maps and local business schema, in addition to a local link building strategy.

SEO Link Building Strategy

Links are one of Google’s primary ranking factors15, so they’re especially important in any law firm SEO strategy.

In the link building section of this guide, we go through a barrage of tactics designed to get long-lasting, authoritative, and white hat links built to a website.

Sujan Patel

From Sujan Patel, Founder of Mailshake
“The biggest challenge with SEO for law firms is the amount of crappy outreach and promotion that has been done for the last 10 years. This makes anyone receiving an email from a local SEO automatically weary and raise their guard.

How to get around this?

Build a relationship, do your research on the folks you’re reaching out to and most importantly focus on adding value instead of asking for something. One easy way to stand out is to get on the phone or use good ol’ fashioned mail to get a hold of your prospects. You’ll not only stand out but also have instant trust or credibility. ”

It used to be that any link built to a site would be beneficial; however, Google has become very sophisticated at determining when a link adds value and when it’s just a spamming tactic.

In general, links should be:

  • Contextually relevant
  • Do-follow (pass PageRank)
  • Helpful to visitors
  • High-quality, trustworthy sites

Link building is as much an art form as it is a science and good links can come from a variety of different sources.

Nathan Gotch

From Nathan Gotch Founder at Gotch SEO

“There [are] a lot of SEO tactics that an attorney could implement, but not all actions are created equally.

That’s why I’m going to give you a few actions you can take that will have the biggest impact on your rankings and organic search traffic.

    1. Perform a Content Audit

Almost every attorney I’ve ever worked with produces consistent content on their blogs. Unfortunately, this is usually the problem. Although focusing on content creation is a great idea, it can actually be detrimental when there isn’t a clear strategy in place. The biggest issue I’ve found is that most law firms produce low-quality, thin content. A content audit is the single best way to uncover these issues. To perform a proper content audit, you’ll need Screaming Frog SEO Spider and Siteliner.

The ultimate goal of your audit is to identify pages/blog posts that are suffering from keyword cannibalization (two pages competing for the same keyword), are outdated, are thin, are duplicate, are unoriginal, or are just flat out bad.

You will then need to decide what pages are worth keeping/improving, what pages you should delete, and what pages you should 301 redirect to a relevant page on your site.

The only way to make these decisions is to let the data guide you.

That means you need to pull data for every single page.

You want to find out the total number of backlinks, traffic, and sales that each page has

If a page doesn’t have either of these, then it’s a candidate for deletion.

If a page has backlinks, but it’s outdated, then you should 301 redirect it to a relevant page so you can preserve the backlink equity.

Performing a proper content audit is a big job and much too big to cover here, but I highly recommend you take the time to do one because thin, low-quality and outdated content can hold your site’s performance back.

    1. Upgrade Your SEO Content Strategy

There are two types of SEO content that every law firm should be trying to create. The first is keyword-targeted content. That means you need to identify keywords that your prospects are searching for and then you need to create a page or blog post around each keyword. The goal of targeting keywords is to drive more organic search traffic to your website and establish your firm as the authority. If you create the content the right way, it can also attract backlinks. This will increase the authority of your website, which will make ranking for local keywords easier.

The other type of SEO content is linkbait.

The purpose of this content is to attract quality backlinks so you can increase your site’s authority.

The best types of linkbait are usually data-driven content assets.

Unique research is best.

The ultimate goal of a content-centric strategy is to leverage your content to attract backlinks.

This means you’re ‘earning’ backlinks instead of building them.

Not only is this more effective over the long-term, but it’s safer.

Safety from Google penalties needs to be a consideration for law firms because the industry is notorious for black hat tactics.”

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

In order for an SEO campaign to succeed, it requires all three pillars of SEO (strategy, on-site, off-site) to work in harmony. If any one of the three falters, the campaign will too.

5
Chapter 5

Law Firm SEO Audit

Pass on what you have learned. Yoda

The first stage in any SEO campaign is to perform a thorough audit of a website and its surrounding web presence.

Audits are used to get a birds-eye view of what optimization tactics need to be performed on a website in order to gain market share in search results pages.

What is an SEO Audit?

An SEO audit is a detailed analysis of a website, as it relates to SEO, and includes evaluation of on-site, off-site, technical, content, and other factors.

Audits are typically performed by SEO professionals in order to identify and prioritize optimization tasks. Once an audit is performed, a deliverable in the form of a PDF and/or a video is generated for reference.

Audits serve as checklists for all of the different steps needed to make a site rank better in search.

Important Areas to Cover

The following are essential areas to cover when performing an SEO audit:

Keywords

An audit should review keyword usage and placement within a site’s architecture. This includes things like making sure keywords are used in titles, meta descriptions, headings, page copy, image attributes, and file names, or that only one keyword topic area is used per page of a site.

An auditor may also check to make sure synonyms of target keyword phrases are used in page copy. As for keywords themselves, it’s important to ensure target phrases for which pages are optimized have search volume and are the best possible phrases to be using.

A review of keyword usage on a site is also meant to uncover any abuses or misuses of keyword phrases. These could include keyword stuffing, over-optimization of image alt attributes, excessive keyword density in copy, or multiple keyword topic areas used on a single page.

Content

Content is one of  Google’s primary ranking factors so an auditor should pay particularly close attention to it. Content elements reviewed can include:

  • Length: Practice area pages should contain greater than 500 words of content.
  • Architecture:  Are content topic areas organized in a logical way and is each page about a single topic?
  • Content rendering:  Can Google see your text content?
  • Formatting:  Is your page-level content easy for users to scan and consume?  Does it contain headings with relevant keyword phrases, short paragraphs, images, and other elements to break up the text?
  • Duplicate content:  Is there unnecessary duplicate content on the site?  For example, is there duplicate content other than printer-friendly versions of pages, snippets on category or tag pages, etc.?
  • Pruning: Are there pages that could be beefed up or eliminated?  Is there content that just does not add value?
  • Mobile responsiveness:  Does content render well on mobile and is it all on the same domain?  Is there content that is hidden from mobile visitors?
  • Link metrics:  Do pages of content have external links pointed at them and therefore need to be preserved?

For further reading, Everette Sizemore16, Director of Marketing at Boundless Immigration has an exceptional post on Moz about how to conduct a thorough content audit of your site17.

On-Site SEO

Things like keywords and content fall under the umbrella of on-site SEO, but it’s worth calling them out in their own sections.

Many other elements are also reviewed during an audit, which includes some technical and content-related items. Here are some examples:

  • Permalinks: Are URI’s (everything after the .com portion of a URL) easy to read, do they contain the target keyword phrase, and are they brief?
  • Indexability: Does the site have a robots.txt file and is it configured to allow for crawling of important pages?
  • Sitemap: Does the site have an XML sitemap configured and installed properly on the domain?
  • Schema Markup: Does the site have legal-specific structured data18 markup properly applied to important pieces of content like contact information and reviews?
  • Page titles: Do important pages have titles that are 55-65 characters in length and contain the primary keyword phrase for the page?
  • Meta descriptions: Do all important pages have meta descriptions that contain the primary keyword phrase for the page?
  • Page speed: Do pages of the site load quickly?
  • SSL: Is a security certificate installed for the site?
  • Status response codes: Is there an abnormally high number of pages returning 404 error codes?

The purpose of the on-site portion of an audit is to evaluate all aspects of SEO that relate to a website itself, as opposed to external factors influencing its ranking in search results.

Local SEO

Although some local SEO factors can be considered ‘off-site,’ they are included in this section because of their importance to local rankings.

Local SEO is especially important for attorneys because they often serve people in a limited geographic area around their offices.

The following are local SEO factors reviewed in an audit:

  • Consistent NAP: Are the name, address, and phone number of the law firm consistent across the Internet?
  • GMB Profile: Has a Google My Business profile been claimed for the firm and is it completely filled out and optimized?
  • Local links and directories:  Is the law firm present on relevant local directories like Avvo, Lawyers.com, Yelp, Facebook, and others?
  • Reviews:  Is there a strong presence of reviews and are they (on average) positive?
  • Local schema: Is there structured data installed on name, address, and phone number information on the site?
  • Location-based pages: Does the site contain pages targeting location-based queries?
  • Citations: Has the law firm claimed all available local listings and is the information consistent?

Links and especially those from local sources are also a huge factor for local rankings; however, we’ll cover that in the off-site SEO section.

Moz puts out an annual survey to local search professionals asking them about the top ranking factors they’ve seen in local search. Consistently, links (i.e., the quality, quantity, and authority of inbound links) are near the top of the list. They are a key ranking factor for website in Google’s local pack of business listings.

Off-Site SEO

All of the factors that happen off of your site comprise off-site SEO. Mainly what we’ll cover in this section is link building, as it is the most important ranking factor in Google search.

A comprehensive analysis of the inbound links pointing at a site is a major portion of an SEO audit. Since links are so important for rankings, SEO professionals work hard to understand things like:

  • The quantity of links pointed at a site.
  • The quality of links pointed at a site.
  • Current or previous link building campaigns.
  • The anchor text used to build links.
  • The quality and relevance of the websites linking to the domain.

An audit of a sites link profile helps uncover any potential issues like spammy link building activity.

SEO Audit Tools

An audit can be performed using any number of approaches and tools; there is no right or wrong one to use.

However, audits are typically performed using several different tools. In fact, it is almost impossible to do a comprehensive SEO audit using only one piece of software.

It would be difficult (if not impossible) to cover every SEO audit tool, but we do want to highlight some of the more prominent, reputable, and effective options.

Screaming Frog
This is an on-site analysis tool that scans a website and organizes data like titles, meta descriptions, page titles, headings, response codes, and snippet previews for Google search, amongst other pieces of information.

Screaming Frog is a paid tool, but you can scan up to 500 pages and use many features of the software for free before having to purchase a license.

Ahrefs
Ahrefs.com is web-based software for link and keyword analysis. It is a very effective tool for link analysis and provides a wealth of data on the quantity, quality, and other details of the links pointing at a site. Its Keyword Explorer tool is also really great and provides data on keywords like search volume, top ranking pages, competitiveness metrics, and related phrases among many other data points.

Ahrefs is a paid software tool. You can use a free trial of the software for about two weeks, but after that it’s a scaled monthly subscription.

SEMrush
This is also web-based software, similar to Ahrefs in that it does link and keyword analysis.  SEMrush is great for generating easy-to-understand reports that give you a snapshot of what’s happening on a site. You can even get a simplified score and dashboard of grouped information about your site’s overall SEO health.

SEMrush is also a paid subscription; however, there is a limited use free trial available.

Moz Link Explorer
Formerly Moz Open Site Explorer (it’s just been rebranded), Moz Link Explorer is also a link analysis tool. It will show you a variety of stats related to links like Domain Authority (DA is a Moz metric), number of linking domains, number of inbound links, number of keywords for which the site ranks, and other metrics.

You can use Link Explorer for free up to a certain amount of data; after that, there is a paid subscription.

Search Console
This is a free tool from Google that site owners can use to analyze SEO factors on their site. It will show keyword rankings, traffic volumes, HTML and structured data information, and other data. All lawyers have to do is register their site with Google and they can see the data for free.

SEO Audit Checklist

We are proponents of The Checklist Manifesto. If you’ve ever read the book, you know that checklists are used in all sorts of industries as a way to ensure quality and consistency with one or more tasks.

Having a checklist for an SEO audit is an essential tool for making sure you don’t miss any important elements of your site.

Some Googling will show you that there are tons of checklists online and many of them are very good. We’ve created a sample below for you to follow; it’s updated for 2018.

This checklist is broken down into the following areas:

  1. On-site SEO
  2. Crawlability
  3. Technical SEO
  4. Local SEO
  5. Off-site SEO

Onsite SEO

Content

  • Is each page on the site optimized for a primary keyword phrase (excluding pages like contact, privacy policy, etc.)?
  • Does page content contain related or synonymous keyword phrases?
  • Is content on important pages greater than 500 words in length?
  • Is the content on the site organized in a logical manner with a parent theme and sub-categories underneath it?
  • Is page content formatted to be easily consumed by visitors?
  • Is content helpful, informative, and otherwise the best source of its kind on the internet?
  • On pages that have informational content, are there mechanisms for visitors to easily share the content across social networks?

Permalinks

  • Do the permalinks for important pages contain the primary keyword phrase for that page?
  • Are the permalinks short, easy to read, and free of obscure characters and parameters if possible?

Titles

  • Does each page have a title tag containing the page’s target keyword phrase and are they 65 characters or less in length?
  • Is each title on the site unique?
  • Do titles contain secondary keyword phrases if applicable?

Meta Descriptions

  • Does each important page of the site have a custom meta description?
  • Do the meta descriptions on important page contain those pages primary keyword phrases?
  • Are the meta descriptions free from phone numbers?
  • Are all meta descriptions on the site unique?
  • Do the meta descriptions on the site utilize the 70 character limit?

Headings

  • Do headings on pages contain the primary keyword phrase for that page?
  • Are headings used to break up content and make it easier to scan?
  • Are all headings unique?

Images

  • Do all images on the site have an alt attribute?
  • Is the target keyword phrase for a page contained in the alt attribute for the image(s) on that page, if applicable?
  • Are images on the site oversized (i.e., do they need to be resized by the browser or are they larger than they need to be)?

Crawlability

  • Accessibility
  • Does the site have a robots.txt file and is it configured properly?
  • Are their meta tags controlling the crawlability of pages and are they set up properly?
  • Are there any technologies (e.g., JavaScript or Flash) that prevent content from being crawled?
  • Are all pages that should be indexed in search showing up there?
  • Are search engines indexing the meta descriptions and titles you’ve written?
  • Does the site have crawl errors, such as excessive amounts of pages not found or 500 internal service error codes?

Technical SEO

  • SSL
  • Does the site have a security certificate installed?
  • Structured Data
  • Is there structured data markup applied to address, review, articles, attorney names, and contact information?
  • Sitemap
  • Is there an XML sitemap installed on the site and is it up to date?
  • Page Load Time
  • Do pages load quickly (i.e., do they pass the Google Page Speed Insights test with a 95 or greater)?
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Is the site mobile responsive?

Local SEO

  • GMB (Google My Business)
  • Is your NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) consistent?
  • Do you have a local phone number in your profile?
  • Did you choose the most precise category (i.e., personal injury attorney instead of just attorney)?
  • Did you fill out your business description with as many words that are allowed and include your primary keyword phrases?
  • Did you fill out service descriptions with your practice area information with as many words as allowed and include primary keyword phrases?
  • Do you have more images than your competition in your profile (50+)?
  • Citations
  • Do you have consistent NAP across online citations (using a service like Bright Local)?
  • Have you submitted updated information to top local data aggregators?

Location-based pages

  • If you have multiple law firm locations, do you have a location page for each one?
  • Are your permalinks structured appropriately for multiple offices (e.g.,  example.com/location/primary-keyword-phrase/)
  • Is contact information for the firm displayed prominently on all pages?

Reviews

  • Does the firm have reviews on prominent site like Facebook, Google, and Yelp?
  • Are there a significant number of reviews or more than competing sites?
  • Has the owner of the firm or authorized representative responded to all applicable reviews?

Off-site SEO

  • Links
  • Does the site have links?
  • Does the site have more links than competing sites in search?
  • Does the overall link profile contain high-quality, relevant, domains?

SEO Audit Report Sample

Here is an example of an audit we’ve performed19. It covers the elements in the checklist above and is a representation of the type of deliverable clients can expect from a high quality law firm SEO agency.

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

A comprehensive SEO audit is a critical step in the optimization process for a website. It is essentially a blueprint for how to make a site rank better in search so a poorly done audit or skipping its construction altogether is not an option. Not only is an audit a blueprint but it can also serve as a checklist that can be referred to when results are elusive.

6
Chapter 6

Keyword Research for Lawyers

The Archives hold a great many secrets, it is true. -Jocasta Nu

What is Keyword Research?

As it relates to SEO, it can be defined as the process of finding, organizing, and assessing the value of terms and phrases for use in a campaign to rank a web page in search results.

Keywords are the foundation of search and a clear strategy for research and optimization is crucial on a number of levels.

The right phrases will drive traffic to your site, as well as generate new leads and, eventually,  new clients.

You can take inspiration from Google’s help article on building a keyword list19, we also have some tips specific to attorneys in this section.

Keyword Types

There are 6 primary keyword types that should be on your radar:

  • Location-based
  • Informational-based
  • Resource-based
  • Navigational
  • Transactional/Purchase Intent
  • Long tail queries

Let’s dive into what each means and the intent behind them.

Location-Based
Local, or location-based keywords, are those where the searcher is looking to travel to or visit a location, or perhaps find an address or phone number of a lawyer close to them.

Near me” keyword phrases are common examples of location-based phrases.

An example of a location-based “near me” keyword would be:

Car accident lawyer near me

Other types of location-based keywords may be:

  • Keyword + city
  • Keyword + state

Examples of these could be:

  • Truck accident lawyer austin
  • Car accident lawyer TX

People using location-based terms are generally closer to making a decision than those using longer-tail, informational queries.

Informational Queries
Informational queries are keyword phrases that people use to find informational content, such as how to or question-based content.

These types of keywords are great to target because:

  • They are often less competitive, which makes it easier to rank for them.
  • They’re still relevant to your overall niche.
  • They can capture searchers at the beginning of their research phase for finding an attorney.

Here are some examples of informational-based queries with the parent-level category of “car accident lawyer“:

  • How much do car accident lawyers charge
  • Car accident settlement without lawyer
  • What is a car accident lawyer

Informational queries are great fodder for creating blog content. They are notoriously difficult to work into a service page (this is one of the reasons blogs are so important for SEO); however, any one of the above informational queries could be covered in a blog post.

Matthew Laurin

From Matthew Laurin, Director of Marketing at Rankings.io

Answer the Public is an excellent (and free) web service for keyword research. It creates easy-to-read visualizations of parent-level keyword topic areas showing you numerous other related terms and informational-based queries related to the main keyword phrase.

Navigational Queries
Navigational keywords are those a searcher uses to find a specific website, brand, or company. So if you were looking for a specific law firm, a navigational keyword would be their firm name, or perhaps the name of the primary partner.

Navigational-based terms are not always a critical focus, although you do want to make sure you’re ranking for them.

Unscrupulous firms may try to bid on your firm’s name in Google AdWords in an effort to steal traffic, so it’s wise to make sure you rank well for your brand.

We won’t provide examples here, because these queries are basically law firm and attorney names for which people are looking.

Transactional or Purchase Intent Queries
Transactional queries are characterized by the searcher’s intent to make a purchase decision. For lawyers, these are keyword phrases people use when they are ready to pick up the phone and call a law firm.

Of all the keyword phrases for which you will try to rank, purchase intent phrases are the most important, because they are often the highest converting. That means people who find your site using one of these phrases are more likely to call your firm, fill out your contact form, start a chat, or contact you in some other way.

We’ll talk about searcher intent in a moment; it can be challenging to determine which phrases denote that a person is ready to contact a law firm and which ones are being used by people who need more information.

For example, we’ve already mentioned that location-based phrases tend to be purchase-driven; however, that’s not always the case.

Here are some examples of queries that could have purchase intent:

  • Car accident settlement attorney near me
  • Hire a dui attorney michigan
  • Divorce lawyer austin tx
  • Who is the best dui lawyer in michigan

Long Tail Keywords
According to data from Ahrefs20, based on their analysis of 1.4 billion queries, long tail keywords (searches of three words or more) account for over 86% of all search queries.

This highlights how essential long tail keywords are and why targeting them directly is a good idea.

Long tail keyword are often informational-based and produce great topic ideas for blog posts.  They are sometimes ignored by marketers because they have low search volume. However, they can be key in getting clients into the top of your content funnel (which we’ll discuss in the content strategy section).

Searcher Intent

The best way to understand the intent of a searcher is to analyze the SERPs (search engine results pages) for a given keyword phrase.

Google spends a lot of time fine-tuning its algorithm and trying to understand searcher intent,  so it can deliver the information people want.

As a result, you can tell a lot about intent based on the types of results that are returned.

For example, if the search results page has a lot of ads and location-based results, there is a high likelihood of purchase intent for the phrase.

Conversely, if Google returns informational-based sites and knowledge graph information, chances are searchers have found those types of results to be useful.

Matthew Laurin

From Matthew Laurin, Director of Marketing at Rankings.io

The results you see in an SERP will be heavily dependent your previous search activity. The best (free) way to see an unbiased SERP is to use an incognito window in chrome.

Now, a searcher may merely be researching a product or service when they use keywords that return these types of results, but they’re more likely to be at the buying phase if the keyword is longtail and highly specific. For example, “criminal defense attorney near me”, or “criminal defense attorney alpine tx”.

Long tail keywords tend to have lower search volume, but higher commercial intent.

Determining searcher intent isn’t an exact science and it takes a little intuition.

The only way to honestly know if you’re satisfying search intent is to test and measure over time.

Keyword Research Tools

There are a handful of high-quality tools attorneys can use to generate keyword ideas, check search volume, measure competition, and get other keyword-related metrics.

There are a lot of options out there, but we’ve narrowed it down to some of the best free and paid options.

Paid Keyword Research Tools

Ahrefs:
Traditionally a link analysis tool, Ahrefs has a very robust Keyword Explorer.  Reporting shows search volume, similar terms, top ranking pages, and other data for any given keyword phrase.

https://ahrefs.com/21

SEMrush:
SEMrush is a leader in the SEO software space and has a robust keyword analysis tool that allows you to see search volume, similar terms, and other metrics on par with Ahrefs.

https://www.semrush.com/22

Free Keyword Research Tools

Google Keyword Planner:
This tool is part of Google AdWords and typically used by advertisers to find keywords for paid ad campaigns.  You can still use it however to do keyword research for SEO purposes.

https://adwords.google.com/ko/KeywordPlanner/Home23

Search Console:
This is Google’s free keyword analysis interface for website owners. It shows you traffic from keyword phrases, search volume, and other information; however, it only shows you data for keyword phrases that are already driving traffic to your site.

https://search.google.com/search-console/about24

Answer The Public:
This is a keyword visualization tool and it’s great for getting keyword ideas. It’s especially good for seeing all of the long tail phrases and questions that people are asking about their legal situation. With these, you can easily come up with blog post topics.

https://answerthepublic.com/25

There are many more tools, but these are some of the best and will get you started finding the information you need to pick your phrases.

For further reading, check out Robbie Richards’s great roundup post26 with over 100 experts all giving their opinion on which tool is the best.

How to do Keyword Research

Finding the right keyword phrases to target for SEO is part science, part art, and part intuition.  Many of the tools we’ve named above provide actionable data on keyword phrases, but there is also a fair amount of analysis related to the types of clients you have already.

If you can understand why people are searching for your law firm online, you can more easily craft content around the keyword phrases for which you’ve chosen to rank.

This section of the guide will walk you through how to start a keyword list, how to develop it, and how to identify queries with which to start.

We will be using Ahrefs Keyword Explorer; however, you can use other tools to get the same data.

Finding Ahrefs keywords explorer

Start by visiting Ahrefs.com, logging in, and click on the Keyword explorer at the top of the page.

Next enter your seed keywords into the Keywords Explorer. Note that it is helpful to only enter one category of words at a time. For example, only terms related to personal injury practice areas.

Entering Keywords into ahrefs keywords explorer

You should see a report generated like the one below. There’s obviously a lot of data in the report, but the only things we are interested in at the moment are volume, competitiveness, and similar keyword phrases for the terms we’ve just typed into the software.

Start by clicking on the tab labeled “Metrics”.

The metrics tab in ahrefs keywords explorer

This part of the report shows you data you’ll need to make your decisions on which keyword phrases to target.

Keyword Data in Ahrefs

Here’s a little background on the column headings and what they mean.

  • KD: Stands for Keyword Difficulty and it’s a measurement on a scale between 0 and 100 (where 0 denotes a keyword that has no competition in search and 100 means that there is a ton of competition). It enables you to see at a glance how much effort it’s going to take to get in the top 10 search results for that phrase.
  • CPC: Stands for Cost Per Click (estimated) and is a paid advertising metric. This is handy if you decide you want to start doing Google Ads.
  • Volume: This column shows you the average monthly search volume for the keyword phrase over the past year in a given country (in this case the U.S.).
  • Clicks: The total amount of monthly clicks on the search results that appear when people use that keyword phrase in search.
  • CPS: This stands for clicks per search and shows how many different search results people click on after searching using the keyword phrase.
  • RR: This stands for return rate and shows how often people search for the keyword again.
  • Parent topic: The parent topic of the keyword phrase (note that this is helpful in organizing site and content architecture).
  • SERP: This is a button that shows you what the first page of search results looks like for the keyword phrase.

You can go crazy analyzing this data, but you should be sure of a few things:

  1. The keyword phrase is relevant to your law firm.
  2. It has some decent search volume (a couple hundred searches per month or more).
  3. It’s not too broad.

If the seed phrases you’ve chosen meet those criteria, that’s a good place to start.

Now you’ll want to move on to finding other phrases that might be better (e.g., higher search volume or more relevant). This part of the process is also where you will find more keyword phrases to build other pages and blog posts around on your site.

There are four other reports listed in the left column that will show you other phrases people use that are very similar to your original seed keywords:

  • Phrase Match
  • Having same terms
  • Also rank for
  • Search suggestions

These reports contain additional phrases that may not have occurred to you initially.

Viewing phrase match terms in ahrefs keywords explorer

Use the same process for selecting any keyword phrases from these reports.  Look for terms that are relevant to your law practice, that have decent search volume, and for which it isn’t incredibly difficult to rank.

Ahrefs also has export features so you can work with the information outside of the website and store it for later.

Matthew Laurin

From Matthew Laurin, Director of Marketing at Rankings.io

Keyword research is a constantly evolving thing. You can always go back and find other phrases to rank for, add secondary phrases to a page, or change your strategy. It’s always evolving.

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

Keyword research is the foundation of SEO. Attorneys need to target a library of terms and phrases that include purchase intent, location, primary practice area, branded, and informational-based queries. Ranking for phrases with decent search volume in these categories helps drive traffic and prospective clients to the site.

7
Chapter 7

Legal Content

Stay on target. Stay on target.. - Red Leader

What is Legal Content?

As it relates to SEO, it’s blogs, practice area pages, guest posts, video, infographics, eBooks, white papers, and similar content, all of which gives website visitors non-specific guidance on their legal situation.

Virtually every page on an attorney’s site is designed to fulfill a specific purpose. Content is not just written for the sake of telling people about the firm or about the service, but rather, it should be crafted to drive people to perform specific actions (like getting the information they need for their legal situation) and ultimately hiring an attorney.

Law Firm Content Frameworks

Good content is built, not written. Content frameworks are blueprints for constructing information in order to accomplish a specific goal (i.e., ranking well in search, converting a visitor to a client, shareability, etc).

Steve Pockross

From Steve Pockross, CEO of Verblio (formerly BlogMutt)

“After creating content for dozens of law firms and having the opportunity to hear what works directly from our clients, my best advice is for attorneys to focus on a combination of…

  • Helping average people understand specific areas of the law and…
  • Local law-related news.

Including a local bias in your writing can be extremely helpful.

For example, if you’re a personal injury attorney in Denver, write about Denver pedestrian laws, and the impact ride-sharing services have had on drunk driving rates.

Google can also be a great resource to find content ideas – search for something related to your practice, scroll through the search results and look for “People also ask” and the list of related searches at the bottom of the page – each of these is a great idea for content.”

 

As it relates to the legal vertical, there are law firm content frameworks that are great for ranking attorney web pages in search.

 

Practice Pages

These are “direct intent” pages that are at the bottom of the purchase funnel. That means these are the pages where people are converting (hiring an attorney).

Your practice area pages should:

  • Only cover one practice area at a time and be as specific as possible. For example, personal injury lawyers should have separate pages for car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, etc., rather than one personal injury page with all of those sub-topics.
  • Have the term “attorney” or “lawyer” somewhere in the title tag of the page in most cases.
  • Have in-depth, lengthy, and useful content, including video.
  • Have multiple calls to action so it’s clear to the visitor where to go when they are ready to contact the attorney. These could be contact forms in the sidebar, chat windows, contact info in the header of the page, etc.
  • Contain social proof badges (e.g., Super Lawyers, BBB.org, etc.)
  • Be geographically relevant, if applicable (i.e., if you serve multiple cities, you should have a car accident lawyer page for each one and make each page location-specific).

Bottom of the funnel pages are typically not the best pages to rank in search for law firms. They are, however, where you want your visitors to end up.

Attorneys can drive traffic to practice area pages through more informational content like blogs, but they can also improve the ranking of their practice pages through an internal linking strategy known as Parallel Practice Pages.

 

Blogs (Blawgs)

Blog content has long been a staple of successful SEO campaigns. For attorney SEO campaigns, blog posts serve as “top of the funnel” content. In other words, blog content draws in users who have long-tail, specific queries and are looking for guidance on their legal situation.

Here are some tips for running an effective law blog (Blawg):

  • Be strategic about generating content by writing posts from queries people are actually using in search.
  • Generate informative content that is helpful to readers and is the best source of information of its kind available on the internet.
  • Use best practices for formatting blog posts, including:
    • Use short paragraphs.
    • Use lots of images to break up text.
    • Use headings to break up text.
    • Link out to authoritative resources that help visitors.
    • Use primary keywords in headings to help users find what they are looking for quickly.
    • Add social sharing functionality to the post page so people can easily share the content.

When looking for examples of topics, here are some good resources:

 

Resource Pages

These are pages on a site that provide helpful information relevant to visitors of a law firm website. The information on these pages will be unique to the type of law the firm practices because people interested in that law firm will be looking for specific resources.

For example, divorce attorneys may post links and information to family counseling services. DUI attorneys may have resources pages with information on treatment centers for drug and alcohol abuse.

Robbie Richards

From Robbie Richards Marketing Director at Virayo

My agency works with a lot of lawyers across the US, and while there are countless different content promotions out there, I’m going to touch on a super simple 3-step approach we’ve had a lot of success with.

Caveat: I’ll preface by saying this is something we focus on after all the usual stuff – technical, GMB optimization, citations, service-based (bottom funnel) keyword research, etc. – has been taken care of.

  1. Question-based content strategy:Once all the “money” keywords have been mapped to important service pages, we’ll shift our focus towards building out content assets that fill the top and middle of the funnel. We start by doing question-based keyword research around the firm’s core service areas. There are a few simple tools we do this:a) Google autosuggest and related search
    b) AnswerThePublic
    c) Forums/ QA sitesThese sources will surface a TON of content topic ideas based on the exact questions your target audience are searching for during the research phase. For example, if you’re a divorce lawyer, you’ll find that people are asking the following question online: ‘How do I know if I have a good divorce lawyer?’. Divorce can have a significant financial and emotional impact on someone’s life. So, people want to know they have someone who knows what they are doing. The firm could create a comprehensive checklist covering all the things people need to consider when hiring a divorce attorney.Once we have a content calendar filled with questions asked by our target audience, we’ll move onto the promotion phase. Now, there are a lot of ways to go about this – answering questions on forums and QA sites, posting to GMB, etc. But, we like to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible because there is a lot of work there for often little payoff.
  2. Promote informational assets with Facebook ads:Even though you’re paying to play, we’ve found the investment is worth it. Facebook is a great way to get immediate local visibility in front of a targeted local audience. For example, a divorce lawyer could promote the answer to an audience within their geographic location to anyone who has changed their relationship status recently to separated or divorced. You’re getting the content immediately in front of a very targeted audience. While there is no hard sell in this ad, you’re building awareness and credibility during a time when people are actively researching the right attorney to help them through a difficult point in their lives.
  3. Retarget and move down the funnel:By now you’ve created valuable resources and engaged your target audience. But, 96% or more of these people aren’t going to take action (schedule a consult) on the first touch point. So, we need to re-engage them. Our agency does this across both Facebook and Google (AdWords). We’ll typically retarget anyone who has consumed the content promoted in step #2 with one of the following:- Video: Features the principal attorney offering a free consult- Carousel: Featuring testimonials from happy clients saying how the firm helped them get through a tough time (with CTA to get a consult).This audience has received helpful content, engaged with the firm already, so these ads are used to move them down the funnel and schedule a free consult with an attorney.This is obviously a very simplified example of how a firm could promote content, but it is one of the quickest ways we have found to produce valuable content, amplify it to the right audience, and ultimately turn some of that traffic into leads and cases.”

 

Resource pages should always contain links to information or services that would be relevant for potential clients.

 

Resource Pages as Link Bait

You can use resource pages as a tool to earn links to your site. Since they are pages with inherent value, they can be used in link outreach campaigns for other site owners who may find the content valuable for their own visitors.

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

Content for a law firm website should be produced strategically and methodically. Each practice area page and blog post serves a purpose in the process of driving traffic to a site and then converting those visitors into clients.

8
Chapter 8

On-site SEO for Lawyers

The Force is strong with this one... - Darth Vader

What is On-Site SEO?

On-site (or on-page) SEO consists of all the optimization, organization, and enhancement that occurs on a website itself, as opposed to elsewhere on the internet.

Tasks like adding or trimming content, keyword placement, installing a security certificate, configuring structured data, or formatting content are all under the umbrella of on-site SEO.

Most Important On-Site SEO Signals

There are already well-defined on-site SEO strategies and tactics that should be performed on pretty much any attorney website.

Each element by itself may provide incremental benefit, but as a whole, these elements can be very impactful for a site in search.

 

Title Tags

Title tags are an HTML element that every web page has (regardless of whether it’s filled with text or not). This is a critical element to get right, because it’s often the first thing searchers use to determine if a search result is relevant when scanning search results pages.

Here’s how to make a good title tag:

  • Front-load your titles with primary keyword first, then any applicable secondary keyword phrase (a synonym or related phrase), followed by the name of your law firm last.

Here’s a page title targeting a primary keyword phrase:

An example of a title tag targeting a primary keyword phrase in law firm seo

And an example of a title targeting a long tail phrase:

An example of a title tag targeting a long tail keyword phrase in law firm seo

Matthew Laurin

From Matthew Laurin, Director of Marketing at Rankings.io
“Well crafted title tags increase the likelihood that people will click on your search result which sends signals to Google that the result was helpful.”

 

Header Tags

Header tags (or headings) are HTML elements that denote headings in content. They are used to tell the reader (and Google) the subject of the content underneath them. Headings also help break up content on a page by making it easier to scan.

Here are some best practices for headings:

  • H1 tags are the most important. There should only be one per page and it should contain the primary keyword phrase for the page.
  • Subsequent headers (i.e., H2, H3, etc.) should contain variations of the primary keyword phrase.
  • Headings should be used to break up sections of the content.

 

Image Optimization

Google cannot see images on web pages, so they cannot tell what is pictured. An HTML attribute called an alt tag is used to describe to search engines what an image is.

There are also other cues that search spiders take from web pages to figure out what images are, such as their titles, captions, and file names.

Here are some tips on optimizing your images for search:

  • Ensure your images are as small as possible so they don’t take a long time to load. You should also make sure they are the same size that they will be when rendered on a screen. That way, the browser does not have to work so hard to resize them.
  • Use your target keyword phrases in the alt text of the page, but go easy here. If the image is not about your keyword phrase, then there is no reason the primary keyword phrase should be in the alt text.
  • Name your images after your primary target keyword phrase.
  • Use images to help you make text on a web page easier to read. This won’t help rankings, but it promotes a better user experience…and Google does pay attention to that.
  • For attorneys, the logo is the most important image to optimize, because it’s on every page of the website.

 

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is the presence of repeated text, either internally on pages of a website or externally on other sites.

Google does not like duplicate content, because its presence makes it much more difficult to determine which source is the original (or more authoritative) version.

It also makes it hard for Google to decide which page to show in its search results.

Other than that, there is no “duplicate content penalty” and Google will not directly penalize your site should you have duplicate content. There are even acceptable forms of duplicate content, such as printer-friendly versions of web pages.

The reason this phenomenon can be harmful to your site is that Google may choose to rank other web pages ahead of your own, even if you were the original producer or the one with rights to the content.

Here are some ways you can avoid the negative impacts of duplicate content:

  • Use rel canonical35 to help Google understand which page is the one that should be given credit.
  • Reach out to other site owners who may be copying your content and ask them to stop.
  • Go through your own domain and eliminate any unnecessary duplicated content.
  • Be careful in the use of boilerplate content across the internet and on your own site (i.e., in calls to action).

 

Responsive Design

More people are using the internet on mobile devices than on desktop, so it’s important to make sure your pages are mobile friendly.

In 2015, Google expanded their use of mobile responsiveness36 as a ranking factor. This meant that sites with superior mobile experiences would rank better than their counterparts that were not optimized for mobile.

Google also rolled out mobile-first indexing37 in 2018, meaning users would see the pages best for mobile devices in search rather than desktop pages.

In other words, your site should be mobile friendly. Here’s what you can do to start the process of evaluating your site for mobile responsiveness:

  • Test to see that you have a responsive design, using Google’s Mobile Friendly Testing Tool38. You can also test a separate mobile site in the tool (e.g., m.example.com)
  • If your site is not mobile friendly, you can try transferring content to a WordPress site with a mobile responsive theme.
  • Many leading web-based CMSes (i.e., WordPress.com, Blogger.com, etc.) are also responsive.
  • You can have a developer do the conversion for you to mobile.
Matthew Laurin

From Matthew Laurin, Director of Marketing at Rankings.io
“You can use Google’s mobile usability report in search console to see mobile usability errors over time with your site. https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6101188?hl=en

Here’s what the report looks like after running a mobile-friendly site through the tool.

A site report from Google mobile friendliness test

It’s important to point out that a mobile responsive site is often a better solution than a separate mobile version.

A responsive site renders content based on the screen that is viewing it. A separate mobile version is always displayed on a mobile device and does not change with screen size.

Crawl Errors

Google uses software programs called spiders or crawlers (Google’s is called Googlebot) to scan web pages and store them in their database.

There are a variety of things that can make it challenging for Googlebot to scan a page, so it’s important to make sure there is nothing standing in the way of Google seeing the content you want them to see.

  • Robots.txt: You can configure a file called a robots file that instructs search engine spiders on how often and which pages to crawl on your site. If you have no robots file, Google will crawl your site anyway…but if you have a misconfigured one, Google may be ignoring important pages, so it’s crucial to be sure that it’s configured correctly.
  • Robots Meta Tag: Another way you can manage crawlers is through the use of meta tags in the header of your web pages. These to can prevent Google from seeing important content.
  • 404 Error Pages39: If there are pages on your site that are broken, Google will not crawl those URLs. There are many types of HTTP status codes40. However, pages that give the 404 or 500 error could prevent Google from reaching all pages of your site.

It’s tempting to permanently (301) redirect every single crawl error. However, this is not necessary, as it is not only is it a waste of time and taxing on your web server’s resources, but it does not add any SEO value.

Attorneys should only be redirecting pages that:

  • Have traffic data (i.e., people have been visiting the pages).
  • Have link equity (i.e., there are links from other sites pointing at the page).
  • Are apart of the navigation for the site and/or have an impact on user experience.

 

Permalink Structure

Your URLs play an important role in SEO, both for search engines and your visitors.

Here are some best practices for your permalink structure:

  • Include the primary keyword phrase for your page in the permalink.
  • Make them easy to read, descriptive of the page, and as free from special characters and parameters as possible.
  • The shorter, the better.
  • For location-based URLs, add location in the first directory and the primary keyword phrase in sub-directories.

Visitors scan URLs to see if the page they are visiting has anything to do with what they are looking for.

Search engines scan URLs to try and determine what a page is about as well, so it’s important to make sure your primary phrase is there.

Here is an example for a law firm with a single location:
https://lawfirm.com/car-accident-attorney-clearwater/

And here is an example of a permalink for a law firm with multiple locations:
https://example.com/fl/clearwater/car-accident-lawyer/

SSL

SSL is an acronym for secure socket layer, but marketers and SEOs commonly use it to refer to the security certificate that can be installed on a website.

Google is a strong believer in delivering the most secure results for their users, so much so that they made having a security certificate installed on your site a ranking factor in their search results41.

Here are some tips on security certificates for SEO:

  • Don’t spend a ton of money on one (unless you’re accepting payment or other sensitive information through your site)
  • You can usually purchase one through the same company that handles your hosting.
  • Change your preferred URL in Search Console to an HTTPS version from HTTP once you have a certificate installed.
  • Ensure that you redirect all HTTP traffic to HTTPS.

 

Structured Data / Schema

Structured data is HTML markup that makes your content machine-understandable. In other words, it helps computers, software, and Googlebot understand what content is, as well as its context.

For example, a computer would read 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a string of alphanumeric characters. Schema markup helps a computer understand that the string is a very important address as it relates to the United States.

Of course, that is a very simple example and Google can already understand those kinds of things without schema markup.

Schema can help Google display your content better in search results pages. Here are some key pieces of content to which attorneys should apply schema:

  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Emails
  • Reviews
  • Articles
  • Blog posts

Applying Schema to Your Site
There are three tactics for applying schema to your content. Depending on your level of skill with technology, any one of these tactics should work well.

 

Google Data Highlighter (easy)

The easiest way to let Google know what content is marked up on your site is to use their Data Highlighter42.

You can literally highlight the information you want to mark up and let Google know what kind of data it is (e.g., phone number, email, blog post, address, etc.).

You will have to set up and verify your site in Google Search Console, which takes just a couple minutes and is free.

After that, visit the data highlighter43. Select your verified property (you’ll only have one if you just set up your site in Search Console).

Finding a verified property in Googles data highlighter

Click the red “Start Highlighting” button in the top right hand corner of the page.

Starting the highlighting process in Googles data highlighter

Next, enter the URL of the page on which you want to highlight data. For example, if you’re highlighting the address information you have in the header of your “Contact Us” page, paste the URL for the page into the Data Highlighter.

From the dropdown menu below where you enter your URL, select the type of information to highlight (such as articles, books, reviews, local businesses, etc.).

Entering the URL of the page in the data highlighter

Attorneys will most likely choose “Local Businesses” for most types of content highlighting.

Click “ok” and the data highlighter will open on your website.

Simply click and highlight sections of text and apply tags to them so that Google can better  understand what they are.

Once you highlight something, a menu will appear allowing you to select the data type.

In the right column of the screen, available data types for the page will appear.

Once you’re done, click the red “Publish” button in the type right corner of the screen.

Using the data highlighter on your page

WordPress Plugin (also easy)

Attorneys who have a website built on WordPress will have a much easier time finding plugins (add-on software) to apply schema to their site.

Here are some great schema plugins for WordPress:

Note that some of these are paid and some are free. Some have a free option with a premium upgrade.

Manually adding Schema to your site (difficult)

If you don’t have a WordPress site or you’re just feeling ambitious, you can manually add schema to your content.

This requires knowledge of HTML editing, logging in and editing files of your site, and some tech savvy.

You can either manually copy and paste code from Schema.org47 onto your pages or you can use one of the many schema generators around the web.

Raven tools has a good schema generator48 and there are a ton of tools you can try on this list46.

When adding schema manually, you should verify that you have done it right. Honestly, you should do this even if you use a plugin, as they can cause errors.

Google has a structured data testing tool49 that allows you to see if you configured code correctly.

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

On-site SEO is like building a house. If you want it to stand and endure, you need proper construction (in this case, meta-data, permalinks, content hierarchy, accessibility, mobile optimizations, speed, etc.).

9
Chapter 9

Local SEO for Lawyers

R2-Sensors are placed. I'm going back. -Han Solo

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO refers to the strategy and tactics of optimizing a website and its surrounding online presence to show prominently for location-based searches.

Local searches are unique in the online marketing ecosystem because results are tailored for the intent of visiting local businesses near by, making a purchase in person, or finding contact information in order to make a purchase.

In traditional SEO, results may be informational in nature such as blog posts, web pages, articles, etc.

For local SEO, results are often business listings (such as Google’s local pack of business listings) or location-based pages that help consumers find phone numbers, addresses, and other contact information.

 

How Does Google Determine Local Rankings?

Google has some very specific criteria for determining local search results51 as they relate to Google My Business listings. The three key areas they focus on are relevance, distance, and prominence.

Joy Hawkins

From Joy Hawkins, Sterling Sky

“One of the most effective tactics an attorney can do to gain higher rankings in the local results is to actively keep track of competitors and report listings that violate the Google My Business guidelines.

I’ve seen many cases where doing so resulted in an almost-instant ranking increase for the business that was following guidelines.

Here are the most common types of violations I see with attorneys:

    1. Keyword stuffing: In 2016, Local SEO Guide published a study that looked at over 100 factors for 30,000 businesses to understand which factors appear to influence ranking in the 3-pack. They found that having the keyword in the business name causes you to rank about 1.5 spots higher. Thus, it’s widely abused by those who want a ranking advantage. Getting the keywords removed from your competitors’ listing names will help them not have a ranking advantage that you don’t have.

 

    1. Fake listings: Listings that use a mailbox or virtual office address are not allowed per the Google My Business guidelines. Listings using another firm’s office address is another tactic I see used a lot. Often showing a photo or video of the location is enough to prove to Google that there aren’t multiple firms at the one address. Multiple listings for the same business. For example, an attorney might have one listing for Bob & Bob Motorcycle Accident Lawyers and another for Bob & Bob Car Accident Lawyers. Multiple listings for the same firm are not allowed.

 

  1. Fake Reviews: Google reviews have an impact on ranking, so this is another tactic I see abuse. The most common types of ineligible reviews I see with attorneys is review swapping (attorneys reviewing each other) and having their clients review all their locations. Both are not allowed and will be removed by Google if caught.

If one of your competitors is using these tactics and ranking well as a result, you can report them on the Google My Business forum or by reaching out to Google on Twitter or Facebook.”

 

 

Relevance

The relevance of your GMB listing is obviously a very important part of the whole equation.  There are a few ways you can make your Google Business listing extremely relevant to searchers.

  • Categories: Choose as specific a category as possible. For example, pick “personal injury lawyer” instead of just “lawyer” for your category.
  • Keywords: Use your primary keyword phrases in your business listing. You can’t use them in your listing title, but you can use them in your listing description, as well as your service pages. Be sure to reference Google’s guidelines52 on representing your law firm online.
  • Location Based Practice Pages:  Link your location-based page to your GMB profile instead of just your homepage. If you have multiple locations, link different location pages to different GMB profiles.

 

Distance

The location of the searcher to relevant business results is key to where listings rank in the local 3-pack of business listings.

Google calculates the location of the searcher when no location-based terms are used in a query to show relevant local law firms.

You cannot really optimize for this, since it’s dependent on the searcher location; however, many searchers include location terms in their search queries.

For example, car accident attorney near me, divorce lawyer Galveston TX, etc.

Here are some tips for offices as it relates to distance:

  • Google prohibits virtual offices, shared work spaces, and P.O. boxes in GMB listings.
  • The location needs to be staffed during business hours and it has to be your staff.
  • You must have permanent signs visible from street view.

 

Prominence

Google attempts to reflect online the importance of businesses in the offline world. There are several ways attorneys can improve the prominence of their online presence.

  • Built links to your site.
  • Build citations for your law firm with consistent NAP (Name, address, phone number) across the web.
  • Get reviews on your GMB profile.

Moz produces an annual survey of top ranking factors for local search53. It covers some of the strategies that SEO professionals see as critical for improving in local rankings.

Citations

Citations are mentions of your law firm name on other websites. Google draws from data aggregators, companies that warehouse large amounts of information on local businesses. They also look at information across the internet54 to understand if the results they are delivering are accurate.

When attorneys have inconsistent information on the web, Google is less likely to trust that data and show it to users in search.

 

Tier 1 Local Website Directories

Tier 1 local directories are the cream of the crop in terms of local citations. If attorneys ignore any business listing sites, it should not be these ones.

 

Google My Business (GMB)

 

Google has one of the highest profile business listings on the internet, and since they control so much market share in search, it’s important for attorneys to show up prominently in those results.

A google my business listing that used law firm seo to rank well in search

Steve Kang

From Steven Kang, Founder of SEO Signals Lab

“In a super-competitive market, everything adds up as everyone is playing with a high budget to compete.

The name of the game is maximizing the signals while being holistic.

For the clients I’ve helped, I tap into every known local and geo-relevance signal first such as reviews, maps embed, citations, driving directions, links to GMB listings, etc.

What seals the deal for me is links from high traffic sites with site authority to give that push once relevancy signal requirement has been met.”

 


Here are some tips on optimizing your GMB profile:

Categories

Be as specific as possible when choosing your category. For example, you should choose “personal injury attorney” instead of just “attorney”.

Choose a specific category in your Google My Business Profile

DBA Name Strategy
It used to be that you could buy a domain name that was an exact match to the primary keyword phrase for which you wanted to rank in search. It was one more tier of relevance that seemed to benefit website owners. Google cracked down on that strategy by rolling out an update to their algorithm devaluing low quality EMDs55 (insert here) in search results.

Google currently has not responded to the proliferation of DBA (Doing Business As) naming that attorneys use for their law firms in either their quality guidelines or rules for individual practitioners56.

If an attorney wants to do business under a law firm name or the law firm wants attorneys to do business under other business names, it’s not clear whether or not that would violate Google’s guidelines.

Services
Google business listings have service pages that attorneys can use to showcase their practice areas. These are prime areas to include primary keyword phrases, enhancing the relevance of the listing in local search.

Photos
GMB listings allow for images to be uploaded of a business. As a best practice, upload as many images as you can (and definitely more than your competition). Law firms sometimes struggle with this one, as they may not have that many or exciting images of their firm. They can upload images of the office, the staff, other attorneys that practice in that office, their logo, the surrounding location, images representing the area of law they practice (i.e., car and truck accidents, slip and fall, etc.).

Reviews
Reviews are a key factor in the ranking of local results in Google My Business. Attorneys need to be careful here, because state bar associations vary in their regulation of reviews. Some have lenient rules, whereas others have very strict guidelines on attorneys asking clients or colleagues for reviews. As long as it’s allowed, get as many positive reviews on Google as you can.

Avvo

Avvo is another highly important directory for attorneys. In virtually every search for attorney related terms, Avvo appears near the top of the organic results. It is one of the most authoritative names in the legal industry.

Attorneys should create a profile on Avvo and then optimize it as completely as possible. They should also be as active as they can on the platform, answering visitor questions and earning reviews.

 

Lawyers.com

In the same category as Avvo, Lawyers.com is a high-quality legal directory that provides attorneys with additional exposure in search. They can create a profile, earn reviews, respond to legal inquiries from website visitors, and get the opportunity to contribute content among other benefits.

 

BBB.org

The Better Business Bureau is an excellent source of business information for local consumers and it’s a great tier 1 directory to be listed on. In fact, BBB.org (along with sites like Wikipedia.org) are often mentioned in Google Quality Guidelines57 as authoritative sites.

 

Facebook

Not only does Facebook give attorneys the opportunity to expand their web presence, but it’s also a primary platform for sharing any content they produce.

 

Yelp

Yelp used to just be for foodies; however, it has quickly become one of the dominant local business directories on the internet. Getting reviews on Yelp and remaining active on the platform can help lawyers get more exposure in search.

Citation Tools

There are many more citation and local directory sites attorneys should be listed on. Getting information on all of those properties can take a long time and that’s where citation tools can help add a lot of value.

These tools that take one set of information (like firm names, addresses, phone numbers, websites, emails, logos, and business descriptions) and distribute it across hundreds of business listing websites.

 

Bright Local

There are plenty of citation building tools58 out there, and while we hesitate to say that one is far better than another, we have to say that we’ve had great results for our clients from Bright Local.

In our experience, they submit to more sites and profiles actually get filled out (as opposed to never being claimed or duplicates being created).

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

Attorneys need to place a lot of emphasis on local SEO because they often serve local markets. Consistent information across the internet, a strong GMB profile, ample reviews, and local links are all areas that need to be fortified in order to rank well in local search.

10
Chapter 10

Link Building for Attorneys

R2-D2, you know better than to trust a strange computer! -C3PO

What is Off-site SEO?

Off-site SEO refers to all the optimization work done in other parts of the internet that benefit a website in search results. It includes things like building links, generating content to be placed on other domains, promotion and outreach, and collaboration with others in one’s industry,  amongst other tactics.

A solid off-site strategy is a crucial element of success in search marketing. Where on-site SEO is important for Google’s access and users’ ability to navigate/convert on your site, off-site is essential for driving traffic.

Link Building

Most off-site strategies revolve around one end-game: building links. Links are one of the most important ranking factors for websites in search and Google has confirmed this59.

Brian Dean

From Brian Dean of Backlinko

“Your best bet is to create content in a Shoulder Niche.

I’ll explain:

Most attorneys that I’ve worked with create content strictly about what their law firm does.
And it leads to boring content that no one would ever actually read (like: “5 Tips for Finding the Right DUI Lawyer”).
Instead, you want to find content in a related niche that people would want to share and link to. In other words, “Shoulder Niches”
For example, let’s say you run a law firm that specialized in DUI cases.

Related shoulder niche topics include:
-A compilation of drunk driving statistics
-Data on DUI cases by state
-A guide that includes DUI laws in different states

When you create content that provides value (and promote it), you can find yourself with high-quality backlinks, which help ALL the pages on your site rank.”

In fact, if you analyze top ranking domains in any given industry, all else being equal, it’s typically the quantity and quality of inbound links pointing to those domains that differentiates their position in search for a given keyword phrase.

The following are some well-known and effective off-site SEO strategies for link building.

Legal Directories
These are sources of information for searchers that have legal issues. The legal directories available online can be either free or paid and may have a variety of different features available for users.

These are great sources of links because there are literally hundreds of them60 and they are contextually relevant to the legal vertical.

Here are some tips for selecting good directories:

  • Look for high DR (Domain Rating61) websites (DR20+ is a good place to start).
  • Look for directories specifically designed for your practice area.
  • Look for directories that have features other than just being listed, such as the ability to contribute content, answer legal questions posed by visitors, earn reviews, etc.
  • Make sure the directory doesn’t look spammy or low-quality (i.e., would you feel comfortable submitting your credit card information there?)

Guest Posting
If you’ve done your homework on SEO then you may already be aware of the negative connotation that guest posting has in the search community.

Google frowns on linking strategies that are spammy, deceptive, misleading, and/or that do not add any value for web surfers62. Google has also come down hard on businesses63 who generated networks of guest post partners for the sole purpose of building links.

Having said all of that, guest posting is definitely still a viable link building strategy, as long as you are careful about how you do it.

Here’s how attorneys can do that:

  • Generate really helpful articles and get others to promote them: You can collaborate with other non-competing law firms, website owners, business owners, etc. to get your content placed on their site.
  • Don’t over-optimize your anchor text: It is true that pages tend to rank better when they are hyperlinked to a high-authority page64 using the keyword phrase for which they are trying to rank. Doing that too much, however, creates a pattern and could draw unwanted attention to your link building activities.
  • Don’t go too fast:  Building 2,000 links to your site using guest posting strategies won’t necessarily get you penalized; however, building 2,000 links in 30 days will definitely get you noticed and not in a good way. It’s the speed with which your link building activities happen that creates noticeable patterns, which can indicate that you’re manipulating search results.
  • Play in good neighborhoods: Focus on getting links from high-quality sites that have other high-quality sites linking to them. The links that lead to your site paint a picture of how credible and authoritative it is. If it appears that the overall profile of links pointing at a domain is unsavory, that can have a negative impact on where the site ranks in search results.

Outreach
Contacting and collaborating with other site owners to get links built to your own site is referred to as outreach.

Any good link building program has outreach as a centerpiece and this is one of the only ways to get some of the best links on the most authoritative websites.

Here are some common examples of link building tactics that either require or are well-suited for outreach.

Infographics
Infographics are great for building links because of their shareability and propensity to generate interest in an otherwise dry topic.

There are numerous sites that accept infographics on a variety of topics (including the legal vertical), making it an ideal tactic for both “low-hanging fruit” links, as well as higher-end placements.

Attorneys can also provide functionality for visitors to embed infographics on their own sites, effectively creating a link for the hosting domain.

Case Study: Stewart Guss Personal Injury Attorneys
In this example, Stewart Guss Personal Injury lawyers produced content that spoke to consumer’s pain point: looking for an attorney for the first time after being involved in some kind of accident.

Step 1: Find a Topic
You can use keyword research strategies to find keywords with search volume or you can also look at what your core audience of potential clients is experiencing as they look for an attorney.

For the Stewart J Guss personal injury law firm, we chose the topic based on their desire to rank for the keywords “best personal injury lawyers” on a national level.

They also wanted to go after longer tail variations of the primary phrase like “how to choose the best personal injury lawyer” which is a very clear user intent keyword phrase.

Step 2: Find the Data
Next, you need to find data on the topic area chosen for the infographic. That data can come from a variety of places such as primary research, your own firm’s marketing data, surveys, and/or online data aggregators like Pew Internet Research.

In Guss’s case, we outsourced the research to an infographic design firm and they compiled the information.

Step 3: Create the Infographic
When creating an infographic, you have a few different options:

  1. Create it yourself
  2. Use an infographic generation website
  3. Hire a designer to build the infographic for you

For Guss’s case study, a professional designer was hired to organize and display the data in a compelling way.

The infographic [example]:

Example infographic from stewart j guss personal injury attorney

Step 4: Add sharing functionality
You can, of course, simply add a sharing plugin to the page where you have your infographic displayed; however, there is a more creative way to get it shared and get a link built at the same time.

Using an embed code generator at the end of the post, you can make it easy for people to put the infographic on their blog or website.

Embed code for an infographic

Step 5: Measure your results
The main idea with this type of approach is to naturally earn links to your site. It’s essential to heavily promote a page like this in social and through email in order to get eyes on it, but the linking should happen all by itself.

Number of inbound links and the page’s rank in search are the KPI’s (key performance indicators) you’re looking for. Here were the results for this post after it went live around July 2018.

Referring domains found leading to an infographic

It obtained 9 dofollow referring domains (95% of which were DR30+) and 25 backlinks.

Here’s where the page sits on page one of Google search for the phrase “how to choose the best personal injury lawyer”. Not too shabby for a few months and no active link building to the page.

How to choose rank

Scholarships
Scholarship campaigns are still a great tactic, but they are starting to get popular in the SEO space. Inevitably, this means a tactic loses its value.

Google representatives even came out and said that the algorithm ignores a lot of .edu links65, as these sites are more likely to get spammed.

If done right though, scholarship campaigns can get you some very authoritative links on reputable educational institution websites.

Case Study: The Levin Firm Traffic Safety Scholarship
When The Levin Firm came to us, they had a domain that was in bad shape due to sketchy SEO practices. In fact, it was so bad that we decided to start from scratch, rather than try and salvage the site.

That is a double-edged sword when it comes to SEO: you get rid of the tumor that is a blacklisted domain, but you’re also starting from scratch in terms of referring domains pointing at the site.

Step one: Scholarship Development
Scholarship campaigns can be effective and attorneys need to come up with an actual award program that for which students can apply, with rules, guidelines, and a process for choosing the winner and distributing the funds.

For The Levin Firm, we helped them develop a bi-annual traffic safety, essay-based scholarship66 of $1,000.

The scholarship has deadlines, guidelines for application and essay submission, a review process, and even shares previous winners of the scholarship.

In developing your own scholarship program, you need to:

  • Have an essay topic (video or written) that people can submit
  • Have an award amount (usually $1,000 is adequate, although you can do more)
  • Have a deadline and process for reviewing submissions
  • Have a process for awarding the scholarship funds to the winner (FYI, this is also great fodder for social media)

Step two: Outreach
Next, we went to work reaching out to colleges and other educational institutions that were notable and of high quality to get the scholarship link placed on their financial aid pages.

For attorneys just starting out in a process like this, a list must first be curated and it needs to be exhaustive. For example, the list we use consists of more than 400 schools around the country, with contact information for key personnel in financial aid or scholarship administration departments at their respective schools.

When building your own list, be sure to look for good contact information on financial aid or scholarship program administrators at schools near you.

Keep this information in a spreadsheet for later use.

Step three: Tracking your links
There are a few important things to point out about the link activity on your site with this campaign:

  1. Not all schools will convert (i.e., build a link to your scholarship page)
  2. It will take time for the ones that do agree to promote your scholarship to actually build a link to your site.
  3. You need to have a high-quality tool to track links

Ahrefs is a great tool for tracking the .edu links that will start appearing to your site; however, there are other paid tools that will work.

Using Ahrefs, plug your URL into the tool and on the overview page in the right column, you’ll see types of referring domains. Click on the number on the .edu row.

A link overview page of referring .edu domains

This report will show you all of the .edu domains pointing at your site. It’s a great way to see if the schools you/your team contacted actually placed a link, whether or not that link is dofollow (passes PageRank), and the location of the link.

Referring .edu domains

By hovering over the “show links” button in the “Links to target” column, you can see where the link is located on the educational institution’s site.

Referring edu location button

Checking this type of information daily, especially at the beginning of your campaign, is not necessary. A weekly cadence for seeing what links you’ve earned is more appropriate.

Publishing Books
Writing a book opens up linking opportunities on sites where you can submit your book as well as third party news recognition.

You should not go write a book just to get a link, obviously; however, if its already something you’re doing or have done, you can leverage that content for links.

Case Study: The Hackard Law Firm
Michael Hackard of The Hackard Law Firm is an experienced elder law attorney. He wrote a book on the subject and featured it online and on Amazon.com.

The book itself and his purposes for writing it extend beyond SEO; however, it’s an example of how content and the process of distributing it can be repurposed for link building.

Submitting to Amazon
Amazon.com is a great place to get links after submitting your book. As a part of this process, you can create an author profile.

Here’s the one for Michael Hackard:
Michael Hackard Author Profile

Authors can submit Author Updates on the platform that are direct links to their website including blogs, practice pages, and other content.

Links from an author profile on amazon

These are high-quality, do-follow links from an extremely authoritative domain.

As a side effect, attorneys can also get natural links from media sites as a result of their notoriety. Check out the link earned below for Hackard’s site on Foxbusiness.com67.

A link to the amazon author profile on a news site

Local Strategies

Local link building consists of tactics used to rank a site well for location-based searches. You’re still building links here, but the focus is on promoting relevance and prominence for local searchers.


Location-based link strategies include:

  • Building citations
  • Claiming prominent local profiles
  • Getting links from local or location-based directories like bbb.org or chamber of commerce websites
  • Collaboration with other local business owners, such as getting links on resource pages, or local marketing efforts
  • Getting involved in local volunteer opportunities
  • Testimonials
  • Local job posting websites
  • Sites that offer discounts from local businesses

Any time you are thinking about a link building campaign, you have to be open minded and creative. The reality is that good links (and the opportunities to build them) can be found almost anywhere.

Podcasts

Producing a podcast is a great marketing strategy for lawyers and, in addition to that exposure, they can earn a link to their site.

There are a ton of podcast hosting companies68 on the internet and when you make one, you’re usually allowed to make an author profile page of some kind where you can link to your website.

Here’s Lawyerist’s podcast page69 on iTunes:

A link to a website from a podcast page on iTunes

 

Ultimate Guides

An ultimate guide is just a piece of content that is all-encompassing on a subject. This post you’re reading is a form of an ultimate guide (although we call it a Power Post).

Ultimate guides are great for link building because of their versatility in a marketing space. In other words, they can be used in a variety of different scenarios and re-purposed over and over to promote a law firm.

They are also excellent for ranking web pages for highly competitive keyword phrases that often need something to set themselves apart from all the other pages ranking for those terms.

Case-in-point, Darras Law has an excellent ultimate guide70 on the ins and outs of hiring a disability lawyer.

Darras law ultimate guide example

An attorney’s ultimate guide should:

  • Focus on targeting a high-volume, competitive keyword phrase for which they need to rank
  • Be greater than 1,000 words (ideally, it should be as long as it needs to be, but the author should take the approach of being as exhaustive as possible on covering the topic)
  • Contain the primary keyword phrase in the main heading (H1 tag)
  • Contain the primary keyword phrase in the title, meta description, page copy, image alt attribute (where applicable), image file names for the page, and permalink
  • Contain secondary keyword phrases in subheadings within the article
  • Contain external links to supporting sources that make the article better for the reader
  • Contain internal links to practice area pages on your site
  • Use best practices to format for easy reading such as liberal use of images, short paragraphs, headings, etc.
  • Use additional content like video, images, and graphs to help make the overall content better

An ultimate guide needs to be just that: the ultimate, all-knowing, final say on a topic piece of content.

Legal Content Roundups

A roundup or blog roundup is a blog post that gathers input from professionals in a given field on a single topic. They are meant to provide varying viewpoints on a popular question that a consumer might have.

For lawyers, content roundups can help portray their firm as an authority in its space. Legal content roundups can be about virtually any topic, from when you should hire a DUI attorney to how assets are split during a divorce.

Case Study: The Dolman Law Group Content Roundup

The Dolman Law Group is a personal injury firm in Clearwater, Florida. Ranking for car accident related terms has proven extremely competitive for law firms like theirs, so it can take a creative approach to SEO in order to get them ranking on the first page of Google.

So how do you do it?

Josh Fechter

From Josh Fechter, of BAMF Media
“A law firm should focus on collecting relevant emails of potential prospects using LinkedIn. Rather than scraping, they should connect with their prospects, then export their emails from their LinkedIn settings. They can then use these emails for remarketing purposes across Facebook, Quora, and Instagram to help generate brand awareness.”

Get 16 high-quality attorneys to give their best advice on what a person should do when thinking about hiring a car accident lawyer, put it in a blog post, then promote the heck out of it.

That’s exactly what we did with Dolman’s roundup post71.

We reached out to numerous attorneys asking them to participate in the roundup and answer this question:

“When do I need to hire a car accident lawyer?”

Here’s a sample of the email that we used to reach out to these attorneys (thanks to Shane Barker72 for the modified content).

Roundup email outreach template

The result?

Over 50 referring domains to the post page alone, tons of social interaction, first page rankings NATIONALLY for the term “car accident lawyer”, and an estimated 260K in traffic value according to Ahrefs!

Here’s the snapshot from Ahrefs:

Ahrefs Data on car accident lawyer blog

Legal roundups are a great link building tactic because they promote trust with website visitors, create useful content that visitors actually want to read, and encourage links from contributors and other site owners.

Media & Press

Media sites are good candidates to get links because they are often authoritative and generate a lot of traffic.

This tactic is multi-faceted because you can build links by signing up for memberships on media sites that allow you to submit guest posts, such as Forbes Agency Council, or providing expert content to reporters looking for content on sites like HARO73.

Note that the HARO (Help a Reporter Out) tactic is not the same as distributing press releases. The press release approach is no longer effective and Google pretty much ignores those links.

Dynamic Data

People searching for legal information find a lot of value in widgets and other pieces of technology that give them real-time information.

The Houston Texas Interactive Accident Map74 on the website of personal injury lawyer Stewart J. Guss is a perfect example of useful content that people can use in their everyday lives.

Houston Texas accident map

Produced by data visualization company Pico75, the accident map falls in the link bait category because it’s exactly the sort of useful tool that people share on social media and link to from their websites. It also has the potential to earn secondary organic links from media outlets.

Check out the local DR90 link from news outlet Chron.com in Houston:

Accident Map Referring domains

And here’s the live link76 on Chron.com:

Link on Chron.com

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

Links are one of Google’s most important ranking factors. Imagine Google’s rankings are an election. If you want to win an election, you need more votes than your opponent. In SEO, links equal votes, so if you want to “win” the first page of Google, you need quality links.

11
Chapter 11

Measuring Success

When I left you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master. -Darth Vader

Measuring the Success of your SEO Campaign

Tracking your progress in search results pages is a key part of any SEO campaign. Attorneys can leverage a variety of free and paid tools to track how their efforts are working.

Matthew Laurin

From Matthew Laurin, Director of Marketing at Rankings.io
“There is not really one all-encompassing SEO tool for measuring your success in SEO. Instead, look to different platforms (even for the same data) to get a better idea of how your campaigns are working.”

There is no right or wrong tool for measuring your activity, but there are software platforms that have strengths in certain areas. We’ll share what we use and that can be your guide in choosing your own box of tools for tracking.

 

Google Analytics

Google provides a variety of free tools that website owners can use to measure activity on their sites.

Google Analytics78 is a free tracking software that allows you to see common types of website interactions including:

  • PageViews (the number of times pages were viewed by one or more visitors)
  • Time on page and time on site
  • Bounce rate (the rate at which visitors to a site view one page and then leave)
  • Referral source (other sites on the internet that are sending you traffic)
  • Social interactions
  • The types of devices visitors are using

In addition to those key metrics, Google Analytics has many more features site owners can use to segment information, learn about how visitors use their site, and see how much referral traffic is coming from search engines.

Here’s a sample source/medium report from Google Analytics showing the top 10 primary referring websites on Rankings.io.

Source Medium Report from google analytics

Google’s tools are a great place to start when measuring your SEO success because they are free and allow you to get familiar with some of the information, metrics, and verbiage related to SEO.

There is also ample documentation and videos79 if you have questions about what reports mean or how to access certain information.

You can also link Google Search Console to Analytics80 and get richer SEO data into reporting.

 

Google Search Console

Just like Analytics, Search Console81 is a free tool provided by Google. It is more focused on data about a website as it relates to search results, keyword rankings, links, and technical aspects of on-site SEO.

Here are some of the things lawyers can track with Search Console:

  • Keywords: These reports show the keywords for which the site is ranking, the page associated with the keyword in search results pages, the position of the page in a search results page, as well as impression and click through data for those keywords.
  • Links:  Google shows site owners the inbound links pointing at their site. In comparison to other tools, Google’s is pretty good (especially considering it’s free), but you don’t get the robust, multi-dimensional metrics that come from some of the paid tools out there.
  • Structured data: Google will show you how your website information is appearing in their search results pages. You can also use the Data Highlighter82 within Search Console to let Google know what the relationship among different pieces of information is. This helps Google better display your information in search.
  • Manual actions and search health: Google can alert you to suspicious behavior on your site or manual actions that have been applied by their quality assurance team.
  • Mobile usability and technical errors: Search Console allows site owners to see a variety of technical and HTML errors that could be causing obstacles for ranking well in search.

Here’s a sample performance report pulled from Search Console:
Overview report from search console

Using Google Analytics and Search Console together is a great way to see a comprehensive picture of how your SEO campaigns are impacting your sites performance in search.

 

CallRail

Phone calls are an important conversion for attorneys. Getting a potential client on the phone is often more valuable than a form fill or download of content.

When your primary channel for lead generation is organic search, tracking that type of conversion can be challenging.

Fortunately, platforms like CallRail83 allow attorneys to show specific phone numbers to users who have found them through Google organic (unpaid) search.

How it works:
When you set up a campaign in CallRail, you can choose local phone numbers that are only shown to visitors when they arrive at a site from a specific referral source.

So you can say “If a visitor comes from Google organic search, show this phone number.”

This configuration allows lawyers to track and record phone calls that come from specific campaign channels and provide a mechanism for measuring ROI.

Below is a typical report showing lead source by phone number, total calls, and call duration all charted for easy digestion.

Call Rail call tracking dashboard

The data is also segmented by repeat and first-time callers, so you get an accurate read-out on whether or not your SEO campaign is attracting new visitors to your site.

It’s important to use multiple phone numbers on your various lead channels so you can see where your money is best being spent.

For example, in the report above, we can see that organic search is by far generating the most phone calls; however, other lead sources in the graph may also be worth maintaining.

 

Ahrefs

Links are Google’s top ranking factor, so having good software for tracking link activity is a wise investment to make.

Ahrefs84 is one of the best for link analytics on the internet. They have a lot of other great tools, such as their Keywords Explorer, but analyzing links is where they shine.

They maintain a huge data set85 and crawl the web constantly much like search engines do.  That means site owners have access to some of the most accurate link information available on the web.

Tim Soulo

From Tim Soulo, Head of Marketing & Product Strategy at Ahrefs
“When evaluating link quality, the basic rule is to ask yourself a very simple question: ‘Is this website legit?’

And by “legit” I mean that the website should be actually valuable for its visitors, and not exist for the sole purpose of selling links to other people.

Now if that’s a legit quality website, the metrics I would look at are of course Ahrefs’ DR and RD, which stand for Domain Rating and Referring Domains respectively.

By looking at these two metrics, you can get a very rough idea of this website’s “link popularity” compared to the rest of the internet. Because as a general rule you want to get links from “popular” websites.

One other thing I highly recommend you factor in is how fast is this website acquiring new backlinks. In Ahrefs there’s a graph that shows you how many referring domains this website is acquiring over time. If that graph is plateauing – then the “value” of your link won’t really grow over time. Moreover, there’s a good chance that this website will be eventually abandoned, and your link will simply vanish in a few years.

But if the graph of new referring domains is going up – it means that this website is gaining more and more popularity over time, so the value that you get from your link will only grow over time.

These are the very basics that you can check in about 15 seconds.

And if you want to go deeper in assessing the link quality of a website, there’s nothing better than actually digging into the websites that link to it.

I mean Domain Rating and Referring Domains may seem high, but these metrics can surely be manipulated. So, if something seems sketchy – always dig deeper.”

 

Here’s a few things you can do with Ahrefs when it comes to links:

  • View referring domains pointing at your site
  • See the total number of backlinks (in total or by domain) pointing at your site
  • Use proprietary metrics like Domain Rating to evaluate link opportunities on other sites
  • Track link building campaigns by seeing which links are still live to your site and which ones have been lost
  • See exactly which pages on an external site where your links are
  • And much, much, more…

When you scan a domain, here’s the overview page you’ll see:
Ahrefs overview

Pretty much all of the data is link-related, such as the quantity, quality, TLD type, and Ahrefs rank of the referring domains pointed at the site.

You also get some metrics on the estimated value that your site may be receiving, should it be converting visitors through organic search, as well as an overview of keyword metrics.  By clicking into any of these metrics, users can delve further down into the information and use it to make decisions.

For many attorneys, Ahrefs is going to be overkill for measuring success in link building campaigns.

It’s great software, but if all you’re doing is tracking the links that are leading to your site, there are some free tools (like Google Search Console) that will show you that.

 

SEMRush

Just like Ahrefs, SEMRush can be used to track backlink and keyword metrics. They’re a direct competitor of Ahrefs, providing much of the same kinds of data on domain authoritativeness and rankings in search results pages.

The most noticeable difference between SEMRush and Ahrefs is the user interface. One is not really better than the other, but there are noticeable differences in usability and organization of data.

Here’s a snapshot of their dashboard:
SEMRush Dashboard

In reality, SEMRush is a great tool for those practicing SEO, such as freelancers and agencies, because multiple clients can be set up in the dashboard.

Auditing Tools in SEMRush
One of the things that sets this platform apart from competitors is its ability to quickly gather and display information in an easy to understand snapshot report.

For example, their site auditing tool shows you at a glance all of the issues, errors, and warnings related to the SEO on your site.

SEM Rush site audit

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

Properly measuring the success of a campaign is critical, so it’s important to consider multiple metrics/KPIs. Contact form submissions, calls, live chats, rankings, and organic traffic are just some of the leading indicators of a successful SEO campaign.


Conclusion & Acknowledgements

I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to the following professionals for their contribution to this guide.

Gareth Daine

Content Promotion Strategy Expert

Brian Dean

Founder at Backlinko

Joy Hawkins

Owner/Founder at Sterlingsky.ca

Robbie Richards

Marketing Director at Virayo

Nathan Gotch

Founder at Gotch SEO

Steve Pockross

CEO at BlogMutt

Steven Kang

Founder of SEO Signals Lab

Sujan Patel

Founder of Mailshake

Josh Fechter

Co-Founder at BAMF Media

Tim Soulo

Head of Marketing & Product Strategy at Ahrefs


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Author
About The Author Chris Dreyer Chris Dreyer is the CEO and Founder of Rankings.io, an SEO agency for lawyers. Chris has been featured in numerous legal and search marketing publications such as Legal Ink Magazine, Law Marketing, Attorney At Work, Moz, and more. With over 12 years of experience in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Chris has helped hundreds of law firms get first page positions in search engines using innovative campaigns that are difficult for competitors to recreate. He is dedicated to helping lawyers get more leads and win more clients.
"I had heard about Chris' reputation beforehand but I'd also been misled by others... He and Rankings.io outperformed my expectations. Even on the best day, I didn't expect him to do this well." Matt Dolman Dolman Law Group
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13 Comments

  1. This is impressive Chris! I can tell you poured a lot of time and effort into this guide and the end result is a super valuable asset.

    Hopefully, attorneys reading this will realize that it’s much easier to just hire you guys than to DIY 😉

    Thanks for including me!

    • Thanks so much, Nathan; that’s very kind of you to say.

      Of course, many of the things I mention in the article are directly addressed by your SEO course, which I personally feel is one of the best on the market.

  2. Absolutely tremendous post.

    A huge amount of effort, care, and attention have gone into this one, you can certainly see that.

    Well done, Chris. EPIC guide.

    Thank you for the acknowledgment. 🙂

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