Local SEO for Lawyers: Tactics Used by #1 Ranking Attorneys
Here’s the short version:
- 80% of local searches convert
- Nearly half of all Google searches are for local businesses
- 50% of users visit a physical location within 24 hours of performing a local search
It’s 2020, and billboard ads just don’t work anymore — simply put, you need a local SEO strategy if you want more inbound leads.
However, trying to optimize your website for local SEO yourself will likely result in one of two outcomes:
- It will bring in a ton of warm leads for your practice
- It will waste your time and money
Properly optimizing your website for local SEO can land you the top spot in your town on the Google results page.
On the other hand, if you do it wrong, Google won’t rank you. All of the time, energy, and money that you spent on your search engine marketing campaign will have been for naught.
That’s why it’s crucial that you do things properly the first time around.
We created this guide to make sure you do things right, so you can avoid the same mistakes that so many lawyers make.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is the practice of optimizing a local business for location specific keywords. It’s incredibly valuable when properly utilized, but unlike traditional SEO, local SEO is heavily dependent on your location.
A well-optimized local website will dominate the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for all location-based searches in its local area, bringing in a plethora of new, qualified inbound leads on a monthly basis.
Why Should Lawyers Care About Local SEO?
You’re losing leads, new clients, and a lot of money to your local competition if you’re not ranking locally.
Think about it:
Thousands of people are searching for your exact service — in your specific area — every single month, and if Joe Schmoe’s Law Group is ranking above you, they’re getting all of your business.
For example, let’s say I was just in a car accident and I want to speak to an attorney about my options. I may not know how to get in touch with a personal injury lawyer in my area…but Google sure does!
After a quick Google search, I’ll be presented with a list of the top lawyers in my area:
The lawyers who show up in the organic search results are raking in a TON of leads simply by ranking in the top 10 results on Google.
It’s also important to note that these are qualified leads. Since they’re searching for a personal injury lawyer in their area, we know they want to speak to an attorney near them.
CPC (Cost Per Click) of local Google ads for lawyers are also incredibly high because of the value of each click. Some lawyers pay between $20-$70 per click because of the worth of a single conversion.
Instead of running ads and paying a small fortune just for clicks, ranking in Google is free and brings evergreen traffic (meaning after your SEO campaign ends, you’ll maintain your rankings). Conversely, when you stop paying for Google ads, your leads dry up as well.
When you need to find a local business, Google is the place to go; if you want more leads for your law firm, the top of Google is the place to be.
Dominating The SERP
There’s a lot of real estate on the SERP and you want to make sure you’re taking up as much space as possible to increase your CTR (Click Through Rate, the percentage of people who click on your website as opposed to your competition).
For example, the keyword “personal injury lawyer nyc” gets roughly 600 searches per month:
The number one position on Google’s organic search typically rakes in 31.7% of clicks, but that percentage drops off dramatically the lower you are on the first page, according to Advanced Web Ranking:
The more space you can occupy at the top of the SERP, the more leads you’ll generate with your website.
Unlike traditional SEO, local SEO has two parts: the regular organic results that you’re used to seeing and the Google Map Pack.
The Google Map Pack
The Map Pack (also commonly referred to as the Google 3 Pack) is displayed at the top of search results, with 3 local businesses and their locations pulled from Google maps. When it comes to local SEO, the map pack is a big deal.
The Map Pack has its own ranking factors separate from the organic results, which we’ll discuss later in this guide.
Some organic search ranking factors apply here like backlinks and reviews, but there’s a lot more to it than that. For example, Google reviews and business citations with your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) affect your rankings in the map pack, but not in the organic search.
Don’t worry — you’re going to learn all about local ranking factors further down the page. You’ll not only be well equipped to tackle the local search results, but also know the proper questions to ask if you decide to hire a professional to do the work on your behalf.
Local Organic Rankings
Being shown front and center in the map pack is great, but if you really want to maximize your lead generation potential, it’s important that you rank in both the map pack and the organic search results.
They’re displayed below the map pack, but still rake in a significant number of clicks.
Google uses traditional ranking factors to determine who ranks in the organic search results, including:
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO
- Technical SEO
For more on the different types of SEO, check out our complete guide here.
Lawyer Keyword Research
Keyword research is essential for every local SEO campaign (or the successful ones, at least).
What is Keyword Research?
A keyword is a search phrase that people type into search engines like Google. In the example above, we displayed the results after searching “personal injury lawyer nyc”.
Every keyword has a different volume (the amount of people searching for it every month) and difficulty (the level of competition you’ll be going up against if you want to secure the top spot).
Trying to increase your website’s organic traffic without conducting thorough and proper keyword research is like trying to build a house without a blueprint.
If you don’t have a plan in place, you’ll be taking shots in the dark. You don’t want to target keywords that don’t have any search volume, nor do you want to go after keywords that are too competitive.
Good keyword research will help you:
- Decide which search phrases you should target
- Plan the structure of your website
- Create helpful content
- Project your monthly search traffic over time
- Estimate how many leads and how much revenue you’ll generate with your search engine marketing campaign
Here are two great ways you can do keyword research for your local area:
The Alphabet Soup Method (Google Suggest)
Most people like to use keyword research tools for this part of the process (which will also be discussed below).
Tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Moz are great, but there’s no better one than Google itself.
When you begin to type something into Google search, it’ll automatically begin to suggest searches based on what you’re most likely to type next.
Google is predicting my search above based on the behavior of everyone else who’s searched something similar before me.
All of the suggested searches you see below the search bar are commonly searched phrases that Google has picked up on, which means they’re most likely good keywords to target — at the very least, they have some search volume behind them.
Google search is great for discovering keyword phrases, using a tactic called the alphabet soup method.
Start by typing a broad topic or keyword into Google search.
Next, begin typing different letters of the alphabet before, after, or in the middle of your main search phrase and look at Google’s suggestions.
Here’s an example of trying different letters before the primary query:
You can use this tactic with a bunch of different search terms and letters of the alphabet to uncover a TON of different keyword ideas.
Using a keyword research tool is another great way to find the perfect keywords that’ll bring value to your local SEO campaign.
It’s important to remember, however, that keyword tools aren’t 100% accurate. They do their best to estimate search volume, but they can’t always hit the nail on the head.
Still, they do prove incredibly useful when it comes to keyword and competitor research.
I’m a huge fan of Ahrefs (no, that’s not an affiliate link — it’s just that good) because they have an excellent keyword explorer, as well as some other features that allow you to spy on the competition.
Let’s check out the keyword “boston injury lawyer“:
We can see it gets roughly 300 searches per month and has an insanely high CPC of $70 per click — that means ranking for this keyword is incredibly valuable.
However, it also looks like it’s difficult to rank for the keyword, so it wouldn’t be wise to target if you’re new to SEO or launching a brand new website.
Instead, it’s wiser to go after “low-hanging fruit” — keywords with slightly lower volume, but also much lower competition.
It’s time to do some spying.
There’s no need to reinvent the SEO wheel. Instead of trying to brainstorm keywords all day, it makes more sense to look at who’s already ranking for our target keyword. Afterwards, we can see what else they’re ranking for and replicate their strategy…just better.
Google’s main priority is serving the best results to their users, no matter the search. A substantial part of SEO is looking at search results and determining how to make your website better than what’s already there.
Competitor research is powerful because it uncovers what’s already working — with that information in mind, you can better design and optimize your website to beat your competitors.
As an example, we’re going to take a look at the #1 ranking law firm for “personal injury lawyer boston” to learn more about their SEO strategy.
When we analyze their domain with Ahrefs, a lot of interesting metrics stand out immediately:
First of all, they are pulling in roughly 1,400 monthly visitors. The real number is probably much higher — again, this is a lowball approximation.
The interesting thing to note here is their traffic value, $31,100 per month. Traffic value is the (estimated) amount of money they’d have to pay for Google ads if they wanted to pull in the same amount of traffic they’re already receiving from organic search.
Remember the keyword “boston injury lawyer” from earlier? It had a CPC of $70, which means an ad would cost $70 for each click on a keyword that got 300 monthly searches.
If you crunch the numbers, that comes out to $21,000 per month, but this firm is getting all of that traffic for free.
Back to competitor research. If we click their “organic keywords,” we can see their organic keywords report which shows us all of the keywords they’re ranking for in Google.
Ahrefs also has a “Top Pages” report that shows all of their top performing URLs and the keywords that are bringing them the most traffic.
If this firm were your competition, it would be wise to check out their website during the keyword research phase so you can get a good idea of what you’re going up against. They are ranking for a number of high-value search terms.
Again, Google wants to return the best result for the user, which means your website has to be better than theirs.
Long Tail vs Short Tail Keywords
Short tail and long tail keywords are the names SEOs have given to — well — short and long keyword phrases.
For example, the keyword “lawyer” is incredibly broad and because of that, it has both insanely high search volume and comparatively high competitiveness.
On the other hand, “personal injury lawyer free consultation” is a long tail keyword because it’s a lot longer and more specific.
In addition to having a lower search volume, it also has a much lower difficulty, making it easier to rank for it.
Targeting broad keywords with a ton of volume is a beginner’s mistake. You may think going after those juicy keywords is a good idea, but it’ll probably end up hurting our SEO campaign more than helping.
First of all, short tail keywords are pretty hard to rank for since they’re so competitive. Even more importantly, it’s hard to match the search intent of a short tail keyword because there’s not enough context to understand exactly what the user is looking for.
Let’s look at the SERP for the keyword “lawyer” as an example:
Google thinks we might be looking for a lawyer in our area, so the Map Pack is displayed at the top of the SERP.
Below that is a Wikipedia page about lawyers, followed by the dictionary definition of “lawyer.”
Further still, we have the traditional organic results: they’re all over the place.
Google is showing a local personal injury lawyer, another page defining what a lawyer is, parole and probation lawyers, and lastly, lawyer-related news stories.
Why are the results so varied?
Google can’t tell exactly what we’re trying to find because the keyword “lawyer” encompasses so many different intents. It doesn’t know if we want to find a lawyer near us, if we’re looking up what a lawyer is, or if we want to find lawyer-related news.
Since we didn’t specify what type of lawyer we’re looking for, we were returned general results for lawyers, practicing in a variety of different fields.
Case in point
Going after short tail keywords usually ends in disaster.
Remember, SEO is about serving the best result for the user, which means we need to understand what the user is looking for based on their query.
When we search for “personal injury lawyer near me,” the results are much more consistent:
Target specific keywords so you know exactly what users want — this way, you know they’re looking for your specific practice and you can make sure you’re showing up number one.
Local SEO Ranking Factors
Local SEO differs from traditional SEO because it’s location-specific. Google needs to know where you’re located and that you’re a trusted, reputable business.
In this section, we’re going to talk about some of the most important local SEO ranking factors that you need to nail if you want to show up in the Map Pack.
Google My Business
According to Moz’s annual Local Ranking Factors Study, Google My Business is the #1 ranking factor for Google Map Pack, accounting for roughly 25% of Map Pack ranking signals.
That’s a pretty big deal and it means your Google My Business listing needs to be on-point.
Yes, your website is still important. Yes, you still need to optimize your site’s on-page, off-page, and technical SEO…but if your Google My Business listing isn’t optimized, you aren’t going to rank in The Map Pack.
Make sure your Google My Business listing is completed with the proper information, has plenty of reviews, and is consistent with your website and business citations (more on that later).
Your name, address, and phone number should be identical on Google My Business, your website, and on local business directories across the web (such as Yelp, for example).
If your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) isn’t consistent, Google will be confused and you’ll be less likely to show up in The Map Pack.
Reviews are another important ranking factor. Just like you read product reviews on Amazon before making a purchase, users read business reviews before using a service.
Having plenty of 5-star ratings looks great when displayed in the Map Pack, but it also helps increase your CTR (another important ranking factor).
Who would you be more likely to call: a firm with dozens of 5-star ratings or one without any ratings at all?
Aside from looking good for your potential clients, positive reviews also signal to Google that you’re a legitimate business that gets the job done right.
If you search for “personal injury lawyer near me” or “personal injury lawyer,” Google will display the Map Pack for both queries. Because it knows the latter is a location-based search, it will display results in your local area.
Just because location proximity is a ranking factor, this doesn’t mean you should try to rank for every city in the country just to increase your organic traffic.
No user wants to perform a local search and find a website ranking in their area, only to discover they have a page for every city in the country, but they don’t have a real office in any of them.
Luckily, Google’s catching on and getting better at preventing this mistake in the first place — don’t try to fool them.
You can’t use a virtual office or have a PO box in every city. Local SEO means local. If you don’t have a physical address in that location, don’t target that keyword.
Service areas are a different story. Assuming you have an office in your city but service clients in the surrounding area, then by all means, target those areas. Just be aware that if you try to game the system, Google will eventually catch on. White hat SEO is done properly the first time, by the book.
Proximity to the searcher is one of the largest ranking factors when it comes to local SEO, which is why it’s important Google knows exactly where you’re located.
That brings us to our next ranking factor, local business citations.
Your Name, Address, and Phone Number are commonly referred to as the NAP, and are listed across the web as “business citations.” They are a significant ranking signal for local SEO because they help Google understand that you’re a real brick-and-mortar business in the location you say you are.
Although it may seem confusing, the reasoning behind the importance of consistent NAP citations is quite understandable: when a legitimate business has existed for some time, you’d expect the name, address, and phone number to appear consistently across the web.
Directories like Yellow Pages, Angie’s List, and Yelp should all be consistent, not to mention industry-specific directories for lawyers and even directories in your local area. You can also get citations from your local Chamber of Commerce and other institutions like it.
Your NAP citations need to match your Google My Business NAP exactly and the same NAP should be displayed on your website as well.
The more times Google sees the same NAP in different places on the web, the more sure they’ll be about your real location…and the more likely you are to be shown in the Map Pack for location-based queries.
Although local SEO has its own set of unique ranking factors, regular SEO still applies.
If your website looks terrible, doesn’t target the right keywords, is hard to use, loads slowly, lacks backlinks (authority), or is plagued by the plethora of other issues that could potentially harm your SEO, you’re not going to rank.
We’ve created a complete guide to SEO for lawyers, which you can check out here.
NAP Citations for Lawyers
This section is all about finding and fixing your inconsistent NAPs across the web.
We’re going to break this down into 3 steps:
- Find inconsistent citations
- Update inconsistencies with proper information
- Build out new citations on other directories
Although citations are a ranking factor and there are hundreds of directories to consider, this part of the process is actually easier than it looks.
Performing a thorough citation audit is the first step — during this phase, you’ll find inconsistencies that you can correct, as well as directories without any information at all.
First, make a note of your business name, address, and phone number exactly as it appears on your Google My Business listing. Cross-reference that with the information on your website’s footer to make sure they’re consistent.
When I say exactly, I mean exactly. Addresses can be written in multiple ways, but you need to pick one and stick with it.
For example, take these two addresses:
- 392 Personal Injury Lawyer Road, Lawyerville, MD 20872
- 392 Personal Injury Lawyer Rd, Lawyerville, Maryland 20872
As you can see, one address can be written in (at least) two different ways. I like to think Google is smart enough to know they’re the same place, but for good measure it’s important that you choose one of the two and stick with it.
If you use “Rd” on your Google My Business listing, it needs to be spelled the same way, on both your website and business citations.
You can also use a tool like Whitespark to analyze your existing business citations quickly. It’ll return a list of all of your existing citations — both correct and incorrect — along with directories that don’t have a citation at all.
Fix Incorrect NAP
Once you have a list of your incorrect business citations, you can either:
- Fix them all yourself manually
- Hire a citation builder company like Bright Local to do it for you
There is no shortage of services that will find and fix incorrect citations for you.
Build Local Citations
After you’ve made sure all of your existing citations are accurate, you should also build out new citations.
Somewhat similar to link building, the more citations you have, the better. Building citations is pretty easy to do — just create an account and add your NAP.
However, with so many directories, it’s time-consuming work that can be a bit of a pain in the neck. That’s why we recommend hiring a citation builder service to do the grunt work for you.
Unlike most link building agencies that use black hat or shady tactics, there’s little room for error when it comes to business citations — it’s hard to screw up copying and pasting your NAP over and over again.
Building your website’s authority in the eyes of Google is crucial if you want to rank organically. Backlinks are effectively votes of trust.
The more votes you have, the more trusted you become. Building links is one of the hardest parts of SEO, but it’s also one of the most rewarding, as long as you do it properly.
Rather than getting involved in a bunch of “link building schemes” or paying for link placements, — both of which can land you on Google’s naughty list — it’s better to generate links organically.
Sure, you could send a ton of link outreach emails, but it’s hard for beginners and incredibly time consuming to do yourself.
Here are a few ways you can build links using white hat (Google friendly) tactics:
Create ‘Linkable Assets’
Creating linkable assets is a great way to attract a lot of attention and backlinks. You can think of a backlink like a virtual citation.
Just like you cite your sources when writing a formal research paper, you should do the same when writing an informative piece of web content. People love to link to helpful, informative pages on the web.
Infographics, industry studies, and interesting data/statistics are great ways to generate links. The same applies to posting the latest news in your industry, as well as being a thought leader in your space.
When people see all of the interesting things you have to share, they’ll naturally mention you and that usually carries a relevant backlink.
Work with Other Lawyers
There are plenty of other businesses in your local area that you can partner up with.
For example, if you practice personal injury law but you have one friend who practices divorce law and another who practices criminal defense, you could create a ’roundup’ page of all of the best lawyers in your area.
In exchange, they’d be happy to recommend you as well. Everybody wins.
Join your local Chamber of Commerce. It’s the easiest backlink you’re ever going to get and you can probably get a business citation out of it too.
I cannot stress the importance of a solid local SEO presence for attorneys. Many if not most of them target a local geographic audience. These people are using smart phones and local maps databases to find the legal services they need. If attorneys are not showing up in those sites and applications, they are invisible to potential clients.