Chapter 3: Keyword Research for Lawyers
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 list13, but we also have some tips specific to attorneys in this section.
Keyword Targeting Based on Searcher Intent
A big part of keyword research for lawyers is selecting phrases that will generate leads. It is possible to determine the intent of a searcher based on the phrases they are using.
There are 7 primary keyword types that should be on your radar:
- Transactional/Purchase Intent
- Long tail queries
- Branded queries
Let’s dive into what each means and the intent behind them.
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” as well as queries that contain an actual location 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 are keyword phrases that people use to find informational content, such as how-to or question-based content. Searchers using these types of phrases are generally in the research phase of finding a lawyer.
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.
- They help attorneys position themselves as an authority on a topic area.
Here are some examples of informational-based queries with the parent-level category of “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.
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 keywords are those a searcher uses to find a specific website, brand, or company. 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 your own firm and/or attorney name.
Unscrupulous firms may try to bid on your firm’s name in Google Ads 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 Keywords
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 Ahrefs14, 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 information-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 for getting clients into the top of your content funnel (which we’ll discuss in the content strategy section).
Searcher Intent in Keyword Research
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.
Here’s an example of a search results page returned using a purchase-intent phrase:
And here’s one that is information-based. As you can see there are no ads displayed:
Conversely, if Google returns informational-based sites and knowledge graph information, chances are searchers have found those types of results to be useful.
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
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.
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.
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 to do keyword research for SEO purposes though.
This is Google’s free keyword analysis interface for website owners. It shows 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.
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.
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 post20 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.
Start by visiting Ahrefs.com, logging in, and clicking 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.
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”.
This part of the report shows you data that you’ll need to make your decisions on which keyword phrases to target.
Here’s a little background on the column headings and what they mean:
- KD: Stands for Keyword Difficulty and is measured 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: This is the total amount of monthly clicks on the search results that appear when people use a particular 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:
- The keyword phrase is relevant to your law firm.
- It has some decent search volume (a couple hundred searches per month or more).
- 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.
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.
From Matthew Laurin, Director of Marketing at Rankings.io
Keyword research is a dynamic 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.
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.