Simply put, keyword research is the identification of those terms and queries that individuals are manually using in Google’s search engine.
For attorneys, keyword research works side-by-side with your efforts to provide awareness for your brand and give prospective clients an easy outlet to get in touch with you. Queries related to a particular legal situation (such as “what to do after a car accident”) or their specific purchase intent (“hire a car accident attorney”) are common and useful for personal injury law firms. Likewise, for a criminal defense attorney, examples of queries might be “should you take a field sobriety test” or “hire a DUI attorney.”
You can write the best content in the world, but if you aren’t targeting keywords properly (i.e., those with search volume), no one will see it…and that means no one will read it.
As mentioned above, keyword research (when done correctly) enables many other facets of search engine optimization. Investing in content creation can provide long-term benefits for your practice, both as a means of building awareness and conversions/case acquisitions…but again, that content creation won’t stand without the proper keyword research to serve as its foundation.
Keyword research and analysis is part art, part science. No matter how advanced tools are, they rarely can predict search volume impressions with precision. Surveying your clients can be a good starting point.
You’ve heard the saying “model the masters.” In this case, one of the best starting points is to create a mind-map based upon the top-ranking sites in your market. See what practice area pages and blogs they’re creating, then model them. This will give you a good pool of personal injury keywords to start with; then you can analyze those keywords in the future to see if they have search volume opportunity.
Avvo is a leading legal directory. Their site includes an active Q&A forum, where real consumers/prospective clients air their legal queries, with responses from attorneys nationwide. If you look for trends in consumer questions, you can start to build a bank of keywords that you know prospective clients are actually using.
Similar to Avvo, laywers.com has an “Ask a Lawyer” section, where users contribute questions and lawyers are free to offer their advice.
Once you’ve identified a pool of keywords (through mind-mapping, manual competitor analysis, etc.), you can analyze these using Google Search. Drag them into Search one at a time, then scroll down to find related terms and queries. In this way, you can further expand your pool of keyword with ancillary terms and phrases. For example, see search results below:
And here’s searches related to that term (from the bottom of the results page):
Google Trends is a free tool that you can use to identify what is timely and current in terms of consumer interests. It shows you if a specific keyword is trending upwards or downwards, as well as if it’s grown in demand over time.
While not as full-featured as some of the other tools on this list, it is always worth considering that Google has more raw data in their hands than anyone else. Their Keyword Planner is a perfectly reasonable place to start, as you’ll be looking at a very broad subsection of the internet through their analytics.
Answer the Public dives deeper into the zeitgeist through the use of interrogatives (who, what, when, where, why) and prepositions (for, of, with, etc.). The results that it generates by the keyword phrase are also visually interesting and can help prime the pump for weeks of content generation.
Sample Questions result:
Google Analytics is another free tool within the Google Suite. You can get some keyword data in Acquisition>Search Console>Queries (note that you will need to link Google Search Console with Google Analytics for data to appear in this report).
Neil Patel’s UberSuggest is one of the best free keyword research tools available. Not only does it provide information on the keyword itself (in regards to volume, competitive difficulty, etc.), it also generates ideas and suggestions for related keywords.
“Search Console tools and reports help you measure your site’s Search traffic and performance, fix issues, and make your site shine in Google Search results.” – Google
Google Search Console provides more transparent query data than the related Google Analytics Suite, which gives you a better idea of where to optimize or what to target in the future. To take advantage, go to Performance>Queries.
While I don’t frequently use SEMRush for keyword research, it is a leading keyword research tool. In fact, Robbie Richards asked 139 SEO experts about their preferred research tool and SEMRush was the most widely used.
I think 132 of them are wrong, of course, but that’s just my opinion. 🙂
Personally, this is my favorite keyword research tool. While Ahrefs is a paid tool, I think the power that it generates gives it an overwhelming advantage compared to most free tools. When you consider the fact that it’s not only a keyword research tool, but also one of the best tools for competitive analysis, the cost (which is moderate) is easy to justify.
I have no personal affiliation with Ahrefs and am receiving no consideration for expressing this viewpoint. I simply find it to be the best tool for keyword research. Here’s how we use it:
I typically enter 1-3 keywords (that are semantically related) at a time. For example, this is how I would research keywords around “car accident lawyer”:
First, I would enter into Keywords Explorer three keywords related to “car accident lawyer,” such as “car accident lawyer,” “auto accident attorney,” and “automobile accident lawyers.”. You can enter more than three keywords at a time, but be sure that they’re thematically similar; this helps you create a better focus for topic clusters and aids internal linking strategies.
Next, analyze your results by reviewing the keyword volume for those terms that you’re researching. You’ll want to look for keywords that have not only a lot of search volume (100+), but also low keyword difficulty scores. It’s hard to give a ballpark target for keyword difficulty (as this has to be contextualized against the competition), but as a general rule, it’s fairly easy to rank for anything below 30.
From this analysis, you’ll have identified if your desired terms are worth pursuing.
Lastly, you can use the “Questions” section of “Keyword Ideas” (located on the upper left-hand side of the screen) to help generate mid- and top of funnel-based blogs. Here’s a sample result for the query “car accident lawyer.”
The second tactic is to type in the keywords for which you’re striving to rank in your location, find the top-ranking competitor, and insert their URL into Site Explorer>Top Pages. For example, if I were in St. Louis and trying to rank for “car accident lawyer” in the city, I would take a look at the top-ranking site’s page report:
This will allow you to analyze the quality of the content on your competitors’ pages, as well as the top keywords for which they rank.
In our opinion (as you might have guessed), it’s Ahrefs.
One last factor to consider when doing keyword research is intent. While many queries may have search volume, they don’t necessarily translate to signed cases. For example, the first result in “Questions” for “car accident lawyer” is a prime example of a query that has volume, but has very little value to you as a lawyer.
I understand that you could make a case for this keyword, because you could use this as an opportunity to educate consumers on the value of hiring a lawyer vs. going it alone. It could also serve as a potential linkable article for your editorial outreach.
However, when you consider the amount of keywords available with direct and obvious purchase intent, queries like this should be at the bottom of most editorial calendars. They simply aren’t worth the effort for such a small return.
Another frequent violation of intent that I see personal injury lawyers make is blogging about current events, such as recent vehicle accidents. You need to consider the intent of an individual who searches for “two individuals killed on highway 99.”
It’s very unlikely that they are looking to hire a lawyer; in most situations, it’s simply someone looking for local news, rather than seeking an attorney or legal counsel.
This type of article also has other negative consequences: because the article isn’t evergreen, it provides little value for the future. In fact, it also depletes the overall authority of your link equity. To expound, think of your inbound link equity as if it were a pitcher of water (where the pitcher represents all of the backlinks pointing to your site) and the content of your website as a receptacle. If that receptacle is a baking sheet, and you pour the contents of the pitcher onto it, the water will spread broadly, but the depth will be shallow. If the receptacle is a mixing bowl, the water will spread, but much of the depth can be maintained.
To put it differently, the fewer pages you have, the more link equity flows through them. Increasing the number of pages simply dilutes that equity, thus making it harder to rank.
Don’t just take our word for it: Gary Illyes (Google’s webmaster trends analyst) stated in 2016 that an expansive site (one with numerous pages and deep directories) can actually be a negative for search engine optimization purposes if it’s not managed properly. He said:
“Narrow it down as much as you can. Don’t create low quality and no value add pages. It’s just not worth it because one thing is that we don’t necessarily want to index those pages. We think that it’s a waste of resources. The other thing is that you just won’t get quality traffic. If you don’t get quality traffic then why are you burning resources on it?”
Generally, you’ll want to do keyword research for practice area pages, which function at the bottom of the funnel for conversion/sales. These showcase your expertise and include calls-to-action. Examples of conversion keywords include:
The legal marketing industry is hypercompetitive. If you run a law firm and want to generate new clients as part of your marketing strategy, much of your success hinges on whether or not your website can be found in Google search.
The second type of articles that you should create falls into the middle to top of the funnel. These answer legal questions and provide awareness for prospective clients. Examples of awareness keywords include:
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. Search engine optimization is an investment and PPC is a cost, the same way that a healthy diet is an investment vs. the cost of plastic surgery.