Introduction to Local SEO
You want to show up in the local map pack when people search for an attorney. There are a few key things within your control to make that happen more often than not.
By the time you finish reading this chapter, you’ll know:
- The three core factors Google uses in its local ranking algorithm
- How to optimize your Google Business Profile 10x better than your competitors
- How to get the best cases through strategic reviews
- How to get your business listed on thousands of sites
- How to submit to citations and directories for maximum impact
- How to nuke local spammers and stop them from stealing your business
- Local SEO: Local SEO is the method of optimizing a website to enhance its visibility and rankings for locally-oriented queries on search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Local Search: Local Search is a type of search for geographically specific products, services, or information, usually intended to find local businesses or organizations.
- NAP: NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone number. It is the basic business contact information consistently displayed across different online platforms, vital for local SEO.
- Google Business Profile (GBP): Google Business Profile is a free tool by Google for businesses to create and manage their online presence, including business information, reviews, and photos. It was formerly known as Google My Business (GMB) until late 2022.
- Local Pack: Local Pack is a section of Google’s search results that presents local business listings in a map view, typically shown at the top of SERPs for location-focused queries.
- Citations: Citations are online mentions of a business’s NAP information across various websites and directories. Consistent and accurate citations can boost local search rankings.
- Reviews and Ratings: Reviews and Ratings are user-generated assessments and feedback on a business’s products or services. Positive reviews and high ratings can improve visibility and trustworthiness in local search results.
- Local Schema Markup: Local Schema Markup is a form of structured data markup that provides search engines with extra details about a business, enhancing their understanding of the local content’s context and relevance.
- Local Landing Pages: Local Landing Pages are web pages explicitly designed to cater to local search queries, typically featuring location-specific content and optimized keywords.
- Local Citation Building: Local Citation Building is the process of managing and acquiring mentions of a business’s NAP information on different online platforms; aimed at improving local search visibility.
- Local Link Building: Local Link Building is the practice of securing backlinks from locally relevant and authoritative websites, aiming to bolster a business’s local search rankings.
- Local On-Page Optimization: Local On-Page Optimization refers to the practice of enhancing individual web pages with a local intent, involving optimization of meta tags, content, and URLs with location-based keywords.
- Geo-Targeting: Geo-Targeting is the practice of presenting location-specific content or ads to users based on their geographical location, facilitating businesses in customizing their marketing efforts to particular regions.
- Online Reputation Management (ORM): Online Reputation Management (ORM) involves controlling and influencing a business’s online reputation, including the management of reviews and customer feedback.
- Local Search Ranking Factors: Local Search Ranking Factors are the criteria or signals search engines utilize when deciding the ranking of local search results, including factors like relevance, distance, prominence, and the accuracy of NAP info.
How Does Google Determine Local Ranking for Law Firms?
Google uses multiple factors to determine local results rankings for law firms that we can group into three primary categories: relevance, distance, and prominence.
As discussed previously, Google wants to help searchers get the most relevant and helpful information using a combination of signals.
At its core, the first thing it attempts to do is understand the meaning of a searcher’s query—what they call the “intent” behind the query. Understanding language isn’t the easiest thing to do, and there’s a lot that goes on under the hood to enable them to do this.
And Google is constantly working to improve its ability to do this.
From the introduction of RankBrain and neural matching, first released in 2015 and 2018, respectively, to their more recent advancements with BERT and MUM (one of the core engines behind the upcoming SGE (Search Generative Experience).
In the context of local search results, Google’s machine learning algorithms determine when someone is looking for something local.
Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. A combination of these factors helps us find the best match for your search. For example, our algorithms might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer, and therefore rank it higher in local results.
Relevance in the context of local search refers to how closely a local business listing matches what someone is searching for. This is determined by evaluating many aspects of a business’s profile information and its associated website content.
Here are some ways relevance can be influenced:
- Category of the business: Google allows businesses to specify their categories (e.g., “restaurant,” “bookstore,” “gym”) when setting up their Google My Business listing. This helps Google understand what kind of services or products the business provides and how relevant it might be to a particular search query.
- Keywords in the business profile: Using relevant keywords in the business’s name, description, and even in customer reviews can improve the business’s relevance to specific search queries. For example, a bakery that specializes in vegan products may be more relevant to searches for “vegan bakery” if it uses that keyword in its profile and its customers mention it in their reviews.
- Website content: The information on the linked website also influences relevance. For instance, if a local business has their menu, services, or products clearly listed and well-described on their website, Google can better understand the relevance of the business to specific search queries.
- Information consistency across the web: Consistent business information across various directories, citation websites, and social media platforms can reinforce the relevance signals to Google.
- Interaction with the listing: How users interact with a business’s listing could potentially influence its relevance. For example, if users frequently click on a specific listing after a particular type of search, Google might interpret this as the listing being very relevant to that search.
Distance considers how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search. If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we do know about their location.
Distance is one of the key factors that Google’s local search ranking algorithm considers when deciding the order of local search results.
It refers to how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search. If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about the user’s location.
Here’s how the distance factor works in local search:
- Proximity to the Searcher: Google uses the searcher’s location data to determine which businesses are nearby. For example, if a user searches for “pizza restaurant,” Google will prioritize pizza restaurants that are closer to the user’s current location. However, as mentioned in the previous section about relevance, Google’s algorithms might determine a business that’s farther away might be a better result than one that’s closer and rank it higher.
- Proximity to the Search Location Term: If the search includes a specific location (for example, “coffee shops in downtown Chicago”), Google will prioritize results that are closer to the mentioned location (“downtown Chicago” in this case), regardless of the searcher’s actual location.
- Google My Business Listing Address: The physical address of a business, as provided in its Google My Business listing, is used to determine distance. It’s crucial for businesses to ensure that their location details are accurate and up-to-date.
Prominence refers to how well known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands are also likely to be prominent in local search results.
Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business, from across the web, like links, articles, and directories. Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimization (SEO) best practices apply.
Prominence is where things get much more nuanced compared to relevance and distance. It’s the least understood of all three ranking factors.
Relevance and distance dramatically overwhelm prominence, but prominence is the one you have most within your control.
Key things you can do to improve your prominence include:
- Getting high-quality and relevant reviews
- Getting mentioned around the web in the form of backlinks and citations
- Improving your website’s ranking position in the traditional ranking results
However, it’s easy to get relevance wrong. Explore the interactive example below to see how the closest personal injury firm to the searcher’s location doesn’t even rank in the first three results because their office hours indicated they’re closed.
How to Improve Your Local Ranking on Google
Claiming your Google Business Profile (GBP) listing is the single most important thing you can do to improve your local ranking on Google.
Learn how to set up Google Business Profile for personal injury attorneys in this step-by-step guide.
If your firm has more than 10 locations, you may want to use the bulk update option to manage multiple locations more easily.
At a minimum, follow the recommendations below to improve your local ranking.
Complete Your GBP
Relevance is the most heavily weighted factor for local results. The simplest thing you can do is fill out your Google Business Profile with the most complete and up-to-date information possible (and keep it updated).
Key things include:
- The physical address people can visit you at (not a virtual address)
- The phone number people can reach you at
- Your category
Make sure you claim the right category. This is the largest mistake I see attorneys make. For example, If you’re a personal injury attorney, your category should be “personal injury attorney,” not “law firm.”
If you’re a criminal defense attorney, you should be claiming “criminal justice attorney.”
<div class="callout callout-success"><p><strong>Claiming the right category can dramatically boost your relevance score.</strong></p><p><a href="https://rankings.io/google-my-business-for-lawyers/">Learn how to edit your Google Business information</a>.</p></div>
Verify Your Profile
Businesses with a verified location are more likely to show up in local search results. For lawyers, this is table stakes. Things are too competitive in the legal space to expect your business to appear without being verified.
Don’t waste your time setting up virtual offices and trying to trick Google. You’re living on borrowed time and may violate ethics rules depending on your location.
Set Your Office Hours & Keep Them Updated
You may want to offer potential leads the ability to contact you 24/7 if you don’t want to miss out on leads. Unless you somehow think people won’t get hurt or need a lawyer on the weekends.
That doesn’t mean you have to drop everything to go help them. But you can set up 24/7 intake options to you don’t get suppressed on the weekends, as we showed in the example earlier.
Manage & Respond to Client Reviews
Get legitimate reviews for your business as frequently as you can and respond to them.
Here’s what Google says about reviews:
When people see you respond to reviews, they’re more likely to leave you a review as well. To get the most reviews, make it as easy as possible for your clients. Create links to send to clients they can use to directly launch the review experience for your business.
Learn how to create a link for client reviews.
Ever wondered why you get all the tire-kickers and your competitors get the best cases?
Compare the quality of your reviews to yours. Firms with better reviews get better cases.
Clients are internet savvy these days. They spend time researching on Google and other platforms before they make a decision.
They do less research for small issues, such as traffic tickets, but they’ll take their time when it’s something more serious like personal injury.
When clients check lawyer reviews, they notice a pattern. Firms with a large number of reviews seem better. This is true even if a firm with fewer reviews has a higher score.
The secondary (and arguably more valuable) benefit that isn’t discussed enough is the impact a high rating (e.g., 5.0) has on queries that include a superlative like “best” or “top.”
Google won’t rank you for these types of queries if your rating is low.
Why You Should Reply to All Reviews
A common misconception is that you need only reply to negative reviews. It’s understandable: you want to defend yourself and your practice, especially in public.
However, there is value in replying to all reviews, positive, negative, and in-between. Here are the key benefits:
- Think of reviews as content. We’ve all read the studies that longer-form content tends to rank better. Likewise, when your local directories receive a review, it strengthens their position in search engines. Every review is an opportunity to create additional content for the page and make your overall web presence more robust.
- Responding to reviews makes you look like a human being. It’s difficult to convey empathy or establish a rapport digitally. However, saying please and thank you works just as well online as off, and it goes a long way towards the customer experience. If someone had a great experience, they may be more likely to recommend you to others in the future.
- By responding to Google My Business reviews, you initiate a notification to the user who left the review. This further keeps you top-of-mind, and it’s important to take advantage of every simple brand advancement strategy that you can.
Add High-Quality Photos
You don’t have goods and services to showcase like most businesses, but you do have attorneys, intake assistants, and clients. Show people how professional your firm is by adding high-quality photos of your business to your profile.
Learn how to add photos or videos to your Google Business Profile.
Tip: Photos should be at least 720 pixels wide by 720 pixels tall, and either a JPG or PNG.
Don’t neglect images and videos. Google is pretty smart, but sometimes they incorrectly interpret images.
If you want your business to have the image of a trash can, go ahead and skip this step.
Adding more imagery than your competitors has a direct relationship with increased prominence. Our study of 112,000 search results reaffirmed our certainty that images have a measurable effect on rankings.
Google subtly makes it known how important images and video are within the analytics reports for GBP.
Notice how Google compares the number of views your images have with those of “businesses like yours” (read: your local competition).
The above photo references a client of ours who ranks #1 for “Philadelphia car accident lawyer.” As you can see, their firm has nearly 10x the views as their competition. It would be natural to ask how many photos they have, so let’s take a look at that below:
We have seen a direct correlation between the number of photos and local rankings across the board for all of our clients.
Did you know Google can put you in touch with a Google Certified Photographer?
Not only can they shoot a 360 tour of your office, but they can assist in maximizing the use of imagery on your Google My Business profile.
What are the Best Websites to Get Reviews for Attorneys?
We’ve said it before, but prominence means being everywhere. It not only helps with your rankings but also the overall perception of quality for your firm. It’s a psychological trigger.
Here are some of the most beneficial sites on which to get reviews:
It can be difficult to get GBP reviews because it requires a Google account. However, it’s the highest weighted site in regards to your local search engine optimization, so I always emphasize to attorneys to try and get a review here before the others.
<div class="callout callout-warning"><p><strong>One Caveat:</strong> Even if you have a client who is an evangelist for your firm, make sure that they only leave a review for the location at which they had a client experience. If that individual leaves a review in multiple locations, all reviews could be filtered or trigger a manual review.</p></div>
Facebook has the lightest TOS. They don’t mention anything about conflicts of interest, peer endorsements, etc. It’s also a very authoritative site, and there’s a high likelihood of your consumer having a Facebook profile. They may not have a Gmail account, but they almost certainly have an account with Facebook, so that would always be my second recommendation.
Yelp is a beast as a review site. However, it has explicit policies against review solicitation, so here’s your warning: if you get caught, there’s a chance to be banned from Yelp or penalized (and show up at the bottom).
Trust me on this, I know of a few firms who’ve had this happen to them.
Yelp reviews are still incredibly important, though. I wouldn’t send a direct link, but I would send a link to Yelp and allow them to navigate to your profile; this has a lower chance of being filtered.
Yelp has a lot of impact since it aggregates reviews to multiple sites.
Better Business Bureau (BBB.org)
The BBB is a great place for somewhat-anonymous reviews (first name, initial of last name).
If you’re a criminal defense or bankruptcy attorney experiencing the added challenge of acquiring reviews, this can be a great resource for you.
BBB is also referenced several times in Google’s content quality guidelines, so it’s reasonable to assume that Google views them as a trusted authority.
The Yellow Pages typically ranks well, and the review rating shows up in Google Search. It has a ton of indexed pages and gets a lot of traffic. It’s a site that I would try to get at least one 5-star rating review.
With one 5-star review, the star rating will display in search results.
Local data aggregators provide a way to easily disperse your business information (name, address, phone number, images, etc.) to thousands of sites.
There are four main data aggregators:
- Data Axle
- Neustar Localeze
In order to submit to them, you have a few options: Moz Local, BrightLocal, and Yext (although this last recommendation is conditional, subject to your agreement).
Yext has some advantages over the other two if you are utilizing their API effectively. Brightlocal is the best from a pure cost standpoint.
You need to submit your information to the data aggregators. Don’t rely on an agency to handle everything for you. There are several directories that will require verification from you directly. So don’t let it slip through the cracks.
Because they disperse your information to so many sites, it’s important to the extra effort and time to thoroughly optimize your profile. That means:
- Tons of images & video
- Accurate descriptions
- Operating hours
- Proper categories, etc.
Citations aren’t as impactful in other industries. But legal is too competitive to ignore putting every check in the box.
The thing to ask yourself is if you have the time to do everything manually or if you’d rather cut out the middleman and use one of the tools listed above for less than $100.
Your mileage may vary, but I value my time too much not to use an aggregator.
What is a Citation?
A citation is an online mention of a business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP). Citations help enhance visibility and local search engine rankings.
Similar to a backlink, they’re a ranking factor that Google considers when determining the authority of your site. The key difference is that a citation (unlike a backlink) does not need to be directly linked to your site for you to receive a benefit from it.
Top Citation Sites
Here is a top 10 list of local citations in the U.S.
- Apple Maps
- Google My Business
- Yellow Pages
- Merchant Circle
And here’s a list of the local citations for lawyers.
Top Local Citation Sites
Here is a list of the top local citations, as sorted by city. Check your local geography since these will vary from location to location.
Here’s a top 10 list for the legal industry.
- Justia (see our complete review of Justia here).
- Law Guru
- Best Lawyers
Explore our full list of recommended citation websites for lawyers.
How to Fight Google Business Spam
Plenty of firms out there will try to scam the system to get an advantage on Google. Don’t let them.
- Monitor your primary keyword phrases in the local three-pack. This includes keeping an eye on your competitors’ rankings.
- Identify and take action on those violating Google’s TOS (such as fake reviews/listings/photos, keyword stuffing, or using virtual offices without attorneys on staff).
- Submit a complaint directly to Google here.
- Report frequent violators here.
<div class="callout callout-info"><p>Here’s what local SEO expert <a href="https://www.sterlingsky.ca/">Joy Hawkins of Sterling Sky</a> has to say on the matter:</p><p>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 Google’s guidelines.</p><p>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:</p><p><strong><i>Keyword stuffing:</strong></i> 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.</p><p>They found that having the keyword in the business name causes you to rank about 1.5 spots higher.</p><p>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.</p><p><strong><i>Fake listings:</strong></i> 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p><strong><i>Fake Reviews:</strong></i> 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.</p><p>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.”</p></div>