Chapter 6: Local SEO for Attorneys
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO refers to the strategy and tactics of optimizing a website and its surrounding online presence to show prominently in 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
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.
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 that staffing must be your own.
- You must have permanent signs visible from street view.
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 NAP (Name, address, phone number) that is consistent 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 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. While attorneys need not prioritize all directories, no attorney should sleep on these.
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.
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:
Be as specific as possible when choosing your category. For example, you should choose “personal injury attorney” instead of just “attorney”.
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 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.
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.
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 (e.g., car and truck accidents, slip and fall, etc.).
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 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 optimize it as completely as possible. They should also be as active as they can on the platform, answering visitor questions and earning reviews.
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.
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.
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 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.
There are many more citation and local directory sites where attorneys should be listed. Getting information on all of those properties can take a long time and that’s where citation tools can add a lot of value.
These tools take one set of information (such as firm names, addresses, phone numbers, websites, emails, logos, and business descriptions) and distribute it across hundreds of business listing websites.
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).
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.