On-site SEO for Lawyers
This chapter covers on-site SEO for lawyers. In it, we will explore:
- how to create an optimal site structure for scaling your law firm
- how to optimize your title tags for maximum impact
- how to optimize your meta descriptions without pulling a fast one on Google
- how to speed up your site (so consumers don’t leave)
- how to properly utilize internal links to distribute link equity and improve dwell time
- what the heck is legal service schema and why should you care?
- how to optimize images and get more bang for your buck from top-performing content
How to Create an Optimal Site Structure for Your Law Firm
In previous chapters, we’ve talked about why it’s important to do keyword research and why it’s critical for you to have keyword-specific content on your website. However, before you go gangbusters on creating content for your website, you need to consider the overall structure of your website, as this has an impact on your ability to scale.
The first decision you have to make it which URL you want to utilize: flat or multiple sub-directory permalinks.
What is a flat URL structure?
A flat URL structure is one that does not use sub-directory folders. Here’s an example:
What is a multiple sub-directory structure?
Like it sounds, a multiple sub-directory structure uses a number of directory folders to organize website content. Here are some examples:
Which structure is better?
Most search engine optimization specialists will tell you to use a multiple sub-directory structure. This has some inherent problems:
- the permalink (similar to a title tag) has a character limit; if you want to emphasize a keyword, it’s important that it appears early in the URL structure
- In fact, Backlinko’s Brian Dean did a study (analyzing more than one million search results) and concluded that shorter URLs rank better, all things being equal.
- this structure can also place emphasis on keywords that don’t have a relevant search volume (see above: no one searches for practice areas or locations)
This is not to say that there aren’t websites that rank using a sub-directory structure; obviously there are. However, in our experience (even with particularly large sites), a flatter structure yields better results. Here’s why:
- the keyword is emphasized earlier, so there’s no confusion on Google’s part about which keyword in the URL should rank; it’s pretty clear, as it’s the only one used
Last caveat – while the pros outweigh the cons when using a flat architecture, there is one important con that should be addressed: with a flat architecture, all pages must utilize internal linking best practices.
The reason is that a sub-directory structure has a natural hierarchy that promotes good internal linking among a websites pages. To achieve the same result using a flat structure, breadcrumbs must be utilized (shown below).
Why is it important?
If you want to rank in highly competitive metros, it’s imperative that you utilize all available advantages. A flat architecture is easier to implement and provides more opportunity to rank in search.
It’s the first item in this chapter for a reason.
Optimizing Title Tags for Maximum Impact
Optimizing a title tag is well-known as one of the most impactful tactics for on-page SEO. This is the first method for informing Google about a given page’s topic. Here are some dos and don’ts:
- use fewer than 60 characters
- start with keyword upfront
- always include a city or state, when optimizing for local search
- go with “lawyer” over “attorney,” as it has more search volume, typically
- use a modifier, such as “near me,” “hire,” “free consult”
- target multiple geographies; instead, have a state- and city-specific page
- include a phone number
- target multiple practice areas (e.g., car and truck accidents on the same)
- add the firm name at the beginning
Here’s the foundational formula that we use for practice area pages:
City + practice area + lawyer
That is, “Chicago Car Accident Lawyer”
Depending upon the length of the practice area keyword, you can then add modifiers to improve click-through rates (such as “Chicago Car Accident Lawyer | Free Consult”) or for additional search volume opportunity (such as “Chicago Car Accident Lawyer Near Me”).
How to Optimize Your Meta Descriptions Without Pulling a Fast One on Google
The goal of writing a good meta description is to create compelling content (albeit in an abbreviated form). By doing so, you create the opportunity to capture searchers as they browse search results. The richer and more enticing the meta description, the greater the chance that a prospective client on Google’s search results will visit your page. There’s no ironclad blueprint for writing good meta descriptions, but all effective ones need to include your geography and primary keyword, couched in a compelling reason to click through the result. Here’s an example of a quality meta description:
(Note: the above example uses the word “best,” which is frowned upon by most state bar associations, but this is otherwise a superb meta description; always be careful when using superlatives in your advertising. Ensure that your SEO or PPC agency understands the restrictions placed on law firm marketing in your respective state.)
However, one common mistake that I see many lawyers make: placing your office phone number in the meta description. Here’s why that’s a misstep:
By placing your contact info in the meta description, you are providing a prospective client with the opportunity to not click through to your site, but still reach you. Google has no way of knowing the success or failure of that call, or even that such a call took place. Consequently, Google may be less likely to serve your results to searchers, as they interpret the lack of clicks as a lack of confidence.
In fact, our study of over 112,000 law firm websites showed a direct correlation between meta-data optimization and better ranking positions.
How and Why You Should Speed Up Your Website…Without a Degree in Web Development
Let’s cut right to the chase: 53% of all mobile users leave a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. With search increasingly being driven by mobile use, that’s a percentage of your prospective client base that you simply cannot afford to ignore or underserve.
How to Check Your Website Speed
First, head to PageSpeed Insights and run a diagnostic scan. Here’s an example of how the results might look:
(Please note: not our client 🐢)
Most of the time, the largest obstacle to a better website speed is the use of uncompressed, high-definition images. If you upload uncompressed images frequently, this tends to drag down the overall performance of your site. Remedy this by installing the Smush Image Compression and Optimization (formerly WPSmush.it) plugin.
This tool removes extraneous and hidden information from your images, reducing their file sizes (compressing them) and streamlining your load times. It also scans new images as you upload them, repeating the process of stripping away the unnecessary data.
How to Optimize Internal Links
What is an internal link?
It’s applying link anchor text to another page, found on the same website, with the intention of helping a consumer with navigation. For example, in future chapters, we’ll talk about effective link building techniques, such as utilizing legal directories.
Why does it matter?
Using links within the body of your content to bridge the gap between related articles is not only beneficial for the user experience, but it also helps to distribute link equity and improve important signals for Google. You can think of link equity (inbound backlinks) as being a measurable quantity, fluidly moving throughout the pages of your site. By using internal links, you can distribute the equity of those links to your most important pages. This has a side effect of allowing those pages a better opportunity for ranking.
Another significant benefit of internal linking is keeping a user engaged on your site for a longer period of time, thus lowering your bounce rates. In practical terms, if Google sees a consumer staying on one website longer than another, it may interpret this as the user having a better experience on the site where they stayed the longest.
Lastly, I want to point out that internal links also have a positive effect on conversion rates, as they direct a consumer towards the bottom of the funnel, to your conversion point (that is, the contact form).
What the Heck Is Legal Service Schema and Why Should You Care?
For attorneys, legal service schema is the most important structured data to add to a website. Adding legal services schema to your site explicitly tells Google that the content is related to a law firm.
Legal service schema markups can make your page more relevant to users searching for legal information, which typically results in an increase to your click-through rate. In this way, having schema markup gives you an additional opportunity to rank over those sites that do not.
One final bonus tip (before I share an example): you can insert “free consultation” into the priceRange field, rather than fees (as shown below).
Here’s an example of a fully optimized legal service schema.
How to Optimize Images and Get Maximum Value from Your Top-Performing Pages
The first step, of course, is to determine precisely which pages on your site are performing well. You can do this through Google Search Console or our preferred method, Ahrefs’s Top Pages. After you’ve identified a page to be optimized, drill down into performance to look for keywords that aren’t ranking #1 (see example below of our client, Dolman Law Group).
Next, modify existing image alt text to include these phrases or add images with them. Google crawls alt text to determine what is shown in an image. This is an easy way to add low-hanging fruit keywords onto the page without having to include them in the body of the content. Sometimes it’s difficult to include phrases because they don’t make sense, organically speaking, within the body text; alt text optimization allows you to sidestep this, in a way.