Business referrals also play a huge role in building a practice for attorneys but can only go so far. What happens when you want more business or would like to expand your firm? Many practices turn to market and advertising– yellow page ads, radio, TV commercials, lawyer directories. These are all good ways to promote your practice, but what if I told you there is a “free” source of leads that would facilitate potential seeking you out, right at the time he/she needed your services? Well, there is, and it’s called the modern-day search engine.
Search engines, when used to the fullest extent, can act as pre-qualifying authoritative referral sources. Just as a consumer is more likely to get product or service recommendations from a friend or family member verses take what a commercial has to say at face value, search engines can be a strong lead source in your practice’s marketing mix because of the trust they are given for finding unbiased information.
Have you ever wondered why some attorney websites have top ten rankings on search engines while others do not? You’re about to learn some of the secrets. Do not take this information lightly. As an attorney, what you are about to read could earn you thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars in new cases and legal fees. Below are Five Basic Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tips for Lawyers that have taken me years to understand. While paid listings or “sponsored links” do have a high ROI when managed properly, this article, in particular, is only speaking toward the natural or unpaid listings you see on popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and MSN.
Some of these techniques may seem very easy to understand, even implement, but that is the beauty of it. With all the false information out there, it takes a long time to know what has value and what does not. As Mark Twain said, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have the time to write a short one.” It has taken me years to weed through the tricks and fly-by-night gimmicks and false information, so enjoy and feel free to contact me with any questions. With that said, I present to you five crucial keys to organic search engine optimization.
SEO Tip One: Use Descriptive & Unique Meta Titles
Did you know one of your firm’s site’s most important areas regarding search ranking is the “Meta Title” of your home page? This is the title that appears on the blue frame around your browser (i.e., Internet Explorer, Firefox). The title also appears in search listings. You can see your website’s title in its raw coding by choosing “View” and “View source code” from your browser.
Anatomy of the Meta Information
In epistemology, the prefix meta- is used to mean about (its own category). A website’s meta information is typically made up of three distinct areas: title, description, and keywords. According to many well-known SEO gurus, the “keywords” section is completely useless, but it can harm you if you use too many keywords.
Most major search engines have now filtered out the importance of the “keywords” section because of past abuse, “keyword stuffing,” as well as placing long lists of irrelevant highly searched terms. Do not put too many keywords in the keywords section, and do not rely on this section to help with search engine optimization (SEO). Some SEO experts still use it “just in case, ” but only place 10 – 15 keywords, never repeating, and using a comma after every term.
The title, however, is still a hugely important area to naturally work in highest level key phrases, along with branding the firm or your name if acting as an independent practice. However, do not repeat keywords, and do not use more than 12 words or around 65 characters. Otherwise, the full title will not be seen in search, and having an overabundance of words will dilute its power anyway. Google also has a filter or penalty block for sites that repeat one word too often in titles.
What’s in a Name?
Check your meta title right now! Choose “View” and “View source code” from your browser. Does it only have the name of your firm? That is fine if you are doing other advertising and your firm has lots of name recognition, but you are leaving a lot of money on the table. What about those prospects you miss out on who are typing into the search engines more generic phrases without any firms or attorney names in mind? For example, a search engine user types in “Personal Injury Attorney Dallas.” If you do not have specific words describing your practice in your meta title, your site is less likely to appear at the top than an attorney who does.
Your meta title can make or break your search engine rankings for valuable placement. Use a different title for every page of your site, making sure it describes the page’s content and/or user function (such as an “About” page, use the word “About So and So Firm.”). With deeper pages further away from the homepage, use varying logical keywords that describe the page and are akin to the words a user might type in seeking out that specific information.
It may seem like if you repeat the same title over and over again on other pages, your site will perform better for those keywords, but it will not; you will be cannibalizing your efforts. You can use your name or the name of your firm, but place it near the end of the title. Keep a unique part toward the beginning. Proximity and density also play a role. This one tip could warrant a whole article on best practices on its own, but for now, start with recognizing your meta title’s importance. I will be publishing a more advanced “nuts and bolts” article covering how you should plan a reverse keyword pyramid for your site titles, as well as other titling recommendations.
SEO Tip Two: Acquire Relevant Backlinks
Links to your site are seen as votes in the major search engines’ eyes. Just so we are on the same page, these are links to your website from another website, not links from your website to another. In this analogy, these popularity votes are similar to voting existing before several human rights were established. Some were considered 3/5ths a person, and some not considered at all. Their votes were counted accordingly. In other words, not all backlinks are created equal. Multiple criteria can determine the quality of a link toward your site.
a). Relevance – Does the subject matter of the page linking out reflect your site’s subject matter or is it about something completely off-topic? An example would be another attorney links to your site from his/her blog unsolicited based on your site’s relevant content and merit verses a random site that sells knockoff Viagra wanting to trade links with you.
b). Link & Text Density – This speaks to the number of other links on the page linking to yours on the other website. If the other side has a listing of 100s of links on all different topics, including yours, the link is most likely devalued in the search engine’s eyes, not only because of relevance but because of perceived importance. These are commonly known as “link farms.” The opposite situation would be your link is the only one listed. The backlink could be considered even more valuable if the other site surrounds it with the relevant copy before and after (for example, in a blog or article). A less effective but not completely worthless placement would be a listing on a “Links” page from another site where only a handful of other offsite links existed.
c). Second Generation Link Popularity- Your site is deemed more important in the search engines’ eyes not only by how many other sites link to you but how many sites link to the sites that link to you. The link popularity is passed using a formula that one search engine originated called PageRank(TM). In essence, you could have 100s of backlinks, but if no one links to the other sites linking to you, many of the links may be worthless from a ranking point of view (but could be valuable in other ways to be discussed in a later article). There are tools you can use to “pull up the curtain” and see just how people are linking to your site, as well as how many are linking to theirs.
This is a simplified explanation of how acquiring backlinks can help your SEO. As with titling, the topic of backlinks could also warrant its own full-fledged article or multiple articles. The important takeaway is backlinks matter for SEO.
SEO Tip Three: Build a Legal Knowledgebase
The Internet was built on the foundation that people want authoritative, quality information fast. Instead of remembering the categories of the Dewy Decimal System and searching through different books’ table of contents, the search engine user uses keywords describing what he/she is looking for to find that information as fast as possible.
Not all Visitors are Qualified
First, as an attorney, you have to accept that not all the visitors to your website are prospects. Many may be in the research mode of their buying cycle or looking for a friend or even a school report. The reality is the more original, helpful, and consistent you can put new information on your website, the more the search engines will show you preference. By high-quality content, I do not mean a sales pitch. You can use that type of language on your main pages. Still, you will appeal to a much wider audience if you use non-commercial, unbiased information presented on the knowledge base in your deeper pages.
By building a knowledge base specific to your areas of practice, you accomplish at least two objectives. You are viewed as an expert, becoming the authoritative source for that user’s legal question. You will likely pull prospects looking for those specific services right then and there. This is an indirect but highly effective method of acquiring prospects.
One Page per Area of Practice
For example, if you practice copyright law and the prospect types in the search engine “copyright laws,” you could have a page strictly devoted to explaining the different types, penalties for breaking the laws, defenses, highly popularized landmark cases, and other important information about copyright infringement. Create a page using at least 500 – 1500 words stratifying every area of your practice in fine detail, and your website will dominate the search engines, command lots of relevant traffic, and, combined with other tools, bring a steady stream of leads. I will cover this in more depth, giving more information on the best practices in future articles.
SEO Tip Four: Use specific Internal & External Anchor Text
Have you ever seen a link that says “Click here?” Oh, the course you have. That’s actually a waste of a link as far as SEO is concerned. Ok, maybe not a complete loss, but it does not use the link’s full potential. The words used in a link to another URL are called the anchor text, and it can be vitally important to SEO.
There is a huge difference in how the search engines see a link with relevant text verses a non-descriptive or irrelevantly anchored link. This is even true for your site’s internal linking structure and calls to action. For example, instead of directing your website visitors to another internal page using the words “Click Here for information on copyright infringement,” make the words copyright infringement the actual link and avoid the cliché. You may have to change your verbiage schema to something similar to: “Learn more about the laws and penalties about copyright infringement,” which is better anyway.
Anchor Your Links or Site will walk the Plank.
The more internal links on your site pointing to that page with those words, and even more importantly links from offsite with those words, the more likely the search engines will see your site, or that specific page, as being relevant for that term. Check your website right now. Do you have any pointless “Click Here” links or something else just as useless? Right now, change the anchor text to words that describe the page in which they are linking. Or ask your webmaster to do it tomorrow morning. It’s worth it.
SEO Tip Five: Localize Your Content & Meta Descriptions
Are you an attorney who only operates in one city? Or can you work remotely because most of your work is out of the courtroom? If you operate in one city or regional area, you need to make the search engines aware of using the most prominent DMA in your homepage title. When prospects are using search engines, most are sophisticated enough to know or have learned through search engine experience to add the city onto whatever service in which he/she is searching. For example, the user types in “Dallas Commercial Real Estate Attorney.” You may be a real estate attorney, and your practice may be in Dallas, but the search engines will give another lawyer’s site preference if you do not spell it out for them. You may have your physical location in a normal 12 point text on the contact page, but that is not enough since titles and meta descriptions hold more weight in the hierarchy.
Home Grown Meta Description
Some SEO gurus say descriptions are as defunct as the keywords section of your meta info. The meta description is the NEW keywords section of web 2.0; only the keywords must be used in a logical sentence form. Secondly, you do not want to specify on a page describing individual areas of your practice or your knowledgebase that you are a “Dallas insert obscure and wordy law practice attorney” in the viable copy. While not terribly lethal, it’s a little awkward and contrived to the reader. You can use the description area of the meta for this SEO tactic.