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The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimisation for Law Firms

In our comprehensive guide to on-page SEO for law firms below, we explain all the essential considerations involved in optimising your site to get it ranking for relevant Google searches.

Search engines can drive a great number of relevant visitors and audiences to your law firm’s online channels. However, there are certain key steps that must be undertaken to optimise your online channels to present them effectively to search engines to secure the top rankings for relevant keywords and thus to attract the best possible business.

This process is known as ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, of which there are two subsets, as noted above: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. This section of our guide will cover the former.

 

 

SEO for Law Firms - The Ultimate Guide

In our ultimate guide to SEO for law firms, our experts at Moore Legal Technology explain all the essential considerations involved in optimising your law firm’s online platforms to have them ranking for relevant Google searches and driving profitable enquiries to your firm.

If you require immediate advice as to whether your law firm's online platforms are properly optimised get in touch. If you aren't acquiring high-quality enquiries from your existing law firm growth strategy, click to find out about how we help law firms.

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UK Legal Sector SEO - Increasing Enquiries from Clients Searching for Your Services

Great SEO is crucial for your law firm to generate the best possible enquiries online. It's no longer just about keywords; it's about writing and publishing and sharing great content based on highly accurate keyword research, with powerful links and signals being attracted to your content, with great social media distribution and other relevant factors.

To do well online, it is critical that potential and existing clients can find you easily when searching for services relevant to your offering. It is important not to focus on one or two main key phrases such as ‘Solicitors London’, or ‘Personal Injury Lawyers Birmingham’, but instead focusing on driving as much traffic as possible from as many relevant key phrases/keywords as possible.

If done properly (particularly with great content marketing) you can achieve excellent results. As an example, last year we doubled a firm’s enquiry levels through expanding their local presence and constantly refining the conversion process to maximise their return on investment. The graph below tracks the number of phone call enquiries over the year:

 seo law firms enquiries

Why you should treat the promise "We’ll get you to number 1 on Google." with Suspicion

Treat anybody who tells you this with suspicion. Google is a capricious mistress and the techniques and processes surrounding search engine optimisation change all the time. Anyway, there’s not really a lot of point being at number 1 in Google, or Bing, or Yahoo, for only one key phrase as it will, on its own, never drive enough traffic to generate the conversions you need.

Having said that, as trusted advisor to many law firms in various competitive areas, we have been able to help firms excel well beyond their expectations and develop a great spread of top search engine rankings. It's all about maintaining an awareness of current best practice and ensuring that the firm's online presence is properly aligned to fully leverage the internet for the generation of new business.

The graphic below shows one clients rankings improved over a 6-month period. From being outside the top 50 in July, a great many of their rankings are now in first place (note: actual keywords are anonymised):

uk seo law firms example google rankings

It's imperative that SEO activities are carried out in a strictly ‘white-hat’ or ethical manner to promote your online presence. Continual updates to Google’s search algorithms mean we have seen various law firm sites suffer at the hands of agencies who have used black-hat techniques in the past.

Even many 'grey-hat' activities that were once considered good practice are no longer valid. Google is becoming increasingly advanced and now looks to reward legal sector online platforms that are highly authoritative, deliver a good user experience and are full of in-depth valuable content. Google are also increasingly looking for other external signals to your website which are both relevant and authoritative. Today, online prominence is achieved today through a mixture of on-site SEO work and off-page factors such as relevant back-links and social media links.

What are the most important ‘On-Page SEO’ factors?

On-page SEO is the process of optimising your own web pages to improve your search engine rankings. The main factors that are relevant for such optimisation include the following:

  • Content of the page
  • Meta title
  • URL
  • Many other ranking factors

Content of your firms’ landing pages – providing great value

The quality and quantity of content on the ‘landing pages’ (i.e., the entry points) of your firm’s online channels is crucial for you to have great on-page SEO and, in turn, to acquire relevant, profitable online enquiries. Only through significant volumes of great content can you find yourself worthy of great search rankings, particularly in the most competitive legal sectors.

Providing Great Content – Satisfying a Demand and Adding Value

To provide great content, you must satisfy demand – i.e. you must provide valuable information to people searching around the area on which you are writing. Some call this ‘giving away information snacks to sell knowledge meals’ (such as New York content marketer Jay Baer; or our own Chris Davidson!).

Say, for instance; you were looking to get your site ranking well for terms relating to Probate Lawyers in Newcastle. After conducting initial keyword research, you would aim to write a thorough, informative guide (ideally over 1000 words) on probate in England & Wales. This guide should outline what the main processes are and how your lawyers can assist clients. It should have your unique brand proposition scattered throughout the piece, detail some top tips or common pitfalls may be and explain what the main legal terminologies are

We use a range of SEO tools as part of our content auditing process and can determine what might be missing from any given web page or indeed any online platform.

And some of the world’s leading online strategists at Moz have a checklist for ensuring your content will work well. They note that it should:

  1. Be uniquely valuable
  2. Provide phenomenal user experience (UX)
  3. Be built to share through social networks
  4. Be multi-device ready
  5. Be keyword-targeted
  6. Be crawler-bot accessible (see our next subsection below)
  7. Have relevant authorship, meta-data and schema markup

Over time, you will gain expertise and you will be able to spend less time on keyword research and more time writing and optimising the content and making sure all the features above are in place.

Making your Content Linkable

Your content must be capable of being linked to i.e. you must have it published on an online platform (such as your law firm’s main website) and it must be capable of people creating a link to it from other sources. And this can be from either social media channels or other pages on the web. But it must be linkable. Hiding content behind images, slideshows, flash plugins or private login screens will render that content non-linkable in which case it is highly unlikely to rank well in search. And even once it is linkable, you need to ensure your off-page strategy (for which link building, citation building, social bookmarking, etc. are some of the main growth-drivers) is as strong as it can be.

Read more on Content Marketing for Law Firms

For more on content marketing for law firms see our ultimate guide here.

Meta title – keywords plus user experience/intent is key

Once you’ve got your content well-written and optimised (see also other ranking factors below), you must ensure your meta title is as relevant as possible. The meta title defines the title of your page, and it’s important not only for SEO purposes but also for social sharing and browsing. If you look, for instance, at the tab in your browser when on this page and hover over it, you’ll see what the meta title of this page is.

How to write a great meta title

The optimal length of your meta titles should be between 50-60 characters (ideally under 55 characters), and they should contain relevant keywords in readable and clickable language. Think what your ideal user’s query or intent may be (user experience is always a high priority), think what your main keywords are and ensure they are well positioned within that 55-character limit. For example, say you were looking to optimise one of your personal injury claims pages of your firm’s website. Your meta title should look something like this:

Personal Injury Lawyers for [Type of Case] [Cities] [Your Law Firm’s Name]

Benefits of a great meta title

Not only will you get an automatic SEO boost by placing the keywords you are targeting into the meta title of the page, but it will also make your page much more clickable in search, which itself is an SEO bonus.

When you’re dealing with over 100 pages of content, it can be tricky optimising all of your relevant meta titles. Because at Moore Legal Technology we practise this day-in-day-out, we have the speed and the accuracy to get it right for our law firm clients first time, without it having to be redone again – one of the numerous reasons our culture code has the acronym ‘PERFECT’.

URL – include keywords but don’t overdo it

The URL of your page is also important for on-page SEO purposes.

good URL structure will include relevant keywords and be concise. For instance, for a family lawyer’s main family law landing page:

Lawfirmwebsite.com/family-law

poor URL structure will have no or few keywords and possibly contain unnecessary, irrelevant further levels. For example:


Lawfirmwebsite.com/1234/xyz/5678

And an over-optimised poor URL structure that Google will be able to see is trying to game the system is equally of little value (whereas in the past it may have been somewhat useful). An example of such a poor overly-keyword stuffed example would be:

Lawfirmbrandfamilylawyersanddivorcesolicitorsengland.com/family-law-lawyers-solicitors- england-and-wales- child-finance-support-alimony-family-law

If you can have a thought-out url structure in place before you start implementing your content, you’ll see significant ranking improvements for your firm and won’t have to unpick a great deal of poor (or non-existent) optimisation. Often, it’s easier starting again from scratch on a new online platform than trying to fix a broken one that’s not fit for purpose.

Many Other Ranking Factors

There are many other ranking factors that determine how your firm will rank in Google and other search engines. Here are just a few more:

Headline and heading tags (H1, H2, H3, H4 etc.) – ensure you provide a great relevant user experience with some relevant keywords without overdoing it;

Internal links – note that a page should be accessible through no more than 4 clicks from any other page on the site;

External links – some SEOs question the value of external links. In our experience, some pointing to highly authoritative sources and resources can be beneficial and improve the user experience and not leak too much value from a site. On the other hand, linking out to too many low value, poor experience websites could seriously harm your SEO;

Body text – see our notes on content marketing above – the main lesson is that keywords (properly identified through keyword research analysis) should be infused throughout your body text, but not overdone;

Meta description – while not itself directly used in Google’s search algorithm, having an irresistibly clickable meta description can propel your website in search results;

Images (ensure alt text is optimised);

Meta keywords – it’s worth mentioning that we and other SEOs recommend against using meta keywords. Perhaps ten years ago, this would have been useful; not now, so avoid this like the plague;

Social shares – if you have written and published your content effectively it should can attract shares from your contacts on social media channels (for law firms think mainly LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook and more);

There are many other considerations for you getting your website to rank well in Google and generate profitable enquiries. See for instance this rank factors chart published by Rand Fishkin on Moz:

onpage seo law firms factors

And, again from Moz, these features that correlate with higher rankings in Google:

onpage high rankings google legal

Why Does All this Matter for Law Firms?

Ultimately, if you can get your on-page SEO perfected your law firm can achieve the following, even despite serious competition from other firms:

  • Increased prominence in Search
  • Increased traffic and enquiries
  • Maximised business generation potential of your website

Local SEO for Law Firms - Don't Forget Your NAP

lawyers_local_seo_uk_nap

Local SEO is a critical part of generating business online for law firms - whether you are a small high street legal practice or a large global law firm, you will still have potential clients that search for you locally (even if that location is ManchesterBirmingham or London or Sydney or New York). In terms of local SEO best practices, there are many local ranking factors. One of the most important is the consistency of structured local citations, explained in more detail by our local SEO experts below.

Guide to Local SEO - Local Ranking Factors

To give you an idea of how involved local SEO really is, see this great overview of the main rankings factors from Moz:Local Search Ranking Factors Law Firms SEO

Local SEO has become even more important in recent times owing to Google's shift to showing just three local search results upon any given local search (previously 7+). This means the “Click Through Rate” to the local 'snack pack' are now higher, but it also means that if you aren't getting featured there for relevant local searches for your types of legal services, but you're also going to be missing out.manchester local legal search rankings

Local search results in Google UK for 'family lawyers Manchester', showing just three law firms in the 'snack pack'

The Importance of Consistent, Structured Local Citations with a Consistent NAP

One of the most important ranking factors is a consistent, structure local citation strategy, one of the most fundamental points of which is your NAP. Your NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) for your law firm for any particular office location is your online local identity – it's how Google knows that all your online local listings are linked. One of the starting places for this is your Google local business listing, where you tell Google your firm's name, address, phone number and other details. And Google is so clever that, should you then type into Google your firm's name with 'phone number', you'll see that Google ‘understands’ what your phone number is.

But it's not just about acquiring one Google local listing. It's about then acquiring or perfecting other local listings you have in local directories and getting the same name, address and phone number there too.

Rather than just noticing that all your listings point back to a central online platform (local SEO isn't only about links as such), Google also looks for listings that point back to a central physical location. And it's very specific about these details being consistent across all listings. Your business name must be the name across all listings, and each address must be the same. So, if your address is “Unit 1a Sheriff Court Road", then "1a Sheriff Court Road" won't wash.

To get the best local SEO results (in addition to many other local ranking factors listed above) it’s important to build relevant, powerful citations in online local directories. This helps your existing and prospective new clients to find you not only through improved search results for those local listings themselves, but it also has SEO benefits that will improve your online presence as a whole also.

Let us explain more. Google, and indeed other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo, constantly look for cues that your law firm is real and reputable. We could write a separate guide just about all the different ways it does this, but for now, let's focus on these local citations. They show Google that your business does exist, at your address(es) – and if you have genuine client reviews on your Google local listing(s), all the better. These cues all do their bit to push you up the rankings, sending clients to your site or through your door.

And note that the term 'local citations’ in this context doesn't necessarily mean local citations on sites related only to your town or city, but can also mean citations from online channels within your country as a whole. UK-wide local citations can be just as important, if not more important, than citations from sites related only to your town.

Personalised Search Results for Local Legal Queries

Google is now becoming more personalised with its search results. This means when you type in a query Google uses your information to give you results that are relevant to you. If you sit at a computer in London and search for, say, "employment lawyer", your results will include employment law firms near you, and very few, if any, law firms miles away. It will even include Google Maps listings in the results for your convenience.

But it's not just Google who are locally tailoring search results. More and more people are creating local searches by including their town or city in their search – an example would be "Employment Lawyer Manchester". So, it pays to take this into account for your online strategy.

Local Citation Building for Law Firms

To do great local citation building for your firm's office(s), you need to start with your physical contact details on your online platforms. Then you must set up a Google local business page (known as your ‘Google My Business’ page) – this is how you acquire a Google Maps listing. Google will ask you to verify this listing either by a telephone call to your offices or by sending you a postcard to your offices marked for your attention.

Finally, you can start submitting these details to online local directories. If you have more than one physical location, you ideally need to do this for each one. Consistency is key, and there are many considerations to bear in mind when creating such listings, such as what to name your business (authenticity being key) and what keywords and categories for which to list your business. As a pro tip, it’s best to make your first category related to your main practice area and, indeed, consider waiving other weaker, less relevant categories.

Call Tracking & Local SEO

You may have heard of call tracking, where a unique number is set up for each visitor to track where calls are coming from. It's a great tool to use on your online platforms if you want to know exactly how hard your online assets are working for you. One of the slight complications with Local SEO and call tracking for businesses is that Google likes local numbers - and a consistent NAP - which means it is sometimes best not to use call tracking phone numbers for your local citations, and this includes within your Google local business listing(s). But in our experience, the value of call tracking from all other sources outweigh this point.

Best Practice for Local SEO for Your Law Firm or Business

As with all aspects of SEO for your law firm or business, your best course of action with Local SEO is to be authentic and create genuinely useful local citations. This, coupled with good quality, regularly updated relevant content, will help you to dominate the online presence relevant to your main practice areas. It will give you a competitive advantage and help you to generate the online enquiries your business needs to thrive.

If you take one thing away from this local SEO section of our guide, it's that your NAP for local SEO purposes is crucial.

Of course, at MLT, it's our job to know all this, and keep up to date with Google's ever-evolving algorithms. That’s why many law firms choose to trust us to handle all aspects of their local SEO strategy.

Off-Page SEO / ‘Link Building.'

You could have the best possible on-page optimisation in place, but without a solid off-page SEO (otherwise known as ‘Link Building’) strategy, your online presence will never get off the ground.

What are some of the key components of off-page SEO?

External Links as Votes for your Firm

External links or ‘backlinks’ (i.e. links back to your site from other sites) – are among the most important factors when it comes to search engine rankings. If you think your online platform is optimised, but you're still not getting results then it is likely that the search engines, including Google and Bing, don't know enough about you.

Think of each link as representing a vote for your site. The more votes you get, the better your online platform will perform.

A link from a highly authoritative relevant site will carry much more weight than several links from a group of irrelevant, link-heavy sites (such as low-quality directories). Indeed, since Google’s Penguin update (which penalised any firms trying to game the system by artificially creating too many links with overly optimised anchor text), many link directories were hit heavily and links from certain sites can be extremely detrimental to your Google search rankings. Staying abreast of these algorithm changes and countering potentially negative effects is an important factor in achieving consistent high results within search engines.

It does not matter how well designed and optimised your law firm's online platform is, if there are no links coming back to it to let search engines know that it is there (and what it’s about), then you will not rank well.

This process of obtaining links is known as 'off-site optimisation' or 'off-page optimisation'.

How to Acquire the Right Links

There are many ways of achieving links back to a law firm’s online platform, but the main ones include:

  • Writing and promoting compelling content - Writing content of great value and promoting it as far and wide as possible through other online channels can help you earn useful links.
  • Regular directory submissions (to the right ones!)
  • Use appropriate anchor text which, following Google’s Penguin update, should vary between exact match anchor text for certain keywords, no anchor text (just the URL itself) and other variations of anchor text. We stay updated with the SEO best practice to work out what best practices should be in this respect.
  • Employing ‘white hat’ SEO methods (not black hat or negative SEO techniques)
  • Local link acquisition – if you obtain thousands of links from websites located in other countries, there is a high chance that not only will you not rank well in local search (e.g. Google My Business, formerly Google Places or Google+ Local), but there is a good chance of your rankings being penalised. Instead, aiming for fewer but higher quality, relevant local links can pay dividends.

If your website has been optimised but is not ranking well after a decent amount of time has elapsed (6 months), then the problem is likely to be a lack of relevant links. ‘Black hat’ SEO may achieve quick results, but over time these will diminish and may even result in your site being penalised.

Modern link building strategies, like the ones employed by our team, should constantly be refined to ensure that they stay up-to-date with the most recent Google search engine algorithm changes (especially the recent Google Penguin updates)

SEO for Law Firms in the UK and Beyond – How to Win New Business

As we’ve outlined above, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of ensuring that your website ranks well in search engines for as wide a variety of search queries as possible. If you wish to attract new business online, then potential clients should be able to find you when searching Google and other search engines for keywords relating to your main practice areas and services. – if your online platforms aren’t near the top of search results, you won’t be found and your competitors will likely win that business instead.

Good Search Engine Optimisation isn't about 'tricking' search engines, or trying to boost your rankings artificially. We put in place a layered, multi-faceted, organic approach to raising your rankings in a way that will deliver consistent results and continue to improve over time. There are SEO companies that will, no doubt, bombard you with emails promising 'quick fix' solutions and promises to boost your rankings in a short space of time. In our experience, these strategies sometimes work for a while, but stop bearing fruit and even become harmful over time.

This is because SEO best practice is constantly changing, as search engines update their complex search algorithms to improve the quality of their service. When choosing a trusted partner to advise on or manage your online growth strategy, it's important to choose one that knows your sector inside-out, that stays up to date on the latest search engine and online developments, and that can change strategy accordingly. Over the past few years, search engine algorithms and updates, particularly that of Google, have changed dramatically - updates such as 'Panda', 'Penguin', 'Exact-Match Domain' (EMD) and Hummingbird have altered SEO strategies throughout the world. Ensuring that your strategy is robust is essential.   

To discuss how SEO can help your firm grow, get in touch with us today.

If you're unsure as to whether your online platforms have been properly optimised or if you aren't acquiring enough enquiries from your existing SEO and content marketing strategy, give us a call and we'll carry out a free analysis over the phone - 0333 130 9885 or fill out our online enquiry form here. We have achieved fantastic results for our clients and we can help you too.

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