Although SEO for lawyers is a pretty massive topic that can cause a lot of headaches, sometimes lawyers can get well on their way with a simple-ish 1, 2, 3 (4, 5, 6) SEO strategy.
In an effort to make this guide as practical as possible, I'm going to describe a series of steps, in order, that you can do (or pay someone else to do) which will allow you to dovetail your SEO efforts with your content efforts (after all – they go hand in hand).
The Core Pieces of SEO Strategy For Lawyers
There are simply too many pieces in SEO for me to even know them all, let alone explain them all to you. In this SEO strategy guide I'm going to aim for the “bang for your buck” approach and focus on the biggest ticket items that are easiest for most people to check and implement.
So you know where we're headed, here are the pieces that we're going to be looking at and, if necessary, fixing:
- Hooking your site up to some free Google tools;
- Doing a speed check and fixing speed issues;
- Checking your site architecture;
- Looking at existing opportunities;
- Identifying your desired search terms;
- Crafting and Implementing your content strategy;
- Ticking off on SEO friendly workflow.
So grab a coffee and a pen and paper, and let's begin.
Good SEO Strategy Requires Data
If you think about it, any search engine optimization strategy that you're going to implement in your practice requires one thing… information.
Ideally you need to know:
- how people are already finding you;
- how you're tracking in terms of your SEO efforts;
- if your site has any technical boo-boos that are hurting your SEO strategy.
Yes you should 100% get a Google analytics account and connect it to your site (described here).
Many people think that Google analytics is the best and only tool you need for their SEO strategy, but they're wrong. It's true that you need it, and should get it, and absolutely must have it set up correctly on your site. But the problem with Google analytics is the dreaded “not provided” field when trying to figure out how people are finding your site. Basically it means that someone searched for something which lead them to your site, but it was encrypted and Analytics won't tell you what it was. Like this:
Google Search Console
The vast majority of lawyers don't actually know that Search Console exists, but it does and it immediately solves a bunch of problems.
Head over to Google Webmasters and connect your site. It's going to ask you to verify your ownership, which is fair enough (the easiest method is to verify using your analytics account rather than uploading an annoying file to something…).
What Google search console is going to give you is:
- the ability to submit your sitemap to Google to ensure it's looking at the right stuff rather than just guessing;
- some basic checks on your site's technical issues, if any, that might hurt your SEO; and
- visibility on the “(not provided)” problem.
This isn't a complete lesson on Google Search Console, but rather just a hint that you should definitely hook your site up to it and start poking around. We're going to use it mainly for identifying our low hanging fruit for SEO improvement.
It will take a little bit of time for information to start coming through to the Console, however you'll also get a few handy emails from Google about how to set things up properly and “improve your search presence” (at least, according to the emails).
Faster Sites Have Better SEO
Any SEO strategy worth a damn has to involve assessing your existing tech and seeing if it's doing the job properly.
Loading time makes a pretty significant different to search engines. Why? Basically search engines don't want to recommend information that creates a poor user experience, and slow loading websites are a poor experience.
Some people obsess over getting slightly faster page load times to the extent that they go crazy if they can't score 100% on every test from every tool.
To get a rough estimation of how your site is performing in terms of speed then I suggest:
- Pingdom: https://tools.pingdom.com/
- Google Page Speed Insights: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Run each test three times on the same page (just trust me on this) to get a more likely page load time. Please for the love of everything don't get too concerned if you aren't ticking every single box. The question is whether there are any gigantic issues that would be easy to fix which get flagged as part of these tests.
Here's an example of what you get from Pingdom:
As well as addressing anything really obvious from the speed tests, here are my top tips for improving your site speed:
- A better website host. By far the biggest impact on your site speed is going to be the quality of your host. If you're using the cheapest bog standard shared hosting that you could find, then it's almost inevitably going to slower than on a higher quality plan. If you're looking for enterprise grade hosting, then try Pressidium or Liquid Web managed wordpress hosting services (assuming you use WordPress). The key words you're looking for are usually “managed wordpress” and the cost of decent hosting is going to range somewhere between $15 a month and $45 a month USD for a single site, depending on your site needs and existing traffic.
- Remove the visual clutter. This should make sense, right? The more things that need to load on your site the longer it will take. If it's not absolutely critical to your website strategy then get rid of it completely.
- Optimise your images. There are plenty of plugins and apps around to do this for you (I use Kraken.io) before you upload. As far as possible, get your images about the right dimensions before you upload, and compress the image size as much as you can stand. This makes a huge difference.
- Remove backend clutter. If you have a collection of 27 deactivated plugins that you never use – just delete them. Similarly, deactivate and delete any plugins that you no longer need on your site.
- Consider deactivating comments. If you're not getting any comments, then having them enabled is a complete waste of time.
- Finally, check that the site design/theme you are using is generally regarded as being “clean” code that loads quickly. Some of the more popular site builders and themes are actually awful in this area, so check around to ensure that your theme isn't hard-wired against your SEO efforts.
Do you Need a CDN to Have a Faster Site?
A CDN is a Content Delivery Network. Think of it this way – it takes longer for data to travel from Australia to London then it does to travel from Paris to London. A CDN is designed to store static resources (images, for example) at local servers around the world, so as to decrease the time it takes to get those resources to a person visiting your site.
They have benefits, and I do use them. However, if you have a good website host you might find it's not really necessary and won't improve things much.
Good Site Architecture Improves SEO
Your SEO strategy should include reviewing your site architecture.
But what does site architecture even mean?
Think of it like a filing cabinet. If I have a 3 drawer filing cabinet which contains all of my paperwork, which is going to help me find things better:
- throwing all the paper in there in a massive pile; or
- organising it so that each drawer, each section, and each folder contain discrete compartmentalized bits of paper?
Clearly the second. Because if someone (let's call her Google) comes hunting for a piece of paper that you'd like them to find, then they have a much greater chance of finding it then otherwise.
Here's a simple structure to follow that will be better than having no structure at all:
- Create major categories for your content (eg – commercial litigation, property transactions, family law disputes).
- Within each category, create cornerstone (or pillar) content on a big picture topic that is broad, but not overly detailed.
- Create individual blog posts on discrete topics that goes into those topics in significant depth.
You categories will link to your pillars which will be linked to by your blog posts (you create these links are you write your posts).
Here's a picture from Hubspot explaining what I'm talking about. The pillar content in the middle is your cornerstone content, and the images around the outside are your blog posts (“clusters”) on similar, related topics that connect back to the pillar:
This post you're reading, for example, is a cluster style post that is designed to link back to my pillar content – the SEO for lawyers page.
Existing Opportunities – Find the Low Hanging Fruit
Even without any SEO Strategy at all, if your site has been around for more than a minute, the chances are that your articles appear somewhere in search already. If you're lucky, you might have a couple of posts that are already performing well on certain topics that are relevant to you.
You can find those using Google Search Console. Head to your dashboard and click Search Console –> Search Analytics.
Once there, you'll have a page of search results. Click on the boxes to show impressions, CTR (click through rate) and Position. Then, click the word “Position” on your list of results. You'll see something like this:
Now it's pretty obvious that everyone wants to be ranked 1 for everything. What you're looking for are result where you are ranking less than 1, but might be able to make some improvements to your article or SEO data to increase the ranking.
In particular, scroll until you get to anything that's ranked 11 to 15 in the “Position” column. If you find something with semi-OK “impressions” on it (for lawyers, anything more than 50 is probably worthwhile), click the query text on the left hand side.
Then click “pages” up the top to see which page is ranking. This is your target page.
Once you're found it, you want to check the following:
- is the page itself optimised for SEO for the relevant search terms (check against my guide here).
- have you completed the SEO title and meta-description to be as attractive as possible. Remember – if more people click your article instead of the one above it, Google will eventually decide yours is better and swap them.
- is this the best possible information you can provide about X or not? If not – make it that!
And that's how you find your low hanging fruit – stuff that's already doing okay, but could potentially do better.
Topic Generation and Keyword Research
Keyword research isn't very fun. It's especially less fun since Google started basically hiding any reliably accurate information unless you're purchasing ads.
Beyond that, although keywords are certainly relevant to any SEO strategy, if you're using the pillar content approach that I've mentioned above you're really focusing on mastering an entire topic, rather than simply 1 keyword. That's ultimately going to build your expertise more and offer greater benefits in the long run.
I do keyword research with a third party tool called SEMRush, but you probably don't want to do that – it's expensive and you won't use it that much.
Here's a simple 2 step approach to keyword research:
- only do research for your cornerstone/pillar topics – these are normally your big ticket SEO friendly articles anyway, and are probably the ones you want to make sure you are doing a bit of background research; or
- just use the kinds of questions and language that your clients use, because it's almost certainly going to align with search terms.
A simple way to do some research is just to use Google itself. Start typing your intended topic headline, and see what comes up in the suggestions box or the end results. If it's tonnes and it's the kinds of articles you are thinking of writing, then read them. See what other people are doing and see what new phrases or terms might come up. As you read you'll come up with some good areas to include in your article and some nice ways of expressing similar thoughts and overlapping concepts without constantly stuffing keywords into your article like a goose.
It's really a bit of an art and science to itself to be honest, but have a look around and see what people look for as best you can tell. Google Keyword Planner will give you some estimated volumes and alternative phrases to think about, so it's worth having a look at too even though the numbers are rubbery if you're not spending $$ on ads with them.
Crafting a Content Strategy
Content and SEO go together like a horse and carriage. Knowing all of the best SEO tips and tricks won't give you any results unless you deliver content to align with what you're finding.
If you don't have a content strategy at all, I suggest you get one pretty fast.
The question then is how to tie the two together.
Basically, it's a combination of everything you've already done. You want to consistently create high quality content on topics that your chosen people care about using language that they use, which follows good site architecture principles.
Generally speaking that's going to mean articles, although I accept video and audio can offer some support to an SEO strategy too. By and large, articles are going to be the best place to start though, especially since most lawyers are more comfortable writing then they are making videos.
The SEO Workflow
Plugins like Yoast can help you see if you're done the usual raft of “best practice” SEO things before you hit publish. But as you go along, it's best to get into the habit yourself. Here's a simple checklist to cover off on making your hard work SEO friendly:
- Select the relevant category for your article;
- Put your keywords in your SEO title;
- Use keywords or related terms throughout your article in a natural way (including in headings);
- Break up your article with headings, images or other forms of media to ensure it's easy to read and well-structured;
- Try and get the keywords as the “alt text” to your images, if you insert any;
- Ensure you complete the SEO title and SEO meta descriptions for your post;
- Check that your keywords are in your page URL (within reason – you can often remove meaningless words even if they might be part of the search term);
And honestly – that should do it most of the time.
What's our SEO Strategy in a Nutshell?
A nice balance of tech improvements, site improvements, and content improvements.
Of course there are hundreds more things you could do, but if you can get these things right then you'll be well on your way towards a good SEO strategy that will help you and your firm for a long time to come. If you're new to the whole thing and want more info you can check out the SEO for lawyers page which drills into a few more search engine subjects as well.
Got any more tips and hints that have worked for you? Let me know in the comments!