Bar News - July 13, 2012
Search Engine Optimization for the Solo Practitioner and Small Law Firms
By: Ken Matejka
Google’s US market share for law-related search has grown to a near-monopoly in recent years. When people search online for legal help and contact you, there’s an extremely high likelihood that they found your contact information through a Google search. For solo practitioners and small law firms, being visible on the Web and being visible in Google are substantially the same thing.
There are two ways to become more visible in Google: through Google’s Sponsored Listings, and through search engine optimization (SEO). The Sponsored Listings are the ads you see in the yellow box at the top of the search results and in the right-hand margin, usually under the map. SEO targets the "natural" listings (or the "organic results") in the left part of Google’s search results page under the yellow ads.
Lawyers should be in both the Sponsored Listings and in the natural results through SEO, but this article will focus on SEO.
What is Search Engine
SEO refers to things you do to your website and elsewhere on the Internet to make your website appear more relevant for certain search phrases to Google and the other search engines. The long-term goal is to get placement on the first page of Google’s search results, and ideally, in the top four places of the natural listings (where 69 percent of Google searchers click), and to stay there for as long as you can.
The SEO process can take months but should be started as soon as possible. What follows is a broad step-by-step description of the SEO process. The three steps main steps in SEO are (1) Selecting your target phrases, (2) Working your target phrases into your website, and (3) Building links.
1. Selecting your target phrases
The first step in SEO is to figure out which phrases you want to target. A "target phrase" is a search in your community that is very specific to your law practice, for example, "Cincinnati personal injury lawyer" or "Cincinnati family law attorneys."
When deciding what phrases you want to target for your SEO effort, you should naturally select phrases that are important to your law practice, have enough search volume to make the effort worth your trouble, and where the competition isn’t too high. For example, instead of trying to optimize your site for "lawyers" (high volume, but extremely high competition), you may instead optimize your site for "Cincinnati child custody lawyers" (high volume, medium competition). Google makes competition and search volume reports available to Google advertisers but third-party SEO companies can run these reports for you as well (sometimes free of charge).
Don’t select too many. Limit yourself to maybe five or six target phrases.
2. Working your target phrases into your website
When you are working on your website to make it clear to Google what you should be relevant for, it’s called as "on-page SEO." On-Page SEO is a process whereby you work your target phrases into the content and meta tags of your site so that the next time Google passes through, it sees you as "relevant" to users searching for those terms. By appearing to Google as relevant for your target search terms, your website will rank higher in Google’s search results.
The process of integrating your phrases into your website needs to be subtle because you are first and foremost writing for clients, not Google. Spam-like content can drive visitors away.
For example, if you’re a Cincinnati family lawyer and you’ve selected 2 or 3 phrases that you’d like to be relevant for in Google’s results (e.g., "Cincinnati divorce lawyer" or "Cincinnati divorce attorneys") then you’d emphasize these phrases as often as possible on your divorce practice area page without damaging the professionalism of the content.
Google reportedly considers 200+ different factors when determining the relevancy of a website for a specific search query. However, one of Google’s most important ranking factors is each page’s "title tag." The title tag goes into the source code of your website and goes between the and tags. Put your most important target phrases first and try to limit your title to 70 characters.
Also, hyperlinks between the pages on your website will help Google "crawl" it. By having good keyword phrases within the text of the links, Google will better understand the subject matter of the pages to which the links connect. For example, imagine there is a hyperlink on your website which reads: "Click Here To Learn More About Our Experienced Family Lawyers" that links to your "About Us" page. If you have the hyperlink on the whole sentence or just the ‘click here’ portion, that doesn’t tell Google exactly what is being linked to and is a wasted opportunity to emphasize to Google some keyword phrases. Better would be to have the hyperlink on the words "Experienced Family Lawyers", so that Google knows what the page you’re linking to is about.
3. Building links
The third part of SEO is referred to as "off-page SEO" because it involves things that you do elsewhere on the web to convince Google that you’re relevant for certain searches. This is primarily the deliberate process of gathering links gradually, over a long period of time, from other websites to your own.
Fundamental to Google’s ranking algorithm is the notion that the more websites that link to your website, the more important your website is as an information resource on the web. When Google perceives you as important for a particular phrase, it will typically place you higher in its index.
So how do you get other sites to link to your website?
Links to your website can be obtained in a variety of ways. You can list your website on directories, exchange links with colleagues who are not in direct competition, post to blogs, set up accounts in social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, participate in networking sites like Linked-In, and publish content to press release and article sites. The more sites that link to yours, the more Google will assume that your site is growing in popularity and importance, and consequently, more relevant.
In closing, a few things should be noted. First, SEO can be labor-intensive and time- consuming. If you’d rather practice law than spend hours modifying your pages and bargaining for in-bound links, consider outsourcing the project to a company that specializes in SEO for lawyers.
Second, these SEO efforts don’t help your website overnight. It may be three, six or nine months before you start noticing any real gains in terms of ranking on Google’s organic search results.
Third, this is an on-going process, in particular the link-building, that you will need to keep doing for as long as you want to stay high up in Google’s search results.
Ken Matejka is a California attorney and president of LegalPPC, Inc. – Internet Services for Solo Practitioners and Small Law Firms. If you have any questions about this article, please write to Ken at email@example.com or call him at 415-742-2150.