This post is the second in a series about the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) for your law firm website. For links to the other posts in this series, refer to the first installment, titled “Can Google Find Your Law Firm Website?”
Since Google introduced the RankBrain feature to its search algorithm in 2015, a type of artificial intelligence known as “machine learning” has helped the search engine to better understand synonyms and user intention based on information gleaned from the 825 million unique searches (meaning searches that the search engine has never seen before) it processes daily.
Still, web crawlers (the automated software search engines use to index pages on the web) use keywords to establish the context of information presented on your website, as well as to verify the continuity of information between things like headlines, title tags, links, and the body of content presented on each web page. Proper use of keywords can help your law firm website appear on search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant searches, but misusing keywords could have a disastrous effect on your site’s SEO.
Keyword Stuffing Is Bad for Your Law Firm’s Business
We all remember finding content online that read like this:
“Colorado personal injury attorney Steve Smith makes the experience of hiring a Colorado personal injury attorney as painless as possible. If you are in need of a Colorado personal injury attorney, call Colorado personal injury attorney Steve Smith. Steve Smith has the most personal injury attorney experience of any personal injury attorney in Colorado.”
“Keyword stuffed” content, like that presented in the fictional example above, used to be commonplace. This is because, in the early days of web search, search engine algorithms weighted the value of specific keywords more heavily than they do today. So-called “black hat” SEOs (SEO practices and professionals that function outside of webmaster guidelines are referred to as “black hat”) became aware of the search engine preference for keyword-dense content, and so began stuffing keywords into content at high densities in order to artificially inflate the rankings of pages they controlled or managed.
But Google has been actively battling against such black hat tactics since at least 2003 with algorithm updates like Florida, Panda, and Penguin. Not only is it uncommon to navigate to keyword-stuffed content from SERPs today, using keywords in ways that are clearly intended to manipulate search engine rankings will now result in that content being relegated toward the bottom of relevant search results. So long as you are writing content for your website with search engine users in mind, keywords should appear naturally, without the need for extra effort or manipulation, at a density appropriate to offer web crawlers the information they need to properly index your content for return on SERPs.
How to Use Keywords on Your Law Firm Website
Since keywords are still used by web crawlers to index information on the web, it’s a good idea to insert them in certain high-profile places on your law firm website. For instance, keywords may provide SEO value when placed in title tags, alt tags, and headings (locations of each of these elements are graphically illustrated below). Headings function in a cascade of decreasing priority, where the top-level heading (h1) appears as the largest font on a page and indicates the subject of material that comes after it. Subheadings (h2, h3, etc.) decrease in font size as the numerical value of that heading increases, and offer diminishing SEO returns with that increase in denomination.
Though meta descriptions don’t help with SEO directly, terms used in searches that appear on SERPs are displayed in bold text for search engine users. Therefore, if you go through the effort of creating a meta description for a page, using keywords in the meta description may help influence click through rates to your site from SERPs if your meta description is displayed as part of the search (Google sometimes inserts other text from your page that it deems more relevant to a search query).
Stuffing keywords in places where search engine users can’t see them—such as behind other elements on a page, outside of the visible frames of a search engine user’s monitor or device screen, or in coded elements known as meta tags—goes against search engine webmaster guidelines and can cost your law firm in terms of its visibility on SERPs. At one point, there was even a special “keyword meta tag” in the coded portions of websites that search engines used to help with indexing. But those tags were spammed so heavily that search engines quickly stopped relying on them for indexing purposes.
Which Keywords Should You Use on Your Law Firm Website?
There are a number of tools available to help attorneys test the efficacy of certain keywords, including Google Trends, Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner, and the Microsoft Keyword Planner Tool. Such tools can help attorneys find the most common relevant search terms in their region (if searches for “DUI” or “DWI” are more common where they practice, for example) and can therefore help attorneys make decisions as to which terms to lean on more heavily when writing content for their law firm websites.
Competition for short, specific keyword phrases like “DWI,” “attorney,” or even “DWI attorney San Antonio” is fierce (as indicated by the high cost of terms associated with the legal field in the pay-per-click market), and the information returned for such searches tends to be more general than information returned for longer, more focused search phrases like “How much will it cost me if I get a DWI in San Antonio?”
This is due, in part, to some common misconceptions about how potential clients search for information on the web. Before seeking out an attorney using a search phrase like “DWI attorney San Antonio,” many potential clients will begin by seeking out specific information related to their legal situation by asking search engines complete questions like “Can I get a DWI in Texas if I was driving on private property?” or “What are the penalties for a second DWI in San Antonio?”
Attracting a potential client to your site at this phase by capitalizing on so-called “long-tail” search phrases can help attorneys to establish trust with those individuals before they are even aware that they need legal representation. And since projections indicate that voice searches will comprise half of all online searches by 2020, long-tail phrases will only become increasingly more valuable over time.
In order to help you determine what type of questions your potential clients may be asking of search engines, as well as what sort of language they might use in those searches (and, therefore, which specific long-tail phrases you should focus on in your law firm website’s content), it may be helpful to create client personas to help guide you in that decision-making process.
Keywords are still an important part of the SEO equation, though the weight applied to them by search engines and the way that they are used by attorneys who understand the internet has changed significantly over the last several years. If you are writing content for your law firm website regularly and you are keeping user experience top-of-mind as you do so, the density of keywords in that content should prove naturally sufficient to properly inform search engine web crawlers about the meaning and intention of that content. By using keywords deliberately in your prose, and by focusing on driving traffic to your site by addressing the often-undervalued long-tail search phrase, you can maximize the value of those key terms for your law firm website’s SEO.
Learn more about law firm SEO fundamentals in our free eBook, “SEO Basics for Lawyers,” and follow this blog to receive updates when the next installment in this series (which will discuss easy ways to improve the SEO efforts for your law firm website) goes live.