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This post is the third 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?

If you want to set your law firm website up for long-term success as a lead-generating tool, there is no time like the present. The longer you add content to your site without considering how that content will be interpreted by search engines, the harder it will become to retroactively optimize that content for visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs). Therefore, as soon as your site is published online, it’s time to start optimizing it for search engine visibility.

Engaging in search engine optimization (SEO) best practices from the start can save your firm time and money in the long run, and can position your law firm website to attract more potential clients as long as the site is up.

There are a number of practices you can employ as soon as your website is launched that will maximize your site’s opportunities to rank well on SERPs for relevant searches. By employing these tactics early on, and continuing to engage in SEO best practices moving forward, you can avoid future penalties for stepping outside of search engine webmaster guidelines. Employing the SEO best practices outlined here will help keep your law firm website on an upward trajectory on SERPs, provide a continuous increase in traffic to your site, and offer continued access to potential clients for your law firm.

 

Make Sure Your Law Firm Website Is Secure

In January of 2017, Google indicated its preference for secure websites by adding a warning to its Chrome browser that displayed on insecure sites requesting password or credit card information. In July of this year, that warning will expand to include all sites without a Transfer Layer Security (TLS; also known as “secure sockets layer,” or SSL). TLS/SSL is a certificate that confirms that the information transmitted between your site and user devices is encrypted and safe from hackers. It is this certificate that differentiates a site served over HTTP communication protocols (the insecure version) and HTTPS protocols (the secure version).

Current chrome address bar is neutral; this July it will display a warning for insecure sites.

In Chrome 68, the omnibox will display “Not secure” for all HTTP pages. Image from Google’s Emily Schechter.

Since Chrome is the most-used browser on the market, more than half of internet users will begin seeing warnings when they visit websites operating on insecure servers. Though this warning may not affect your law firm website’s SEO directly, user engagement metrics that suffer as a result of this warning could have a negative effect on your site’s SEO in the future. Therefore, if your website is not served over a secure HTTPS protocol (like that provided to all LawLytics members), you should consider migrating to a secure platform as soon as possible.

 

Make Sure Your Law Firm Website Is Mobile Friendly

Google announced in early 2015 that mobile-friendly websites would soon be given preference on SERPs for searches performed on mobile devices. The announcement was dubbed “Mobilegeddon” by the SEO community and, since roughly 60 percent of searches worldwide are performed on mobile devices, the announcement sent webmasters across the globe into a mobile-optimizing frenzy.

Mobile searches are increasingly the standard online, and mobile-friendliness is still an important factor for SEO. There are a number of ways to ensure that your site is optimized for viewing on mobile, but Google only recommends using “Responsive Web Design.” Responsive design eliminates the need for webmasters to maintain multiple sites for display on different devices, and allows a single site to be designed in such a way that it is automatically optimized for viewing on any device—from the smallest smartphone, to the largest desktop monitor.

All LawLytics sites are built using Responsive Web Design. If you are unsure if your site is mobile friendly and would like to discuss migrating it over to LawLytics, let’s schedule a time to talk.

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Tell Search Engines How to Index Images, Video, and Audio on Your Site

As mentioned in a previous post in this series, the automated software bots called web crawlers that Google uses to index pages across the internet cannot see images, nor can they process audio or video files. Crawlers perform best when reading HTML text, and even struggle with processing code languages other than HTML, such as JavaScript and Flash.

As you begin adding multimedia content to your law firm website, it is a good idea to add supplemental HTML text with it in order to offer additional context clues to crawlers as to how they should index that content. Adding captions and alt text to your images should provide crawlers with enough information to determine the purpose and context of images in the content of your site. The LawLytics control panel makes it easy to add such information to the images you place on your website.

Adding closed caption information or transcripts to audio or video files will make it easier for crawlers to index the content of those file types, and can help drive traffic to the pages where such content is posted. Transcripts can be added directly to the page containing an audio or video file, or can be uploaded as supporting files in several different formats that can be read by the bots.

 

Use Keywords Correctly

The last post in this series, titled “A Crash Course in Keywords,” goes into much more detail on this topic. Still, it is worth mentioning how the proper use of keywords can help set your law firm website up for long-term SEO success.

Thanks to Google’s RankBrain feature—which helps Google’s algorithm better interpret synonyms and context clues using artificial intelligence known as “machine learning”—the use of specific, targeted keywords is becoming less important with respect to your law firm website’s SEO. Still, keywords are used by crawlers to help with indexing and understanding content, so using them properly can help your website to gain better placement on SERPs.

If you write content for your law firm website with the intention of providing useful content to search engine users (as per webmaster guidelines), then keywords should appear in the body of your content at an ideal density. Therefore, keyword stuffing is no longer a benefit to SEO. Rather, keyword-stuffed content tends to be relegated downward on SERPs.

Placing keywords in highly-visible areas (such as in title tags, headers, URLs, and anchor text), however, can still help crawlers to appropriately index the content of your law firm website. Further, concentrating your focus on more specific long-tail search phrases (as opposed to shorter, more general keywords) can help you appear high on SERPs for specific questions asked of search engines by your potential clients. A focus on long-tail phrases also tends to have higher conversion rates than that of general keywords, and so can translate to a higher ROI for your SEO efforts.

 

Provide Your Potential Clients with High-Quality Content

Google’s content quality guidelines ask that webmasters “make content primarily for users, not search engines.” Thus, the search engine says that one of the best metrics for determining whether or not the content on your law firm website adheres to those guidelines is to ask yourself “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

The point behind populating your law firm website with high-quality content is to anticipate the needs of your potential clients, and to answer specific questions for them before they ask those questions of search engines. Google provides a list of qualities that could cause content to be considered thin, or low quality, and it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with those items in order to avoid facing penalties associated with publishing thin content on your law firm website.

The items listed include publishing duplicate or “scraped” content, publishing auto-generated content, and redirecting users by using doorway pages. Still, even outside of the blatant offenses outlined by the search engine, attorneys should have a basic idea of what constitutes quality, helpful information for their potential clients, and what constitutes “phoning it in” with the content on their law firm website.

Keep the content on your site informative, accurate, and up-to-date, and you will avoid frustrating both your potential clients and search engines. Try to skimp on providing thoughtful content to your potential clients, though, and you may face the wrath of a Google penalty, or be overtaken on SERPs by a competing attorney’s content.

For LawLytics members who are concerned about making time to add quality content to their law firm websites, give us a call to discuss delegating the creation of ethics-compliant content to the professionals in our Content Department.

 

Optimize Snippets and/or Meta Descriptions for Your Website’s Content

When a search result for your law firm website appears on a SERP (a Google SERP, in this case), it will contain three pieces of information:

  1. The first line of the result will contain the page title for the result,
  2. The second line will give the relevant page’s exact URL address, and
  3. The third section will feature a descriptive “snippet” of what a user can expect to find on the page in question.

Google generates these so-called “snippets” automatically by pulling between 160 and 320 characters of information from the content of the relevant page. But, if you want to offer search engine users a specific snippet to use on SERPs in place of the automatically generated one, you can do so by adding a meta description to pages of your law firm website.  

Search result with Title, URL, and snippet labeled.

Search terms that appear in snippets and meta descriptions are bolded on SERPs.

Though Google says that meta descriptions do not have a direct effect on a website’s SEO, it does display terms in those descriptions that appeared in the original search query as bold text. In this way, good meta descriptions can help draw a user’s attention to your search result, and may therefore have a direct effect on click through rates to your law firm website.

When publishing a new page or blog post on your law firm website, you can easily check the snippet generated by Google by performing a Google search for the page’s exact title on your site (type site:yourdomainaddress.com “Title of blog” into Google’s search bar). If you are satisfied with Google’s chosen text, there’s no need to take further action. If you decide to change the page description as it appears on SERPs, you can easily add a meta description to the page within the LawLytics platform.

 

Engage with Other Professionals Online

According to Google, the two most important factors influencing the ranking of your law firm website on SERPs are 1) the presence of quality content on your site and 2) the presence and quality of external links pointing to your site. And since Google considers almost any effort to buy or trade in links to be a violation of its webmaster guidelines, it begs the question of how to go about getting those links placed organically.

Here’s what Google has to say on the subject:

The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.

But getting others on the internet to find your site in the first place can be difficult. And if nobody knows your site exists, you will be hard-pressed to get anyone to place a link to it. It might be in your best interest, therefore, to engage the community of thought leaders in your field and direct them toward your content.

Local organizations you work with may find value you in your content for their members, or non-competing attorneys could find shareable content on your law firm website, as well. Fortunately for LawLytics members, the built-in network feature makes it easy to connect with other professional attorneys, and to share content and build links between the legal professionals on that network.

It’s never too early to start thinking about SEO for your law firm website. Learn more by downloading our free eBook on the subject, “SEO Basics for Lawyers.”

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