If you want your law firm website to be found by search engines, and you want the content of that site to rank well on search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant queries, there are two things you need to do:
- Make sure that it’s easy for search engines to read and interpret the content of your site, and
- Make sure that the content on your website answers specific questions (with a high level of detail and quality) that are likely to be posed by your potential clients.
Without an understanding of how search engines find and index pages on the web, it will be difficult to optimize your website’s content to be returned on SERPs for relevant searches. And if search engines cannot easily interpret and evaluate the content presented on your site, it is not going to matter how good that content is.
This post is the first in a series about the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) for your law firm website. In this series, we will address:
- How to make sure your site can be found and indexed by search engines,
- How to tackle easy SEO opportunities for your law firm website,
- How to avoid hidden SEO traps set by dishonest marketers and salespeople,
- How Google has battled “black hat” SEO (meaning SEO that falls outside of webmaster guidelines), and
- How to maximize the SEO value of the content on your law firm website.
You can refer back to this post for links to other posts in this series as they are published, or follow our blog to stay in the know as they are released.
How Search Engines Work
All major search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo in the U.S.) use automated bits of software called “web crawlers” or “spiders” to index content on the web. But, since Google dominates the worldwide web search market, they will serve as our primary point of reference here.
Search engine web crawlers work by navigating to a site or web page either by following links on the web that point to that site or page, or after being told by a webmaster through a direct submission that content on the webmaster’s site has recently been published or updated (a process that happens automatically for LawLytics members).
The “bots” (shorthand for “robots,” which means “automated software” in this context) evaluate the textual content of a site by analyzing keywords and phrases in the site’s content, along with more than 200 other factors that help the search engine to determine the purpose and context of the information presented. The crawlers then follow the links on that page to other pages, which they then process in turn, ad infinitum.
Once a site is processed by a web crawler, a digital “snapshot” of the content on that site is stored in the search engine’s database, along with snapshots of more than 130 trillion other web pages. It is this index that users search when they enter a query into Google’s search bar—not the web itself. Therefore, in order for your law firm website to appear on Google’s SERPs, you need to be sure that your site can be indexed by the search engine.
How Google “Sees” Your Law Firm Website
Offer Web Crawlers Context Clues About Multimedia Elements
Since web crawlers cannot interpret visual or audible information on their own, it is important to offer additional clues to the bots with regard to the purpose of such content on your law firm website. For photos, this means providing captions and “alt text” with each image. Alt text (also known as “alternative text” or “alt tags”) was invented to serve as an accessibility feature for visually impaired users: Accessible browsers read alt text out loud to users with visual impairments, though alt text also offers information to web crawlers about the content of images posted online.
In the case of video and audio files, providing transcripts of the information presented in that content along with the relevant multimedia file gives web crawlers the information they need to index that content, and to therefore apply SEO benefits to your law firm website.
Offer Web Crawlers Specific Instructions
Certain files can be added to the code of your website in order to offer instructions to web crawlers about how and when to crawl certain pages on your site, as well as which pages you would like the crawlers to ignore. Text files called “robots.txt” offer sitewide instructions of this nature to web crawlers, and can also be employed to point the crawlers toward your website’s “sitemap” file.
Sitemaps are machine-coded text files written in XML (Extensible Markup Language) code that provide information to web crawlers about each page on your site, including when the page was published, when it was most recently updated, and when the pages should be re-crawled by search engine bots.
It is possible to submit your sitemap manually to both Google and Bing, though the creation, submission, and management of these files is performed automatically for LawLytics members.
Give Search Engine Users What They Are Looking For
Once you are certain that your law firm website can be found, crawled, and indexed by search engine spiders, it’s time to start thinking about content. Google’s business is dependent upon providing its users with the most relevant information for more than 5.5 billion searches it processes every day. For this reason, the search engine favors content that answers specific questions posed by users, and that answers those questions with high-quality content on a user-friendly platform.
Google advises webmasters to create content that provides value to users, and that means making that content with users—not search engines—in mind. Stepping outside of those guidelines by stuffing your content with keywords, providing thin content that offers little value to search engine users, or by offering duplicate content is seen as “black hat” SEO and, if caught, your site will receive a search engine penalty or will otherwise be deranked on SERPs as a result of that activity.
Law firm website content is something that Google describes as “Your Money or Your Life” pages. Because the information on these pages can affect the health, happiness, or finances of someone who finds that content, YMYL pages are held to a higher standard by the search engine. You can learn more about these kinds of pages (and what Google expects of law firm website content) by reading “What Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines Can Reveal To Attorneys.”
We will go deeper into the topic of creating quality content in the next post in this series with a crash course in keywords and how to use them. If you’d like to get a jump on the subject, however, you can download our free eBook, “SEO Basics for Lawyers.”