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Topics like law firm SEO and online legal marketing strategy keep some attorneys awake at night.

Many potential clients find their attorney online, and these potential clients often use search engines to find law firms on the web. For that reason, it’s not surprising that so many attorneys care about search engine optimization.

But there’s a misconception about law firm SEO that causes law firms to focus their efforts in the wrong direction. This misunderstanding can cost firms a lot of time and money, and with little to show for it.

A fundamental problem with law firm SEO…

For a moment, imagine that you are your law firm’s potential client. Map the route that a potential client takes from needing an attorney to finding your law firm’s website and contacting you. What does it look like?

Let’s use a DUI attorney as an example. Did your answer look something like this?

  • My potential client opens their laptop.
  • They go to Google.
  • Because they need a DUI attorney in New York, they conduct a search for “DUI attorney New York.”
  • They find my website because I’m a DUI attorney in New York.
  • They contact my law firm.

Is your answer like this one? This is a common misunderstanding some attorneys have when they think about how potential clients search for them online. They assume that the path to successful online law firm marketing works in this way.

In the above example, there are three possible assumptions:

  • Potential clients usually know they need an attorney before they conduct a search.
  • Potential clients usually search for attorneys directly.
  • Potential clients usually conduct basic keyword searches to find an attorney.

(A fourth assumption is that your potential client is using a laptop rather than a mobile device. The importance of mobile-friendly websites is a discussion for another blog post.)

When you believe these assumptions are true, they can cost your law firm a lot of time and money.

When optimization doesn’t work like attorneys think it does…

If you think this is how law firm SEO works, you’ll get frustrated when your law firm’s website doesn’t bring you new clients. You’ll wonder what your law firm is doing wrong.

You may be struggling with your law firm’s business. When you don’t realize that your law firm marketing strategy relies on a flawed premise, you may think you need expensive, outside help to “fix” your law firm’s SEO.

If your assumptions aren’t right, does your law firm really have a problem that needs an expensive fix? What may be wrong is that search engine optimization doesn’t work like you think it does.

How SEO actually works for attorneys

Let’s revisit the above example and look at each of these assumptions.

Assumption 1: “Potential clients usually know they need an attorney before they conduct a search.”

Potential clients do not always know that they need an attorney before they conduct a search. What they often know is that they have a problem they’re not sure how to solve. They open their laptops, go to Google, and conduct question-based searches. Instead of searches like “DUI attorney New York,” a potential client may ask, “What should I do if I got a DUI in New York?”

Some potential clients may suspect they need an attorney. They may still do research about how their current problem could affect them. They might ask if a DUI arrest will affect their current job, if they have to disclose the arrest on a job application, what punishments they could face, or simply what they need to do next.

When you write insightful content that answers those questions, it can help influence their decision to choose you as their attorney.

Assumption 2: “Potential clients usually search for attorneys directly.”

Potential clients don’t always search for attorneys directly. This is a flawed assumption because it assumes that potential clients search for an attorney in the same way someone searches for a t-shirt brand at a local store.

Someone might search for “Hanes T-Shirts Target San Diego” to see if a local Target has this shirt brand in stock, but a t-shirt is a consumer product. That person likely knows roughly what they want and where they want to buy it. It’s an easy decision.

Choosing an attorney is an important and complex process that has real effects for the potential client. Attorneys are not consumer products, and potential clients don’t search for attorneys in the same way.

Assumption 3: “Potential clients usually conduct basic keyword searches to find an attorney.”

Consider the search for “Hanes T-Shirts Target.” This example assumes that a person will conduct a vague search. Maybe this person just wants to see if Target carries Hanes shirts. But if that person already knows what they want, they’re much more likely to conduct a highly specific search.

Think about the different results you’d get by searching for “Hanes T-Shirts Target” vs. “Hanes Men’s V-Neck White T-Shirts Size XL Target San Diego.” The first search will bring you a lot of different results about a lot of different shirts. The second will quickly tell you whether that store has exactly what you need.

People don’t want to sift through results. They want an immediate answer. The same goes for your potential clients when they ask questions of Google. They’re not likely to search for “Divorce in California” and scan through hundreds of results. They have a question about their problem and they want an answer to that problem.

They’re more likely to ask questions like “Can I get divorced in California without an attorney?” or, “What do I need to know about spousal support if I’m getting divorced in California?”

Those are specific questions. When potential clients ask specific questions, Google will attempt to provide specific results.

When you answer those questions with quality content on your law firm’s website and blog, you’re more likely to be found in search results because your content closely matches a potential client’s question. By giving them the information they need, you are more likely to create a bond of trust that encourages them to contact your law firm.

An example of how potential clients find law firms through search

Here’s an example of how law firm SEO works for attorneys:

  1. A potential client conducts a Google search like this: “My spouse doesn’t want to divorce* but I do. What are my rights in [fill in a state, city, county, province, township, neighborhood, etc. here]?”
  2. Your law firm has written a blog post about this topic with lots of useful information. (What happens when a spouse refuses to accept divorce papers or refuses to sign a divorce decree, what to do if your spouse insists on reconciliation…) You write the blog post in language that the potential client uses, making it easy for them to understand.
  3. This potential client reads what you have to say and it’s helped to answer their question. Now that they’re visiting your law firm’s blog, they look around and read other content that you’ve written.
  4. When what you’ve written is helpful and informative, the potential client trusts you. Your content demonstrates that you understand their problem and you know what the potential client should do.
  5. They reach out to you when they want more information or they’re ready to hire you.

* The word “divorce” in the first point above is a keyword that is related to your practice, but competing for rank with the word “divorce” alone is hard. So how can a small law firm rank for terms like “divorce”? By adding it to a long-tail keyword (and using long-tail keywords in specific places on law firm websites and blogs). Here’s a quick doodle I did that explains why long-tail keywords are effective for law firms.

(Note that the more specific your phrasing is, the less competition you have for the term and the more likely you are to attract qualified potential clients.)

longtail search for lawyers graph

To learn more about the long-tail, read this blog post on long-tail keywords for law firms.

What attorneys need to know about search engine optimization

SEO misconceptions can frustrate attorneys when they believe just having a law firm website should be enough to generate new business.

Belief in these myths can cost you time, money, and even your firm’s web presence.

Some legal marketers tell attorneys that law firm SEO is complicated. As a result, some attorneys think they can’t learn (or don’t have time to learn) it. This mindset can leave solo attorneys and small law firms paying for unnecessary legal marketing services that can cost thousands of dollars a month without ever producing real results.

In some cases, attorneys unwittingly pay to damage their web presence. Attorneys can be sold on tricks marketed as “SEO.” These tactics aren’t “search engine optimization,” but search engine cheats. They violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

For whatever short term value they might provide, attorneys then pay the price when Google’s algorithms catch on and relegate their law firm’s site in search engine results. In some cases, attorneys will then pay another company more money to try and undo what the first company has done…and that can make things even worse.

Attorneys can avoid wasting time and money by understanding how search works from the start. Before you decide that you have a problem that needs fixing, be sure that you understand how search engines — and your potential clients — operate.

Ready to take the mystery out of small law firm marketing?

LawLytics provides solo attorneys and small law firm owners with everything they need for sustainable, cost-effective online legal marketing.

Every law firm deserves accessible and understandable tools and services that let them grow their businesses on their terms. At LawLytics, we want to empower attorneys and put them in control of their online web presence.

LawLytics gives you the right tools to predictably grow your firm’s business. We want you to know how to market your small law firm online. Unlike large, overpriced legal marketing companies, we want attorneys to avoid spending money on things they don’t need.

Unlike low-end software, our innovative, award-winning system is built exclusively for you — the attorney. Using LawLytics is as easy as using a basic word processor. You don’t need any tech experience to create a web presence that attracts qualified potential clients. LawLytics helps you avoid struggling with technology or missing opportunities to thrive on the web.

If you’re ready to improve your law firm’s online marketing, we’re ready to help. Contact LawLytics to schedule our call.

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