There’s a common misconception that some attorneys have. Some attorneys believe that it’s crucial for their law firm’s website to rank well for simple keyword searches — things such as:

  • “DUI Attorney Los Angeles”
  • “Estate Planning Attorney Georgia”
  • “Bankruptcy Attorney Phoenix”

The perception among these attorneys is that there should be an emphasis on ranking well for these keywords, because they believe that these basic keywords reflect how potential clients are likely to search for (and select) an attorney.

A lot times, that leaves attorneys overvaluing the role of keywords and thinking that their website’s success rests on whether or not they rank well for these sorts of basic keyword searches.

Here’s the problem: many of your potential clients don’t search like this. In a lot of cases, when a potential client conducts a Google search related to their case or matter, they may not even realize that they need an attorney.

If you spend your time and money working under the assumption that your success has a direct connection to how well you’re ranking for these basic searches, it’s problematic for several reasons.

a) Ranking well for those basics searches out of the gate is hard to do — and, if you’re participating in disposable advertising such as PPC, it can also be expensive. (And with little to show for all of the money you’ve spent to compete for those terms.)

b) Your potential clients don’t usually type in basic keywords searches when they’re looking for an attorney.

Your potential clients often find attorneys through what are called “longtail” searches — the highly specific searches that are related to their case or problem. When attorneys stop focusing on basic keyword searches and instead focus on creating content around longtail phrases, they’re much more likely to engage with more (and better quality) potential clients.

The structure of a Google search

Searches have an anatomical structure that consists of something that could be described as a “head,” “torso,” and “longtail.”

The head: “Attorney” or “lawyer” would be an example of a head search term. It’s very non-specific, and, if you were to search for that keyword, the search results that you’d get in return would also be non-specific. You’re likely to receive search results for attorneys across a wide variety of practice areas, among other search results.

The torso: These terms are slightly more specific than the head keywords, but not by much. These might include terms such as “DUI Attorney Los Angeles,” and “Estate Planning Attorney Georgia.” While these terms are focused on single practice area in a single geographic location, they don’t reflect they way that many potential clients conduct searches or how they often find attorneys.

The longtail: The longtail involves keywords or key phrases that make up highly specific searches. They’re a better reflection of how your potential clients use search engines to find attorneys. So, while “Bankruptcy Attorney Arizona” is more specific than “attorney,” a longtail search that’s relevant to this practice area could be:

  • “Do I have to sell my house if I declare bankruptcy in Arizona?”
  • “How long does a bankruptcy due to medical hardship stay on your record in Arizona?”
  • “Can I file for bankruptcy without an attorney in Arizona?”

Why focusing on longtail keywords and phrases is effective for small law firms

Longtail phrases are highly specific searches that resemble how your potential clients conduct online searches.

Your potential clients are looking for information about their case or matter, and they’re using Google to answer those questions. This is where the longtail comes in. 

Let’s take these basic keyword searches as an example:

  • “Personal injury attorney Colorado”
  • “San Antonio car wreck attorney”

These basic keyword searches aren’t necessarily a good reflection of a search that a potential client for a personal injury firm might conduct. (Yet, these are terms that have a high degree of competition among personal injury attorneys.)

Here are searches that you’re more likely to see from a potential personal injury client:

  • “Who is at fault in a rear-end car wreck in Denver?”
  • “Can a driver hit in a rear-end collision in Colorado be held responsible?”
  • “What do I do if I was hit by a driver without insurance in Colorado/Denver/Arapahoe county?”

While there might be fewer searches for a longtail keyword or phrase, those who are making these searches are more likely to be a potential client for your law firm than someone who is searching for basic keywords.

When the search is more specific, there’s generally a greater chance for conversion. There is less competition for these kinds of specific searches, which can make it easier for your law firm to be found in relevant search results. A person conducting a highly specific search is often looking for detailed information that answers that question. If you’re providing high-quality content related to that question, you have a better chance of engaging that potential client. They’ll spend time on your law firm’s website reading information about their case or problem, reading information about you, and learning what they should do next.

An example of longtail search benefits for law firms

Sometimes, longtail searches are even more complex than that. Let’s continue with a personal injury example. Someone might search for information about what to do in the event that they were in a car wreck and their injuries didn’t show up immediately.

This may be a situation where:

  • A person was in a wreck;
  • They thought they escaped the crash without injuries;
  • Later on, they’ve discovered that they’re in a lot of pain.

A personal injury attorney who addresses these kinds of searches with law firm website content is likely to increase their visibility for relevant queries. It’s also a great way to connect with relevant potential clients once they’ve found the content that addresses these topics.

Providing relevant detail to address a longtail search

To address longtail keywords and phrases correctly, you’ll want to give the potential client a lot of detail.

To continue with the personal injury example, let’s imagine if someone conducts a search about their injuries and they’re met with a web page that says only:

“Car accident injuries can be serious. If you need a personal injury lawyer, call our firm today.”

That information isn’t enough to answer their question or to build a bond of trust between you and that potential client. (This assumes that a potential client were to find this page in the first place — Google would likely consider such a small amount of information to be “thin content.” That means it would likely be relegated in search results.)

However, let’s say you create an in-depth page that provides lots of information about crash injuries. Maybe you explain the kind of physiological processes that happen during and after a crash; the role of endorphins and adrenaline; how things such as head injuries or soft tissue damage may not be obvious in the immediate moments after a crash.

Benefits of providing extra detail for your potential clients

Providing all of this information does several things:

1. When you address the questions your potential clients are likely to ask with a high level of detail, it makes it much more likely that those pages you’ve written are going to show up in relevant search results. Google gives preference to high-quality content. (You can learn more about this topic in our blog post, “What Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines Can Reveal To Attorneys.”)


2. That detailed information helps the potential client understand what’s going on and what they should do next. The content begins to build a bond of trust between you and the potential client before they’ve even contacted your office. (And content marketing, when it’s done right, does this better than any other kind of advertising.)

Somebody might conduct a search about why they’re having pain after an auto accident. That’s their main question. But they might also have other questions: They might wonder whether an accident that occurred at a slow rate of speed can cause injuries.

If your content explains things such as how accidents that occur at a low rate of speed can still generate a lot of force, or that the symptoms of a concussion don’t show up right away in all cases, this extra information is helpful to potential clients. It makes you much more approachable as an attorney. The potential client reads that information and begins to trust you and like you. They also become more inclined to hire you.

3. The end result is that you are more likely to be contacted by a viable potential client. You’re already building a relationship online, with little “sales” effort involved.

These are the kinds of searches that your potential clients are conducting — and these complex questions and phrases are what we call longtail searches.

In the coming days, we’ll talk more about targeting longtail searches with examples for a variety of practice areas. To learn more about creating content for your practice area(s), join us for our “Creating Compelling Content” webinar series.

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