2020-2021 Lawyer’s Guide To
Law Firm SEO
How to reliably attract and convert clients with free search engine traffic.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Success means that your law firm’s website predictably attracts and converts new clients via free search engine traffic. If you’re new to SEO, this guide will help you get started. If you’re struggling, it will help you turn things around. If you’re succeeding, it can help you do even better.
This guide is organized as follows:
Part 1: The essentials of successful law firm SEO.
Part one covers the five things that result in successful SEO. They are:
- Content – The words on your firm’s website;
- User Experience – How your clients consume the content on your website;
- Structure – The technical details of how your website is built;
- Compliance – Whether your website complies with Google’s guidelines; and
- Authority – The authority of your site compared to your competitors’ websites.
Part 2: Your law firm’s SEO options.
Part two outlines the three most common options and helps you understand which is best for your firm:
Part 3: Common SEO questions asked by lawyers.
Part three is a collection of frequently asked questions and answers.
Part One: The Five Practical Aspects of Law Firm SEO
Law Firm SEO Success Factors
SEO success is easy for lawyers who focus on the right things. This part will explain why at least 70% of your focus should be on content, about 20% on user experience, and 10% or less on the other three things combined.
Content is by far the most important factor and should be your focus.
The user experience (aka design) supports your content and converts visitors into leads.
The technical structure of your website must conform to modern search engine standards.
Your website must comply with Google’s webmaster guidelines or risk penalty and failure.
Authority is your website’s relevance in your location(s) and practice area(s).
Law Firm SEO Success Factor 1:
The written content on your website is the single biggest driver of search engine rankings, visitors and leads because Google is in the business of connecting searchers with the most useful content. Google depends primarily on text to predict if a website page will provide a good answer to a search query. The higher Google’s confidence in your content, the higher it ranks your content.
When Google refers a visitor to a page on your website, it learns from the outcome:
- Outcome 1: The visitor stays on your website. This makes future Google referrals for similar searches more likely.
- Outcome 2: The visitor returns to Google to try again. This makes future Google referrals for similar searches less likely.
Content drives SEO results, and without it SEO success is impossible. The other factors discussed below have supporting roles. The primacy of content is great news for pragmatic solos and small firms. It means that you can compete and win in any market regardless of budget.
Law Firm SEO Success Factor 2:
User Experience (aka Objective Website Design)
User experience (UX) is the practical side of website design. UX-driven law firm websites take an objective approach to client acquisition that statistically improves the odds that visitors will become leads.
Branding is important, but the following are the more important objective drivers of new leads:
- Site architecture. This is how your content is organized. Visitors should intuitively know how to use your site without having to think about it.
- Readability. Your content should be easy to read. Avoid animations and moving backgrounds that make it hard to focus on words. Fonts should be appropriately sized, and the contrast should minimize eye strain.
- Conversion paths. Your website should make it easy for visitors to become leads by guiding them through actions designed to educate, qualify, convince and convert them.
There is an objective formula for law firm website UX that works predictably for solos and small law firms. When you use the formula, and have great content, your visitors will get a “that was easy” feeling which creates trust that makes client intake and expectation management easier.
Law Firm SEO Success Factor 3:
There are three structural requirements that ensure that your content and UX function unimpeded. Your law firm’s website must be:
- Mobile-friendly. Responsive design is the standard for law firm websites. It automatically adjusts the UX for all devices and screen sizes so every visitor has the best possible experience.
- Secure. Your website should have a valid security certificate that is up-to-date and universally applied throughout your website.
- Fast-loading. The content that visitors see before scrolling must load quickly. Your site doesn’t need to be faster than competing sites to outrank them, but it must be fast enough that visitors aren’t frustrated.
It’s best to avoid moving animations, video backgrounds, and menu effects because they hurt UX, distract from content, and tend to decrease speed.
Law Firm SEO Success Factor 4:
Google publishes guidelines that make it clear that it rewards high-quality original content and punishes manipulation. Google’s enforcement technology has evolved so that it’s now impossible to succeed using manipulative tactics (including buying links).
This is great news for pragmatic lawyers who want to build a sustainable and cost efficient pipeline of new business. It means you can succeed following Google’s guidelines (LawLytics makes it easy) without worrying about competitors that are willing to risk trying to trick Google.
Part Two: Picking the Best Law Firm SEO Option for You
The Agency Model
The agency model involves paying a third party to take responsibility for your firm’s SEO results.
The DIY Model
The do-it-yourself model involves using low cost or free general purpose website software.
The LawLytics Model
The LawLytics model is a fully-supported platform designed exclusively for lawyers.
Law Firm SEO Models
The Agency Model
The agency model involves delegating responsibility for your website’s success to a third-party. The budget required to get results depends on your practice type(s) and location(s). Reputable agencies typically require an ongoing minimum of $3,000 per month for areas with light competition, and more than $15,000 per month for highly competitive areas.
Lawyers are often disappointed by agencies, especially at lower budget levels. The most common reasons agencies fail to produce good ROI are:
- The agency doesn’t add enough content or the content it adds is poorly written, unoriginal or inaccurate; and/or
- The agency focuses on things that don’t work (including subjective design and link building); and/or
- The agency has a conflict of interest that disadvantages the law firm; and/or
- The agency doesn’t understand legal marketing.
If you have the budget and are willing to give up control of your destiny, hiring a reputable agency can work. For the best chance of success, clarify the return on investment you expect and have an objective mutually agreed way to enforce accountability.
Law Firm SEO Models
The DIY Model
The DIY model involves using a general-purpose website builder. It’s a viable starting point for lawyers who can’t otherwise afford a website, or who are tech savvy and want to spend time on technical details. This is the lowest price option, but the cost savings will be offset by extra work, and you may miss opportunities.
Using website software that’s not designed for lawyers can be a frustrating. Lawyers frequently report spending significant time figuring out design, UX, and technical settings but still end up with a website that looks “homemade” and doesn’t generate enough business.
Law Firm SEO Models
The LawLytics Model
LawLytics makes it easy for lawyers to succeed with the content-based approach favored by Google. The platform is designed exclusively for lawyers. It automatically produces the most effective UX, and complies with the latest standards and best-practices. It removes the technical labor and guesswork so the only thing you’ll need to do is log in and write content (or have a third party write it for you).
We’ll design, set up, launch, host, maintain, and update your firm’s website for you. We’ll teach you how to use the platform to publish content that attracts and converts new clients and give you ongoing strategy and support. You won’t need to learn or do anything technical, so you can participate and make a difference in your firm’s future from day-one.
Comparing the Three Models
Here’s how the three models of law firm SEO compare on the factors that matter for most solo practitioners and small law firms.
Part Three: Law Firm SEO Frequently Asked Questions
Here are common questions asked by attorneys about search engine optimization.
How often does a law firm website need to be optimized?
Once a page on a law firm website or blog is optimized for the search engines, it rarely needs to be altered or optimized. While this is contrary to what most SEO people at marketing agencies will tell attorneys, it is logical and supported by the facts.
For something that is already optimized to become unoptimized, a condition must change. Before concluding that a page needs additional optimization, ask:
- Has Google’s algorithm changed?
- Has the law changed?
- Have the facts presented on the page changed?
That’s it. If none of the above are true, your page does not need further optimization assuming it’s optimized correctly in the first place.
On the flip side, your page may slip in ranking, or may not achieve the ranking you want based on a number of factors that are not related to, and would not be solved by, ongoing optimization services such as are sold by many SEO agencies. These factors include:
- Your competitor now has better or more content than you do.
- Your content is insufficient despite being “optimized.”
- Your SEO agency used tricks or bad practices such as buying links and you’re being punished for their negligence.
How long should it take for SEO on my law firm’s website to work?
The amount of time that it takes for your efforts or investment to start paying off depends on the intensity of effort or resources that you bring to bear. There are many factors that will determine when, and to what extent, your law firm’s SEO efforts will pay off. These include:
- The amount of content on your website.
- The quality of content on your website.
- The uniqueness of your content.
- The architecture of your website.
- The formatting of your content.
- The ease of use of your website.
- The competitiveness of your market.
- How narrow or broad your geographic targeting is.
- Whether you previously or currently engaged somebody to “build links” for your firm’s website (this usually delays the process of ranking well because the site must regain the confidence of the search engines).
- The extent to which you avoid letting fancy designs, moving images, and other “bells and whistles” from designers get in the way of your content efforts (a simpler site typically yields more rapid results).
The bottom line is that creating a sustainable web presence using real content-based SEO takes time. Attorneys who understand this, who are patient, and who don’t fall for quick-fixes and the promise of shortcuts end up winning.
What does longtail SEO mean for lawyers?
Most potential clients use Google and the other search engines to search for answers. Despite what most agencies want you to believe, the vast majority of searches that result in new business for law firms are based on queries for specific information rather than simple searches for lawyers. If your law firm is optimizing for the head (phrases like “Colorado personal injury lawyer”, and “Seattle DUI attorney”) instead of the tail (searches like “who pays for medical expenses and rental car after an accident in Colorado” and “will I lose my pilot’s license after a marijuana DUI in Seattle”), then you’re wasting your time or enriching a marketing agency for working inefficiently on your behalf.
If you’re optimizing for the head of the keyword spectrum rather than the tail, you’re going to spend a lot of energy and money resulting in a lot more clicks from your competitors and from marketers trying to sell you services, but you’re going to net very few additional viable cases, and have a greatly diminished marketing ROI.
Conversely, we have found that attorneys who concentrate on the search phrases with a high likelihood of conversion because they are very specific ultimately see their websites start to rank very well for more general searches as a byproduct.
What is off-site SEO?
“Off-site SEO” usually refers to getting backlinks from other sites. We recommend that attorneys refrain from paying anybody to get links to your law firm’s website because it’s against Google’s guidelines and frequently results in penalties and the website’s inability to maintain good ranking. It may seem like a tempting short cut when presented by a marketing agency, but it’s simply not worth it.
Do I need backlinks?
Links from other websites to your law firm’s website are a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. Having links to your law firm’s website is a good thing when they are the right kinds of links. But you can’t buy your way into having the kind of links that you need. In fact, if your law firm SEO provider is selling backlinks, they are in direct violation of Google’s Guidelines on the topic. It’s basically like you telling a client of your law firm to hire you because you’ll bribe the judge.
Do backlinks from .edu or .gov domains help SEO?
One of the most enduring scams attempted by ignorant or nefarious actors is to try to sell links (or the service of obtaining said links) from .edu (education institutions) and .gov (government). Google is aware of this scam (and has been for more than a decade), and has said that it ignores a lot of .edu and .gov links because they are spam magnets.
The general guidance from Google is that backlinks from .edu websites should be tagged as “no-follow” which completely negates any potential SEO benefit because it tells Google not to follow the link. This means that links from .edu websites to your website will not boost SEO if they are done per Google’s recommendations, and if they are not done per Google’s recommendation they will likely be recognized as spam and (best case scenario) they will be ignored.
What is the value of link building services for lawyers?
Zero or worse.
There is virtually no chance of you coming out ahead. There is a high-probability that you’ll break even. And there’s a statistically significant chance that you’ll end up paying somebody to sabotage your website. If you pay somebody to get your links, you’re playing Russian Roulette with your website.
Will buying pay-per-click (PPC) ads from Google help my law firm’s SEO?
Unfortunately, some marketing agencies mislead attorneys by making it sound like their “Google Partner” status somehow makes their SEO efforts more effective or preferred by Google. This is 100% false and misleading. The Google Partner status simply means that they are authorized to resell Google products such as Adwords.
There is absolutely no correlation between buying pay-per-click ads and organic search engine ranking (or SEO). In fact, Google clearly states:
Keep in mind that the Google search results page includes organic search results and often paid advertisement (denoted as “Ads” or “Sponsored”) as well. Advertising with Google won’t have any effect on your site’s presence in our search results. Google never accepts money to include or rank sites in our search results, and it costs nothing to appear in our organic search results.
But this fact doesn’t stop predatory agencies from misleading attorneys. The equivalent in law would be a law firm with advertising that implies that they can get their clients favorable results because they are friends with the judges or otherwise can exert undue influence.
Are there SEO tactics that attorneys should avoid?
There is an abundance of useless SEO advice online. Most of it is harmless except for the fact that it distracts lawyers from focusing on what really moves the needle.
The most harmful distraction is the assertion that links are more important than content. Agencies likely push this claim because it’s easy to fake and impossible to verify.
Here are some things that agencies try to sell to attorneys that should be avoided:
Press releases for SEO purposes: While press releases may have a value in creating media attention for the firm, there is no SEO benefit in doing so and there hasn’t been for years.
Writing posts with links in content farms: Content farms are websites that exist, in full or in part, to publish content to drive “link juice” or traffic to other websites. Participation in content farms can harm your law firm’s SEO.
Submitting websites to link directories: “Submitting” used to be an effective SEO tactic in the early 2000s. Google’s webmaster guidelines previously contained advice to “submit your site to relevant directories,” but has since removed this advice. Today this practice is dangerous, counterproductive and should be avoided.
Paying for guest blog posts or links: If a SEO provider’s strategy claims to involve publishing articles as a guest in prestigious publications such as Inc, Business Insider and HuffPost, you should be aware that the purpose of those publications is not to be used as a content farm (see above). In fact, the gratuitous use of those publications by those who have previously received publishing privileges in order to sell SEO services to their customers is a deceptive tactic that is unlikely to work. And even if the publication does accept an article, most of them automatically add “nofollow” tags to the links, rendering them useless in terms of SEO. They do this to prevent the abuse of their publications by unscrupulous SEO providers.
Setting up fake or contrived acts of kindness as link-bait: Never offer a scholarship or any other benefit in exchange for posting a link to a law firm’s website.
Participating in link schemes: Some SEO companies cross-link their clients websites or exchange links with other providers to trick the search engines. Some try to buy or sell links. Some add links to blog comments or forums.
Google says that:
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.” – Google on Link Schemes
If you work with an SEO agency, in order to protect yourself against buying an illusion, we recommend that you insist the provider keeps a log of every “off-site” action they perform for you, complete with links, so you can audit their work. That way you’ll be able to see what they have done, and put an immediate stop to it if it involves link schemes. If they refuse to do this, you can bet that it’s because they weren’t planning on doing anything in the first place, or the things that they were planning on doing were bad.
Can attempting to have law firm SEO create legal ethics issues?
The most common scenario is when a non-attorney SEO provider alters text that has legal meaning and substitutes different keywords that the layman SEO person views as synonyms, but that carry different legal significance. Another common scenario is trying to optimize using comparative language such as “the best lawyer” or in describing an attorney as a “specialist” or “expert” in contravention to the applicable state ethics rules.
The bottom line is that you, the attorney, are responsible for every word on your law firm’s website. Letting a SEO agency alter your words does not absolve you from that responsibility. The benefit of having a non-lawyer do SEO for your law firm is typically negligible or negative, so why risk your bar card or reputation by empowering somebody who doesn’t understand legal ethics and has nothing to lose?
How much does page load speed affect the ranking of law firm websites?
Page load speed performance has become a focus of many SEO salespeople. Much like mobile-friendliness, Google has made page load speed a ranking factor. However, this does not mean that the faster loading page always rank better than pages that are slower. Speed matters to Google, but is just one of hundreds of factors to balance in the quest for great search engine performance.
A website must have highly relevant content to rank well. A page with no design, structure or content will be the fastest loading page you can have, but it will not rank for anything. On the other hand, if you have 100,000 words of content, and heavy images on a page, and it takes the page 60 seconds to load, it is also unlikely to rank well.
With LawLytics, you don’t need to worry about the details of page speed optimization.
Should lawyers use AMP pages for their mobile websites?
The AMP framework was a feature that Google tried to use to get publishers to publish content on its platform. The promise was that AMP pages were faster loading because they were pre-loaded with Google’s search results. Like many experimental Google projects, some marketing agencies saw AMP as an opportunity to generate revenue by selling them to lawyers. Unfortunately the implied promise of AMP pages, better Google ranking never materialized, and law firm websites that used AMP pages were left with less effective UX and truncated features compared to those that used responsive design.
In the summer of 2020 Google signaled the potential beginning of the end for the AMP framework. Prior to that time pages were required to use AMP in order to appear in the news results into its “Top Stories” carousel, which was valuable to publishers whose content was featured there. Recently Google said that it would be lifting the restriction, so that non-AMP pages could also appear.
Given that there has been no measurable advantage in the past for attorneys who switched to AMP pages, given that Google is publicly removing the benefit to news sites for using AMP pages, and given the drawbacks of using AMP pages for law firm websites, there is simply no rational reason why any law firm website should use AMP as of this writing in August 2020.
Are meta keywords good for law firm SEO?
Some SEO providers talk about adding keywords to law firm websites and blogs. It is important to distinguish what they are talking about, because many of them persist in adding useless meta keywords. Google does not use the “keywords” meta tag in its ranking, and hasn’t for more than a decade.
What search engines should a law firm website be submitted to?
When you are using modern technology such as LawLytics, there is simply no need to submit your website to the search engines. The automatically created robots file will tell the search engines where to find your automatically created and automatically updated sitemap file. The sitemap file in turn tells the search engines every time a new page is added to your website and also whenever any page is modified.
Submitting to the search engines as a service that you pay a SEO person for is a useless expense, and every competent SEO provider knows this.
What is a XML sitemap and how does it help with my law firm’s SEO?
An XML sitemap is a machine-readable list of pages in your website that tells the search engines what to crawl. It tells them when each page was added or updated, so that search engines know when to return to the page to re-index it. LawLytics automatically generates and updates the XML sitemap on your website.
What is a meta description?
A meta description is a snippet of text in a HTML tag at the top of a web page or blog post that gives a summary of the content of the page. Search engines show the meta description in some of the search engine results pages when a search engine user types in a query that matches the content of the results. Other times, the search engines will substitute an excerpt from the page that the search engine deems to be more relevant based on the search.
The recommended length of a meta description is approximately 160 characters.
Meta descriptions are NOT a ranking factor and are not necessary to have on every page. In fact, you can choose to leave the meta description area blank on any page you choose because Google will fill in a description that it thinks is most relevant to the person who finds your site. However, if you do choose to use the meta description area, it is important that each page have its own description, and that each description be unique. In other words, it’s better to do nothing at all than to recycle the same meta description for multiple pages.
Here’s a video from Google that discusses the topic:
If I want to explore the agency model, what questions should I ask agencies I’m evaluating?
When you’re worried about making your online marketing work, it’s easy to fall into traps and associate with counterproductive SEO providers. For that reason, LawLytics has long advocated for attorneys taking the time to educate themselves about how Google works, and what search engine optimization really is. To that end, we offer the public a library of on-demand legal marketing webinars that go into great detail on a number of relevant topics.
We also share Google’s own recommendation that “before beginning your search for an SEO, it’s a great idea to become an educated consumer.” Google recommends reading their Webmaster Guidelines, and How Google Search Works for starters. We recommend watching our webinar “Google Webmaster Guidelines For Lawyers.”
Here’s a quick video from the Google Webmaster Guidelines page:
Once you understand how Google works, we believe that you’ll feel very empowered and make the best choices. While a few LawLytics customers work with outside SEO companies in addition to using LawLytics, most of our customers choose not to because LawLytics already covers every aspect of the attorney SEO process. If you are considering hiring a search engine optimization company for your law firm, here are some questions that you should always ask:
- How long have you been in business? Stability matters. Unfortunately, some SEO operators run scams where they operate under one business name until they get caught doing something untoward, and then quickly regroup under another name. Other people who are struggling in other fields come to internet marketing because they see it as having the potential to make money quickly.
- Have any of the principals in the company been convicted of any crime involving dishonesty? There are lots of convicts out there who have trouble securing or maintaining employment who hold themselves out as SEO professionals. We have seen attorneys do business with convicted felons and have their websites sabotaged or stolen.
- How many full-time employees do you have? Do they have other jobs as well? Can you give me all of their names? There are law firm SEO providers that try to make their companies look big and impressive by featuring lots of independent contractors on their website as employees. Ask how many of their employees are full-time and do not also work for other companies or have their own businesses on the side. You should also verify this by looking up the individual employees on LinkedIn to see if they list themselves as currently working at other companies.
- Do you have an office or does everybody work from home? When everybody works from home, this could be an indicator that, like the full-time employees issue above, the company is trying to appear larger or more established than they really are. While remote work is possible online, we find that it better serves our clients to have most of our team located in a physical office. If the provider answers that they all work remotely, what assurances can they give you that they are stable and not a fly-by-night operation that will soon disappear?
- Do you outsource or offshore any of your work? Some law firm SEO companies send their work to foreign countries, even though they claim that they do not. In addition to being deceptive, a language barrier can cause ethics problems if they reword your content for SEO purposes.
- Do you provide your employees with benefits? If they company provides its employees with medical, 401k and other benefits, it’s a sign that they are stable and invested in their team. If they are not providing them benefits, it may be a sign of instability.
- Do you follow Google Webmaster Guidelines? If they don’t know what this is, run. If they say they mostly follow it, run. If they say that they have their own guidelines and so they don’t follow Google’s guidelines exactly, run very fast.
- What is the legal background of the people who will be responsible for creating, editing or optimizing content on my law firm’s website? If they don’t have a legal background, how can you expect the prose on your law firm’s website to remain legally accurate and ethics-compliant? Remember, you, the attorney, are ethically responsible for what is published on your firm’s website. “Optimizing” statutory language can distort the meaning. Enough said.
- Do you understand legal ethics, especially Rules 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, or their applicable equivalents? If they don’t, are you willing to risk answering to the bar for hiring them? Since there are legal marketing companies that do understand the ethics rules, what would a reasonable and prudent attorney do?
- What do you know about the practice of law in my geographic area and practice type(s)? If they are going to be optimizing your law firm’s website so viable potential clients can find you, they should be able to articulate what they are looking for when they search Google, and they should be able to explain to you what your ideal potential client looks like.
- Do you have any special relationship with Google? If they answer “yes” to this, or they try to imply that the answer is more nuanced than “no,” you should not do business with them.
- Can you provide a list of everything that you’ll do for and provide to my law firm? If the answer is “no” or “it’s complicated,” you should not do business with them. If something is unclear, ask for clarification. Attorneys who blindly accept that a law firm SEO provider is doing “stuff” tend to get ripped off most of the time.
What is considered duplicate content? Does having it hurt my firm’s website?
Duplicate content refers to “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.” – Google on duplicate content.
Not all duplicate content is bad and Google provides several suggestions and tools to assist with the avoidance of any downside of repeating content for natural reasons.
However, some law firm marketing companies create a single page of content and then find and replace keywords. For example, a page about local personal injury information with the city replaced and the page otherwise duplicated is not a good idea.
Avoid renting content from companies that also rent the same content to other lawyers as this will create a situation where there is no SEO benefit. Some law firm marketing companies that do this actually add no-index tags to such content pages in order to block the search engines from indexing them altogether. The net effect of this is that, although there is no issue with duplicate content and therefore no exposure to a penalty, there is also absolutely no SEO benefit in renting the content in the first place.
To be safe, we recommend writing all content on your law firm’s website from scratch, except for things that need to be quoted exactly such as statutes and case law.
What is the “top of Google” and how can my law firm website get there?
Despite the promises that web marketers so freely use to entice lawyers and take their money, there is no “top of Google.” That one can get there is a misconception, because it doesn’t exist.
Is “PageRank” relevant for law firm websites?
SEO agencies used to live and die by PageRank, which was a number assigned by Google pages of websites. “Reported PageRank” was used as a tool by marketers to sell backlinks to influence Google results. So, predictably, Google took away the carrot and the stick, and PageRank is no longer updated, and it’s not a major ranking factor. It’s hotly debated whether it’s a ranking factor at all.
But, the spirit of PageRank lives on. Google is still interested in how reputable a page is. There is a trust factor that websites gain over time by following Google’s recommended practices.
The bottom line is that, if somebody is trying to sell you links, run. And if they tell you that the links have a PageRank (PR) of X, run.
How often should lawyers blog for the best SEO outcome?
Blogging is one of the most effective and efficient marketing activities that you can do for your law firm. But how much, and how often, should you blog?
The answer depends on a number of factors including:
- Your practice area(s);
- Your geographic area;
- The demographics of your potential clients and referral sources;
- The activity level of your competition;
- The pace of news and evolution in or about your practice area(s).
As a general rule, the more you blog, the better. But a lawyer who practices personal injury law in Los Angeles will need to blog more often than a lawyer who does estate planning in Tucson.
As a general rule, we recommend blogging at least once a week. And if you want to build a truly dominant web presence, it may be helpful to blog (or have somebody blog for you) every day.
What is “black hat” SEO?
The term “Black Hat SEO” typically refers to the dangerous practices used to try to trick Google to obtain better ranking. Google is much smarter than every black hat SEO and has a vested interest in making sure that they don’t succeed in ranking sites that don’t merit it based on the value of the content on the site. This means that SEOs who employ black hat tactics, and their clients, ultimately get punished. The promise of potential short-term gains is never worth engaging in black hat tactics.
What is “white hat” SEO?
The term “White Hat SEO” is typically used to describe SEO practitioners who follow Google’s guidelines and don’t use tricks or deception. In the 2020s and beyond, doing White Hat SEO mostly comes down to how content is created on the law firm’s website.
What is link disavowal? Does my law firm need it?
Backlinks can be very bad for SEO. If you pay somebody to get them for you, or if a competitor gets them to sabotage you, there is an avenue to mitigate the damage. Google provides a detailed explanation here of disavowing backlinks. This is an expert-level function, and we don’t recommend that attorneys attempt it on their own unless they have read all of the instructions, and understand which links they are disavowing, and why.
You must own your site and be able to verify ownership in order to disavow backlinks to your law firm’s website. If you are a LawLytics customer, we can help you understand whether this process is right for you, and help you with the verification and technical details.
Can a competitor sabotage my law firm’s SEO?
It is very difficult (but not impossible) for a competitor of your law firm to sabotage your law firm’s SEO efforts. When it happens, it’s typically done by an outsourced SEO company and involves, ironically, employing the same strategies (link building, directory submissions, etc) that many SEO providers sell as beneficial.
For the most part, it is easier and cost-effective for a law firm to build their own ranking up rather than to degrade a competitor’s ranking. And, it’s much less risky.
We are frequently asked by law firms that call us to try to figure out why their marketing is not working with other companies if we think a competitor could be sabotaging them. While it’s always possible, it’s only worth investigation if the firm is doing everything else correctly and at a high level. Typically, your own SEO person is to blame for your loss of ranking, not your competitor.
Does a domain name’s history affect SEO?
A domain’s history, positive or negative, can impact SEO. A domain that has been around for a long time and has always followed the best practices, and has plenty of useful content, will tend to be favored over domains that are new and contain equivalent content. However, an old domain can be a curse as much as a blessing. If you have previously hired a webmaster to game the search engines, purchase links, etc., that negative history can carry over and make it more difficult for your site to regain the trust of the search engines.
If you are buying a previously owned domain name, it is important to understand the history of the site. If the site previously used bad practices, or had been a spam or scam site, the previous owners’ actions may negatively impact the future success of that domain.
There is a misconception that just because a domain is “aged” it is better. An old domain that has been abused or neglected is no better (and sometimes worse) than a newly registered domain.
Does having relevant keywords in a law firm’s domain name help with SEO?
Domains are the “address” of your website that a human being can easily type in. For example, http://www.examplefirm.com is a domain (see our discussion of TLDs and SEO below for more). When selecting a domain for your law firm, keep the following in mind:
- The domain should be memorable. People should be able to type it into their web browser without thinking. Words should have their common spellings.
- Google used to give higher priority in search results to “exact match domains,” which were domains that contained the words that the searcher typed. Today, while Google does not give priority to exact match domains that don’t also have high-quality content, or that use bad SEO techniques, having a “good” domain name can still provide a benefit. It’s probably not worth paying a lot of money for an exact match domain unless you have the time or budget to develop it with lots of high-quality content.
- Some attorneys register domains with keywords separated by hyphens. The idea is that these domains are easier to read, and they are also more readily available to register than domains that don’t have hyphens. However, authoritative sources have argued that these types of domains are indicative of spammy behavior, and recommend using no more than one hyphen in a domain name.
Like everything else with the search engines, the intent of the website owner is important. If the intent of the domain name is clearly an attempt to gain favor with the search engines, then it’s probably best to go back to the drawing board. However, if a compelling argument can be made that the domain name is part of the firm’s core essence or branding, then the presence of keywords may ultimately help with ranking.
Does hosting environment, IP address or location of the web hosting company’s servers impact a law firm website’s chance of SEO success?
There are some “bargain” hosts that host hundreds, or even thousands, of websites on a single server with a single IP address. These servers can be very attractive to spammer and scammers because the hosting is cheap and requires little or no commitment. When lots of bad behavior comes from a known IP address, it is possible for that IP address to become tainted or untrusted.
Additionally, cheap, shared hosting opens the possibility that a bad actor could access the code or database of your website and add malicious code or spam links. For that reason, shared bargain hosting can expose you to potential downside when it comes to SEO.
The search engines possess the technology, intelligence and motive to regulate their results. And if a high percentage of websites from a host or IP address contain things that are damaging to the search engine’s business (spyware, malware, spam, scams, etc), it is possible for them to “distrust” an entire IP address, IP range, or host.
Will a Google penalty on my law firm’s website follow my firm if I switch my site to a new domain?
A common scenario we see from law firms is that they engaged a SEO person who got their site in trouble using some of the foolish SEO practices outlined on this page. This resulted in their website getting demoted or penalized, and it won’t come back. If you’re in this situation, you should read our blog post on “The Sunk-Cost Fallacy And The Once-Great Law Firm Website” or watch the on-demand webinar “Can My Underperforming Law Firm Website Be Saved?“
Sometimes the only way to save an attorney’s web presence is to start over with a fresh domain name. (For help choosing a domain, see our webinar “Choosing A Domain Name For Your Law Firm’s Website.”) And, when you use a new domain, the logical next question is whether you should forward your old website.
If you do forward the website using a 301 redirect (which tells Google that the site has moved), all of the negative history of your previous domain is likely to transfer. That puts your firm in no better situation than you started in. For that reason, to avoid a penalty following you, we recommend that a prior bad domain not be forwarded.
I got an email asking if a SEO company can place a link on my site. Should I?
There is a common SEO trick which involves the solicitation, via email, which says something to the effect of:
- I work with attorneys across the US, and want to benefit their websites and yours.
- I’ll place a link on your website to one of my clients, which will elevate their website.
- You’ll place a link to a different client of mine on your website, which will elevate their website.
- This is free.
- This is not black-hat and is legitimate because the links aren’t reciprocal.
- This does not violate Google’s guidelines.
If you see this, understand that it is very dangerous for you to participate in and is a link scheme. A webmaster that has his or her customers participate in such a scheme is playing a dangerous game of deception, and runs the risk of getting all of their customers demoted or banned by the search engines.
There are many other schemes that amount to getting you to place a link from your website to another law firm’s website. Unless you are doing so with the intent of sharing good information (and linking directly to that good information) on the other firm’s site, do so at your own peril. There is no upside and a whole lot of potential pain if you participate.
Does the density of keywords on a page of a law firm’s website affect SEO?
In the 1990s and in the first decade of this century, keyword density was a significant topic among SEOs. The theory was that there was a “right” ratio of a desired keyword to other words on the page. When achieved, this formula would result in a better chance of ranking for that particular keyword. And, to the credit of some SEOs, it actually worked in decades past.
The search engines have matured over the last 10 years, and they now place a greatly diminished importance on specific keywords. Instead, there is more emphasis on the context and intended meaning of the words on the page. If you are simply adding keywords or phrases for the search engines, it will not sound natural, and you are less likely to rank well.
On the other hand pages on law firm websites can now rank well for keywords that don’t appear even once on the page. For example, a well written article about hiring an “attorney” can do very well in searches about hiring a “lawyer” even though the word “lawyer” is never used on the page.
The bottom line is that, if you are creating well-written and relevant content that answers the intent of a searcher’s question, the keywords that you use, and the frequency with which they appear on the page is not a needle-mover. So avoid hiring somebody to optimize your keyword density, and instead focus on creating useful content.
Does the top level domain (TLD) matter for lawyers who want to rank well?
A top level domain (TLD) is what comes after the “dot.” The most common are .com, .net and .org, which have been around forever (in internet time). There are a lot of choices for lawyers, including law-specific TLDs (.law, .attorney, .lawyer). We have seen (and have customers with) domains with legal-specific suffixes that rank well on Google, but have seen no evidence that these domains confer any advantage over traditional TLDs when it comes to ranking.