Close to Home: Google Local for Business and the Local Law Firm

Jeremy Hessing-Lewis

The Local Law Firm

It may come as a surprise to some that location has never been more important within a legal age defined by high-profile global law firms and online access to any lawyer from Burnaby to Bangalore. Despite the hype, where you practice law matters. Even if you sit at a desk downtown and do nothing but send emails and make phone calls, the view out your window will almost certainly determine your potential client base. Virtual, borderless legal services remain an exception to the rule. This is especially true for retail legal practices like personal injury, family law, and estate planning that have a larger personal service component to the practice. Law remains a handshake business. 

I will leave the social analysis of this consumer bias for another day. For our purposes, its sufficient to note that Google also has a local bias. Local search results are considered to be more relevant and are presented accordingly. This blog post addresses basic SEO to help your law firm appear online in a local capacity

Local Law Firm SEO with Google

Local search results will have a geographic indicator. For example, “best child custody lawyer in Vancouver.” Moreover, Google will also geotarget search results based on a person’s IP address. While this has an effect similar to appending an implied “in Vancouver” to a search string for “best child custody lawyer”, we can actually expect slightly different search results. My attention is on the former because these geographic search identifiers tend to trigger a familiar map within Google’s search results with businesses located at their mailing address. It allows users to find a law firm that is close to home.

The history of how you get your business on this map is absurd. At various times, it has been named Google Local, Google Places, Google Plus-Local, and finally Google+. The latest incarnation’s goal is to merge the legacy data with Google’s social platform. That being said, the confusion continues because these former systems have not been entirely abandoned. 

Google+ for Business vs. Google Places for Business

Despite working towards a coherent system, there remain two interfaces for managing your law firm’s local profile (three if you count the recently released mobile app that I’m going to ignore). How should you choose whether to access your profile through Google+ for Business or Google Places for Business? Their naming conventions certainly don’t help. My two cents: unless your law firm’s marketing strategy is entirely focused on social media, you should use Google Places for Business to manage your local profile. The interface is better. For a detailed comparison, see David Mihm’s side by side assessment.

My Firm Already Has a Local Profile

It is very common for a law firm to have a local profile on Google even though nobody can recall having created the listing. This raises all kinds of problems if the information is incorrect (e.g. wrong address) or if your firm has multiple competing listings 

Google has traditionally populated its local information by scraping other public databases. For Canadian law firms, this means that just about any firm with a Yellow Pages listing will have an automatically generated entry with Google. If you come across such an entry, look for the button below in the bottom right corner of the page.Google option Is this your business?

Select the Manage this Page button to claim ownership. You’ll be faced with three options to manage the page:

  1. Edit the entry
  2. Suspend the entry
  3. Note that the entry is not yours.

If you already have  a competing local profile, you’ll want to go with 2 or 3. If not, you can get started by claiming your business with a verification code.

Note that changes may occur immediately or may take up to several weeks for the information to get changed. It depends what information you’re trying to change and how Google has it cached.

Verifying Your Business Address

To confirm that you are the authorized business representative and that your office is at the mailing address listed, Google will send you a post-card with a PIN number (they’ve abandoned their robo-dialer system). When the postcard arrives, go to http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness to confirm your listing. 

How to Increase Your Local Visibility?

Besides including all relevant business information in your listing, from business hours to service descriptions, the exact way to make sure you’re visible on the map is mostly speculative. What I tell all of our clients is that reviews seem to be an important ingredient. Before you get any clever ideas, I should emphasize that Google has fairly good systems for detecting fraudulent, self-serving reviews. Always ask your clients if they’ll be nice enough to write a glowing review whenever you agree to write-off part of their bill. 

Other Local SEO

While Google’s local system is now enmeshed with Google+, its not the only game in town. While I remain impressed by the Google+ platform, it remains something of a social wasteland despite Google’s best efforts. Incorporating local reviews is one way in which Google hopes to draw a social audience. Currently, this audience is on Facebook. Accordingly, Facebook business pages may be your next best bet for maintaining local visibility. They don’t require any ongoing work so long as your listing includes accurate information about your firm and practice areas. 

Your website itself can also be optimized for geographic indicators. In particular, use geographic references throughout as well as ensuring that you provide a depth of relevant community-oriented content. For example, a blog post about some of your local charity work. Some firms include entire community sections to bolster their actual physical presence.

Vancouver Law Firm SEO Agency

If your firm is still lacking local visibility, contact Skunkworks Creative Group. We’ll assess your existing presence in the market and let you know what we can do for you. It may be that your best strategy for better visibility is actually some new signage. We can do that too.

 

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