Stop Being Such a Law Firm and Other SEO Tips

Jeremy Hessing-Lewis

To the Top

Law firms are increasingly concerned about their visibility in organic search results. The screen real estate on a page of search results is finite and the value of this visibility can be critical in terms of attracting clients. Achieving a top placement is a mix of science, art, sweat, and luck. Maintaining this placement can be equally difficult.

Without getting caught-up in the technical details about exactly how Google or Bing pick winners, there are two dimensions that justify repeated emphasis:

  1. the content on your website; and
  2. the links to your website from other websites.

This formula is how Google gained a dominant position in the market and continues to consistently delivers relevant search results. The actual execution of these details is what allows search engine optimization (SEO) consultants to make a living. Because the details of search algorithms remains secret, most SEO sales tactics will consist of speculation, anecdotal experience, and an insistence on technical tricks. Much like mail-order vitamins, its not that some of these tricks don’t work, its that they are unproven, contain dubious ingredients, and may have long term unintended effects.

There are notable exceptions within the legal SEO industry. The responsible method is to manage client expectations appropriately as you work with clients through a long term content development and syndication strategy to effectively achieve and maintain visibility. Results can be closely monitored through analytics and client-intake numbers.

The challenge is that producing relevant legal content does not always attract inbound links. Only half of Google’s formula is consistently realized by law firms. Many SEO evangelists with draw links with the use of directory sites or related websites controlled (or at least paid by) the consultant. This payment-for-links model assumes various forms and may or may not actually work. It depends on the consultant and on the ongoing tweaks to Google’s algorithm that are intended to prevent this type of thing. We think that an earned-link strategy works best.

Content, What Is it Good For?

The website user experience must always remain the firm’s top priority. Visitors come first and, as a web developer, Skunkworks stays true to this principle. A website needs to be accurately named, logically organized, and as attractive as a law firm website can be. Beyond practice area descriptions and lawyer bios, there is the subsequent question of what content to put on a law firm website?

Most lawyers will do what they do best, write about the law. This remains an appropriate strategy for many firms, especially boutiques. Frequently asked questions pages do particularly well. They work because people actually google these questions and find their way to the firm’s site. Posting legal content does allow Google to identify that you are offering relevant content that matches with legal services, but tends to fail on the second component — inbound links.

For most legal commentary, people are not likely to link to your website. This includes your brilliant review of pension law developments. It may attract people searching for information on pension reform, but will not draw many links. Your visitor numbers will increase marginally, but the strength of your domain will only achieve a miniscule boost. That means you won’t draw visitors for generic keywords like a query for “Vancouver Corporate Lawyers.” Legal content simply can’t compete with cat videos and celebrity arrests. It is simply too text-intensive and too boring to draw any volume of inbound links. Unless…

Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll

Albeit not appropriate for many Canadian lawyers, some family and criminal law firms successfully attract links by catering to the masses. This ranges from analyses of celebrity divorces to the  implications of Justin Bieber’s parole restrictions. Say what you will, this is what draws attention on the web. While it may not be our style or your style, the numbers cannot be ignored.

Reference Tools

Offer something useful on your website other than a blog of legal commentary. Whether a tax calculator or a series of printable PDF check-lists normally provided to clients, let people use your website as a functional resource. Many firms already have ‘resource’ sections on their websites that simply offer external links or press releases. These are rarely helpful. Instead, give away some basics for free and concentrate your legal services on the delivery of high margin services. Just be sure to brand whatever youprovide with your firm’s logo and contact information.

Stop Being Such a Law Firm

I like law firms, but they have never had much curb-appeal. If you want inbound links, try not being such a law firm. Try creating content that matters to your clients, not the courts. Whether about the local community, an industry, people, or your hobby, the only requirement is that it is interesting to someone. Lawyers are professional reader/writers. This skill-set is transferable.

Although many lawyers would gladly take-on such a challenge, the limitation is inevitably time constraints. There are simply not enough hours in the day. Herein lies the advantage of distancing the firm from legal content – it does not necessarily require legal training. In other words, it is easier to delegate a blog post about recent community events than about the rules of court. The standard is one of entertainment rather than legal accuracy. You may know some great writers/photographers/videographers if you opened your mind to this opportunity. Some of the highest ranked websites are curators of other people’s work.

You won’t want to entirely give-up on being a law firm. Google still needs to see legal-themed content if you want to stand a chance at visibility. Just keep in mind that you may need to be more than a law firm to make it to the top.

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