Lawyers and law firms willing to increase their visibility online will find very useful to learn some basic aspects of SEO: this will enable them to improve the ranking of their websites or blog posts on search engines and be found by new clients on Google.
In this article we introduce some basic aspects of SEO for lawyers thinking to take up blogging and content marketing for law firms. We will talk about "on page SEO": how to optimize the content of a web page and improve its ranking on search engines.
Read this article in Italian: SEO per avvocati: come aumentare la visibilità del mio blog e trovare nuovi clienti?
- Why SEO for lawyers?
- Let's get technical
Why SEO for lawyers?
Why would a lawyer care about SEO?
Many lawyers and law firms have a blog and publish legal content online; content marketing is for lawyers an effective strategy to find new clients online.
However, given the level of competition on the internet, where everyone is fighting for visibility, it's unlikely for a lawyer without a clue about SEO to see some results from a blog or any legal content marketing endevor. Legal competence may not be enough.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it refers to a set of techniques improving the ranking of a website on search engines.
A lawyer may ask: "Why not to hire an SEO consultant and go back to my core business?"
Well, of course, that's a good idea. However, we have to keep in mind that not many lawyers would hire an SEO consultant, especially for as long as it takes to see some tangible results; even then, it should be noted, SEO is more like a continuous process: a marathon rather than a sprint.
Anyway, even those lawyers who are willing to hire an SEO consultant will benefit from even a slight competence in the matter: that would enable them to follow what the SEO consultant is doing and provide useful insights.
To be clear: we know that a lawyer won't become an SEO expert (unless he or she wants to), but today's lawyer will definitely benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to the legal profession, especially those experimenting with the internet.
However, we should point out that SEO is an indeed broad discipline and some aspects are very technical; in this article, we will just introduce the topic, focusing on those aspects, often referred to as on page SEO, more relevant for a lawyer who has decided to take up blogging.
What does a search engine do?
A search engine provides information, or rather sources of information, to a user who is looking for something. The more accurate the results, the happier the user, the more successful the search engine.
A search engine assesses the relevance of any single web page on the internet for the queries the user types in, so to serve the page containing the information the user is looking for.
In order to do that, a search engine needs to know:
- that a web page exists;
- what the web page is about.
All the content on the internet gets filtered and web pages are returned to the user in a certain order: while we don't know all the factors influencing this order, we do know that relevance is a key aspect. A key factor to assess this relevance is obviously the words used.
The words used in a text online are a crucial SEO factor.
That's important to choose the "right" words: they will link the user to our blog or website. We may start with the following 3 questions:
- "What words best describe the subject of my blog post?"
- "What words a potential client would use to find the information I want to deliver with my blog post?"
- "Will a potential client understand what I am writing?"
This, assuming that our goal is to reach new clients; that would be different if we were writing for an audience of legal specialists.
A blog post on a legal topic has to be informative and correct from a legal standpoint, but it has to be readable and "findable" by a user with no legal expertise who may not only ignore the legal jargon, but what's more important, will never use it on Google.
Keep in mind the words by which your blog post is supposed to be found on Google, and use them.
Keywords and competition
Another aspect to consider when choosing the keywords is competition: some words are more appealing than other due to their ability to describe a product or service in great demand.
Many potential clients will use those words when googling that product or service: this makes them very important for companies or professionals offering that product or service. They will want to show up among the first search results for queries using those words.
Keywords give access to markets: the more profitable is the market, the more valuable are the keywords, the harder it is to get a good ranking on Google.
Keywords can be phrases: a set of words describing something more precisely than a single word.
A single keyword will define something generic, for instance: contract. Many user will use that word and if you rank well for searches using that term you will get many people to your website or article.
But what particular kind of contract that user is interested in?We may spend time and effort to rank well for that term only to attract visitors who are looking for information or competences on contracts we do not have.
If for instance you are a lawyer specialized in property law, you will want to rank well for "rental contract" instead of just contract: you will be more likely to attract visitors who are looking for the competences you offer. That will also mean that your blog post will be found by less people, but the chances to convert them in clients are higher.
These longer and more specific keywords or phrases are called long tail keywords.
Now that you picked the right keywords, use them to write great content.
How often a "good" keyword should be used in a blog post?
Well, not too much: that would be too easy (it was) but that's nowadays considered spammy and blog posts stuffed with keywords are penalized.The first rule is that the text should flow naturally with no unnecessary repetitions or overuse of the chosen keywords.
Google has made it clear that, in order to rank well, web content needs to be useful for the intended reader; today search engines are quite good at spotting tricks trying to artificially boost the ranking of worthless content.
That said, you may bump into an outdated tip advising to stay between the 1 and 3%: that means that on 100 words used, the keywords should be used between 1 to 3 times. This is known as keywords density.
However, keywords density is an obsolete strategy and today chasing a percentage may be pointless or even misleading. At the same time, search engines still need words to figure out the subject of a text.
It no longer makes much sense to count how many times a word has been used in a text, but we should keep in mind that the words we use more often should be relevant to the intended subject of the blog post.
How long a blog post needs to be?
There's no clear requirement on how long a blog post should be, although from some stats it seems that the average length of the most successful blog posts is around 1300 words.
Although quality matters more than just quantity, we may point out that a good blog post, which wisely employs keywords, is full of useful information and aspires to turn a reader into a client for a lawyer or law firm: that seems hard to do all of that with less than 1000 words.
We are not aware of any maximum limit of words for a successful blog post: again, what matters the most is how useful the reader will find it.
What should I write about?
When choosing a legal topic for our blog post, we should start with asking ourselves:
"What information a potential client is looking for?"
That's what ultimately will determine the success of a blog post: to offer something on high demand, where the market is the internet, the commodity is the information and lawyers publishing legal content online are the suppliers.
A SEO savvy lawyer could write a perfect blog post from an SEO standpoint, but if there's no demand for the information it delivers, nobody will look for it.
"How to find a topic that a potential client is likely to be interested in?"
There are tools on the internet that help to find the most searched topics on search engines; they find the most used keywords in web searches and tell how difficult it is to rank well for those keywords. We may review these tools in a future article.
What we want to point out for now is that a lawyer, in his or her daily interactions with clients and colleagues, may easily spot the most popular topics in a particular legal field: why not to delve into that topic and write a blog post about it?
Chances are, many other potential clients are looking for the same information on the internet: a blog post on that topic is likely to get them find us.
A good blog post
Lawyers may write an SEO compliant blog post on a popular topic that everyone is googling, but there is something more to consider. A good blog post needs to be:
- Understandable by our target audience: those we want to reach. It has to be effective in delivering information and keep the reader on our blog. The first part of the post is crucial: it has to convince the reader to keep reading by introducing the topic using terms that someone with no legal background can understand. Legalese won't work.
- New and valuable: it has to bring something new and original in that particular field. The information may already be available somewhere on the internet: the way we make it accessible to our audience has to be special and effective.Worth to be found and "consumed" by a potential client.
Let's get technical (a bit)
Some technical aspects of SEO for lawyers.
A blog post is made of what we see in the body text, but there's more than that to the eyes of Google that we should pay attention to.
The web address of our blog post.
Url best practices Here are a few tips on how to optimize the url for SEO.
- Include the main keywords in the urlYou are very likely to be using one of the most popular CMS like Drupal, Joomla, Wordpress: usually by default they turn the title into the url, so if you use your keywords in the title (and you should, more on that later) you'll also have the keywords in the url. However, that may not be always the case nor the preferred solution, since you need to...
- Keep the url shortIf the title of your blog post is long, the default url may be just as long and this is not ideal. You will have to set a "custom" url and this is usually done when saving the blog post for the first time. You may also change the url time some time after publishing the article, but be careful:
- Thinking to change the url?You would change the address of the page: it won't be found anymore by those clicking on links to the previous url or, and this is wrong, by those who find your blog post on Google after the original url has been indexed. The ranking you may have achieved until then will be lost. What to do then if I want to change url?
- Ask yourself if that's really necessary: if you already have a good ranking, don't change it.
- If you do want to change it though, you will have to instruct your CMS to redirect the traffic to the new url. A CMS will let you do that.
Links are another important aspect for SEO that lawyers need to consider when writing a blog post. It's a good practice to include links in a blog post; they can be:
Links to other web pages within the same website. Not only your reader may be interested in reading other content in your blog, but it will also help Google to find and index other pages: the ones you link to.Remember: not too much! Insert just links to related content that your reader may find interesting to read.
Links to other websites. You are writing on a certain topic: you want to insert links to other "authoritative" sources on that topic. But what makes a website "authoritative" according to Google? The answer is: its ranking, which also depends on how many websites link to it. In short: Google does its best to award a good ranking to websites with valuable information: if you link out to them, Google will "like" that.
How to insert a link?
If you are using a CMS you may be able to run a website without having to know how to code; however, if you do, you will be able to do much more and take the most out of your website, regardless of which CMS are you using.Let's see how to insert a link.
We want to put a link to Avvocloud's home page, and this is what the reader will see:
This is how the link looks like "under the hood", the html code:
<a href="https://avvocloud.net">Visit Avvocloud</a>
<a>tag inserts a link
hrefsets the address of the web page we're linking out to: the target page;
- the text shown to the reader (Visit Avvocloud) is called anchor text.
Everything you see in a web page is enclosed within tags, although you don't see them when reading a web page: they give instructions to the web browser on how to render the content of a page.
We just mentioned the
<a> tag, which inserts a link; there are many other, like:
<strong> enclosing a text to be
<strong>displayed in bold
Please note: we just said that tags enclose a text: therefore you will always have an opening tag and a closing tag, like our previous example:
<strong> (open) e
</strong> (close) and
<a href="https://avvocloud.net"> (open) and
Anchor best practices
When linking to other pages within your blog, it's worth paying attention to the anchor text:
- pick few words or even a short sentence relevant to the page you are linking to. Not too generic, like "click here": the anchor needs to describe the resource (the subject of the web page) it links to;
- include keywords. Google uses the anchor to figure the subject of the target page: this implies that the target page is more likely to rank for the words used in the various anchors linking to it. You definitely want to rank for the intended keywords: using them as anchor tells Google what the target page is about and what keywords it should be ranked for. Relevance is the key.
As we said, all the text in a html page is enclosed in tags: they determine how to display the content of a web page, the font and size. They also define the structure of the page, its flow, by enabling a hierarchy of headings and subheadings.
There are 6 tags for headings and subheadings, from
<h6>, depending on how "important" they are:
<h1>H1 is usually for the title
<h2>H2 is for subheadings
<h3>H3 is for less important subheadings and so on until H6
Headings best practices
- You want to use
<h1>once for the title; you will use more often the tags from
<h6>as you delve into the topic with more specific subheadings and related paragraphs.
- Use keywords in your headings. A good heading introduces the subject of a paragraph to users and search engines, making it easier for the reader to skim through the text and find what he or she is looking for. Keywords may help if they are functional to this purpose.
- Find a good title. That would be hard to overestimate the importance of a good title, usually to wrap in
<h1>. By default it becomes the title of the web page (more on the
<title>tag later), which often makes it the first and most visible piece of your content that users will see in search results: it has to quickly convince the user that it is worth clicking on.
Most importantly, a good title highlights the subject of the blog post: it has to make it clear what the blog post is about so that a user who is interested in the topic will choose it among other search results on Google.The title should not promise more than the actual content can deliver.
Meta descriptions are short descriptions (160 characters) of the content of the web page.
Although they don't influence the ranking of a web page (according to Google), the text may be shown as snippet among the search results, helping the user to understand whether or not the page may be worth clicking.
As we all know this is a decision that a user generally takes very quickly: and a compelling meta description will convince the user that our blog post has the information he or she is looking for.
Meta descriptions best practices
- Meta descriptions should be unique, meaning you don't want reuse the same one for many pages;
- Include keywords: if Google shows the meta description of your page as snippet, which happens only if Google "thinks" that the description matches the user's query, the keywords will be in bold, making them more visible to the user who will be prompted to click.
Images: the alt attribute
It's good to add images to your article: they make it more readable. Just a wall of text will be boring and hard to read.
As we said when talking about links, if you use a CMS you may insert images without having to know the required html code. However, we are going to show it anyway so to introduce something you need to pay attention to when adding images to a blog post, even when using a CMS.
Let's have a look to this image:
This is the snippet we need:
<img src="/path-to-folder/justice.jpg" alt = "statue of a woman representing Justice with a sword in one hand and a scale in the other"</a>
What we need:
<img>tag with the path to the folder with your image on your site's server.
<alt>attribute: a description of the image.
The purpose of alt text is to provide a description of the image so that screen readers can read it to visually impaired users.
Alt text is mainly for web accessibility, but it is useful for other reasons as well:
- it helps Google to understand what an image is about and index it;
- the alt text is shown when the image can't be loaded and displayed.
Alt text best practices
- Remember: alt text is first and foremost for web accessibility purposes: it has to provide a concise yet effective description of an image that an impaired user can't see. Consider the alt text of the previous image: would it have been better "statue of a woman" or just "justice"? I don't think so: not enough descriptive.
- As we said multiple times so far, SEO's mission is to help Google to understand our content so that it can be correctly indexed and served to the user. To this aim, it may be a good idea to use keywords in the alt text description, keeping in mind that overdoing keywords is never a good idea.
The title of the web page; as we said talking about headlines, by default the title of the blog post becomes the title of the page, although you may change it. It is enclosed by the
<title> tag, like so:
<title>SEO for lawyers: what do I need to know?
Why title tag is important
- it's yet another sign by which you are telling Google what the page is about: being the title of the page, it is thought to be the most influential element in telling Google the subject of the web page.
- It is (often) shown to the user in search results (although like with meta descriptions Google has recently started to replace title tags with other text in the website if it is considered to match better a user's query). This makes the title tag a crucial factor in convincing the user to click on a search result.
Title tag best practices
- Introduce the subject of the page using keywords;
- Place the keywords closer to the beginning of the title, if the sentence still makes sense;
- Be concise: stay within 50-60 characters so that the title will be shown in its entirety in search results;
Can we draw some conclusions on why is SEO for lawyers an interesting and useful topic?
SEO key points
Relevance is the key: Google's mission is to understand what a web page is about, so to rank it for relevant queries, and offer a good service to the user. Help Google to do that and you will have more chances to get a good ranking.
Content is king: SEO matters as long as you have good content that a user would consume. Write good articles in your field of competence, full of useful information for a user and potential client for your law firm, and, most importantly, do it regularly.Consistency pays off.
Why SEO for lawyers?
It's worth reminding to lawyers willing to take up blogging and SEO that writing for the internet is not the same than writing for other mediums such as a law journal, especially when the goal is to find new clients for a law firm: there are some key differences and peculiarities to take into account that we tried to introduce with this article.
Lawyers willing to boost their businesses online need to get out of their comfort zone, be consistent, learn new things: SEO would help lawyers to take the most out of the effort of running a blog.
Founder of Avvocloud.net
Avvocloud is an Italian network of lawyers passionate about law, innovation and technology.Feel free to reach out for any info: send a message.
Thanks for reading!