Unless you’ve been living under a rock when it comes to SEO for law firms and other small businesses, you know that backlinks (also known as “external links” or “inbound links”) are important to a site’s ranking on SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) such as those that appear when a potential client types a query into Google or Bing. But did you know that backlinks can be the single most important factor when it comes to SEO?
That’s right: backlinks are not in any way a secondary consideration. To understand both what they are and their importance, please consider the following:
1. What a backlink is.
A backlink is a link to your site from another site. For example, if a former client posts a great review about your law firm on her blog and links to your law firm’s site within the post, that would be considered a backlink.
2. This is why backlinks are important:
The number of backlinks a site has is how Google and other major search engines (such as Yahoo and Bing) determine how popular, relevant, and legitimate a site is. Each backlink to your site from another site can be considered a vote of confidence in your site by each of those other sites.
Even though things like search keywords, location/local SEO, and all the new factors presented by the new prominence of semantic search also play a role, backlins may be the most important factor in determining where your site ranks in search results from Google and its competitors.
If it helps, think of it this way: keywords and other factors determine whether or not you’ll rank at all for a particular search, and backlinks determine where you’ll rank for that particular search. Although this isn’t exactly how it works in practice, this is a good approximation of how Google’s algorithm (and its competitors’ algorithms) works.
What does all this mean for your law firm?
It means that if you want your law firm to be successful in the age of 21st century internet marketing, you’ll need a lot of backlinks to your site. And while you might be able to get those backlinks by producing good content and then sitting and waiting, it’s not likely. You’ll need to do something a bit more proactive. Here are your options:
You could directly solicit either your competitors or objective law firm review sites and gurus for backlinks to your blog.
You could try to write guest posts for prominent law blogs on subjects of which you are deeply knowledgeable.
You could hire external SEO expert marketers to complete these tasks on behalf of your law firm.
Number 1 has a high rate of failure. Number 2, if you are willing and able to put the work in (in addition to worrying about everything else that happens at your law firm), has a high success rate. Number 3, if you hire the right SEO marketers, has an extremely high success rate – and those marketers can often use their experience and contacts in the industry to take care of numbers 1 and 2 for you.
With Google Maps being utilized by every single smartphone and Yelp reviews mattering to customers more than ever, it’s important to make sure that external properties related to your site are fully set up and utilized if you want to win at SEO – especially local SEO, which is how your law firm will most often get customers.
Now that you understand the basics, here’s detailed information on how to use two of the most important external properties related to your law firm to help you succeed:
Yelp is one of the most trusted and widely accessed customer review sites on the web today. Having a complete Yelp profile and a few five star reviews can help any business rocket to success, and it may be even more important for lawyers than it is for other business owners – because potential clients know they are going to work very closely with you over a long period of time and because your services are more expensive than something like a haircut or meal out, they’re going to look extra hard at your reviews.
If your firm has been around a while, chances are you already have a few reviews on Yelp. If you’ve just started your firm or you don’t have any Yelp reviews yet, getting a profile on the site set up can help customers review you more easily.
If you go to the Yelp for business page, you can search for a business (your law firm) in order to claim it and set up a profile. If the business doesn’t exist yet, you can set up a profile from scratch.
Be sure to include and/or update all relevant information on your profile, including your firm’s location, business hours, phone number, and email address. Even if you don’t have a lot of reviews yet, your Yelp profile can steer clients your way!
Once you’re all set up on Yelp, encourage clients to write reviews for your firm. Be sure to provide five star service every time you interact with a client, and if you get negative reviews anyway, Yelp gives you the option to respond to them.
Unless a client or former client tells an outright lie about your firm (in which case you may take it up with Yelp or take legal action), be sure to reply to all negative reviews courteously and respectfully, and never defensively. Instead of attacking the client, show that you and/or your partners or staff are taking steps to fix the problem.
The next thing you’ll want to do is go to Google’s business setup page. Registering here puts your business on Google Maps, allows clients to write reviews on Google, and may help you rank higher on Google SERPs, especially for customers in your geographic area.
As with Yelp, be sure to fill out or update all the information about your business completely and correctly. Also, follow the same guidelines when viewing and responding to Google reviews as Yelp reviews.
With both of these major external properties set up, you’ve set up your law firm for more success (and more clients) than ever!
We promised in our last post to give you a more detailed rundown of what semantic search is and how to use it – so here’s a basic primer for using this new and highly important Google feature to the advantage of your law firm.
But here are the basics: semantic search is the “ability to put typed searches into context,” according to that SEJ article. What that means is that Google – since 2013 – has been making changes to its algorithm to make it better understand exactly what its users mean when typing things into the famous Google search bar, instead of just matching words and phrases while prioritizing more popular and respected sites.
This was a major game changer in the search engine industry – it’s essentially like giving Google’s algorithm a sort of artificial intelligence. It also completely changed SERPs when it was introduced – and since its big successes at Google, other search engine companies (Yahoo!, Bing) have been looking into semantic search as well.
How can I use it to benefit my law firm SEO?
The main thing that you need to know is that Google will now look at the phrasing of items typed into its search bar and that it will have deeper knowledge of keywords used in searches.
Here’s how the phrasing bit is a game changer – Google will try to answer questions or reply to statements its users type into search bars (or say with Google Voice Search). Searching on Google is now a bit like asking a friend a question, as opposed to punching buttons on a machine.
Your law firm can benefit from this in several ways: first, try to answer a lot of common legal questions on your site’s blog (“how can I get a divorce?” or “what do I do if I’m injured at work?”). Posts and pages answering these frequently asked questions could be more likely to appear on higher SERPs for Google and other engines.
You’ll also want to heavily emphasize your geographic location and the type of law you practice on your site – this is good advice to follow regardless of semantic search, but can be doubly important if someone tells Siri or Cortana to “find me an insurance lawyer in Chicago.”
Google’s deeper knowledge of keywords means that traditional SEO keyword stuffing will not work, though keywords have certainly still been a big part of the game since 2013 (and will continue to be in 2017). It also means that using synonyms of major keywords could help your site get even more recognition.
As we near the end of November and the weather starts to get colder, it’s time to start thinking about how your firm will survive and thrive in 2017 and beyond. There’s a lot of advice on keeping your SEO up to date out there on the internet, but we’ve got the best of it for you here.
Be Aware of Google’s Semantic Search
What is semantic search? It’s changes to search engines’ algorithms that allow the engines to understand more of the context and intent behind searches, as explained by Search Engine Journal’s Sergio Redondo in his article on semantic search. This type of search gets away from using just keywords, and instead considers synonyms, the phrasing of the search query, common searches, and the ways potential answers to searches are phrased and presented on websites.
Although semantic search was first debuted in 2013 with the launch of Hummingbird, an update to Google’s algorithm, semantic search has spread to other search engines and been refined on Google slowly over the past couple of years – and semantic search is set to become more important than ever in 2017 and beyond.
Although all the changes, challenges, and opportunities presented by semantic search aren’t fully understood by any SEO experts yet, there’s a lot of information out there already, and we’ll be sure to do a post regarding semantic search for lawyers in the near future.
For now, it’s enough for you to be aware, and to check up on your SEO more often than ever before to make sure your site hasn’t lost its ranking on Google due to algorithm changes.
Keep Blogging – and Start Soon If You’re Not Already!
Keeping a blog can be time consuming and involve a lot of hard work, but it’s usually worth it – the top site in almost any field or geographical area almost certainly has a blog.
Why is it so important? A blog is one of the biggest opportunities you have to engage with customers and potential customers, and to bring web browsers your way. It’s much easier to blog with lots of relevant search terms than it is to construct the main pages of your site that way, and blogging regularly and consistently also engages your customers and shows browsers on your site that you care and are involved in your work.
Be Aware of External Properties Related to Your Site
External properties related to your site include your business’ social media accounts, reviews on sites like Yelp, and your business’ presence on Google Maps.
When it comes to social media, make sure you have social media set up and are running it properly, keeping things professional, relevant, and consistent.
As far as other companies’ properties go (Google Maps and Yelp, among others), it’s important to claim your business on those sites so you can have control over the information they’re putting out about you. Each site has a feature allowing you to do this.
With Google Maps, you’ll only need to check that basic information such as your hours and location are correct. Yelp can be more complicated, but also a great deal more rewarding, as it gives you a chance to directly engage with your current and former clients.
Yelp reviews can have a huge impact, positive or negative, on the way your firm appears to the world. First, you’ll need to provide excellent service to all existing clients. Second, encourage them to write positive reviews for you.
When negative reviews do come up, you should respond, but not aggressively or defensively – responding with contrition and professionalism, and showing that you are working on fixing any real problems a customer has brought up, will make your firm look good even to people reading its bad reviews – and may change the initial reviewer’s mind about things.
Out of all the components that make up SEO and SEM strategies, perhaps the best known is SEO keywords. These are words that potential clients of your firm might use in searches when they’re looking for a lawyer – and if they appear on your site frequently, they could greatly increase the chances that site will appear near the top of Google and other search engine results.
Sounds simple, right? Sadly, it’s not.
The effectiveness of keywords is always changing due to tweaks in search engine algorithms. The search engines are always trying to keep relevant results near the top while cutting out results that just overuse a few keywords and don’t actually have relevant or quality content.
That means that the approach you or your marketing professional takes to promote your firm with keywords has to be nuanced and subtle, with a deep understanding of all the issues at hand. However, it’s always good to understand how the basic process works – here’s a step-by-step:
1. Researching the right keywords for your business.
What types of Google search terms do you want to lead potential clients to your firm? It’s easy to say “as many as possible” and leave it at that, but specificity is highly important when it comes to SEO. You’ll definitely want to include generic search terms such as “lawyer,” “attorney,” and “law firm,” but also more specific ones.
For example, if you’re an injury lawyer, “injury lawyer” is an important keyword phrase. Potential clients often know that there are many types of lawyer specialties out there, and will more often than not include one in their searches.
Keyword research is actually where most of the work SEO professionals do is put in – writing with the keywords is fairly easy once marketers have experience and have developed a good method for working them in naturally (see Step Two), but research must be personalized to each client and optimized for the most return on investment.
2. Working those keywords into your site – directly and indirectly.
Many subpar SEO professionals, especially in the past, would use keywords relentlessly, often making the writing sound a little off at best and totally incomprehensible at worst. A good SEO marketer will always work relevant keywords into an article or homepage naturally and fluidly, giving the site a better chance to rank highly on Google and other search engines without compromising the integrity and quality of the content itself.
Poorly executed SEO keyword usage will annoy or confuse potential clients, whereas the best will attract them not only to click on a site, but to stay there and take further action.
3. Putting keywords into their larger marketing context.
This is actually something that good SEO marketers will keep in mind at all times, but it makes more sense to discuss at the end than anywhere else.
It is important for lawyers, small businesses, and SEO professionals to understand that keywords are only part of the puzzle. There are many other factors to consider, including location, links, Alexa rating, and more.
That’s why SEO professionals are so much more successful at getting a site to the top than most business owners – because a great deal of experience and a nuanced understanding of the spoken and unspoken rules of the trade is necessary to find true success.
1. Social media profiles give you a quick and easy way to showcase to potential clients what sets your law firm apart.
Because social networks are so focused on images and bite-sized pieces of information, and because they’re so easy to update and maintain, they can essentially work as a continuous advertising stream for your firm.
Every profile you set up is another opportunity to show the general public what makes your law firm different from (and better than) the competition. Every time you update a profile, you’re getting yet another opportunity.
Because social networks present this type of informational advertising in a way that is entertaining for the public and easy for them to digest, you get essentially automatic free advertising for almost every action on social media.
2. A social media presence is the cheapest form of advertising money can buy.
Social networking profiles are free, and there’s never a need to advertise directly through the social networks’ ad services – your SEO professionals will make sure potential clients can find your business online, wherever it is: on Facebook or on an official website.
Even if you pay a web marketing expert to create and run your profile(s) for you, you’ll save tons of money over conventional advertising – and your return on investment for each dollar will be much, much higher.
3. Your social media presence tells clients everything they need to know about your company.
A social networking profile contains not only the carefully curated, advertising-like information you or your SEO and social network marketing experts choose for your company, but also all of the basic information clients need to know right now.
This includes information like your address, your phone number and email, the types of cases you take, and other basic facts every client will need to know before contacting you with his or her case.
Yes, this information is available in plenty of other places – on your website, in the phone book, and maybe even on Google search results if you’re lucky (or, rather, if you have great SEO professionals working on your behalf). However, the delivery of this information is important.
Because of Facebook’s ubiquity and ease of access, it is one of the single most popular places potential clients for your firm probably go to get their information. The same can be said of other major social media sites.
It’s common knowledge, or at least a common belief, that a social media presence (including profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) can help any business succeed. However, many don’t know exactly how these profiles can help, and don’t know whether the benefit is worth putting the extra work in.
So how does a social media presence help a law firm (or other business venture)? Here are three ways something as simple as a Facebook profile can improve your client relations and even send new clients your way.
1. Facebook and other social networking profiles provide your firm with another opportunity for search engine result listings.
It’s every business’s goal to appear in the top spot on a Google search—but a social media profile or two in addition to your firm’s website can give you the top two or three spots. And if your website doesn’t rank very high right now, getting help with social media is one way to get some immediate results while we here at PromoteLaw work for your long term interests.
Because profiles, including business pages, on Facebook and other social networks are searchable by Google, they often appear in Google result listings—and because of social networks’ high traffic and known legitimacy, they often rank very high in search results.
2. Facebook’s messaging services provides another point of contact between you and your clients.
Yes, we know—there are already plenty of ways for clients and potential clients to contact your company: phone, email, a form on your website, etc. However, because of the unbelievable popularity and ubiquity of Facebook, the social media giant’s instant messaging service is many customers’ preferred point of contact.
Also, receiving high numbers of messages and responding to them quickly will boost your business page’s relevance and legitimacy, often making it appear higher in Facebook (and perhaps Google) search results.
Facebook’s messaging service is as highly functional as email, but in many cases is much faster and more appealing to the average person. It’s an important piece of the success puzzle for your firm, and should be part of any business’s social media kit.
3. Connecting social media profiles to each other and to your website will boost your search rankings and general accessibility.
Having more pages (such as a Facebook or Instagram profile) link to your business’s homepage can boost your official website’s search ranking—and linking works the same in the opposite direction, too.
Also, allowing a customer who is primarily a Facebook smartphone app user as opposed to a web browser to bookmark your website or access it from his mobile device can only bring more clients your way. The more legitimate, fully developed and maintained pages your business has, the more accessible and relevant it is to potential clients.
You’ve definitely heard the term SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, before, and if you’re on this site you clearly know or suspect it can have a benefit for your law firm. But what exactly does SEO mean? How does it work?
Curiosity about Search Engine Optimization for lawyers and law firms is an important first step toward understanding how to better market yourself to potential clients effectively without the high expense and legal red tape that come along with advertising on television or radio or in print media.
Although the process is much too complicated and nuanced for us to explain in a single blog post (and we don’t want to give away all our trade secrets!), we want to help you learn how SEO for law firms works and how it can benefit your company.
What does “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) really mean for lawyers?
We’ll start with the most basic part: what SEO is. Search Engine Optimization for law firms is the process by which a law firm’s website is given better chances to appear near the top of the first page of results from search engines like Google and Bing.
Each search engine uses a different algorithm to match websites with searches, and those algorithms are kept secret. However, SEO experts study search terms and results extensively on behalf of their clients, learning the various factors that can bring a given website to the top.
Factors SEO professionals take into consideration:
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of factors that determine whether a given site matches with a given search. Some of these include keywords (the words typed into the search box), location, and more complex items like meta-descriptions.
SEO professionals working for lawyers and law firms take all these factors into account, and help clients edit and add content and information about their site to give it a much better chance of appearing higher on the first page for relevant searches.
We do this in the background, working our magic behind the scenes so lawyers like you can focus on what you do best—the research, preparation, and litigation that make up your everyday working lives. Over time, the small changes we make will put your firm’s website and/or social media presence in front of more people in your area or interested in your type of law firm—which means you get more customers.
How our approach differs from other SEO marketers for lawyers:
There are other services out there offering SEO marketing for law firms or for companies with an online presence in general. Many out there, though, think that SEO marketing is an easy market to break into, but they are failing to take into consideration every single one of the complex factors that bring a website to the top of Google’s first page—or leave it languishing around page 10.
We take a wide approach, working hard on all elements of your website and helping you develop a varied and professional web presence to attract a variety of customers from several different sources. We also focus a great deal on local SEO—which is doubly important for law firms, as most business is going to come to lawyers from fairly close by.