In this episode of the Optimized Law Firm, we’re going to talk about a subject that we eat, sleep, and breathe: Search Engine Optimization, also known as SEO.
We’re going to take this one back to the basics because lawyers get a lot of things wrong about SEO. But to be fair, I would get a lot of things wrong if I represented myself in court.
So, in this episode, we’re going to cover the basic mechanics of Google’s search algorithm and how you as an attorney can take advantage of it in your practice to generate more visibility and ultimately, more clients.
What’s in This Episode?
- What is SEO, and why should attorneys care about it?
- How can attorneys utilize SEO to generate visibility and more clients?
Let’s get started by talking about what is SEO and what it is. In a practical sense, what do folks like myself do on a monthly or daily basis for our clients? Let’s jump right into it and discuss what is, in fact, SEO. So you may know it’s search engine optimization. But again, what does that really mean from a practical point of view?
And this is the definition that we’ve come up with: Attorney Search Engine Optimization is the process of maximizing the number of visitors coming to your law firm’s website through iterative changes on your website designed to positively influence your position in search engine results.
Probably not perfect, but I think it demonstrates a good understanding of what actually is happening. It’s the process of maximizing the number of visitors coming to your law firm’s website through iterative changes on your website designed to positively influence your position in search engine results.
So big takeaways there are that we are making changes, optimizations, improvements to not only your website, but we could probably expand this a little bit to changes off your website as well. And so we’ll get into all of the nuts and bolts of what is on-page SEO, off-page SEO… The nuance between those two things and what specifically those two do.
But really, at this stage, all you need to know is that we’re progressively making changes to the website based on what we feel gives it the best opportunity to rank within the search results. So it could be a wide variety of things. And the reason for that is because Google’s algorithm has hundreds and hundreds of different factors, many of which we don’t know or change over time. But based on testing, listening to experts in the field, we have a pretty good idea of what a number of these areas are, a number of the things that affect the algorithm signals.
But ultimately we don’t know for sure. Google has come out and said at varying times that, yes, this impacts the search results. This impacts as well. But there’s no clear blueprint, and that’s what makes search optimization so challenging, but so exciting for someone like myself who enjoys it and enjoys the competitive aspect.
So let’s get into just a little bit about the basic mechanics of a search engine because I think it’s useful to understand this and see it, because then if you look at our process for how we go about trying to drive results, this will make a lot more sense.
So the search engines are for all intents and purposes, we’re talking about Google. Of course, there’s Bing, there’s Yahoo, but basically, with Google owning the vast majority of the market share, we can really just talk about Google for the most part here. But the interesting thing is that they all essentially work about the same.
And the cool part is that this system is a lot of it is based on libraries and the old idea of using cards to keep track of where books are within a library and using a codification system to organize and track these results based around topics based around different characteristics that will group them in a way that makes sense for the user. And so very similar with search engines, and they use software to accomplish this.
And it really does three main functions. So we’ve got the crawling indexing and ranking portion of it. So with crawling, they have this army of software bots out there that are going out and looking for every possible webpage that is in existence. They will go to a website and then crawl it by looking at all the different pages, starting with the home page and then going down and looking at all the different layers. Blog posts, the other pages, things like that, and figuring out what is on this website, what material makes us up, how many pages? What are the pages about? All that sort of thing.
Then once they have that raw data as an input back, it goes into the indexing phase. And so this is where they’re really trying to understand the context about what your information means. So they’re looking at what you’re talking about and in what context. In this case, we’re talking a lot about law firms, and they want to know if you are a criminal lawyer, they want to know if you’re a civil lawyer, what city you’re in, what types of matters you work on, what types of things you’re eligible for so that they can better figure out where you need to be placed in search.
That’s really the final part, is looking at all of these billions and billions of web pages that are on websites and figuring out what’s the order. How should we position this content? And how are these things related to each other so that we can put it out in a way where we are satisfying the users’ intent. And this is a concept that we’ll talk about a lot. It’s really the user intent– a really important thing to remind yourself or think about when we’re doing any search optimization.
It’s all about going back to Google’s main business goal, which is satisfying the user intent, and that means showing them a quality result, an answer to what they’re looking for as quickly and as simply as possible. And so everything around here is for them trying to get to that point where all of their results are exceedingly useful and the best results are at the top. And they’ve figured out how to do that using computers rather than manual review and having somebody who’s really knowledgeable about it, do it and organize all that themselves.
Now that we kind of understand that, let’s go into the actual search engine results. And this is an area that is often very confusing for folks and understandably so, because if you come to Google and you see this for the first time, you probably don’t really know that there’s actually almost four different things going on here.
So you have this area up top, you’ve got a set of ads, you’ve got the map pack, and then you get all the way down to the organic search results. And so we’re going to focus almost exclusively in this course on organic search results. And that’s really all starting down here. To some degree, there is some competition or optimization that can be done in this area. We’ll cover that a little bit later in a kind of separate part, which is going to focus more on local search engine optimization.
But what you need to understand is that Google is going to show anything that is an advertisement. They’re going to have a little ad right there. And you can see this also says sponsored. So these are two areas where it is pay to play. You can show up here with no search optimization without even really a website.
You could do a landing page or something like that and cut to the top of the line. The problem with that is that you have to pay, you have to pay for this position, and every time someone clicks on this, you are going to get charged. It’s a market as well. So this price is going to fluctuate. If we were to type in personal injury or Chicago, this click could be upwards of $200 to $300 right now.
And so if you come down here these results, no cost per click. Nothing is getting paid to Google for your placement in here. And so you start to see some of these different groups that you’re probably familiar with. We’ve got one individual lawyer, but then you start to see these kinds of industry players like Justia, Find Law, et cetera. These are folks who spend millions and millions of dollars to try and win these positions so that they can repackage them and sell the leads for people who find these and then sell them off to attorneys.
And so really for us, what we’re trying to do is influence those search rankings so that someone coming here, your office or your firm will be at the top of this list, right? That’s what it was really all about and what I would recommend as well.
Hopefully, this gives you a pretty good basis of understanding just what we’re talking about in the whole kind of umbrella of search engine optimization. But I’ve learned essentially everything I’ve learned from just going and trying to kind of understand it myself.
And two amazing resources that I would recommend are from Moz and Ahrefs.
These are two of the biggest tools out there for search engine optimization. We are very partial to Ahrefs, but Moz is a fantastic tool as well. But what’s really valuable about this is that they get into all of the components of search optimization at a really granular level, and you can just go through at your own pace and start to kind of understand some of these concepts. So this series is not going to get into a lot of the very specific nuance of some of these items.
So what I would recommend is if you hear a concept that I’m talking about, but want to explore more – there’s tons of free resources out there. Really what my goal for this is to give you the broad context and help you understand at a very high level what search engine optimization is and why it’s important for your firm so highly recommend these. We’ll leave these in the notes and encourage you to check them out.
Now, let’s get to the bread and butter. Now that we understand what search optimization is from a very high-level standpoint, let’s actually tackle what it is in a practical sense of the word.
And so I think most attorneys nowadays have an understanding that they need to do something to help make themselves visible on search engines because that is just how people find information. And if they don’t already know an attorney, that is the number one spot, they’re going to go to try and find an attorney for their problem.
So when we talk about this, I like to be very transparent and clear about what we are doing, because I think there’s a bad rap on a certain subset of the search engine marketing industry, particularly when it comes to attorneys, because for a lot of firms, it’s a great paycheck to be perfectly candid and they can get in there. And then it’s basically kind of the magician behind the screen, like in The Wizard of Oz doing all the tricks, but not really doing anything.
What we like to do is to really share with as much detail as possible and as much as you want about what we’re doing on a monthly basis. Right?
And so if we think back to here, let’s assume that we’re working on a firm that is maybe down here on page three. And so you may be wondering, well, what do we have to do to actually get from page three where no one is going to find a solution up to page one so that we can actually be in the game, we can get visible and get some of that free visibility.
So this is kind of the process in a nutshell. And again, we’re kind of avoiding certain steps. We’re grazing over things. But this is really just for the most part, all you need to know.
We start out by publishing content, publishing a web page. And in that part of the process, we’re going out and looking at researching your market, figuring out what are the types of terms and the keywords that people are already searching for that match up with your business that you’re trying to bring in.
So we will at the beginning, do a lot of research and then make an educated calculation about, “OK, you are a criminal attorney in Chicago. Here is the keyword that we want to go for. Here are all the other topics and subtopics that we need to include. It needs to be a certain length.” And then we publish it.
And at that point, we are going to then track this to look and see how Google is receiving that information. We can actually see and track as it goes up the search engine results. And that’s our best indication on whether or not we got it right in this publishing portion. And so there are many factors again that go into it. We can add links.
We can work on the speed of how fast the material loads, but just in general, this is the process we publish. We track, we let it kind of marinate and breathe a little bit, so we can see how Google has gone and indexed it and where they’re placing it in the search results. And then we can go back and continue to optimize because even from day to day, Google’s algorithm changes. We know it changes almost on a daily basis, with some bigger changes throughout the year. And then we also know that legal search optimization is an incredibly competitive field.
You have tons and tons of competitors who are also trying to get this exact type of visibility in digital real estate. So that’s why it’s never a set and forget type of situation where we can just post once and then it does its thing. And I often hear that you go and put the right keywords in, and we’ll be fine. And ultimately, it’s not that easy. There are keywords or searches out there that are that easy.
But when you’re talking about something like a criminal lawyer, Chicago, personal injury, any city, really, there are other people out there who are fighting for it, who are investing in it. And so you have to continue to put that pressure on it.
And I often liken it to making a diamond takes time, takes pressure, and you have to keep working on it, improving it over and over, and then you keep seeing it go up and up. Eventually, that brings in the traffic, ultimately resulting in leads. And then we keep the process going on and on.
And so then in the next period, we’re working on a new topic. So if we’ve already done criminal, maybe we’re looking at felony lawyer. We’re looking at different areas, different ways people are searching, and trying to maximize that visibility for every type of practice area that you do that you’re interested in bringing in business.
This is a rough look at our general philosophy on search optimization and how we kind of think about it when presenting it to our clients. It’s modeled after a funnel, like a marketing funnel, where we have this first layer, a second layer, and then a third layer.
And so what we’re going to talk about a lot is this visibility portion throughout this series. And what this means for me is visibility. In terms of how often and where you show up in search results. We have a few different metrics here, like impressions, actual clicks from Google search, and then how many keywords were showing up for? And so even within this, we’re talking about total keywords here, but then really, the ones that we care the most about our top ten keywords.
And that means they’re on the first page of Google, because if you like anything like me or anyone else, you’re not going to the second or third page for results. Really, we’re always kind of looking at how many keywords in total that we rank for, but also how many top ten keywords. That’s what we’re always driving to. And so knowing this number is kind of like a bellwether for this number, because we should be always looking at that upward mobility of how many of those total keywords can we push from the second or third page on to the first page that then leads to traffic?
And so here’s the amount of organic users coming from Google.
We didn’t pay for any of these people coming to the site and then ultimately site leads. And so, as you can see, our own SEO leaves a lot to be desired, which is what we’re working on at the moment. But do as I say, not as I do, basically, is the message here. And so that’s it from, I guess, like a higher degree or a higher level looking down and seeing how this all interrelates and then bottom line, what we’re ultimately after is improving the lead count and actual paying clients for you.
So it’s kind of like a big trickle-down effect that with more visibility becomes more traffic comes more leads and ultimately more revenue.
So that’s what we look at, how we monitor it, and what we’re after. Final point, I want to show you just another quick example of how this works process that we’ve talked about actually works in a practical sense, and we can see it by using this tool that we use called AccuRanker. And this gives us really good data about how our changes and how our optimizations are being received by Google.
Take a look at it in real time. And so this is a project we’ve been working on for a little while with a page that we’re targeting that is around the keyword family law marketing. And this is giving us data on a daily basis of where we are in the search, and so every time you see a point like this, we’re moving around within the search results. And so here on May 31, we were up to number five for the term family law marketing. And clearly, things looked like they were going in the right direction. We were up to two, finally up to number one. And then we had this big drop.
And part of the reason this happened was there was a big Google algorithm shift that happened and immediately knocked us down to the second page. And so things got even worse down here in July. And so we had to go and kind of understand what that algorithm change was all about, what it was addressing, and then continue to brainstorm about how we can make this page better.
What you’ll notice up here is that we’ve made changes. These are annotations of things we did to specifically try and adjust or improve the position of this page. We added some again here and then some again here. And what you’ll see is that it looks like these changes have had a positive effect on the search results. And so now if we go to it looks like we’re at number eight. As of yesterday or two days ago, we were at number five, and so looks like our baseline is higher. We’re on the first page.
And so we’ll continue to kind of monitor this and continue to try and improve it to another round of optimization of going assessing, looking at all the other pages on the first page of results and figuring out what is different. Those pages that have since gone up in the rankings: What’s different? What do they have that we don’t or what can we improve that? Maybe we didn’t think about it last time… And that’s really the essence of search engine optimization.
We do this on a monthly basis for our clients, and it’s this parallel process of we’re adding new content to the website to rank for these new search queries and expand your overall base, overall number of keywords, and overall visibility. And then we’re looking at how we can consistently improve your existing positions and keep pushing those up until they get into the first page of search engine rankings.
So hopefully this was useful and didn’t go too much into detail. But I think it gives a good base for what we’re going to talk about later. And I think that’s it for now, so I hope you enjoy it!