Why SEO Is Essential for Law Firms

Dec 30, 2021

Patrick Carver

Hi, I’m Patrick Carver / CEO, Constellation Marketing

I hope you enjoy listening to this podcast.
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In this episode of the Optimized Law Firm podcast, we’re covering Why SEO is Essential for Law Firms.

Based on our own testing, we know that over 70% of all leads for lawyers come from organic search, so it’s absolutely essential you have a strategy in place or you’re going to be dominated by the competition in your city.

A lot of law firms use their gut to determine marketing plans, but I’m going to get into the data and explain why SEO is better than any other marketing strategy out there.

What’s in This Episode?

  • Why is SEO so critical for attorneys?
  • How does SEO stack up against other marketing methods such as pay-per-click ads and social media?
  • What metrics and signals can you look at to check if your marketing strategy is working?


Episode 6

Hopefully, by now, you have a better knowledge of what SEO is all about, the basic mechanics, how it functionally works, and hopefully, you also have a sense of why this is important.

I know if you have a pulse, you have been marketed to at some point from marketing organizations just like ours – although we don’t do the bad outreach – and they’ve hit you over the head with this idea that search engine optimization is essential, it’s the best way to get leads.

So you may or may not know the truth behind that or why that argument is so consistently made, but I’ll hop into what I like to use as the best anecdote for why we focus on search engine optimization and why we feel that it is so overwhelmingly the number one channel where law firms should be focused if they want to bring in new clients.

So this is Willy, a.k.a. Slick Willy Sutton, and I always like to use this anecdote ’cause I think it makes so much sense, and this gentleman was a famous bank robber, and he’s really well-known for a specific quote where at this moment, one of the newspapers asked him, “Mr. Sutton, why do you rob banks?” And his answer was, “Because that’s where the money is.”

And that really, in a nutshell, summarizes our feelings about search optimization, because the truth is that most people, including myself, including you, look for information, look for services and products through organic search. You are going to get onto your phone, you’re going to type in what you need, and then proceed to compare and figure out which option is gonna be the best solution for you. 

We can back this up with some great data too, so we can see that 96% of people seeking legal advice use a search engine, and that comes from the National Law Review, and it’s a powerful piece of information that the majority of people out there are going to get on to a search engine at some level.

We’ll talk about the importance of referrals, how they factor into this, but the reality is that a lot of people out there don’t have a lawyer in the family, they don’t have a friend that’s a lawyer, and so they are going to pull out their phone or go up on their computer and start searching for the type of service that they need.

Even if you do get a lot of business from referrals, which is great, and we encourage that, the typical journey still involves search, because what happens when you receive a referral or an introduction about somebody. What’s your natural instinct to do… Well, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to get out your phone and Google them and see if they’re legit, you’re gonna check out their credentials, their services, and kinda get a feel for if you want to utilize this person, do business with them. And it’s no different for your potential clients.

The other piece of really important and interesting data that we can share with you is that over 70% of all leads come from organic search, and what this is coming from, where this is coming from is our own internal data from a study that we’ve run analyzing thousands and thousands of leads that come into our client websites, we’ve taken all of this data, we’ve looked at it across all sorts of different practice areas, sizes of firms, and consistently over 70% of those leads that are coming in are coming through organic search, so it makes up such a massive percentage of all of the activity that happens. That’s why we feel so strongly about it, that it’s really the number one channel where you should focus.

We will continue to make the case for this as we go through, but let’s take a look at some hard data and some real examples of what this actually looks like in real-time.

So this is the back end of Google Analytics. And not only are we tracking the number of users that are coming on to the website where they’re coming from, how long they’re staying on the website, things like that, we also do event tracking, and that’s what you see here with these various goals, and so you can see them at the top, like email, lead click, phone lead, click.

Formally, these are all ways that we have set up to measure engagement activity, these are all signals to us that someone is trying to get in contact, and we have another one down here, which is a real call completions. And so those are actual phone calls. These are the main types of activities that we focus on to understand how many leads are coming in, how much activity is being generated for people who actually want to take that next step and get in touch with you, get in touch with your law firm. So when we do this on a website, I figured it may be useful to see this in a real-world scenario, and… So we actually have a slightly different setup where we take folks to this page and they can actually schedule a call, some attorneys have this, some don’t… But anyway, we do it, we are setting this up where at the end of this, after someone successfully sets up a call, that event is gonna get tracked in here, and we can track that all the way back to where the original source was.

And as you can imagine, is incredibly powerful and useful, not only from our perspective, but you as a legal marketing service consumer, so that you understand where your leads are coming from, and I remember… The whole reason I got into this business was to help my father assess the value of one of the big law firm marketing companies that he was using, and basically, he would get a report each month that would have a lot of graphs and show impressions and show visits and things like that.

But when you talk with him and you’d ask him, “Well, is it working? What do you think?” He’d say, “Well, I don’t really know. I guess it’s working.”

And I think that’s how a lot of folks really think about their business in terms of attribution and figuring out where their actual leads are coming from, they probably have a pretty good idea, especially if you know the person that comes in or can stitch it back and tie it back to the original source, but what we found is that a lot of people go off their gut instinct and they’re not really familiar or sure about where are these things are coming from. And so while we’re not 100%, the benefit of a structure like this is that you can really drill back down to see exactly which marketing efforts are working, where you’re actually getting your lead activity from.

The data for us is hands-down consistent across the board, when we look at our roster of over 50 law firms, it always skews towards a heavy focus on Google Organic as the primary source of goal completion, lead activity. This website is a pretty good example, it’s quite high, and so to make it a fair fight against some of the other channels, brought in someone who also does pay-per-click advertising, and what you’ll notice is that it’s still right about the same now, the pay-per-click is taking an 11% chunk out of the overall pie, but still you’re up at that 74% mark, and then you see some of these others that are still other types of organic like Bing and Yahoo, and so that number actually would go up. But even with some of our most heavy advertisers, if they have a decent web presence, a decent website that is reasonably visible, you still typically see a much higher goal completion attribution to organic search than any of the other channels.

So as you can see, it’s a tremendously huge part of the pie when we’re looking at these numbers. Instead of going and trying to figure out what are all the new marketing strategies or new ideas, which we always do – we always are aware and looking into those things to any possible measure that could give our clients an edge, we’re all about it – but at the same time, it’s very easy to fall to what we call Shiny Object Syndrome, where you are constantly chasing the new tactic, constantly looking into video, constantly looking into these new things that can be done. And the reality is, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort to put those into play when we feel like this search is such a… Still such a big opportunity, you can work on it year to year, and really invest in something that’s gonna have a long sustainable life cycle as a marketing avenue for your firm.

So let’s talk a little bit about the user journey and how individuals go from being out there and needing a service to finding you and ultimately converting as a client.

If you’re anything like me and you wanted to go out to dinner, specifically tacos, what would you do to find a really good restaurant now, if you didn’t know the area or maybe you just moved there? What you’re most likely going to do is pick up your phone and search something like best tacos near me, best tacos in Virginia Highlands. Something like that, that’s gonna give you the type of product that you’re looking for.

What you’re certainly not doing is gonna go to some of these other channels like Facebook, or maybe going to YouTube or going… Just aimlessly driving around looking for billboards, seeing if you can find a billboard that gives you a recommendation on a great taco place, and this kind of a discussion is very illuminating for why we feel like search makes so much sense as a marketing channel for law firms, because very similarly, if you have a need, if you have a really specific need and it’s happening right, then you are not gonna go to these other channels like Facebook or YouTube to go and solve an immediate issue and tackle it. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that you might go on YouTube and search something like that, but typically what we see is that most people are going for informational discovery, they’re gonna go to Google first and then look through the potential options.

So when we’re thinking about where we want to spend our marketing dollars and really where we wanna focus, you can see why we don’t feel like it makes a lot of sense to focus on social media channels, video sites, or even billboards, because so many things have to go right, for you to be found through that chain and eventually get them back to you… A lot of things have to go right. The timing has to be right, they have to have a need, and then they have to stumble up across you in one of those channels, right at the perfect time that they want.

And what we love about Google and just search in general, is that you’re really getting people at the right place at the right time. As I mentioned before, we love referrals, we like advertising, but we really, really love search engine optimization because it’s the most widely used and hopefully, you’re seeing now, and we’re trying to make the case that it’s the most important channel out there, so one of the other really amazing parts about search engine optimization is that we can build content that’s gonna target people who are already lower in the funnel, and really looking to make a decision and utilize a service like what you provide your law firm, and we visualize this through the funnel demonstration visualization here of looking at the different pieces that users are gonna go through to eventually get to you. 

So we have this first part, which is visibility, and then it goes into traffic and leads, and clearly here we’re at the bottom of when actually somebody actually takes action and completes one of those goal conversions that we showed in Google Analytics, but the critical distinction here is that there are different levels of the top part of the funnel, and so if we think back here to some of the other areas like Facebook or YouTube, those top of funnels are gonna be even more top or higher up in the funnel, because they are not necessarily driven by someone’s search query, so in our view, someone going and typing in “Best Lawyer in Cincinnati” or “DUI lawyer in Ohio,” those things are all showing really clear interest, although they may not be ready to hire you just get a lot more interest there than someone just searching, say “DUI laws,” or they want to go into YouTube and search “effects of a DUI” or something like that.

We’re trying to get to them when they’ve already made that decision in their head that they’re going to actually hire or look to hire an attorney, so the traffic coming in here is naturally gonna be better suited and lower in the funnel, and that gives you the ability to make the leads at a much higher value than someone just casually perusing on Facebook, killing time, and your ad happens to come up…

Another really core part of why we love this strategy and again, consider it the number one, is that ultimately it’s free traffic to your website. It’s not totally free because at some level, you have to invest in content, link building, some of the things that we do from an SEO standpoint to acquire that free traffic, but it’s also not paid either.

So think about a search listing here, so this is again the example of “criminal lawyer Chicago,” and you’ve got these options right here with the local service ads, and then you have the traditional pay-per-click advertising, each of these is going to be pay-to-play, the only way you get up here is if you pay for that position. In both of these cases, the cost of skyrocketed LSAs are a little bit more affordable at the moment, but items like this where you are at the top of the page and you’re paying on a per-click basis, especially during the pandemic when there are fewer people out there, there’re fewer accidents happening, fewer crimes being committed, in some cases, that means that there’s pressure on that market where everybody is coming in, they all want business and the price of the bidding is going up, and we’ve actually seen prices rise in areas like auto accidents to over $300 per click.

Just for one single click, and you compare that to paying $1000 or $2000 or $5000 for search engine optimization where you can get hundreds and hundreds of clicks, it starts to make a lot more sense about why you want to get into search engine optimization. Adding to the fact that you also have some of these inherent benefits of investing in your own real estate, and I’ll talk about those in just a second, but basically, the premise here is that the more you put in and invest in the structure and the foundation of your own assets, you are going to put yourself into a position where you can take advantage of a lot of free traffic over the long run and have a really sustainable… Really effective from an ROI perspective type of marketing strategy.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about long-term value, so we’ve alluded to it a little bit, but the real long-term value for a law firm when it comes to marketing is investing in your website, you can invest in your website site by creating content, improving the performance of it, adding links, and over time, you are going to create a really, really powerful asset for your business, this is unlike anything like advertising, whether it’s billboards, it’s Facebook, it’s pay-per-click or anything like that, because those are all pay-to-play, and we always talk about how it’s essentially like a tap, it’s great because you can turn the tap on if you wanna get clients right away, but if you don’t wanna pay for every single click, then the tap goes off and immediately you’re out…

Same thing with directory listings, if you do something like a Pro Plan where you’re able to get a special directory listing or special visibility, again, it’s a tap as soon as those get turned off or You’re outbid by somebody else, you’re out of luck and that source dries up, but with SEO, the longer you are working on it, and if you do it in a smart way, you are building this long-term asset that just is going to compound over time and pay off 10 times over as more than the initial investment that you put in…

And I wanted to show you an example of the compounding effect of search optimization, so this is a look at a particular page that we have for one of our clients, and the primary keyword that we’re going after is “spouse visa to the USA” or “spouse visa USA,” and what’s cool here is that we’ve been able to obtain a really high position for one keyword in particular, but the way Google works is looking at your website, looking at pages on your website, they want to see if it is a good resource for topics, they don’t really think about your website and just websites in general, with just one individual keyword.

They’re more thinking about thematic elements and whether or not keywords are related to other keywords and trying to deliver a really complete resource for whatever topic that the user is looking at and so this is a great example where we’ve been able to, on the top end, look for one specific keyword, kind of target that one keyword, but over time, Google is seeing this page is a really good resource, people use it, lots of traffic coming to the pages, and so that creates this feedback loop giving to Google where they see this page and understand, Okay, this is really valuable, so it also answers all of these other very related questions, and so we’re gonna continue to push this up into the rankings and continue to give it traffic.

Over time, this compounds by not only just that one keyword, but we’ve got literally 3000 keywords on this one page that we’re ranking for and tons in really high, awesome position.

So over time, this is kind of what this looks like, it’s not always a linear path like this, but look at the growth over the course of two years for this, so it is a site we’ve been working on for about two years, and you’ll notice it really started from nothing, and over time, we’ve been able to bring it up to here, where they’re now getting over 4000 people per month coming on to the website all in completely free traffic, and then the next piece is what is known as traffic value, and this is a metric that we like to look at to understand how much value we’re bringing just from the SEO perspective of how much free traffic we’re generating for a customer’s website, and essentially what this looks at is all of your keyword positions and the traffic coming to your website multiplies everything together and figures out what it would normally cost to get this level of traffic on your website, so we look at all of the keywords that are ranked for whether it’s a divorce lawyer in Cincinnati, all of those keywords would otherwise cost money to get you a click, if you were doing it through ads or something else.

This is a way to measure that. We can look at this and see how much actual traffic we’re bringing, what that would cost in a pay-per-click setting… So as you can see, we’re doing 3-4x in terms of the traffic value for this particular client. Over time, again, it is going to compound, it’s gonna grow, and it’s going to become an incredibly valuable asset for your law firm for years to come.

Now, one of the final pieces here that we’re gonna talk about is the value of owning your own real estate, and… We really believe in this idea that SEO is so valuable because it gives you the ability to create this digital real estate. You are wanting to be in a position where you own your entire website, you own the content, and you are not beholden to any one individual or company, and so you’re not beholding to the law firm directories, you’re not to Google or any of these individual companies where it’s that tap scenario where they can basically turn you on or off as they please, and instead having a really powerful website is like owning your own real estate, because you can control it, you can improve it, you can grow it, and ultimately it’s going to be your investment putting in that’s going to compound over time, so it gives you the ability to add…

As you please, you can talk about any topic that you want, and all of this leads it to be one of the, if not the most… I would say the most scalable type of marketing solution, because you can essentially keep creating content, keep creating the links, and it’s going to be relatively infinite, you can talk about any type of law, you can go into any city as a practice area, as long as you own it, you are going to have this amazing asset that you can use and point it however you want and however you want to run your business with whatever type of leaves that you want to generate. 

So hopefully this has given you a pretty good feeling of why or understanding of why SEO is essential, and I would bring you back to Slick Willy here with this idea that it’s where the clients are, search optimization, organic search is where the vast majority of people go when they need an attorney. The days of the Yellow Pages are over, people are not pulling out a phone book to get their lawyers, they are pulling out their phone, logging on to their computer, and looking for the type of lawyer that will help them with a specific issue that they are facing. I

It’s still a tremendous opportunity, even if you haven’t invested a lot of time, energy, or resources into it – the good news is that there’s still a tremendous amount of opportunity out there for lawyers who are willing to put in the time, willing to put in the investment and resources into their website so that you can stand above the vast majority of your competition who are only gonna have a cursory knowledge of this or put in the very basics because they’ve heard SEO is an important thing without really understanding why it’s so essential and why you want to invest in it.

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