Law Firm Marketing: An SEO Check List for CMOs [Part 1]
The last 18 months have moved more of our activity online, accelerating a trend that was already well underway. Research from Forrester shows that online searches are executives’ first course of action when researching products and services (just like everyone else). When we are shopping for consumer products vs. sourcing professional services, our behavior doesn’t change substantially. We turn to online sources to discover options and perform research on the options we identify. In 2020, 80% of the average B2B buyer journey took place online. While law firm websites have traditionally been focused on attorney bios and practice area profiles, the best law firm marketing practice is to optimize for SEO to expand the firm’s potential client base, accelerate the growth of new practice areas, and be found in search for industry knowledge and expertise.
In this post, we’ll cover two law firm marketing SEO topics that should be on the radar of CMOs and their legal marketing teams.
- Google Page Experience Algorithm Update – We’ll talk about the new algorithm update, Google Page Experience which rolled out in May of 2021, and how to optimize for this update.
- Keywords – We’ll address new approaches to keywords in light of natural language processing.
Let’s dig in.
Google Page Experience Algorithm Update
Google algorithm updates strike fear in the heart of search engine marketers. But they really shouldn’t. If you have been working to provide great content that speaks to the questions and needs of your audience, you should be rewarded as updates roll out.
The most recent algorithm update occurred in May 2021 and is called the Page Experience Update. If we remember that Google’s primary purpose is to get users to content that is relevant to them, then evaluating their behavior on your law firm’s website page is one way Google can evaluate the quality of the match between the user’s search and your page. If users come to your site and stay awhile, Google infers that they have encountered information that is meaningful to them. User “dwell time” is one of many factors influencing Google’s evaluation of the merits of your site. Below are a few others.
Page load speeds – People searching for legal services don’t want to wait for your rotating carousel of images to load – especially on their mobile devices. People also don’t wait for very old sites on platforms that haven’t been maintained. Keeping the platform that runs your site – such as WordPress – up to date becomes increasingly important in a world where page speed is an important ranking factor. There are dozens of tools online that help you evaluate your page load time as part of your law firm marketing mix. GTmetrix.com, Google Dev tools, and YellowLab.tools are free and provide a quick snapshot of page speed.
Interactivity – Has the visitor to your site clicked through to another page on your website or have they visited one page and left? Have they filled out a form or downloaded a PDF? Have they watched a significant portion of a video? Interactions of this nature tell Google that the searcher found content that was relevant to their query. The way your page looks and the way you format your content is more important now than ever. Try these approaches to making your pages more engaging and interactive:
- Add photos, not just at the top of the page in the banner, but throughout the page
- Link to related pages on your site so the user is encouraged to explore more than one page
- Embed a relevant video
- Place frequent visual breaks in your page content
- Use subheads to help the user get to the sections of the page that interest them most
- Bullet your copy when possible to make it easier to skim and digest
Visual stability – Visual stability is easier to define by its opposite. Have you visited a page on which important visual elements shift position as the page loads? You may have experienced a website where the navigation bar or a picture begins in one place and ends in another once the page is fully arranged. This is the opposite of visual stability and it can disorient users. As a result, Google has a way of measuring how much elements shift during page load called Cumulative Layout Shift, or CLS. For a good user experience, aim for a CLS score of 0.1 or less. GTmetrix.com will report on this measurement at no charge (https://web.dev/cls/).
Mobile-friendly – Google switched to mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2019. If you do not have a law firm website that reconfigures based on the device that’s viewing it, you are losing your Google search ranking position. As a result, you will soon be losing opportunities if you haven’t already. I wish there were more to say, but it really is that simple. Smart law firm marketing includes having a responsive website if you care about your position in search. And while we all know that lawyers believe that 90-plus percent of their clients come through referrals, legal marketers know that search is extremely important for client and talent acquisition. Responsive design must play a role in the law firm marketing strategy.
In addition to not being mobile-friendly, older sites present more security risks. Make sure you are regularly installing updates, and budget for major platform upgrades approximately every five years. Last, don’t obscure content with pop-ups. People don’t like them, nor does Google.
Are keywords dead?
You may have heard rumors that keywords no longer matter, and those rumors are partially true. If the totality of your content optimization has been centered on keywords; keywords in your copy, keywords in your metadata, keyword rich links, keywords in your alt tags, etc… you likely will see diminishing returns. In fact, if this looks like keyword stuffing, it can be detrimental.
As Google becomes increasingly sophisticated in its ability to process language, it can engage in a more holistic evaluation of copy (aka content). As always, Google’s goal is to get searchers the content that is most relevant to them. The result is a focus on “user intent.” Google wants to provide the answer that most closely matches the intent of the searcher, and that means we must go deeper when considering keywords.
Let’s take the example above and view it from the perspective of a family law practice interested in acquiring new clients. While the broadest phrase, “family law” has lots of volume, it tells us very little about user intent. The searcher could be interested in recently passed legislation or in becoming a family law practitioner. As we move to the next phrase “child custody lawyer” we know a little bit more. This searcher is at least indicating that something to do with child custody is part of their investigation, and they seem to be interested in a practitioner. As we get to the third term, “child custody agreement” we get closer to an expression of intent. This searcher needs information about a specific matter in the domain of family law. Our last phrase, “how much does a lawyer cost for child custody,” expresses intent to pursue a legal remedy to a custody issue. It also implies that an attorney has not yet been engaged. There is a much better probability that this searcher is someone in need of the services offered by our hypothetical family law practice. Addressing this question – perhaps by discussing payment structures and typical ranges rather than specifically naming dollar amounts – is more likely to satisfy the needs of the searcher, which will result in a higher click through rate, and ultimately a higher likelihood that this searcher will become a client. Low-volume keywords can be more profitable than the high-volume ones if they help pin-point user intent.
Keywords still help Google understand what your page is about. However, aligning your content with user intent is going to be increasingly important. . Online sites like Ubersuggest and Keywords Everywhere are free or inexpensive tools for basic research. Full applications like SEMRush can provide detailed information including related searches, international search volumes, keyword variations and advanced keyword tracking and reporting. All the tools start with the important basics:
- Search volume – number of searchers with the need
- Difficulty – how many sites have already answered the question
- CPC – “Cost Per Click,” which will indicate how many sites are bidding on this keyword in paid search which is an indication of competitiveness and potentially, difficulty
This information is a good starting point. However, to make your content strategy more effective, think about the ways in which your prospects frame questions. What is top of mind as they consider your service? What are the natural language patterns around those questions? One way to find out is to simply look at related searches, which Google provides every time you enter something in the search bar.
Here is an example using the same phrases we investigated in the graph above:
This drop-down suggests other topics of concern to searchers in need of legal support for child custody issues and reveals the way in which they express those concerns. By aligning your law firm marketing content strategy to real-world questions as asked by the people searching for your services, you will be more likely to garner favorable position in search results.
SEO Checklist for Law Firm Marketing Teams
☐ Use online tools to check the page speed of the most important pages on your site. Investigate page speeds over three seconds.
☐ Increase opportunities for user interaction on your important landing pages (homepage, attorney bios, practice group pages, and industry pages). Add links to other relevant content such as case studies or thought leadership articles. Include downloadable content and videos.
☐ Check the stability of your page loads or CLS with tools like GTmetrix.com.
☐ Test your site for responsiveness. If you do not have a site that is responsive, start budgeting for a site redesign as a top priority. If you already have a responsive site, make sure you regularly maintain updates to your platform and plugins.
☐ If you have pop-ups that obscure content, remove them where possible.
☐ Think about the questions your attorneys get most often when they pitch new business. Incorporate those questions into your keyword research and law firm content strategy.
☐ Identify keywords that demonstrate user intent, rather than just looking at volume and difficulty.