Getting your law firm to the top of search results is a must for long-term, sustainable law firm growth—and maybe even just to maintain your market share you already have. It should come as no surprise that the majority of legal services consumers use search engines to find an attorney to hire, even if they’re asking for referrals from friends and family.
Clio’s 2019 Legal Trends Report found a lawyer’s website and online search engine presence are the top ways consumers find an attorney, only after getting a referral from a friend or family member. Of those people who sought referrals, 16% of them still used search engines to find a lawyer on their own.
SEO has an important place in growing and maintaining your law firm as more and more consumers are turning to search engines to find legal services.
If you’ve been hesitant to get started with SEO because finding good information was difficult and finding a reputable SEO provider was even more challenging, we’re here to help with answers to common questions on lawyer SEO. We also have other articles to help you make informed choices about your SEO, get started ranking your law firm in local search results, understand legal ethics implications of SEO, and learn more about what makes a great SEO campaign and strategy.
The first step to get started with SEO for legal firms is to understand what SEO is, how it works, and how it can impact your law firm. By understanding how search engines work, you’ll be able to better understand why certain SEO strategies work—and why others don’t. Learning basic information about SEO and search engines also helps you spot an SEO company to be avoided.
How Do Search Engines Work?
A search engine is basically like a giant card catalog of the internet. Like most law libraries that don’t have every single case ever filed, search engines don’t save every website or page on the internet. In fact, Google likely only has about 4% of the internet in its database. There’s a whole lot of the internet that Google doesn’t save.
One of your first goals for your law firm SEO marketing is to make sure that Google and other search engines have your entire law firm website in their database. There can be different reasons why your law firm website doesn’t show up in search results but one common error is that your website isn’t included in Google’s index.
Search engines are made up of four main parts:
- The search engine
- The index
- The crawlers
- The algorithm
Search engines save information from websites to a giant database called an index. What gets saved to the index is a combination of factors, like if the search engine can find and access the web page, if the web page allows indexing, and if the search engine believes the web page is worth saving. Indexing, or saving to the database, is on a page-by-page basis so it’s possible that some pages from your law firm website can be missing from the index.
Google and other search engines use crawlers, also known as crawler bots, spiders, or bots, to visit websites and pages on the internet and send information back to the Index. Spiders navigate around the web by using links between pages and websites to hop from one place to another. Links are a key component to how search engines interpret the internet.
The search engine is the part you’re familiar with. It’s the search bar where you put in your search, also called a query, and hit enter to see results. The engine sorts through all of the information it has stored, ranks them based on what it thinks you’re looking for, and then shows you the results on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Search engines also usually show ads on search results too.
The formula search engines use to determine rankings is called the algorithm. While SEO pros suspect there are over 200 factors that go into how search results are ranked, certain factors are weighted more heavily than others. However, algorithms are patented trade secrets kept under lock and key. No one knows for certain how search engines determine rankings and what the algorithm is—maybe not even Google because of artificial intelligence and machine learning!
What is Law Firm SEO & How Does It Work?
Law firm SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of trying to get your law firm’s website to show up higher in search results. In other words, SEO focuses on controlling and changing the factors that search engines take into account when ranking search results.
While most people think lawyer SEO is only about optimizing your website, modern SEO is about optimizing your firm’s entire online presence.
SEO researchers look for correlations between traits between high ranking sites and occasionally search engines will weigh in on certain factors they take into account. Based on these correlations and the small snippets of information provided by Google, the SEO industry has developed theories on how the algorithm works and how to influence the algorithm’s views of your firm.
The best SEO for lawyers takes into account what will make the biggest difference for your firm’s rankings with the least effort and investment, focusing on the strategies and tactics that will produce higher rankings the fastest.
Some people try to game the algorithm and others try to work with it to increase law firm search rankings—but both fall under SEO. Avoiding a bad SEO company isn’t too difficult but finding a good legal SEO company can be a bit more tricky.
How Do Algorithm Updates Affect My Firm’s Search Rankings?
Algorithms were once updated only occasionally but today’s modern algorithms incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence and make consistent updates to the way the algorithm works. In a single year, Google may make over 3,000 updates to their algorithm.
There are occasionally big updates to algorithms that can have big, lasting effects on search results. In fact, one Google algorithm update once affected 40% of all Fortune 500s—so updates can have a significant effect on your law firm’s success.
However, despite that algorithms are a constantly moving target, following best practices can help your website work up to the top of search results and stay there for the long term. Although there is constant fluctuation day to day in modern search engines, upward trends and consistent high rankings are a sign of SEO success.
Above all else, you don’t want your law firm website to get stuck in the crossfire of an algorithm update. Usually algorithm updates are designed to remove irrelevant or bad search results enmasse by targeting similar tactics that try to game the system.
If you try to game the system by using questionable techniques, your website may be removed from the index permanently as a result and any other website your law firm launches in the future may not be included in search results, even if it’s at a different domain with a different name.
How Should SEO Fit Into My Law Firm Marketing Strategy?
Beyond turning up in search results and getting more traffic to your website, SEO is a foundational element of your overall legal marketing strategy and comprehensive law firm business development plans.
Attorney SEO can help your firm:
- Get more website traffic
- Raise awareness of your firm
- Get more phone calls, inquiries, and foot traffic that leads to more clients and revenue
- Get better quality of inquiries and potential clients
- Decrease the costs of acquiring new customers by reducing dependency on ads and paid leads
- Act as a 24/7 sales team
- Build trust, credibility, and authority for your firm and attorneys’ reputations
- Reduce the time to do new client intake
- Increase the value of your law firm if you decide to sell it
- Reduce the time you spend on time-consuming traditional new business development methods
At our lawyer marketing agency, we focus on using SEO as the main marketing method for our clients because it supports all other marketing and advertising efforts and consistently is the biggest difference maker for our clients’ success.
Thanks to advanced tracking technology, we know that SEO is consistently the kind of marketing that delivers the most new clients to our customers, regardless of their practice area or region.
How Long Does Legal SEO Take?
The timeline for legal SEO to start working varies based on your practice area, region, competition, and tactics. A good SEO expert will always say “it depends” but will usually be able to give guidance for how long it might take to see results in your firm’s situation.
How long SEO takes really depends largely on your unique market situation. If you’re in a highly competitive market, it could take years before you start to see results. If there’s ample opportunity, it can be as little as a few weeks.
In most cases, law firms start to see SEO begin to have an effect on their rankings in 3 months. Lawyers usually start to capitalize on their investment by around 6 months into an SEO campaign.
Can I Do SEO On My Own For My Law Firm?
One common question is whether you should do your SEO yourself, hire an in-house marketer to handle it, or hire an agency to handle your SEO. Each has its own benefits and risks.
Doing SEO yourself can be tricky and time consuming, much like pro se legal matters. It’s a good option for solos who have too much free time on their hands and not enough resources. DIY SEO can be slow going and an uphill battle, especially if you’re in a practice area and region with stiff competition.
Hiring an in-house marketer can increase your management time, stress, and unbillable hours. Unless you hire someone with extensive experience and pay the higher salary that comes with it, you may also have to provide training for that person. Usually only larger firms can afford to do this, making an in-house SEO prohibitively expensive for small to mid-sized firms. However, you have a high level of control over the process and communication is more seamless.
Bringing in outside SEO help is great for those looking for access to a high level of expertise and lower time investment. The financial investment is also often lower than a skilled in-house marketer. Hiring a great SEO pro is key to your success with outside SEO help. We might be a bit biased, but most law firms benefit the most from outsourcing SEO to a lawyer SEO marketing firm like ours.
How Much Should I Spend on SEO For My Law Firm?
SEO services vary widely in cost, especially for law firm search engine optimization services. The legal industry is particularly competitive and expensive to get new leads—which means that many SEO pros and marketing professionals see law firms as a cash cow.
It’s also part of why you’re probably constantly harassed by would-be marketers trying to gain your business.
SEO can be done hourly, on a monthly retainer, or on a per-project basis. This leads to a lot of different pricing models, pricing points, and hourly rates within the SEO industry. You can find SEO services for a little as a few dollars to as much as thousands of dollars for a single hour consultation. Quality varies widely too.
A good generalist SEO consultant should charge around the industry average and a law firm SEO specialist consultant should charge a premium for their specific knowledge about what works in the legal industry.
What Return on Investment in Law Firm SEO Should I Expect?
Returns on your investment in SEO depends a lot on your practice area, how much competition there is, and how big the market is for your particular practice areas. Before you invest in SEO, it’s important to know your numbers and understand what SEO can do—and what it can’t.
A great SEO pro won’t guarantee a return on your investment—and Google actually forbids these kinds of promises.
Whether or not attorney SEO is ROI positive depends on a lot of factors usually out of the SEO agency’s control, like your client sign rate, how much you charge, how long it takes to get a case to payment, overhead, etc. They can provide guidance on what you can expect but without knowing all your numbers, they can’t accurately predict how much revenue you'll make from SEO work.
Just about any good SEO agency can get results so instead of focusing on price as your determining factor of who you choose, focus on the process and how easy it is to work with them.
A great SEO company will work with you to help identify all of the factors that influence your success as well as how you can better improve your processes to get a higher return on your investment. Working with someone who knows about how law firms work can help you better understand how to improve intake processes to get the most from your SEO.
Getting Started with Law Firm SEO
After reading through this article, you might find the task of handling your own SEO pretty daunting. SEO can be really simple—or really complex. SEO success is all relative to your market, practice area, and resources.
We offer a unique value to our law firm clients as an attorney owned and operated SEO agency. Our team understands better than most SEO companies what it takes to be a successful lawyer and the specialized SEO needs of law firms.
Want to find out how SEO can help your law firm grow? We’re happy to help answer those “it depends” questions you have with more information about your practice areas, regions, and other marketing you may already be doing. Contact us today to talk to one of our law firm SEO experts.