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Ask the Expert: Technical SEO for Law Firms

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By Eric Warncke
Director of SEO

As a leading marketing agency for attorneys, we spend a lot of time talking about SEO with legal professionals. Some elements of SEO are easier to explain — for example, why good, comprehensive content is important for your site visitors and why it’s a key ranking factor for the search engines. Some elements of SEO — like website and server optimizations — however, are more foreign but they’re equally important to your success. 

At Omnizant, we’re lucky to have a diverse group of SEO professionals who love sharing their knowledge and distilling even the most complex topics for our clients. One of them is Eric Warncke, Omnizant’s Director of SEO. For over 15 years, Eric has developed and optimized hundreds of websites and has been a part of the quickly evolving SEO landscape. 

Below, he tackles some of the most common questions that we get from attorneys about “technical SEO” and what you need to do to make sure your firm’s site is optimized for success. 

1. What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO refers to website and server optimizations that help search engines like Google more effectively crawl and index a website. Unlike regular SEO, technical SEO has little to do with writing content or earning links from third-party sites. Instead, it focuses on more performance-based issues that can negatively impact your site’s rankings; these include (but are not limited to the following):

  • website code problems
  • poorly designed site structure
  • redirect issues or dead links 
  • conflicts with third-party tools
  • Google penalties
  • slow page load time
  • robots.txt issues
  • sitemap errors 

All of the above, and technical SEO generally, require a deep understanding of how websites function and how search engines crawl and, ultimately, make sense of those websites.

2. What are the top three things you look at when assessing a site’s technical SEO?

When I am auditing a website’s technical SEO the top 3 things that I look at are as follows:

  1. Is the website actually on Google (and other search engines)?

If you go to Google and do a search with the prefix “site:” (site colon) followed by the website URL in question (for example: site:example.com) Google will return a list of every page from that website that is indexed in Google. If no results are found, that would indicate that Google is unable to find and crawl the website.

  1. Does the site structure make sense?

Site structure should make sense on a website. For example, if you were looking at a law firm’s website, you would expect the homepage to link to service pages for the area(s) of law they practice, and those service pages would then link to specific case types. For example, a sensible URL structure for a Child Custody page could look similar to this:

https://examplefirm.com/family-law/custody/

However, if the URL structure for the website is disorganized and confusing, it makes it significantly harder for Google to index and crawl the website. An example of a poor site structure for that same URL example above could be:

https://examplefirm.com/45/whatwedo/c45545

You can use the tool http://www.visualsitemapper.com/ to quickly see the way any website is structured.

  1. Are there issues in the Google Search Console Coverage Report?

Google Search Console is a free tool for webmasters that tells you how Google’s crawlers interact with your website and how often your website is appearing for searches and getting clicked on. It is a very valuable tool, but the most valuable feature it has is its coverage report. This tool will quickly tell you if any pages on your website contain errors that prevent the pages from being indexed properly. It will even tell you the reason why the pages were not indexed so you can quickly fix the cause of the problem. This tool is vital to ensure 100% of your website is being found and indexed properly in Google.

3. Can attorneys manage their site’s technical SEO alone or is it important to hire professional help? 

It is possible for an attorney to handle the technical SEO of his/her website alone, however, this requires a large amount of knowledge about how websites, servers and search engines work and interact with each other. We know these subjects aren’t taught in law school and, realistically, it takes months or even years to acquire and put into practice effectively. And, of course, as with all things related to technology, technical SEO is always evolving. For this reason, we generally recommend that attorneys seek professional help from a qualified SEO agency. The benefit in working with an SEO agency is that there is a team of professionals who are dedicated to your success. By outsourcing this time-intensive task, you can focus on running your firm and let us deliver the leads to you.

4. In vetting agencies, what should law firms look for to make sure they’re hiring the right team?

Checking references is still the best way to determine if a digital marketing agency will be a good fit for you. Never be afraid to ask an agency to give you references for similar law firms they have worked for in the past that can vouch for their work and communication style. Additionally, you should look at the agency’s portfolio of websites to ensure you like the work they have done. 

5. What resources do you use to keep your technical SEO skills sharp? 

There are many places that SEO professionals gather to talk and share information. One of those places is Reddit communities like https://www.reddit.com/r/TechSEO/ and https://www.reddit.com/r/SEO/. There are also discord servers with very active userbases. Slack is another chat program with several great SEO communities such as BigSEO and Online Geniuses

In addition, there are many great websites that are dedicated to sharing news and educational content about SEO such as Moz’s Whiteboard Fridays series, Search Engine Land, and SEO Roundtable. Finally, there are several SEO training courses available online that are regularly updated with new materials such as SEMRush Academy, Yoast SEO Academy, Moz Academy (you may have noticed SEO websites love the word “Academy”), and many others. 

6. Thinking ahead to 2023, any trends you think attorneys should be thinking about? 

The number one thing I tell all of my clients to think about going forward is Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T). Google only wants to show websites to searchers that demonstrate clearly that the person writing the content is an expert in their field. To that end, attorneys should be doing everything they can to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise. This should be done by adding comprehensive biographies for all attorneys (and paralegals and legal assistants that are client-facing), adding author bylines to the bottom of blogs hosted on the firm’s website and externally, adding educational materials to the site, guest posting on other sites, appearing on podcasts, making video content, etc. Time spent on establishing your firm’s professionals as thought leaders in your community will pay off in droves going forward.