Introduction to SEO for Law Firms

Before we dive in, there are three things you should know about SEO for law firms:

  1. SEO can get complicated
  2. Basic SEO can be a huge benefit to all firms
  3. You don’t have to be an expert to improve a site’s SEO

We know that not everyone reading this SEO guide for attorneys will be ready to hire an agency—and that’s fine.

If you decide to tackle SEO for your firm’s website, this guide is a great place to start. We’ll teach you how to succeed with SEO by learning to strategize like a marketer. SEO is more than just ticking items off a list. It’s about understanding and applying the key principles of SEO.

You can also hire us to do it for you. 

Omnizant helps growth-focused law firms rank higher and generate more leads with efficient, accessible, captivating law firm websites and strategic digital marketing services.

We know we can get your firm results which is why we’re the only legal marketing agency to offer a guarantee with our Advanced plan. The terms are simple: your site will rank in the top 10 results in Google for 10 search phases within three months or you pay nothing more until we deliver top placement.

Go it alone, or go with an agency—just promise you won’t put it off for another year.

What is SEO for attorneys?

SEO encompasses a suite of strategies you can employ to ensure your website is accurately and easily understood by search engines with the goal of increasing your website’s visibility. It sounds simple, but search engine optimization for attorneys cannot be reduced to a generic strategy.

Let’s pause for a moment. Why should you even bother with SEO?

Search engines are often the top source of traffic for law firm websites. SEO for lawyers can make the difference between people finding and retaining YOU or hiring your competitors instead.

You want to connect with specific people, right? These people are looking for you, too.

Well, technically they’re looking for anyone who can help them with their legal problem. You will either appear in the search results for their keywords…or your competitors will.

The percentage of people who click on a link decreases the further down the results page the link appears. Studies show that the top-ranking site on the first page of Google’s results gets 10x more traffic than a site in the 10th spot. And attorney websites below the 10th spot? Expect a click-through rate (CTR) of less than 1%.

SEO can help you or, if it’s something your competitors leverage while you ignore it, SEO can hide you. Optimization is especially important for lead generation in competitive markets. If you do it right, SEO for attorneys can help people choose you before noticing another firm.

Webinar: SEO for Attorneys in 2023
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“Just Google It”

Throughout this guide, you will hear us talk about optimization strategies as they relate to Google’s best practices. It’s important to note that Google isn’t the only search engine, but the internet giant dominates the search market. As of November 2022, a staggering 92.2% of all searches conducted across all search engine providers were performed on Google. Bing takes the second spot capturing just 3% of internet searches.

Considering these numbers, it’s no surprise why “Google it” has become synonymous with “look it up.” It’s also why most SEO experts closely follow Google’s lead when it comes to site optimization — rank well with Google and your law firm will grow, it’s that simple.

Increasing your firm’s visibility on the web is a little like the game Monopoly.

Think of the search engine results page (SERP) as a Monopoly board. There are different types of “properties” you can invest (time and/or money) in: Google Business Profiles, Google Ads, organic search results, etc. The more places you appear in the top results of Google, the better the chance someone will land on your property (your law firm’s website).

The goal of SEO is to help you acquire some of the most highly coveted spots on the board; unlike PPC or LSAs which can be purchased, the top spots of the organic search results have to be earned.

When it comes to earning these top spots, consider the following fundamentals of SEO:

  • SEO for attorneys is a process of optimizing a website so that specific web pages appear to people who search for them.
  • Every law firm requires a slightly different SEO strategy because it has unique goals.
  • Google doesn’t have a straightforward algorithm and SEO isn’t a simple matter of following a standard set of SEO rules.
  • Search engines don’t rank websites, they rank web pages.

While the above principles are important, If there’s one thing you really need to understand, it’s that SEO is a moving target.

Algorithms change. People change. You change and your competitors change. Any good SEO strategy for law firms must adapt to the firm’s specific needs and ongoing changes in digital marketing in order to be effective.

Now, let’s put SEO for attorneys under the microscope.

Meet the SERP: Search Engine Results Page

A SERP is a search engine results page that contains relevant information based on a user’s query. The SERP may include Google Business Profiles, media, featured snippets or URLs that relate to a user’s query. Google picks web pages to appear on the SERP based on the user’s search terms and the quality of the web pages. SERPs change.

*As of December 2022, Google has introduced continuous scrolling for desktop search results. Instead of a single page with 10 URLs, users will now see up to six pages of results before they must click to see more results.

You need to know that Google is obsessed with giving people what they want as quickly as possible. So, Google tries to pack a ton of value into the top of the search results.

Google’s goal is that no one clicks more than once to get what they need.

On the SERP for local legal services, you will notice several different components on the page—all of which you can target with a comprehensive online marketing strategy:

  • Local map pack
  • LSAs
  • Pay-per-click ads
  • Organic results
  • Featured snippets
  • Media

If we go back to the Monopoly analogy, these elements are the properties. In other words, you increase the chances that a potential client will land on your website if your site appears on the SERP in multiple places.

We explain these in more detail later. For now, all you need to know is that the SERP is made up of multiple parts and you can either earn, or buy, placement in them.

But wait! How do search engines decide who to rank and how you appear on the SERP?

Like a smart little baby, Google starts by crawling.

Crawl →  Index → Rank

Crawling is when Google sends robots to explore (crawl) your website to figure out how it’s laid out and what it’s all about. This is a discovery phase.

Indexing is when Google interprets and stores a website’s information for future use. Imagine a big library with shelves of inventory, and every book is a web page that is neatly labeled and categorized. Indexing happens frequently, so that Google always has an accurate and recent snapshot of your website.

Ranking is an active process whereby the algorithm determines which pages are the best response to someone’s query. It’s a dynamic process.

You can make it easier for Google to crawl, index, and rank your website in the SERPs—and that’s called SEO!

Anatomy of a SERP

Is there any way to know what Google actually thinks?

Yes!

Although the Google algorithm changes thousands of times per year, the Google Search Central Blog is the closest thing to a definitive source. This blog clarifies algorithm updates, announces new features, and educates on SEO best practices—and it all comes straight from the Googleplex.

Here are three free tools that can help you figure out what Google really thinks of your website:

If you are feeling overwhelmed by all this information—well, that’s why people hire experts in SEO for lawyers. A good place to start if you’re all by yourself is a content gap analysis of your website.

SEO Is a Moving Target
"The days of SEO being a game outsmarting algorithms are over. Today content strategy and valuable, sustainable strategies are essential, not just tricks and links."
— Adam Audette
What affects SEO for lawyers?

SEO is way more than just adding keywords to your website.

On-site SEO includes optimizations made to your page to make them easier to interpret and understand for both robots and visitors. You mostly control these factors because they take place on your site, not off your site.

Off-site SEO is stuff that happens off-site but still affects your SEO. For instance, earning links back to your site through guest posting and online media placements can increase your firm’s visibility online.

Both are important. You can create a super useful and functional website (on-site SEO), but Google also takes outside opinions (off-site SEO) into account when ranking law firm websites.

Visible vs. invisible SEO

Visible SEO includes audience-facing content on your site, like photos and text. Valuable, relevant, ongoing content is appealing to Google. This is non-negotiable if you want to rank.

Invisible SEO includes back-end web performance like load speed, alt text on photos, accessibility features, and a site map. A developer or agency can help you with technical optimization and improving your core web vitals. Each of these elements affects the user experience.

Both are important. Even if you have the best (visible audience-facing) blog post on the Internet, Google won’t view the page favorably if it takes forever to load (invisible back-end) or cannot be accessed by someone using a mobile device.

Paid vs.Organic (and Local) SEO

Paid search includes pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. These ads appear at the top and bottom of the SERP—yes, paid ads appear before organic results!

Paid advertising is sometimes called SEM (Search Engine Marketing) instead of SEO. With PPC, you create an ad and then bid on your target keywords with the maximum amount you want to pay. You can also choose negative keywords which are terms you specifically do not want to appear for. Your ad appears in the SERPs whenever someone searches for your keyphrase, alongside the other bidders, in order of each pages Ad Rank. Ad Rank is comprised of your bid, the quality of your ad copy and landing page, and other factors. Every time someone clicks on this ad, you pay the minimum bid required to beat the Ad Rank of the bidder below you.

Organic SEO is what you earn, not what you pay for. It includes content creation, link building, and keyword targeting. You can’t earn SEO once—even organically—and then rest on your laurels. Google is always watching. It’s important to continuously publish valuable, relevant content and ensure your site continues to deliver a good user experience.

Local SEO includes the local map pack. Because Google wants to help people find nearby solutions, Google includes on the SERP a list of the three businesses that best match the query and the geographic area. While you can’t change your office’s physical location, you can optimize your Google Business Profile (GBP) to help local searchers find you. This means getting reviews, using keywords on your business profile, and posting updates. Since 46% of all Google searches are seeking local info, this matters. Google does not charge you to claim or optimize your GBP.

Which is better, paid or organic?

These are two different means of getting visibility with the search engines. One strategy uses paid ad placement and one strategy works to organically appear at the top of search results over time.

Both paid and organic SEO can get you big visibility—and you can pursue both at the same time.

Your goals, your capacity, and your budget can help you figure out whether to pursue paid or organic SEO first. The good news is that you can find online success even with a limited marketing budget. Before you dive in, get clear on your objectives and your capacity.

Pros and cons of paid advertising vs. SEO

Paid Advertising Pros

You can get quicker results with paid advertising, if you target the right keywords and you have the budget to beat your competitors. If you’re primarily using your website for referral validation, PPC can be a really effective tactic to ensure your site appears front and center for branded searches.

Paid Advertising Cons

PPC spending never ends! The competitive landscape can change literally overnight. You may have to spend more to keep your ad placement and generate consistent lead flow. PPC is complex, and it’s easy to waste money if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Organic SEO Pros

The ROI is stronger and more predictable with organic SEO tactics. Organic search has a much higher conversion rate than paid ads in this industry. Investing in content marketing has a compounding return over time. It will continue to create value and accumulate authority and backlinks over time.

Organic SEO Cons

Organic SEO can take longer to get results. Investing heavily in SEO is also not the right option for every firm. While organic SEO is great for lead generation for law firms, many firms mainly use their websites for referral validation; for the latter group, investing thousands each month on SEO isn’t a wise decision (though these firms should still consider branded optimization strategies).

What is “good” SEO?

From your perspective as a lawyer or legal professional, you have effective SEO if you appear in the SERP to the people you want to reach. “Good” SEO means that search engines are directing an audience of potntial clients to your website.

But let’s take a step back and think about Google’s position in this arrangement.

Google has its own agenda when it comes to SEO. Google is a for-profit company with a business model that relies on advertising.

The free search tool is also an advertising platform where Google makes money by selling ad space. Attention is currency. Ultimately, good SEO according to Google is when a website delivers relevant, valuable content to readers and in formatted in a ways easily understood by the search engine.

As a user, you can appreciate how awesome it is to find what you need online in a fraction of a second. But Google needs to keep quality high so that people will keep using Google and providing a market for ads. There is nothing altruistic about the Google algorithm. It is mutually beneficial for high-quality content to rank well. Once you understand this, the SEO guidelines make much more sense.

Google’s definition of “good” SEO is deeply tied to its goals as an advertising platform.

In addition to things like valuable content and technical optimization, Google looks to E-E-A-T when identifying good SEO.

E-E-A-T means Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. Experience means the author has been practicing the area of law they are writing about for a considerable amount of time and know a great deal about it. Expertise means credentials and experience, which you can establish with comprehensive content and robust attorney profiles. Authoritativeness is about your reputation among others, which you can improve with guest posts and earned links from reputable sources. Trustworthiness is about transparency, accuracy, and ethical data use. E-E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor but it’s really important according to Google’s quality guidelines.

To put it simply, good SEO means that a website is good for users and good for Google. Another thing worth noting when it comes to Google assessing attorney websites is YMYL. YMYL means your money, your life. Google has extremely high quality standards for web pages that could “potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” Law firms and lawyer websites are YMYL sites.

Powerful Results
J&Y Law, a Los Angeles-based Personal Injury firm, had limited online visibility and received few leads from the web until they retained Omnizant. Working closely with the attorneys, Omnizant created a brand new website and deployed sophisticated SEO strategies to drive client-generation efforts. The J&Y Law site now ranks on the first page of Google for over 80 of the firm’s targeted keywords and they get over 400 leads from their website each month.
Chart showing an increase in phone calls over the course of 6 months from less than 100 to over 200 calls.
View the Case Study

Where can I learn about SEO for free?

It can get lonely trying to educate yourself about the rules of the game, especially if you are managing SEO on your own. But you’re not alone.

Check out these friendly online SEO communities and resources recommended by Eric Warncke, our Director of SEO:

Our blog is a good SEO resource for lawyers, too. We cover a wide range of legal marketing topics like attribution models, call tracking, and how to decide if your law firm needs a podcast.

Ethics and SEO

Lawyers face unique digital marketing challenges that people in other industries do not. For instance, there is no governing body that tells chefs what they can and cannot post online.

Legal professionals are bound by the ethical code of their state bar, which may or may not have strict requirements about digital content. While the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct don’t say much about SEO specifically, there are very clear expectations for lawyer websites that may affect SEO.

First, bar associations require that all information on legal websites should be truthful and not misleading.

Do not make false claims about past successes or experience you do not have. Do not use superlatives or make unsubstantiated claims. This is one of the biggest mistakes we see firms make.

This rule becomes extremely important during keyword research and content generation. If you choose to outsource your content, know that you cannot delegate your ethical obligations as well.

Here’s an example. “Best personal injury attorney in Denver” may be a top query you wish to target. Agencies with no knowledge of the legal field may encourage you to pursue clickbait phrases like this to increase the click-through rate.

Not only is it likely unethical to make an unsubstantiated claim like this one, but superlatives are a huge red flag for the bars.

Second, your bar may have some restrictions related to pay-per-click marketing.

Competitive keyword advertising is tricky territory for lawyers. In some states, you may not bid on your competitors’ names or slogans. A good SEO agency for law firms should be aware of this restriction but you’re ultimately responsible for complying with this rule.

Third, bar associations in some states require firms to submit their websites for review before publication.

Texas and Kentucky are two states that require this step. The submission and review process is even more important when website design has been delegated to an outside agency.

What kind of return on investment should a law firm expect with SEO?

Knowing that some SEO tactics take longer to work than others, and knowing that your firm’s objectives and budget are completely unique, there is no universal answer to this question.

But you should absolutely know what to expect in terms of ROI before you tackle SEO for law firms (alone or with an agency’s help).

Depending on your business goals, you may wish to focus on improving your SERP ranking, click-through rates, traffic, time on page, or bounce rate. You may choose to prioritize short-term lead generation over long-term organic SEO, for example.

To calculate ROI, start by defining the following:

  • What specific metrics do you want to improve?
  • How much improvement do you want to see?
  • When do you want results?
  • How much money are you willing to spend?

To see numbers specific to your firm, try our ROI Calculation Tool:

Calculate Your Firm's ROI

Back

Back

We estimate a budget of ${cost} will deliver {selectedNumClients} clients monthly which represents an ROI of {roi}x or ${earnings}.

  • Number of qualified visitors needed: {qualifiedVisitors}
  • Number of prospective client leads: {prospectiveLeads}
  • Percentage of prospective client leads that become clients: {conversionRateToClients}%
  • Monthly Budget: ${cost2}
  • ROI: {roi2}x

Remember that some SEO agencies can execute better than others. Don’t accept vague  or grandiose promises, and ask to see receipts and reports throughout the process.

At Omnizant, we take ROI very seriously. Ask us about our Advanced Plan that guarantees your website will rank in the top 10 spots on Google for 10 highly competitive search phrases within three months.

Now, there are several areas of ROI that we have no control over. It’s time for some hard truths.

SEO can get people to your site—but that’s only half the battle when it comes to ROI.

If your firm is bad at converting leads to retained clients, then it doesn’t matter how many clicks you get or leads you capture. In addition to SEO, you also need a plan for converting these web visitors to get the highest ROI. A great contact page, helpful blog posts, and good design will help.

Past that first click which takes someone to your website, are you providing clear direction and useful value that encourage a user to take the next step? Is your contact page inviting and straightforward? Is your landing page empathetic and informative?

Sorry, but even a great SEO strategy cannot save a team or website that doesn’t know how to convert visitors into clients.

And finally, Google changes the rules frequently. A good agency will make every effort to stay on top of updates but the algorithm changes can catch even a reputable agency off-guard. If Google moves the goalpost unexpectedly, your ROI may suffer, too.

Ultimately, SEO is a key growth driver for law firms and can deliver high ROI proportionate to the initial investment—but you’ll need a lot more than SEO to attract new business.

Do all law firms need to invest in SEO?

While we could tell you that you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to rank on Google and get clients, that’s simply not true.

Every firm is different. Optimization is helpful for every firm, but the degree to which you need SEO will depend on your goals and where you are in your journey as a business owner.

Lead generation is one compelling reason to consider investing in SEO for attorneys.

If your books are full every year and you have enough capacity to handle lots of incoming clients and speaking gigs, then it makes sense for your firm to invest in more costly SEO tactics that will generate traffic.

But if your law firm primarily uses its website for referral validation, then you need fewer (or rather, different) SEO tactics. You could focus your efforts on optimizing around your attorneys’ names or your firm’s name instead.

SEO is an investment, but it’s not without risk—and the level of investment will vary depending on your firm’s growth objectives.

In some cases, there’s too much competition in a crowded marketplace and your firm just doesn’t have the budget to succeed with SEO.

You could end up with a sub-par SEO agency for lawyers that wastes your money on tactics that don’t deliver.

Depending on your area of law, you may also determine that ranking well doesn’t move the needle on lead generation because your prospective clients don’t leverage this discovery tool during the attorney selection process.

Niche B2B law firms, for instance, may find that the typical SEO strategies do not work for them. These firms tend to attract the bulk of their clients via referrals. Professionals in specialized fields typically belong to networks of peers, and they tap into these networks—not search engines—when they need to hire an attorney. A good example of this is an intellectual property firm looking to connect with big pharma executives who don’t turn to Google to find legal counsel.  With this example, optimizing the site for the attorneys’ names is paramount, ensuring if someone looks for one following a referral, they appear first in the SERPs.

Any agency that tries to sell you a generic SEO package without asking about your business goals is NOT a good fit.

All law firms can benefit from SEO. But we’ll never tell you that you need to do something just because everyone else is doing it. That’s a recipe for failure. Your firm is unique, and your digital marketing strategy should be unique, too.

Can you go it alone or do you need an SEO agency for law firms?

SEO is a beast with many heads. It’s time-intensive, it can be pretty technical, and it’s a comprehensive project better tackled all at once, on every front.

It’s tempting to see how far you can get on your own—but if you only know how to take care of one or two things and leave other SEO elements unattended, you’re unlikely to get the results you’re after. As an attorney, your time is better spent practicing law than learning SEO.

Go it alone, make a mistake, and you could even be penalized by Google. This happens all the time to newbies who tinker around with SEO and don’t know what they’re doing. We respect DIY attempts, but unfortunately, Google is not so friendly or forgiving.

Ultimately, while there are some SEO tactics you can begin to tackle on your own, you will achieve better results by hiring an agency staffed with professionals who are experts in the intricacies and nuances of SEO for law firms.

Unfortunately, we know too many attorneys who have been burned by disreputable SEO agencies.

There are lots of bad actors who employ black hat strategies for SEO. These include tactics like buying reviews, keyword stuffing, and hidden text. While these unethical techniques may temporarily get results, they won’t last. Your website could even be deindexed from the search engine results altogether.

To achieve SEO success, you need to hire not just any agency but the right agency.

How to find a good SEO agency for attorneys

Here are eight questions (and answers you should receive) that can help you sort the wheat from the chaff when interviewing SEO agencies for lawyers.

Question: Does this agency have experience working with legal professionals?
Answer: Yes, this agency has legal marketing experts on staff and a track record of working with law firms.

Question: What will you do to optimize my site?
Answer: A combination of SEO and SEM is available, including ongoing content creation, technical optimization, link earning and paid marketing like PPC which can be useful for short-term lead generation efforts.

Question: Can I see writing samples?
Answer: Yes, this agency has attorneys and legal experts who write content and I can review a portfolio of past projects.

Question: How long will it take to see results?
Answer: PPC can increase visitor volume immediately, whereas it will take several months to rise higher in the SERP rankings. There is a plan for accountability and delivering these results.

Question: Are your sites fully responsive and accessible?
Answer: Yes, this agency knows how to develop a mobile-responsive, ADA-compliant site that meets WCAG guidelines without the use of accessibility overlays or plug-ins.

Question: How will you measure success?
Answer: We are clear on the goals of your firm and which SEO metrics to target in order to meet those goals. We offer regualr reporting on these metrics and meetings to adjust our plan over time and as the needs ot the firm evolve.

Question: How much will it cost?
Answer: Depending on your goals and how competitive the market is, costs between $1,000 and $10,000 per month are reasonable for an SEO campaign.

Question: What will happen to my ranking if I stop using your services?
Answer: Your ranking should not drop significantly in the short-term. If your package includes content creation and you stop publishing new content, you may notice a decrease in rank.

SEO FAQs: Six most common questions about SEO for attorneys

1. Do I need to redesign my website to do SEO?
That depends. Is your website performing well by Google’s standards? Web performance is a key determinant in SEO. No amount of content or advertising can save a poorly performing website. You will definitely get better results by building a legal website from scratch that incorporates SEO principles from the beginning.

2. How much should I pay for SEO?
There is undoubtedly a range here. SEO is time intensive, so beware of prices that are too low. On average, expect to pay a minimum of $1,000 per month and up to $10,000 or more if you want to cast a wide net in a competitive space. Expect to pay top dollar for SEO in competitive geographic markets, competitive practice areas, or multiple areas.

If you can handle some of the content creation, you may pay less. We generally don’t recommend this approach because most attorneys don’t have time and content gets relegated to the backburner.

If your site must be completely redesigned or remediated, expect to spend more.

3. How long should it take for my law firm’s website to appear on the first page of the results?
On average, we say it takes a minimum of 3-6 months to see organic results on the first page of the SERPs. PPC can help you show up faster in the ads section.

If you’re quoted immediate results, beware. You might be vetting a provider using black-hat strategies.

4. Do I just have to do SEO until my website gets on the first page? Or is it ongoing?
Google’s ranking algorithms are always changing so SEO is never one-and-done. Adding regular content is key to success, and so, too, is preserving your firm’s performance. If you’re working with a reputable SEO agency, they will continue to help you establish new goals and work toward earning your top ranking with ongoing campaigns.

5. My site ranks well, but I don’t get a lot of leads. Can SEO help?
SEO helps get traffic to your site but it can’t drive conversions. If you’re noticing that you are not getting new business from a website that performs well, there might be other things to blame.

6. Can a small firm compete with a larger firm?
Yes! On the one hand, larger firms often have more website pages and more content. They have more professionals, more areas of practice, and more thought leadership. They also tend to have more external links with an established online presence. But smaller firms can and do go toe-to-toe and win with larger firms.