Special Guest: Jason Marsh
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For most law firms, all business is local. Given the nature of our profession – we’re licensed by the state and expected to completely understand the psyche of judges and jurors where we practice – it’s really no wonder. People want a lawyer that understands their situation, their city, and has had drinks with the judge.
So it’s really not a surprise that, like politics, a law practice really is “local.” So when your prospective clients are looking for an attorney, they’re likely going to be looking for someone in their area. So what’s the best way to make sure that when someone is looking for an attorney online, your name appears?
By maximizing your Local SEO.
How is Local SEO different from regular SEO?
As I discussed with our podcast guest, Jason Marsh, Local SEO isn’t really a wholly separate, distinct element of SEO. However, it’s also not entirely confined within basic SEO. The most accurate way to describe it would be to consider it a bit of a tangential offshoot of SEO, with its own unique attributes.
Regular Search Engine Optimization is “the process of affecting the visibility of a website… in a search engine’s unpaid [or “organic”] results. General SEO strategies combine a knowledge of how search engines work – such as an understanding of the Google Algorithm and what it likes – with what people search for (a.k.a. keywords, key phrases, etc.).
Your general SEO strategy involves making sure your website has the proper code, is easily crawled and indexed by search engines, uses the best keywords for your target audience, and has a strategy for obtaining high-priority backlinks, among other things.
Local SEO, on the other hand, is focused on making sure that a website ranks highly in a particular geographical area. Many of the basic SEO tactics apply, but several additional or unique steps are necessary to make sure that you rank locally.
And make no mistake, ranking locally is important. As more people use mobile devices to search for businesses, the location of the person searching has become very important. A 2014 study indicated that 92% of consumers use the internet to search for local businesses.
Is Local SEO really that important for law firms?
Yeah, you’ve seen the article too, about how people are getting lawyers the same way they did 100 years ago – by recommendations from friends and family. This report has been widely misinterpreted by some as a reason to avoid internet marketing. The validity of the study aside, such a position ignores that less than 14% of people listed “a friend,” and 1.5% listed “family.”
(For whatever reason, 8.9% listed “referral,” and I’m not sure how that’s different.)
However, 9.4% listed “internet search.” That’s right, it was actually the #2 way that people search for a lawyer nowadays. Oh, and to keep up with the strange inconsistency, an additional 5.2% listed “Google.” For those following along, the combined survey results (omitting the “referral” statistic as ambiguous):
- Friend or Family Member – 15.1%
- Google or Internet Search – 14.6%
That’s nearly a dead heat. Oh, and the survey didn’t ask an important follow up: Did you look up the recommendation online after receiving a recommendation from a friend or family member? What did you find?
Ask yourself: If you found a derelict, inaccurate website with generic information, stock photography, and little to no helpful content, would you rely on your friend’s recommendation? My money would be on you starting to look around a bit.
How does Local SEO impact search results?
So you need to make sure your website ranks, but how does Local SEO really show up? As Jason discussed in our previous podcast on digital marketing, Google’s search algorithm is essentially a two-part process.
First, when a search is entered, Google makes a list of all content that is relevant to the search in question. It’s indexed all the web content around the world, and has an idea what is most responsive to certain search queries.
Second, Google ranks the results based on the authority of the websites deemed relevant to the response. Essentially, Google takes what it believes to be relevant content and lists the responses in order of quality. Google’s goal is to make sure the best possible content is at the top – so that people keep using Google to find things.
Local SEO is important to both relevance and authority. Want to appear in a list of responses to the query “Personal Injury Lawyer in Oklahoma City”? Well, Google better know that you’re located in Oklahoma City! Want to be at the top of that list? Make sure Google knows that you’re recognized both locally and globally as a high-quality business.
While nothing will ever guarantee you’ll get the top spot in Google’s rankings (or keep it once you’ve gotten there), there are some simple steps you can take to boost your chances of appearing above your local competitors:
4 Simple Steps to Boost Your Local SEO
1) Modernize Your Website
The truly effective website in today’s market is one that anyone can see and use with ease. Wherever they are, and however they got there. What does that mean? Your website must be modern, mobile-friendly, and responsive.
For those who aren’t aware, Google is already punishing your website if it’s not “mobile-friendly.” So before even thinking of ways to improve your search ranking, make sure you’re not being penalized first.
No worries – Google offers an easy way to know.
Additionally, a modern website includes basic SEO, like making sure that the website is tagged properly, indexable by search engines, has clean URLs, and includes optimized logos and images. Most of these things should be done when the site is set up.
As far as content goes, probably the most important thing you can do is make sure the information on your site is accurate. This is especially true for what is known as NAP – Name, Address, Phone Number. This information needs to be accurate, because it has to match up perfectly with what you’re about to do…
2) Utilize Your Online Business Listings
The second step is both a bit simple and a bit complicated. Simple because it’s not hard to do. Complicated because it can take a while, and involves doing the same thing over and over and over and over… you get it.
First, make sure that you’ve created a profile on Google+ and claimed your business profile on Google+ Local Business. Now it’s time to make sure that your Google listings all contain the correct NAP information – even having slightly different phone numbers listed can result in a penalty. Don’t forget to look up your listing in Google Places.
Next, it’s time to claim your business listing in your important industry-specific listings and directories. This starts, for most law firms, with Google My Business and Facebook Places. From there, claim your profile in Avvo, FindLaw, Lawyers.com, Yelp, and whatever other important industry listings you’re aware of.
This is an ideal time to make sure that the information industry groups (such as your state and local bar associations) and publications have for your law firm matches your website!
Once you’ve claimed and maximized those listings, it’s time to get listed in the more general and hyperlocal business directories (such as YP.com or your local Chamber of Commerce). For that, you can either take the time to claim each site yourself, or you can use a tool like Moz to make sure you’re listings match.
3) Hone in on a Specific Niche
Ok, so this is where you have to put in some work. Advertising for lawyers and law firms is incredibly competitive. A recent survey found that the 7 most expensive keywords to use in a Google AdWords campaign are lawyer or law firm-related. It’s competitive.
For starters, you’re going to need to create content, valuable content that your prospective clients want to read or see. In order to make sure that content has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being seen, you need to make it more competitive.
You have two choices: 1) Pay out the nose for keywords that are lucrative but highly competitive, or 2) find a way to be the big fish in a small pond. If you opt for the first, best of luck! However, if you prefer not spending the Gross Domestic Product of a developing nation just to advertise online, you want to choose the second option.
The best way to reduce your competition is to pick a specific niche. Content that is only general in application is unlikely to rank well. However, if your content is very specific, there will be fewer people competing against you, and any keyword advertising you purchase will be much more specific in scope (and therefore likely to be cheaper, too).
So you need to focus on a specific area and create great content about that specific area. Now, it’s time to make sure people can see it…
4) Promote the Hell out of Your Content!
I mean everywhere. Make sure that you’re sharing quality information on social media, linked back to your website. Using a blog? Make sure that you have quality distribution. Your primary goal in promoting your content is to get other prominent, high-quality local businesses and organizations to link to your website.
Your promotion will likely need to go hand-in-hand with your regular networking. Do you have a referral network already active? Well, write about their businesses/interests and how your law firm served them in the past or addresses a problem they face in the future. Then tell them about the content.
Review local businesses, sponsor a scholarship at a local school, participate in civic and church events. Do all the things you were already doing for networking and community involvement.
Then write about them on your website!
(Writing about local issues and events is also believed to boost your Local SEO.)
One more thing – Client Reviews
Ok, so this is an extra step, but since it’s slightly outside of the system I discussed here, I decided to add it as an extra. Make sure that you have a system in place for allowing (and encouraging) your clients to post testimonials and reviews online – and make sure they comply with any applicable ethical rules.
Even if reviews don’t improve your ranking, Google’s search results are likely to include a visual representation of those reviews. If you don’t think being able to see that your law firm has been reviewed positively will impact a potential client’s decision, I’d ask you to think back to the last time you decided to go to a restaurant but didn’t choose the one with better reviews.
Note: It is believed that online customer reviews don’t carry the same weight with Google that they once did (see podcast interview). However, they’re still considered highly valuable by many sources.