Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Search Engine Optimization, or How to catch more eyeballs on a website

Businesses that optimize their websites for search engines place high in organic search engine results. If your firm uses its website to market itself, make effective search engine optimization (SEO) a firm-wide priority.

(Note: Google has ruled the search engine roost for so long that SEO discussions commonly revolve around how sites fare on Google. For the sake of consistency, this article will do the same.)

SEO experts commonly split effective SEO into the two “prongs” of website content and incoming links.

Website content

Your site’s content must catch Google’s attention before it can attract searchers. Use these tips to create SEO-friendly content.

Find valuable keywords

Content on your website must explicitly match the services you offer so that people can find you when they search for those services. Once you know what words you want your site to be found for, you can write those keywords into your content.

Google’s free Keyword Tool gets plaudits from the experts as a great starting point. “Using it takes the blinders off,” says Steve Matthews, Vancouver-based principal of Stem Legal Web Enterprises Inc. It helps lawyers “understand the language that clients and potential clients are using.”

“Think about phrases, not just keywords,” Matthews adds, “keyword combinations, sometimes singular, sometimes plural. Keyword order makes a difference.”

Target your content carefully

Connie Crosby advises firms use keywords to “catch” people further along in the buy-in cycle, after they’ve searched for information and are looking for somebody to help them. “Instead of using generic terms like ‘law firm’ or ‘litigation,’ use a more specific target like ‘product ABC class action,’” says the Toronto-based principal of Crosby Group Consulting.

Jeremy Hessing-Lewis suggests focusing on a sub-practice area such as “[city name] personal injury insurance spinal claims” and loading a site with content related to that sub-practice area. “Identify a limited set of keywords you’re really going to go after,” advises the technical director at Vancouver-based Skunkworks Creative Group Inc.

Use keywords all over your site

Once you figure out the keywords that matter to your firm, list them in spreadsheets and share them with people who write content for your site. Use them in text, title tags, page descriptions, the website description and article headings.

Match pages to search results

“We’re so focused on people coming from the home page into the content that we forget people often go directly into content,” Crosby says. To rectify this, she recommends having “tailored” information on your site. For instance, people who search for “product ABC class action” should land on your page that deals with that class action.

Frequently add content

“Law firms that earn their organic placement do so on the backs of thousands of pages of content on their websites,” Hessing-Lewis says, adding that blogs are popular for helping firms achieve critical masses of content.

While lawyers may seek quick results, they need to remember that blog posts can rise in importance months or years later if, for example, a news event increases interest in the post topic. “You need the back-collection of posts for that to happen,” he says.

Keep your content readable

SEO helps attract clients to your site, but if your site isn’t attractive, all the SEO in the world won’t keep them there. “If the copy is completely oriented towards search engines but not users, they’re off your website in three seconds,” says Matthews.

He recommends making pages scannable. “We try to get lawyers to write in shorter paragraphs, to use bullet lists, that kind of thing.”

Keeping content readable for Google also involves breaking content into single pages that Google can easily digest.

Inbound links

Links that lead to your firm’s site give Google a digital view of the relationships your firm and its lawyers have with people and businesses outside your firm. Generally, the more links that lead to your site, the higher it ranks — with some very important exceptions.

Find incoming links

The Open Site Explorer service lets you enter your URL (you can check your competitors’ URLs too) to learn what links lead to your site.

Link quality matters

Toronto sole practitioner Monica Goyal associates with other professionals at Fleet Street Law. She also blogs for and Law Times. These associations raise her profile online. “Links are best when they come from pillars of society,” says Matthews.

Online directories

Matthews discourages the acquisition of links from online directories. “They matter if the website receives traffic,” Matthews explains, noting the importance of sites such as Avvo or Martindale-Hubbell to U.S. lawyers, but “if you list your firm in a directory for the sake of getting a link back to your website in the hope that that will raise your search rankings, that isn’t nearly as effective as it once was.”

Social media engagement

Matthews underscores the importance of going beyond publishing on social media sites to actually interacting, starting conversations, receiving comments. “Even the mildest engagement, people retweeting, hitting the +1 buttons, Google measures that kind of engagement,” he says.

Earn local links

The Internet knows no borders. “If you spend a lot of time doing SEO, you could be getting anybody” to your website, Goyal says.

Given the local nature of many law practices, “links that come from local organizations are really powerful,” Matthews says, listing examples such as local Rotary chapters or chambers of commerce.

“Google+, of all the big social networks, has the most potential right now,” Matthews continues. “For example, Google is integrating Google Places into Google+ Local. Registered users can go into their ‘Local’ tab and search for services and businesses right in the Google+ interface. “That’s why it will compete with Facebook over the long run.”

Hiring SEO “consultants”

If a consultant promises excellent Google rankings at a reasonable cost, tread carefully. “Google doesn’t disclose its algorithm,” says Hessing-Lewis. “Any SEO consultant you retain essentially resorts to speculation.

“SEO consultants generally run link-building campaigns. They don’t build content on your site because they don’t know much about your practice.”

Matthew warns: “If a web page contains links to insurance services, casinos and your law firm website, Google sees those links. You will be judged by the company that you keep.”

Link-building campaigns also make use of comment spam, where ‘bots visit blogs to post fake comments that include links back to client sites. Crosby administers blogs and notices comments sometimes have links back to law firm websites.

“I wonder if these firms know the people they hire are hurting their reputations by dropping their names randomly all over the web,” she muses.

Online ads

When looking for lawyers, people “don’t care whether they click an ad or an organic result,” says Hessing-Lewis.

That can work to a new lawyer’s advantage. “Many SEO experts advise companies to start with paid Google ads to build traffic,” says Crosby. “As you get better natural search results, you can pull back on paid ads.”

Hessing-Lewis directs clients to Google’s free Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. “It covers everything from descriptive page titles and the metadata on your site all the way down to relevant content that matches what people look for,” he says.

This article originally published in Lawyers Weekly Magazine. For a PDF of the printed article, see below.

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