SEO for Law Firms: The Complete Guide

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Legal Services SEO

Find out everything you need to know about law firm SEO.

This guide is designed for lawyers and practice managers who want to improve their law firm’s SEO.  As you read on, you’ll learn things like:

  • What SEO is
  • Why it’s important for Australian law firms
  • How the different aspects of SEO work
  • How you can get started with SEO yourself

SEO is a very complex topic, so this article is longer than our normal write-ups – use the quick navigation menu below to easily find the information you’re looking for.

What is Law Firm SEO?

Law firm search engine optimisation (SEO) isn’t radically different from SEO for other industries.  It’s the process of getting your website to appear higher on search engines like Google and Bing.

We do, however, need to add three clarifications to that definition.

  1. SEO is organic. In other words, you don’t pay Google or other search engines for a higher ranking (unlike Google Ads).
  2. SEO must be attached to marketing outcomes. In other words, you need to appear for search terms that may lead to new clients.
  3. Law firm SEO involves tactics and combinations of tactics unique to the legal industry.

Put simply, law firm SEO is a way for law firms to get found by more prospects – which leads to more clients and more revenue.

A Quick Glossary of Terms

If you’re a practice manager or partner, you’ve probably read up on law firm marketing in the past, and you’ve likely come across references to SEO.

The thing that puts most practitioners off learning more?  The complex jargon used in search optimisation.  Like ‘legalese’, SEO terminology can be confusing to newcomers, acting as a barrier to getting your SEO efforts up and running.

So, before we examine exactly how you can improve your website, we’ll cover a few of the most common SEO terms.

Keywords

Keywords: Words or phrases that people type into search engines to get results.  Also known as ‘search terms’.

Long-tail Keywords: Keywords with low search volumes.  So called because they lie at the ‘long tail’ (low search volume, high keyword numbers) of the search demand curve.

Head Keywords: Keywords with very high search volumes.  Often one or two words. So called because they lie at the ‘head’ (high search volume, low keyword numbers) of the search demand curve.

Search Volume: The number of times a keyword is searched, normally over the course of a month.

Keyword Research: The process of identifying keywords that hold commercial value for a business.  Often accomplished with the help of SEO tools.

seo keyword terminology

Search Results

Search Engine: Software that searches the Internet for information in response to user-input queries.  The top three search engines are Google (91.9% market share), Bing (2.88%), and Yahoo! (1.51%).

SERPs: An initialism that stands for ‘Search Engine Result Pages’.  SERPs are the pages of results returned when you research a query in Google or another search engine.

SERP Features: Refers to non-standard search results, which, for Google, includes featured snippets, People Also Ask, and local packs.

Crawling: The process of a search engine requesting and analysing a web page.  Crawling allows search engines to discover new content.

Indexing: Once a web page is crawled, it can be added to the search engine’s index, which allows users to then find that page using the search engine.

Ranking: Once a web page is indexed, it may or may not appear in the SERPs for certain keywords.  If it does appear, it has ‘ranked’ for the that keyword.

Organic Results: Organic results are any web pages that a search engine naturally serves to a user in response to a search.  They are the opposite of paid results.

Paid Results: Paid results are web pages that ‘jump the queue’ by paying Google, Microsoft, and other search providers a fee to appear for certain keywords or searches.  Google Ads and Bing Ads are two services that allow businesses to do this.

Web Pages

Backlinks: Backlinks, external links, or outbound links are hyperlinks from one website to another website.

Internal Links: Internal links are hyperlinks that point from one web page to another web page on the same website.

Keyword Density: Keyword density refers to the frequency of a keyword occurring in a text relative to the total number of words in that text.

Copy: Copy refers to any type of writing where the primary goal of the writing is to get the reader to take an action of some kind.  Words on websites are normally classed as copy.

Content: Content is video, image, text, or audio that appears on a web page.  Often, content is differentiated from copy by its primary goal, which is to inform, entertain, or inspire.

Technical SEO: Technical SEO is a component of SEO that refers to the process of optimising the technical elements of a website for search engines.  These technical elements include site speed and site structure.

On-page SEO: On-page SEO is a component of SEO that refers to the process of optimising the elements on a specific web page for search engines.  This can include adding keywords to copy and adding internal and external links.

How Law Firm SEO Works

Now we know the basics of SEO terminology, let’s explore the general process of search engine optimisation.

Step 1: Marketing Strategy

The most important part of SEO is the role it plays in your marketing strategy.

If you work for a specialist tax law firm that relies on an account-based marketing strategy, SEO might be a relatively minor consideration.  For a general practice firm with large family and injury law departments, though, SEO might be the best way to reach your most valuable target markets.

So, before you start looking at specific SEO techniques, put together a marketing strategy for your firm and work out what role SEO will play.

Step 2: SEO Strategy

Big picture, small picture. That’s how all marketing should be approached. Start by developing the strategy, then work out which tactics you can use to deliver it.

An SEO strategy should cover roughly the same ground as a law firm marketing strategy.  This includes:

  • Client personas
  • Competitors
  • Current situation
  • Execution
  • Expenditure
  • Outcomes
  • Action plan

Step 3: Implementation

This is where most of the work gets done.  Implementing an SEO strategy will involve:

  • Keyword research
  • Content creation
  • Technical optimisation
  • Backlink building and outreach

It’s important to understand that SEO is an ongoing long-term investment, not a short-term fix that will deliver a flood of clients.  Typically, you won’t start to see significant results for six to 12 months, and you’ll need to keep building and optimising even after that time period.

Like all marketing, SEO is not something that you can ‘do’ and then leave – it requires constant attention and resource input.

Step 4: Review

Once you’ve begun implementing your SEO strategy, it’s important to regularly assess your progress.  Although financially significant results might take months to appear, you should see some minor gains in traffic in a matter of weeks, especially if you haven’t previously invested much in SEO.  We’ll talk more about KPIs and performance metrics later in the article – just keep in mind that an SEO strategy should never be approached with a ‘set-and-forget’ attitude.

Marketing advice for law firms, direct to your inbox.

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Why SEO is Important for Lawyers

SEO is important because it’s one of six ways you can reach new clients.  The others include:

  • Podcasting
  • Paid advertising
  • Word of mouth
  • Organic social media
  • Third-party coverage

Unlike many of those options, SEO is also scalable and cost-effective.  Let’s break down what those two terms mean.

Reaching new clients through organic search is based on how well a web page matches one or more keywords.  It doesn’t matter whether those keywords have five searches a month or 5,000 – as long as your web page is the best ‘answer’ for a keyword, it will reach searchers.  Compare this to, say, organic social media, where reaching new people becomes exponentially harder the larger you get.

Similarly, the cost of SEO is based on content creation, not people reached.  Google Ads and other types of PPC advertising, by contrast, charge a certain amount per individual click – you’re literally paying for every visitor to your website, which can be very expensive.

SEO is a way for smart, skilled firms to punch well above their budget, especially in competitive verticals where advertising is prohibitively expensive.

It’s also important to understand the role search engines play in clients finding your firm.  Clio’s 2019 Legal Trends Report produced the following data:

CLIO legal trends graph

Immediately, we can see that 17% of potential clients use search engines to find lawyers.  Looking closer, though, ‘lawyer’s website’ and ‘lawyer blogs’ account for 17% and 7% respectively – both very likely to be found through organic search.

As such, organic search (around 41% of clients) is the most popular way, after referrals (45%), for clients to find law firms.

This is corroborated by research from Martindale-Avvo, which found that 43% of consumers used Google as part of their process for hiring a lawyer.

We also know that leads generated by organic search convert to paying clients better than leads from other channels – according to Ruler Analytics, organic search for lawyers has an average conversion rate of 4.2%, compared to paid social at 2.3%, paid search at 1.8%, and organic social at 1.6%.

Is SEO better than word of mouth or referrals?  No – but it’s still extremely effective, and gives law firms an active, measurable way to reach potential clients.  It’s also more cost-effective and scalable than other types of marketing, and tends to convert better.

In short, the statistics indicate that SEO should almost certainly be part of any law firm’s marketing strategy.  Unless there’s a good strategic reason for your firm not to pursue SEO, it’s time to think about putting together an SEO plan.

Where SEO Fits Into Your Marketing Strategy

Earlier in the article, we discussed how a marketing strategy has to come before any kind of SEO work.  That’s because you need to work out things like:

  • How does SEO help us reach our ideal clients?
  • Does SEO support our firm’s quarterly goals?
  • What type of budget will our SEO have?
  • Are our firm’s decision-makers on board with SEO as a viable marketing concept?
  • How does SEO tie into our other distribution channels?

Developing a marketing strategy is an extremely complex exercise, but there are a few considerations that may help guide your process:

  • If around X% of clients find law firms through SEO, consider allocating around X% of your marketing budget to SEO.
  • Think about your clients – just as individuals are more likely to search for lawyers than businesses, so too are broader practice areas typically going to benefit more from SEO than narrower, more specialised areas. Adjust your focus and budget accordingly.
  • If you’re having trouble swaying decision-makers, try selling a pilot project, where you test-run SEO for a specific practice area rather than the whole firm. Once you come back with positive results in six months, pitching full-firm SEO will be easier.
  • Understand that SEO will not, by itself, result in more revenue. You need to have a conversion-optimised website, a good sales and onboarding process, and good client retention mechanisms.  Most importantly, your services and pricing need to be properly aligned – no amount of marketing can offset the financial havoc wreaked by incorrectly valued services.

The caveat to all of the above is, of course, that every law firm is different, and every strategy must be developed in response to individual firm circumstances.  If you’re not confident about developing a legal practice marketing strategy, consider using a consultant or marketing firm.

Local SEO for Law Firms

Most lawyers don’t have globe-spanning practices.  In fact, the majority of Australian firms work within a single city or region, partly due to legislative differences across jurisdictions.  That means we can classify many law firms as geographically restricted businesses (although it’s worth noting that hybrid work tools may slowly be changing that).

For the time being, though, a Gold Coast Wills and estates practice isn’t competing with a succession planning firm from Adelaide.  As such, law firms need to invest heavily in ‘local SEO’.  Local SEO is a specific type of SEO that involves optimising for queries targeted at a certain area – think of searches like ‘best restaurants gold coast’ or ‘brisbane plumber’.  These searches are designed to match you, the searcher, with a suitable product or service in your local area.

In a legal context, these searches might be things like ‘family lawyer gold coast’ or ‘best queensland ip lawyer’.

Although the examples we’ve given so far all have a set format of ‘[product/service] [location]’, not every local search looks the same.  ‘[product/service] near me’ queries are also a type of local search.  Google interprets these queries by displaying relevant results based on your IP address – the ‘near me’ part of the search is interpreted as ‘near my current IP location’.

Interestingly, Google also interprets some head terms as local searches.  Type ‘plumber’, ‘mechanic’, or even ‘ip lawyer’ into Google, and you won’t see Wikipedia or other informative websites – instead, you’ll get SERPs filled with businesses who offer those services near your current IP address.

By now, the importance of local SEO for law firms should be clear.  Most consumers will conduct a local search for a law firm, even if it’s not intentional – Google will automatically serve them local results, because it understands that those results are what they want.  To reach those consumers via organic search, your firm needs to have good local SEO.

The Three Local SEO Factors

Google itself has stated that local results are determined by three factors:

  • How well does a Google Business Profile match the intent of a search?
  • How far is the business from the searcher?
  • How well known is the business in relation to competitors?

For example, if a person searched for ‘family lawyer near me’, Google might rank a family law practice located 10 kilometres away above a full-service firm located two kilometres away – the relevance to the searcher’s query might trump the proximity of the businesses.  By contrast, if that full-service firm had good SEO and the family law practice had virtually no online presence, the prominence of the first business might lead to Google ranking it higher.

Local SEO Elements

There are several key elements in local SEO for Google.  Let’s take a quick look at each one.

  • Location-based keywords. These are the ‘[product/service] [location]’ keywords – keywords that contain a reference to the target locality.  An example is ‘gold coast commercial lawyers’.
  • The Local Pack. The Local Pack, also known as the Three-Pack, is a type of SERP feature that appears after paid search ads but before any organic results.  It’s a Google Map of the locality accompanied by the Google Business Profiles of the top three most relevant local businesses.
    local pack of family law firms
    The Local Pack for ‘gold coast family lawyer’.
  • The Local Finder. If you click on ‘More Businesses’ in the Local Pack, you’ll get taken to the Local Finder, which is an extended version of the Pack with a full-screen map and a complete list of local businesses.
    local finder for family law firms
    The Local Finder results for Gold Coast family lawyers.
  • Google Maps. Finally, if you click through to Google Maps from a local search, you’ll see a map that looks similar to the Local Finder.  The results may be slightly different, though, and there may also be ads running up the top of the left-hand column.
    Google Maps for Gold Coast family lawyers
    The Google Maps results for Gold Coast family lawyers.

Local SEO Tips for Law Firms

Here are a few easy tips to help you get started with local SEO.

  • Claim or create your Google Business Profile (GBP). Your GBP is the information panel that appears to the right of search results when someone Googles your business.  It’s also the information Google uses for the Local Pack, the Local Finder, and Google Maps.  If there’s an existing GBP listing for your firm, make sure you have access to it (if you don’t have access, you may be able to claim it).  If you don’t currently have a GBP listing, you can create one here.
    davies collison cave Google Business Profile
    The Google Business Profile for Davies Collison Cave.
  • Add relevant keywords to your business profile. Make sure you only do this in a natural way – Google’s 2021 Vicinity update has turned GBP keyword stuffing (placing an abnormally high number of keywords in text) into a tactic that’s bad for your SEO.
  • Get five-star reviews, and lots of them. Google has stated that “more reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’s local ranking”.  Many third-party studies have confirmed this – BrightLocal estimates reviews comprise around 17% of Local Pack ranking factors and 5% of local organic search ranking factors.
  • Make sure your business information (known as ‘NAP data’) is correct across your GBP, website, social media, and other online platforms. Having different opening hours, contact details, business names, or locations can confuse Google.
  • Create landing pages on your website that target specific locations by using local keywords. For example, you might target ‘brisbane criminal lawyers’ by creating a landing page written around that keyword, as Hannay Lawyers has done, or ‘family lawyer sunshine coast’, as Alex Mandry has done.
  • Get backlinks to your landing page from third-party websites. These links can be from online business directories, or, if you’re able, from media websites and local news outlets.

It’s worth noting that every tactic mentioned above needs to be implemented correctly.  All have nuances, and all are dependent on your website having generally good SEO.  With solid implementation and consistent work, though, your firm’s website should be well on the way to local SEO success.

Law Firm SEO Content

There are two main types of content that will affect your website’s SEO: pages and blog posts.

In an SEO context, a page is any web page that is static and timeless – it’s a fixture of your website, and probably won’t be updated regularly.  A blog post often contains news and other time-relevant content, and isn’t essential for your website.

We can also separate the two by intent.  A page is designed to get users to take a certain action (for law firms, this action is normally filling out a contact form or booking an appointment).  A blog post, by contrast, is designed to educate, entertain, or inspire – any action is a secondary consequence of that primary goal.

Obviously, there are plenty of exceptions to those definitions, but they provide a necessary separation between pages and blog posts.  Both types of content differ radically in aim and execution, so it’s important to understand that they are not the same thing.

On-page SEO

We already know what on-page SEO is – it’s a component of SEO that refers to the process of optimising the elements on a specific web page for search engines.  In plain English, it involves making a single web page more appealing to Google.  It doesn’t really have site-wide effects like technical SEO or backlink building.

There are several broad tactics you can use for on-page SEO, regardless of whether you’re creating a page or a blog post.

  • Include relevant keywords throughout the page – your target keyword, as well as any synonyms or semantic keywords (keywords that are conceptually related to the target keyword). Ideally, you should write naturally, with an ideal frequency of about one keyword/synonym per 200 words.  Having too many keywords in text is considered by Google to be unnatural ‘keyword stuffing’, which can lead to your page being penalised.
  • Use keyword-rich headings. Headings help Google (and users) understand the topics you cover more easily, and keywords used in headings carry more SEO weight than keywords used in body text.
  • Add alt text to images. Alt text (alternate text) conveys the content of an image for people using screen readers, but it can also help give more context to search engines.
  • Use internal and outbound links. Linking to other related pages on your website helps users, and makes it easier for Google to understand the content of your page within the broader, topical context of your site.  Similarly, linking to relevant pages on other websites can help Google understand your content more clearly.  Don’t link to websites competing for the same keywords as you.
  • Make sure your URLs are short, keyword-rich, and reflective of your page/post’s content. You can edit URLs easily in CMSs like WordPress.
  • Include keywords in your title tag and meta description. These are the titles and descriptions that appear for your page/post when it appears in the SERPs (although, be warned – recent updates mean Google will sometimes rewrite them).  You can edit both using the plugins and in-built tools of CMSs like WordPress.

Don’t expect to be able to perfectly execute each of the above without a lot of practice.  Writing keyword-rich text that still sounds natural is particularly challenging, and requires good keyword research skills.  You can, however, use each tactic as a starting point for DIY optimisation or as a basic checklist when you’re looking for SEO agencies/consultants.

Keyword Research for Pages vs. Blog Posts

If you’ve done any kind of research into SEO before reading this article, you’ll probably have come across references to ‘keyword research’.  Keyword research is the process of identifying which keywords hold commercial value for your law firm.

Ahrefs keyword research
An example of keyword research being conducted in SEO tool Ahrefs.

When researching keywords to target with pages or blog posts, you need to think about:

  • How many searches the keyword gets per month
  • How many of those searches result in clicks through to websites
  • The level of competition for that keyword from other law firms
  • The intent of the keyword – are people just looking for information, or are they looking for a lawyer?

To learn more about the specifics of conducting keyword research, read this blog by Backlinko.

Keep in mind that, generally, your pages should target keywords that indicate the searchers are looking for a lawyer.  These are searches like ‘family lawyer sydney’ (where the searcher is clearly trying to find a family lawyer in Sydney).  They’re generally very competitive keywords because they have clear commercial value – if someone clicks through to your site after searching for a keyword like that, they’re likely to contact you.

Informational keywords, on the other hand, are people who aren’t ready for a lawyer – or who perhaps aren’t looking for a lawyer at all.  For example, ‘how to become a family lawyer in Australia’ gets around 50 searches a month, but the searchers are clearly up-and-coming lawyers, not prospective clients.

Although informational keywords may not lead directly to conversions, they’re still an important part of your SEO strategy.  Providing potential clients with answers while they’re information-gathering helps build brand awareness and can move them further down your marketing funnel, leading to conversions at a later date.

Informational keywords are also an invaluable way to build topical authority.  Topical authority is the extent to which a website is considered ‘knowledgeable’ about a particular topic by Google; the more content you have covering that topic, the more Google views you as an expert in that area.  Because Google wants to serve up websites that answer searchers’ intent, sites with higher topical authority for a given keyword are likely to be ranked higher.

This, in turn, means building pages and posts around informational keywords can help build topical authority, which benefits your whole website, not just those particular pages.  An example: ‘family law courts system’ isn’t a commercially oriented keyword and has a low monthly search volume, but a blog post doing a deep dive into that topic could benefit a family law firm’s topical authority.

So what’s better: pages or blog posts?

Generally, pages work better for commercially valuable keywords.  Blog posts are better suited to the longer, research-focused nature of informational keywords.  There are exceptions to both, of course, but that should help you decide on whether a keyword should be targeted via a page or a post.

Comprehensive Content: A Note

When you create blog posts targeting a keyword, make sure you cover your topic comprehensively.  From an SEO perspective, this is important for a few reasons.

Firstly, comprehensive content naturally includes more instances of your target keyword, synonyms, and semantic keywords.  If you’re writing about a topic in its entirety, you won’t have to go back and artificially add in keywords, which is helpful if you or your lawyers aren’t fully confident in your SEO abilities.

Secondly, Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines specifically state that comprehensive content is good if the content in question is informational (versus artistic content or news content).  The guidelines are designed for search quality raters – humans who act as a check for Google’s algorithm.  Raters around the world evaluate the quality of web pages, and Google uses that information to refine how its search algorithm works.  Although ratings don’t affect specific pages or websites, they do feed into how the algorithm works – in other words, because the guidelines state that comprehensive content is ideal, Google’s algorithm will favour that type of content.

Thirdly, comprehensive content can be more helpful for your readers, which leads to better user experience metrics (we’ll discuss these in a minute).

So, although content doesn’t need to be a certain length for SEO, it should cover a topic comprehensively.     

Good Website Experiences

Most lawyers think about SEO as a machine-driven process – and that’s understandable.  We talk a lot about algorithms, search engines, and ‘feeding Google’.

At its core, though, SEO is about humans.  Google and other search engines aim to serve content that their users find helpful, and every SEO tactic – from local optimisation to keyword insertion – is based around helping people find the best information possible.

Over the past few years, Google has increasingly prioritised user experience (UX) as ranking factor.  Websites that are hard to use, slow, or unhelpful are ranked less favourably than sites that are fast, intuitive, and interesting.

This is manifested by the Core Web Vitals (CWVs), a set of usability metrics that impact SEO.  Although relevance (i.e. how well your web page’s content matches the searcher’s query) is still the most important SEO factor, better CWVs can help you get an edge over competitor sites.

Cooper Grace Ward core web vitals
An example of a law firm failing its CWV assessment in testing tool PageSpeed Insights.

Technically, the CWVs fall under technical SEO (which we’ll talk about in the next section), but it can be helpful to view them as experience-based metrics.  The CWVs are measured based on real user experiences, not automated diagnostic tests – Google actually aggregates real-world data from your website for the CWVs.There are four CWVs:

  • First Contentful Paint (how long does the first visible element from your page take to appear on the screen?)
  • Largest Contentful Paint (how long does the largest visible element from your page take to appear on the screen?)
  • First Input Delay (what is the delay between a user clicking on something and the browser responding to that interaction?)
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (how much does your page move around during and after loading?)

We won’t go into exactly what these are or how to optimise for them (it’s very technically complex).  Basically, all four focus on real-world loading speed and stability – the faster and simpler your pages are, the better their CWVs will be.

Two other experience-based SEO factors are dwell time (how long users spend on your page) and bounce rate (what percentage of users leave your site without visiting other pages).  Although a low dwell time and high bounce rate aren’t necessarily bad – after all, your page might answer a query succinctly – Google may take both into account, as they can indicate that your page doesn’t effectively answer queries.

You can encourage people to stay on your website longer by making your web design interesting but still easy to read/use, as well as actually answering the queries people have.  Think about your own search experiences.  If a web page doesn’t give you the information you’re looking for, you’ll hit ‘back’ and look at other sites.  Users searching for law firm-related queries aren’t any different.

Technical SEO for Law Firms

Although you should normally focus on on-page SEO, technical SEO shouldn’t be neglected.  Poor technical SEO can cripple the best content strategy.

Technical SEO helps search engines crawl and index your website’s pages.  Let’s break that statement down.

Google becomes aware of your web pages via ‘crawling’.  This is a process involving Googlebot Desktop and Googlebot Smartphone, two bots that access your site as desktop and smartphone users respectively.  Google generally finds a page to crawl when:

  • Googlebot follows a link from a previously known page to the new page
  • The site owner submits the new page to Google
  • The website’s host submits the new page to Google

So, once Googlebot has discovered a page through any of the three above methods, it visits or ‘crawls’ that page.  This involves Googlebot loading the page as either a desktop or smartphone user and seeing what the page looks like.

If Googlebot can understand the page content, it will then add the page to its index of web pages, which means the page may appear in search results.

Google Search Console indexing
When inspecting a URL in Google Search Console, the Coverage box should read ‘indexed’ – other results include ‘discovered’ and ‘crawled’.

While that process might seem straightforward, there are many complicated concepts that go into technical SEO.  Here are some places where many law firms run into technical SEO problems:

  • Not redirecting pages that have changed URLs with a 301 redirect
  • Having duplicate content (two pages that are fundamentally the same), which confuses Google
  • Blocking crawling or indexing by having a misconfigured robots.txt file
  • Having pages with very little content
  • Rendering content in Javascript

There are plenty of other reasons your site might not get crawled or indexed (including being penalised by Google for bad behaviours), but those are some of the most obvious issues.  As practice manager or lawyer, you should be able to avoid most issues by:

  • Building your site on a popular CMS like WordPress, Squarespace or Wix
  • Choosing a popular, well-built theme
  • Submitting your pages manually to Google Search Console using the GSC Inspect tool
  • Using a plugin/app that automatically sets up redirects when you delete or move pages
  • Not having pages that are almost identical
  • Not having pages with almost no content

You can see whether a page has been crawled and indexed by checking the URL with Google Search Console’s Inspect tool.  If you’ve followed the above steps and your page still isn’t indexed after a month or so, consider contacting a technical SEO specialist for help diagnosing and fixing the problem.

Backlink outreach is the process of getting other websites to hyperlink to your page.  It’s also known as ‘link building’.

External links matter because Google views them as votes of trust.  Often, people will link to your site because you’re a credible ‘reference’ for whatever they’re writing about.

From an SEO perspective, there are three main considerations that affect how beneficial a link to a page is:

  • The website providing the hyperlink
  • The anchor text (the text that the hyperlink displays, which is often blue and underlined)
  • The type of link

We’ll go over each of those points briefly.

The quality of the website linking to you is the most important.  Google doesn’t view all websites as equal.  In fact, most SEO tools use a ranking metric to grade websites – Moz’s Domain Authority and Ahrefs’ Domain Rating are two good examples.  Although these metrics definitely aren’t official, they can give you an idea of how much ‘weight’ a certain website has.

Links from spammy, low-grade sites probably won’t help your SEO – Google often ignores spammy links, and, in certain circumstances, may even penalise the recipients of those links.  Similarly, high-quality sites with lots of links aren’t particularly helpful either (think Facebook, LinkedIn, or link directories).

On the other hand, links from .edu or .gov sites are considered highly reputable, and may significantly help your SEO.  Other good sources of links include in industry blogs and from news sites.

Clayton Utz high DA backlink
Clayton Utz’s coverage of a topical acquisition resulted in its article earning 28 dofollow backlinks.

The anchor text and the words around the hyperlink are also important.  Google uses this text to provide context for the hyperlink, so words related to your page’s subject matter are best.  If you had a page about divorce law in Queensland, having anchor text that read ‘best divorce lawyers in Queensland’ would be better than ‘click here’.  It’s worth noting that the anchor text should still read naturally.

the conversation anchor text
An example of anchor text on The Conversation’s website.

Finally, the third consideration is the type of link.  Broadly speaking, links are either follow or nofollow links (there are other types, such as sponsored and ugc links, but they won’t be relevant for many law firms).  As a user, you won’t be able to see the difference between follows and nofollows, but, in the page’s code, a nofollow has code that tells Google that you don’t want to be associated with the linked site.

While there are plenty of use cases for nofollow links, the takeaway is that a nofollow link isn’t really helpful for SEO.  Google won’t consider a nofollow link a vote of trust.

nofollow Wikipedia link
Wikipedia’s citations are nofollow links, which means MinterEllison’s site isn’t getting PageRank from the highlighted link.

With a basic understanding of backlinks now in mind, let’s explore a few ways to get more backlinks.  In essence, all backlink building strategies come down to creating good content and telling people about it – think about it as digital PR, where the end goal is to get other websites to link to yours.

That means the first step is, typically, creating content worth linking to.  This might be a helpful resource, an informative blog, or an interesting breakdown of a recent case.

Once your content is published on your site, you’ll need to tell other people about it – ideally, people in your industry.  You can get started by sharing the content on your social media and to your email list.

For newsworthy items, reach out to journalists at legal news sites like Lawyers Weekly, and give them a reason to publish a story on it.  If you’re lucky enough to be working for a top-tier firm, most of what you do will be newsworthy; smaller firms will need to find a good angle to sell.

You can also reach out to sites whose audiences could benefit from your content.  Explain the value of your content and propose a place for them to link to your site.  Keep in mind that most webmasters receive dozens, if not hundreds, of link-building requests each week, so you really need to find a way to stand out.  You can read more about specific tactics here.

Guest blogging – writing articles that get posted on other sites – can be a good alternative to articles posted on your own site.  Because those websites get a whole, free article out of it, they’re normally quite happy to link back to your site, which can make guest posting one of the easier link-building strategies.  The Australian legal community is also fairly tight-knit, so use your connections to your advantage – if you know people at publications like The Law Society Journal, do your best to get an article approved.

Backlink building is difficult, so taking shortcuts – like paying someone to link to your site – can seem like a good idea.  Unfortunately, any attempt to artificially cultivate backlinks is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (the Google-codified best practices for SEO).

Avoid doing any of the following:

  • Buying or selling backlinks (this includes non-monetary transactions, like free or discounted services)
  • Backlink exchanges (linking to another website in return for a backlink from them)
  • Posting blogs, press releases, or other content on other sites with keyword-rich anchor text (for example, a press release you organised that linked back to your site with the anchor text ‘best Melbourne lawyers’)
  • Forum comments with unnatural backlinks to your site
  • Text advertisements with follow backlinks

If you do get caught manipulating backlink placement, Google may issue your site with a manual penalty that will negatively affect your SEO.  Manual penalties are very difficult to recover from and should be avoided at all costs, so make sure any contractors you employ stick to the Webmaster Guidelines.

Getting Started With SEO

Now you’ve read this article, you have a solid foundation for starting your law firm’s SEO.  Unfortunately, understanding the basics of SEO and mastering its application aren’t the same thing.

So, before you read further, understand that the easiest way to move forward is to hire and retain an experienced SEO agency or consultant.  While you can certainly work towards learning SEO yourself, it will be much easier and more efficient to simply pay a vendor, rather than spending months learning code and setting up test sites.

If you do decide to hire external help, be warned: finding a reputable agency or consultant can be difficult.  Here a few considerations when screening potential contractors:

  • Google the services they offer using the ‘[service][location]’ formula. Are they showing up for highly competitive keywords like ‘seo gold coast’?  This is an indication of their skill relative to other SEOs.  Keep in mind that SEO-focused firms will generally show up higher for keywords like this than general marketing firms, and that older firms will generally show up higher than younger firms.
  • What’s their website and content look like? Would you be happy having that same quality of content on your site?  Remember, ranking well on Google doesn’t necessarily mean that their website is optimised for clients.  SEO isn’t the only marketing channel you need to worry about – maintaining brand credibility is also important.
  • Do they make promises like “guaranteed rankings in six months or your money back”? While these promises normally aren’t deliberately deceptive, they are misleading – reputable SEOs rarely guarantee anything they can’t control.  Often, these promises have caveats that will see your website ranking for irrelevant or low traffic keywords.
  • Choose an SEO that matches your needs. You don’t need an expensive technical SEO specialist if you only have a handful of pages on your site.
  • Do they have case studies? While clients often aren’t willing to share internal data, case studies are a good way of seeing the starting point, problem, and solutions, rather than just out-of-context results.
  • If they promise backlinks, avoid them. Link-building schemes are banned by Google and will probably result in your website being penalised.

You should also temper your expectations when hiring SEO experts.

  • SEO isn’t a set-and-forget process. It requires ongoing investment; competitive law verticals like family law generally require six to 12 months for meaningful results.  Don’t fire your SEO because the page they wrote isn’t generating leads a few weeks after it was uploaded.
  • You get what you pay for. Expect to spend between $50 and $90 an hour for SEO experts who work with SMEs.  Highly experienced SEOs who work with large and enterprise-level businesses will cost significantly more.
  • Your SEO expert isn’t a graphic designer or web developer. While technical SEOs are often adept are improving code, they may require developer support to get the job done.  Similarly, you shouldn’t expect your SEO to fix an ugly website or poor page layout, although good consultants may well provide recommendations.
  • SEO has nothing to do with Google Ads or other paid advertising (PPC). While your search strategy may involve paid search, the strategies and skillsets for SEO and PPC are very different.  Don’t expect your SEO to be a Google Ads expert too.
  • Good SEO helps more of your ideal customers find you through organic search. It isn’t a panacea for every business problem.  While more website traffic typically correlates with more enquiries, SEO can’t fix a bad website design, poor targeting, or a poor service-market fit.

Once you’re clear on what to look out for and what to expect, here’s how you can find SEO experts to help your law firm:

  • Google ‘law firm seo’ or ‘seo [your location’. Start with the top results and work your way down until you find a vendor suitable for your firm.
  • Ask other lawyers for referrals – you can even use your LinkedIn network.

Finally, you’ll need to learn how to set and interpret key performance indicators (KPIs).  Although good SEO consultants will normally self-set KPIs and explain why they’re important, having knowledge of the relevant metrics will help you have better control over the reporting process.

First and foremost, an SEO’s job is to drive organic traffic from search engines.  As such, common search and traffic metrics include:

  • Ranking positions for targeted keywords (normally reported using Google Search Console and paid SEO tools). Your SEO expert will normally explain the traffic potential of the targeted keywords, and show your website’s change in rankings since the last reporting period.  Keep in mind the following statistics:
    • On average, 99.22% of clicks for a keyword go to the top 10 results.
    • The top result gets 31.73% of clicks.
    • The second-top result gets 24.71% of clicks.
    • The top three results get a combined total of 75.1% of clicks.
    • In other words, you generally need to be in the top three to generate meaningful traffic.
  • Clicks for the pages in question (normally reported using GSC). Clicks show the amount of people actually clicking through to your website – it’s arguably the most solid indicator of SEO ‘results’.  While ranking positions and impressions can show progress (keep in mind that your website will gradually ‘climb’ up the rankings over time), clicks are the definitive metric that tell you “yes, this is working”.

Of course, traffic without conversions is pointless.  Tracking how click-throughs move through your site is more complicated, especially because the onus is no longer purely on SEO.  Website layout and page design can also heavily impact how well your visitors move towards a conversion.  The most common metrics for showing the quality of the traffic generated by SEO are:

  • Behaviour flow for specific pages (normally reported using Google Analytics). How many users click through to another page on your site, and how many drop off?  Which pages do they click through to?
  • Net increase in contact form submissions. Although attribution for form submissions can be tricky, a net increase in contact form submissions that correlates with a high click-through rate to the submission pages generally means your SEO is working.
  • Call tracking. Your SEO may recommend a call tracking product like CallRail, which essentially answers the ‘how did you hear about us’ questions for inbound calls.

Often, diagnostic metrics like bounce rate (what percentage of people leave your page without going further into your site), dwell time (how long they stay on your page), scroll depth (how far they scroll down your page), heatmapping (visual representations of cursor activity), and session recordings (recordings of user sessions from start to finish) are also discussed in an SEO context.  Keep in mind that these are not normally performance indicators – instead, they’re used to diagnose a problem like a low conversion rate.

Summary

Law firm SEO isn’t easy.  Understanding exactly how SEO works takes months.  Mastering its application takes years.

After reading this guide, though, you’ll have enough knowledge to understand the basics.  That gives you a choice: save money by learning and practicing SEO yourself, or save time by hiring a skilled SEO practitioner.  For almost all practice managers and partners, simply hiring a professional is the most time- and cost-effective option.

Make sure the vendor you select focuses on:

  • Comprehensive, high-quality content that answers the questions potential clients are asking
  • A fast, well-built website
  • A good user experience
  • Relevant reporting metrics that have a connection to business outcomes

After all, SEO isn’t going anywhere.  The money you invest now will continue to deliver returns over the next five or even ten years – so make sure it’s being spent in the best way possible.

Accelerate your firm’s SEO.

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By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.

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