The Importance of Google
It is widely known that Google’s U.S. market share for searches is dominant (over 70% by some estimates), but what isn’t as widely known is that for law-related searches, Google’s market share is overwhelming (over 90% by some estimates). Even if a client finds a lawyer in a major directory, there’s a strong likelihood that he or she found those directories through a Google search initially. Consequently, this article focuses primarily on optimization for the Google search engine.
Being on the first page of Google search results is very important for lawyers who are targeting middle-income clients. There are two ways to become more visible in Google: through Google’s Sponsored Listings, and through search engine optimization (SEO). Lawyers should ideally do both, but this article will focus on SEO.
What is “Search Engine Optimization” or “SEO?”
SEO refers to the steps you can take with your website and elsewhere on the Internet to make your website appear more relevant to Google and the other search engines.
One of the most powerful things you can do is to emphasize certain keyword phrases consistently on each page of your site, so that Google perceives your site as “relevant” to users searching with those terms. When Google perceives your website as more relevant for certain search terms, your website is ranked higher in Google’s natural (non-sponsored) listings. The goal of these efforts is to be in the top half of the first page of Google’s search results for the phrases that are most important to your law practice. The time and effort needed to raise your site’s Google search ranking depends on the depth of your SEO, along with factors such as competition (how many other sites are trying just as hard to raise their own ranking).
When you’re deciding which phrases and key words you want to use to optimize your website’s searchability, it’s worthwhile to find phrases that are specific and important to your law practice, but also general enough to match what a user would actually search for. For example, instead of trying to optimize your site for “lawyers,” you may want to optimize your site for “San Francisco child custody lawyers.”
The Two Sides of SEO
There are two basic things you can do as part of any SEO effort: On-Page SEO and Off-page SEO.
On-Page SEO is essentially what was discussed earlier in this article: ensuring that the phrases you want to be found via Google are prevalent on as many of your site’s pages as is appropriate.
For example: If you’re a Walnut Creek family lawyer, and you have a page on your website about divorce services, you would want to select 2 or 3 phrases (i.e., “Walnut Creek divorce lawyer” or “Walnut Creek divorce attorney”) that you’d emphasize as often as possible without damaging the professionalism of the content.
Google reportedly considers 200+ different factors when determining the relevance of a website for a specific search query. However, one of the aspects believed to be the most important in the ranking of websites is each page’s “title tag”. The title tag goes into the source code of your website, and will generally be what appears between the <title> and </title> tags. You’ll want to ensure that your selected keyword phrases are included naturally in the title tags, so that not only will viewers know what the page is about, but Google will too.
Also, hyperlinks between the pages on your website will help Google “crawl” it. By having good keyword phrases within the text of the links, Google will better understand the subject matter of the pages to which the links connect. For example, imagine there is a hyperlink on your website which reads: “Click Here To Learn More About Our Experienced Family Lawyers” that links to your “About Us” page. If you have the hyperlink on either the whole sentence or just the ‘click here’ portion, that doesn’t tell Google exactly what is being linked to and is a wasted opportunity to show Google some keyword phrases. The better choice would be to have the hyperlink on the words “Experienced Family Lawyers”, so that Google knows what the page you’re linking to about (and will consider these terms more relevant for your site).
The second part of SEO is off-page SEO, which refers to things you do elsewhere on the web to make Google perceive your website to be relevant for the phrases that are most important to your practice. Generally, this is comprised of link-building, which is a deliberate act of getting other websites to link to your own. Over the course of the lifetime of your website, you should aim for between 250 to 750 links from other websites to yours.
So how do you get other sites to link to your website?
Links to your website can be obtained in a variety of ways. You can list your website on directories, exchange links with colleagues who are not in direct competition, post to blogs, set up accounts in social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, participate in networking sites like Linked-In, and publish content to press release sites. The more sites that link to yours, the more Google will assume that your site is growing in popularity, and is therefore more relevant.
In closing, a few things should be noted. First, SEO can be very labor intensive and time consuming, and if you’d rather practice law than spend hours modifying your pages and bargaining for in-bound links, you should strongly consider outsourcing the project to a company that specializes in SEO for lawyers.
Second, these SEO efforts don’t help your website overnight. It may be six to nine months before you start noticing any real gains in terms of ranking on Google’s organic search results.
Ken Matejka, California attorney and CEO of LegalPPC, Inc. – Internet Services for Solo Practitioners and Small Law Firms. If you have any questions about this article, please write to Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (415) 742-2150
Upcoming MCLE Event with Ken Matejka: Roadmap to Google – Search engine optimization, Google Places and other essential tips for the Solo practitioner and small law firm (January 19, 2012 at noon, at Scott’s Seafood in Walnut Creek, CA)
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