When I joined Legal Internet Solutions Incorporated as Director of Business Development in late June of this year, I was a bit of a novice to the world of search engine optimization, which is one of LISI’s key strengths. Sure, I knew of terms like “SEO” and had attended seminars at the legal-marketing events throughout the years. But I didn’t truly know or appreciate what went into making one site rank better than another in the search engine results pages. Frankly, I didn’t give it much thought—I just used search engines to find information.
That changed when I joined LISI. I’ve been through an intensive initiation to all that LISI does and that includes learning some of the key elements of SEO. Realizing that some of our blog followers may be in the same new-to-SEO or relative novice boat, I wanted to share some of the basics I’ve learned at the hands of the masters here. It’s been a fascinating journey so far!
The first thing I learned is that there is so much to learn! There are many thousands of articles on SEO topics on the internet, ranging from very basic to highly technical. But, as with any new study, starting with the basics will build a foundation to future expertise. Here are just 10 aspects of SEO that you should consider to help your firm’s website.
The Purpose of Your Website
Before you can search engine optimize your website, you have to ask what is your website trying to do? While this may seem like a simple question, the answer is actually quite important, and it has a knock-on effect that flows to every website page. If your site is intended to validate the quality of your firm’s work to people who have previously heard of your firm, then does it do that? Does it reflect how your firm wants to present itself? Does it clearly illustrate the firm’s image on the homepage and in the content that you are posting on blogs and news feeds? If the purpose of the website is to set a tone, remember that the search engines’ algorithms probably can’t understand that—they are not legal focused. They are instead looking for search criteria in your site that are similar to what people look for: terms like location, practice areas, problems to be solved, etc.
If you are in a plaintiffs’ firm that seeks to attract new business from the internet, SEO is even more important. If people are searching for an attorney and, instead of connecting with your firm, they are seeing your competitors rank higher in search engine results, then this is business walking out of the door. It pays, therefore, to have your website as optimized as possible to rank well in those search results.
Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness—it almost sounds like a law firm tag line, but these are the three areas that Google’s search quality rating guidelines are now built upon. While the guidelines are written for Google’s algorithm raters rather than the actual algorithm, it shows where Google is heading and where Google heads, others follow. The EAT concept favors authoritative, long-format content that is considered best in class on the internet. More than ever, your site needs to have 1,500-word-or-more articles on a topic to demonstrate deep knowledge and expertise.
Because search engines’ crawlers scan the text on a website, the content needs to be drafted in a way that illustrates how your firm is the best at what it does. To that end, focus on ‘relevance’ and ‘recurrence’ for your website’s content, now and for what you will be posting going forward. Blogs and news articles, thought pieces, conference write ups, podcast transcriptions and the like should touch on key practice areas again and again. Just like a single ad purchase is likely worthless, a single article on a topic that isn’t supported with follow-up content is not going to be effective.
But how do you get this content? You might be scrambling every week or month getting attorneys to write something (I’m sure many of your legal marketing colleagues share in this frustration). Having a clear editorial calendar reinforcing the overall marketing message is important to get buy-in from the attorneys. This plan can help you by showing them how they are connected to the mission of the firm’s marketing and, hopefully, get the content on the topics you want to market.
Remember, what search engines are looking for is sites that are the leaders in the field of the area that has been searched for. Leaders are those that are talking with authority and on a regular basis (as the law changes and progresses) about their given area.
Your firm’s website URLs (i.e., website address and file paths) do a lot more work than you may realize in helping the search engines identify you and your firm with the key areas that you practice in. In the example below, which do you think is the best URL to use?
If you picked the third one, then you’re right! Just as the search engines review text content on a website, they also factor how the URLs are written. It’s best to plan for SEO-friendly URLs during the website-development process, but in some cases unfriendly URLs can be fixed after a site is in place. Just make sure your website team performs the proper redirects that will tell the search engines that a page has moved from a former address to its current one. It’s important to make sure your links aren’t broken, as that could harm the site’s success in the rankings.
Google has for several years now considered mobile friendliness as a positive ranking factor, especially when searches are done on a mobile device. Having a site that is optimized to be used both on desktop and mobile devices is key. Google and the other search engines actively rank websites that have ‘responsive web design’ (RWD) higher than those that don’t. RWD is a design-and-development technique that allows one website to serve all devices and reformat itself to the appropriate screen size. Since Google wants to present mobile users with sites that will look and function great on mobile devices, it will favor those responsive sites above non-responsive ones. When considering a new site, it’s essential that RWD is part of the planning.
Fast Page Load Speeds
Another ranking factor, I have come to learn, is how fast the website loads. We have come to expect things to be at our finger tips immediately and Google does too. Research indicates 53 percent of people will leave a mobile page if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Because Google wants to present sites that (at a minimum) don’t frustrate the user, it will rank fast-loading sites over slow ones. If your site is having trouble loading, then you have a problem on your hands.
There are a lot of tools out there that can measure your site load speeds and improving speed is highly technical. It will be something we address in a future blog article but suffice to say that load speed is an essential element to audit and to amend if needed.
Another Google directive is to favor so-called ‘secure’ sites over those that are not. You have probably seen website addresses often now start with “https://” (meaning hypertext transfer protocol secure) rather than the previous “http://”. A site that starts with “https://” has technology built in to encrypt the traffic between the user and the website server. As privacy and data security is growing more and more critical, Google wants to direct its users to sites that are less likely to be the cause of a data-capture breach. Therefore, all else being equal, a secure site will rank better than a not-secure one. Your website developer or SEO firm should know how to implement security on your site.
A sitemap helps your SEO efforts by directing the search engines to each page of the site so the pages can be included in the search engine index. The sitemap is akin to a table of contents for your site, with links pointing to each page. These are helpful for both human visitors and search engines alike. Publish the sitemap on your site so readers can find relevant content. A handy tip is to make your page-not-found (also known as the ‘404 error’) page your sitemap. This can aid a visitor that follows a broken link, if any, to the intended page.
While search engines can locate the sitemap on your site, you should submit it via Google Webmaster Tools to improve your chances of the search engines finding the relevant content when they crawl your site.
Zombie pages are web pages that provide no real value to your traffic, authority, or web presence, most often appearing as old or outdated content. They most often take the form of:
- Duplicate content
- Outdated blog posts
- Aging press releases
- Pages that shouldn’t be indexed
Every site has a few, and they’re not always a big deal. But when your site has hundreds, or thousands, it can be detrimental to your SEO. Zombie pages bloat your sitemap with numerous pages that Google deems low-quality, as they earn no traffic or engagement.
Kill these pages where possible by setting them as “no-index” (ask your website developer) and repurpose content as needed (such as combining three old blog posts into a single piece of long-form content that supports engagement and encourages longer time spent on-site).
The importance of voice search for SEO is gaining in importance. According to Google, half of all search queries now come from mobile devices, and around 20 percent of queries made on mobile apps are now voice-based. And with voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home becoming more popular, we expect this growth to continue. While we are unlikely to see a wholesale shift to voice-based searches, what is more likely to happen is voice search to be a part of a bigger shift, from specific ‘results’ to ‘answers’. This is best illustrated as the example, “Siri/Alexa, find me a law firm in location X that can solve Y.” Consider optimizing your content to align with the type of queries that are likely to be in voice searches, such as “What should I do if I’m audited?”
As a new SEO student, I know the above is by no means an exhaustive list of the factors that affect rankings. Hopefully it will help give you a framework in which to start taking stock of the SEO on your website. Start with these basics and use online resources (including the LISI blog, of course) to learn more. Happy SEOing!