The Secrets of Search Engine Optimization for Law Firm Websites

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Is your law firm’s website lost in cyberspace?

Sure you can still get there by typing in the exact web address, but would a person searching for an attorney in your city, who specializes in your area of law, be able to find you or your firm through a basic web search?
A simple Google search for an attorney in a midsize metropolitan city can generate 300,000 results over 45 pages.  Unfortunately, most clients make selections from the first few pages of search results.  If your website is listed on page 10, chances are that potential clients are not finding your law firm.

Search engines have created a set of criteria that they use to determine how your attorney website will be ranked.  Websites are listed according to their ranking.  Search engines rank websites because they want to keep customers coming back again and again by supplying them with the most useful and well-organized web sites.  If your ranking for a particular set of key words is 356,500 then you may have a problem.
Thankfully, hope is not lost.
If your law firm’s website does not appear within the first few pages of search results, then it can be optimized to make it more appealing to search engines.  This process is called search engine optimization or SEO.

The Basics of Law Firm Search Engine Optimization

Search engines use “web spiders” that essentially “crawl” across every website to determine how to rank them.  A spider is a program that searches the Internet for pages on a specific topic and then feeds those pages to search engines.
While there are a handful of things that almost every search engine spider looks for, each search engine has its own set of criteria that they change on a regular basis.  They try to keep their criteria a secret so that companies do not manipulate the system and create websites that are high in traffic and low on useful content.

Here are some of the things that search engine spiders look for as they index and rank content for attorney web sites:

The More Activity the Better

Web spiders are looking for websites that have frequent visitors and up to date information.  Having a website that has activity and content that is regularly updated is lets web spiders know that your site is not stagnant.  One way to do this is through blogging.  Blogs are essentially web logs or online journals that individuals and organizations can use to post entries about whatever they would like to talk about.  Some law firms post to their blogs daily, while others may limit postings to a few times per week.

Law firms can use blogs to position themselves as experts in a certain field of law.  You can post about how changes in your community, the economy, and the law itself will affect potential and past clients.  A great way for a larger law firm to use a blog is to have different attorneys post on a predetermined schedule.  This gives the reader a chance to get to know each attorney, while only requiring each attorney to post maybe twice a month or so.  Some very large law firms have even hired part time bloggers to write and manage their blogs.

Another great way to generate activity on your website is by using link backs.  A link back is when another website contains a link to yours.  Every time someone clicks the link and visits your site, you are getting closer to increasing your ranking.  This is where being listed in an online legal directories may really pay off.  While it is not common to get a large number of clients by being listed in directories, you may at least get visitors to your website.  This will increase your activity, which will increase your ranking.
Quality Content is Key

While search engines are looking at your firm’s website activity, they are primarily interested in making sure that your website is going to satisfy the needs of their customers.  Since a web spider cannot read all of your content to make sure that it is the best compared to your competitors, they rely on other methods to ensure that your content is useful.

One of the first things that web spiders look for is the key words that were originally entered into the search engine itself.  A client looking for your firm might type, “divorce lawyer Baltimore”.  Your firm’s website would need to have a recurrence of these key words if you want a high ranking.
Web spiders also want to determine if your website is well organized and easy to navigate.  For example, spiders look to see if your website has a site map and whether or not your content is organized with the use of headers.
The Most Common Mistake

The most common mistake made by people who are trying to increase their website’s ranking is that they redesign their website to improve their ranking, but forget that the ultimate goal is to have a site that will encourage potential clients to choose your law firm over the competition.  Your site needs to reflect your firm’s values, your strengths, and why you are uniquely qualified to fulfill the needs of potential clients.
Websites need to perform a balancing act of maintaining a strong enough technical presence to be attractive to web spiders while being human enough to gain the trust of potential clients.
When to Hire an SEO Expert

If you want to improve your firms ranking on search engines, there are some things you can do yourself like working with key words, adding a blog, and increasing your website’s activity through link backs and directory listings.  However, unless you are in a very small town or have an uncommon legal specialty, getting to the first page of search results may require the help of a professional.
Before hiring an SEO expert, ask yourself how much traffic would you like to have on your website.  A firm that is listed on the first page for a generic set of key words would be a high traffic website.  You would probably be contacted by a large number of people who are really just doing research and who only want general questions answered.  In that large mix of contacts, there will be potential clients, but you will need to have the time and the savvy to discern between the two.
There are several things you can do on your own to increase your ranking, while others may need to be done by a professional.  For instance, how your web code is written can have an effect on your ranking.  Certain types of code are easier for web spiders to navigate, and the easier it is for them to navigate through your website, the higher your ranking will be.

Whether you hire a professional or do it yourself, optimizing your firm’s website can be the difference between having a website that is lost in cyberspace and one that continually brings clients to your firm.