After 10 years of successfully ranking law firms on Google, we’ve got an important message: there’s more to attorney SEO than getting to the first page of Google. Trust us — we’ve kept Black Fin in the top 3 organic search results for “law firm SEO” for the last 6 years, and we’ve consistently placed our clients on the first page of Google for more than 10 years.
Google’s search engine teams, which involve some of the brightest computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in the history of human civilization, work around the clock to ensure that search result algorithms return the most customized, relevant, and competitive results. Lawyer SEO tactics that may have worked in the past are facing extinction today.
We’ve learned that getting your firm to the first page is just what it takes to scratch the surface — and we’re good at it. Maintaining your spot, improving your relevance, and beating your competition — these are stories that most law firms aren’t familiar with when it comes to hiring an SEO firm.
Maintaining your spot, improving your relevance, and beating your competition — these are stories that most law firms aren’t familiar with when it comes to hiring an SEO firm.
Attorneys are required to pass the LSAT, finish law school, and attain a J.D., which takes on average 7 years, just to wear the badge of “attorney.” Doctors endure a similar series of rigorous trials to attain their M.D. status. Unfortunately, there’s no way to qualify an SEO firm’s legitimacy other than by examining what they have to say. And what they have to say is often far from what they actually do.
Every week, for the last 10 years, our sales team has consistently reported at least one “SEO expert” horror story. The problem is so prevalent that we once considered writing an internal report on this. Today, we could document an encyclopedia. The most common problems we’ve heard about smaller firms that devalue the good practice of attorney SEO services include:
SEO for attorneys and law firms is, on average, far more rigorous and competitive than SEO for other industries. Compared to other professional industries, it takes longer to repair damage from poor lawyer SEO practices in the past, costs more, and is saturated by many small players who use graceless, low-quality technique to prey on the inexperience of newer attorneys and law firms. Some even manage to turn a profit and expand, only to spread poor practices farther.
Good, organic SEO, especially for law firms, is difficult because it requires:
We’ve become a strong player in the law firm SEO market because of our singular passion for lawyer, attorney, and law firm SEO. While many competitors in this space transfer their SEO skills across a wider domain, Black Fin remains focused on maintaining and expanding its position as the best SEO solution for the legal industry, and no others.
12 years in Digital Marketing
12 years as an Optimizer
17 years in Digital Marketing
16 years as an Optimizer
4 years in Digital Marketing
3 years as an Optimizer
Black Fin’s SEO team is comprised of 8 SEO specialists who coordinate our analyst teams utilizing a single guiding mantra:
To help your law firm dominate its market
Take it from us: True, consistent, and long-lasting growth requires more than a small agency mindset. Most SEO for lawyers agencies operate in likeness to mercenaries who are only around for the duration and limits of your contractual agreement. Naturally, their interest in your law firm’s growth is limited by their paycheques.
Our interest is to partner with you and treat your business as if it were our own. To this extent, we’re extermely exclusive when it comes to deciding which firms to partner with. Our cancellation policy allows our partners to cancel our services at any time, and we’ve never utilized a single long-term contract. We expect to gain an ROI for you.
In optimizing your online presence for search behavior, while each case requires a unique approach, there are a number of principles and techniques that are common and repeated. We’ve prioritized and organized these elements into systems that have proven to continue working on our behalf, despite Google’s constant search algorithm changes.
SEO isn’t synonymous with rankings. It’s an organic and spontaneous craft which combines the technical mastery of understanding how search systems work, and the artistic, creative expertise of developing effective marketing campaigns.
Below, we’ve shared the general approach for the first 2 months of most of our SEO for attorneys programs, as well as the continued “innovative maintenance cycle” that follows.
Any successful SEO campaign requires a strong foundation: your website. Your website is where traffic is directed, where high-quality content lives, and where your clients first connect with you, your firm, and your brand. Our first month is spent optimizing the code and content of your site. This includes:
This first month is crucial to ensuring that the mechanical aspects of your website don’t drag down your actual marketing campaigns. In this first month, we aim to quickly solve the most basic, yet vital, problems with your website. The most common goals for this month are to ensure that:
During the second month, our goal is to build the authority of your brand, your website, and key attorneys involved, be it a solo/duo practice or large firm.
Even to this day, it’s a common misconception that SEO is mainly about stuffing pages with keywords. If you hear your existing SEO agent recommend this move, call us immediately for a consultation as your SEO firm may be using other techniques that could be causing damage to your online presence.
The truth is, the things we do to your website account for only 30 percent of Google’s search algorithm. The remaining 70 percent are things we do off your website.
Here’s a preview of what’s involved with Month 2:
In addition, we make sure that your firm is established and polished on Google+ Local. This online platform for local business is a rich opportunity to expand your firm.
From verifying your listing to optimization; cleaning up old citations to creating new citations, it’s an enormous undertaking – but it’s absolutely essential to SEO success. Not only is Google’s organic algorithm now dependent on Maps, but many of your ideal clients will look for your services using local search.
As we continue to strengthen the foundation and framework of your law firm’s online presence, we add on a new series of tasks to your base: Innovative maintenance.
The overarching goal is the same: To build your firm’s authority both within search engines and your local community (online and offline). This involves seven different pillars, listed below.
Black Fin’s seven pillars of building a web presence:
Of vital importance: the aforementioned maintenance cycle involves far more detailed work than simply applying randomized updates, or repeating/reusing earlier strategies. While repetition is often harmless in and of itself, search engine algorithms are frequently updated, and adaptation tends to involve fresh strategies as opposed to dated ones. Just as products, services, and technologies must adapt to the socio-economic landscape, so must your law firm’s SEO for attorneys strategies adapt to the evolution of search engine algorithms.
Black Fin’s innovative maintenance cycle is what separates us from all the other legal industry’s SEO organizations — it’s our unique playground of creativity and innovation, and it results in growth that our competitors struggle to keep up with.
Building a well-optimized website and establishing your law firm’s online presence as an authority can take time, as does fixing a website that is out of date or has been “optimized” by “SEO gurus.” Each case is unique and successful optimization is dependant on the authority of your firm’s current web presence and how long it’s been online.
Generally speaking, it takes about 6-8 months for a brand new website to generate results in Google. Established websites can take 3-5 months to start generating results, depending on the tactics from the last SEO company and how aggressive and thorough your campaign is.
As with project duration, project costs are variable. But our team won’t give you the runaround when it comes to costs. We offer SEO plans that range from $2000 up to $20,000 or greater. Our suggested budgets are based on your law firm’s market(s), goals & needs, and are designed to help aggressive law firms beat their competition. We work with competitive, established law firms of various sizes, and customize strategies based on the degree of domination you’re seeking.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art and science of ranking web pages in the organic section of the search results.
For simplicity sake, because there are over 250 factors in Google’s algorithm, Google is primarily looking at relevancy and authority.
Relevancy is all the things — both on your site and off — that tell Google your site is relevant for a particular niche. If you’re a personal injury lawyer, what are the things on your site that tell Google you’re an injury lawyer? Aside of the fact that you reference it on your site, you probably have pages on your site that target medical malpractice, dog bites, car accidents, and slip and fall injuries, which are common on many PI sites across the country. Google looks specifically for a theme on your site, so if you tell them “I’m a personal injury lawyer,” they will actually look for the car accident page to make sure you really are.
Authority is much trickier to build. Think of relevancy as a bucket. All of the personal injury lawyers in your market are in a single bucket because they all include works like “your city,” “personal injury,” “car accidents,” etc. on their website. With maybe 100 competitors in the bucket, how does Google determine which site should rank first, second, third, etc.? They are primarily going to look at authority, which involves the number and quality of websites that link to your website. If you have 50 quality websites that link to you and your top competitors have 25 websites linking to their site, your site will likely rise to the top of the bucket. Again, there’s a lot that goes into ranking a site, but that’s the simplified version.
The next level analogy I use is that there are four primary pillars for any SEO campaign:
Generally speaking, we like to tackle the first three points in months 1-3 as that really sets the foundation for the site. From there, we focus on increasing your domain authority by getting other quality sites to link to yours.
First off, the price you pay depends generally on two factors:
Let’s say you had an estate planning firm in Cleveland, OH. If you ranked #3 in Google for “Cleveland estate planning lawyer,” I may bid $750/month on your campaign, whereas if you were just getting started and had no history in Google, I may have to charge more like $3,500/month for the campaign.
Most of the reputable companies I respect charge a minimum of $1,500 for smaller cities and upwards of $7,500-$10,000/month for larger cities. On an hourly basis you can expect to pay between $50-$250/hour. You should never choose a provider simply based upon price. What’s cheaper? A company that charges you $2,500/month that ranks you in six months on the first page of Google, or a company that charges you $1,000/month but you never rank anywhere?
Do you know how you always get those sales emails from SEO companies sharing how many issues your site has? They tell you that everything your current SEO company is doing is all wrong.
Next time that happens, drop the domain name of their site into this tool and you’ll see if they actually know anything about SEO: https://www.semrush.com/
(Screenshot of a tool we use called SEMRush that shows how much traffic a site is receiving each month from search engines. Our client received a sales email from this company and they were claiming to know SEO, even though their own website receives 0 visitors per month in traffic from SEO.)
There’s a number of factors here. Assuming you’ve chosen a quality digital marketing company, I would primarily look at the strength of your competitors and the strength/weakness of your website. If your site has been around for awhile, you have a number of quality sites linking back to you and your competitors are weak, it shouldn’t take long (maybe 3-5 months). But if you’re new and you have strong competitors it can easily take 12+ months to rank.
You have to understand that in 2017, it’s not uncommon for firms to have been doing SEO for 10-15 years. Even the best strategy won’t help you win in the short-term if your competitors are strong. The fact is, you’re probably the new kid on the block and Google already trusts your competitors. Trust is never built overnight.
Over the years we’ve been able to help a wide range of law firms:
We can help just about any firm, regardless of market size.
When it comes to keywords, search engines used to take things very literally. If you were interested in ranking for a certain practice of law in a certain city, using “___________ city ________ attorney” in the headline, subheadings, the body copy and metadata was a surefire way to make sure your page ranked well.Unlike the old days of SEO, the practice of “keyword stuffing” is no longer rewarded by search engines. There’s simply no point of stuffing your web pages with keywords that you hope to rank for, and it will likely lead to your site getting penalized.
Google and other search engines recognized that “Rhode Island auto accident attorney” and other phrases like it aren’t phrases that readers like to see in your content over and over.
A good rule of thumb when thinking about the content of your web pages is that if your readers won’t like it, Google probably won’t like it either. While that wasn’t the case a few years ago, the technology and algorithms that Google uses to optimize search have become ultra-sophisticated in recent years.
To think of Google’s technologies as free-thinking robots wouldn’t be very farfetched. Its algorithm values high-quality content that is useful and readable, just as readers do. That means the level and quality of your writing and diction needs to be high.
This isn’t to say that keywords don’t matter. Keywords definitely matter. However, with latent semantic indexing (LSI – basically a fancy term for synonyms), you don’t need to stuff your page with keywords for Google to recognize what your page is about.
In other words, a thesaurus is better than a broken record. But that doesn’t mean you should start “synonym stuffing” either. When writing content for your site, simply think like a reader. What would you want to read if you were in need of an attorney?
Would you rather read a keyword-stuffed headline that doesn’t make much sense or a headline that reads like an actual person wrote it?
We promise that people will click on and appreciate what feels human more often. And at the end of the day, that’s the end goal: to attract relevant search users who are looking for the service you provide.
Most people have probably heard that you can boost your search rankings by having other websites link back to your own.This is a true statement, but it should be noted that sites with the highest QUANTITY of referral links won’t always beat those that have the highest QUALITY.
Quality has to do with a number of factors, but generally refers to how legitimate a website is in the eyes of Google. If a very legitimate site links to your site, then some of that “link juice” trickles down to your rankings as well. On the other hand, if you’ve got a lot of low quality sites linking back to your site, that negative standing in search engines could impact your site in the other direction.
Google also places a heavy emphasis on the relevance of the websites that link to yours.
That means that your friend who owns a hair salon two towns away who’s linked to your personal injury practice webpage 15 times might actually be hurting your chances of ranking well instead of helping it, especially if your friend’s website comes off as spammy to Google.
Most people would probably ask themselves, “What does a hair salon have to do with personal injury law?” Similarly, Google might ask the same question. There may be completely reasonable times in which a hair salon links to a law firm’s site. Maybe that law firm just helped them deal with a break in?
While relevance is a very important part of quality backlinks, there is no specific number of irrelevant links that will get your site penalized. The quality of a link profile is difficult to diagnose. Unless a link is from a spam website, you might not be able to tell what is a good link vs. a bad link. As always, having an experienced SEO team on your side will help you sift through the high quality and low quality backlinks. You can read more about our law firm SEO link building strategies in our FAQ section here.
Paying for links from link farms to send traffic to your site isn’t worth your time or your money (nor was it worth your money 5 years ago), but buying links can work well for you, depending on the kind of links that you buy.The fact of the matter is that you can buy links on Forbes, Inc., Huffington Post, or any other website. You can also buy old law firm websites, restore them, and then link to your own site from them. Some SEO agencies will try to scare clients by saying, “Never buy backlinks,” but if you work with somebody who understands which links make sense to purchase and which links are best to avoid, it’s not a risky practice.
The best way to think about paying for backlinks is by thinking about your ROI. Having backlinks from a big site like ESPN with a lot of established credibility on the web might sound appealing, but putting the same amount of money into an outreach campaign run by people who know what they’re doing will ultimately do more good for your rankings.
Bottom line, if you’re going to buy backlinks, know what backlinks you are buying and why.
Note: None of this includes pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, which is its own thing entirely. A well put together PPC campaign can be incredibly effective for attorneys and is an important part of internet marketing strategy.
In addition to PPC, press releases are another part of marketing strategy that need some clarification. While you can still utilize press releases effectively for SEO strategy, using a “press release farm” isn’t very distinguishable to Google from buying a link outright, which is why they’ve flagged certain PR-heavy websites. When the content and hyperlinks of your press releases are organic and hosted on relevant, high-quality domains, however, they can be a great tool for helping your search rankings.
Anchor text is composed of the clickable underlined words in links on a webpage. Many websites use some pretty shady tactics with their anchor text, including:
Remember, trying to manipulate users or search engines is generally bad SEO practice. For the most part, you can completely ignore anchor text. The easiest way to tell that somebody has hired an SEO agency is to look at their anchor text profile.
The likelihood of 3 independent websites, without being told to, all link back to your firm’s site with “NYC wrongful death attorney” is very low. Usually, a person would spell out New York City, use the word “lawyer,” or search “NYC attorney” without a practice area.
By having these phrases in your anchor text, you’re giving away the fact that you’re trying to game the system.
If you’re blogging just for SEO, stop blogging.We’ve all heard the phrase “Content is King” so much that maybe, sometimes, we miss the point of content completely.
Don’t get us wrong, content IS king and having a well-put together blog is great, but there are certain ways of utilizing content that can actually have a negative impact on your SEO.
For a long time, we saw law firms and attorneys post all sorts of content on their blogs, from celebrity gossip to how to change a tire. The thinking was that, by engaging an audience with content they might regularly read, the blog would bring extra traffic to the site.background-size: contain;
Unfortunately for those blogs, most people don’t care about a lawyer’s opinion on any subject that is not related to the law. And perhaps more importantly, people searching for non-legal content on the web have no interest in your law firm or finding an attorney. So why would you waste your time trying to get their attention?
Effective law firm blogging can be very healthy for your site and actually help improve your search rankings. By blogging about topics relevant to your firm’s practice, you’ll attract people that are legitimately searching for legal help to your website.
For the most part, legal ethics issues don’t arise from SEO, especially when you work with an agency that works specifically with law firms and attorneys. Each word that is on your website is your firm’s responsibility, regardless of who you are working with. At Black Fin, we make getting the details right our highest priority so that those legal ethical issues don’t enter the picture. There are times, however, when legal ethics issues do arise due to lack of experience or knowledge on the part of the SEO agency. For lawyers, two words that seem to mean the same thing in everyday conversation often have vastly different legal implications. In the world of SEO, agencies that don’t specifically work with law firms and attorneys might not understand that the intricacies of legal jargon, and those instances might get your firm into trouble.
In other instances, the agency might not understand different state bar regulations for advertising and marketing a law firm, leading the agency to use phrases such as “the best,” “expert,” and “specialist.”
Like many other factors, page load speed does have an effect on how your site ranks in search engines, and it should be addressed so that your site loads as quickly as possible. This does not mean, however, that the site that loads the fastest will always rank the highest in Google (That being said, websites that take longer than 3 seconds to load lose 40-percent of traffic, according to Kissmetrics).Since there are hundreds of factors at play for how a web page ranks in Google, your site should be optimized for all of those factors, some of which may negatively affect your page load speed.
For example, some plugins may promise great features but ultimately just lag your site down more than they’re worth. However, with the proper web design and build, you should be able to find the perfect balance of usability and speed so that your web pages rank well in search engines while not sacrificing user experience.
Looking to the future that emphasizes mobile search, there may be changes to the page speed algorithm to better suit the speed at which pages load on mobile devices.
Keyword density has remained a topic of discussion in the SEO world simply because it used to be a factor in ranking well for different keywords. These days, however, keyword density doesn’t have the same impact that it used to. In fact, it may have an adverse effect.In the last 10 years, search engines have become incredibly sophisticated, with algorithms that go far beyond simply recognizing certain keywords on a page. Search engines can now ascertain exactly what it is your website is for without any obvious direction. If they see that you have an office in Atlanta and you’re offering legal services for people with personal injuries, that’ll be enough for them to recognize you as an “Atlanta personal injury attorney” even if that phrase never makes an appearance on your page.
Of course, keywords make sense to have on your page in a number of instances, but the name of the game is making sure that they appear naturally as opposed to forcing them in at every instance possible.
Google emphasizes high quality content, and since the Google Panda algorithm update, high quality content has been a major factor for how a site ranks. This is because Google wants to make sure the content provided by a site is useful to its users. Sites with good content rank better while sites with poor content are consistently dropping in the rankings.
Any website that’s been built and designed well, with high-quality content and utilizing the latest technology, does not need to be submitted to Google or any other search engines. By using a sitemap file, your site will automatically notify search engines each time you update a page or add a new page to your website. If an SEO company is providing a service to submit your website to search engines, turn around and walk away.
When done right, a solid blog can prove to be one of the best and most effective elements of your site for improving your search rankings. But blogging correctly means knowing how often to post new content to that blog, and that answer is dependant on a couple of factors, such as your area of practice, your location, what sort of clients you target, how often your competitors update their blogs, and how often things change in your legal field.While blogging more is generally better, making sure there is always purpose behind your blog posts is always the most important factor. Nothing helps your blog more than providing your audience with content that is relevant to them, but only if you prioritize quality above quantity. For most markets, we recommend posting once a week.
There are no standard “hat” practices in SEO.There are tactics that “white hat” SEOs use that other “white hat” SEOs say are “black hat” tactics. There are tactics known as “gray hat” SEO. When somebody identifies him or herself as a “white hat” SEO or “black hat” SEO, there’s no way of telling what sort of tactics he or she uses.
What a lot of SEO comes down to, and the spectrum of “white hat” to “black hat,” is people that like to follow the rules that Google lays out against people who like to try to get around those rules. Generally, “black hat” SEO refers to the people who try to get around those rules and use practices that cause penalties. “White hat” SEO, in contrast, is generally made up of the people who follow Google’s rules and are less likely to be penalized for their tactics.
Google doesn’t want you to focus on SEO. Google wants you to rely on creating high-quality content for your law firm’s website.
If an SEO company is promising you immediate page 1 rankings, chances are they’re employing tactics Google doesn’t like or they’re lying to you. Following Google’s rules (for the most part…) takes longer, but it’s generally the safer bet for a business taking a reasonable, long-term approach to finding success online.
While backlinks can be a huge help for SEO, sometimes there are instances in which you want to disavow the websites that have linked back to your pages. Maybe an agency you were working with was getting links from shady sources, or maybe a rival firm was trying to sabotage your rankings.Whatever the reason, link disavowal can prove to be a useful tool in ensuring the sites linking back to yours are of high quality. Google provides a detailed description of how to disavow links, but its very complex and we highly recommend that you have an experienced SEO agency help you with the process. In addition, to disavow backlinks, you must be the owner of your law firm’s website.
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Updated: March 7, 2018
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