When you search for your law firm on Google, what do you see? If it takes more than a few seconds to locate any sign of your law firm in search engines, it’s possible your website is missing out on receiving the necessary traffic to generate new business referrals. Instead, your prospective clients are finding your competitors and contacting their offices for their legal needs.

Not only did you spend thousands on a website that’s lacking visibility in search engines, but a poor-performing website can impact all other marketing efforts. If you rely on word-of-mouth referrals, your prospects can have a difficult time further researching your firm or locating your website for contact information. If you ever decide to do paid search engine ads, such as Google AdWords, you’d likely pay a higher amount per click than your competitors for the same kind of ad visibility. Bottom line—a poorly optimized website is costly.

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), knowledge is power. You need not know how to code a website or be a digital marketing expert. What you need instead is familiarity with the basics of SEO. Understanding these basics will help you make intelligent decisions when planning changes to your website. If you decide to hire a digital marketing agency, your knowledge of the basics can help you determine if the agency you have in mind is right for you. If you’re thinking of hiring an SEO Specialist, your knowledge can help you select the best possible candidate.

Best Lawyers offers services to improve your firm's website and visibility. Speak to a Best Lawyers legal media specialist today to get started.

Here are a few basics you should know, along with free online resources to help you gain a better understanding of SEO.

Your Foundation—How is Your Website Performing?

I mentioned in our introduction that performing a search for your firm in search engines could clue you in on your website’s performance. While doing this may reveal red flags that your website is lacking visibility, I do not recommend using website rankings as a key performance indicator (KPI). Search results are notoriously inconsistent and often personalize what appears based on the individual, their location or what kind of device they’re using to search. Instead, what you need is a way to keep track of aspects of your website that impact search engine visibility, as well as information about the people who are visiting your website.

What you can do: Set up a Google account for your firm and get Google Search Console and Google Analytics.

Who should help: If you have a webmaster or point of contact for your website, it’s worth asking them first if there are existing Google account and analytics services set up previously. If so, ask to schedule time for a tour of these two Google tools and an overview of your website’s performance. Make checking in on these two resources a regular habit. If nothing has been set up, request that it be done. Set aside time for you both to discuss performance in detail.

Bonus: There are many types of paid SEO tools that enable you to check website and search engine performance metrics, such as Semrush, Ahrefs or Moz. While they can certainly be helpful, I’d only recommend them if you plan to do most of the search engine optimization yourself.

Know the Basics of Search Engine Crawling and Indexing

How does Google or Bing find your website in the first place? This is all done through a series of complex processes, but I can give you the basic framework. Search engines discover websites through their crawlers—bots that crawl the web going from link to link, website to website to find content that their search engine users might want to see. All the content on your website has likely already been crawled by search engine bots, such as Google’s Googlebot, and indexed—added to the search engine’s index. From there, your website’s listing will appear based on the search engines’ sophisticated algorithms and user intent—what searchers want to see.

What you can do: Learn more about search engine crawling and indexing. It’s fascinating, and there are many great resources online that can help you understand the processes and the artificial intelligence that drives what we see in search. Here’s a video about Google search to give you a starting point.

Who should help: This is something you can do entirely on your own.

Making a Great First Impression in the Search Results

It’s easy to think a beautiful website is enough to make a great first impression. But when it comes to search engine optimization, your website isn’t exactly the first thing your visitors will see. Instead, they’ll run their search on Google or their favorite search engine and be presented with multiple options. Some of the links will be paid advertisements. Some may be business listings with reviews—or possibly images or video. Search engines will present anything and everything they think their user might need to see. If the listing for your website shows up, that’s great! It means the search engine determined your website has a high likelihood of containing what their user is searching for. If that user clicks through to your website and stays a while, that can say a lot about how relevant your listing is to what the user searched.

But if your listing is dull, generic or otherwise poor quality, it won’t be able to stand out in the search results—and probably won’t get the clickthrough needed to stay as visible. What you want is a listing in the search results that will accurately convey the page’s relevance to what keywords the searcher entered into the search bar. But how do you customize your search engine listing? Doesn’t Google generate these on their own? The answer is yes…and no. Let’s use a real example to explore further.

I’ve searched for a personal injury attorney in Manhattan and have found this listing on the first page of the search results:Search Engine Listing Imagery
This is a fantastic listing. We know instantly that this is a law firm located in Manhattan. We can see exactly where their office is located on 39 Broadway, Suite 1910. The URL is descriptive and relevant to our search—what else do we need to know?

For our example, let’s focus on the title we see at the top and the snippet of text under the URL. The title is known as a “page title.” The snippet of text is known as the “meta description tag.” Both of these are found within the code of every page of every website. These titles and meta descriptions are generated by your website developer and can be edited as needed within the code. The portion of code they are located in is within the page’s metadata inside the <head> area. Think of metadata as “information about information.” This is why each page of your website has titles and meta description tags that tell Google or whoever is interested, “this page is about this topic."HTML Imagery for SEO
Meta description tags should be unique for every page, accurate and descriptive of what the user will find on the page. Use keywords but do not overdo it. Anything that looks unnatural or spammy will diminish the quality of your search engine optimization. Keep the length between 154–161 characters. For page titles, again keep it focused on the primary subject of the page. Use your keywords but do not overload your titles with words you want to rank, for as this will diminish the quality of your search engine optimization. Search engines will truncate your page titles in their search results if they are too long, so keep the character count around 60 to avoid words being cut off.

I mentioned in a previous section that search engines like Google often generate their own titles and snippets for your website in their index. They do this because there are times when the page title and meta description tag present in your website’s code aren’t as effective or relevant to the searcher’s intent. Google still wants to rank your page—but on their terms and using another title or snippet. Take another look at our example listing. The snippet says something completely different than what’s in the website’s meta description tag. Where did Google pull that snippet, if not from the meta description? The answer can be found in paragraph seven of the webpage’s content. This is why using keywords properly and developing great website content for your visitors is equally as important as crafting quality page titles and meta description tags.

What you can do: Put thought into all parts of your website that your visitors read and interact with—right down to what they see in the search results in search engines like Google. Consider how you can incorporate keywords in a way that’s natural and enhances the overall quality of your website content.

Who should help: Your webmaster can give you insight into what your page titles and meta description tags look like today. If edits need to be made, they would be your primary point of contact. For researching great keywords, crafting quality content, or recommending changes to page titles and meta description tags, I recommend working with an SEO firm or digital marketing agency.

Parting Thoughts

If you’re an attorney in a highly competitive geography, chances are high that other attorneys in your area are working with an agency that handles most of their SEO and digital marketing. Some hire SEO professionals as part of their internal marketing team. Whichever route you consider, you’ll be in a better position to make important decisions about your website and SEO needs if you take the time to learn and understand some of the basic eternal truths about search engines and how a search engine friendly website should operate and appear. Google is a fantastic resource for SEO beginners, and I highly recommend the Google Search Central.

Dedicate a few minutes every day over coffee to learn something new about SEO. It will fascinate you and put you in a better position to enhance your overall marketing strategy and gain new business for your law firm.

Looking to improve your firm's website and visibility? Best Lawyers offers services to enhance your firm's SEO and marketability. Speak to a Best Lawyers legal media specialist to get started. 

Rachel Shrewsbury grew up in Mobile, Alabama and now lives in Huntsville, Alabama with her husband, Greg, and long haired piebald mini dachshund, Aubrie. A graduate of the University of Alabama, Rachel’s 14-year marketing career has ignited her passion for writing and storytelling.