In working with attorneys the past several years, I learned that many don’t have a firm grasp on what SEO actually is and how it works. Some don’t even know what SEO stands for or why it’s important. Most lawyers I know just want to practice law and don’t like having to think about marketing, let alone getting into the details. But lawyers do need to know what SEO is and, in fact, if they haven’t already, they need to start thinking about a specific type of SEO, local SEO.
What You Probably Think of as SEO is Organic SEO
If you do have a basic understanding, when you think SEO (Search Engine Optimization), they probably think of what's known as Organic SEO, making your site search engine-friendly for keywords so you'll rank high on Google (and Bing) so they can drive traffic to your site. There are many techniques available to rank higher in organic search results, but in this post, we'll focus on local SEO.
If You're a Lawyer, Local SEO is as Important as Organic SEO
Most law firms cater to a limited geographic area, so in the eyes of Google, you are a local business. That means local SEO is just as important for you as organic SEO. Therefore, you must pay attention to the factors search engines consider important when showing local search results.
Why is Local Important to Search Engines
Let's take Google as an example. In their effort to give its users what they're looking for, when someone enters the search term "personal injury lawyer" Google, rightly or wrongly, will assume they're looking for legal services from a personal injury lawyer and will prioritize local (to the searcher) personal injury lawyers over all else. As seen in the image below, the viewer is first presented with ads from personal injury lawyers (because that’s how Google makes its money) then it shows what’s known as the local pack. The local pack consists of a section with a local map, followed by a list of local attorneys. Only then does Google display the more traditional organic SEO, in this case, a page from Avvo that searches for local attorneys.
Now compare the above with the search term "what is personal injury law" shown below.
In this second example with search term "what is personal injury law,” ads still appear at the top of the page (again because that's how Google makes its money) but directly below, no local results appear because Google assumes you're looking for a definition of personal injury law instead of looking for a lawyer. You’ll also notice that personal injury lawyer pages don’t appear anywhere near the top of first page in the organic search results.
The Google Three-Pack
Going back to the first example, you observe that the local pack lists the top three results and to get a larger list, you must click the link, “More places.” This used to be a "7-pack, " but Google recently made it more difficult by narrowing it down to the top three. We know that the more clicks it takes to find something, the less likely it is for a visitor to find it. We also know that the more scrolling it takes to find something, the less likely it is for a visitor to find it. That’s why the ultimate goal is to make it into this “3-pack” and why I say local SEO is so important when it comes to law firms.
The last thing to observe in the 3-pack is how the results are presented. Notice that the first thing listed under the company name is reviews. Google will either present “No reviews,” “X number of reviews” or the actual number of stars in a rating along with the number of reviews. Of the three results in the above example, take a guess which is most likely to be clicked on? Which would you click on first if you were looking for a personal injury lawyer?
My first pick would be the one with the high rating shown. And I'm confident that would be the majority of visitors' pick as well. Reviews are a critical factor in local SEO, so you need to be cognizant of that fact.
I hope you agree that local SEO is something your firm needs to take seriously. Now that you know what local SEO is and why it’s so important to attorneys, you need to know how you can rank high in a local SEO search result. We will cover this in a future post. If you want to be sure not to miss it, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter where our posts will be delivered directly to your inbox.
Note: there doesn't appear to be a consensus on the terminology between "organic" or "traditional" SEO versus local SEO. Many people refer to the results underneath the local pack as organic local results. The main point to remember is that Google attempts to look at the intent of the searcher and if they believe the searcher is looking for a local business, we consider that to be local SEO.