SEO for Lawyers: How to Get Clients with Search Engine Optimization

| January 19, 2015

SEO for Lawyers: How to Get Clients with Search Engine Optimization

Chris Dreyer, President and Founder of Written by Chris Dreyer, President and Founder of

SEO for Lawyers: How to Get Clients with Search Engine Optimization

Lawyers can no longer avoid the fact that the Internet has become an easy, accessible and low-cost tool for consumers to research legal services.  Data from Pew Research in 2012 show  that of all Americans, more than 70% used a search engine to find what they are looking for online1.  The mission of Attorney Rankings is to help legal professionals harness the power of search engine optimization to find new business and clients.  This page is the  beginning of your journey.

Studies suggest that over 20% of people searching for a lawyer do so using a search engine2.  The days of using the Yellow Pages are long gone and many consumers turn to the Internet as a research tool for legal services.  In other words if your web presence and/or your website are not showing up when people search for terms related to your practice area, you are not relevant or visible to consumers3.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of configuring a website and its surrounding presence in a manner that allows it to be displayed prominently in search results.  When search engines were new, accomplishing this task was fairly easy.

Today, leading engines like Google and Bing use sophisticated algorithms to filter out obvious search engine manipulators to deliver only the most relevant content to their users.  Optimization is different depending on the service, and SEO for lawyers has some very specific tactics that make it successful.

If you want to become a pro at SEO for your firm, read this entire article, or feel free to use the navigation headings below to find the optimization topic areas that are of most interest to you.

Disclaimer:  Before you get started, it’s important that you understand how your online marketing efforts impact your law practice.  Consult your state code of ethics related to advertising for attorneys.  Be alert to companies that are promising first page rankings as well as their general practices for promoting a company online.  Doing things unethically could get you into hot water with your state bar4.

On-site SEO

Off-Site SEO



SEO Keywords

I. Keyword Awareness and Optimization

Lawyers need to know what terms their potential clients are using to find legal services.  After  learning what those terms are, they need to put them in the right places on their website.  Having the right keywords placed in the right areas is not enough to rank well in searches, but it is a fundamental component.  In other words, lawyers must have a solid keyword strategy as a basic first step in SEO.

A. Finding Keywords to Use

There are a lot of free and paid resources and tools5 online to find out what keywords your target market is using to find attorneys in a particular practice area.  For example, you can use data from your own website using the following tools.

  • Google Webmaster Tools: Submit your website to Google Webmaster Tools to start generating data on the keywords that are being used to direct visitors to your site from Google.
  • Google Trends: Google keeps track of search information over time and makes it available to anyone who is interested.  Input phrases to see trends in their search volume.
  • The Google Keyword Planner: Similar to Google Trends, the Planner helps users see search volume for terms and phrases.
  • Look at your competition: Type in some terms you think you should be ranking for to see what  competitors come up.

B. Target Location-based Keywords

Lawyers often serve local clientele.  Prospective clients looking for a local attorney use location-based terms in their searches.  For example, if they are looking for an attorney in the Detroit area, they may use a phrase like “personal injury lawyer Detroit”.

Lawyers should target these location-based terms on their web pages.  Naturally, phrases like the one mentioned above are extremely competitive.  You can still target those phrases, but do not  operate on the assumption that you will rank high for them right away.

Instead, target the low-hanging fruit in your area. For example, you can try to rank for a location-based term for a suburb of Detroit (or whichever city you serve).  Use the free keyword research tools mentioned earlier to see what kind of search volume is available for less competitive phrases.  You might find that those terms are far easier to target when starting out.

C. Keyword Optimization

Once you have a list of phrases to work with, you’ll want to place them in very strategic places on your pages.  As a rule of thumb, you should select a page on your site for each keyword phrase topic  that you have (more on this later).  You can use slight variations on the same page, such as plural versions or slightly reordered or synonymous terms, but don’t mix topic areas.

For each page, the target phrase should be placed in the following areas:


Page copy


Title tags

Alt attributes (be creative – don’t just plug text in – describe your images)

File name of images or videos on the page

Page URLs (i.e.

Writing Under An Umbrella

II. Write Under a Main Umbrella (By Practice Area)

A. What Does it Mean to Write Under an Umbrella Theme?

When you write under a main umbrella theme for your site, you’re basically organizing content by topic.  Attorneys should organize their content by practice areas on their websites.  All of your pages should be tightly-themed, meaning that each page should not have multiple different topics on it.  Each page should target one core keyword phrase along with some variations, and that’s it.

This concept is based on the premise that a search engine looks for documents in its index, not necessarily entire websites.  When search engines look for documents, they look for ones that are about  keyword phrases in their totality.  All else being equal, the more content a page has focused on the topic being searched for, the more relevant it may appear to a search engine for any given query.

B. How to Write Under a Main Umbrella

1. Step One: Determine your website theme

What is your main practice area, or the overall category of law you practice?  For example, if you are a personal injury lawyer your overall theme can reflect that.  Your pages can focus on slip-and-fall accidents, auto accidents, truck accidents, near-drownings, etc.

2. Step Two: Keyword Research

Research keyword phrases that your potential clients are using to find legal services that you offer.  Use free tools, like Google Trends or the Keyword Planner in AdWords, to determine search volume.

Look for keyword phrases that have a decent amount of search volume but are either focused or competitive.  You can see how many other websites are using a specific phrase by typing the phrase in quotation marks into a Google search.  The number that appears at the top of the search results page is the number of other sites using that phrase.  Typically, if the number of other sites using the phrase is over 1 million, you have an uphill battle.


3. Step Three: Determine your organizational hierarchy

It’s good to accomplish this step before changing or building new pages on your site. Think of it as your blueprint for what your site will look like. You can’t start building a structure without a blueprint or some kind of plan.

Carefully consider the topics of your site. You should establish one overarching theme, then determine sub-topics that are natural outgrowths from it. The main theme and the sub-themes should all be core content areas for the site.

Below is a visual representation of a simple umbrella structure.  Try writing out your content architecture on a piece of paper before you or your web designer start to build it out.

4. An Example of a Virtual Content Umbrella

An Example of a virtual content silo


Schema Markup

III. Attorney Schema

Schema markup can be applied to content to make it understandable to computers.  This type of markup has been developed with the support of leading search companies, and it is a widely accepted standard.  Schema is meant to improve the appearance of your site on search results pages and will not have a direct effect on rankings.  There are different types of schema, and within those types there are specific schemas for different people, places, things, and concepts.  The type of schema outlined below is called “microdata,” and it’s suggested for use on your content by Google.

A. Manually Adding Attorney Specific Schema

If you are familiar with HTML, it’s pretty simple to add schema markup to your content.  If you aren’t, and you still want to add it that way, you can use one of the popular schema markup generators floating around out there.   There are dozens of different content types that you can markup, but we will only focus on adding it to contact information (name, address, phone number, etc), reviews, business or office hours, and Geo Coordinates.

1. Begin with the Itemtype

For all of the information you want a search engine to understand as being related to your law firm, it must be encased in markup that defines the item type as “attorney.”  The most common way to do this is with a <div></div> tag within which all of your other markup will be entered (i.e. address, phone number, office hours, etc).

It will look like this:

<div itemscope itemtype=””>

—Other markup goes here, between these tags—


2. Next, Add Your Firm Name and Address

Next put the firm’s name and address within the <div> tag that you just made.  Note that address has its own item scope which we will make next.  First, write the name of your firm encased in a <span> tag with the item property “name”.  The syntax looks like this:

<span itemtype=”name”>The Law Office of James E. Novak</span>

So far, your markup should look like this:

<div itemscope itemtype=””>

<span itemtype=”name”>The Law Office of James E. Novak</span>


3. Next, Add the Address Item Scope (note: it should be in a new <div> tag):

<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=””>


Now your markup should look like this:

<div itemscope itemtype=””>

<span itemtype=”name”>The Law Office of James E. Novak</span>

<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=””>



Now you can add your address information.  Each part of an address has its own property.  They would be written as follows:

<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>4500 S Lakeshore Dr</span>

<span itemprop=”addressLocality”Tempe>,

<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>AZ/span>

<span itemprop=”postalCode”>85282</span>

5. Your Finished Attorney Name and Address Markup Should Look Like This:

<div itemscope itemtype=””>

<span itemtype=”name”>The Law Office of James E. Novak></span>

<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=””>

<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>4500 S Lakeshore Dr</span>

<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>Tempe</span>,

<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>AZ</span>

<span itemprop=”postalCode”>85282</span>



(Schema example courtesy of  and The Law Office of James E. Novak) is an excellent resource for visual aids when marking up content.  You can refer back to it as you go through your site.


Fresh Content In Blogging

IV. Enhancing SEO for Lawyers with Blogging

A. Why Blogging Is Important

Part of Google’s goal is to bring high-quality content to its users.  Many times, content that is fresh is considered to be more useful to Internet surfers.  Lawyers who blog are a step ahead of those who do not.  Blogging is a great way to add value to your site, target more keywords, position your firm as an authority, and bring in more traffic.

B. What Attorneys Should Be Doing

Posting to a blog at least twice per week

Targeting additional keywords with their blog pages

Sharing blog posts in social media

Linking to other pages of their site in blog posts

Linking out to authoritative sources in posts

Writing content that potential clients would find incredibly useful


Technical SEO Elements For Lawyers

V. Technical SEO Elements for Lawyers

There are some behind the scenes elements of SEO that are very important.  Make sure that these things exist on your site and are configured correctly.

A. A Robots File

This is a file that instructs search engines whether to crawl your site or not and where they should go.  Not having one isn’t necessarily bad, but search engines will look for them.  You can also use them to exclude pages that you don’t want showing up in search such as duplicated pages, administrative areas, or campaigns.  Here is a great article on how to build or configure a robots file6.

B. Canonicalization

A canonical URL is the URL you want search engines to index.  By indicating a canonical URL, you are essentially telling search engines that this URL is the version you want them to use.  Setting a canonical URL ensures that the pages you want indexed in search appear and that the pages you don’t want indexed stay out.

C. Redirects

If you have pages that are broken and don’t load anymore (but are indexed in search), they should be redirected to pages that do work.  You should configure those redirects as 301 or permanent redirects.  That way, they will pass link juice onto the page they are redirected to.

D. Accessibility

Attorneys should ensure their site is accessible by search engines and by people.  One of the most common reasons for users or search engines being unable to see content is displaying that content using proprietary technology like Flash.  Make sure that your site isn’t using Flash or JavaScript to display important content.

E. Site Speed

Page load time affects how users experience your site.  If load time is slow, users have a bad experience.  When users have a bad experience, search engines stop serving your pages to those users.  Naturally, your page or your entire site has to be VERY slow in order for rankings to be significantly affected, but even small negative performance issues with speed can have a negative effect.  Google has a good tool for checking your site speed, and it tells you exactly what is wrong and how to fix it.

F. Sitemap

Lawyers should have a sitemap installed on their site.  This helps search engines find and index pages of the site without having to work hard to find them.  There are a number of sitemap generators available for free if you have a relatively small website (i.e. less than 500 pages).  If you don’t have a sitemap, you can build one for free at

G. Clean URLs

Search engines and people have a hard time working with URLs that contain special characters.  Avoid using them in your static pages (i.e. the pages that aren’t created on the fly or updated  regularly).  For most attorneys, just about every page on your website will be static.  Avoid using things like underscores, question marks, or other awkward characters.  Only use your keywords in the URL

H. Security

Google announced in 2014 that it would use security as a ranking factor in their algorithm7.  Adding a security certificate to your site, even if you don’t handle sensitive information over the web, is pretty much a freebie in the eyes of the world’s most used search engine.


User Interface

VI. User Experience and Navigation

The experience your visitors have on your site affects its performance in search.   If people can’t find the information they need, if links are broken or pages are hard to use, visitors tend to leave the site for something better.  Over time, this can degrade the site’s performance in search because engines are interested in showing people websites that they will like.  Attorneys should write under a main umbrella on their site and organize content in a logical way so people can find information easily.  Much of this is very subjective.  A site that is easy for one person to use may be difficult for another.  Search engines gather data over time and are able to determine the types of websites that their users like.  They observe how real people interact with websites and use that information to serve better results.

A. Sites that are easy to use, navigate and understand

Lawyers should follow common web conventions. These conventions are well-established norms for where to find items on a website.  For example, in a newspaper, we know that more important headlines are large and prominent.  Less important stories are typically smaller and found off to the sides.  The name of the publication is typically large and at the top of the front page, the date is usually somewhere at the top of the page, and so on.  Most newspapers follow the same conventions and, as a result, they are easy to use because we know where to look for the information.

The web is no different, and there are several conventions that you can follow to make your site easy for users to navigate.

  • Put your logo in the top left corner of the page and make it clickable back to the homepage.
  • Have a main navigational menu that can direct visitors to all pages of the website (don’t orphan pages).
  • Make sure the home page of the site is never more than a few clicks away, and don’t make your site architecture so deep that it becomes hard to find things.
  • Stick with common naming conventions for common tools and menu items.  For example, if you have a search feature, call it “search.” Don’t come up with new and clever names for common items.

Along with making a site easy to use, lawyers should concentrate on how they are keeping users on their sites.  People who come to an attorney website from search and quickly leave indicate that the content on that site was of little or no value to them.  If that happens enough times, search engines develop a profile-of-sorts that indicates that the website isn’t valuable to users. This characteristic may downgrade its rank in search.

Content that is actionable and useful to your target audience is what you should be producing.  The more users find your site valuable, the longer they will stay on it, and the more likely it is that search engines will show it to them.


Off-site SEO is a term that refers to SEO tactics performed away from your website but still directly affect its rankings in search. This include strategies like building links, citations, and social interaction.

Inbound Links

I. Inbound Links

A. Why Links are Important and Where to Get Them

Getting links from other websites is perhaps one of the most important things lawyers can do to make their site perform well in search8.  There are lots of strategies to try and here are a few:

  • Free & Paid Law Firm Directories
  • Local Website Directories
  • Outreach & Forming Relationships

Outreach Example: Scholarship Campaigns;

Lawyers can create scholarship programs and use them as an “in” to get links from .edu and other authoritative domains.  This doesn’t have to be something outrageously expensive.  Even setting aside $500 to $1000 will work.  You can then reach out to educational institutions to promote the program on their site.

B. Directory Submission

Lawyers should target local directories in their region for contextual local links. These could include local chambers of commerce or local website directories..  In general, there are some attributes to directories that you want to look for before spending your time (and definitely your money) joining.

High PageRank: This isn’t a deal breaker, but, generally, sites with higher PR are more authoritative and their links are of greater value.

High ahrefs Domain Authority: ahrefs domain authority is a score between 1-100 that evaluates the number and the quality of the links pointing to the domain.  A high domain authority score reflects a strong link profile.

Reputable: You will know this when you see it. Investigate the directory.  Is it full of ads, ambiguous navigation, and content with no real substance? If so, move on.

Are your competitors listed?: This is a dead giveaway that you should seriously consider joining. If your competitors are in the directory and you are not, you might be leaving money on the table.

Does the directory have a good Alexa Ranking?: Don’t place too much weight on this, but Alexa Ranking can be a good indicator of the popularity of a website. The lower the number the better.

Before we move on to the list of paid directories, there are two that lawyers need to pay special attention to.  If you don’t submit your site and information to any other directories, you’ll definitely want to submit these directories at the bare minimum.

1. Must-have Directories

AVVO ( – Page Rank 6 & 72 ahrefs Domain Authority

AVVO is a great backlink source for attorneys due to its authoritative nature. It’s also a popular site for potential clients looking to contact attorneys in their area.  All listed attorneys start at a 6.5/10 ranking, and those who do not claim their profiles are unable to move up in the ratings. There are a lot of reasons for lawyers to use AVVO.  It provides great local SEO opportunities like an embedded Google map and geographic citation, and it helps link you with other local attorneys.

Note that as of 2014, links in the question/answer section of AVVO are no longer do-follow. Read more here:

Justia ( – Page Rank 7 & 71 ahrefs Domain Authority

Justia was, at least for a time, the best-known name in SEO for attorneys. Though it has more competition today than it did a decade ago, it’s still a popular site online and has a PR7. This site has everything that you could hope for from a backlink: highly curated content, forums for legal answers to help you build your online reputation, and features that help to weed out spam in order to keep the website useful for users and lawyers alike. Justia also provides you with the ability to claim a profile similar to AVVO, though the ranking system is not quite as punitive to those who fail to make a claim.

2. Free Law Firm Directories

Here is a list of the top 5 free law firm directories – by ahrefs domain authority evaluation:

1. Avvo (72DA) – – credit card confirmation
2. Justia (71DA) – – requires fax
3. LawGuru (62DA) –
4. USLegal (62DA) –
5. LeadCounsel (60DA) – – phone confirmation

Full list of free attorney directories available here.

3. Paid Law Firm Directories

Here is a list of the top 5 paid law firm directories – by ahrefs domain authority evaluation:

1. FindLaw (75DA) – – Quote based pricing
2. (72DA) – – Quoted based pricing
3. Nolo (70DA) – – Quote based pricing
4. (64DA) – – $195 per/year
5. LawInfo (64DA) – – Quote based pricing

Full list of paid lawyer directories available here.

4. Local Website Directories

Attorneys can get valuable links and more exposure in local search by claiming or starting new local website directories9. Sites like Google Plus Local, Yelp,, and others are good places to start.  Think of these sites as extra opportunities around the web that can potentially capture people’s attention and expose them to your firm.

B. Outreach & Forming Relationships

Good links, such as those found in page copy or blog posts, are built by real people.  These links are contextually relevant and provide value to users.  One of the best ways to get links like these is to build relationships with other website owners who can eventually build links for you.  Lawyers should actively network with other industry professionals, and once connections are established, they should get links from contact’s websites onto their own website.  Some examples of outreach include:

Networking groups

Referral networks or groups

Local associations (business or legal related)

Other local legal professionals (that are not competition)

Complimentary services that lawyers can collaborate with like radio stations, churches, local businesses, etc.

C. Competition Analysis

Attorneys can make better content, have better websites, and be more active on social media than their competition, but the number and quality of their inbound links plays a role in their ranking on search pages.  Lawyers should perform a competitive backlink analysis of the other firms that they compete with in the area.

There are lots of tools you can use to perform a competitive backlink analysis, but Ahrefs is one of the best.  Check out their post on conducting a competitive analysis with their tool. Essentially, you can determine just how many links are pointing to a competitor’s website and the caliber of those links.

Local SEO

II. Local SEO

Local SEO simply refers to search on a smaller scale.  Every day, consumers look for local businesses and for attorneys. There’s no difference.  Lawyers often serve geographically constrained markets, so they need to have an online presence in order to be relevant.  There are lots of local SEO specific tactics lawyers can perform to show up well for local searches10.

A. Citations

Citations are mentions of your law firm name on some other website.  Many times, they also include an opportunity to add a link.  Common citation-related websites include Google Business listings or listings on and  There are hundreds of different citation sites that attorneys can use.  Services like and Moz Local are also valuable for building citations.

1. NAP Consistency

Attorneys can dominate the first page of search results by having multiple consistent business listings on the web.  Sites that provide business listing services (like Yelp or Yahoo) are often very authoritative.  They show up near the top of search results because they are trusted sources with longevity.  The more reputable websites you have your law firm listed on the better.

B. Tools for Building Citations

1. Yext

Yext is the market leader for citation-based services.  For a fee, they’ll populate dozens of business listing profiles on sites like,,, and others.  They also provide features that allow you to add service pages on supported sites in addition to other information

Attorneys can create an account and populate it with their information (i.e. name, phone number, address, website, etc.).The service then disseminates that information to dozens of other websites.

Of all the citation services, Yext has a pretty reasonable monthly service plan. However, you have to sign up for a year in advance and you can’t pay monthly.  This makes for a big expense up front, and ifyou are only interested in the business listings, you’ll have to consider the cost.  It’s not a bad deal if you are a large organization, but it is a hefty cost for small businesses who may find better use for budgets elsewhere.

2. UBL (Universal Business Listing)

For 79 dollars per year, Universal Business Listing will distribute your information to core databases that are said to be foundational for the majority of U.S. search platforms.  The “Essential” package includes listings set up on sites like ShowMeLocal, Verizon,, and a dozen or more others.

The company’s core distribution server pushes data to major search engines like Google and Bing.  They also push information to some of the larger data aggregators.  In addition to the listings, you can also get a web card (which is basically a web page) that shows you how your data appears online.

3. Moz Local

While Moz has been in the SEO business for a while, this is their first appearance in the citation business (as of 2014).  Moz provides a basic local citation service that pushes data to leading aggregators.

Moz Local is definitely the most monetarily reasonable service at 84 dollars per year per location (it was 49 dollars per year).  However, you don’t get as many listings as you do with Yext.  Like the other services, you can upload one set of information that is then sent to a number of different data sources and business listing websites.  *Again, don’t forget that your information MUST BE consistent across all citation listing sources, whether for small sites or larger aggregators.

Moz doesn’t distribute to as many second tier listings as Yext does, but it finds duplicate listings for you and pushes information to more data aggregators.

Here is a break-down of how these different services compare to one another.

Citation Service Comparison

C. Reviews

Reviews for law firms are important for two reasons:

  • User-generated content is great for SEO
  • Positive reviews help potential clients choose your firm

User Generated Content

When reviews are posted, they serve as fresh content, usually on authoritative websites.  As such, they tend to show up well in search.  Consumers also use keywords in their reviews that other people may be using to search.

Google Serves Users Local Results

When people look for service providers (regardless of whether or not they use a localized term such as attorney + city name), Google and other search engines will show them results relevant to their location. People often read reviews of local service providers (like attorneys) before they make a decision on who to contact.

Review Campaigns

A review campaign will follow a simple two-step process:

  1. The attorney should pre-qualify the reviewer.

Make sure you have a list of clients who’ve had good experiences with you. If you’ve been running an ethical practice, you shouldn’t have much to worry about. However, there are still the occasional clients you probably don’t want writing things about you online.

Carefully review any clients that you solicit for a review, and make sure they have nothing but positive things to say about you. This may be a no-brainer, but double-checking can’t hurt before you start reaching out to people.

  1. Send a review template to the client

If you make the process of writing a review as easy as possible, people are more likely to leave one. Part of is process is offering an easy-to-follow template so your clients can just fill in the blanks. Send your clients a template as part of your review solicitation email.  Here is a template that I use often.

Provide precise instructions on how to fill it out, including any links to use, text, questions to answer, etc.

Reviews provide unique and fresh user-generated content. They also provide chances to rank for keyword phrases that real consumers are using. If you implement a review campaign correctly, it can have very beneficial effects for your website.

D. What Can Harm Local SEO?

1. False Business Location

Inconsistent and/or incorrect information on your law firm location can harm your presence in local search. Engines want to deliver trustworthy and reliable information to their users. When algorithms detect incorrect or conflicting information, you run the risk of showing prospective clients the wrong business contact information, or your firm may not show up at all.

2. Poor Category Selection

Categories are extremely important for an attorney’s online presence. Search engines organize information based on category for users, and many citation services also organize business information in this way. When lawyers select categories that do not apply to them (for example, choosing legal services instead of a more specific category like personal injury attorney), they could be missing out on traffic interested in their services.

3. Inconsistent NAP

Consistent name, address, and phone number is extremely important for local SEO. Google and other engines deliver this content to users, and, if it is inconsistent, they are less likely to trust the information and less likely to show it to their users.

4. Duplicate Listings

Duplicate listings can also kill an attorney’s web presence. Many attorneys can have duplicate profiles if multiple lawyers at the same firm have set up listings, or if an office has moved. The best way to find and eliminate duplicate listings is to use Google Map Maker to look for duplicates that you might not know about, then deleting them.

Social Media Marketing

III. Social Media Marketing

Social media is an extremely important part of search engine optimization. By managing their social accounts appropriately, attorneys can form relationships with their audience while amplifying their ability to broadcast a message. They can draw attention to themselves and/or their firm, and they can also leverage their social media presence for links. The social sites listed below are typically ones all attorneys should have a presence on.

A. Google Plus

If you decide that you don’t want to be active on any social networks, you should still build up a presence on Google Plus. It is perhaps the most important network for an enhanced search presence for lawyers. A well-optimized Google Plus profile can help lawyers in a couple of ways.

1. Ranking for your name

An attorney’s name is extremely important, and having it show up in search is like gold. If you have an active Google Plus profile already, try searching for your name to see if it is ranked among the top results on the first page of Google. Odds are it is. If you don’t have a profile already, create one. Add keywords related to your practice area, create a healthy ”About” section, link other social properties, and remain active on the network.

Chris Dreyers Google Plus Profile

2. Built For Search

Google’s intent for Plus wasn’t just to build a social network to compete with other major players. Many indicators point to a platform built to identify high quality content and the people creating it. Many facets of the network were made for search engine optimization. While ithas never been proven, there have been studies showing a strong correlation between posting, engagement, and activity on Google Plus and high rankings in Google SERPs.

B. Facebook

There have also been correlations made on Facebook’s influence on search rankings. Google has firmly denied any link between social activity and high search rankings. Whether that is true or not, there are a variety of benefits that come out of social networking. For example, spreading good content on Facebook gets more exposure for your firm and its content. When you can get people to interact with your content on Facebook (i.e. share, like, and comment on it), you can get more eye balls on your content. Facebook has a network of more than a billion people. Obviously, not all of them will see your content, but the shear size of Facebook presents a lot of potential to spread information and to pick up natural links.

C. Twitter

There has been speculation that correlations among high rankings and activity on Twitter are not as strong. Lawyers can still get a lot out of the platform by sharing good content on a regular basis. Getting retweeted and favorited, in addition to having other interactions on the network, helps spread content just like on Facebook and other networks.

D. LinkedIn

LinkedIn is another network that attorneys can leverage to show up in a prominent search position for their name and to build credibility. LinkedIn profiles rank very high for lawyer names. You might even see them appear before Google Plus listings in search. These are strictly professional profiles, so they are great for highlighting accomplishments, credentials, projects, and for presenting a general timeline of your success as a lawyer.

E. Tier Two Social Sites

These are less well-known social sites that attorneys can use to supplement their presence online, get more links, and increase the chances that they will show up in search when someone is looking for either them or their services. Examples of tier two sites include Pinterest,, and Klout. These sites provide more opportunities to include keywords, add contact information, add links, and, in general, present more content about an attorney and/or their firm.


IV. Penalties, Algorithms and Negative SEO

A. Panda

In February of 2011, Google introduced a change to its algorithm code named Panda. From a high level, it was meant to weed out sites from search that had low-quality content. Among other factors, sites that have thin content or were written by a software program (which usually shows) tended to get get demoted in search results. For the most part, Google simply started enforcing its quality guidelines more stringently. Google even provided website owners with a list of 21 elements that should be present in a high-quality site.

Lawyers can ensure they have high quality content by writing information that is useful to their audience. Avoid programs that spin articles or write them for you. Not all of your pages need to have tons of useful information, but the ones that you want to rank for specific keyword phrases should be full of good content for visitors.

If you think you’ve already been affected by the Panda algorithm, all is not lost.  There are certainly steps you can take to recover from it.  You can start by removing any low-quality content you may have on your site.  For example, if you’ve purchased articles or blog posts, had content written by software, or copy-and-pasted content from somewhere else on the web, re-write or remove it.  Get rid of any duplicate content by canonicalizing your URLs or excluding them from search.

B. Penguin

The Penguin algorithm update was another measure by Google to combat web spam. Specifically, it targeted sites that used black hat tactics like link schemes, automated content generation, keyword stuffing, and the like to try and gain first page rankings in Google’s search engine results pages. Penguin has undergone many updates since its original release. The big thing to remember about Penguin is that it largely affects sites that have been tampering with links. For example, buying links, exchanging links, or generally posting low-quality links that add little or no value to users.

The easiest way for attorneys to tell if they’ve been affected by Penguin is to look at their data in Analytics and/or Webmaster tools.  Drops in referral traffic from Google can indicate something has changed (especially sharp drops).  Of course, attorneys shouldn’t jump to conclusions.  It’s important to take all factors into account.  Compare drops in traffic to trends in previous years if you have them (this is easy in Google Analytics, but historical data is not available from WMT).  Did your site experience a similar decline in previous years?  If so, there may not be much to worry about.  Attorneys also need to account for cyclical changes in their particular practice areas.

An example of a google traffic drop

C. Negative SEO

Negative SEO is a malicious practice where harmful optimization techniques are done deliberately to a website.  This often occurs in the form of spammy inbound links built to a domain.  Negative SEO is rare, but it does happen.  Attorneys can protect themselves by routinely keeping an eye on their backlink profile.  Tools like Webmaster Tools or can help keep track of new inbound links leading to a website.  Examination of those links is required to determine if they are coming from harmful or spammy websites.

If you’ve found suspicious links, you should remove or disavow them immediately.  The best course of action is to try to get website owners to take the links for your site down.  That action, however, is not always practical.  Lawyers also have the option of using Google’s Disavow links tool.  This tool was introduced by Google as an alternative when link removal requests are unsuccessful.

D. Manual Penalties

For the most part, Google uses automated algorithms to deliver quality search results and ignores results that are irrelevant.  Sometimes those algorithms don’t always catch everything.  For these scenarios, Google has real people that follow up on complaints related to web spam.  Website owners who have been trying to unfairly manipulate search rankings can sometimes receive a manual penalty from Google based on these complaints and manual reviews.  Manual actions are typically levied against sites that have violated Google’s quality guidelines.