This is #3 of the in-Depth versions of the 7 Key SEO Ranking Factors
On-page SEO is the bread and butter of SEO marketing tactics for your law firm. However, it’s not the entire meal, despite how long it takes to bake the bread and churn the butter.
On-page SEO optimization refers to the techniques you apply to the text of pages on your law firm website to help improve its position in the search rankings. It’s very easy to forget elements of on-page SEO. When you first get started, it seems almost as though there is too much to think about.
Keep in mind that Google has capabilities beyond the sci-fi level now, so you can’t do only the basics and expect great things. Let’s have a quick look at some technology Google uses to understand keywords and text.
According to Wikipedia, Hummingbird (launched by Google in 2013) is “capable of understanding the concepts and relationships between keywords,” and its goal “is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”
Aleh Barysevich, co-founder and CMO of SEO PowerSuite, says, “There are two parts to RankBrain: the query analysis part and the ranking part. For the former, RankBrain attempts to interpret queries (particularly the rare or completely new long-tail queries) by associating them with other more common queries and concepts, so as to provide better search results in response. For the ranking part, it analyzes the pages in its index and looks for specific features that make them relevant to the query. These pages will not necessarily contain the exact words from the query, but are nonetheless relevant.”
Google’s patents imply TF-IDF is used in ranking. The main purpose of TF-IDF is to sort out the value of a keyword to a page. TF-IDF compares an individual page’s keyword usage to lots of other pages. If you use a TD-IDF analyzer, you can look at the top 10 pages ranking for a term and sort out the most important related terms they use. You could then experiment with those terms in ratios similar to those of the winning sites.
If you use a tool like MarketMuse or analyze the number of pages on a practice area that a top ranking site has, you can not only match the winning language but improve on the number of relevant sub-pages.
What does it all mean?
Google has tools that look beyond the keyword and, using things like artificial intelligence, can sort out why a page should rank. They look at user satisfaction signals, links, and comprehensiveness, as well as on-page elements like headings and body copy.
If you don’t want to get really fancy with geek tools, just write very high-quality content that uses lots of related terms that help the page be the best you can find online about the topic.
If you were thinking on-page optimization would be 90% of the work you do in SEO, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
SEO Best Practices for Law Firms
1. Short URLs
- Pages should have short, concise, and shareable URLs that let both the user and Google know quickly what the page is about.
2. Keyword in the URL
- URLs should include the primary keyword. This impacts SEO, and users are more likely to click through a URL that contains the keyword they were searching for (or a variation thereof) than one that does not.
3. Keywords in the Title Tags (Shoot for 55-60 Characters)
- Title tags should include primary keywords, again to help the page rank well in search engines and to quickly convey the primary topic(s) to the user.
4. Format Title Tag for Click-Through Rate
- Having a strong value proposition or enticing language in addition to keywords in the title tags and meta descriptions where possible will make your search engine results more attractive. User signals are currently a major ranking factor.Review PPC ads for value proposition ideas and consider using numbers, brackets, and parentheses, which have been shown to improve click-through rates.
5. Meta Descriptions (Shoot for 160 Characters)
- It’s also important to have target keywords and persuasive/enticing language in the meta description to improve click-through rates. Although Google does not give credit for keywords in meta descriptions, if users see the keyword they are searching for or a variation of it in the description, they are more likely to click through.
6. H1 and H2 Headings
- It’s important to have your page structured so Google understands the primary, secondary, and/or tertiary topics of the page. When possible, use at least an H1 with the main topic and an H2 with a subtopic.If your website’s programming does not allow H1 or H2 headlines, at least put headings in bold, since Google will recognize this.
7. Body Copy
- It’s ideal to use your exact keyword in the first 100 words of text. It’s a good idea when possible to use your main keyword several times, but it’s not a good idea to over-optimize and focus on keyword density. That said, it can be helpful to look at keyword density for a reality check on what is working for the top five sites in your field. Sometimes in legal SEO, we see over-optimized pages doing well, although that will continue to change as Google gets even smarter.
8. Length of Content
- Studies from Search Metrics, Brian Dean, and others show that 1600 or even 1890 words is ideal for ranking. Not all of your main website pages will be able to have this much text, but it’s an important factor to consider. If a main product or service page can’t include this much text, you will need other pages with greater depth, such as blog posts and resource pages, if you want to get your keywords and topics ranking well. Thin content does not rank well and can hurt your website.
9. Topic Cluster
- Make your page is part of a topic cluster. Google appreciates it when you create a “pillar page” that covers a topic broadly and then interlinks with lots of clusters of related content. If you are optimizing the page, you need to think strategically to make sure it is part of a group of related pages to build your topical authority.
10. Scan- and Skim-Friendly
- Making your page more readable can have a direct impact on rankings. Having shorter paragraphs and including bulleted and numbered lists is an SEO best practice.
11. Related Keywords/LSI Keywords and TF-IDF
- Google has gone beyond keywords. They are now looking at topics and who covers content more comprehensively, also known as topical authority. Your pages will become more authoritative if you include a healthy mix of keywords that are related to your primary keyword. This can help individual pages potentially rank for hundreds, if not thousands, of keywords.
- Internal Links
It’s important to link to two to five or more other related pages or articles on your site from each page. In order to build topical authority, you need to show Google that your site has topic clusters, or multiple pages on the same topic.Do not use the main key phrase that you are targeting as the anchor text (underlined words) of a link to another page. Anchor text tells Google that you are implying the other page is about the topic more than the page that links to it.
- External Links
It’s also important to link out on a regular basis to authoritative resources. We’ve found that using two to five or more external links per page is helpful.Note: Shorter pages should lean toward having fewer internal and external links and longer pages should have more.
13. Use Multimedia Elements
- When possible, use multimedia elements, such as photos, videos, podcasts, etc. “Dwell time,” or time-on-site and number of pages visited, is now a ranking factor with Google. Dwell time can be increased by using the above multimedia elements and will also decrease your bounce rate and lead to more conversions.
14. ALT Tags
- Every image should have alternative text not only for SEO, but also for disabled users.
Be aware that the following are also important, directly or indirectly:
- How long it takes the page you are optimizing to load
- Inbound links to the page you are optimizing
- Number of social shares the page has
- Additional optimization for ADA disability compliance
- Page author identification using schema markup and links to the author’s social profiles
- Make sure to re-optimize and test different best practices on a quarterly or yearly basis, because what works for one site might not work for another,
- Add fresh content over time to keep the page alive.
- Use a striking distance report to figure out where you are coming up on the second and third results pages of Google and take additional action to push yourself into the top 10.
- Pick the right keywords that you have a chance to rank for, or this entire exercise is a waste of time.
- Make sure the keywords you pick for a page match the intent of what someone is looking for when they search for that keyword.
Now that you have a short list, let’s dig into some of the details on organizing and creating compelling content.
Organize your content
The first step with any on-page SEO optimization is to get your current content organized. As a law firm, you likely have reams and reams of content already, from category pages for specific practice areas, pages for specific industries you work with, resources pages for downloadable items, and blog posts.
The reason you should optimize each of these pages for SEO is that it will help search engines get a better idea of what content is on each page.
And if the search engines have a good idea of what content is on each page, your rankings on the search engines will be higher.
The overarching theme of on-page SEO optimization is to ensure you have thought about the keywords each page wants to target, as well as building a sufficient site architecture to build topical authority.
In order to organize your content, first, think about the different themes you have present on your website. These themes act as parent categories. Within each parent category, you might also have subcategories. Below is a simple example of how a search engine traditionally would like to see a main category page and subpages.
However, our preference for site architecture these days is to use the pillar cluster model instead of the traditional SEO silo model above. Rather than using folder structures, you focus on interlinking powerful general topic pages with subtopic pages, regardless of the they are in. Read more about that in the section on topic clusters.
Once you’ve organized your pages into categories, you can start working on the individual pages. In the following sections, we’ll look at optimizing URLs, body content, keywords, meta descriptions, and title tags. Implementing all of these on your site will help you optimize your law firm website to rank better in search engine results.
Content Context and Relevance
When you create each piece of content, think about what keywords you’d like the content to rank for. If we go to our previous example, the top keyword might be: “Family Law.”
However, you should delve further and create a series of long-tail anchor keywords too. Long-tail keywords help search engines understand the exact context of what your content is about.
Some examples of long-tail keywords could be:
“Family law advice”
“What does the family law court deal with?”
“What are a man’s rights in divorce Vermont?”
These long-tail keywords help give context and intent to your content. If someone is specifically looking for what their rights are, and you include “what are a man’s rights in divorce” within your content, the search engines will understand that your content potentially gives a suitable answer to their query.
But you don’t want to stuff the page with keywords. Keyword stuffing is where you include keywords so often it appears unnatural.
If you really want to write compelling content, pay attention to keywords, and be sure to include them. But you must also make sure your content is interesting, well-written, easy to share, and that it solves a problem because it’s written with the end user in mind.
Keep Your URLs Short
When it comes to your uniform resource locators (URLs), you need to keep them both short and informative. The example below tells the search engine (and the user) nothing about what type of content is on the blog or page.
Compare that to:
In the second example, you can see we’ve included some of the keywords we mentioned before. This helps users and search engines alike understand the context of the content on the page.
When you optimize your URLs, you get the opportunity to increase your rankings. However, the rankings aren’t the be-all and end-all of optimization efforts. So although it’s important to make sure your URLs have a logical structure consistent across the entire website, be mindful that you probably won’t see dramatic results.
Short and clear URLs will likely increase your click-through rate, which is another small but positive ranking signal.
Some top URL tips:
- Keep your URLs short, they shouldn’t exceed
- Make sure the URL represents the content that is on that specific page.
- Use hyphens to help people and search engines understand what content they’re about to read. , www.lawfirm.com/benefitsoflawfirmmarketing isn’t as clear as www.lawfirm.com/benefits-of-law-firm-marketing.
If you can, try to use the primary keyword or long-tail keywords within the URL. This is because of user intent. When a visitor looks for a website, they use specific search terms to help them solve their query or problem.
If you can include the primary keyword in a URL, people are more likely to click-through.
Include Keywords in Your Title Tags
As well as the URL, you should understand the importance of a title tag.
The title tag gives the viewer the title of the webpage. It appears above your URL in search engines as a clickable link.
Often, when a visitor is looking for a specific search query, they’ll read the title to help them decide which of the links to click.
You should optimize your title tags to include keywords, but be careful, you have a maximum pixel size of 600 pixels, which works out to around 60 characters. If you do write more than that, it’ll be cut off by the search engines and users won’t be able to view the extra characters.
For the same reasons we’ve already mentioned, you should include keywords in your URL, you should also include them in your title tag, especially if you can match the keyword to direct search intent.
If you want to check how your law firm website’s title will appear, use https://moz.com/learn/seo/title-tag to test it out.
Type in what you think you’d like your title to be and this tool will show you how it’ll appear on a search engine and whether or not the text will be cut off.
When it comes to optimizing your titles, use Google Search Console to see your click-through rates for specific keywords people have used to find your site.
Use this data to experiment with the impact that varying your titles might have on clicks. Make sure, however, that each title is unique. Duplicate titles will confuse the search engines as to which piece of content they should show.
When it comes to writing titles, think about the emotional element or think about the practical elements. If you go down the emotional route, you can increase your click-through rate by appealing to your audience’s pain points. If you go down the practical route, you give yourself the chance to increase click-throughs by directly adhering to their search query. If you can use emotion and keywords in 60 characters or less, that’s even better.
Use a Compelling Meta Description
The meta description (as shown in the image below) is a further indication as to what the content is about. According to a study by click on a search result based on the meta description given.
The meta description should be used to explain what topic the webpage covers and the exact audience who might be interested in it.
It should be descriptive, unique to the page, and shouldn’t exceed 160 characters.
Your meta description is where you can show added value. If you offer free law consultations, this is the place you can mention it.
Use Structured H1 and H2 Tags
So, once you’ve convinced someone to click through your website through effective title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs, it’s time to work on how to optimize the content on each page.
Each page should have an H1 and H2 tag. These are header tags that help you break up the content. Below is an example of how we use H1 and H2 tags at our own legal marketing review website.
As mentioned, these tags break up the content to help a reader navigate their way through. No one wants to look at a block of text. Just as human readers do, Google uses H1 and H2 tags to understand the context behind the content on the page. The best method is to use the H1 tag as the title and the H2 tags as secondary topics.
Intelligently Use Keywords in the Body of Your Copy
We’ve already covered the importance of including keywords in the title tags and URL, but they’re also important to use within the body copy, too.
However, you don’t need to fill your entire webpage with your keyword as often as you can write it. Google’s AI is becoming much smarter when it comes to working out what context your copy is written in.
So although you do want to consider keywords and use them sparingly throughout your page, you also should think about phrases that are semantically similar to the main keyword and secondary keywords.
Latent semantic indexing (LSI) means synonyms for your main keyword.
Also, it’s important to note that adding keywords in your meta descriptions does not cause rankings to improve. However, you may see a boost in rankings if your meta descriptions generate a lot more click-throughs. For example, if your main keyword was “family lawyer Illinois,” here are some LSI keywords that you can use:
“Best family lawyer Illinois”
“Most affordable family lawyer Illinois”
If you’re struggling to find LSI keywords you can use within your copy, Google will help. Toward the bottom of the search results page, you’ll see a range of “searches related to your search phrase.”
How long should my content be?
When it comes to content, size matters, but it depends on the purpose and aim of the specific page. Studies show that content with a longer word count generates better attention. Look at this example below:
But not every page must have this much text. You might have specific pages for different practice areas that might only need a few hundred words of optimized text. You also might have pages that demand a much more thorough exploration of a topic and therefore need to be longer. Generally, I like longer practice-area pages that lead with engaging and empathetic sentences that summarize the benefits of working with your firm on this topic. Then you can give solid detail on what the practice area is all about, include a video, even an infographic, testimonials, and links to lots of resources you have on the subject.
A user-centric page like that will usually, if not always, outrank and out-convert a few hundred words of dry, “we are great,” firm-centric copy.
Make sure your users can scan your pages easily
We already mentioned you should use H1 and H2 tags to break up the content on each page. This helps readers easily scan the content to find exactly what they’re looking for. You can also use video and images to ensure the content is easy to understand and easily digestible.
Your website users have a short attention span, meaning you only have a few seconds to capture their attention. In addition, humans have a memory buffer, and we can store only so much information at once. That is why short sentences are better. Long and in-depth content is not the problem, it’s how you break it up.
Alongside using your H1 and H2 tags to break up the text, avoid writing paragraphs longer than five lines. Break text up through the use of bullet points and numbered lists.
Always Use Alt Text For Images
We briefly touched upon the concept that you can use images to break up the text within your content.
But the SEO issue with images is that search engines are unable to read text in them the way they do HTML text. The workaround here is to use “alt text.” “Alt attributes” tell search engines what the image is of. Just don’t use images for keyword-rich headlines or subheads, even if you use ALT tags, because HTML text is better for SEO.
An ALT tag is an HTML element used by web developers and search engines alike.
It’s also good to note that for any visually impaired people, if they’re using specific browsers or perhaps have their content read to them through voice-to-text, they will be given the alt attribute rather than the image.
If your site fails to load for any reason or is struggling to load, the web browser will opt to show the alt attributes instead.
Not having alternative text attributed to images also may put you at risk of failing to comply with disability laws. If you have a business that is supposed to be fully accessible to the public, like a hotel or a retail store, then you are even more at risk if your website doesn’t allow the same degree of accessibility that your physical location does.
Nearly 5,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in federal court for alleged website violations in the first six months of 2018. Even if you don’t face potential legal issues, it’s a nice thing to do for people who are visually impaired and are using screen readers to “listen” to your website instead of looking at it as they read.
Images are indexed in Google, so describe the image and its use in the best way you can.
Optimizing your law firm website pages for SEO is a difficult task if you don’t have this guide and the right people helping you.
It is a task that has to be done by a writer with the exact experience of on page optimization. You also need an SEO expert to map out the keyword strategy, and unfortunately many website copywriters do that wrong.
It’s a huge mistake to think that any writer can do this type of work and it’s a mistake that is made repeatedly. I personally don’t understand why more writers can’t get the hang of this, but I can save you a ton of time by promising you that it’s better to start with someone who has a proven track record of doing exactly this.
Follow the guidelines listed above and you’ll be well on your way to a high-ranking site. Doing so will give you the best possible advantage at ranking with the search engines for your specific topics/keywords and getting more high-quality leads for your law firm.
Back in the 1990s, if you gracefully added keywords and related terms into your pages, you could kick back and relax.
Now you’re just getting ready to start the fun part, where you track visitors as they use your site — or bounce away from it — and make it better for them.