How do new clients find your law firm? The answer is often digital, and most often through a local Google search. In fact, according to the National Law Review, 96 percent of people seeking legal advice start with a search engine.
When a search has local intent, 93% of SERPs contain a local pack.
We’ve discussed the topic previously in our Local SEO for Lawyers Guide, but it’s worth digging more into just how Google ranks legal practices and other local businesses in the local pack the way it does.
It’s a complex topic. The search engine giant continues to refine its search algorithm, particularly for local searches, to maximize relevance across industries and devices.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to three factors: Relevance, Proximity, and Prominence. An in-depth understanding of each of these factors can help you build an attorney SEO strategy designed to attract and convert local searches.
Let’s get started.
Relevance: Matching Search Intent With Search Results
Google defines relevance as “how well a local Business Profile matches what someone is searching for.”
In its most obvious form, a search for a criminal defense lawyer will probably not show trademark law firms on the first page. It’s a simple first check that Google uses to sort out exactly what results match the audience’s intent.
This category is the most basic of the three major ranking factors determining the local pack. As a result, the steps you take to ensure your legal practice ranks well for relevant local searches are similarly straightforward.
1. Select the Right Local Categories in GMB
The categories you choose on your Google My Business (GMB) profile are Google’s first indicator of relevance.
You can choose more than one from the 3,900+ options, with options including:
- Divorce Lawyer
- Law Firm
- Personal Injury Attorney
- Real Estate Attorney
- Trial Attorney
In total, there are more than 100 legal industry-related options to choose from. This Moz guide on choosing your ideal business categories can help. Another great source is this convenient category helper tool from PlePer.
2. Add a Keyword-Optimized Google Business Description
The description within your Google Business Profile tells users exactly what you do beyond a pre-defined category. But Google also uses it to determine the most relevant local SEO results.
A few best practices can help you write a business description most likely to get you ranked high on relevance:
- Keep your description informational, avoiding any attempts to overtly push your business or encourage a consultation.
- Focus on keywords relevant to your industry niche. For example, a personal injury attorney will need those words, along with other well-performing keywords in that niche, in the description.
- Keep your focus as narrow as possible. While you need to be comprehensive about your services, this is not the place for an in-depth description of each area of expertise.
Your business information should make it easy for Google to know where you’re located, when you’re open, and what you do.
3. Create Relevant Website Content
As explained elsewhere, Google doesn’t limit its local pack rankings to its business profile. Your website content also matters. This is why your local SEO goals should enter your content marketing strategy, as well.
Optimize both your service area pages and additional content, like blog posts, for keywords local audiences would use to find a law firm like yours. Don’t underestimate the value of adding your targeted geographic location to your title tags, either.
Of course, 2021 content marketing best practices still apply here. The content has to add actual value to your audience while optimizing for keywords like San Diego personal injury attorney.
4. Cross-Link Relevant Internal Pages
As you expand your publication of relevant web content, it becomes increasingly important to link them together. Internal links have proven SEO value. They signal that your website is a comprehensive and authoritative resource on that topic, and the same concept applies to local SEO.
By cross-linking internal blog posts and landing pages that are relevant to typical local searches, you position yourself as a clear resource on that topic. Your personal injury lawyer landing page, for instance, can link to a blog post on when to contact a personal injury attorney in San Diego.
This link signals to Google that anyone searching for the topic in that area should be presented with your local business profile. Don’t underestimate the value of this on-site SEO strategy.
5. Optimize On-Site Reviews for Relevance
We’ll get into client and customer reviews in more detail when discussing the Prominence factor below.
In the meantime, though, reviews can also boost your relevance rating with Google when they:
- Mention the topic and keyword(s) related to local searches.
- Include mention of your location or specific indicators, like a local neighborhood, within your broader location.
That’s not just the case for Google My Business profile reviews, either. Featuring client reviews that mention either of these terms on your website further communicates your relevance to Google.
Proximity: Optimizing Search for Hyper-Local Results
The second ranking factor for the local pack is proximity. Google defines it as “how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search.” More local results will naturally appear more prominently, favored over relevant results that are further away.
To determine proximity, Google hones in on two different types of queries that suggest proximity: geomodified and non-geomodified searches.
Geomodified searches include a specific geographic location in the query. For example, a potential client may search for Tampa Personal Injury Attorneys. This tells Google to prioritize Tampa-based law firms in that niche.
Non-geomodified searches use the search query to determine whether a local pack is warranted on the results page.
For example, a search for personal injury lawyers will always include local results for users who allow Google to track their location. A variation of this search type is adding “near me” to a query.
Using either of these two parameters, Google attempts to show results that are as relevant as possible based on how close they are to the user’s location. Importantly, though, search results tend to prioritize geomodified searches.
If a potential client in Newark searches for trial attorneys in New York City, they will be shown results for that city first, not within their own proximity. For large metro areas like New York City, Google will naturally orient itself towards the population center (in this case, Manhattan).
Proximity is the most unique of the three ranking signals in local SEO. The other two, relevance and prominence, are not dissimilar from other relevant variables in non-local searches. After all, Google will always prioritize relevant, authoritative results.
Proximity, though, is what can truly make or break your local attorney SEO efforts even when your more general optimization is on point.
Optimizing your Google Business Profile and website for proximity includes a few important steps:
1. Enter and Verify Your Business Profile Location
At its most basic, your business location should include your current and accurate business name along with your physical address and your phone number. That address, of course, is the first place Google uses to determine proximity in both geomodified and non-geomodified searches.
Beyond adding that basic information, the second step is profile verification. This ensures you actually perform your core service at the location you have entered, which adds credibility to your business. It involves entering your business address, and completing the process via mail, email, or phone.
Be sure to follow Google’s address entry guidelines to streamline the process.
2. Keep Your Business Hours Accurate and Current
While not as important as your address, search results do take your business hours into account. A local search outside your opening hours is less likely to include your law firm. Google makes the assumption that any local search user would prioritize immediate help.
If your hours change during holidays or events, mark it in your Google Business Profile. The more accurate and exact you can be in adding this information, the more likely you will appear in the local pack when you are actually available to your potential clients.
3. Create Strong Location-Based Content
The above-mentioned connection between your Business Profile and your website also matters when it comes to proximity. In fact, Google combs your website for location-based content.
It will show both your site and your profile more prominently in search results when it deems your content to be valuable and relevant to the search.
Both of those variables, of course, matter significantly:
- Any location-based web content you create has to add tangible value. In other words, simply creating “thin” pages of 200-word blog posts using the location term will not be enough. Google’s RankBrain algorithm continually improves its judgment of what constitutes content quality. This leaves little to no loopholes other than creating content your audience actually wants to read.
- For local search terms, value only matters if it is relevant to the proximity variable. In other words, Google will only judge content that seems optimized for the location your audience searches for (geo-modified) or searches from (non-geo-modified). Duplicate landing pages that simply change the location for Patent Attorney in [City] are not considered relevant for this purpose.
When ranking for local SEO, location-based content should be embedded in your content marketing strategy. Valuable blog posts with legal advice or case studies centered around your focus location, for instance, can make a major difference in influencing proximity rankings.
4. Consider Opening Satellite Locations in Relevant Locations
This last step goes far beyond mere marketing considerations. Especially in densely populated areas like Miami or New York City, proximity ratings may corner in your proximity so much that you only appear prominently on results within a mile or two of your physical location.
Over time, you can stretch that area a bit by increasing your overall SEO juice. Generally speaking, though, the only way to significantly expand your influence area is through additional locations.
Keep a few things in mind as you consider this step:
- The exact proximity rating is not consistent. It depends on both search volume and competition. While the above is true for a city like Miami, you might be able to rank locally in a 50-mile radius around a city like Cincinnati.
- Open satellite locations only when they make sound business sense. Marketing should not be your first consideration in that decision.
- Treat each satellite location as a new location for GMB. Adding that address can now help you rank highly in proximity for the radius around that location.
Of course, honesty is key. Google will punish any company trying to expand its local reach without actually doing business in that area via a physical location. After all, its goal is to show the search results most closely matching search intent and relevance.
Prominence: Leveraging Brand Perceptions and Credibility
The third major ranking factor for local SEO, prominence, is described by Google as “how well-known a business is.”
The search engine tries to approximate how well-known a business is in the real world, automatically favoring famous landmarks or businesses and brands known by the highest percentage of people.
This variable is all about credibility. If your law firm stands out from others in a positive way, you have a good chance of ranking higher in local results.
The search engine bases that information on all the information it has gathered about your business:
- Prominence of your website in regular search results
- Links to your website and business profile
- Articles about your brand and business
- Business directories in your industry, and ratings on those directories
- Google reviews – in terms of both quantity and quality
In other words, this is a broad category. Almost everything you do to improve your SEO as a whole plays positively into this local factor. Still, there are a few things you can do specifically to boost your prominence for a chance to rank higher in the local pack.
1. Encourage, Manage, and Respond to Reviews
Within Google My Business Profiles, attorney reviews are the most important factor relating to your law firm’s perceived prominence. Engaging in comprehensive review management includes three stages:
- Encourage reviews from happy clients, asking them directly to share their experience on your profile.
- Manage your reviews, sorting out and flagging any reviews that are clearly spam or unrelated to your law firm’s services.
- Respond to both positive and negative reviews.
Thanking happy clients shows that you appreciate their business, while approaching negative reviews with genuine care shows that you value everyone you work with. Over time, your reviews will become more prominent, increasing your prominence ranking.
2. Build Citations on Directory Pages
Google considers any reference to your business, address, and phone number a citation that raises your prominence. This citation does not need to link to your website. But it should match the information you have on your GMB profile.
Businesses shown with their NAP on more pages are considered more credible and well-known. Legal directories like Avvo and BestLawyers are a perfect way to build that ranking, just making sure that your business NAP appears frequently on credible websites around the web.
Having a presence on social media – including a page on Facebook, a profile on Instagram, and accounts on LinkedIn and Twitter – can also give your local SEO efforts a boost if you update those with local information.
A citation is a reference to your business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) online. Unlike external links, citations do not need to link back to your website. Just having your business name, address and phone number mentioned gets you credit for a citation.
Tools like Brightlocal’s Citation Tracker can help you find and potentially fix existing citations and uncover new citation opportunities.
3. Optimize Your Link Building Strategy
On your own website, link building is a crucial part of showing and building prominence. The more websites link to you, the more well-known Google considers your business to be. These websites need to be credible, considered on their own as prominent in their industry.
Link building is a comprehensive strategy that goes far beyond local attorney SEO. Tactics like guest posts, directory listings, and more can all be successful components of it. This guide to backlinks is a great place to get started for more information.
Other Steps to Boost Your Local SEO
At this point, a clear theme has emerged: local SEO does not exist in isolation, for law firms and otherwise.
While some clear individual steps exist to optimize for Google’s Relevance, Proximity, and Prominence trifecta, many of them can and should intersect with your larger search strategy to elevate your practice for potential clients.
With that in mind, the above steps aren’t the only steps you can take to boost your local SEO. A few others might not fit into any of the above three categories but are still worth highlighting for attorneys in any legal niche:
- Add pictures, posts, and events to your Google My Business Profile. Pictures enhance your presence on search results pages, making clicks more likely. Posts and events are additional opportunities to rank for specific keywords related to your location and niche, boosting local rankings in the process.
- Supplement your organic search efforts with local services ads. These ads are specifically designed for searches with localized intent, and have proven to be immensely successful. SEO can take time, and local services ads can help you test keywords or bridge the gap to achieve more short-term awareness and engagement goals.
- Integrate your local efforts into your larger SEO strategy. For most attorneys, typically bound by locations, SEO should be inherently local. Every piece of your content marketing and SEO strategy should take the above factors into account, creating an execution that revolves around maximizing your chances for a high spot in the local pack.
And of course, it’s vital to keep in mind that you are not on your own. SEO for lawyers, and local SEO in particular, is a complex topic. It also changes consistently with every new local algorithm update. Attorneys, busy with helping their clients in a variety of legal cases, cannot be expected to keep up with every nuance.
That’s why finding a reliable partner to work with can be an immense boost to your SEO efforts. That partner will be able to evaluate your individual situation, making recommendations and implementing strategies not just based on general best practices but your unique niche, location, and audience.
That’s where LawRank comes in. Our SEO company for lawyers has extensive experience in helping attorneys improve and optimize their local SEO. And our SEO specialists ready to apply that expertise to your needs and help you get the high-quality results you deserve.