onsite and offsite SEO for lawyers

A Comprehensive Approach to Ranking

SEO is among the most complex digital marketing strategies for two reasons:

  • It has significant technical components, and
  • It requires optimization beyond your own channels.

Investing time and resources in both of these components, known as on-site and off-site SEO, will yield comprehensive, positive ranking results in Google.

onsite and offsite seo factors

Broadly speaking, on-site SEO refers to the way you build your digital infrastructure to allow your website (and its content) to shine. 

Elements of on-site SEO include:

  • Site structure
  • Enhancing title tags
  • Organizing content
  • Embracing an aggressive approach to internal links
  • Crafting helpful meta descriptions
  • Improving site speed

When you really think about it, on-site SEO is really about enhancing the user’s experience. 

Don’t Undervalue the Importance of the User Experience

You can have the best content ever penned by mankind and the most in-depth link portfolio ever curated . . .  but if you don’t provide the user with a great experience on your website, it’s all for nothing.

It’s simple: the better the user’s experience when visiting your website, the more likely they’ll

  • (a) stay and read the content you’ve carefully drafted, and
  • (b) contact you to discuss legal representation.

Remember, Google analyzes user signals – so the better the user experience, the better the chance you have of ranking.

What’s important when it comes to user experience?

  • Visual appearance
  • Site speed
  • Accessibility
  • On-Site Optimization

Here’s what you need to know to optimize your site to maximize the user’s experience.

Enhance Your Site’s Visual Appearance

You need to have an aesthetically pleasing website. You want prospective clients to visit your page and be “wowed” by how it looks.

Think about it – you’re probably much more likely to spend time looking at something that’s pleasing to the eye than something that’s not, right? The same holds true for the people who are visiting your firm’s site.

And, visual appearance is just the tip of the UX iceberg. How your site is structured, the way it’s designed to function, and how it conveys information are critically important to the user experience.

Site Structure

Your users need to be able to easily navigate around your website. In other words, you need an intentional, streamlined, and intuitive website structure. 

Your website will have a Homepage (HP) and then a ton of supporting content. Site structure is all about how that content is organized – or nested – beneath the HP. This might seem easy – but it can get complicated.

SEO-optimized domains include the keyword you’re aiming to rank for in the URL of a given page. Yet, research has shown that short URLs tend to outperform their longer counterparts.

That’s why, in many cases, a so-called flat website structure is your best choice. 

website structure

With a flat structure, pages are as close as possible to the home page, leaving little room for confusion on the hierarchy or importance of both the pages and their URL.

A multi-location law firm simply adds each of its locations as a core filter level before each service area page.

For example, consider a personal injury lawyer in Texas with offices in Houston and Austin, TX. The URL structure could look something like this:

  • smithlawfirm.com
    • smithlawfirm.com/houston/
    • smithlawfirm.com/houston/car-accident-lawyer/
    • smithlawfirm.com/houston/truck-accident-lawyer/
    • smithlawfirm.com/austin/
    • smithlawfirm.com/austin/car-accident-lawyer/
    • smithlawfirm.com/austin/truck-accident-lawyer/

Title Tags

A title tag is HTML that contains the title of the pages on your website. Optimizing your title tags can provide a big boost to your overall law firm SEO campaign. 

Why? They encapsulate what the page is about. Ideally, a title tag is a short, accurate description of the content on a specific page. 

Title tags impact:

How (and where) your site shows up on SERPs

What text is displayed at the top of a web browser

How your content is displayed on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

How to optimize your title tags:

  • Use unique tags for every page
  • Keep your tag between 50 and 60 characters (Google usually cuts off anything beyond that)
  • Begin the tag with your keyword
  • Don’t use all caps
  • Don’t stuff your tag with keywords (Google might penalize you for a title like “NYC Injury Lawyer Accident Attorney Law Firm”)
  • Include your brand when space permits

Always check with your state’s attorney advertising rules regarding superlatives and descriptions – terms like “best” or tags that guarantee a result might run afoul of appropriate advertising standards.

An often overlooked part of SEO, internal links (which are links between individual pages on your websites) can have a major impact on your site authority. 

Put simply, these internal links connect your individual pieces of content. They signal those connections to Google, indicating that users will find relevant information far beyond their initial search query. 

Pages that receive the most internal links build up equity in Google’s eyes. They’re treated as cornerstone content and ranked accordingly. At the same time, the internal links on those cornerstone pages also distribute that equity to the other pages they link to.

It’s a network effect that ultimately benefits every linked page within your website. In one case study, effective internal linking increased organic website traffic by 40 percent. 

Internal linking means linking content on a webpage to another on the same page. 

To optimize internal links to improve your page, there are certain steps to take:

  • Develop a lot of great content: A good volume of content is pivotal in internal linking. The more content your legal website has, the more internal links can be created without linking excessively to certain content. 
  • Link naturally: Use links naturally; don’t overwhelm content with links. Content riddled with links has some disadvantages that may affect the performance of the page. When linking is done naturally, it must be fixed deeply into content. 
  • Focus on the user: As an extension of natural internal linking, links must be user-focused. This means you are not to create internal links to appease the Google algorithm. Rather, make the links useful to readers. 
  • Link relevantly: Link relevantly! Contents sharing internal links should be relevant. Don’t link blindly or when the themes of the two pieces of content don’t match. 

Create compelling content. Link related pages together. Let your readers get lost in a sea of information, learn about their issues, and, most importantly, discover why you’re the legal authority that they need to contact for help.

Appealing to Mobile Users

We live in an age of mobile internet usage, and search engines are adjusting accordingly. Google now pursues mobile-first indexing. That means all pages in its search results are judged as if they were displayed on mobile devices.

As a result, mobile optimization plays an increasingly central role in on-page SEO. Common adjustments include:

  • Responsive website design, displaying equally well on small screens as they would on desktop computers. 
  • Fast loading speeds on mobile devices thanks to lean coding.
  • Mobile-optimized content layouts, with short sentences, bullet lists, and other tactics to avoid walls of text on small screens.

With these adjustments, you can ensure that your website is equally optimized for search engines and your increasingly mobile-centric visitors.

Site Speed

Finally, any comprehensive on-site SEO strategy needs to include keeping a specific eye on the performance of your website. Potential legal clients are often in a state of anxiety when browsing for their options. It doesn’t help, then, that slow-loading websites can increase heart rates by 38 percent.

Google cares about how long it takes for your website to load. Why? Because users care. Three out of four web users say that they’ve visited a website that took too long to load.

What happens when a site takes too long to load? Users abandon their effort to check it out. If the user doesn’t stick around, you won’t convert those clicks into clients.

Data suggests that just a one-second delay in page load time means that you’ll experience an 11% decrease in page views and a 7% decrease in conversions.

slow sites mean less conversion

How long should it take for your law firm’s website to load?

53% of web users will return to Google’s search results and look for another option if a website takes longer than three seconds to load. Nearly half of all web users want a site to load in less than two seconds

For mobile sites, three-quarters of users will give up and leave a site if it takes more than 10 seconds to load. 

Google will favor sites that have a load time between two and three seconds. 

The faster your site loads, the better the user experience. Positive user experience will be rewarded – Google will probably move your page up the ladder, so to speak, and put you closer to (or at) the top of its search results.

How is Page Speed Measured?

For SEO purposes, it’s important to understand how page speed is measured. It can mean “page load time,” which is the amount of time it takes for content on a specific page to fully load. Or, it can mean “time to first byte,” or TTFB, which refers to the time it takes the web server to relay the “first byte” of information to the user’s browser.

Google seems to place more weight on TTFB than page load time. In fact, one study found that there is really no relationship between page load time and ranking. On the other hand, sites that had short TTFBs climbed SERPs. 

How to Check Your Website Speed? 

Keeping in mind the value of speed in Google ranking, you wonder how to check the speed of your website. The fact is, your website won’t be the only attorney page on the internet.

Other blogs and pages are offering similar services to yours. To stay fit for competition, your website must load fast. To check the speed of your website and decide on whether to improve it, you need to test it. 

Many platforms offer website speed testing services. Endeavor to test with two different types of services; you can never err on the side of caution. An example of a tool to use is the Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool assesses your website by loading your page the same way a human would. 

Another testing website to consider is WebPageTest.org. This testing platform loads your website in conventional browsers to check for a realistic speed. 

How Can I Improve Page Speed?

A website speed test reveals two things: 1) that the website is performing well; or 2) it needs improvement to make it great. To improve a page’s speed, you can make a few tweaks, such as: 

Limit HTTP Requests

An HTTP request is simply how your page interacts with the server to display the information a user clicks. Limit HTTP requests to avoid a slow page response. As mentioned earlier, a slow page frustrates users and makes them leave abruptly without coming back. 

The two major reasons for a slow page due to HTTP requests are that a page may contain too many files and too large of files. So, to limit the request, resist the habit of filling your website with big and uncompressed files. 

Of course, to have a good attorney website, you need to constantly create content: videos, files, pictures, and a lot of texts. However, the video and pictures should always be compressed to reduce their sizes. Additionally, watch out for excessive content. 

Reduce Redirects 

Have you ever clicked on a page and it keeps showing “redirecting” endlessly? Some pages don’t redirect just once but multiple times, and this makes a page take longer than necessary to load. So, reduce the redirect on a page to improve the speed. 

Optimize Images

Image optimization should perhaps come first on this list since images make up an enormous percentage of website content.

To improve the speed of a page, reduce or compress the size of the images. Optimized website images prevent a page from loading slowly.

Images, when used appropriately, can make a page more interesting and attractive than a page with pure text. So, take advantage of images, but learn to compress the size. 

Minify JavaScript, CSS, HTML

Minify codes on a website to also improve the speed of your page. Clean and compress codes.

When your codes are clean, your website will load quickly. Additionally, have extra codes removed. Some codes could be lying around unused if features you once added are no longer used.

Use a CDN

Content Delivery Network is a good way of boosting website speed. It allows users to access your page using a server closest to them physically. 

Change the Website Hosting 

Sometimes spending too little on hosting could also affect a page. Several web hosts are available online with different charges. At times, all that is required to boost the speed of your page is changing your web host.

You might understand what a website is about just by looking at it, but Google’s bots have a more difficult time with that. That’s where schema – or on-page markup – comes into play.

Schema is coded text that’s added to the backend of a website to help Google better understand what it’s about. The markup helps to give semantic meaning to the content on the site. 

Google needs to understand the purpose of web pages to deduce what value they offer. With schema markup, an attorney page can vividly describe itself to the search engine. It’s a way to tell Google exactly what your site is about and give directions about when it should show up in search results.

By providing on-page markup on your website, you increase the odds of ranking when it matters. 

Research shows that incorporating legal schema can:

  • Bump you up 9 positions on a SERP 
  • Increase your impressions by more than a third (35%)
  • Get you 26% more clicks
  • Increase your click-through-rate by 20%
  • Get users to stay on your firm’s website longer, and
  • Increase user engagement.

How is this possible? Your on-page markup tells Google what your pages are about.

By helping Google understand the meaning behind your site – and incorporating helpful things like FAQs and capturing featured snippets – there’s a greater chance that Google will match you with users looking for your types of services.

The better you can explain yourself to Google, the better your chances of not only ranking, but taking up considerable real estate on a SERP.

So, it makes sense to incorporate a legal service schema to boost SEO performance.

You can add schema to an attorney website by writing the code or using a third-party schema generator. 

Off-Site SEO

Off-site SEO refers to your ranking efforts outside the confines of your law firm’s website – external actions that raise brand awareness and generate positive ranking signals.

When your SEO work goes beyond physically manipulating your firm’s website, you’re engaging off-site SEO. Link building, for instance, is the most notable (and most important) form of off-site SEO.

Even when something isn’t done on your website, you can still have an influence over what happens for ranking purposes. 

These are off-site (non-link related) factors that could have an influence on your ability to rank:

Client Reviews

Attorney reviews can provide great authority and instill confidence in your firm’s ability to help a potential client with their legal issue. 

Nearly all people check out online reviews before hiring a service or making a purchase.

The average person spends just over 13 minutes reading online reviews before making a decision. Of those who check out reviews, 79% put as much stock into online reviews as they place on input from friends and family.

Around 91% of people say that positive reviews increase the chances that they’ll hire a company. 

Reviews are somewhat outside of your control. You can’t write them yourself or require clients to post them. However, you can encourage your former clients to write reviews and be active in responding to every review that’s posted online.

That’s right – take the time to respond to good and bad reviews alike. This will show prospective clients that you’re engaged and involved – something that many people consider a top priority when hiring an attorney. 

The more reviews your firm has, the better. One additional star on Yelp is associated with a 5-9% increase in revenue. If your firm gets 5 reviews, the chances of someone hiring you increase by 270%

Think about it – let’s say you need to hire a plumber. You go online and see two results near you: one has 50 reviews and the other has 4 reviews. Which one are you more likely to go with? Probably the one with 50 reviews (as long as the reviews are mostly good and/or the plumber responded to the negative ones to offer some context or an explanation).

Legal Directories

Establish profiles on top legal directories like Avvo and Martindale-Hubbell. Claiming your profiles – and optimizing them – can really complement your other SEO efforts. This includes adding images, increasing your rating, and linking back to your site.

This simple step can help to show Google that you’re an authority and get your law firm or practice in front of more potential clients.

Unlinked Brand Mentions

Unlinked brand mentions are references to your law firm, attorneys, or web page that don’t link back to your site. This means that: (a) your brand is being recognized and discussed; and (b) there’s untapped potential for backlinks from established sites.

All you have to do is reach out to the site owners and convince them to make that relationship more concrete. 

Even if you don’t gain backlinks, the exposure is great. Readers will see your name or brand in print and register it, at least subconsciously. When it comes time to search for a lawyer, the seed will have already been planted.

Guest Blogging

Don’t guest block just for a reciprocal link. Blog to spread brand awareness. Blog to establish yourself as an authority on your area of the law. Blog to create relationships. Links will follow.

Social Media

Google might not be (outwardly) considering social signals as a ranking factor, but that doesn’t mean that social media isn’t important.

There are more than 1.845 billion daily active users on Facebook and another 450 million between Instagram and Snapchat. On Facebook, 4.75 billion items are shared every day.

So, keep an active social media presence. Create a Facebook profile. Start Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts. Share content that you create or like. Engage with other brands and get influencers in your corner. Answer questions when they arise and show that you’re an authority.

All of these small steps can be huge when someone finds themself in need of an attorney.

Answer Questions

Earlier, we talked about using forums like FindLaw or Quora as part of your keyword research strategy. Well, why not take some time to answer the questions on these sites, as well?

One great way to increase brand awareness, give yourself credibility, and ultimately become an authority is by being an active participant in online communities. 

Go to Reddit, Quora, and Lawyers.com. Engage in conversations with people who have serious questions. Offer what advice or opinions you can (within the boundaries of the law and your state’s ethics rules). You could use this opportunity to include a few links to your firm’s website.

Alternatively, you could just show the community that you’re serious about helping and being there to support those in need. Links (and clients) might follow.

Up Next: Ranking Organically vs. Paying for Google Ads: Does it Matter?