On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is key to putting your law firm’s website on Google’s front page. Remember, Google has been indexing the web since 1998. That’s more than two decades of learning from the trillions of searches their users do each year. Their process is simple. First, form a hypothesis about what elements of a page are the most meaningful for relevance. Then test that hypothesis by putting pages in front of a user. See which SERP result the user clicks. Rinse, repeat. Over time, Google has learned that certain signals correlate strongly to relevance. The point of on-page SEO is to make sure you reflect those signals back, to give your site the best chance of ranking.

On-page SEO by itself isn’t enough to rank for competitive terms! You still need to spend time consistently building links from authoritative sources.

So how can you help Google decide that your content is relevant? A lot of it is common sense, but we’ll break it down for you here.

1. Keywords First

All else being equal, prefer to put the keyword you’re targeting first.

Imagine that Google is a person with a short attention span, and write for that audience. Bonus: most visitors have short attention spans, so being direct helps capture their interest.

Titles

If you were targeting “real estate lawyer” for the Chicago market, consider these titles:

  • Good: Need a Lawyer to Buy Real Estate in Chicago?
  • Better: Looking for a Real Estate Lawyer in Chicago?
  • Best: Real Estate Lawyer in Chicago - Joey Bloggs Law

Content

Google evalutes your page’s text like a person buying a newspaper. Content “above the fold” is given extra weight when determining the main topics covered on the page. Take this page, for example. The opening words are literally “on-page SEO”. On the one hand, it feels manipulative. On the other hand, it maps to how your readers will evaluate your page.

Visitors have lots of sites to choose from. You have a short period of time to capture their interest. Make it clear to them immediately that their questions will be answered if they invest the time to read your content.

2. Keep URLs Short

URLs are hard to change - people bookmark them, other sites create links to them. Change the URL and you break these people’s connection to your site.

URLs require a commitment. That means they’re a strong signal of what the page is about. Don’t waste this opportunity with a machine generated URL that has lots of cruft, like internal identifiers or meaningless publication dates. For example:

  • Bad: https://lawfirmseoguide.com/?p=123
  • Tolerable: https://lawfirmseoguide.com/2019/12/01/guide-on-page-seo.html
  • Good: https://lawfirmseoguide.com/on-page-seo

Tip: if you’re writing topical content about current events, consider keeping the year in the URL slug to hint to Google that your article is timely, and therefore, relevant.

3. Write Engaging, Relevant Metadescs

Space on Google’s search results page is valuable. Each site gets only a title and a description to make a pitch to the user for their attention. Google knows how many clicks a result should get based on its position. If your site outperforms relative to its position, Google will conclude that it is very relevant and should be ranked higher. Likewise, if it underperforms, Google will rank it lower.

How can you take advantage of this?

Think from the point of view of your visitor. What keywords are they using? What text makes them trust that your page is the page with the answers? Set your page’s metadesc attribute accordingly.

Tip: Use Google Search Console to discover the keywords you’re currently ranking on, then search those keywords yourself and assess how relevant your snippet is.

Note that Google always shows the title from your page, but may not show the page’s metadesc if they think it’s a poor fit for the user’s query.

For example, divorce child custody cleveland produces these two SERPs:

Example SERP showing a snippet pulled from the metadesc of a page Example SERP showing a snippet pulled from the body of a page

Only the first result’s snippet is drawn from its metadesc. Google evaluated it and saw that the user’s keywords were all present, if you considered family law as being a reasonable substitute for divorce.

The second page’s metadesc, however, is:

The standard is the “best interests of the child,” which can be broken up into many factors. Have them explained to you by an experienced attorney.

Nothing about divorce. Nothing about custody. Nothing about Cleveland. As a result, Google tried its best to find some relevant text elsewhere on the page to show.

Don’t leave it to Google - monitor the keywords users are using and craft your metadescs to match.

4. Minimize “Quick Backs”

Veni, vidi, vomiti.

  –A Google User

It does you no good to get the user’s click if they take one look at your page and flee to the safety of the SERPs.

In fact, it hurts you. If users tend to spend 30 seconds or less on your page before giving up, Google considers it a sign that your page was not relevant to the keyword and will eventually drop it in the rankings.

Tip: Use Google Analytics to track Time on site and Bounce rate metrics for Organic Search visitors.

There are three keys to making each click from Google a “long click”:

  1. Keep page loads fast, so the user doesn’t give up while waiting
  2. Deliver what your metadesc promises - no surprises!
  3. Feature prominent above-the-fold links to related articles - even if the user has given up on that page, it doesn’t mean that they have to give up on your site

5. Keep Page Loads Fast

Every visitor starts with one foot out the door. Users have limited attention spans. Don’t waste them by making them wait.

Use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to measure your site’s performance for mobile and desktop visitors.

It gives you a score between 0 and 100:

LawFirmSEOGuide.com's PageSpeed Insights Score

If you’re not at least in the 80s, you have some work to do. Many content management systems have themes or plugins that can optimize your page load times. You may need to engage a local web designer to analyze the situation.

6. Sculpt Descriptive Internal Links

Every time you create a link from one page to another, you’re actually doing two things.

First, you’re telling Google that the target page is important. You may have heard of PageRank, Google’s algorithm to measure page importance based on the number of links to it. Do you really need to link to your Privacy Policy from every page?

Second, you’re telling Google another keyword that can be used to describe the target page. Don’t waste this opportunity! Never use anchor text like Click here. When possible, use keywords that match parts of keywords that a user would use.

7. Use External Links

OK, what? You spent all this effort to get the user to your site, and now I’m telling you to link them to someone else. I understand your skepticism. Bear with me.

While many of the factors that go into Google’s rankings are proprietary, some are public. In fact, Google’s 168-page internal guide for assessing the quality of its search results is published online. One of the key dimensions they measure is the E-A-T dimension, short for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. They specifically call out legal advice as an industry where the E-A-T measure is important.

An easy way to score well on this measure is to link to clearly-established authorities. Easy examples are:

  • Legislation references, to cite changes in the law that an article you’re writing discusses
  • Courthouse websites, to provide location info, parking info, etc for clients attending court
  • Related industry sites, for example if your practice is:
    • Conveyances: link to Zillow, REALTOR, etc
    • DUI cases: link to substance abuse programs, automobile insurance sites, government-mandated driving schools, etc
    • Estates: link to generic advice articles written by certified financial planners

You get the idea. The point is to drive home that you are comfortable and knowledgeable enough in the industry to send users off-site to experts, knowing that they’ll come back for the specific service that you provide.

8. Use Headers

This isn’t a grade-school science report, you don’t have to go all out with a multi-level hierarchy. Even if you stick to <H1> and <H2>, you’re fine.

Headers act as another form of commitment. They’re big and bold and in-your-face. Google gives extra weight to the words you choose to empahsize here, so choose carefully.

They also act as section dividers. This is great for two reasons. First, those short-attention span users will use headers to scan the page to see if it’s relevant to them. This is your chance to capture them before they bounce! Second, if Google thinks your metadesc isn’t a great fit for the user’s keywords, the paragraph immediately after a header break is likely to be shown on the SERPs.

9. Use the alt Attribute for Images

This is an easily overlooked opportunity to help Google understand what each page is about. Adding an alt attribute lets you hammer home the topic of the page while also increasing the accessibility of your site for visitors using screen readers. Win-win.

10. Write Like a Normal Person

Let’s say that you know your visitors are searching for “Seattle DUI lawyer”. Your first instinct might be to stuff that phrase everywhere on your site - headers, anchor text, and throughout the copy.

That’s not actually that effective.

This is known as black hat SEO. Your visitors will see this ploy for what it is and bounce back to the SERPs, looking for a less spammy site.

Instead, vary your phrasing. Google’s no slouch in this department. They use a natural-language processing technique known as latent semantic indexing. It turns out that if you feed a really big computer the websites of 200,000 lawyers, that computer easily learns that “drunk driving” is related to “DUI”, which is itself an abbreviation of “driving under the influence”, which is what you get charged with when you “blow over 0.08” and are “driving impaired”.

By all means, give your target keywords pride of place on your website. But don’t write stilted copy to satisfy the Google gods. Write for your clients first, the rankings will follow.

11. Maximize Microdata

Ever notice that some SERPs include dates, hinting to the visitor that the content is up-to-date?

Example of a SERP with a publication date

Google can sometimes discover facts like article dates, author names, office addresses, phone numbers and opening hours automatically. Not always, though. Microdata is a special way of writing your webpages to make this data clear to crawlers like Google. Lawyers, in particular, should take advantage of the LegalService microdata.

Read more about microdata at Moz.

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