If I ask you who first coined the phrase “search engine optimization” (SEO), most would guess it was a computer engineer or a data scientist.
Few would guess it was a lawyer. But in fact, it was a lawyer by the name of Bob Heyman — he was one of the first to manipulate website text to help content place in search engines and then coined the phrase “search engine optimization.” And he did it years before Google even existed.
But, if a lawyer created SEO, why are so many law firms so bad at it?
I wish I knew the answer to that. I recently took on the painful task of looking at 50 random law firm websites to analyze their SEO efforts and found that very few firms are doing a good job. In fact, while I found a handful of law firms putting in some SEO effort, most had major flaws that will lead to poor customer acquisition.
In this post, I’ll share some of the really bad practices that law firms need to stop if they wish to improve their SEO.
1. Not having a secure website
I was really surprised to see how many law firms still have non-secure “HTTP” sites. I even saw a mid-sized law firm that pitched its large technology practice with a non-secure website. Wow.
Are you kidding me? It’s 2019 and you are still running your site without an SSL Certificate. How is anyone supposed to trust you with client confidences, when you can’t even provide a secure website?
A non-secure website has a URL that begins with “HTTP” in the address bar, in contrast to a secure website that begins with “HTTPS” — with the “S” standing for “Secure.” An SSL Certificate is what you need in order to establish a secure connection between your website and your web host. The certificate is how the browser verifies the identity of the website and the company behind the website, and as long as the certificate is valid, a secure connection will be established and the data will be encrypted.
If you see a little padlock in the address bar of your web browser when looking at your website, that means your website has an SSL Certificate and the data you’re sending or receiving from your site is encrypted.
It used to be that you really only needed a secure website if you were engaged in e-commerce and you had a shopping cart where customers were entering their credit card info on your site. But now, even if your website is primarily an informational site, it’s recommended that you move your site to HTTPS.
Here’s why you should have an SLS Certificate:
- Google will punish you in search results if you don’t. In August 2014, Google announced that HTTPS is a ranking factor in its search algorithm. Since then, many sites are left out of search results because they are not secure. Now, Google makes a non-secure site even more apparent to users with the stamp “Not Secure” — the scarlet letter of SEO. So, now non-secure sites, if you can find them, are even less attractive.
- Potential and existing clients will see that you don’t take security seriously.
- Other websites won’t link to your website, so you will be losing potential referral traffic and the ensuing clients.
- The lack of an SLS certificate is a sign that you don’t have financial resources.
If your law firm’s website is non-secure, don’t feel bad. Just spend the money and get the SLS certificate. You will see an instant improvement in how you place in search results and how you convert with potential clients who find your site.
2. Not having beautiful content
Content is king.
One of the cheapest things a law firm can do to increase its website traffic and convert more customers is by creating beautiful content that potential customers are searching for. The foundation of SEO is high-quality content that users are searching for.
Many of the law firm websites that I looked at were no more than directories of the firm’s lawyers and offices, with some boilerplate overviews that all looked the same.
This is a shame since many opportunities are lost this way.
Your law firm’s content should shine a light on your law practice and be authentic. It should demonstrate your attention to detail, your ability of persuasion, and your power with the pen. Treat your website both as a resource for potential customers and a job interview. If you have lawyers who are knowledgeable about topics, they should write about them so your law firm will appeal to clients who are searching for lawyers with expertise in the field.
Here is why content is so important for SEO:
- If you have useful content that is helpful to a potential client, it will be easier for them to discover your law firm through search (and a lot cheaper than paid Google ads).
- Great content gets shared and linked to by other websites, which will help your website rise in search results.
- The majority of search engine users — 70-80 percent — focus only on the organic results and don’t even pay attention to the ads. (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics) So if you don’t have great content highlighting the things you do, most of your potential customers will never find you, no matter how much money you spend on advertising.
3. Not focusing enough on local presence
If your law firm survives on local business, you need to excel in all aspects of local search. This means your law firm’s website should have:
- The name of your city in relevant content throughout your website, including attorney bios, blog content, and of course the Contact Us page.
- An embedded Google map showing your address, which helps customers and SEO alike. It also helps Google confirm that your website is legitimate.
- Address schema to help search engines confirm your address and location.
- Links to local press that highlights your victories or your commitment to the community.
SEO Pro Tip: When you embed Google Maps on your Contact Us page, you should use the drive directions link and anchor text. This is especially helpful to mobile visitors.
Since 82 percent of smartphone shoppers conduct “near me” searches before they buy a product or service, you should have a solid presence in local search results to gain customers. (Search Engine Land, 2018) (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
4. Not having a professional & updated website
Six of the 50 law firm websites I reviewed were clearly professionally built, using modern, best development practices. The rest fell into two categories:
- A trip down memory lane — These websites were likely at the top of their game 10 years ago when they were built, but look outdated today.
- That high school kid who is good with computers — While these sites may look better than the web 1.0 sites, they often are not SEO-optimized and have security risks.
Law firms should think twice before skimping on a website. Websites are meant to be continuously updated to meet the changing demands created by search engines, consumer needs, and cybersecurity.
Search engines, like Google, are constantly updating their algorithms, and you will get more traffic and more customers if you stay up-to-date with those trends. If you are not keeping up with trends, you will lose out on business.
Consumers are constantly getting new phones, and expect your website to look as good as Facebook or their favorite news site. If they see an outdated website, they will think less of everything else that you do.
Additionally, hackers are constantly stepping up their game and they love to infiltrate law firm websites. If your site is not constantly being updated for security patches, you are placing not just your SEO at risk, but you could be jeopardizing your clients.
For example, the “Panama Papers” cyber attack against the law firm Mossack Fonseca was a result of the firm’s build-it-and forget-about-it mentality. The firm had professionals build a website and somehow failed to keep it updated with the latest free security software updates. You can read about it here.
5. Not focusing on speed & the mobile user
Website speed and performance on mobile devices are two key factors to perform well in search in 2019.
In fact, Google’s Martin Splitt recently described site speed and performance as a top-three SEO factor. And for obvious reasons.
- Google drives 96 percent of mobile search traffic. (Jody Nimetz Co., 2018) (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
- 61 percent of mobile searchers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile-friendly site. (Junto, 2019)
- Over 51 percent of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product while conducting a search on their smartphone. (Google, 2018) (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
In short, more people than ever are using mobile devices, and Google wants to make sure that the sites it shows at the top of search results load fast and are optimized for mobile.
Google rewards sites that load faster and have great mobile experiences. In fact, Google now uses “mobile first” indexing where it prioritizes mobile sites in its indexing efforts and search results. Websites that rank higher in search results on Google tend to load faster and provide a smoother user experience on mobile, according to a new Searchmetrics study conducted using Google’s open-source website auditing tool, Google Lighthouse.
If you don’t have a smooth and fast mobile experience for your audience, your rating on search engines will suffer the consequences and so will your business. You can use online tools like Pingdom and GT Metrix to analyze where the speed problems come from and how to fix them.
Google has even created a very useful tool to make it very easy to understand how mobile site speed impacts your bottom line. Simply enter your website address, and Google will create a report letting you know if your site is fast (under 1 second), average (1 to 2.5 seconds), or slow (longer than 2.5 seconds). There is even a calculator to show how much more money you will make if you can speed up your site. While I am not sure of the method Google uses in its conversion calculator, it is widely known that each one-second delay in web page speed decreases conversions by about 7 percent.
SEO Pro Tip — The easiest way to decrease load speed times is by compressing images. It’s simple to do and, in many cases, it’s the main fix.
6. Not filling in the title tags & meta descriptions
What you don’t see sometimes can be your biggest problem. About 20 percent of the law firm websites I looked at did not have “title tags” or “meta descriptions.”
- A title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page — users don’t see it, but search engines do. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a given result and are important for usability, SEO, and social sharing.
- Similarly, meta descriptions are HTML elements that summarize a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched-for phrase is within the description, so optimizing the meta description is crucial for on-page SEO.
And, since this is text that only search engines (and people looking at the website code like me) see, I’m guessing that the law firms did not even know these tags were missing.
If you are missing title tags and meta descriptions, it is up to Google to guess what you are trying to accomplish with your pages. Sometimes this can work out for you, but many times it won’t.
Many people in SEO were questioning the value of the title and the description tags. But Google recently made it clear that these tags are still important and that they will help search rankings if they are included.
It takes little time to place title tags and meta description into a page. To put it in timesheet perspective, it only takes one-tenth of a billable hour to fill in the short title and pithy description in your title tags and meta descriptions, so there is NO excuse for them not to be there. Of course, if you want to do a really good job with your title tag and descriptions, you will want to do some SEO research to perfect them.