SEO for Solicitors [Updated for 2020]

This post is part of a series looking at the steps of an SEO campaign in different industries. In this particular post, we look at SEO for the legal industry - whether you’re a barrister or a solicitor, a firm in the magic circle or a small, local practice, this one's for you.

Introduction

Before we start: In this article we’ll presume you’re already familiar with the general concept of SEO (search engine optimisation), but just in case you’re not here’s a quick explanation. SEO is the practice of improving how well a website ranks in a search engine’s results page. The theory goes that better rankings leads to more visitors, and more visitors leads to more business. In short, SEO helps to input more website users, which should output more leads, sales, sign ups, downloads, or whatever action you want users to take.

To run a successful SEO campaign for solicitors and other types of legal organisations, it is first important to consider the common characteristics shared by companies in the legal sector as they can impact the planning and implementation of an SEO strategy.

In our experience, the common characteristics of law firms are:

  • B2B and/or B2C – solicitors are a relatively rare type of business that, depending on the type and scale of the firm, can offer services specifically for other businesses, or specifically for consumers/individuals, or even both.
  • Local – the overwhelming majority of solicitors provide services to the local communities in which they’re based. There are, of course, many larger practices with national and even international level clients, but Google and Bing show a clear preference for localised results in this industry (meaning a big firm in London has a low chance of outranking smaller firms in Manchester for searches conducted by users in the Manchester region).
  • YMYL – legal websites are classified as sources of information which could impact a person’s happiness, health, safety, or financial stability. In the SEO community, we call these YMYL (Your Money Or Your Life) websites. The acronym isn’t important, but the concept behind it is.
  • Highly qualified – solicitors, lawyers, barristers and other legal professionals must gain a series of advanced, formal qualifications in order to provide a service.

There are likely more too, but for the purposes of this guide we’re only concerned with the ones that may impact SEO.

With that in mind then…

“For some industries, search engines give a stronger weighting to websites belonging to businesses closer to the user’s location.”

How do the characteristics of the legal industry impact an SEO campaign?

B2B and/or B2C

As a solicitor can provide services for businesses, or consumers, or both, it’s important the website very clearly explains what services are on offer and who they’re for.

For example, perhaps your firm is a leading expert in employment law. As such, the website’s content may tell users that the firm provides employment law services.

Unfortunately this is still fairly ambiguous for the user. Do you represent employers or employees? Or both?

The answer can affect how your site is set up, the content on each page, and the type of keyword you target within that content. Whilst we’ve used employment as an example here, the same question holds true for a number of legal services.

Local

For some industries, search engines give a stronger weighting to websites belonging to businesses closer to the user’s location, as their data suggests this is what users are after. Law is one of those industries.

This means if a user searches for ‘personal injury solicitor’, they will be shown a list of results heavily influenced by their location at the time of completing the search. If the user is in Manchester, they’ll be presented with firms with offices in Manchester. If they’re in Liverpool, they’ll find firms with offices in Liverpool. And so on.

This localisation affects 1) the keywords targeted by SEO (there’s no point going after terms relating to locations in which you do not have an office), 2) the site’s content (is your content created with the local community in mind?), and 3) outreach (which sites should you try to get links/mentions from?).

YMYL

A legal website will often contain very serious information.

For example, let’s say a user visits a page about divorce. The content on this page may persuade (or dissuade) the user into proceeding with a divorce, which has the potential to significantly impact not only their personal happiness, health, safety and financial stability, but also that of their partner and any children.

This type of content is subject to more stringent standards of accuracy and quality in order to rank well. A law firm needs to take extra care in showing true expertise throughout its content, and position itself as a trustworthy and authoritative source of information.

Qualifications and regulations

Many law firms in the UK are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). For potential clients, such regulation can help build trust.

Furthermore, over the course of their careers many legal professionals obtain certifications, memberships, and even high-level recognition from industry bodies such as the Legal 500 – all in addition to the necessary educational courses required to perform their duties, such as the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

How does this affect SEO? Well, such signals may communicate expertise, authority and trust, which – as we learnt in the section above – have a part to play in the ranking performance of YMYL content.

“Our finger in the wind estimate is that the number of Google searches for legal services each month is well into the 100,000’s.”

Market Size

Now we’ve considered what factors connect all law firms and we have a good overview of how those factors could affect an SEO campaign, it’s time to look at the size of the SEO opportunity.

We’ve already done (some of) the legwork here. We took a selection of the most common legal services, inclusive of:

  • Corporate & Commercial Law
  • Criminal Defence
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Employment
  • Estate Planning, Wills & Probate
  • Family Law
  • Negligence
  • Personal Injury
  • Property

We looked at how many people used Google to search for services related to these areas each month in the UK.

The results?

On average, there are over 65,000 searches every month.

That’s huge. But even so, we should admit that our research is pretty flawed:

  1. We only looked at around 40 different types of services in total, this is far from an exhaustive list of services provided by law firms
  2. We only included results which either a) did not specify a particular location, or b) specified one of Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, London or Manchester – but no other UK cities.

So our research, which doesn’t include all legal services nor all locations around the UK, still found 65,000 searches a month.

That’s really huge.

It would take more-time-than-I-should-reasonably-spend-writing-this-guide-considering-I-have-other-work-to-do to get a truly accurate figure, but our finger in the wind estimate is that the number of searches for legal services each month is well into the 100,000’s.

Regardless, SEO for solicitors is so localised that you’ll want to gauge the market size and demand for your particular services within your local area anyway. You can do this through keyword research, which we’ll show you how to do further down.

“Whatever the underlying motivation is for SEO, set it out at the start because the entire strategy will be built around it.”

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Step by Step: An SEO campaign for solicitors

We’ve talked a lot already, now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty. Let’s look at what an SEO campaign for solicitors should look like. The basic steps of a campaign are the same for any industry, it’s the detail within each step that changes:

  1. Objective setting
  2. Measurement
  3. Keyword research
  4. Website analysis
  5. Task planning
  6. Monitoring

1. Objective setting

We won’t spend too long on this as it’s simple. SEO is no different to any other part of your law firm, it’s important to set an objective for what you want to achieve.

Perhaps you want to increase enquiries for your family law services, perhaps you want to become an established voice within the legal industry, perhaps you simply want to become more visible in the local community.

Whatever the underlying motivation is for SEO, set it out at the start because the entire strategy will be built around it.

2. Measurement

Regardless of the objective you choose, it should be measurable. Otherwise you’ll never know if your work has been successful.

Let’s use the three example objectives from above and consider what we should measure:

Objective What should we measure?
Increase enquiries for the family law services 1. Rankings for keywords related to family law services
2. Traffic to the site’s family law pages
3. Enquiries for family law
Become an established voice within the legal industry 1. Traffic to the site’s informational content (articles, guides, whitepapers, research, etc)
2. Brand coverage off-site (e.g. providing expert comments to the press)
3. Subscribers to your newsletters, latest articles, etc.
Become more visible in the local community 1. Rankings in the local area
2. Traffic from the local area
3. Enquiries from the local area

As you may have picked up from the table above, measurement of SEO objectives usually centres around rankings, traffic and conversions. This is because that represents the path SEO should create (better rankings > more traffic > more conversions) so we want to check it’s working at every step!

That’s the ‘what’ of measurement, how about the ‘how’?

Website analytics tools can measure traffic and conversions. Most websites will already have something set up, but if you haven’t then Google Analytics (GA) is the industry-standard and it’s free. There are plenty of guides on how to set up and use GA all across the web, but if you’re wondering how to see the data for the points outlined in the table above, you can:

  • See traffic and conversions for any page on the site by navigating to ‘Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages’
  • See traffic and conversions from the local area by navigating to ‘Audience > Geo > Location’

For rankings, you can use Google Search Console. This is also free to set up. Head to the Performance report to see what search terms your site is ranking for, how well it’s ranking, and how much traffic the search terms are driving to the site.

The problem with Google Search Console is getting consistent, accurate and easy-to-analyse data over time, so often SEO’s will often use a paid rank tracking tool as well. If you’re happy with the basic insights provided by Search Console and you understand the limitations of the data, then there’s no need to get a paid tool. If you would like a bit more control and more advanced insights, such as competitor rankings, then a paid tool can be really beneficial (note: as SEOs we tend to use both Search Console and a paid tool in combination).

3. Keyword Research

Earlier in this article, we said:

SEO for solicitors is so localised that you’ll want to gauge the market size and demand for your particular services within your local area anyway. You can do this through keyword research, which we’ll show you how to do further down.

Well guess what? Now is the time to do exactly that.

“Consider the types of terms someone might type into Google if they wanted to find a solicitor who could provide each of these services.”

How do I find keywords for my law firm?

The aim of keyword research is to identify search terms a prospective customer might use to find the services your law firm provides.

So, open a spreadsheet and start by listing each of your main services. Maybe it looks something like this:

  • Property
  • Family law
  • Corporate law

Then, for each of the main services, add in all the subservices that you can provide. Maybe now the list looks like this:

  • Property
    • Buying & selling (conveyancing)
    • Renting/leasing
    • Refinancing
  • Family law
    • Asset tracing
    • Child arrangements
    • Divorce
  • Corporate law
    • Intellectual property
    • Mergers & acquisitions
    • Shareholder agreements

At this point, you should have a comprehensive list of everything you do.

Next, consider the types of terms someone might type into Google if they wanted to find a solicitor who could provide each of these services. For example, If I’m looking for a conveyancer I might search any of the following phrases:

  • Conveyancing solicitor
  • Conveyancing lawyer
  • Conveyancing services
  • Conveyancing law firm

Now, swap out ‘conveyancing’ for each of the services on your list and you’ll have a good starter set of keywords.

You can take this up a level too. If search data has taught us anything over the past 20 years it’s that communities really do want to support each other.

Searchers will often modify a keyword by appending it with a location, e.g. conveyancing solicitor Manchester.

Based on the location of your office(s), you’ll want versions of your keywords with locations in addition to versions without a location.

Once you’ve repeated this process for each service, you’ll have a very strong list of keywords. Next, it’s a good idea to check the search volume data for the keywords you’ve come up with. After all, it’s important to decide which keywords you should prioritise and search volume data (i.e. how often people look for these terms) can help you with making those choices.

You can input your keywords into a free tool like Google’s Keyword Planner, which is part of the Google Ads platform, or a paid tool to extract search volume data. A word to the wise, Keyword Planner will use ranges (e.g. it will tell you Keyword X has a search volume of 10-100 searches a month) unless you’re spending money via Google Ads.

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Note #1:

The keywords we’ve identified above, e.g. Conveyancing Solicitor, are likely to be used by a person who knows exactly what they’re looking for. These people already know what a conveyancer does and they have a fairly urgent need to find one, so they’re well advanced along the traditional customer journey.

Not all people will be at this stage, some may have only just started thinking about buying or selling their home.

You can also target this latter set of people, although not with the same keywords. To find keywords these people might use, think about the questions a person asks at the very start of their journey. For example, if I am considering buying a home, I might search ‘What are the steps involved in buying a home?’ or ‘Do I need a solicitor to help me buy a house?’.

Producing dedicated content that answers questions like these will help your website rank for such questions, and that could in turn lead to your brand connecting with somebody who may well need your conveyancing services a bit further down the line. Having content which creates touch points with users at each step of their journey is a really strong content marketing strategy.

Note #2:

Your keyword research should be influenced by your campaign objective. If your objective is to increase enquiries across all services, then it makes sense to research keywords for all services. But if you want to focus on a particular service, then you only need to research keywords for that particular service.

I have my keywords, what next?

Once you’ve been through the process above, you’ll have a set of keywords and their associated search volume data. The next step is to map these keywords to pages on your website, i.e. the page you want to rank for the keyword.

This is simple. Just enter the URL of your chosen page in a cell next to the keyword on your spreadsheet. Similar keywords can share the same page. For example, the keywords Conveyancing Solicitor and Conveyancing Lawyer can both be targeted by a single conveyancing service page.

This mapping process will give you two things:

  1. A planned target page for each keyword
  2. A clear view of where gaps within your content exist – you should have a suitable landing page for each service you want to target, if you don’t then you have a content gap to fill. After all, you can’t promote a service if you don’t have a page for it.

4. Website analysis

Along with your campaign objectives, you now have the fundamentals of an SEO strategy tailored to your law firm. You’ll know:

✅ What you want to achieve
✅ How you’ll measure progress
✅ What keywords you’ll target to help achieve your objective
✅ What pages you’ll target those keywords on
✅ Where, if any, gaps exist across your content base

The next step your campaign should take is to identify how and where your website can be improved to stimulate ranking increases and start progressing towards your objective.

One method is to perform a series of website analyses. These analysis projects will fall into one of the three core areas of SEO:

  1. Onsite technical health and user experience
  2. Onsite content quality and relevance
  3. Offsite authority and reputation

There are plenty of free guides and resources across the web on how to do all three of the above, so we won’t go into any further detail on them within this post, but we do recommend seeking out a few. The main thing is that at the end of each analysis, you should come away with a set of actions. Those actions will form your campaign plan for the coming months.

There is one thing definitely worth mentioning here.

We know the characteristics of this industry (identified at the start of this guide) are very important considerations for your SEO strategy. As such, the campaign plan should prioritise any actions relating to those characteristics.

Let’s have a look at three example scenarios of this in action, one for each of the core areas listed above.

Scenario 1: Technical health issues

During your onsite technical health and user experience analysis, you notice that your website ‘A’ is still on the old HTTP protocol, instead of the more modern HTTPS protocol that your competitor ‘B’ is on (for reference, there’s an easy way to tell, just look at your URL, does it resemble A or B below).

A: http://law-firm-A.co.uk
B: https://law-firm-B.co.uk

Sites on the HTTPS protocol are more secure and safer for users, and they receive a small ranking boost over websites on the older, unsecure HTTP protocol.

As legal websites are classified as sources of YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) information, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity to build trust.

Providing a more secure browsing experience for users is an excellent way of building trust, so in this scenario the logical action is to carefully migrate the website from HTTP to HTTPS.

Scenario 2: Content issues

During a content analysis, you notice that you have just one single ‘Services’ page. This page contains a list of every service you provide (this is actually an incredibly common issue for websites across many industries).

As legal services can be provided to a wide range of people and businesses, a list could lead to ambiguity and confusion for the user about exactly what service is offered and to whom.

Furthermore, as part of your analysis you notice that your competitor’s website has a dedicated page for each service that tells a user everything they need to know about the service (e.g. process, price, who’s involved, their experience, past results, next steps, contact details, etc).

In this scenario, it’s been identified that there is a serious gap in clarity and quality between the minimal experience you are offering users and the rich experience your competitor is offering.

Actions to rectify the situation would be a huge priority for your SEO campaign in this scenario.

Scenario 3: Offsite issues

During an analysis of your offsite authority and reputation you identify that the firm isn’t actually all too well known. The brand is barely mentioned or linked to across the web, especially in comparison to more established competitors.

We know that search engines want to rank legal firms that are trusted and respected, especially given their YMYL status. One of a search engine’s best methods for analysing trust and respect is to look at whether other websites link to (or mention) the brand and, if they do, then why?

With few links, there’s not much for a search engine to analyse and that will mean the website is at a competitive disadvantage to better-linked law firms.

As such, in this scenario the SEO strategy would focus on increasing the number of links pointing to the website. For example, your family law team could produce a report on the number of divorces last year, broken down by demographic factors like location and age group. Such a report would likely be pretty interesting to those within the legal industry and even the general public. This could lead to other legal websites linking to the report whilst national newspapers may even find a sensationalist-style headline to run.

5. Task planning

At the end of each analysis covering the three core areas of SEO, you should have an in-depth understanding of where your website could improve – in other words, the obstacles lying in between your website’s current performance and the objective you set at the start of the campaign.

So, armed with all this great insight, the next step is to create a plan of action to overcome those obstacles.

Depending on how formal you want to be, this plan might range from a simple list of to-do’s to a fully fledged strategy listing what needs to be done, when, why, and by whom.

Using scenarios 1, 2 and 3 from the previous section, a (very) basic SEO plan for a law firm might look something like the following:

Month 1: Perform a HTTP to HTTPS site migration
Month 2: Research, plan and produce new pages for each service provided by the firm
Month 3: Research and produce a data-backed report on Family Law in preparation for a link building project
Month 4: Promote Family Law report to all websites, journalists and publications that may be interested in the data

Of course, depending on the issues you’ve found, your plan might stretch much further into the future.

6. Monitoring

The key with SEO for solicitors (and any website really) is that it is never “done”.

A professional SEO will always be in a constant cycle of learning, planning and doing. Through research and analysis, we learn more about your website, your industry and your competition; we plan what to do based on what we’ve learnt; then we do what we have planned. And then we begin the cycle again.

However, in each subsequent cycle, our learning phase must take into account the work we’ve already done. In short, has the work we’ve done had the effect we were hoping for? Are our rankings improving for the words and phrases we identified in the keyword research? Are we getting more traffic and enquiries?

This reflection is incredibly important. We’ve already set our objective, what we’ll measure and how we’ll measure it at the start of the campaign, with the completion of each Learn-Plan-Do cycle we should have plenty of data to review performance.

If you’re making good progress towards your objective, great, but what can you do next to keep going?

If you’re not making progress towards your objective, that’s not great, but where might things be going wrong?

And if you’ve achieved your objective, set a new one 😉

Summary

If you’re responsible for marketing at a law firm, there’s nothing stopping you from following the steps highlighted here and improving your website’s performance.

This guide does not tell you exactly how to perform a technical, content or offsite analysis (although it does give some pointers and samples), but it is a solid framework of what to do on a campaign and when to do it. Nonetheless, there are plenty of free resources available across the web covering these areas in detail if you’d like to learn more.

Or, perhaps you simply do not have the time to learn the ins and outs of SEO and whilst the contents of this guide are (hopefully) interesting, you would rather someone else do it.

Well in that case, an SEO agency with years of experience and success in the legal sector would be a great choice of partner. But where to find one of those?

We’d love to help. We’ve delivered campaigns for law firms big and small, from those wanting to compete against global heavyweights to those just wanting to get more locals through the door. If you’re interested in learning more about our past work in the legal sector, please get in touch.

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