SEO 2.0: How to Rank in Local Searches
*This is a follow-up post to Boost Your SEO With These 5 Fixes, which featured advice from the director of SEO at Nolo, Kyle Vanderneut. In this post, we look at what you can do to rank in local searches for lawyers in your areas of practice. If you haven’t considered SEO on your site yet, start with the five fixes, then come back to this post to improve your local rankings.
Why Local Matters
The reason you want to think about local SEO specifically is so prospective clients in your area see your practice name when they search for a lawyer or research a legal issue online. Let’s say you have a family law practice in Clayton, Missouri. You want anyone in the St. Louis metro area to find you when they search for “alimony” or “child support.” It’s tough because the St. Louis area—like most large metropolitan areas—has no shortage of law practices, including divorce lawyers.
Yet some firms rank in the local pack—the first three businesses that Google displays in local search results—and others don’t come up until the second or third page of results. Your goal is to be in the local pack, and, if you can’t make it there, to turn up in the next level of results. But how do you tweak your online presence to ensure your firm comes out on top?
Best Practices for Turning Up in Local Google Searches
Google Business Profile and other online directories
You can start by cleaning up your online appearance on Google and other high traffic legal directories. Make sure your practice’s information is up to date. If you are a sole practitioner, make sure your name—with or without a middle initial or full middle name—appears consistently in legal directories and Google Business Profile. If you have a new practice or have added a partner, make sure that change is reflected everywhere your firm is listed. Also confirm that your website, phone numbers and address are all up to date and are typo-free.
Ask satisfied clients for reviews at the completion of their case. Soliciting reviews should be a regular habit, not a one-time push. Google rewards quantity, diversity and recency of reviews. So don’t worry if you have a two- or three-star review mixed in among the four- and five-star reviews. And never manufacture or have friends post positive reviews to affect your star rating; fake reviews can do more harm than good. Google is aware of attempts to manipulate the system, and they get really angry when you’re trying to manipulate it. Unfortunately, Google is much faster to punish people than it is to reward them.
Links, citations and mobile calls
The more citations you get, the more Google thinks that you must be an authority in a particular area of expertise. Citations are simply any mention of your law practice online. Inbound links from other sites, including local listings, articles, and legal directories, all contribute to healthy SEO. When prospective clients find your site from a mobile device, Google tracks clicks on the phone icon to automatically call your office, so it’s worth including that feature on your site.
Social engagement (mostly Facebook and Twitter)
Social for SEO is difficult, as far as generating traffic to your site, but knowing that you have engagement is still important to Google. It’s also just something you should be doing on a regular basis. If you don’t already have them, create accounts for your practice on Facebook and Twitter. To generate ideas for regular posts, make a list of a few (brief) answers to frequently asked questions about your state’s laws, what it’s like to work with a lawyer in your area of practice, and any other questions you typically hear from clients and others. You can also respond to news events (a celebrity divorce, a federal indictment, a high-profile civil suit, etc.) or peg topics to seasonal events (end of year for business law, tax season for tax law, summer vacation for personal injury or divorce law, etc.) depending on your area of practice.
In general, keeping information about your practice consistent and up-to-date in directories and elsewhere online paired with active engagement locally and on social media platforms will garner positive attention from Google. Keep asking clients for reviews and monitoring them—and responding when appropriate—to boost your relevance even further. It’s work, but if you make it part of your maintenance routine, your practice will be rewarded by more calls and better cases—and result in a self-perpetuating cycle of more reviews and higher search rankings.