Solo/Small Firm February 2023
Law firm search engine optimization
A look at frequently asked questions
Written by Stacey E. Burke
Law firm search engine optimization, or SEO, is one of the most misunderstood concepts in legal marketing today. Despite being absolutely crucial for online success, most of the hundreds of lawyers we speak to don’t really understand what SEO is, how much it should cost, how long it will take to work, and what to expect from it in terms of a return on investment, or ROI. While trying to rank a new website for hotly competitive phrases like “personal injury lawyer” in extremely competitive markets such as Houston may be a years-long uphill battle costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, there are a variety of other options to explore that fall under the large umbrella of law firm SEO.
For one, producing content that answers a searcher’s question can help your law firm website content get found in search engine results. You can create content that is valuable to searchers by engaging in strategic content marketing as opposed to just writing about whatever you want, in as many characters or words as you want, whenever you want. One important approach that is often overlooked is using frequently asked questions, or FAQs, to reach your target audience by reviewing what questions potential new clients and actual clients ask you on a regular basis and by researching what searchers are looking for online.
If you research and identify common topics, develop appropriate questions, and answer them well, your content can not only appear in the main organic search results, but it can also appear in “People Also Ask” results as well as in “Featured Snippets.” At least 29% of keyword phrases searched that generate a featured snippet result include the words “why,” “do,” and “can”1—meaning searches are phrased in the form of a question.
Now that we know how important it is to answers searchers’ questions, how can we find out what they are asking in order to answer them? Below are several suggestions to get started.
Lead and Client Questions
Whoever speaks to the majority of inbound callers and/or reads the majority of inbound live chats and website form submissions will know the most common questions leads ask when submitting an initial inquiry and/or as part of the intake process. These questions are often some of the best to try and answer in your website FAQs. In addition to leads and inquiries, your roster of signed clients often ask routine questions. Take note of what questions you are asked most often and what practice area they fall under so you can add those questions—with answers—to the relevant practice area page on your website.
There are a variety of tools—both free and paid—that help marketers with keyword research and identifying FAQs. One free tool is the Google Chrome plug-in (also available for Firefox) Keywords Everywhere. You can type a question you think is important into the search bar and then the plug-in will generate “Related Keywords,” “People Also Search For,” and “Long-Tail Keywords” down the right sidebar of the search results page.
Read Reviews for FAQs
All law firms must keep track of client reviews and peer reviews online. As you are monitoring them and responding to each within 24 hours, be sure to note what, if any, questions they ask and what issues they mention so you can include them in your website FAQs. Conversely, if someone highlights something your firm did well (for example, “Smith Law Firm did a great job explaining the steps of a lawsuit”), you can also turn that into a question and answer—in this case, “What are the steps involved in filing a lawsuit?”
Social Media Engagement
As a practicing lawyer, you should log into each of your social networks at least once per day to look for comments, shares, likes, reactions, and other types of engagement. If you have a quoted tweet or a comment—or any other type of social media engagement that uses words—look at the sentiment and see if you can craft that into a question and answer that would be beneficial to the searching public.
It is important for law firms to not only track what they are spending money on and how effective it is, but also to monitor what their competitors are doing. As part of this ongoing monitoring and analysis, you can and should look at what questions your competitors are answering with their content so you can ensure you appropriately address everything needed for SEO success.
Use FAQ Schema Markup
You can add as many frequently asked questions to your website as you want, but if you do not use Google’s schema markup to let the search engine know what’s going on, the FAQs will be less effective or completely ineffective. Schema markup is specific coding that tells Google exactly which questions are on that content page and the answers to those questions. It essentially makes the FAQs “easy” for Google to read and understand. There are a variety of tools that can generate FAQ schema markup for your website, which then needs to be properly added into the site’s code. You can test whether or not your code is working by visiting Google’s rich results test.
Google Helpful Content Update
In addition to the tips mentioned above, Google recently announced its helpful content update. This means that now, more than ever before, Google will evaluate every page of your law firm website to determine if the content is created for a specific audience, features author expertise, is trustworthy and credible, and meets the needs of the searcher.
Is your content created for a specific audience? Google will review the content to see if your website has a primary focus—this is where firms that try to rank for everything but the kitchen sink will start to really struggle. No one law firm or lawyer can be a true expert or authority on every single area of the law.
Conversely, niche firms or firms with a specific focus will thrive. Additionally, Google wants to ensure your content meets the needs of the searcher and that you’re not just writing about it to get search engine traction, so be sure to evaluate your content from a potential new client’s point of view.
Do your website and its content showcase subject matter expertise? Your blog posts and practice area pages should clearly indicate your firm has first-hand experience handling matters like the ones you are writing about and give a true analysis that provides compelling value to the reader.
Is your content trustworthy and credible? Ask yourself if you were the consumer if you would find the legal advice in your content credible, helpful, and worth listening to. It might also be helpful to ask a friend or family member not in the legal industry to provide this insight. Be sure to avoid any obvious errors (factual, grammatical, and/or stylistic) and to include comprehensive, descriptive, and thoughtful commentary that would make a user want to save or bookmark the page for future reference.
Does your content meet the searcher’s needs? After reading your webpage, will a user have learned enough to feel like their question has been answered, or will they feel like they need to click away and search for something better? If your content is considered helpful, it will be more likely to be selected to appear as a featured snippet.
The goal of this Google algorithm update is to demote content that is written solely for ranking purposes and to feature content that is helpful and informative to search engine users. It is a sitewide algorithm update, meaning your entire law firm website will be reviewed and potentially impacted, not just certain pages. A recovery from a negative website content assessment by Google will not be instant and may take time, potentially taking several months or longer to prove you are now disseminating better and more helpful content into the internet firmstratosphere. As Google itself said, “People-first content creators focus first on creating satisfying content, while also utilizing SEO best practices to bring searchers additional value.”2 TBJ
This article, which was originally published on the Stacey E. Burke blog, has been edited and reprinted with permission.
STACEY E. BURKE is an attorney who provides consulting services to law firms across the country. She has worked with over 300 law firms in a wide range of practice areas in many different states. For more information, go to staceyeburke.com.