Local SEO for Law Firms | Sitegeist | Splat Productions

Local SEO for Law Firms


A beginner’s guide to Local SEO for law firms.

Of all the different flavors of digital marketing our clients hire us to perform, local search engine optimization (Local SEO) is probably the least understood. Often, though, the relatively high return on investment good local provides makes it a no-brainer recommendation for our law firm clients.

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO refers to search engine results which are influenced by the searcher’s current location. In other words, with the correct strategy, a law firm specializing in criminal defense will be advantaged in search engine results if that law firm is closer to the individual (who might be on their phone, for instance) doing the search. Local search also is involved when searchers qualify their searches with geographic delimiters like ‘criminal defense law firms in Philadelphia,’ for instance. This latter point makes local SEO important for desktop searches, as well, making it a ‘must do’ concern for bricks and mortar businesses.

What does a ‘local search’ engine result look like in Google?

Search Engine results pages have become so complicated in the last several years that understanding what the distinct parts of a typical SERP represent is often difficult. Let’s take a look at a typical example and see what we can learn.

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Search engine results from a search for workers compensation attorneys

In this sample search for a worker’s compensation attorney, the page is divided into four major types of results (with an interesting related issue, at the top, which we’ll talk about.) Looking at the color blocks in the attached screenshot, all of them are influenced by the proximity of the searcher to the results which show up. Let’s discuss each one, from top to bottom.

  1. What about that ‘Use Precise Location’ link? I conducted this search from my desktop computer. As you can see, Google is asking me if I want to use my precise location in this search. What this means is that, if I click, it will ask me to share the exact location of the machine I’m using, rather than rely on a somewhat-less-precise ip address. Search engine results will thus become ‘hyperlocal.’
  2. The green section in our graphic represent paid, “Google Screened” Local Services ads. This is a relatively new ad offering, intentionally designed for professional service providers. Ads here have been vetted by screening authorities to, presumably, offer consumers more trustworthy referrals. As Google explains, “Businesses with the Google Screened badge have passed license checks. Some businesses are also required to pass background checks and show proof of insurance. Checks are conducted by Local Service Ads, our trusted partners, or state regulatory bodies. Local Service Ads verifies that professional licenses are current both when businesses join Local Services and periodically on an ongoing basis.” In our experience, Local Services ads convert leads at a very high percentage, relative to standard Google Ads, but they are also pricey.
  3.  The third section above, shown in yellow, are the familiar looking text ads, known commonly as ‘Google Ads.’ You’re probably familiar with these and understand that businesses buy them to ensure that they show up in search, towards the top of the page.
  4. Next up are the genuine (mostly) organic map-based, local search engine results. These results are the principle focus of this post, and link to the featured business’ Google Business Profiles. Showing up in this initial ‘local pack’ of results is a major goal of a local SEO strategy. Most of the rest of this article will focus on how to get into these map packs. A couple of other items to note: 1) Clicking “More Businesses” (at the bottom) will open a map-based directory of many other businesses which Google determines closely match your search inquiry and 2) It is possible to buy a sponsored listing ad in local results and one of those will sometimes precede the organic listings.
  5. Lastly, the pink section in the graphic illustrates organic search engine results. Note that these too – despite the fact that our search did not specify locality – are also influenced by the location of the searcher. We’ll look at how strategies implemented on your firm’s website can increase the likelihood of showing up here. Boosting visibility in these is, typically, what most people think of when they think ‘SEO.’

Getting started with Local SEO

Our quick look at a typical ‘page one’ search engine result makes it clear that Local SEO is pretty darn important. The chunk of screen real estate devoted to ‘local only’ in our example is as significant as either of the other three categories. But how does a business get visibility in local search? We’ll look at a bunch of factors which influence local search results but first, let’s start with the basic prerequisite.

The first step in ranking for local search is to make sure you have a claimed, verified Google Business Profile, which conforms to Google’s standards. It’s critical to understand that this first step is a prerequisite for success in local search. Claiming and verification is a two-step process. If your Google business listing has already been created and you see it, you can begin the claiming process by clicking on the link in the visible profile which reads “Own this business?” This will launch the verification process. We will not be exploring this process in detail, though it is outlined here.

How to verify local business on Google

Beyond just claiming and verifying your listing, Google advises that you be sure to completely fill out your business profile. Specifically, their bulleted list goes something like this:

  1. Ensure that all basic business information is correct. It is especially important that your law firm’s name, address & phone number appear accurately. Failing to get these basics right will tank your odds of ranking in local packs on Google. Beyond just basic business information about your law firm, there are opportunities to describe your firm’s focus and values, choose a primary category describing your firm’s service areas, etc. Again, this post will not go into all the details associated with creating an ideal business profile but, if you’re stuck, you can always reach out to us.
  2. Add photographs and other branded images to your profile. People respond to enticing images; you can include service-related photos, photos of both the exterior and interiors of your office, etc.
  3. List your business hours. Even though the precise hours of a professional service provider like a law firm might be fluid, Google Maps innately wants to frame its results according to a retail model. Humor them and fill out hours which approximate your availability.
  4. Manage and collect reviews. Be aware that the number of reviews your law firm has – and the aggregate score rating you’ve received – are ranking factors for local search. You can’t avoid the reality that the review system on Google exists; it is in your best interest to cultivate positive reviews proactively. Also, it is beyond the scope of this post – and rules might vary locally – about how you respond to negative reviews, as a law firm. We’re not going to advise a policy; we have, however, found a few references on the web for this subject, notably this, this, and this.

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Drilling deeper

Nailing all the basics of your listing is a necessary start to show up in a local pack and be prominent in local SEO. Beyond this point, though, what other factors determine the appearance of a profile in local search results?

To answer that question, let’s go to the source: the Google Business Profile support section, which says:

Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help find the best match for your search.

Google states that it uses three principal factors to determine local ranking: relevance, distance and prominence. The first two criteria are pretty straightforward. If you’re searching for a criminal defense attorney, Google will not show results for accounting firms and, probably, won’t even show results for law firms which don’t specialize in criminal defense.

Distance is likewise straightforward. The example SERP shown above, for instance, is showing us three firms very close to our office’s location.

The last criteria listed, ‘prominence’ is the one factor of the three which can be influenced by digital marketing efforts. Google defines prominence as a combination of a variety of factors but, of those the business can control, Google writes:

‘Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business, from across the web, like links, articles, and directories. Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so search engine optimization (SEO) best practices apply.’

Let’s dissect the important points here

  1. Links, articles and directory listings are important. Another way to think of ‘prominence’ in the sense that Google means it is ‘credibility.’ In other words, Google wants to be sure that it understands precisely what your business does, and have a very strong level of confidence that it knows where it is located. It derives this understanding from your business’s presence in local business listings and directories, the most important of which is Google’s own business profile directory. Besides just cataloging the name and address of the business, Google Business Profiles also allow the business owner to categorize the nature of the business, which ensures that ‘criminal defense attorneys’ don’t show up in searches related to other services. This is why, so often, the first thing a local search consultant will advise, are the creation of multiple business directory listings in Google, Yelp, Facebook and other online directories.
  2. Reviews and ratings. As previously mentioned, reviews of your business are important. Not only does Google care about reviews from its own Google Business Profile pages, but it also pulls data from other social review sites, such as Yelp. Most local consultants urge their clients to actively solicit reviews from satisfied customers, especially if they’re coming from the business’s own Google Profile page. As we also noted, law firms can get a little squeamish about social reviews but, collecting at least a few good ones will help your ranking in local.
  3. On-website SEO ranking factors. As a an additional prominence check, Google refers to a potential search result’s website. This means that your website should be built with SEO in mind. And, especially, wherever office addresses are shown, Google will want to see exactly the same addresses it is seeing within your business Google Business Profile listing, as well as its Yelp, Bing, Yahoo and other business listings. The strategy of creating local on-site signals for local search could easily be a blog post itself. If possible, think about how you can localize the content on your law firm’s website. Tying location-related service areas (like, for instance, real estate law) in with local keywords or writing blog posts profiling your firm’s local work are two easy strategies that will increase local signals.
  4. One final point, which the Google support section above does not explicitly recognize–but which is known to influence local SEO results–is the regular use of the posting function within your Google Business Profile. This functionality is relatively new to Google and is intended to give business owners the opportunity to communicate topically relevant information to their customers. In a retail environment, these could be used to announce time-sensitive sales or promotions. Law firms and other professional service providers used this feature, during the Covid-19 pandemic, to communicate visitation policies, etc. You could also use them to announce holiday or seasonal changes in hours, etc. Finally, you can also just treat them as an opportunity to write regular mini-blog posts.

Parting Tips to help your business win at Local SEO

Now that we understand how important Local SEO can be for your firm’s digital marketing, let’s summarize what you should be doing to ensure your business does well in local search:

    1. Make sure your listings are verified/claimed. ‘Claiming’ your listings is the process which certifies to the directory that you are the business owner and provides the highest level of reassurance that your listing is accurate. It’s been our experience that having multiple unverified listings is one of the most common shortcomings new Local SEO clients present to us.
    2. Make sure your business is listed in the leading directories for local, including Google, Bing Local, Yelp and others. Sometimes referred to as ‘citations’ in the SEO world, the more references which exist to your business online (and its location) the better.
    3. Make sure all your address and business information is consistent, from directory to directory. It is very important to retain absolute consistency in terms of how address and contact information appears, across directories. Minutiae like making sure that suite numbers are shown the same way, across all directories, are very important.
    4. Solicit reviews from satisfied customers. Try especially hard to get reviews on Google My Business. Certain professional service firms, (especially law firms) can get a little squeamish about social reviews but they are very helpful for rank in local SEO.
    5. Ensure your website’s SEO supports local results. Google pays special attention to your website’s contact information. Make sure all your addressing information is consistent with the addressing information you’re using for your directory listings. And, listing your office locations within the footer of all your pages is usually a best practice.

Local SEO is one of those tasks which isn’t rocket science but is also time-consuming and ever changing. One of the reasons we offer Local SEO for law firms is to make the tedium of local easier to bear. If your digital marketing needs a boost, please reach out to us. If you’d rather call us, we’re at (646) 522-2774.

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