How To Improve Your Search Engine Rankings

No marketing channel can touch the power of the Internet. And no channel is as crowded with competitors or as potentially intimidating to clients. That’s why addressing the issue of visibility — how your web site is linked to other sites, how prospects find you, and how you can improve those connections — should be an important piece of your online strategy.

One smart move to consider is making changes to your site, and to your overall online presence, that boost your rankings with powerful search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. That’s called search engine optimization, and it’s not about tricks or shady tactics.

The goal is to make your site more visible and relevant to both search engines and the people who use them to find legal representation. By taking a few basic steps to raise your site’s visibility, you’ve got a great opportunity to generate more leads and up the return on your web investment.

The challenge, of course, is standing out from the crowd. Research shows that most people look at just the first page or two of a search result. So how do search engines compile those lists? Why does Firm A rank highly in a given result, while Firm B struggles in at #273?

It starts with "spiders," software programs that the search engines send out to visit web sites, collect information, then use that information to build a searchable index. When a person types in a query, the search engine sorts through its index for the most relevant, authoritative information related to that request. Search engines frequently adjust the formulas they use to rank sites. They do that to make their rankings more precise and to prevent spam. But you can leave the technical fine-tuning to folks who don’t have a law firm to run. Focus instead on strategies that are proven winners in improving search engine results.

These strategies include:
  • Ensuring your web site’s content is fresh and easily browsable.
  • Choosing words and phrases that target your prospects.
  • Increasing the number of inbound links from other sites that drive leads to yours.
  • Content A rule of thumb: What attracts and holds the attention of site visitors will also improve search engine rankings. Regularly updated content, for example. A search engine’s spider looks for fresh information to index.
  • Straightforward, easy to browse design also makes a difference. The same slow-loading, overdone graphics and multimedia bells-and-whistles that drive web users up the wall also drastically decrease the likelihood of your web site being found in a search result.
  • One of the most important factors in search-engine-optimizing your web site is to intelligently use keywords that promote your marketing objectives, fit your geographic location and practice areas, and match the words that prospects use when they conduct a search.
  • To use keywords effectively on your site, remember to:
  • Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Prospects won’t necessarily use legal terms of art when conducting a search. Incorporate layman’s terms for your key practice areas.
  • Include "lawyer" and "attorney" and "law firm."
  • Cover your geographic area in all its permutations: city, state, even neighborhood if you’re in a big city.

Keep it readable. Keyword stuffing — repeating key words and phrases over and over — makes for a poor user experience and could get your site flagged by search engines. Your goal should be keyword-rich language that’s also natural and easy to read.

Own a niche. While the typical search generates thousands (or even millions) of results, most users click the first few links. So it’s key to target your specific market niche and location. You’re better off, in other words, scoring high in a unique search than chasing the most competitive, generic keywords like "divorce lawyer" or "criminal-defense attorney."

Keywords should also be incorporated into the behind-the-scenes programming of your site. Properly written title tags, meta descriptions and alt tags are a few of the key elements that can help keep you at the top of search engine rankings. Content really is king. So if you work with a web-site provider, make sure they know the legal industry and how to write for it, and understand how search engines evaluate and rank law firm web sites like yours.

Inbound Links Another factor influencing search-engine rankings are inbound links to your web address from other online sites. With inbound links, quality is much more important than quantity. Relevant links from other law firms, legal sites and bar associations should influence your results in search engines. Think of it like a frequently cited legal case. A case is more important if lots of other rulings reference it, particularly if they’re high-profile cases that are directly on topic. In the same way, when authoritative web sites link to your site it raises your credibility. That said, links should only be purchased for the traffic they will generate and not for any potential search engine result lift they might provide.

Ongoing Process Search engine optimization is a straightforward, common-sense process, but it’s important to keep at it — to regularly measure your site traffic and conversion rate, audit the content on your site and adjust it as your marketing goals, and the legal issues facing your clients, change. Then republish your site as necessary.

If you outsource your online marketing, look for a provider who can assist you throughout that process — from traffic analysis to writing and design services to the nuts-and-bolts of site management. That will help ensure that the time, money and creative energy you’ve invested in your web site pay off. Search engine optimization is a terrific opportunity to make smart use of the Internet to generate more leads, and ultimately more cases, for your firm.

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