January/February 2021

Simple Steps

Improve Website Performance With Content Optimization

Allison C. Shields Johs

Law firm websites have always been the cornerstone of a firm’s internet presence, but since businesses and consumers alike were forced to conduct almost all of their business and personal transactions online in 2020, law firm websites have become even more important as communication centers and sources of information for clients and potential clients. And yet many law firms, especially solos and small firms, are not taking full advantage of the opportunities inherent in the online real estate their websites provide.

Content Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing both the quality and the quantity of traffic to a website by improving the site’s position in organic search results. There are many factors that determine how well your site will rank in search. Some of these factors are technical in nature. For example, your site might contain technical or coding errors that prevent the search engines from actively crawling your site. Other factors occur outside of your website itself, such as external links to the site.

But another major factor in search rankings are on-page SEO elements that have more to do with content than coding. You can improve your site’s ranking simply by developing and optimizing your content—knowing what elements to include in each page of your firm’s site, and where to include them on the page.

In the past, Google and other search engines were less sophisticated than they are now; they rewarded spammy, keyword-stuffed writing. A page could rank high in the search engines just because it contained many instances of the same exact words or phrases. As a result, a lot of webpages were created that were awkward, difficult to read and devoid of useful information.

At the same time, paid traffic used to be relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain. Because businesses could just pay for ads or pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to get the traffic they needed, there wasn’t as much emphasis placed on creating high-quality content that would rank in the organic search results. And since ads appeared above the organic search results, developing useful and relevant content wasn’t a priority.

Now increased online competition and continuous search engine algorithm updates have changed the landscape online. Search engines currently reward copy and webpages that are authoritative and provide useful information that web searchers are looking for. Ads and PPC campaigns are also more expensive, making organic search more important, especially for firms with a limited budget. To perform well in organic search now, law firm website content must satisfy the needs of both search engines and the human beings—clients, potential clients and referral sources—doing the searching.

Create Compelling Content for Users

Search engines are seeking high-quality content to satisfy their users’ queries, and businesses—including law firms—need this content to compete online. Content written for law firm websites needs to do more than just take up space. It needs to get the attention of Google and other search engines and bring attention and traffic to your website and the services your firm provides. It needs to be clear, well written and persuasive, to educate, inform and/or entertain.

Getting consistent traffic to your websites from the right people—people who are looking for information about the legal problems you solve or who are already ready to hire or refer to a lawyer in your area of practice—through search relies on a strategic plan that begins with understanding the target audience and building regular, consistent content to satisfy their needs.

Unfortunately, too many law firm websites contain little content, and what is there is boring or cookie-cutter content that could be cut and pasted almost wholesale into a similar law firm’s website with no one being the wiser. Even content that should be different on each firm’s website, such as content describing the firm’s history or the bios of its lawyers, is remarkably interchangeable.

ABA’s 2020 Legal Technology Survey Report indicates that fewer than 20 percent of firms (of between 2 and 49 lawyers) and fewer than 5 percent of solos’ websites include consumer guides written by the firm, and fewer than 20 percent of solos include articles written in-house. Without significant content available to answer the questions of clients, potential clients and referral sources, and to demonstrate that your firm understands and can solve their problems, your site’s search rankings will suffer.

Law firms are uniquely positioned to include content that is of value to web visitors because law firms are in the business of creating content as part of the daily services they already provide to clients. They explain their legal reasoning in motions and briefs, clarify will provisions to families and interpret contract language for businesses. The challenge is in taking that existing content and transforming it into something that can be used on the firm’s website. This can be done through well-written articles, blog posts, client guides, FAQs, white papers, videos, presentations and more. Making this content shareable will help attract links and engagement to drive even more traffic.

Include Key Phrases and SEO Elements

Compelling content that engages users, keeps them on the site and encourages them to take action helps boost search rankings. But including key phrases and SEO elements takes it one step further to give specific signals to the search engines that indicate what that webpage is about. These signals can be found in both the substance of the copy and the structural elements on the page, such as headlines, bullet points and links. When a page uses SEO elements correctly, and is well written and authoritative, it is said to be “optimized” for search.

The foundation for improving optimization is keywords or, perhaps more accurately, key phrases or “long-tail” keywords, which are longer, more specific phrases. Each page of your firm’s website should be optimized for a single key phrase—and that key phrase should be different from the key phrase targeted on every other page of the site. The key phrase to optimize for on each page will be determined by the target audience for that page. Using long-tail keywords that address the intent of the target audience are incorporated into the substance and structure of the page; so when a searcher types a query containing the same or similar keywords into the search engine, that page ranks high in the organic search results.

Incorporate key phrases into each page in a natural way, so that the key phrase flows naturally with the rest of the copy on the page to avoid penalties for keyword “stuffing” and to ensure the copy is easy for web visitors to understand.

The targeted key phrase should also be incorporated into headlines, subheadings, bold text, picture captions and link text, where appropriate. These elements help signal what the page is about to the search engines. The key phrase should also be included in the page’s title tag (the title of the page in search, as well as the title you see on the tab at the top of the page in your web browser, above the page’s URL), meta description (a description of the page that isn’t seen by the web visitor on the page itself but is visible in search results), and in alt text (alternative text or description of images provided to the search engines).

Adding content that engages visitors and answers their questions, including strategically placed key phrases that potential clients and referral sources use to search the web to answer their legal questions, and providing a good mobile experience will all help improve conversions, keep visitors on the site longer and improve the firm’s results in relevant searches.

Allison C. Shields Johs

President

Allison C. Shields Johs is the president of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc., where she works with lawyers and law firms to develop strategies to improve marketing and client service, and increase productivity, efficiency and profitability. She is the co-author of several books, including Make LinkedIn Work for You: A Practical Handbook for Lawyers and Other Legal ProfessionalsLinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers (ABA 2013) and How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line (ABA 2014). allison@legaleaseconsulting.com

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