The following is excerpts from our FREE ebook, The Path: A Step by Step Search Engine Marketing & SEO Guide Book for Law Firms
SEO is a critical tool that will give your law firm website a substantial competitive advantage over your competition. However, to gain that leverage, you need to know what’s working for you. Moreover, you need to have a keen insight into what’s working for them and where the gaps between your website and their website exist.
A brief note here – even if you’re starting from scratch, that’s not bad at all! In fact, that might be a good thing.
After evaluating the comparative effectiveness of yours and your competition’s SEO & marketing strategies, you’ll want to know how you can use that knowledge. In this section, we’ll cover how to identify your competition, evaluate their game, and how to beat them. These insights will help you with the next step in your SEO journey, Creating Your Own SEO Plan.
What’s Working for You?
Your SEO strategy – do you have one? Perhaps not. If so, it’s not as robust as you’d like it, right? You’re paying an opportunity cost for reading this e-book after-all. Surely there are other things you could be doing for your business at this very moment. Still, you have decided this is worth your time and mental energy! It is.
The first thing you need to know about SEO strategy is that while there are several tools we recommend. They often will cost $ upfront. Fortunately, for you, many other tools are available with free trials or for free with diminished, but still helpful, functionality. Often, what you’re paying for is a tool that brings dozens of things together in one place. Moreover, a not so small part of any the overhead of any agency you may wish to work with in the future will include the cost of enterprise-level access to these tools.
Start with Google
The very first thing clients often say, with frustration and bewilderment, is, “I typed in Personal Injury Lawyer Timbuktu, and I didn’t show up in the search results!”
Often these conversations occur after the firm has been in business for several years, and after they’ve already spent a good chunk of cash on various marketing vectors. How can a firm that has bought $30k in Google Ads and paid who knows what on billboards, park benches, and commercials, not show up in a simple keyword-based Google search?!?!
It’s going to take a minute to unpack everything involved in answering why they, or you, aren’t showing up in that search. If this is your current situation, it’s because you don’t have an SEO plan, or you aren’t working the plan, or your plan was lousy in the first place. Keep reading to get a better grasp on this analysis.
Let’s start with Google as a best-first step.
What’s Working for You, Step 1: Start searching key phrases and terms on Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duck-Duck Go, Etc.
Did You Show Up?
What did you see when you looked at Google?
Timbuktu, as a location, probably isn’t helpful for anyone reading this e-book, so let’s look at a more typical setting.
Here is a random location in Washington State and a random area of law: Spokane & Social Security Disability
A typical search query or parameter would be: “disability appeal lawyer Spokane.”
What do you see?
The first firm below is from page 1 of the search; the other firm is from page 5.
Here’s what we saw
- Content from firm #1 identifies what they do in a concise statement (seemingly written for Google search phrases). Phrases like SSI Appeal representation, SSDI Appeal representation, VA appeal representation, Estate Planning, Kids protection plans, etc.
- Content from firm #2 is not explicitly written for search results. Google is pulling content from the website that it believes may match the search response.
- The search listing displays several of the key webpages on the website for firm #1 (Contact US | About US | Services | Blog)
- Title from firm #1 doesn’t say anything about what Lilac City Law does, whereas firm #2 does mention that Kirsch & Clark are indeed attorneys at law.
- The search result for firm #1 is referencing the firm’s home page, whereas the results from firm #2 appear to reference a secondary page (not the home page).
This last point is essential to note. It is possible that in this short search, we’re skewing some of the results. We will show you a tool, using these same search results to verify and examine the traffic of these sites. We’ll cover that in What’s Working For Your Competition, Evaluating Their Game section, that follows.
This random search query method highlights some primary good-practice goals for search engine optimization through comparative analysis. But it does not help you do much in the way of evaluating your website for substantial improvements. And it does not adequately target what is or is not working for your competition’s website. So, we need a tool to start digging deeper into SEO analysis.
Identifying Your Competition
Sticking with Spokane, WA, as a setting, we’re going to explore the competition for a fictional disability firm in Spokane, WA. Since we already have some idea of the players from the previous search, “disability appeal lawyer Spokane,” we’ll start creating a list of firms from the front page of that search. Our goal is to find 2 or 3 that are crushing the search game in Spokane.
Note, we’re not looking for those that have great Advertisements. The goal of SEO isn’t great ads; it’s to lead people to your website because of its excellent search appeal, e.g., superior content. One other thing we’re going to avoid is the aggregators, sites like AVVO or Justia. The fact is they are getting excellent placement on search engines off of your work. You’re going to get great placement off of your own work from now on – and not need to pay them a ‘commission’ for referrals.
Here’s what we see from various disability searches in Spokane:
This list is a great start and will help us build out some data for our future SEO plan. But first, we want to know who’s doing what, how well they’re doing it, and who needs to have a metaphorical target on their back – because you’re about to dissect their marketing plan.
As mentioned earlier, there are many tools available for this, but we prefer https://ahrefs.com/ as a great place to begin.
Note: If you have any questions during any of this analysis, please feel free to reach out to us, and we’d be more than happy to help you set up your initial analysis as well.
We are looking for root domain URL’s on this list. So, for instance: https://www.russellandhill.com/social-security-attorneys-spokane-wa/ – we only care about https://www.russellandhill.com/. This approach might seem at first to add more work for us later on. For example, if the root domain is for a firm that covers many different areas: divorce, disability, bankruptcy, personal injury, etc. – it might be hard to parse what traffic is relevant to your business. However, we want to get an idea of whether the traffic to the site (as a whole) is due to any particular SEO practice, dumb luck, or ad-buy. We’re focusing on broad strokes at this point. The details will become more important soon enough.
For the sake of this experiment, let’s take a cursory at the competition’s game and start to break it down to the point we can pick 2 or 3 firms to do a deep dive dissection of.
What’s Working For Your Competition?
Here’s what we’re looking for in a firm. We don’t care, at this point, what the traffic value is. The traffic value is the traffic to a keyword multiplied by the estimated cost to get traffic from that same keyword through ad-buys. When we work with a client, we expect that traffic value to be higher than what they are paying us – otherwise …what’s the point, right?
We are primarily looking at the history of the listing. How long has it been crawled? In this case, the image above, Marken Law looks like it started getting indexed in December 2018. And the number of referring pages jumped pretty quick right away.
Things like spikes in referring pages or keywords are also indicators that something is worth examining further. With a little bit of elbow grease, we can figure out the nature of many of these spikes. Based on our experience, this looked to us like a new URL spike. See where Marken Law had a previous URL with traffic metrics roughly equivalent to what’s shown in approximately January of 2019.
Running a quick check of the URL registration date, May 2018, we’re pretty confident with that hypothesis.
At this point, nothing untoward appears to be happening, at least on the surface — a relatively new website for a likely already established practice. Taking a look at the organic traffic information, we can start to guess at another couple of factors regarding the history of this firm’s traffic.
Looking at other data from the same source above. Organic traffic is up steadily. Often there are mild drops and rises due to Google or other search engines re-working their search algorithm. For good SEO practices, you will often see a decline, such as what appears to have occurred around March 2019, and a rebound. Those with poor SEO practices will continue to drop if they begin to drop at all. Moreover, the table will often display more chaotic data as they frantically use other ethically dubious methods to attempt to prop up traffic. Again, this is not the case in this example.
Based on what the chart shows above, keywords are growing, and there is a strong correlation between keyword growth and estimated organic traffic to the website. Again, from experience, when we see a pattern like this, we are pretty confident that the growth of keywords is likely related to either additional pages or a regular attempt at blogging. The higher likelihood being that the traffic is related to blog development.
When we look deeper into the keywords and top pages for the website, the truth of our hunch is borne out. Three of the top keywords on the website are from Blog articles (note the date of the blog articles are from before the establishment of the URL. Again this bears out the hypothesis that the sudden spike around Dec 2018 was due to a switch of URLs to this new domain).
Moreover, four of the top five pages on the website are blog articles. You can see how Marken Law is crushing search for Social Security Lawyers in Spokane. They are doing this, unsurprisingly, by building a robust content portfolio via their blog.
Going back to the bigger goal of finding the right competition, we can make a rudimentary rubric to see where to start focusing our efforts.
Note: If you want to explore any firm you can, but for the sake of taking control of organic search, now and always, in any given market, you want might want to use some similar criteria to the one we start with below.
To start building an SEO plan for our fictional firm, we’re going to begin dissecting Marken Law and Lilac City Law above. We aren’t going to look at Russel & Hill because they are regional multi-focus firms that will be time-intensive to dissect. SSD lawyers & Penar Law are both not growing, and in the case of Penar Law, there is an investment in Google Ads. This ad investment will skew the results we are looking for. Lilac City Law and Marken will give us useful, fresh, quality data to parse through and begin our guerrilla marketing SEO plan.
Here (below) is the data we discovered for Lilac City Law. You will see similarities between the stories of Marken Law and Lilac City Law. Both have had steady growth. Both draw traffic from a keyword strategy and utilize Organic search to recognize traffic vs. buying advertising. In the case of Lilac City Law, the commitment to this strategy seems to have been more robust and long-lasting. But both are on a strong trajectory, and we can use the methods of both to carve out space for our fictional firm.
Beating Your Competition
Ok, there’s no magic bullet here. The firms above, if they spend $0 on advertising this month, are going to bring in >$1700 in traffic. You’d have to pay more than that in advertisement buys just to get their same level of traffic. AND they are going to be recognizing this dividend every month from now until more-or-less forever unless better content or a better website comes along to woo their traffic.
If your fictional firm is going to do that, you need to get strategic. You need to start thinking about what it will take time-wise, cost-wise, and how you might start looking for help. Or do you want to do the SEO hustle yourself?
Want to Know More About Driving Traffic to your Legal Website?
Reach out to us today. We build and manage custom marketing plans for law firms across the US!