Not all SEO is created equal. Every company with any level of web presence (and that should be every company!) needs to do continuous SEO to help g...
Content Marketing for Lawyers: How to Succeed in 2021
Content marketing is the double-take of SEO for lawyers. Not everyone understands it immediately, but when it is explained to them, it seems too simple. “A blog? That’s it? How does my blog that no one reads help my lawyer SEO?”
Yes, a lot of it is about a blog. It’s more complicated than that, but one of the key focal points for content marketing is a blog. Compared to the law, blogging feels like a disreputable occupation. Every WordPress site comes with a blog, but no one would mistake it for the New York Times, so why bother? Won’t testimonials, partner bios, and paid search engine marketing reap more benefits for a law firm?
Every lawyer of this mindset should adjust it. Industry experts roundly accept content marketing as the best long-term investment when it comes to digital marketing. The legal profession stands to benefit from its power more than many others.
So what is “content?” In some ways, it’s an industry buzzword, but “content” just refers to the written words found on the web. A website can have “video content” and “image content,” but in general “content” refers to the writing. It might include slogans, mission statements, vision statements, service descriptions, landing page sales pitches, and (of course) blogs.
Where does the “marketing” come in? Content marketing goes hand-in-hand with SEO for lawyers because part of the point is to have people discover your content in search engines.
Why would they discover your content and not someone else’s content (other than world-class lawyer SEO)?
People will discover your content if they are searching for the exact topic the content is about.
Targeting the search term “divorce lawyer in Chicago” is SEO.
Trying to capture the attention of the person Google-searching “How much does the average divorce cost?” by writing a blog that answers that exact question? That’s content marketing.
Best of all (at least for divorce lawyers), someone Googling that question may have the immediate or future need of a divorce lawyer.
Content marketing is all about discovering the burning questions that your warm market is asking, and then festooning the web with answers to those questions—answers that point back to you as an authority and service provider within that discipline.
Even if your traffic doesn’t immediately peruse your website or convert to a lead, you have at least established your name and your brand as a credible source. You may also arm your content pages to identify your traffic that didn’t convert to a lead, and remarket to them so you stay top-of-mind in your industry.
This piece digs deep into why content marketing should be a pillar of lawyer SEO marketing strategy for 2021 and beyond.
The Basics: Why Content Marketing for Lawyers Is Essential
Law is a competitive field. To rise within it, an attorney or law firm has to stand out from the pack.
Lots of industries are competitive. Sandwich stands are competitive. There are lots of places where you can get a sandwich.
But if you fail to pick the sandwich shop, you probably won’t end up in jail or have your wages attached.
Put yourself in your clients’ shoes—when you need a lawyer, a lot is on the line. Even if it isn’t a state of crisis—a divorce, a lawsuit, a death in the family, a criminal charge—the stakes are probably high. The client may be trusting his or her counsel with the successful closing of a real estate transaction, a merger, a partnership, or some other major deal.
In other words, you aren’t getting that client without first building trust.
Between a prospective client and a service provider, essentially two complete strangers, trust gets built in many ways. Testimonials, recommendations, awards, case records, and industry esteem play a big role. SEO plays a role too—who doesn’t want to hire the lawyer that turns up first in a Google search? They must be doing something right.
But content is a window into your competence. It’s a chance to let the proof be in the pudding—to show, in a layman-friendly way, that you know what you are talking about and you know your business.
While content marketing is a long-term investment compared to search engine PPC (pay-per-click paid ads), over the long term the return on investment is much better and it attracts much more warm prospects—that is, prospects ready to convert to leads and/or paying clients.
Knowing Your Audience: The Foundation of Content Marketing for Lawyers
An often-overlooked component of answering questions effectively is understanding who is asking. Everyone who writes has to consider the reader.
In short, successful lawyer SEO content marketing depends upon knowing your audience so you can customize your content to them.
Understand your target client base
So who is your target client base? Are they a certain age? Sex? Do they have certain occupations or fall in certain income brackets? Are they married? Single? Parents? Have certain interests? Values? Goals? Pain points?
Once you start drilling down the characteristics of your target client base, you can start to create user personas for your clients. A user persona is a character that personifies your ideal customer. It can be general, but also very specific, with a name and a full roster of character traits. Many businesses have more than one user persona, with different landing pages, content, and marketing campaigns targeted at each persona.
So how do you assemble a user persona for lawyer SEO marketing? By gathering data—any data that might point to common characteristics of your target market. Data can be collected using onboarding interviews, exit interviews, even purchased data. You may even be able to purchase a completed user persona.
How Building a Great Website Furthers Content Marketing for Lawyers
Content marketing is an aspect of SEO, and the focal point of SEO is the website. Putting together an effective content marketing strategy goes hand-in-hand with a great website. Even the most airtight lawyer SEO marketing will fail if it’s anchored with a lousy website.
Why the Website Is a Foundation for Your Content Marketing
Remember, the goal of content marketing for lawyers is to establish authority, credibility, and trust. How much trust does it engender if a prospect finds your website and it looks slipshod, outdated, or loads slowly?
Remember, you want to condition your visitors to trust your word, to become their go-to source of information in lieu of Wikipedia or Forbes. A “blog” doesn’t exactly sound like an authoritative source, but the proper design could make the difference between credibility and disrepute.
For all the credibility assigned to websites like nytimes.com or wsj.com, at the end of the day the websites themselves are just glorified blogs. It’s the brand pedigree of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, combined with excellent website design, that make people trust those blogs over others.
Your law firm may not have the brand recognition of the Wall Street Journal, but with elegant web design, you can at least look the part. An attractive, user-friendly blog with impeccable design can command the same respect.
A beautiful website forms the cornerstone of all your digital marketing, not just lawyer SEO or content marketing. All PPC ads, all social media campaigns, all roads lead back to your website. This is the best strategy—assuming your website is optimized to convert.
Your website should include the following:
Optimization for technical SEO
Technical SEO is sometimes referred to as “on-page SEO.” The way a website is designed can either streamline or undermine the SEO process. Good technical SEO produces a website that the search engine web crawlers will find appealing and easy to interpret, giving you a higher page ranking right out the gate.
Some of the characteristics of good technical SEO for lawyers include:
- Fast Site Loading Speed. One of the first things search engine web crawlers take into account is the loading speed of your site. They tend to downrank sites that take more than three seconds to load. The first step of good technical SEO is to lean out the site—streamline the code, optimize images and videos for the web, clear away everything extraneous.
- Mobile Optimization. Google uses a “mobile-first” ranking algorithm, which means the Google web crawlers look at the mobile version of your website first, not the desktop site. You may have slimmed down and speeded up your desktop browser site to optimal performance, but if your site is clunky and slow on mobile browsers, you will lose major SEO points.
- Secure. Search engines have adapted their ranking algorithms to account for users’ priorities for security. As a result, sites designed with HTTPS secure markup code get extra credit from the ranking algorithms.
- Good Linking Structure. Search engine web crawlers map out the internet by following the links. To index your site properly, they have to be able to find every page in your site, which means that the pages must be interlinked in an orderly way. If the crawlers can find and follow links to every page and subpage within your site, it will be able to form a complete index and find all that great, keyword-rich content you stocked the pages with.
- No Dead Links. “Dead links” lead nowhere, or to a deleted page. You know you’ve found a dead link when it leads you to a “404 Page Not Found” error. If your site has a lot of dead links, the search engine web crawlers will down-rank the site accordingly.
- No Duplicate Content. Some service providers try to save time by reusing content on different pages—for example, pages for similar services in different locations. However, duplicate content confuses search engine web crawlers and may lead them to suspect your site of plagiarism, hurting your ranking.
- Structured Data. Structured data, also known as schema, are instructions written directly into the code, specifically to be read by search engine web crawlers. Structured data are set code commands that tell the crawlers what the site is about, what language it is in, and other key site characteristics. Users don’t see it, but the web crawlers do, and it helps your lawyer SEO marketing to include it.
- XML Sitemap. An XML sitemap is an indexed listing of all the pages on your site with direct links, which search engine crawlers can use to make a complete inventory of your site. With a good linking structure, an XML sitemap is unnecessary because the crawlers should be able to find their way around anyway. But it doesn’t hurt. Consider it a “failsafe.”
A smooth UX
UX is web-design lingo for “user experience.” It refers (unsurprisingly) to the user’s experience of the website. Good UX means that a visitor is likely to have a delightful, intuitive experience using the website. Bad UX means the user will probably find the website unpleasant and confusing. That second user is unlikely to stay long or return to the website, as well as form an unfavorable opinion of the business.
Four elements feed into good UX:
- Visual Design. Is the site aesthetically pleasing and aligned with current design trends? Does it look professional and reflect well on the brand it represents?
- Interaction Design. Can the user interact with the site to navigate it effectively? Is the linking structure sensible? Does it lead the user on a coherent journey?
- Information Architecture. Can the user find all the information (s)he needs easily within the framework of the site?
- Usability. Can the user catch on to the structure and function of the site with little or no hand-holding?
Web designers often use a prototyping method called a wireframe to test the UX before the site goes live.
An intuitive, clear taxonomy
The taxonomy of a website is how it organizes its web addresses—that is, what the user sees in the URL bar. Usually, there’s a “www-dot” and the brand name and a “dot-com,” but outside of that, the web developer has a lot of leeway in structuring the taxonomy.
Great web design uses a clear, intuitive taxonomy that sensibly appends the URL. For example, let’s suppose a user is looking for a divorce lawyer in Chicago. To get there, the user might navigate to your website, www.abcdivorcelaywer.com, and choose “Services” > “Divorce” > Chicago.
A clear taxonomy would look something like this:
Everything is clear and laid out sequentially. Web designers who don’t take the time to structure the taxonomy might end up with a website that has nonsensical strings of characters in the taxonomy. This looks messy and unprofessional.
Of particular relevance to content marketing, blog taxonomy can get complicated. The taxonomy could include the date of the blog; it could include the entire wordy title; it could include the word “blog.” Take time with the structure of the taxonomy so that the URL in the address bar looks as appealing as possible.
Detailed landing pages for your services
Most professional service businesses, including law firms, have a “Services” section to the website, with subpages detailing each of the services provided by the business. A family law practice, for example, might have service pages for “Divorce,” “Custody,” “Paternity,” etc.
Each of these service pages should be treated as separate “landing pages”—one-page customer journeys calibrated to convert visitors into leads and/or clients. (More on conversion below.)
A law firm that operates in multiple jurisdictions might need a separate landing page for each service in each jurisdiction. For example, if the aforementioned family law firm serves the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metro, they might want a page for “Custody Hearings - Dallas,” “Custody Hearings - Fort Worth,” “Custody Hearings - Arlington,” and so on … and then another set for divorce services, another for paternity services … all with unique content!
It might seem overwhelming, but as we will discuss in the section on SEO, a bulky index with a lot of unique content is good for your page ranking.
Optimized for conversion
A site that converts is a site that turns visitors into leads, or even clients, by convincing them to take action. What kind of action? Book an appointment … enter their email address to get some kind of freebie … call you … some kind of action that turns them from an anonymous looky-loo to someone you can keep in touch with, build trust, and close new business.
Pages optimized to convert usually address each stage of the traditional customer journey—awareness, consideration, decision. It should present clear, informative content; answers to common questions and objections; social proof in the form of testimonials; and a clear call to action with an action that is easy to take—a prominently-displayed contact form, scheduler widget, phone number with tap-to-call functionality when viewed on a smartphone.
A site optimized to convert might even include AI-driven tools like chatbots to prompt interaction that leads to conversion.
Creating Content: A Guide to SEO & Keyword Research for Lawyers
To understand the role content marketing plays in SEO for lawyers, it helps to understand some of the mechanics of SEO itself, and the reason content marketing helps.
SEO (search engine optimization) is the practice of boosting your website’s relevance and authority in the estimation of the major search engines. Google is obviously the biggest, but engines like Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and others have their devotees.
Authority means that the search engines rank your site as more reputable or held in high esteem compared to other websites—say, the websites of your competitor firms.
But authority doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your site has to be relevant to the search terms a user has entered into the search engine. After all, if you are a lawyer, there is no point in having high authority on the subject of gardening. The search engines would rank you high in gardening-related searches, but that’s useless to a lawyer.
You want to be relevant in searches for keywords relating to the legal profession, and especially for your practice areas. Even better, you want to be relevant for local searches in your geographic area of practice. If an attorney practices family law in Illinois, it makes no sense to turn up in searches in Kentucky … unless the lawyer also offers services in Kentucky.
Note that there are separate search components for different types of content. SEO for lawyers must address all of them, including:
- Blogs and articles that answer peoples’ questions.
- Local pages (geo-targeted to a particular location).
- Landing pages.
- Audio/video content, like YouTube videos, podcasts, etc.
If a website has high authority for relevant search terms, people searching for those terms will find your website more easily because it will be listed higher as an organic result (that is, not a paid ad) on search engine results pages (SERPs). Of critical importance is to rank for relevant keywords on the SERP page one. 90% of online searchers never make it past the first SERP page—usually the first ten organic results.
A website’s rank is determined by the search engine’s web crawlers, artificially-intelligent programs that prowl the web, taking note of new sites, and adding them to the search engine’s index—a listing of every public-facing site the search engine knows about. The web crawlers also crawl other sites in the index—in other words, every site the engine knows about—looking for signs of authority.
So do these web crawlers consider indicators of authority? There are six vectors of SEO to be aware of as relates to content marketing:
- Domain Age. This is one of the hardest aspects of SEO to fix. Web crawlers consider older domains to have more authority. This is why lawyers and other brands should try to choose domains for the long haul. Relaunch with a new domain, and you lose all the authority that the domain has built up over time.
- Technical SEO. We’ve discussed technical SEO above, but to reiterate, technical SEO includes mobile optimization, site load speed, alt text, and proper use of keywords in headers and meta tags.
- Keywords. Keywords deserve special mention. Web crawlers look at the written and meta content of a website to form an impression of what the site is “about.” If it finds lots of content on criminal law, it might assign your site more relevance to searches for criminal law. Where the keywords appear matters as well—your best keywords do better when they appear in the site title, meta tag, and header.
Keywords can be both “short-head” or “long-tail.” A head-tail keyword might be “criminal lawyer in Chicago.” A long-tail keyword might be “criminal lawyer specializing in DWI settlements without going to trial” might be a long-tail keyword. In general, long-tail keywords are cheaper and easier to market or rank for.
- Backlinks. One of the most powerful tools in the lawyer SEO toolbox, backlinks are links from other sites that direct users to the page in question—the website whose page rank you are trying to boost with SEO. It’s not a link from your page to another page, but a link to your page from another page.
Search engine web crawlers interpret backlinks as a “vote” for the relevance and authority of your site, especially when they come from sites that have high authority in their own right.
- Volume. Search engines interpret raw volume as a sign of authority. This might include having a lot of sub-pages, or a lot of content (thousands of words instead of hundreds, for example). Of course, it has to be relevant content, that is good content. Web crawlers have been armed to spot repetitive, lorem-ipsum, or junk text.
- Recency. It’s bad for SEO to create a website and then never update it. If a site has not been touched for years, search engine web crawlers will interpret that as a lack of relevance. Can you blame them?
While the age of a site plays a big role in SEO, even an old page will rank poorly if it hasn’t been updated since its founding. This is often a thorn in the side of brands that wish they could treat their website as a “set-it-and-forget-it” investment.
One of the reasons content marketing is so powerful is that it touches on so many aspects of good SEO for lawyers. Consider:
- Adding content regularly means your site always has recent content.
- Adding content regularly increases the volume of your site, both in terms of page index and word count.
- Content can be targeted to long-tail keywords, which are easier to rank for and represent extremely warm traffic.
- Content pages can be targeted with backlinks to boost their authority even more.
In other words, content marketing is like an SEO perfect storm.
Keyword Research for Law Firm Content Marketing
Keywords fall into different categories:
- Branded Keywords. Branded keywords specifically mention the company’s name—for example, “Smith & Smith, LP” or “Sally Jones, Esq.” Obviously these keywords are easy to rank for—after all, it’s your name, your brand! However, this presumes that the searcher already knows you. Lawyer SEO is about expanding your brand reach beyond the people who have already heard of you. The point is not to get them to Google-search your name—the point is to have them learn your name as a result of Google-searching something relevant to your practice.
- Educational Keywords. These keywords indicate that a searcher is in the information-gathering phase of the buyer’s journey. They often get couched in questions—“How do I …?” or “What does it mean when …?” These keywords are perfect for content marketing.
- Purchase-Oriented Keywords. Purchase-oriented keywords indicate that a user is further along in the buyer’s journey—for example, “Divorce lawyers who offer payment plans” or “Best divorce lawyer in Chicago.” This person is ready to buy. These keywords may not be your best bet for a content marketing strategy. You definitely want these users to find your side, but your lawyer SEO marketing for these keywords should focus on landing pages, not educational content pages.
When it comes to picking your keywords, there’s no reason to rely on guesswork. Numerous web tools exist to help you make informed decisions about the direction of your content based on high-performing long-tail keywords.
Two types of keyword analysis tools to be aware of include:
- Keyword Analyzers. Keyword analyzers take a keyword—say, “Divorce Lawyer”—and analyze it for search volume—i.e. how many people are searching for that term. Keyword analyzers often give suggestions of long-tail keywords along with their own search volumes. It might also show a “trend line” for the search term to indicate seasonality. Some tools also estimate the pay-per-click cost and offer other data. Generally, free tools offer less insight while paid tools offer more.
A “pay-per-click” estimator may not be relevant to SEO for lawyers, but it does tell you how competitive the keyword might be to rank for, with pricier keywords being harder.
Note that search engines aren’t required to divulge their search volume, so some of these tools rely on analytics. Just because it gives you a “search volume” of 450 doesn’t mean that exactly 450 people have searched that keyword. However, if a different keyword has a volume of 750 and another 150 in the same tool, you can get a rough idea of where they stand in relation to each other. Google Keyword Planner, a free and simple tool, has the advantage of being produced by the largest search engine.
Other keyword analyzers to consider include SEMrush, Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, KWFinder, Growth Bar, and Long Tail Pro.
- Question Analyzers. Question analyzers are a specialized type of keyword analyzer that takes a keyword and searches the web for questions that people are searching when using the keyword.
For example, enter the term “divorce lawyer” into the popular, free question analyzer answerthepublic.com and you will get many questions that people have searched. Some of them won’t be of use because they don’t indicate a warm prospect—for example, “How do you become a divorce lawyer?” or “How much do divorce lawyers make?”
Others, however, are very indicative of a warm prospect—“What questions will a divorce lawyer ask me?” for example, or “Can a divorce lawyer subpoena my text messages?” These questions indicate someone who needs the help of a divorce lawyer. A family law firm might consider writing content with those exact questions for the titles, perhaps with some tweaks to make it unique.
Besides answerthepublic.com, SEMrush, BuzzSumo, and other keyword planner tools include question analyzers.
Building a Keyword Universe
Businesses that put effort into keyword SEO often build a “keyword universe,” a collection of keywords—both short-head and long-tail—that the business is keeping track of with SEO analytics. This is a way to keep track of the progress of keywords you are trying to optimize for, as well as identify keywords that are performing well and direct the SEO project.
If a small number of keywords is driving a lot of search traffic, it might be worth leaning into that successful keyword. However, keywords that aren’t driving a lot of traffic may not be completely useless. They may be boosting the relevance of your performing keywords or could start driving traffic with more lawyer SEO marketing.
How Should Lawyers Create Their Marketing Content?
So now that our keyword research has unearthed some topics to write about … what should the content actually look like?
Lawyer SEO content marketing should focus on three characteristics:
- Longform. Provide detailed answers to users’ questions, so they don’t have to keep searching. Make sure to break up the topic into subtopics with subheaders to improve “snackability” (see below).
- Layman Friendly. Avoid legalese. Remember, you want them to hire you as their lawyer, not be lawyers themselves. An attorney that explains complex legal concepts in simple language will win rapturous followers.
- Authoritative. Flex your expertise. If the user is ever to become a client, (s)he has to be convinced that you know your stuff.
Factors to consider include:
Content writers price projects based on the number of words. “Longform” content is usually going to be …. well, long—anywhere from 1,000 words (roughly three manuscript pages minimum) to 3,000 words or more.
Search engine web crawlers actually count words and interpret larger word counts as a sign of greater authority. Consider google-searching the topics you want to create content for and counting the words in the top-ranked articles and blogs. (You don’t have to count every word! Copy/paste the text into a free online word-counting tool.)
You don’t actually have to use your keyword too often—in fact, if you “keyword stuff” your content by using the keyword repeatedly and nonsensically, those AI web crawlers can spot that trickery and may downrank you. SEO best practices suggest that no more than 1-2% of your content be keywords. This is known as “keyword ratio” or “keyword density.” SEO tools like SEMrush can calculate the keyword density of a text.
However, it does make a difference where you place your keywords within the content to reap the most lawyer SEO marketing benefit. You want your 1-2% keyword density to be focused on high-value page real estate like. Focus, in descending order of importance, on:
- Page Title
- Body Copy
- Meta Tags
What does it mean for content to be “snackable?”
You don’t want your content to be an intimidating Thanksgiving dinner, the kind you need a nap after consuming.
It’s better to structure your content as a series of light snacks. This may seem to contradict the earlier suggestion to create long-form content, but there are many tricks you can use to break up huge blocks of text and make thousands of words more “snackable.” Tactics include:
- Breaking up a long topic into short subtopics with pithy subheaders. Remember, avoid huge blocks of text!
- Use pull quotes—key points from the content in a bigger font, possibly highlighted by a shaded box, different font color, etc.
- Add images, infographics, videos, interactive elements, or other goodies.
Content Marketing for Lawyers: What to Do Before & After You Publish
Congratulations! Your content is beautiful, informative, and ready to post! The hard part is over … but there’s still work to do. Don’t let all the effort you put into creating the content go to waste—make sure you are taking the proper steps before and after posting it to maximize its impact on your lawyer SEO marketing.
Before you post your content, make sure to address:
- SEO Optimization of the Content Page. Pay attention to the title, meta-text, and keyword content of the URL.
- Alt Text. Alt-text is written content that the users can’t see, but the search engine web crawlers can see. Include keyword-rich alt text that makes it perfectly clear what the content is about.
- Font Size. Make sure the font is adequately sized, with proper color contrast to be read by the colorblind or the visually impaired. DAP recommends a font size of at least 16 px.
- Internal and External Linking. Consider linking to high-authority sources, as well as other pages within your domain.
- Include a Real, Verifiable Author Byline. Don’t publish content anonymously. Attribute the content to yourself or someone authoritative within your organization. If a ghostwriter wrote the content, make sure the content is something you can stand behind before putting your name on it.
Posting the content is a big accomplishment in SEO for lawyers, but the work of content marketing doesn’t stop there. Considerations for after the content goes live include:
- Promote Your Content. Shout out your new content on your social media and public-facing channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Incorporate Your Content into Email Marketing. Your content can be a powerful pillar of an email marketing campaign. Tease the content in a pithy email with a cliffhanger that directs them to a link to your content. You might even integrate it into an automated lead-nurturing email funnel, which will email your content to new leads without any extra effort on your part.
- Track Your Analytics. Make sure your SEO and conversion analytics are installed so you understand how your content is performing—in terms of driving traffic and nurturing that traffic to conversion.
While it may seem like a major undertaking, content marketing is one of the most powerful tools in the lawyer SEO toolkit. Attorneys and law firms, even more so than other service businesses, stand to benefit not only from the SEO power of content marketing but also the ability of content marketing to build authority and credibility. The attorney-client relationship is built on trust, perhaps more so than in any other business relationship … and trust is what content marketing is all about.
Interested in learning more about the content marketing angle of lawyer SEO? Reach out to Digital Authority Partners today!