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SEO
Chapter 2
Ranking Factors
In This Chapter

Law Firm SEO Marketing Ranking Factors

Reading time: 24 Mins
Last modified: December 5, 2023

According to a study conducted by Ahrefs, only approximately 5.7 percent of new pages reach the top 10 Google results within the first year of publication. Less than one percent of Google users clicked on a result outside of the top 10 results. If you want your firm’s website to take advantage of organic traffic from Google searches, you need to pay attention to the factors that influence Google’s rankings. In this chapter, we will learn what those ranking factors are, how you can optimize your site for readers and search engines, and why and how you should monitor your site’s performance in those rankings.

1% over google users click past the 10th result

Top takeaways from this chapter

  • What ranking factors are for SEO marketing
  • What Google’s E-E-A-T standard means for your content
  • What ranking factors impact search engine results for law firms
  • How to optimize your site for prospective clients and search engines
  • How to monitor and assess rankings

What are ranking factors?

A law firm’s website has two main tasks. The first is to serve as a foundation for helping prospective clients learn about you and start on their journey to gathering information to solve their legal problems. The second function of your law firm’s website is to be a foundation for good SEO practices that help the search engines to find your website and position it in front of your most likely potential clients. That is, we need to build out your website in a way that is going to appease the Google algorithm and help your business to reach its ultimate goal of bringing in those clients.

How do we get people to find your law firm’s website, then? We have to focus on the factors that Google monitors and uses to determine where a website will rank when a searcher looks for the services offered.
Ranking factors are the guidelines that a search engine like Google uses to determine the most relevant results for any given search.

When someone types a word into the search box, they tell Google to find the most relevant websites to help them. Google’s ultimate goal is to ensure that the list of suggestions it offers really meets the expectations of the search engine’s users. To do that, it has to analyze your law firm’s website and find out how well it stands out and meets the needs of that particular search query.

As you may expect, people may type thousands of combinations of words to find the same attorney. That’s why Google focuses on a few core aspects to determine how well a website matches the actual need of the searcher.

Google sorts the websites available based on five overarching categories.

  • Meaning
  • Relevance
  • Usability
  • Context
  • Quality

A component of your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts should focus on each one of these five categories to achieve the best possible results for your website. This is one component of your digital marketing strategy.

Let’s review each one in further detail.

Meaning

This relates to user intent. What does the searcher want to find with their query?

To return results that are actually helpful to the searcher, Google needs to understand what the person is trying to find. Google uses language models that determine what the searcher’s words mean to match up the content that’s actually useful.

That seems pretty straightforward — if a person is looking for a criminal defense attorney, show them websites with a criminal defense attorney, right?

It’s not necessarily that easy because someone may be looking for an “attorney to defend me” or a “criminal defense legal service.” In this case, all could lead to the same website. Google’s system is elaborate, and they don’t tell us everything that they use to determine this. Its language model is designed to understand key phrases. Google shares that it took five years to develop this specific system but that it has led to a significant improvement of results by about 30%, meaning it’s helping to get people to the websites that solve their needs.

To further understand how this concept works, check out our chapter on keyword research, which thoroughly reviews user intent.

Relevance

The next big ranking factor is relevance. Is the content on your page relevant to the query?

The next step in ranking websites is to consider whether the content contains information that is actually relevant to their search.

The basic signal used for this is the presence of the same keywords as the person’s search query. For example, Google may find that the keyword “defense attorney” is on a website, so it seems to fit. Google may also notice it’s in the content of the website’s pages or in the headings, which makes it seem even more likely that this content is going to solve the searcher’s query.

Again, Google does not just stop there, though. Google is looking for pages with the same keywords as the query that contain content related to the keywords that their algorithm has determined are relevant to the user’s search. Then, it goes deeper.

The system will analyze whether or not the content is relevant to the query. Google’s algorithm uses data (aggregated and anonymized interaction data specifically) to analyze that close link to relevancy. When a person is searching for an attorney, chances are good they want real, authentic information that provides them with an audience. That means they don’t want a lawyer’s website that just has the words “criminal defense attorney” on it dozens of times.

Rather, a person wants contextualized information. Google tries to find out how beneficial the site is by looking at what else is on the page beyond the actual keyword. Are there videos? Are there infographics? Perhaps there is a list of legal services available.

Usability

How functional is your website? Quality content matters, but search engines want to ensure that your potential clients can actually use your site easily and efficiently, as well. That’s why Google evaluates user experience when determining placement on the search engine results pages (SERPs). There are several factors that contribute to how usable a website is.

Do your pages load quickly? Page speed is important. Your clients are not going to wait even 30 seconds for your page to load before they move on to the next listing instead. Studies show that faster site loading speeds have a higher conversion rate. In fact, for sites that load in one second, the conversion rate is three times higher than a site that takes five seconds to load and a whopping five times higher than a site that takes 10 seconds to load.

Is the website easy to navigate? Not only does this make it hard for people to use the website and impacts ranking, but it also makes conversions less likely. We need people to come to the website on a landing page, find relevant information on that page, and then click on your contact form.

Do you have a mobile-friendly website design? Mobile devices are critical today. Simillarweb’s recent analysis of web traffic found that mobile traffic (people coming to websites from their mobile device) made up about 58% of all web traffic in the United States in February of 2023. If the first page of your website (the first impression your visitors get) is hard to read and scroll through on a smartphone, searchers will move on. Google recognizes this, determines how usable your site is, and then applies that information to user experience and ranking.

As a full-service digital marketing and SEO agency, Array Digital knows the value of high-quality, highly functional websites. That’s why we work closely with our web development team to ensure the usability of your site, from how mobile friend it is to the overall loading speed, is spot on the expectations of Google and your potential clients.

Context

Context refers to factors like the searcher’s location and the proximity to your business. This is one of the reasons why it is crucial to have your firm’s physical address listed clearly and correctly on your site and in your Google Business Profile (GBP), formerly called Google My Business (GMB). It also needs to be accurate in all legal directories you use. It makes sense, of course – not just as a part of your lawyer SEO strategy but also so people have no trouble finding your firm when they are in your area.

If someone in Virginia Beach searches for “personal injury attorney,” the results focus on personal injury firms near their physical location. That helps to minimize the risk of getting results from a personal injury law firm located in New York, for example, who might not be able to help this person.

Google’s algorithm takes into account various factors, including activity from a person’s Google account. If someone types in “personal injury attorney near me,” which is a common type of query, Google can tailor that result to their area. Google can also consider a person’s interests. So, if that person types in “lawyer near me,” Google can use any other data it has from their Google account to direct them to a personal injury law firm, assuming that’s their need.

Quality

Does your page contain reliable information? Is it somehow different from other similar content online?

Once considering the search terms and the user intent, Google then seeks out the best websites to position on their SERPs. That means they want the highest quality sites listed at the top of the list.

Search terms help with this, but the website content must be high enough in quality to actually be helpful to your potential clients.

Consider that if a searcher is looking for a personal injury lawyer, they want information about a lawyer near them to contact, but they also want to learn something on the website. Your website content can teach them, guide them, provide references, and offer some details on what they can do next. This is a big part of quality content marketing.

Google’s system prioritizes websites that seem like they offer the most helpful information. It identifies signals that can determine which content shows:

  • Authoritativeness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Expertise

We’ll dive into that more so in just a moment. However, keep in mind that attorney SEO needs to be:

  • On point – what someone can use
  • Unique, so it stands out from other websites that offer the same type of service

Blending quality website content that actually encourages your website visitor to become a client is a priority. That is recognized by Google as valuable.

Google uses many factors to determine this, such as the presence of a website link on a prominent, well-respected site to your website. These are called backlinks. They also use aggregated feedback from search quality evaluations to help determine that value. In short, you cannot create a website that is designed just to focus on SEO efforts. It has to actually provide good content.

How do we do this?

Google largely uses what is now called “E-E-A-T.” It is a method of evaluating whether the content is truly valuable.

What is E-E-A-T?

Google E-E-A-T graphic

It stands for expertise, experience, authority, and trustworthiness. This is a major ranking factor for search results. Because this is so important in the metrics for organic search, let’s break down how Google gets a better idea of the value that content can offer to the reader.

Expertise

The basic question to answer here is this:

  • Do you have the knowledge, skill, and training to speak on this subject?

As a licensed attorney providing legal services in your area, chances are good you know you have the knowledge and skills needed to meet this goal. The question is, though, does your website content demonstrate this?

A website that’s populated with artificial intelligence (AI) content cannot show that attorneys are truly experts in their field. If this tool makes a mistake, especially in breaking down complex legal matters, that makes you look untrustworthy and creates a liability risk. The same applies to any human-generated content that’s lacking in true value, accuracy, and details.

Experience

Your experience matters, too.

  • Do you have first-hand experience with the subject matter?

Google prioritizes content that demonstrates a hands-on understanding of the topic. That may seem hard to do, but the more personable, interactive, and engaging your website content is, the better. Google added this “E” to its original E-A-T model right after an announcement about the availability of AI. Google values an attorney’s website that shows personalized, real-life interactions, case studies, and experiences.

Authority

Consider this question:

  • Are you known as a go-to source for information on your topic?

When it comes to finding the perfect target keyword, it is just as important to configure your content to include in-depth content that truly shows you know something a bit more than others on the topic.

For most attorneys, their authority will come from providing information about the practice area they represent, whether that is a car accident attorney, estate planning professional, or any other practice area. Optimizing your SEO content around what you do can improve your authority on a topic. It works to increase your visibility and name recognition for your law firm.

Legal content like this can be tricky. High-quality content needs to offer in-depth explanations so that it becomes a source for link-building. This is one of the most important ranking factors.

Trustworthiness

In all Google ranking factors, trustworthiness matters significantly.

  • Does the high-quality content you offer ensure accuracy and minimizes risk to your prospective client’s well-being?

Trust is an especially important factor for law firms. Law firms fall under the YMYL (Your Money Your Life) category, which are services that Google views with an extra level of thoroughness because the content can have a direct impact on a person’s finances or well-being. Google more closely evaluates this type of content’s accuracy.

When it comes to search engine rankings, to build trust, you should do the following.

  • Include a clear, easily accessible “About Us” page on your website that describes your expertise. Ensure that this web page clearly demonstrates the people who are at the law firm, including the names of your attorneys, establishing it as an authentic local business.
  • Ensure positive client reviews and testimonials are on your website. Testimonials from real people give potential clients confidence in your website while supporting your SEO.
  • Get backlinks from reputable websites. Quality backlinks from trusted websites, legal directories like Justia and AVVO, as well as news websites are a great way to do this.

How can I optimize my site to rank higher in Google searches?

Take all of the information we have provided so far and apply it to your website. Every webpage matters. As SEO experts, we know this is a lot of work, but when it comes to search engines like Google and Bing, it’s worth doing the work to see results.

Here are several things you can do now to get started.

Up-to-date business citations

All citations online that mention your law firm need to be fully accurate. This includes your law firm’s full and accurate name, address, phone number, and website name and link. These vitals are essential to get exactly right!

Do this on all websites that may include your law firm’s information, including sites like Yelp, Facebook, Justia, and FindLaw. This directly impacts local search results as well as ensures trustworthiness.

Produce the highest quality content for your audience

Conduct keyword research as a first step. Determine what type of content you want to include on your website not just to have the best SEO but to create a valuable, high-quality site recognized in Google search results for the value it offers readers.

Ensure all your content hits the biggest features:

  • It has to be factual.
  • Keep it up to date.
  • Ensure it adds value to the internet by saying something new.

If you have worked with an inferior SEO company in the past, they may have created tons of content for your website and promised great results. Yet, your Google Analytics metrics never seem to move in the right direction. What gives?

If you are creating content for your website incorporating great on-site SEO practices, it still may not rank if it is the same type of information already out there! Instead, find something new and different to offer to your readers.

Ensure that you’re saying something new. It’s critical to do this since your competitors may be using AI to churn out low-quality content. You can learn more about our findings regarding legal AI content here.

Optimize your on-site SEO

Your on-site SEO incorporates a wide range of details that can make a big impact on organic search results. These are some of the background bits that can create some great improvements to your page ranking and don’t really take a lot of hard work to make them stand out.

Here are a few steps to take immediately to achieve this.

Title tags

A title tag is a type of HTML code. It provides the title of the webpage to the search engine. This is the title that a searcher sees when they land on the SERPs after querying a keyword.

The title tag will also show up in the browser tabs so that it is easily recognized. Your title tags will also appear on social media posts.

Title tags are a confirmed factor in Google’s rankings. They help the algorithm understand the content on the page and determine its relevance to those who are searching. They do not have to be long or complex but rather include a keyword while providing some pretty straightforward information about what each page has to offer.

URLs

URLs are important, but they are not a major ranking factor, though they do contribute to on-page SEO. Your URL needs to be clear and as simple as possible to help Google’s algorithm to classify your site’s content and intent.

It also helps with clustering pages that are on similar topics. For example, if you are a personal injury attorney, you may have separate pages on car accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and dog bites. Each page will have its own URL that includes a personal injury keyword in it. For example, it may be “-personal-injury-dog-bite-lawyer” changing out the keywords based on the page you are creating content for with each URL.

This may offer little impact on your site’s overall local SEO success, but it does help with navigation and make your site user friendly. As a result, it’s quite valuable in ensuring visitors can move through the site with ease.

Internal links

Internal links help people move from one page of your website to another page. They help guide your reader to further information on your site. They also contribute to the internal structure by linking your hub pages to your spoke pages.

In the example above, your hub page could be “personal injury attorney” while your spokes could include “dog bite attorney” or “car accident attorney.”

We also use anchor text here to guide this process. For example, if you want a person who is reading about personal injury services to move to a page on potential compensation for injury cases, you would use anchor text for URLs that represent where the click will take them, often including a keyword in that process.

Page speed

How fast do your website pages load? As noted, this can significantly impact the performance of your site in Google. It’s worth it to try out a few different tools to help you determine how fast your page speed actually is to someone who is just visiting for the first time. You can do that using sites like WebDev, PageSpeed Insights, and GTmetrix.

If your page speed is too slow, you may need to disable a plugin or optimize the site’s resources to ensure it has the performance ability to meet your visitors’ needs. Work to improve the internal function of your site in this area to ensure the best SEO results.

Mobile friendliness

Next, determine just how mobile friendly your website actually is. It should have a layout that is easy to navigate from the smaller screen of a mobile device like a cell phone. You can do this in several ways.
Begin your design with a mobile-first design approach or by building your site on an AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) framework. You can also use a responsive theme, which is a theme that automatically adapts to the size of the user’s device screen.

Security

Security is one of the most important factors for a lawyer’s website. Google wants to be sure the website uses a secure HTTPS encrypted connection. This is only a small ranking factor right now, but there are suggestions that it will be a stronger factor in the future.

Off-page SEO ranking factors

There are other factors that play a role in the ranking of your website that are not directly on your site. Called off-page ranking, these areas are valuable considerations for all attorney websites.

off page SEO graphic

Meta Description and Technical SEO

Your meta description for each page of content you create should include important keywords. This can help to inform the search engines of what each page has to offer. Be sure to optimize this type of content.

You also want to look at other SEO elements on your site, though they’re not actually technical SEO elements. Even things like the header on your landing page and the alt images on the phones can be a tool used to help with ranking your website and showing Google its overall value to the reader.

Reputation

You may not feel that you have any ability to directly impact what people say or post about your law firm outside of your website. To some degree, that is true. However, the more “good” that’s out there, the better.

There isn’t someone sitting in Google’s offices making hierarchy decisions based on opinions about whether they like your firm or not. It’s all a numbers game, and the more you can work to increase your positive reputation, the better.

Social media

When people engage with your social media pages and the posts you put up on them, that is going to play a role in the long-term boost your law firm sees. Social media increase your law firm’s brand reach. More people will see it. While social media marketing is a very different process than what we are discussing here, it is an important tool to use for its indirect support of page ranking.

You can also use your social media efforts in other ways. For example, use social media cues you receive to help inform your SEO strategy, helping you to know what keywords to target and the types of content your readers want or need.

Backlinks

You cannot force another website to put a link to your site on theirs. Though it would be great to have a simple way to do this, that is not how it works (and remember, black hat methods of trying to rank your website are never beneficial to a law firm!)

Google will use those backlinks on other sites to see the value your website offers to others. If an article on a high-level news journal has a link to your website, that’s going to help you. If you have a link to a New York Times article, that could offer help, too. Backlink strategies should incorporate a wide range of these factors.

Should I optimize my website for Google or my audience?

Here is where it often gets tough for attorneys who want to ensure the best possible outcome. You absolutely should always optimize your website with your human audience in mind and the core focus of every decision you make.

Google’s algorithm is constantly being tweaked and modified. Google does not make its entire evaluation process public, either. That means that good quality content is going to play a significant role in the click-through rate and success of any efforts you put into your site (and that includes PPC campaigns, too – you can spend a small fortune on ads, but if the content on your site is not easy for your reader to use, it’s wasted money).

The safer option is to aim for a high-quality user experience supported by strategic SEO processes. Build your website specifically for the people who will use it — your prospective clients. Then gear any optimization toward making the user experience even better.

Google has made its position on this very clear: no matter how Google’s developers alter the algorithm, they aim to improve user experience and reward sites that do the same.

How to monitor and assess rankings

Once you create a website that’s optimized, you’re likely ready for it to take off. Are your efforts working? Here’s how to know.

Have realistic expectations

Your Google rankings will take time to reflect any improvements to your site. It could be months (or years in very competitive markets like New York or California) before you see pages rise in the ranks to the top results for your keywords. Over time, your domain authority will improve.

Ranking evaluation tools to help with high-quality results

There are a lot of tools out there that may offer some help. While they do not take the place of SEO experts, they can give you some insight into where to get started. Check out the following.

  • Semrush
  • Ahrefs
  • Google Search Console

Why is it important to monitor rankings?

Once you start to see improvements in your site, continue using these tools and metrics to help your firm grow. Even after your site starts ranking for your targeted keywords, you should monitor your rankings. Rankings can depreciate for many reasons, including those algorithm changes that Google will make over time.

Other reasons include:

  • A competitor updates their content
  • A technical issue develops with your site
  • An update to the ranking algorithm occurs

When you are monitoring your ranking over time using these tools, you are able to get insight into concerns early on. It allows you to diagnose the problem and fix it faster.

Sometimes a dip in keyword rankings is just a short-term event. This usually will happen after Google releases a search engine update. It will often resolve itself within the next few weeks.

Rise through the rankings with us

SEO graphic are you on the map

Let Array Digital handle the hard work for you. Take some time right now to find out what you can expect from an Array Digital update regarding your Google ranking factors. To get started, contact us by calling 757-333-3021 or filling out a contact form now.

Written By Gary Honold
I am a digital marketer and SEO manager with 30+ years’ experience driving web traffic, leads, and conversions for clients in highly competitive markets.