Keywords make up the foundation of Google searches. Without keywords, you’d have no rankings or ability to show up in a relevant search. But how important are the keywords your firm chooses to target?
Short answer: they’re pretty important, but ultimately it depends on a few different things.
We’re going to address some common keyword-oriented myths and offer advice to any firms aspiring to brush up on their keyword knowledge.
Fact: Your law firm keywords might not be what you think they are
We’ve seen many cases where clients fixate on a certain keyword. They need to rank for this, no question about it, and you’ll be hard-pressed to argue with them on that fact.
But what if that keyword isn’t even relevant, or actually serving the firm a purpose?
At face value, it’s easy to think that you understand what you want to be ranking for, but as often happens in a data-focused field, it’s not uncommon to find out that your users aren’t quite searching for what you think they are. As far as law firms go, practice area pages are a pretty good example here; these pages are typically optimized for keywords something along the lines of: “<location> <practice area> lawyers|attorneys|lawyer|attorney” which would get you something like “Chicago personal injury lawyer” or “Denver divorce attorney,” etc.
Like most things in life though, there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach for keyword optimization. Google Search Console is a useful tool for finding out what searches users are actually putting in to arrive at pages on your site. A quick look at one client’s recent data for a disability practice area page can reveal a few things:
- There isn’t a single mention of “attorney” or “lawyer” in any of the top queries for the page, and yet this page consistently results in cases for the firm, with the majority of these searches resulting in positions 1-3 in Google.
- Where you might trick yourself into thinking that “disability” is the primary keyword to be targeting with little regard for some of the others, alternate descriptors like “social security disability” “ssdi” and “ssi” are all fairly low-hanging fruit that can be targeted all the same with just a little extra effort.
- A sizable portion of these searches are long-tail searches as opposed to simple phrases.
Myth: The shorter a keyword is, the better the results
A keyword doesn’t have to be short to be able to see results, and a more focused selection won’t necessarily guarantee you more than a longer cluster. Keywords can typically be categorized into either long- or short-tail with the primary difference between them being the length of the keyword/query:
Long-tail: These are keywords that are longer, and tend to read more like sentences. “How to apply for disability in Ohio” in the above would fall under this category.
Short-tail: These are keywords that are much shorter and to the point; “ssdi Ohio” would fall under this category.
Benefits of short-tail keywords
Short-tail keywords are highly valuable. If a user can type two to three words into a search engine and pull up your website within the first few results, you’re obviously doing something right. This is fantastic for your visibility and will help you appear in a much broader variety of searches if you’re ranking. These keywords tend to bring with them more traffic than their longer counterparts, too.
- More traffic if you’re ranking
- Appearing in a broader variety of searches
- Obvious display of authority in the area
- More competition, which means it’s harder to secure a good spot in the rankings
- Relevance to the user can be debatable if user intent doesn’t match your intended conversion
Benefits of long-tail keywords
Typically overlooked in favor of the esteemed short-tail keywords, long-tail keywords can prove to be just as valuable — if not more so — than shorter ones. These types of searches tend to be more targeted and usually have significantly less competition. If you’re looking in the realm of PPC here, less competition/more targeting tends to result in a lower cost, too, which is always a good thing.
- More targeted, which can help with establishing intent of the user (not unusual to see a higher conversion percentage as a result!)
- Less competition, since most people are looking for the shorter phrases
- Cheaper from a PPC perspective if you’re going the paid route
- More specific, which means that you likely won’t get as much traffic as a short-tail keyword
- Since the keyword is longer, there are higher chances of not hitting the proper combination of words for intended targeting
Myth: You can sneakily get location-dependent keywords
In this day and age, we’ve got our mobile phones practically attached to us more times than not. As a result, it’s starting to become increasingly obvious that users are looking for data relevant to them exactly where they are at that specific moment. Consider some of the following search queries from a different client:
|employment attorney near me||accident attorney near me|
|accident lawyer near me||accident lawyers near me|
|traffic lawyers near me||malpractice lawyers near me|
|federal attorney near me||discrimination lawyers near me|
|divorce lawyers near me||personal injury lawyers near me|
|real estate lawyers near me||workman’s comp attorneys near me|
Notice a trend? That “near me” is a game-changer there for a lot of these keywords. How do we optimize for this specifically? You don’t.
You cannot win these searches if you are not physically within the search distance of the user.
Google’s algorithm is smart, and most phones are equipped with GPS targeting that Google uses to further assist its algorithm for location-dependent searches. There’s a lot of misinformation lingering around the internet suggesting that you can “hack” these results to be able to capture keywords like these, but it’s simply not true.
So how do you get yourself to rank in situations like those? Hard work.
Ranking for keywords with things like “nearby” or “near me” or “within X miles of me” takes good, old-fashioned local SEO work, and lots of it. We’ve covered some of the integral aspects of local SEO and what goes into it here.
Fact: Keyword stuffing will work against you
Contrary to popular belief, packing a post or page with as many different variations of your keyword (keyword stuffing) as you can come up with will not help you rank better, and there isn’t some sort of proportional ratio of keywords in the text-to-ranking placement that’ll help you beat the system.
That wasn’t always the case, though.
Through a Google algorithm update called Panda, numerous “black hat” SEO tactics like keyword stuffing were eliminated from possibility as the focus shifted more toward quality content over anything else. This is where the emphasis on “natural, flowing content” comes in as opposed to the almost robotic-sounding content that a keyword-stuffed piece can come across as. In fact, doing this can actively cause a penalty for your website if the ensuing efforts wind up lowering the quality of your content.
So how do you make it obvious that your particular piece of content is about a certain keyword?
To optimize for a particular keyword, do this:
- Make sure your focus/primary keyword is in your URL for the page
- Try to include your keyword in an H2 tag somewhere on the page
- Include your focus/primary keyword in your meta title and description
- Do use the keyword throughout the text in a natural fashion
To optimize for a particular keyword, do not do this:
- Saturate your post with the keyword in a way that makes it read poorly
- Spam your keywords at the bottom of the page in an invisible font color (yes, we’ve seen this)
- Stick with just one single version of your keyword
- Jump into focusing on a keyword without first doing some research
- Fixate on qualitative filler words like BEST, or TOP — save these for your ad copy, not your site’s content
Fact: Your keywords do matter
… But not just any keywords.
Your law firm’s keywords will need to be well-researched and backed by supporting data from your potential and future clients. They’ll need to be tastefully used throughout your page in a way that reads organically, just like a person would speak. You’ll want a fine mix of both short- and long-tail keywords, and you’ll want to make sure that everything you’re doing from a content perspective is ethical and transparent.
If you toss out all of the above, then really, your keywords don’t matter — but only because your site won’t be showing in Google.
Alternatively, if keyword research isn’t your thing or you don’t feel like optimizing legal articles one at a time for the best keywords (and then coming back to them later to do it again and again), feel free to get in touch with us to see how we can help.
Taylor is a digital strategist at JSO Digital. He graduated from Millersville University, and currently resides in rural Pennsylvania.