I am primarily a business strategist, but I often help firms move into implementation on various projects. So, it’s not uncommon for me to write copy for law firm websites. I’m about to embark on just such a project now, and in preparation I’m doing some personal homework to remind myself about good (and bad) SEO practices.
Ultimately, the job of great website copy is to provide appropriate and accessible information about the firm’s capabilities, in a way that speaks to the firm’s professionalism and personality. It’s also the writer’s job to do what they can to produce content that will maximize the firm’s accessibility on Google, or at least not hinder it. You don’t want to create copy that is exclusively designed to optimize your search engine results. But you’d be a fool to ignore what Google likes and dislikes. After all, what good is strong copy if nobody reads it?
While a writer can certainly work with designers to ensure metatags and descriptions (which are behind the scenes) are accurate and enticing, many of the best practices required for strong SEO require the knowledge of a specialist. Still, there is a lot that can be done by the writer of a website to assist with the SEO process.
This isn’t an exact science. Google algorithms are updated over hundreds of times each year with small changes – larger changes (like the Hummingbird update in 2013) are less frequent. Still, it’s a good idea to stay up on the trends, findings and pitfalls. Toward this end I started with a Google search for articles about good and bad SEO practices. I found that most of the top search engine results were dated 2017 or earlier. A safer bet was to log onto Google’s own guidelines for SEO (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/7451184?hl=en), a document which is most helpful to anyone who needs a quick reminder of what to do and what not to do if you want Google to like you. I would encourage you to take the time to read this guide -whether you are starting your website from scratch or want to learn how you can improve your rankings by cleaning up what you have. Most of the guidelines are geared toward the technical side of a website but you’ll find plenty of information that will inform your content strategy.
In the meantime, just for fun, I’ve summarized the suggestions I found on other parts of the internet in terms of do’s and don’ts as they relate to the content side of SEO.
- Don’t include too much duplicate content. Putting the same content up on your site in several places does not suggest that you REALLY know this area of law. Rather, it suggests to Google that your knowledge is limited (and thus must be replicated in several places), that you have nothing new to say and there’s no reason to index those pages.
- Don’t use the same keywords repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly. This is called keyword stuffing. Readers find it annoying and algorithms see it as cheating, for which you will be penalized. It’s fine to use a keyword several times such as in a title, the page description and perhaps in the text a few times. But mentioning it in every heading and paragraph will get you busted.
- Don’t have a slow-loading site. Ideally, pages should load in four seconds or less. When you design the overall content for each page, think about functionality. Algorithms love graphics, images, animations and links, and these things can add real value for your readers, but they can also slow your down your site. Work closely with your designer to keep load times in check and ensure that your content isn’t ultimately working against you on an SEO front.
- Don’t use Intrusive Interstitial Ads. These are pop ups that arrive unprovoked and block the text that a reader actually wants to see. Law firms don’t use a lot of “ads” in this way, but we sometimes use pop ups to encourage people to sign up for our newsletters, to advise of an upcoming event, etc. Google doesn’t like this function and will penalize your site’s rankings if you use it.
- Don’t fill your site with large volume of cheap links. Links can actually be purchased and in the olden days when Google cared more about quantity than quality, that was just fine. But today’s bots can tell if links are low quality and your site will be penalized for it. Google still likes links, so do add them in. Focus on getting fewer but more meaningful links, from reputable sites.
- Don’t abuse anchor text. Anchor text is the highlighted or underlined word in copy that when clicked, goes to a page or website. These are good to have when they are carefully used and when they provide help to the reader. If they are simply a marketing tool and you are using too many of them to get the reader to the same page or website, their value goes down and you could be penalized for using them.
- Do write and design your site for mobile users. This represents over 50% of Google searches and in most of the traffic reports I’ve seen, over 50% of law firm traffic. The easier it is to use your site on a mobile device, the happier Google algorithms will be about your site.
- Do think through your keyword strategy. A great way to avoid keyword stuffing is to think of the many different ways your reader would describe what you want to promote. Think of synonyms, topics, answers, etc.
- Do build content that will earn you links. Great content helps, but also volume. Have a blog? It will need more than a total of 20 posts in order to be “liked” by others. Have lots of added value content: links, images, videos, checklists…things that add value to the user experience. Other sites will see that as meaty and valuable and will be more likely to promote your site through links from theirs.
- Do have accessible language. Strike a conversational, informative tone. Don’t be overly formal. You might go over the heads of your target audience. It doesn’t matter if they are highly intelligent: no one wants to work that hard on the internet. And keep in mind that as much as 20% of mobile searches are vocal. Sites with simple language will be found more easily in this way than sites with complex legal jargon (or bigger words).
Writing for websites could be a university-level course, with a curriculum that changes every semester. Larger firms often engage SEO specialists to oversee their website and work closely with their writers to constantly adjust content to maximize SEO potential. Most of my clients simply don’t have those resources. Luckily, most law firm websites are simple enough that they aren’t breaking too many of the rules, and a good SEO strategy only requires a little foresight and planning in the design stages, and little adjustments in the ongoing maintenance of the site.
My advice is to think through your content strategy before you write a word. Consider what you want to get across for your target market, and how you need to get it across in order to take advantage of Google algorithms. While it’s possible to fix copy that is ineffective on both of these fronts, it is much easier to consider these goals and draft content with them in mind at the outset.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org