Keyword Research For Attorneys: From Start to Finish
Over the past 10 years I have worked with a variety of attorneys and law firms, helping them with their SEO practices. During this time, I’ve seen Google Keyword Data come and go. I’ve also implemented some really great marketing strategies, and some really poor ones. Throughout all of this change one thing has remained the same.
The purpose of your law firm website is to help you sign more cases, and if you’re not targeting effective keywords (organically or through paid search), you won’t achieve that goal.
Today we’re going to talk about using your website as an inbound marketing tool to earn organic traffic by finding the right keywords. Before we dive in, let’s clear up some misconceptions regarding the keywords you “think” you need to rank for.
Being Competitive is Fine. But Don’t Be Short Sighted
Before search was more localized back in early 2012, keywords that did not contain a geo modifier, such as a city name, used to rank nationwide (ie. no matter where you were searching from, you’d see the same results).
Today, Google understands searcher intent better than ever, and even head terms like “Personal Injury Attorney” are localized by the searcher’s geographic location. Whether it be a desktop device or a mobile device, Google is getting creepy accurate at determining your location down to the neighborhood.
At one point every attorney I spoke too wanted to rank for a head term like “Car Accident Attorney” or “Personal Injury Attorney” in their respective cities. At one point in my career I used this as my primary goal. While ranking for these head terms can still be profitable and will come with time if the SEO campaign is designed properly, focusing on them exclusively is the reason for a lot of really bad websites.
You Need To Be Better
Johnny Cochran was a well recognized and highly regarded attorney. People didn’t know he had a great reputation because they typed “Best Criminal Lawyer” into Google. Instead he created his reputation through high profile work and strong results. If you retain a client through a city+practice area keyword, you can pretty much assume that you have to build that trust through your website design, look, and feel. But what makes your website better than anyone else’s’ out there?
I’m not talking about the design in this case, but really the message your content serves. If you want to rank for just your practice areas and you have generic practice area pages like everyone else, you’re going to sign less cases. So how do we change this?
What Keywords Are Your Clients Searching?
Creating this “good content” that everyone is so quick to talk about doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have good keywords. Good keyword research is the foundation to the success for any long term website project. All humans are different and therefore search differently. However normally when a searcher is looking for something they are trying to solve a problem or looking for an answer. This means that search behavior is changing and people are searching differently.
Take a look at this image below. This shows that the head term “Personal injury attorney” has been on a slow but steady decline in Google Trends since 2005.
The keyword Personal Injury Lawyer is also showing a reduction but not as strong as the attorney variant. Maybe searchers are getting more localized? Let’s take a look at a geographically modified personal injury keyword. Here is the same trends graph but instead I used these keywords:
- Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney
- Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer
As you can see in this graph below these are also on a downward trend. This doesn’t mean they should be completely ignored, but it does mean your base strategy should be adjusted.
So Where Are The Searchers Going?
Just like I mentioned in the section above, your clients are looking for answers to questions. Even though searchers are looking for the same answers, they may type in different keywords. For example if I was looking for a Car Accident Attorney searchers could type in the following variants:
- Car accident attorney near my house
- Best car accident attorney in Parker, Colorado
- Do I need to hire a car accident attorney?
Those were just a few examples of many possibilities.
A Couple Quick Tips Before We Get Started
Create a Google Doc or spreadsheet to track your keyword ideas in one easy to reference place. As you record ideas, separate the keywords by topic, group, or theme, whichever you find easier for your strategy.
Start by putting yourself in your client’s shoes and think about topics that might appeal to your audience. If you’re in personal injury some of the topics that your clients might be most interested in could be:
- Injuries – When will I get compensated for my injuries?
- Financial Concerns – How long does it take to get paid after an accident?
- Insurance Questions – Should I just settle with my insurance company?
- Trial Concerns – How long do typical personal injury trials last?
- Human Concerns – If I sue someone who has to pay me?
Notice how these keywords are long tail keywords. If you answered these questions on your website you would be answering a question or solving a potential client’s problem.
- Build substantial resources around each keyword topic
- Think outside of the box, get creative and have fun.
- Have One topic per page
- Put yourself in your clients shoes
- Talk to your SEO before posting content
- Find keywords that fit into your already established strategy
- Just research head terms like Personal Injury Attorney (Everyone already did that)
- Create thin content pieces just to rank for a keyword
- Don’t cannibalize your keywords by creating competing pages
- Just add keywords with no thought to your overall strategy
Method 1: Use Google Auto Suggest & Related Keywords
Have you ever started to Google something and not pressed enter just to read the results that pop up? This is Google auto suggest. Google Auto Suggest is a very powerful tool to see potential searches clients may be already looking for.
To use this tool simply start by brainstorming a few ideas that your clients might be searching for. Keep in mind that you can also use the Wildcard Search by using an underscore. You can see an example of this below. (Read more about using Wildcard search function in Google by Phil Rozek)
In the example above you can see that I types in suit_personal injury_ which gave us a few options to choose from. You don’t have to use the Wildcard Search function. You can also just type in the start of a sentence like in the example below:
Get creative with this and record any searches that apply to your firm in your spreadsheet.
Another quick method is to scroll to the bottom of the page after hitting enter. This will display similar results as you can see below.
Method 2: Use KeywordTool.io
If you haven’t used KeywordTool.io before you might find a use for it in your day to day keyword research life. This tool will allow you to search Google, Youtube, Bing, and the App Store to quickly find keyword variants.
To use this tool you simply pull up the website, select your search engine, and then it will give you a lot of potential keyword variants very quickly. It’s that easy.
In the screenshot below I started with the keyword “should i hire a lawyer” and in a few seconds I was greeted with hundreds of options I might find useful.
Like with any other tool you need to go through the lists of keywords you generate very carefully and weed out the ones you don’t want.
Method 3: Use Ubbersuggest
Ubbersuggest is like Keywordtool.io where it will generate keyword ideas based off of just one idea. You can visit the website here. Conducting the same search as above, Ubersuggest gave me 171 keyword variants.
To use this tool you simply put in the idea and click the “Suggest” button. From there it will auto generate the ideas.
The results are returned in an easy to use format as shown below.
Method 4: Use Google Analytics
Although Google started blocking keyword data for encrypted searches long ago, there are still some nuggets of information to find. If you have had Google Analytics installed for some time then you will have historical data.
To find this data start by Logging into your Google Analytics account. From here you should be taken to the dashboard where you can select Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/ Medium / Keywords. You can see the clicks you have to take in order in the example below:
From here you will be shown a list of keywords some visitors may have used to get to your website. You will of course want to ignore the (not set) and (not provided) as those pieces of data won’t actually help you. Instead look for other opportunities here. Typically I like to look at a years worth of data and then go through the keywords.
We are looking for potential opportunities so the keywords that got maybe just a few hits might be pages you can build out as substantial resources on your website.
Method 5: Use Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is the keyword tool provided by Google and most commonly used for Keyword Research. Since it’s a bit more complex than the other methods we’re looking at today I suggest you read my full article on the subject. You can read my complete guide on using Google Keyword Planner for local keyword research here.
Step 1: How it works though is pretty simple. You will need a Gmail account to start off with and you can surf to http://adwords.google.com/keywordplanner
Step 2: After you’re logged in you will see a screen like the one below:
Step 3: Next select the search for a new keyword and ad group ideas
Step 4: Enter a few keywords and set your geographic area as shown in the example below. Click search.
Step 5: Click the keywords link in the example below and you will see a list of keywords with search volumes. Yay!
Step 6: Record any keywords you want to use for later.
Method 6: Ask Your Staff
Wait… How can you do keyword research offline? If you employ a staff or a front desk person they might be a treasure trove of information. I like to interview these people and find out exactly what questions people are asking them most commonly. If they’re having to answer the same questions over and over it might benefit you to put on your website as a content resource.
I had success doing this recently by interviewing the paralegals in the firm. They tend to answer the most case related questions and they were able to provide a lot of valuable insight and good content ideas without leaving the office or going online.
Method 7: Review Your Competition’s Website
This one here is a bit of a slippery slope. While it’s always good to know what your competition is doing you must not assume that they’re being successful doing it. We just can’t know with complete certainty. That being said its a good idea to review competitor websites within your area and outside of your area of direct competition. Look for things that are different and see what content they produce that’s actually useful.
One way to do this is to review the practice area pages they have and see if they have subtopics on these pages. In addition you can scour there blog to see if they’re creating just catchy click bait headlines like “5 reasons to hire a PI attorney” (ugh boring), or something better.
Method 8: Review Your Competition’s Reviews
In my experience people are much more brave behind a keyboard than they are in person or over the phone. When people care enough to leave you a good review, they’re impressed about something. When people care enough to lead you a bad review they had a complaint.
I like to scour these reviews and read between the lines. Sometimes you can get nuggets of information that can help you find actual questions or even just trigger a thought of a potentially strong keyword idea.
In the example below you can see there are some potential triggers where this reviewer didn’t know what a personal injury lawyer was. Does your site explain how you can help people? Is it better than the competition? If not then there is a potential opportunity.
Method 9: Wikipedia
Wikipedia has a page on just about anything you can think of. It’s human edited resources are vast and its the 7th most popular website on the internet. It can also be used to generate keyword ideas.
Now don’t spend all day here but you can search for a related topic. For this example I decided to search on the personal injury article. While looking through the subheadings of this topic I found a question that seems to be popular. “Are Personal Injury Settlements Taxable?” This might be a good opportunity for your own website.
Method 10: Avvo Free Legal Advice
Avvo has there Free Legal advice section which you can check out here. Although I don’t personally recommend Avvo advertising for signing cases or generating case leads you can use their resources to develop some great keyword ideas. All of the questions that appear here are questions that actual clients were trying to find the answer to.
Here is an example I found today after searching for 30 seconds:
Method 11: Findlaw Boards
Did you know that Findlaw has consumer facing forums where clients can ask questions just like Avvo? They call it Findlaw Boards and it can be found here.
Just like searching for Avvo Answers all you really have to do is start clicking around to find the questions you’re looking for.
You Also Have To Know When To Stop
With keyword research just like anything else there is a cost benefit analysis. I included these ten websites because I use them commonly when doing my own keyword research. At the same time it’s important to recognize there are a ton of other resources out there you can use. There are tools, more attorney directories, and virtually unlimited resources out there that will help you conduct more successful keyword research. But just because you could doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
You should only do as much keyword research as your strategy entails. If you’re goal is to create one strong resource area on a topic a year than you might only need 12 good articles. That’s up to your overall strategy and goals. I encourage you to use these tools for good to accomplish your goals but don’t get too carried away.
If you have questions about your own firm’s keyword research please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. I can be reached at cmeraz(at)LawyerSEOMarketing.org or Follow me on Twitter @CaseyMeraz
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