At Zahavian Legal Marketing, we recently audited over 200 law firm websites ranking on the first page of Google for some of the most competitive search engine (Google and Bing) keywords, such as “divorce lawyer chicago” and “personal injury lawyer houston”.
We compiled a report measuring the trends among those websites that propelled their rankings to the first page of the search results.
In this article, we’re going to look at 5 of the most compelling statistics we found and discuss what it could mean for your legal practice.
1. Backlinks & Referring Domains
For those unaware, backlinks refer to hyperlinks on a webpage that points from a third-party website to your own. A referring domain is a unique website that links to yours. For instance, your law firm’s website could receive 10 backlinks (i.e. hyperlinks) from Yelp. However, since all 10 are coming from the same website, yelp.com in this example, this would count as 1 referring domain with 10 backlinks.
It’s debatable which is more important – backlinks or referring domains, although as a general metric we look at referring domains more than the quantity of links. Backlinks and referring domains are important for building your website’s trust and authority. Every link you receive from another website is like a vote of confidence in the eyes of search engine algorithms. It’s analogous to the internet being a giant democracy, where websites vote for other websites.
In the study we conducted, we found that the average number of referring domains that a law firm’s website needed to rank on the first page of Google for their target keyword was 256 referring domains. It’s important to keep in mind that medium and large law firms had folds more links and domains pointing to their site than boutique and smaller firms. Therefore, this really skewed the findings, as larger firms pulled the average up significantly.
When we looked at boutique and smaller firms exclusively, we found the following results:
Personal injury law firm sites averaged 264 referring domains
Family/divorce websites had a mean of 120 referring domains
Criminal defense and DUI practices, on average, had 150 domains points back to them
In terms of competitiveness and what a law firm may end up paying based on your area of law, typically the more referring domains and backlinks required, the more expensive SEO services become. Personal injury attorney sites had 2.2 times the number of links as family law and 1.76 times more than criminal and DUI websites.
2. Law Firms that Specialize Dominate Google
Backlinks are an essential component to a competitive SEO strategy, especially for legal services sector. However, they aren’t every- thing. Boutique law firms that specialize or focus on a single area of law (or at least market themselves that way) substantially outranked general practice or full-service law firms:
• Over 91% of practices ranking on page 1 for “personal injury lawyer”+“city_name” (e.g. “personal injury lawyer Miami”) were boutique injury law offices
• 94% of firms ranking for “criminal lawyer” in the top 10 focused solely on criminal defense/ DUI
• Just under 87% of law firm sites ranking for “family lawyer” were strictly family law practices
Boutique firms don’t necessarily mean that a law firm provides better legal services because they are specialized. However, that’s not how search engines like Google see it. With their new focus on E-A-T (expertise, authoritative-ness and trustworthiness), the search algorithm is favoring businesses that emphasize more narrow or specialized areas of service. These algorithms’ changes apply to nearly everything indexed on search engines, but it’s interesting to see how lawyers can take advantage of this if they’re a boutique or specialty practice.
3. Focus on Optimizing your Home Page
As an SEO and legal marketer, this stat doesn’t come as a surprise to me, but it’s reassuring to see supporting evidence. We found that nearly 88% of firms ranking in the top 10 positions were ranking their home pages. There are several principal reasons to keep in mind for why this may be.
a) SEO strength of the Home page - Every website tends to have one or a handful of central or main pages for the rest of the website. The most common is typically the homepage. Typically, the homepage attracts the most backlinks and referring domains and therefore tends to have the highest ability to rank due to its page authority from the links it receives. When a directory listing or third-party website links to your firm’s, odds are pretty good it will link to the (Fig.1 ) home page (unless it’s linking to or citing a specific piece of content / inner page).
b) Most law firm sites ranking in the top are specialized - Boutique law firms that market themselves as specialized in a particular area of law will have their home page’s SEO optimized for that specialization.
For instance, a family law firm doesn’t need to have a specific page on family law, rather they’ll have inner pages about specific services they offer within family law, such as divorce, child custody and support, etc. This means their home page is likely already optimized general keywords for “family lawyer” and even more specific keywords like “custody lawyer”.
When you combine these two factors together, it’s no wonder that specialty firms are doing so well. Their homepages are already better-positioned to rank than a full-service law firm with an inner service page (e.g. www.examplelaw.com/family-law/).
A key takeaway for general and full-service practices here is if you want to optimize and rank a specific page on your website (which isn’t the homepage), like “Family Law and Divorce Services”, then you need to make it thorough, informative and engaging for your visitors and prospective clients. Additionally, it must attract links and referring domains. Remember, only 12% of first-page rankings are not a law firm website’s home page.
4. 6 out of 10 Lawyers on Page 1 use WordPress
Regardless if you have multiple attorneys or you’re a solo practitioner, you should consider using WordPress to build your practice’s website. For those unfamiliar with it, Word- Press is a content management system (CMS) which is a fancy term for a backend portal and website editor. A variety of sources claim that between 20% to 30% of websites online are running WordPress. When it comes to lawyers that are serious about search optimization, that number is much higher. Over 60% of law firms ranking on page 1 of Google are using WordPress for their website.
Another part of our study dug into the importance of page speed, as many marketers and SEOs (myself included) would tell you how important this is. What we found was surprising to say the least. On average, top-performing law firm sites using WordPress scored about half as well as non-WordPress websites when it came to website speed performance tests (approximately 33% vs. 63%, respectively) for mobile devices and smartphones. This leads us to the hypothesis that when push comes to shove, the SEO and functional bene- fits of using WordPress greatly outweigh the slower load times it may have on your website. This isn’t to say that your site’s speed isn’t important, however the data says Word-Press trumps speed.
5. Blogging Makes all the Difference
The number one differentiator between law firms that had some traffic and the ones that received massive amounts of traffic, was blogging. Sites that didn’t have a blog received an average of 182 organic search visits compared to over 3,000 search visitors per month for law firms that actively blogged on their websites. The key we found was that law firms that continued blogging and updating their older content dramatically outperformed law firms that blogged year ago or more, but aren’t actively updating or adding new content.
Law firms that had blogs, but didn’t update them still saw nearly 3 times more organic visitors per month than practices without a blog at all, but law firms actively blogging received over 15 times more traffic than firms that didn’t publish blogs or new content. When performed correctly, this one web marketing activity can be a game changer for pulling massive amounts of new website traffic. (Fig.2)
Search traffic is an extremely valuable commodity for many areas of law. There are a lot of law firms that pay big bucks to optimize every inch of their website for organic search as well as conversion rate optimization. While SEO is a full-time job (as it is for me), the 5 statistics discussed above will give you some key insights when it comes time for you to consider search engine optimization and internet marketing strategies that will grow your practice.
Jared Kimball is the owner and lead strategist at Zahavian Legal Marketing, a marketing agency focusing on lawyers and law firms. The agency handles everything from SEO, Web and PPC Ad needs to blogging solutions and support for law firm’s local advertising and marketing campaigns. As a long time marketer, IT consultant and programmer, he also supports law firms in their decision making for operational business functions including IT and security. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org