Designing A Law Firm Website With SEO in Mind
BY Kristen Friend STAFF CONTRIBUTOR
Any law firm hoping to generate leads online must have a well-optimized website. Good SEO is essential to earning a top spot in organic search engine results and increasing website traffic.
At the same time, once visitors arrive on a site, they should find attractive pages, intuitive navigation, engaging visuals, on-brand messaging and useful content. Looks matter to first-time visitors, who make judgements about a firm’s professionalism within seconds of landing on any page.
Good design and solid SEO must support each other.
A website will not be able to function at maximum effectiveness if they do not. Too often, however, design and SEO are seen as two separate steps in the development process. Firms will decide they need a new site, have it built, then contact an SEO company about marketing.
There is no magical SEO patch you can place on an existing site, and you will start out at a marketing disadvantage with any new or redesigned site if SEO is not baked in to the design process. You may also waste valuable time and money redoing pages to better align design and SEO.
Build for search marketing and lead generation from the start
Many of the same features that drive conversions, create good user experience and build solid SEO can also enhance paid search and other inbound marketing efforts. Building a sturdy foundation puts your firm in a good position to adapt to changes in the market and create effective campaigns far into the future.
To begin, you should first understand what makes a website look good to search engines and humans.
What is a search friendly website?
Search engines use web crawlers to evaluate and index a site. A web crawler is an automated software application that regularly browses the internet and gathers information about pages and links, which it uses to create a search index. Web crawlers may also be called spiders, or bots. The Googlebot, for example, creates Google’s index of pages and helps ensure information about the pages is up-to-date.
An SEO-friendly website is one that search engines can easily see and understand. Google’s web crawler, for example, will be able to identify the content on all pages; locate firm-related information like a phone number and address; find links and understand page hierarchy on a site that is well-optimized.
What is a lead-generation website?
Most law firm websites aim to be lead-generation sites. That is, your firm most likely wants to collect visitor information in some form before a visitor clicks away from your pages.
A lead-generation website is one that focuses on triggering consumer interest and prompting people to take action, usually to contact the firm about its services.
In order for a website to successfully generate leads, it must be designed in a way that highlights important calls to action and prompts visitors to complete form inquiries. Visitors must also be able to find the appropriate landing pages through organic or paid search.
Building a search-friendly website that also generates leads, and ultimately produces clients, requires structural planning from the beginning. Technical considerations, like URL formatting work hand-in-hand with content organization, keyword planning, design and content writing.
Your firm must determine from the beginning how you want your services to be represented, and develop a website plan that adequately describes these services to humans and bots, while giving humans a compelling, differentiating reason to contact you.
Build a solid foundation
Goal: Both humans and search engines should understand your website design
Designing a website that is easy for both search engines and people to navigate starts with a good URL and solid information architecture. Before starting on a design, first determine your URL structure and organize your sitemap.
1) Will you change your URL?
Generally, it is best practice to keep an established domain name intact, especially if your firm has owned it for some time. However, there may be situations in which a change is warranted.
When deciding whether to change your URL, ask yourself:
- How old is your current domain? Older domains carry more authority.
- How long is the URL? Shorter URLs are easier to remember.
- Does the URL match your firm name?
- Has your firm name changed?
- How does the URL sound when spoken out loud? Things that are easier to say are easier to remember.
- How does the URL look when written? Are there repeated characters, strange letter combinations or hidden words in the domain?
If you decide to change your URL, you will need a plan for handling redirects to make sure you do not lose any established domain authority.
2) What should your URL be?
Your website’s URL should accurately represent your brand and not be filled with unnecessary keywords.
Keyword stuffing in domain names by claiming a URL like www.springfieldinjurylawyers.com, became a trend several years ago, and it is one that should not be followed. A domain name that matches your firm’s name will be easier for people to remember and search for, and it will help reinforce your firm’s identity in the minds of searchers.
Conversely, adding keywords to the domain name will unnecessarily lengthen the URL, muddle your firm’s brand and confuse users. Unless your firm’s legal business name is actually “Springfield Injury Lawyers,” your URL should not contain any of those terms.
If you think that a keyword-laden domain name will help you rank well in search results, Google has other plans. In 2012, Google’s Matt Cutts announced that Google would start lowering the placement of low-quality, exact-match spammy domain names.
3) What content management system will you use?
A content management system (CMS) is a must for a business website. Without one, you will not be able to easily manage your site, edit content or post updates. WordPress is one of the most widely supported and popular CMS options, and it works well for lawyers. It makes managing pages, posts, meta data and URL structure easy, and it can be easily enhanced by developer plugins.
Whatever your choice of CMS, make sure it is one that suits your firm, not your hosting or marketing company. Some companies use proprietary software that can make moving your site difficult. Make sure your site will be easy to transfer should you choose to use a different host or marketing company.
4) How well will search engines be able to index your pages?
A search engine can only understand a page if crawlers can read page content. This means the bulk of your site content should be text-based — no keywords or phone numbers in images. There are enough web fonts available, including free Google Fonts, that you can create any design effect you like with text alone.
Videos, images and other media certainly have a place on a site. However, they should be marked up adequately for Google to be able to discover and interpret them. When planning site content, be sure to create a balance, with your most important information spelled out in text.
Building a site architecture
Organizing your content in a structured, logical manner from the beginning is both good for SEO and your sanity. An established structure will help you know easily where to add pages within your architecture as you grow your site, and it will make linking to new pages easy and logical.
File structure begins at the top level: your website. From there, you can add categories, subcategories and pages. An overview of this structure may look like this:
– Top category
– – Subcategory
– – – Individual page
– Practice Areas
– – Personal Injury
– – – Car Accidents
In this example, the URL structure is: www.home.com/practice-areas/personal-injury/car-accidents/
Posts, FAQs, videos and all other content should also follow a planned structure:
– – Car Accidents
– – – What is my case worth?
Your categories and subcategories help provide context for search engines and make it easier for them to learn the intent of your site. Information architecture may be deep, with many subcategories, or wide, with many top-level categories. The structure you choose should be logical to you based on your firm’s services.
The URL structure is another way for you to give search engines and humans valuable context.
Assume, for this example, that your firm’s name is Spring Law Group, and your URL is www.springlawgroup.com. This is your main, overarching domain. Attorneys may be a category under this domain, and individual attorneys pages within that category.
The respective URLs, then should be similar to:
You may have come across websites where the page naming convention looks more nonsensical, for example:
In this case, the content management system is likely showing the default page structure, which categorizes pages by a numbered ids. This type of naming convention is almost impossible for humans to remember and should be replaced with a more logical one.
There is an advantage to shortening URLs when page names are unusually long. If, for example, you are using location-based keywords in page titles, these keywords do not have to be included in the URL.
www.springlawgroup.com/practice-areas/city-state-traumatic-brain-injury-lawyers can be simplified to www.springlawgroup.com/practice-areas/brain-injury/
Moving to design
Once you have organized site architecture, navigation and content, you are ready to start incorporating everything into a cogent design.
Designing for Google’s index — and your users
In 2016, more people began to access websites with smartphones and tablets than on desktop machines. In 2018, even more people to reach for their smartphone first when going online.
Statistics like this, while true, can be deceptive. Your firm should use analytics to learn how and where your users access your website. Attorneys, as service providers, often use websites to educate potential clients about the law and the lawsuit process. And people in need of legal services often take in-depth looks at legal topics when deciding how to address their issue.
In such a research-based environment, people are likely accessing attorney web pages across many devices and performing research on machines that use larger screens, which are more conducive to deliberative investigation and analysis.
In the spring of 2018, Google officially announced that it was rolling out mobile-first indexing. Instead of looking at the information on the desktop version of a page, Google began looking at the information on the mobile version to create its index. If a site has two versions of a page — one for desktop users and one for smartphone users — Google looks at and indexes the content on the mobile version.
The existence of mobile-first indexing makes it critical for firms to carefully consider all content before jumping into design. With space at a premium on mobile devices, everything on the page must have a purpose. If your site contains features designed exclusively for large devices, an effort should be made to incorporate that content gracefully into a responsive layout, giving visitors a consistent experience across all devices.
Getting content right
Collaboration: Your content is your website’s performance engine. It is what search engines see and index, and it is what will convince your visitors to become leads. Because content plays a central role in your website’s success, it should be planned and organized before jumping into design.
Writers and designers too often work separately on a website project. Content and design should be integrated, with both teams working together to ensure that a design is a showcase for great content. Designing a layout first, then trying to force content into it, will only create a poor user experience.
Quality: The first item Google lists in its guide to creating a Google-friendly site is to “give visitors what they want” by providing “high-quality content on your pages.” Both Google and your readers want pages that actually say something to address their concerns, educate or entertain them.
Even though Google has long emphasized the correlation between content quality and rankings, some people still resort to outmoded tactics like keyword stuffing. Keyword density matters. Google ranks pages with too many keywords and too few connecting words poorly.
Scanning: When visitors land on a web page, they immediately begin scanning. Very few people read a whole page from top to bottom. Instead, they look for highlights that tell them whether the page is relevant before digging deeper.
To design for the way people browse, write and organize content into short, digestible pieces. Then use design elements and typography — white space, headings, sub headings, graphics and color — to group the content into scannable sections.
Organizing calls to action
Your website should have more than one call to action. If your goal is lead-generation, you should be giving visitors who are in different places in the decision making process different ways to contact you. Some people may be looking for information but not yet ready to commit. They could benefit from white papers, case studies, informational guides or other downloads. Or, they may be interested in a seminar. Others will be ready to hire and willing to fill out an intake form or make a phone call immediately.
Additionally, you may want calls to action that are designed to keep people on your site. Links to recommended articles or videos, for example, can serve as important calls to action. The more time people spend on your site, the more likely they are to remember you and eventually become leads.
Before creating a final design, lay out all the actions you want visitors to take and prioritize them. Primary calls to action will be large, highlighted and easy to see. Lower-level calls to action may be smaller, farther down on the page, or featured on secondary pages.
Creating a good user experience
All of your careful planning of information architecture, content and design efforts should come together naturally to produce a good user experience. A good user experience is one in which the visitor is not asked to do too much. Important elements have prominence. Content is easy to scan. Design is on-brand, tells a story and leads people to action.
Consistency is also key to a good user experience. As pages are designed, think about how elements will be reused across all pages to create predictable outcomes for visitors. In a global sense, menus should always function in the same way and be in the same place on every page. On a micro level, headings, colors, buttons, hovers and micro-interactions should be constant, so visitors will be able to identify these items easily site-wide.
When evaluating your site’s user experience, ask the following questions:
- Do your pages have clear visual hierarchy?
- Is navigation easy to find and use?
- Do pages load quickly?
- Are your forms easy to fill out?
- Are calls to action obvious?
- Is your website free of errors, both grammatical and technical?
- Does your website have a search function?
If you can check these items off your list, you have likely built a good user experience.
Careful planning throughout the design process will set your team up to successfully complete necessary on-site SEO elements. However, if designers do not understand what will happen to the site once they hand it off, problems can arise. Here are some SEO basics, as well as common issues, that web designers should be aware of.
Title tags: The title tag specifies the headline that will appear for a page in search engine results. The title tag is the only meta property that can directly influence search results. As a marketing team works on content and brand development, they should be aware of how messaging and keywords will come together to create this tag.
Meta descriptions: Meta descriptions appear under the title in search results. The meta description does not directly influence rankings. However, descriptions are still important because they serve as a short advertisement that influences whether people will click on your search results. Messaging also plays a role in good description development.
Image optimization: Page speed and load time can affect both rankings and user experience. Big images are one way load time can be slowed. When incorporating images into a design, be cognizant of how many and how large the images are. To prepare images for upload, crop them to the smallest possible size for their application, and optimize them for web. This will reduce the file size as much as possible.
Additionally, provide title and alt tags for images. The title should name the image, and the alt tag should describe it. Alt tags give people who cannot see the image a way to know what it is.
Orphaned pages: These are pages that exist on a server but are not linked to internally or through a menu. Without a link, Google cannot see these pages. On a large site, some amount of orphaned pages are probably inevitable.
A sitemap is a counter measure that can help Google — and visitors — find orphaned pages. Google, specifically is looking for an xml sitemap. An xml sitemap is a roadmap for Google to find all your URLs.
Visitors will likely look for a sitemap link in a footer. Creating a sitemap page can help people find what they need more quickly.
Keyword cannibalization: Keyword cannibalization is a situation in which too many pages are targeting the same keywords. Good information architecture and content planning should prevent this issue.
SEO cannot be an afterthought; it should be an integral part of a website design from the beginning. Designers, writers and developers should be aware of SEO throughout the process and work together to make good SEO into a website from the start.