In the quest to drive traffic to their law firm website, many regard search traffic as the Holy Grail. While both direct traffic and referral traffic can be highly valuable to business development efforts, there can be little question that, in terms of volume, search traffic reigns supreme. But not all search traffic will have value to your practice. You have to drive meaningful search traffic — the kind that leads to an intended business goal.
Here are some thoughts on how to do it.
Before we get into the gory details about how search engines work, it’s critical to spend time thinking about the people whose attention you are trying to earn. Who are the people you are trying to attract to your website, and what are they looking for online?
If you don’t understand your target audience, you’re going to have a very difficult time earning meaningful traffic from search engines. Do the research to learn about both the demographics and psychographics of your target audience. Create audience personas (profiles of the people you want to attract).
Don’t limit your audience solely to people who are good candidates to become your clients. Think about all of the other people who might be interested in your subject matter:
- Industry leaders
Spend some time thinking about what makes these people tick. What are they passionate about? What are they writing about? Where do they go to do research? What language do they use? How do they use search engines?
Don’t guess. Get out there and talk to people. Listen to their questions. Ask them questions and listen to their answers. Read what they’re writing.
Once you’ve created your target audience personas, begin to brainstorm what you might create to interest them and supply their demand for information. What can you create that is uniquely valuable? What can you do online that doesn’t appear anywhere else? What do you know that many other people don’t?
Organic Search Traffic
Organic search traffic comes from people who click on organic search listings. Organic search listings are those search results that appear because of their relevance and popularity. In other words, they’re the results that search engines deliver based on their algorithms. You can’t pay search engines for visibility within these results.
To drive organic search traffic, your pages have to appear prominently in organic search results for which there is search volume.
To make this happen, your pages have to be crawled, indexed, ranked and clicked.
Crawled and indexed. Search engines use programs (called robots or spiders) to discover and scan websites. So, one of the first steps in appearing in organic search results is getting your pages “crawled” by search engine spiders.
Once your pages have been crawled, they get processed and indexed. Think of the crawling and indexing like a giant Internet vacuum and filing system for web pages.
To appear in organic search results, your pages have to be collected and understood by search engines. The more information your pages communicate to search engines, the better they can understand and rank your pages.
Communicating what your pages are about is a huge piece of the technical SEO puzzle. Rand Fishkin’s Visual Guide to Keyword Targeting and On-Page Optimization is a very useful guide to the major elements of an optimized page.
The technical aspects of driving organic search traffic should be the foundation of your online marketing. However, while essential, by themselves they are often not sufficient. This is especially true in a highly competitive search landscape.
Ranked. Once you’ve optimized your pages for getting crawled and indexed, the next step is to improve your pages’ visibility within search results. In other words, getting your pages ranked for search queries that have meaning to your business.
When someone performs a search, search engines aim to deliver results that they believe will provide the best experience to their users. Providing the “best experience” involves a variety of factors.
Some of these factors include signals propagated by your pages, or “on-page factors.” These include things like keyword usage in your page titles, page load speed and internal links. However, search engines also use a variety of signals from other places. These factors are commonly referred to as “off-page factors” — things like the quality and quantity of links pointing to your web pages from other web pages around the web.
While search engines use many factors to rank pages, link signals remain among the most significant. Think of links pointing to your web pages from other pages like votes by those pages for your pages. But know that, in the link-vote election, not all votes are counted equally: Votes from relevant and authoritative pages and sites are weighted much more heavily than votes from irrelevant or spammy pages.
To increase your pages’ visibility with search results, you have to earn quality link-votes.
The strategies for earning links are nearly limitless. A big part of the process includes creating and marketing “stuff” that people want to share and link to. Jon Cooper has a very useful link-building strategies list. Lawyers who are interested in earning links should start by identifying people who control other websites that are both topically relevant and authoritative. These might include people at:
- Professional organizations and associations
- Legitimate legal directories
- Local educational institutions (high schools, universities, law schools)
- Local news sites
- Other lawyers
- Legal bloggers
- Other relevant business websites
Once you’ve identified authoritative and relevant sites from which you want to earn a link, the next step is to come up with strategies for obtaining the links from these folks.
WARNING: Don’t make people angry. As you probably know from personal experience, people get bombarded with spammy “link requests” almost every single day. Sending unsolicited emails to strangers requesting links is not a good strategy. However, offering to sponsor an organization’s event might earn you a link. Accepting an invitation to be interviewed by a local reporter might earn you a link. Offering a scholarship might earn you a link. And yes, creating “stuff” on your site that stands on its own merit as “link-worthy” can earn you links.
Clicked. Visibility within search results is not a business goal. To be meaningful in terms of generating client fees, you still have to motivate people to click through to your pages, contact you, hire you and pay you. Motivating the right people to click through to your pages from search results can be complex. Aside from your position on a search results page, you really have three tools in your arsenal to influence clicks:
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- Rich snippets
Your page titles (the words that live between <title> and </title>) are what most search engines use to generate the “blue links” in search results. Your titles should describe the content of your pages, as well as compel people to click on them. This is why it’s so important to understand who your audience members are, what they’re looking for and how they use search engines.
Experiment with page titles that pose or answer questions. Think about adjectives that people might use in their searches for lawyers. However, be mindful of your ethics obligations. Most states put limitations on the adjectives that lawyers can use in communications about their services. Superlatives can be especially problematic.
It’s also worth noting that some search engines (Google) may rewrite your page titles.
Ultimately, in crafting effective page titles that earn clicks, you should focus on your target users.
Meta descriptions are the blurbs that appear below the link in search results. They are created from the meta description tag, for example: <meta name=”description” content=”FREE detailed reports on 1088 Personal Injury Attorneys in Chicago, Illinois including disciplinary sanctions, peer endorsements, and client reviews.” />.
After page titles, meta descriptions are probably the most important factor in influencing click-throughs. Think about what you can include here that would compel a searcher to click on your listing over all of the others on the search engine results page.
Generally speaking, you should keep your meta descriptions to around 150 characters.
Finally, rich snippets are additional detailed information snippets that appear under some results. Think of these as search engine results enhancements. Rich snippets can be exceptionally effective at attracting attention and clicks. In fact, in many instances, listings with rich snippets that appear lower on a page can “steal” click-share from higher-ranked listings that include rich snippets.
Search engines create rich snippets from structured data markup. Some of the most effective rich snippets that lawyers can use include:
- Ratings and reviews
- Breadcrumbs (sets of links that help in navigating page hierarchy)
While structured data probably isn’t a direct ranking factor today, it stands to reason that it will play a larger role in future iterations of search engines.
Paid Search Traffic
In addition to earning traffic from organic search results, you can also pay for search engine traffic. The most recognizable paid search engine advertising platform is Google AdWords. You have probably also heard this referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising (although there are other ways to pay for search engine marketing).
As you may already know, paid search engine marketing can be very expensive. In fact, competitive high-volume keywords can cost upwards of $100 per click! (Check out Mike Ramsey’s “Paid Online Advertising for Your Law Practice” to learn more.)
If you decide to venture forth into the world of paid search advertising, spend a lot of time understanding how it works. While it’s extremely easy to get started, it can be very difficult and time-consuming to optimize a campaign to realize a return on investment. Further, many firms that advertise on search engines have teams of professionals dedicated to managing and optimizing their campaigns. This makes it that much more difficult for a novice to compete.
Google also provides some pretty comprehensive information about using AdWords.
Now you know how to drive traffic from search engines to your website. But it bears repeating that search engines are not a magic bullet that will turn your practice around.
Earning meaningful search traffic that translates into paying clients can take a lot of effort and money. If you’re just getting started online, you shouldn’t expect significant results from organic search marketing campaigns for months. If you decide to pay for search engine traffic, make sure you clearly articulate the goals of your campaign in advance.
If you want more about earning organic search traffic, start here:
- Google Webmaster Help on SEO
- How to Rank by Moz
- What Is SEO? by SearchEngineLand
Gyi Tsakalakis helps lawyers put their best foot forward online because clients are looking for them there. He is a co-founder of AttorneySync, a digital marketing agency for law firms. You can ask him a question (or just say hi) on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.