Want better rankings in Google and more traffic for your law firm website?
Of course you do!
But one thing I hear all the time from clients is how frustrating it is for lawyers to see their competitors ranking above them in Google!
Let’s dive in and find out how you can increase your law firm’s website rankings in Google by building domain authority.
Building the domain authority of your law firm website
Getting your law firm’s website to rank better in Google search is usually the #1 priority for any marketing strategy.
From the smallest practice with one or two attorneys, to the largest global law firms serving corporate clients around the world, getting found quickly in Google search is a really big deal.
And from my experience, nothing makes a lawyer want to throw their phone across the room faster than seeing their competitors ranking #1 in Google for their high value keyword phrase.
Even worse is when that same lawyer sees their staunchest competitor ranking #1.
Some of the most commons questions I get from law firms are the following:
- Why is my law firm not ranking well in Google?
- Why are my (expletive) competitors ranking #1 when their website sucks?
- How is this new law firm ranking #1 in Google local / Google Maps?
These are frustrating points to any law firm that’s looking to grow their practice. One looks at some statistics will show you why search is such a big area of focus for growing your law firm:
- Last year over 350 billion searches were made
- Over half of all Google searches are made on mobile devices
- Nearly 80% of local searches result in a new customer (or client)
- Placing a call is the #1 action a searcher takes when making a local search via a mobile device
Most importantly, one look at he click thru rates of top rankings in Google should be enough to solidify the decision to focusing on SEO for your law firm’s website.
As you can see in the chart below from Chitika, the #1 Google search result is getting over 30% of all the clicks, and the percentage of clicks spins off quickly as you move down the rankings.
The #10 position in Google is getting only 2.4% of the clicks and the #11 (top of page 2 in Google) gets only 1% of the clicks.
What is domain authority?
Now that you know how important rankings are to the success of your law firm, let’s talk about what influences your rankings (and your competitor’s rankings) in Google and see what you can do about improving your presence in search.
Domain authority is based on 100-point scale or grade that was developed by Moz and is used to predict how well a website will in search engines, mostly focused on Google search rankings.
Domain authority is most valuable when used to analyze how your law firm’s website is ranking relative to your competitors.
The metrics behind domain authority are based on several factors such as linking root domains (unique domains linking back to your website), total volume of links, and the overall trust factor of your domain which is determined by the quality and authority of the sites linking back to you.
source: Moz Domain Authority
Domain authority became a lot more popular when Google stopped updated their PageRank toolbar back in December of 2013. PageRank used to be a score that Google would give to each website, and the score was typically presented through the PageRank toolbar – something that was popular with SEO’s and online marketers.
PageRank used a similar combination of backlink analysis to determine the rating for any given website and was based on 10-point scale.
So if you had a PageRank of 1 (PR1) your website had a very low level of authority.
However, if you have a PageRank of 10 (PR10), then you were one of the most authoritative websites on the internet. It was common to see sites like Google.com, Yahoo.com, and Youtube.com carry a PR10.
Now with domain authority, it’s common to see these popular websites carry a domain authority of 100 (DA100), etc…
Why is domain authority important?
The important point to make here is there’s a direct correlation between your website’s domain authority and your rankings in Google. This is true for both organic rankings and local / Google Maps rankings.
We’ve been doing SEO analysis on websites and rankings for years, and we consistently see the highest ranking websites in Google carry the highest level of domain authority (and PageRank when we used that metric).
Just the other day I was talking with a personal injury lawyer from Los Angeles, and we were looking at their rankings in Google. They asked me the common question of “why am not on page 1 in Google, and this law firm has always been ranked #1?”.
My response, without even looking at the data, was that the #1 ranked website simply has more domain authority than everyone else. And once we started pulling the domain authority metrics, this proved to be true.
Another way to say it is that in order to increase your rankings in Google, you have to focus on building your domain authority.
Or perhaps even better, you can say in order to rank #1 in Google, you must have more domain authority than all other competing websites.
This is true for law firms and any other competitive business market, both local and global.
How to find your law firm website’s domain authority?
Before we dive into how you can increase your domain authority, let me show you how to find your domain authority and the domain authority of your competitors.
The easiest way to use the Open Site Explorer tool developed by Moz:
Once you on the site, simply enter your website’s domain URL in the URL box and hit enter (or click search).
Here’s what it looks like when I enter my website URL:
And once you’ve enter your URL and hit enter (or clicked search), you’ll now see your domain authority and other key data associated with your website.
Again, here’s what we get with our website here at Bipper Media:
Go ahead and enter your website’s URL and see what you get.
I realize I gummed up the screen shot with arrows, but let me help you understand a little bit about you are seeing, using my website as the example:
Domain authority: 28 / 100
This means my website URL (root domain) has a domain authority rating of 28 out 100, with a score of 100 being the highest possible score. The domain authority looks at the overall domain authority or value, not just the homepage of your website. We’ll look at Page Authority below.
Spam Score: 0 / 17
This is an interesting metric because it looks at the value or authority of the sites linking back to you. If your website was included in a low value, spammy link environment (think link farms, or low value spammy directories, etc…), then you would see a higher spam rating associated with your URL.
Page authority: 40 / 100
Along with domain authority, which measures the overall authority of your entire domain (site wide), you have Page Authority which looks only at the metrics associated with the URL (or web page) that you entered.
You can enter the URL for any page within your website to see the Page Authority of that page. And in most cases you’ll see the same domain authority metrics regardless of which page URL you enter.
As you can see with our website, the Page Authority of our homepage far exceeds the overall Domain Authority of our website.
Again, that’s because domain authority is analyzing the full extent of your domain environment, whereas page authority analyzes only that specific page URL.
The battle for domain authority: your law firm’s website vs. your competitors
This is where the fun begins! Along with analyzing the domain authority of your own law firm’s website, you can likewise analyze the domain authority of your competitors.
This is where we answer the questions mentioned at the beginning such as:
- Why isn’t my law firm’s website ranking well in Google?
- Why are my competitors outranking me in Google local / Google Maps?
It usually takes only one look at the domain authority of your law firm’s website vs. your competitors to answer these questions.
However, it’s important to note that even though we can get quick insights using domain authority, this isn’t the end of the story for your law firm. As we’ll discuss below, there are definitive steps you can take to increase your domain authority and start competing at the top of Google search, both organic and local.
Let’s do a real world competitive analysis in the highly competitive “car accident lawyer” market. We’ll look at the search results in Google, both local and organic for the keyword phrase “phoenix car accident lawyer”, and let’s see if domain authority correlates to the rankings we in the search results.
I’ll be using a cleared cache instance of my Google Chrome browser in incognito mode in order to get the most accurate search results.
First let’s start with the Google local / Google Maps search results, since this is what most people would see first from both a desktop and mobile browser:
With local search results, there’s one interesting caveat to what drives the rankings that goes beyond domain authority, and that is citations. You can read all about local SEO optimization here.
In summary, with local SEO, the volume, consistency, and accuracy of your citation portfolio is highly influential when it comes to your local rankings.
And this is one reason why, I believe, you do not see the website with the most domain authority ranking #1.
The #1 local search results (Zacher Law Firm) more than likely has a more authoritative (both in volume, authority, and consistency) than their competitors.
Now let’s look at the organic search results and see how domain authority is influencing the rankings.
Here’s the top 5 organic search results for the same keyword phrase “phoenix car accident lawyer”:
It’s interesting to look at these domain authority breakdowns because it forces you to actually look at factors beyond domain authority. However, without a sufficient amount of domain authority relative to competitors, none of these websites would be ranking in the top 5 organic search results.
Another factor that’s influencing these rankings is my proximity to the location that I’m searching about.
One of the more recent Google algorithm updates has be to show more relevant results based on the location of the person searching.
In this case, I’m searching for something in Phoenix, Arizona, yet I’m actually located in Athens, Georgia. If I were to run the same test from within the Phoenix city limits, I would more than likely get a different set of top 5 ranking law firms.
You can read more about this topic by checking out this article titled How to Rank #1 in Google when located outside the center of a city.
A couple of other factors that could be driving Breyer Law to the #1 spot in Google, even though it doesn’t have the most domain or page authority than the others, are the following:
- the landing page has 1,686 words
- there’s a video embedded on the landing page
- there’s multiple images throughout the page
- there’s additional assets (reviews, downloads) added to the page
- there’s support links at the bottom to additional resources
These list of items make the landing page more useful to a visitor. Although I do not have Google Analytics access to Breyer Law’s website, I’m guessing we would see strong numbers behind user experience factors such as:
- time on site
- click through rate from search
- and bounce rates
These user experience factors also heavily influence the search results in Google, as Google strives to show the most “useful” pages to people searching.
If this page was nothing more than 1,686 words / text of content, I’m guessing they would not be the #1 ranking law firm the highly competitive keyword phrase “phoenix car accident lawyer”.
For example with word count — the total number of words on your page matter when it comes to getting top rankings in Google for your law firm.
People are typically searching for in depth, expert knowledge on any given topic. And higher word counts are usually indicative of more in depth research and information.
Of course, just having a high word count isn’t the only thing that matters. If you have 2,000 words of gibberish, then people will detect the low quality content and eject from your website.
This behavior of “quickly leaving” your page would have a big impact on your bounce rate. And bounce rate, as I mentioned above, is a strong technical factor that helps determine user experience.
Here’s a screenshot showing the correlation of word count and position rankings in Google from one of Brian Dean’s articles:
How To Increase Your Law Firm Website’s Domain Authority
Let’s now dive into some actionable steps you can take to increase your the domain authority of your law firm’s website.
One of the biggest factors influencing domain authority is the volume and authority of your backlink portfolio.
As we work through our client’s law firm SEO campaigns, domain authority is one of those areas that are continual work in progress.
We’ve researched thousands of law firm’s ranking in Google to uncover the factors that are most influential in their rankings. Basically we try to answer the question:
What’s making this law firm rank #1 in Google for any given keyword phrase?
And the most consistent factor we see what’s driving law firms to rank #1 in Google is a strong domain authority.
As we look to increase our law firm client’s domain authority, we try to find the most authoritative websites where we can earn both backlinks and citations.
Authoritative backlinks will help to influence your law firm’s rankings in both local / Google Maps and the organic search results.
Citations are focused more on the local / Google Maps search results.
We’ve put together an internal list of directories that we use for all of our law firm clients as we work to build their domain authority.
However, this isn’t an all inclusive list.
You’ll have other resources where you’ll want to get backlinks and citation placement from that are relevant to your location and practice areas.
For example, if you are a DUI lawyer in Los Angeles, there will be local directories relevant to Los Angeles and also “DUI lawyer” specific resources, that you’ll want to pursue.
So the internal list of directories we use is more of a base / starting point we use for all of our law firm clients.
Here’s the list of legal directories we use as our starting point to growing our law firm clients domain authority:
I included both the name of the legal directory and their domain authority (DA) so you can see why we place a strong emphasis on these resources.
You can learn more about use of legal directories for our law firm clients by reading our article called Top 5 Law Firm Directories for Local SEO.
The interesting thing we’ve learned about analyzing thousands of law firm’s backlink portfolios is that the #1 ranking law firms in the largest metro areas typically have an enhanced profile in some of these directories, but not all of these directories.
That’s why we strive to get all of our law firm clients an enhanced profile in all of these legal directories as a starting point for our SEO campaign.
Again, leveraging these authoritative legal directories helps to build domain authority for organic rankings and also citation distribution for local SEO rankings.
Other factors to increase the domain authority of your law firm’s website
The overall site structure of your website is critically important to building domain authority. And site structure refers to the organization of the pages within your website, and also fixing inconsistencies and errors such as 404 errors, broken links, and irrelevant (dead, old, etc…) pages within your website.
We are constantly doing site audits on our client’s websites to identify site structure issues that need to be fixed.
Our favorite tool is SEM Rush’s Site Audit tool that quickly shows you the most pressing errors within your website.
Here’s an example of what a site audit looks like using the SEM Rush Site Audit tool:
Another key component to site structure is the overall layout / design of your pages.
Are your pages and navigation implemented in an organized fashion? Or do you have pages that are just randomly linking to each other throughout your website.
The more organized your pages are throughout your website, the better the user experience will be for your visitors. And as you saw above, increasing user experience can have a big impact on determining your rankings in Google.
Here’s a picture that helps illustrate a well structured website:
Keyword Phrase to Page Alignment
It’s important to remember that if you want to rank #1 in Google for a highly competitive legal keyword phrase, you need to focus on building the page authority (PA) of one single page.
One of the biggest mistakes I see law firm websites make is they have multiple pages optimized for their money making keyword phrase.
You need to shore up page authority one single page, and then use additional pages within your website as supporting pages to that one page (wow… lot’s of page talk there!).
We call this the “Silo” strategy, a term coined by Bruce Clay.
By implementing the Silo structure, you’ll ensure proper keyword phrase to page alignment as you’ll always have one top level page that you are trying to rank, and then several sub level pages that are acting as supporting agents to your top level page.
Here’s an illustration to help you implement the Silo structure into your own website:
How to increase domain authority for your law firm’s local SEO / Google Maps rankings
Finally, I want to quickly incorporate the local ranking factor into this discussion of domain authority.
For any law firm, regardless of your practice area, getting found in the top Google local / Google Maps search results is critically important.
Especially for plaintiff related practice areas, people simply pull out their phone > search for a lawyer that can meet their needs > and then hit the “tap to call” button right from Google search results.
Here’s what the local / Google Maps search results look like for the keyword phrase “dui lawyer in athens ga”:
- Disclaimer: Attorney Mo Wiltshire is a Bipper Media client
As you can see, Google knows the #1 action someone will take when searching from their mobile phone is “CALL”.
And if you are the #1 ranked law firm for this keyword phrase, you are getting the majority of calls from people searching.
All of the steps mentioned above are applicable when it comes to local SEO and improving your rankings in Google local search results.
But there are a few additional steps you need to take to influence your rankings specifically in Google Maps.
Here’s a punch list of action items for you to take, along with those mentioned above, to improve your law firm local SEO rankings:
- optimizing your GMB (Google My Business) listing to include:
- ensuring proper, consistent business name, address, phone # (NAP)
- ensuring proper website / URL represented as landing page
- Ongoing management of your GMB listing
- Ensure proper category selection on your GMB listing
- optimize your website:
- homepage / key pages meta data optimizing to targeted keyword phrases
- integration of your NAP
- NAP / Citation distribution: we have distribution partners that we use that syncs your local business date (NAP / citation) across the most authoritative local business sources on the web
- Social media / syncing NAP: we ensure your social media profiles, especially Facebook pages, have a matching NAP citation to your GMB listing.
- Adding Schema language to your website that enhances your NAP citation.
- Adding your GMB listing embed (Google Maps embed) directly to your website
- Google Plus “About” section: enhancing this section targeting your various keyword phrases relevant to your business and GMB listing
You can learn more about local SEO for law firms in this article called Local SEO for Law Firms in 2016.
Obviously I need to update this article to include local SEO strategies relevant to 2017, but this is a good place to start.
Now its your turn!
I want to hear from you…
What do you think about these steps on building domain authority for your website?
Even this was specifically targeted to law firm websites, these same principles can be applied to any business website, large or small.
Or maybe you have a question about something in this article…?
Either way, leave a quick comment below and I’ll be around today to reply to your comment.
So if you have any questions or comments, just drop a quick comment below!
You might also be interested in clicking thru this Slideshare I put together called “3 SEO Tips for Law Firm Websites”: