Up until just recently, the place you would look to find a local business is the phone book. Phone companies fought hard at the beginning of the 21st century to keep publishing a big yellow phone book, as the Internet basically replaced that function. As recently as the 2010s, phone companies are just beginning to shut off the automatic delivery of a printed phone book.
Wave bye-bye, they’re going away! The Internet has replaced them. To put a finer point on it, Google has replaced them with a technology infrastructure of interwoven services that work together to become much more effective as a business locating resource. This is going to be the big focus of this article: Google is now much more than a search company that just takes in a text query and spits out a list of website links. In recent years, Google has piled on new services into their SERPs (search engine results page) with Maps, My Business listings, and search features that pick up on user intent to provide a ready, relevant answer.
You can see some examples of these advanced Search Features within Google’s course material. You may have noticed lately that you can type in “weather” and if you have location tracking turned on, there’s your local forecast. If you don’t have locations turned on or want an answer for another location, just specify a location as part of your search query: “time in Singapore,” “pharmacies in Los Angeles,” “weather in Paris France.”
Law Firms Want To Attract Local Business
Many businesses advertising on the web care a great deal about location. It doesn’t do much good to advertise your New York health clinic to people in Bangladesh. For businesses where customers can reasonably be expected to have to drive to that location, you want the web to shift gears and start acting more like that outdated phone book. Except it’s way better than a phone book: a local search result for a business has much more information, live updated customer reviews, driving instructions from where you are, photos of the business, and more.
For searches involving a local business, Google has introduced the “Map Pack.” Try searching for a business now and you get something like this:
What is this witchcraft? This block is not formed from mere websites and blogs where they’d have to scrape the data and fill in the boxes. It’s pulled from Google My Business (GMB), the digital answer to Yellow Pages.
A GMB listing is great for business. It’s better than billboards, searchlights, even better than those guys you see stores hire to stand out on a street corner in a goofy costume with a sign. Even if customers are not in line-of-sight with your business, your local listing shows up at the top of SERPs. A GMB is like an extra member of your sales staff pulling business in from the street—only you don’t have to pay them or launder a sweaty costume. Talk about great digital marketing!
Using Your Google My Business Listing
The catch is that Google can’t parse all of this information about your business by itself. You have to go tell Google to set this up. Google has a whole help section for GMB, showing you step-by-step how to set up a GMB listing. This runs concurrently with Google Maps, which we will cover in this article when we explain how they work together.
The most important steps to optimize a GMB listing for any business include:
- Your address – Exactly as it’s listed on your mail
- Verify with Google that this is really you
- Specify your service region (do you take cases in adjacent county courts?)
- Check your service categories (specialized for your firm’s practice scope)
- Fill in the introduction
- Add photos
- Share schedule, hours, and special announcements such as reduced hours per quarantine
- Answer frequently asked questions
Aside from our metaphor about guys in Liberty costumes, a GMB is actually like a free website. Fill in every bit of information you can. You can even upload a virtual tour video of your offices, or you can add links for customers to visit your podcast, all on Google’s dime. It doesn’t cost you a cent, and it’s there forever.
Let’s zoom in on some of these steps we mentioned above:
Google’s own Small Business YouTube channel explains this very clearly:
The “Introduction” section will show up on Google Maps to the left of the map display. This is a free space to put in your business’ pitch, mission statement, what you do, anything you want to say to customers. Many of the fields are self-explanatory, no more difficult than filling in a Facebook profile.
GMB also has many custom widgets to add in depending on the type of business. For example, restaurants have an option to add a menu, specify whether they have dine-in, curbside pick-up, etc. For law firms, we see a link space provided for a website, and sometimes one for a booking link. Service categories work similar to tags on Twitter, so you can select things like “settlement,” “workman’s comp,” “divorce,” etc.
You can upload several kinds of photos and designate their purpose to Google: a logo, a cover photo that may appear on top, and as many photos as you’d like to show off your business. You can add group photos of your office team, awards, your swanky waiting room, and reception area, what have you.
Videos can only be up to 30 seconds long and up to 100 MB, but remember this is just for a Google My Business listing. Your longer, bigger videos can go on your YouTube account and be linked from your GMB or website.
There is also the option of the new Google Tour Creator feature. This is a virtual tour creation tool that Google is launching concurrently with their VR app called “Cardboard.” We checked twice, and this isn’t one of their April Fools’ jokes, you really get a cardboard viewer and turn your tablet sideways. Bam, cheap VR. Anyway, we’re guessing most law firms won’t go in too heavily for the tour feature (“just look at our wall of file cabinets!”), but a 30-second video for your firm can be a nice way to give prospective clients an idea of what it’s like to work with you.
Localized Pages For Multi-Location Firms
We’re going to veer away from GMB and talk about your website now.
All of the above we’ve gone over so far is great for single-location sole proprietor businesses. But what about when your firm expands to multiple locations? The answer here is that you need region-specific landing pages.
This is easy to do. You have the same website you always had, then add specific pages named within that website for individual locations. Some of that is duplicate information, some of it is specific to the region.
Notice our Tampa page throws in sentences like “Tampa, Florida, is a city that blends the beauty of the old with the greatness of the new. Historical districts like Ybor City, Forest Hills, and Davis Island wonderfully co-exist with its modern side: cruise ships and the Wikipedia server farm.” Pure Google bait there.
Location pages must:
- Give your name, address, and phone (NAP) consistently.
- Use the location in the URL (name the web page after that location)
- Have at least 500 words on each page – this is the threshold because Google doesn’t pay attention to less text than that on a single page
- Drop the link to Google Maps in a “get directions” link
- Include a mobile link for click-to-call
- Have relevant integration of customer service features—set up a consultation, use a virtual assistant, etc.
Zooming in on that NAP: Google doesn’t always take just your word for it about your name, address, and phone. It sometimes aggregates that information from other directories on the web. What can you do if there’s a bunch of incorrect third-party information out there? There’s a tool called Yext that is made to keep your information consistent. It also has a question-and-answer format so customers can get a formal answer from you, the source, about your law firm.
Optimized local content for a landing page needs a minimum of 500 words of content, or Google won’t notice it. It also needs several regional keywords so that Google will anchor that page firmly into that location. As we pointed out with our “Google bait” sentences on the Tampa page, chatter about regional cities, features, and points of interest help Google’s algorithms figure out that this is a page specific to a region and not just mentioning places out of the blue.
Gun-shy webmasters may ask “But wait, isn’t that keyword stuffing?” No, it isn’t. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, chapter 2, verse 2: “Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.” It’s reasonable for a user in Anaheim, California, to type in “law firm near Disneyland” or “Mighty Ducks’ stadium, 57 freeway, Orange Crush.” It’s fine to say your office has a view of these points.
Location-supporting content you can add to a localized page can include:
- FAQs that are specific to the local area or the region you serve
- Local events section
- News and press releases from your region
- Content specific to local specials or offers
- Community involvement with local charities
- Cheering support for local sports teams
- Bios for your team, with regional details
Including enough localized content to help you rank for Google’s location-aware indexing also helps your firm put a human face on your business. This way you aren’t some cold, impersonal corporate presence, but an upstanding member of the community who cares about the agricultural scene, celebrates achievers at the high school science fair, and supports their local library.
Link Building For Localized Content
Link building is a touchy subject. The era of indiscriminate links is dead. Google’s Matt Cutts makes it sound like guest blogging is poison, but later clarifies that to “low quality, spammy guest blogs.” The reality is that websites link to each other all the time, and the number one way to get a link is to produce awesome quality content that people will refer to.
The keyword is “organic.” Organic links are OK. Paid links, linking schemes, link exchanges, and all the dirty tricks black hat webmasters do are evil. Organic links are the path of the one true Google Way.
So, how do you get organic localized backlinks for your business? It is tough but possible.
The point with a lot of these is that you shouldn’t be doing most of this just for the link. But if you were involved in your local community, got quoted as an expert in the paper, or supported a local charity, and then you did not get a backlink for it, it does not hurt to ask for one.
If you won a community award, got invited to speak at a local function, or were named on a list of donations to the new wing of the nearby children’s hospital, these can all be cashed in for link points. Very few of us manage to live such a hermit life that nobody in our community knows who we are.
So, here’s a full list of brainstorming for backlink opportunities:
- Alumni associations: Good for at least one link each per firm member.
- Any local news story about your business: Write in and offer your link for that reporter who didn’t have the time to find out.
- Seek out local experts for an interview: If you specialize in law related to an industry, invite a member of that industry to an interview on your site—perhaps somebody who is a little hungry for recognition themselves—then they link to you because that’s their famous moment on your site.
- Directories: Oops, we forgot sites like FindLaw‘s lawyer directory or Attorneys.com.
- Offering local discounts: An easy way to get listed on coupon-code type sites.
- Host a local event: Raise awareness, conduct a workshop, offer a seminar. Moz.com has a great post about local event hosting.
- Outsource talent: Did a local photographer provide photos for your website or GMB? By all means, encourage them to link to you as an example of their portfolio.
- Provide testimonials to other businesses: Surely the caterer at your office Christmas party deserves a shout-out? They might feel so good about it that they link back to you.
Positive ways of interacting with the local community pay off. It works just like good karma!
By default, we assume all business website owners know about this, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat:
- Your website should be optimized to load as fast as possible
- Your website should be mobile-friendly
- You should use structured data where applicable
- Your site should have an easily navigated structure
- You should keep your site up to date for security practices
We cover all of the common website optimization techniques in our expansive library of articles, such as “9 SEO Factors That Boost Your Search Engine Rankings Quickly.”
What if you do all this and still don’t rank well? There could be many reasons. You might be based in a very competitive area. Or you might be in a town so small that there’s barely enough activity to give you inbound links. Sometimes you need to broaden your scope, perhaps extend your service area to “the tri-state area” for whichever state border you’re closest to or widen your focus from city to county. Some law firms have an issue with reputation management after that one bad apple (we all get them) writes something negative about them.
On the whole, everything we’ve documented here is sourced from the top minds in the industry for best web SEO practices. If you follow all this advice, you should at least rise to be the equal match of your local stars!