This article is intended as a step-by-step guide to optimising your website from a Search Engine Optimisation point of view (SEO) – in other words, how to be “found” by the major search engines and given a good position in the results page.

Let’s suppose that your law firm has offices in Swindon, Wiltshire and Reading, Berkshire.

Step 1. Keyword research

If you pick the wrong phrases for which to optimise your website you will be wasting your time. There are two main groups of keywords for you to think about:

geographic keywords, eg “solicitors in swindon”, “wiltshire solicitors” national keywords, eg “divorce solicitor”, “employment solicitor”

Two useful keyword research tools are the Keyword Tool for Google Adwords and Wordtracker. The Google tool is designed to help you buy Google advertising, so what we are really looking for with that one is the difference in order of magnitude from one keyword to another.

To give you an example, consider the following table which was researched using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool and Rank Tracker, where:

Est avg CPC is the average cost per click for a Google Adwords ad. If the number is £0.04 it means no-one is bidding on that phrase. The closer the advertiser competition is to 1, the more people are competing for advertising. Search volume is the approximate number of individual searches on Google for that month.
Keywords Est avg CPC Advertiser competittion Search volume
berkshire solicitors £2.48 0.4 1,900
employment solicitor london £6.78 0.6 880
employment solicitor reading £0.04 0.33 Not enough data
employment solicitor swindon £0.04 0.33 Not enough data
london solicitors £2.64 0.73 60,500
reading solicitors £1.34 0.46 4,400
solicitor London £2.62 0.8 22,200
solicitor reading £1.64 0.53 1,600
solicitor Swindon £1.07 0.53 590
solicitors in London £3.02 0.73 14,800
solicitors in reading £1.69 0.53 1,300
solicitors in Swindon £1.31 0.46 720
swindon solicitors £1.08 0.46 2,900
wiltshire solicitors £1.52 0.4 1,000

I include London as a “control” group of keywords. Outside of major citiies, adding words such as “employment” to a basic phrase such as “solicitor swindon” results in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool reporting “Not enough data”, which in our experience means less than 30-40 searches per month. However, even if only 30 people did search on “employment solicitor swindon” you will still want your site to be found, it’s just that you should not spend as much time and money optimising for that phrase compared to one with a higher search volume. You should prioritise the keywords on which you are going to work.

Concatenating your locations to create the various keywords can be awkward, so to make it easy you can download a template from the Conscious website at www.conscious.co.uk/keyword_template.html.

Step 2. On-page optimisation

The next step is to get your website ready for Google to find it, index it and give it a ranking. Here are the eight main factors for optimising a page. We will use the phrase “solicitors in swindon” as the basis for this example:

Write the page. The page should have 300–500 words on it; there is a particular structure that we outline below to help with the optimisation. Bear in mind that the page needs to accommodate two audiences: the search engines and human visitors. Our rule of thumb is that if you take care of the human visitors in the way you write the page, with an eye on what the search engines want then that is the best way.

Page name. should have the keywords in it, separated by hyphens or underscores, eg “solicitors_in_swindon.html” is more optimised than “swindonoffice.html”

Title. This is coded into your website. This appears in the very top bar of your web browser software. An example would be “Solicitors in Swindon, Swindon solicitors”.

Meta keywords. Another block of code. These are not really used much by search engines any more but it’s still good discipline to include them, eg “swindon solicitors, solicitor swindon, solicitors in swindon”.

Meta description. Another code block, eg “Solicitors in Swindon are based at <name of firm> and are able to help with all your legal affairs.” You should make this a proper sentence since it is sometimes used by the search engines as the descriptive text in the search engine results page.

Heading 1. This is the visible heading at the top of the main text area of the page and should be your exact keyword, ie “Solicitors in Swindon”. This should be coded with the HTML h1 tag which tells the search engines that this is the most important phrase on the page.

Heading 2. Somewhere further down the page should be a second heading, coded as an HTML h2 tag which again implies importance. A suitable phrase would be “Looking for a Solicitor in Swindon?”

Keyword density. Keep keyword density to 3-5 per cent, which means if your page is to have 300-400 words on it as it should, then the keyword will need to appear 9 to 20 times depending on the percentage you choose to work to. 3 per cent is probably enough.

Step 3. Submit to the search engines

You should not really need to do this since most websites that have been around for any length of time will already be in Google. To check, go to Google and Yahoo and enter “site:www.yoursite.co.uk” and you will get a number back that tells you how many pages of your site exist in their index. You should compare that to the number of pages the site actually has. Google nearly always reports a lower number than Yahoo and Yahoo is probably only going to report 90 per cent of all your pages at best.

If the number you get back for your site is less than 50 per cent then you need to add a manual and an XML sitemap to your website. You can find more information on these at www.conscious.co.uk/sitemaps.html.

Step 4. Off-site optimisation

One of the key things to improve your ranking is to make sure that your site has a good “reputation” with respect to the rest of the Internet. A website’s reputation at the simplest level can be measured by the number of other websites that point to it – the more links the better. The two most effective techniques are:

Article submission. This technique involves writing an article themed around your chosen keyword which is then posted to as many of the various article directories that exist on the Internet as your time and budget will allow you. Search Google for “article directory list” to get a list. This is a time consuming task and for most law firms it should be outsourced as the opportunity cost of you (a fee earner) or your marketing team doing it, is outweighed by having a web SEO agency doing it for you.

Link building. This is the classic technique of approaching other website owners and asking them to point to your site. Again this takes time and effort as to be frank, it’s a pretty thankless task. Often you will need to give them a link back, but usually they will not want it from your own site as that means the two sites are pointing at each other and that is not as effective as having a third site involved so each site points at a different site. This means if you do not have a third site to use your requests will often go unheeded. This is another good reason to consider a web SEO company for this kind of work.

Step 5. Measure

Before embarking on any SEO project you need to set a benchmark for the site as it is today. You will need to use tools such as webposition.com or link-assistant.com.

As you start working on your site you should repeat the ranking check each month and hopefully start to see improvements.

Over time as ranking for your priority keywords improves, you can move on to the next set of keywords.

And finally ”¦ you still do need a decent website! If a visitor lands on your website and it has poor design, no staff profiles, out-of-date content, hard to find contact details etc then they are not likely to contact you and all that time (and perhaps money) on optimisation will have been wasted.

David Gilroy is Sales and Marketing Director of Conscious Solutions a leading provider of websites and digital marketing solutions for lawyers with over 230 clients around the UK.

Email dgilroy@conscious.co.uk.

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