What is Technical SEO & Why Your Law Firm Needs It
In previous posts we’ve covered some tips to boost the SEO for your law firm. As you might know from those posts, SEO—or search engine optimization—is the mixed art and science of getting your web page to the top of the SERP, or search engine results page.
By now you might be familiar with some of the on-page SEO tactics such as blogging and including keywords in your blog. Though you may not believe you have time for website development, with a little discipline and commitment, it’s easy to get a legal blog going on your site. This in turn will alert Google and Yahoo and Bing that you are an expert in the legal field, and accordingly they will bump your law firm’s web page higher up the search result.
Ah, if only it were that easy (perhaps you saw this coming). As a lawyer, you should always be prepared for fine print.
The user-facing on-page SEO such as copywriting and site design is only one component of SEO. There’s also off-page SEO, which is all about getting links to your site placed around the internet (in reputable places like authoritative sites). These parts of SEO are sort of like the art. Now we’re going to cover the science.
4 Technical SEO Components that are Important for Your Law Firm’s Website
We’re going to talk about technical SEO, which is another component of the on-page SEO for your law firm. We’ll discuss each component to this technical SEO in broad terms, so you can get a birds-eye view of how SEO works on the backend. The four components we will discuss are:
- Site speed
These are some backend concerns that don’t necessarily appear on the web page itself, but happen behind the scenes.
Site speed basically refers to how quickly your law firm’s website loads to completion. This might also be referred to as page load time or page speed.
There’s an amazing correlation between sites that take a long time to load and high bounce rates—the rate at which browsers leave your site in frustration before heading back to the search engines. And this correlation is really hair-thin; according to some studies, 47% web users expect a page to load in two seconds or less, while 40% will abandon a site if it takes more than four seconds to load.
Browsers are even more impatient on mobile devices. A study conducted by phone giant Ericsson has concluded that the stress level associated with waiting for a slow mobile site fell right between solving a math problem and watching a horror movie (we’re not exactly sure how scientists measure this kind of stuff, but popcorn may or may not have been involved).
You might not have realized your law firm’s page load time should be checked, but there are plenty of tools to do so, such as Google’s Page Speed Insights. And if you’re wondering why site speed is important in terms of SEO…Google ranks based on site speed. They want to deliver quality results to searchers, and sites that load more quickly are indicative of a better user experience (just ask those folks caught between a math problem and a horror movie). In fact, Google is very open about the fact that they prefer web pages that load faster.
Despite the size of its massive campus, Google does not employ an army of humans to crawl the web manually and categorize search results. Instead, they use a special type of digital program called Googlebot to crawl the web. Googlebot is made up of spiders (not real ones) that crawl the web and travel from link to link, reading almost everything on the internet (truly) and categorizing that information.
If these robot spiders come across a site with poor structure, Google will not favorably rank that site. Site structure is how information is organized—grouped, linked, and presented to browsers. Part of this architecture is the internal linking structure of your site. For instance, a site with a good internal linking structure will have all their links going to the right places. In other words, when people click on a link, they are taken to the page they expect to be taken to.
It is possible to prevent these spiders from crawling certain parts of your site, and/or allow them to crawl it with the request Google refrain from listing that information in the search engine results.
As it turns out, sometimes a website is unintentionally blocking the spiders from crawling a certain page, which means it won’t show up in the search engines. While some businesses might want their site to be hidden, there’s a good chance that you want the content of your law firm’s website to appear on search engine results.
A robots.txt file can provide a more comprehensive approach to the robot site-crawling issue. As it turns out, even Googlebots have better things to do than read every line of every website on the web. They are allotted a certain amount of time to crawl a website. Putting some specific directives into the robots.txt file can send the robots to certain parts of your site that you want them to see, while keeping them away from others that could prove problematic—such as pages that need a little SEO cleanup.
Of course, tweaking this robots.txt file is extremely complex and best left to a programmer or SEO specialist. We mention it in the article to give you that look behind the scenes. But your main takeaway should be that it’s important to have a well designed website, and to perform maintenance on your site regularly—cleaning up old content and making sure all the links work.
Google is very open that security—in particular something called HTTPS—is a ranking signal, and they have been since 2014. That means secure sites will outrank sites that aren’t. Now you may be wondering just what exactly isn’t secure about your law firm’s website.
Check out your website’s level of security by typing it into your web browser. Look to the left of your site URL. If you see a small image of a lock, you’re off to a good start. If you see the words “not secure,” you have some fixing to do.
This lock (or lack thereof) indicates that a site is implementing HTTPS (or not). To keep it simple, HTTP (which you might recognize as http://) is basically an acronym describing how a computer connects to a website. HTTPS (note that extra letter “s” for secure) means that your site is encrypted, and no outside party can intercept data sent between the browser and the site.
Hackers and thieves can potentially use this data to commit all sorts of crimes ranging from financial to identity theft. If your site processes payments, collects sensitive information, or even has visitors type in their email to get a weekly newsletter (which is a good tactic for collecting leads, incidentally), they are putting themselves at risk—if your site is not encrypted.
If it is encrypted, then you’re all good to go, and you’ll be killing two birds with one stone: protecting client data and improving your SEO with Google (and Yahoo and Bing). Moreover, when you secure your site with HTTPS, you can upgrade to a faster internet protocol called HTTP/2, which makes sites easier to load (win, win, win).
In order to secure your site, you need an SSL certificate. Many site-building platforms offer this encryption as part of their services for free. Others charge for it as an upgrade, while still others will require you to get it from a third party. No matter how you get it, you need to get one—not only to protect your clients, but to improve your law firm SEO.
Google has gotten increasingly obsessed (in a good way) with delivering information to searchers as quickly as possible. That means they have included certain features like content-rich snippets and informational boxes on the SERPs. If you can get a page from your law firm’s website into one of these coveted spots, and/or show content-rich snippets to browsers, you will get more traffic to your site.
Structured data is a way for you to give Google some directions about how they show your site in the search engine results. Without such directives, Google could take some random text from your page (usually the first few lines of copy) and display those in the search results. This creates a somewhat confusing look to your listing, which in turn can lead to less clicks and poorer SEO traction.
By using some technical tools like Schema.org, you can get the write codes you need to pop into your site and create some backend structure to the data. Some site-building platforms have third party plugins you can install to take care of that structuring. Either way, it can be a bit of a tricky process to navigate, and might best be done by a competent SEO expert.
A final word about Technical SEO for Your Law Firm
These are just a few points about technical SEO and attorney website development. Law firm SEO, done right, can go a long way toward bumping your firm’s site to the top of the Google search results. It can be very frustrating to invest time writing a weekly blog and playing around with a site builder to make your law firm’s site look good and attract attention—and then finding out that your site isn’t even on the first 10 pages of the Google SERPs. If you aren’t doing some of the backend things correctly (or at all) you could be missing out on a huge SEO boost. That’s why it’s important to know what’s involved with technical SEO, so you can do everything you can to get your firm to the top of the search results.