There are a number of factors that search engines such as Google use to evaluate and then determine ranking placement for search queries. Listed below are just a few of the main factors out of the 200 plus that many SEOs believe that Google currently looks at to determine rankings:
- The link profile of a website
- The number and consistency of a business’ citations (NAP profile: Name, Address, and Phone Number)
- A website’s content quality, substance, domain authority, social sharing, engagement, and user experience
- A website’s user experience and related metrics (for example, how easy it is to navigate through your website and find what you’re looking for)
- Mobile-friendliness of a website
- Online reviews
Google has evolved dramatically over time, and they continue to improve their ranking algorithm with the end goal of delivering the most relevant, useful search results possible for their users.
One important topic to understand is how a firm’s brand may be related to search engine optimization, visibility and rankings. How well a business is known or how popular a particular brand may be in its market and industry, can impact results in search engines.
In other words, big brands often rank better in search engines. While “strong brand” is not necessarily a Google ranking factor by definition, a well-established presence on the web and in various communities does seem to correlate positively with other ranking factors and can impact SEO in a positive way. Check out Moz.com’s Whiteboard Friday video, featuring Rand Fishkin, on the subject.
There are big brands in every industry and vertical – including legal. Given the influence brand and branded search has in rankings today, every law firm that is investing in online marketing should re-evaluate how they are positioning their brand to the public, and seek to expand their brand and reputation both offline and online.
Branded vs. Non-branded Search for Law Firms
It’s important to clearly define the difference between branded and non-branded search. Most law firms will rank in search for their firm name relatively easily. It’s often the least competitive term for which they are trying to rank. A branded search is when someone searches for your firm’s name. If someone instead searches for a “Orlando car accident lawyer,” that is defined as a “non-branded search” – because it does not involve an actual business name.
Google and other search engines track search volume meticulously. They use it to evaluate trends, popularity as related to topics and interests, and to monitor brand awareness and reputation of individual businesses and entities.
If your law firm name is searched for regularly in your market and is being talked about throughout the Internet, your business is often seen as a popular brand. This type of popularity has been said to influence search, and provides these businesses with a boost in their ranking, among other benefits.
Benefits of Branded Search for Attorneys
Branded search volume around your law firm’s name can be an important component of your overall Web marketing mix. It implies that you are well-known, and is an indication that your firm is trusted and intentionally sought by the general public.
Whether or not branded search volume is a ranking factor per se, there are a number of other benefits that come with strong brand awareness in your market and increased branded search volume. Branded search may increase the propensity to convert a visitor from the search engine results page. More on this benefit is described later in this article. Additionally, you will see businesses that have strong branded search volume begin to show up in Google’s auto-suggest feature and related searches.
Although there are no law firms currently showing in the above example, this is where one has potential to show with strong brand awareness related to a particular search. Here is an example of a non-legal brand:
Likely, because a large amount of users have searched for a shaving razor and associated the search with “Walmart,” Google has determined this is one of the most applicable and appropriate searches when someone is looking for a shaving razor.
Now, back to the Orlando car accident lawyer search. As you can see, this example indicates how two particularly well-branded law firms are seen as potentially relevant search queries:
What Influences Brand and Branded Search
Naturally, firms that advertise on TV often have the strongest brands in their markets – and consequently enjoy the most branded search volume around their law firm name. This is due to the fact that they are continuously delivering their message and brand name into community households, and have established strong top-of-mind awareness.
When people are in need of a lawyer, the lawyers behind those TV commercials are hoping those in need will automatically think of that commercial and make a phone call. Today, with the convenience of the Web at our fingertips, a larger percentage of prospective clients are searching those well-branded firm’s names and reviewing them further online. This helps fuel a firm’s perceived popularity online and heavily influences their branded search volume – ultimately positively influencing their ranking potential.
You may have even see some lawyer commercials instructing people to “go online and search The ABC Law Firm, check us out online, see what others have to say about us.” This is a clever tactic that encourages natural search volume around their brand, but also (assuming they have strong reviews/endorsements) helps to build trust and confidence once a user reads their online reviews and visits their website to learn more about the firm.
Don’t get discouraged, though, if you’re not a TV advertiser. There is still hope!
You have many other options to strengthen your branded search volume, online popularity and your entrenchment in your local market. Here are a few areas you should consider:
- Ensure you have a GoogleMyBusiness listing set up for each of your staffed, physical office locations.
- Obtain as many positive reviews for each GoogleMyBusiness listing and, once secured, expand efforts into other important review sites for added social proof (e.g., Facebook, Yelp, Avvo. Always be sure that your efforts are in compliance with rules and guidelines from applicable bar associations and the reviews platforms themselves.)
- Establish online relationships or bridge offline relationships onto the Web and make connections via backlinks to your website (or at least work to have them mention your law firm on their site).
- Treat social media as if it is the word-of-mouth lifeblood for your firm. Engage with people and encourage “likes” and sharing.
- Get involved with local organizations via charitable contributions, sponsorships, personal involvement in the community and/or scholarships.
- Create substantive content around your bread-and-butter practice areas on your website. You want people to see the information you are presenting and trust it as though it is written by an expert or enthusiast (as related to the topic). Avoid shallow, non-substantive blogs and practice area pages.
Consider other ways your law firm can influence curiosity about your brand and drive search volume around your firm name. One example may be to implement an initial drip email to all new prospective clients that hyperlinks a targeted search result related to your brand, so that they can learn more about your firm, history and successes online.
Rand Fishkin of Moz also developed a Whiteboard Friday video around “How to Influence Branded Searches and Search Volumes to Earn Big Rewards.” In the video, Fishkin mentions that “we believe that search volume for branded terms does have an impact on ranking for the non-branded version of the query.”
Establishing a strong brand online, regardless of rankings benefits, is a powerful next step in your online marketing efforts. Another major strength of having strong brand awareness in your market is the ability to convert more visitors from the search engine results page into a visitor on your website. That is where having a strong law firm brand really begins to play a huge role in terms of driving leads and cases for your firm.
Influencing Click-through Rates with Brand
Well-known brands influence click-through rates from the search results pages.
Consider if you were searching for information on self-driving cars. Maybe you were interested in the technology used to parallel park vehicles using hands-free technology. You open up Google and search “hands free technology used for parallel parking” and see these results:
For most of us, we recognize two established brands in these first several listings: Geico and Wikipedia. Because of the brand awareness of these two entities, they will largely monopolize the clicks for this particular search. People trust the name, the brand, and because of that, trust the content on the other side of that click.
It works the same for legal.
Google continues to improve its ability to recognize how users respond to particular brands in search results and they give credit to certain brands and websites that attract clicks due to their popularity.
Ripple Effects of Brand Equity for Lawyers
Among the major ranking signals are relevant and authoritative backlinks pointing back to your website. A strong brand actually encourages ongoing, organic link-earning to your site – often through little to no effort by you or your search marketing provider. It’s a compounding effect that strengthens the already established brands and websites.
As a quick example, let’s say you start ranking for a specific brain injury-related term. Over time, as journalists, organizations and others come across your content related to brain injuries, they will occasionally cite the source as a helpful resource in their articles – naturally and organically growing your link profile, strengthening your site’s domain authority, and helping to expand your rankings over time.
Brand is not simply boxed into a specific parameter. There are dozens upon dozens of factors that impact and influence your law firm’s brand: co-citations and co-occurrence, backlinks, social engagement, substantive and trusted content, as well as brand mentions throughout the Web, to name only a few.
There was a study performed by Tom Capper which evaluated the correlation between domain authority of a site vs. branded search volume as they compared to a site’s rankings performance.
The end result of the study suggested that branded search volume was better correlated with rankings than a site’s domain authority score. This ultimately implies how critical a law firm’s brand is to their ability to attract and sign more cases from the Internet today.
While no one truly knows all the factors that Google uses to rank a website, it is clear that a firm’s brand has significant influence on the ability to be successful online today.
Many years ago, Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt was quoted saying “Brands are the solution, not the problem.… Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”
Continue to seek ways to build top-of-mind-awareness in your market areas and pay close attention to your online reputation. It just may be the driving factor in winning a client over your competition tomorrow.