Chapter 2: Online Marketing Research
In the words of Sun Tzu, “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” His philosophy also holds true in digital marketing. You want to emulate the areas where your competitors are succeeding and avoid their pitfalls. Your goal is to reverse engineer the most successful elements of your competitors’ SEO strategies into your own strategy. Typically, you should research at least three other law firms to give you a richer analysis.
Competitor research includes 3 main activities
1. Searching for Their Top Keywords
Manual keyword analysis for your website is difficult because your competitors might be ranking for hundreds of keywords. Several tools are available online to help you find out what keywords your competitors are ranking for. Here are some suggestions for free and free trial tools:
Once you get a list of competitor keywords, you need to look for valuable keywords that you do not rank for and high-volume keywords where you already rank but want to rank higher. As you look through terms, you also want to pay attention to the keyword difficulty. It might be labeled slightly differently, but typically, you want to take note of those with high search volume, moderate difficulty in ranking, and relevant to your area of law. Finally, take note of your competitors’ most successful keywords so you can also target them.
2. Reviewing Their Content
You can manually visit a competitor’s webpage and review their content, but if you want to really understand what’s doing well for them, use a tool like MOZ’s free Link Explorer. When you enter your competitors’ domain and search, the Top Pages tab will reveal the pages that have received the most backlinks. You can use this list as a jumping-off point for content you want to emulate or improve upon.
3. Backlink Research
Link Explorer provides you with the number of backlinks for each page, but for your competitor’s research, you need to know what those links are. You can also use Link Explorer to find which backlinks are linked to your competitors and not to you. You can see where and how other firms are earning their backlinks.
It’s crucial that you research your competitors before you start randomly looking for keywords for your web content. When you know what is working for other law firms, you have a better idea of which keywords make sense for you to target.
Several keyword research tools exist. Some cost money and some are free. Google Ads Keyword Planner is a powerful tool, and it’s free! You do have to set up a Google account to access it, but you do not have to run a Google Ads campaign.
Before using competitors’ keywords in your site content, you need to analyze their effectiveness with some tools. For example, the difference between the words attorney and lawyer can be massive. An attorney has an estimated 11,100,000 local monthly searches and the lawyer has 6,120,000. Also, the best keywords depending on the visitors your firm is seeking. A lawyer is typically better for injury-related terms (car accident lawyer, brain injury lawyer), while an attorney normally works better for business-related terms (bankruptcy attorney, tax attorney).
After doing competitor research, you should have a few keywords in mind that you want to rank for. These could be specific practice areas or blog topics related to your law firm. Within Google’s Keyword Planner, you will find two different tools: Discover New Keywords and Get Search Volume and Forecasts. You want to review the volume and forecasts for the keywords you found during your competitor research. However, you can also enter one or two keywords to Discover New Keywords. Regardless of which path you take, you will see the same Keyword Results Page.
Discovering new keywords can help you learn which variations of your keyword get searched for most often, giving you other keywords, questions, and topics you might have missed.
On the Keyword Results page, you will notice that search volume varies greatly among keywords. Remember that the lower the search volume, the less competitive a keyword is, which gives you a better chance of ranking. This low-hanging fruit can be advantageous for you. However, you also want to target keywords your audience is searching for, so it’s in your best interest to target both high- and low-volume keywords.
Pro Tip: Target long-tail keywords because they have less competition and lower difficulty for ranking. Long-tail keywords are typically phrases that consist of multiple words. Don’t underestimate them because they often convert to clients better because searchers have more intent with specific terms and questions. For example, someone searching for a Dallas Divorce Lawyer might be browsing. However, someone who searches “what to do when my spouse won’t move out during a divorce,” likely has an immediate need for a divorce lawyer.
It is important to note that Google changes its algorithm frequently, often as a response to abuse by spammers. Sometimes algorithm changes negatively impact site ranking. The effects can be more detrimental if your SEO is out of date. In general, if you follow Google’s advice and focus on users instead of search engines, you’ll have a good chance of survival when updates roll out.
How to Implement Your Research
Now that you understand how to research your competitors and come up with target keywords for your content, you need to implement your competitor and keyword research to get results. Applying your research includes the following:
Organize Your Keywords
You might be inclined to create individual pages for every keyword variation you found during your research, but this is not the route you want to take. Instead, organize your keywords in groups based on similar topics and goals. Are you informing your website visitor about a specific practice area or are you answering a question? Each group you create will be a page.
Evaluate Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
Take the time to evaluate the first SERP for each keyword or keyword group to guide you on the type and format of content you should create. Take special note of the following characteristics:
- Do the pages have a lot of photos or videos?
- Is the written content short-form or long-form?
- How is the content formatted? In paragraphs, lists, bullet points, or a combination?
Brainstorm Ideas for Added Value
At the beginning of this chapter, we expressed that it’s best to emulate and improve upon your competitors. Now that you have the information you need, brainstorm how you can add value to your pages in comparison to the pages ranking for your keyword. For example, maybe you want to add photos or videos, provide content that is better organized, or offer longer content that provides more in-depth information about a particular legal topic or question.
Avoid Low-Value Content Creation
Engaging in rigorous competitor and keyword research gives you the knowledge you need to create content that increases your Google ranking because you provide valuable information to your audience. You want to guide visitors through your law firm’s website and help them find the information they need. You should not create content purely to increase your rankings. Focusing on where your page ranks can lead to pitfalls that will likely hurt your rankings. Some common, low-value content creation tactics to avoid include:
Google does not like multiple, weak pages for each variation of a keyword. Instead, you must use your groups of keywords to create a comprehensive page. For example, if your law firm has multiple offices, you might want a page for each office, such as Seattle Tax Attorney, Tacoma Tax Attorney, and Bellevue Tax Attorney. It might be tempting to use the same content for each page and only change the city and a few details here and there, but doing so will hurt your ranking.
Google does not penalize you for using duplicate content, but they do remove duplicate versions of the same content from search results to provide a better experience for searchers. Duplicate content can refer to shared content on multiple pages of a single website or between two websites, running into thin content issues mentioned above. The worst type of duplicate content is unauthorized use from other websites through republishing something or slightly spinning it first. Duplicate content has no original content or value. Some situations warrant duplicate content among domains, but Google wants you to point to the original version, so your content is considered original.
Many people new to digital marketing and SEO believe they need to include their top keywords X number of times in their content, and Google will automatically rank them for it. Google does look for keywords and related ideas on your pages, but the page itself has to offer value beyond pure keyword use. Keyword stuffing makes content sound unnatural, and it’s not pleasant for your readers. It’s best to naturally include your keywords, so your readers can understand your content.
Google’s content quality guideline specifically addresses auto-generated content. This type of content has been created by a computer program and is often intended to manipulate rankings. You can recognize auto-generated content because it typically does not make sense when you read it. Yet, a program has put the words together and included keywords. Auto-generated content will surely get better with advances in technology, making it an attractive future option for content creation. However, you should never consider using these programs if your intent is to manipulate your Google ranking. Content should always be reviewed before being posted on your website to make sure it adds value for your website visitors. If not, your efforts will likely backfire.
You now have an understanding of the importance of competitor and keyword research, the tools you can use to do your research, how to implement the fruits of your labor, and how to make sure you don’t hurt your rankings with low-value content creation. It’s time to move on to more technical aspects of SEO for your law firm’s website.
In the next chapter, we will guide you on how to build a secure website for your law firm, how to ensure your site runs smoothly, and how to use Google’s tracking tools to monitor your content, page rankings, impressions, and a wide range of other metrics.