Every family law firm wants their website to be found on the first page of Google and other search engines. Many lawyers are now aware of the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Many understand it as a way of optimizing a website to gain more organic traffic, rank higher in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), and ultimately generate more business – but few understand the complexity of SEO, the skills required to perform it, and the value of paying for this expertise on either a one-time or ongoing basis.
The technical complexity of search engines grows as new ways of searching (such as voice search and geolocated-mobile search) gain ground. Search engines have become more sophisticated. They are using increasingly complex algorithms to index website pages, and a wide range of different factors to rank those pages. SEO has also evolved; it has become part-art and part-science, and it requires advanced skills, in-depth knowledge of current search engine preferences, and a thorough understanding of modern website technology.
Not all Website Designers Understand Technical SEO
Many law firms assume that their website designer knows how to perform all aspects of SEO. If you are getting a quote to design or redesign your website, ask about their SEO services, and whether those services include the four types of SEO described below – and then be prepared to pay for it. If you are redesigning your website, take the opportunity to overhaul your website’s SEO – and be aware that your website traffic can tank if your website designer does not know how to preserve the traffic your existing website has built up.
The Four Main Types of SEO
Each aspect of SEO focuses on optimizing different elements of a website, including on-page, off-page, local, and technical SEO. All of these factors are crucial for websites that want to rank higher in search engines; however, new guidelines issued by Google in terms of site speed, user experience, page load time, and website security leave no question that technical SEO deserves much more attention than it typically receives.
This article focuses only on technical SEO, but I have summarized the other three types of SEO at the end to provide some context (see “Other Types of SEO,” below).
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing a website for search engine crawlability and indexability without any technical roadblocks. This is a vital – but often overlooked – step in the whole SEO process. Technical SEO is more relevant to search engines than to humans. If there are serious issues with your website’s technical SEO, then you will not achieve your desired results – no matter how much work you put into your on-page, off-page, and local SEO efforts.
Technical SEO has become increasingly important over the years as users started to surf the Internet on a host of devices with a myriad of operating systems and browsers. Although you must optimize the content to attract the right visitors, you must also attend to all the technical issues that can affect a website’s visibility in search engines – and usability on various devices from a five-year-old laptop to a cutting-edge smartphone.
Some of the critical factors in technical SEO include crawlability, HTTPS encryption, site speed, and mobile usability.
Crawlability reflects how easily search engine crawlers can access a website and index its pages. Generally, a search engine like Google consists of a crawler, index, and an algorithm. The crawlers crawl through web pages by following links, and then index those pages in the search engine database.
A webmaster must ensure that the crawlers can easily crawl and index all web pages without any issues. You can find issues by logging in to Google Search Console, which can also be used to submit a sitemap for the website. Your webmaster should configure the “robots.txt” file following best practices – including suggesting which pages to crawl and index and which pages to block from being indexed in search engines. Your webmaster must ensure that there are no issues before submitting your sitemap.
There are several factors that can have a devastating impact on a website’s crawlability, including:
- link structure,
- website speed,
- internal link structure,
- server errors,
- crawlers’ access,
- unsupported scripts, and
- web technology.
2. Secured Website/HTTPS Encryption
Google has been encouraging website owners to secure their websites by installing an SSL certificate, giving ranking preference to secured websites. In July 2018, Google’s Chrome browser started marking non-HTTPS websites as “Not Secure.”
HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is a communication protocol that ensures the protection, integrity, and confidentiality of data between the user’s computer and the website. Encryption makes the Internet communication fully secure between the user and the website, ensuring no one listens to the conversation, tracks multiple page activities, or steals the user’s information. Data integrity remains intact during transfer over the Internet as HTTPS rules out the possibility of any data modification or corruption.
3. Site Speed
Website speed plays a crucial role in driving more organic traffic, helping search engine crawlers crawl website pages faster and easier, reducing bounce rate, improving user experience, and generating more leads. Technical SEO demands advanced skills to reduce page load time.
Google recently introduced “Speed Update,” and it has made site speed a significant ranking factor for mobile searches. Modern web apps require highly dynamic and powerful resources to operate properly; if not optimized correctly, these resources can render-block and slow down the site. (In this context, “render” means “load”. A render-blocking resource keeps a page from loading as quickly as it should – sometimes leaving the user staring at a blank page for several critical seconds.)
Google PageSpeed Insights Tool provides recommendations to optimize your web pages for speed. The recommendations can include the optimization of various website resources, including:
- content visibility, and
- browser caching.
You can improve site speed by fixing website structure and architecture; cleaning up old content, posts, and pages; redirecting old URLs; and choosing a robust hosting platform for your website.
4. Mobile Usability
Today, more people are surfing the Internet on their mobile devices than on their desktop computers. A mobile-friendly website has become a necessity for all kinds of businesses. Google has rolled out its mobile-first indexing features, which uses only mobile content for all search rankings. This means that mobile pages will determine how the website will be ranked on both desktop and mobile.
If your website is not mobile-friendly, it can affect your content page rankings in search engines. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool tells you if your website has any mobile-specific issues, including what resources (e.g., images, CSS, script files) cannot be loaded properly on the mobile version of your website.
The most common reasons why resources fail to load are the speed of the website, missing resources, and blockage of resources in the robots.txt file. There are many different mobile-usability errors, but the most critical errors include flash usage, viewport misconfiguration, and small font size.
Other Types of SEO
On-Page SEO plays a critical role in optimizing a website to generate more organic traffic. It can be achieved by tweaking website content, using relevant keywords, providing a better user experience, and making the content more relevant for visitors. On-page SEO includes many elements such as meta keywords, titles, and descriptions; URL structures; image optimization and alt-text; text formatting; headings and header tags; word-count; page speed; mobile responsiveness; internal links and the content value; authority; and freshness.
Off-page SEO helps establish website authority with search engines. A website with more backlinks, social media mentions, and bookmarks yields more power in terms of search engine rankings. Off-page SEO can give your website a sharp increase in search engine rankings and exposure because a website with a higher position in SERPs will get you more backlinks, visits, social mentions, and bookmarks. There are many ways to get backlinks – including listings on directories (lawyer, article, and local directories); publishing blog posts and articles on websites other than yours; social media posts and comments; and link exchanges.
With a precise focus on a local marketing approach, local SEO is becoming a popular way to market a business online to local clients in real-time when they actually need these services. Local SEO involves a wide variety of online marketing strategies such as listings in business directories like Yelp, Google My Business listing; Bing Places for Business page; content optimization by using local keywords; and local online reviews.
Atif Nadeem is Digital Marketing Lead at Divorce Marketing Group. He oversees off-page and technical SEO for websites the company builds for its clients, and he is a Google Analytics & Pay-Per-Click Certified Specialist.