What does it take to rank on Google for high-value keywords such as “car accident lawyer” to get more leads and cases?
It’s a question every law firm asks when evaluating their lead generation and digital marketing strategies. And in ultra-competitive spaces like personal injury law, failing to rank on page 1 of Google can mean losing millions of dollars in potential revenue.
As SEO experts, we help clients dominate organic search. We’re a tech-focused digital marketing agency that likes doing the dirty work, but loves creating in-house tools that allow us to do more, create efficiencies, and gain new knowledge on a much larger scale — especially when it comes to search engine optimization.
Enter: Hennessey Digital’s 2022 State of Law Firm Website Rankings study.
Word or phrase someone uses on a search engine to search for something. Keywords are also words search engines such as Google find significant on your website.
SEO (search engine optimization)
A digital marketing strategy used to drive traffic to your website by increasing its visibility on the search engine results page.
To deepen the understanding of law firm digital marketing and provide lawyers, marketers, and web developers with a view into what makes pages rank higher than others on the search engine results page (SERP), we analyzed organic rankings of nearly 16,000 law firm and law industry landing pages. We conducted this research in-house, with our analysts using homegrown tools as well as existing solutions to analyze thousands of web pages. The objective of our study was to identify factors that affect how a page ranks for competitive keywords and to see if there are trends or commonalities among pages that rank.
Looking at the organic listings of legal-focused websites in the top 200 largest U.S. cities by population, we ran multiple statistical models to identify the most important variables that affect how websites rank for top keywords on the SERP.
Our findings reveal strong relationships between high-ranking pages and elements of a web page. Correlation does not automatically prove causation, so we’re careful not to make groundbreaking claims here. That said, we are intrigued—and in some cases surprised—by some of the results and what it means for the state of law firm website rankings in 2022.
SERP (search engine results page)
Results delivered by search engines such as Google and Bing when someone conducts a search.
Results and Insights
Most Important Factors for Ranking
The top 5 factors affecting a website’s search engine rankings, from the data set we measured, are:
- Number of entities used on a page
- Entities in the title tag
- Web page user experience and how its design shifts for mobile experience (CLS mobile score, a main performance metric of Google’s Core Web Vitals.)
- Variations in the of number of unique outbound and inbound links for a page
- Variations in the interactive or dynamic capabilities on a web page (script tags)
These insights come from the analysis of 16,000 law firm web pages that ranked in the top 100 results on Google for this study. Multiple factors play a role in organic search performance and this information can be helpful to make informed decisions for your search engine optimization strategy (SEO).
An entity on a website is best described by Google as “a thing or concept that is similar, unique, well-defined, and distinguishable.” It can be a word, a concept, a color, etc.
CLS Mobile Score
The CLS mobile score is one of Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics used to determine where a web page should rank on the search engine results page. CLS stands for Cumulative Layout Shift, which is a score that measures layout shifts on a web page that aren’t initiated by a user. The lower your CLS, the better the user experience is.
Top 30 Factors of Web Pages Appearing on the SERP
Other Noteworthy Findings
- The majority of law firms (65%) use WordPress for their websites. With multiple content management system (CMS) options in the marketplace, it was interesting to see one CMS strongly dominate the legal category. Our research revealed there is no correlation between CMS and average position on the SERP. If you’re a small law firm or enjoy do-it-yourself marketing, it just so happens we acquired and updated the top WordPress theme for lawyers in the past year. Our engineers continuously evolve the template by applying data-proven strategies into its web design with features we know help drive online success for lawyers. We’ve made this template available in order to make it possible for small law firms to access a well-designed, high-performing website theme at no cost.
- Google Cloud is a popular hosting and DNS provider for the top ranking sites. While Google Cloud is not the most popular hosting platform, we were surprised to find so many top-ranking sites use it for web hosting.
- It’s necessary to write and optimize unique web pages for each location and practice area for which you are trying to rank. This is consistent with the performance data we see from content marketing and SEO strategies we recommend as a best practice for clients whose goals are to rank higher on the SERP for multiple locations. It’s interesting to note that only one website was able to rank for more than 10 different locations using the same landing page, but their average position on the SERP was 86.
- Having the word “best” in the landing page title still has a strong relationship with rank position. This caught our attention because it’s somewhat of a throwback strategy from the ‘90s. The data may also be slightly skewed because lawyer databases such as FindLaw and Avvo list “top” or “best” lawyers—but it’s still significant! This signifies the click-through rate (CTR) for sites that contain ‘best’ in the title tag is higher. It’s just one of the many user signals Google considers when deciding where a page should rank.
CMS (content management system)
A content management system (Such as WordPress or Drupal) is software that allows someone to create and manage website content.
Templates available on the CMS WordPress that make it possible to build an organized and visually-appealing website.
Web hosting is a service that provides the storage of your website so that it’s accessible online.
A domain name system (DNS) enables computers and systems to connect with one another by mapping the readable name of a website (ie: iloveseo.com) with its numeric address (IP address).
CTR (click-through rate)
A CTR is the number of times a web page, link or ad is clicked divided by the number of times it is shown. The CTR is a performance metric that tells you what percentage of people who saw your web page or link clicked.
HTML code that gives your web page a title. The title tag plays a critical role in SEO and appears at the top of your page in a browser.
Factors That Impact Content Ranking
Each of the top 10 sites listed on page 1 of the SERP have an average of 2,000 words per page. The minimum word count for position 1 was 1,324 words. Pages with longer articles seem to rank higher on the SERP, and based on the findings in our study, there is correlation between the number of words on a page and where it ranks on the SERP.
WHY IT MATTERS: We’ll sing it from the rooftops: content is king. Content is the engine behind any SEO strategy, so law firms that are serious about ranking in top positions on page 1 of the SERP for targeted keywords must invest in content to do this.
Content are the elements of a web page that convey information to someone visiting your site. Types of content include text, audio, photos, video, calls to action, and more.
Images and Multimedia
Despite the spikes in number of images we observed in the data, landing pages on page 1 of the SERP tend to use more rich media elements on the page, such as videos and images. In some cases, the number of images or rich media elements on high-ranking web pages was up to 20.
WHY IT MATTERS: Search engines love rich data. Most high-ranking sites have plain text plus images, video, and other interactive elements, so make sure you’re including multiple images and multimedia to get your site to rank.
Online content or digital advertising that includes features such as video or audio and prompts users to engage with content.
A high-ranking site refers to a website or web page that ranks in high in the organic results on a search engine results page.
Content Management System
WordPress is the most popular content management system for law firm websites of the thousands of pages we analyzed.The CMS used for a website doesn’t have strong significance as we found no relationship between a CMS and how a site is ranked.
WHY IT MATTERS: Looking back at the history of WordPress, it was originally developed to make it possible for the average person to create a blog with ease. Its value for companies and role in the marketplace has amplified, especially in the legal industry. Many top-ranking law firm websites are on WordPress and have high page speed scores, rank high in search results, and attract a lot of traffic.
And speaking of fast load times…
Mobile Page Speed Score
As expected, the average mobile page speed score decreased as position fell. However, some high-ranking sites have low page speed scores, which was surprising to us, and translates into site popularity. There are times the popularity of a page will supersede the low speed score, giving it a higher ranking in search results.
WHY IT MATTERS: Your site must load quickly—especially on mobile—because it’s very hard to rank high on the SERP if your website has a low page speed score.
Mobile Page Speed Score
How fast the user experience is on your mobile site when it loads. Google ranks this on a scale of 1-100, with 1 being the slowest, 100 being the fastest. The mobile page speed score is one of the metrics the Google algorithm uses and plays a role in increasing your site’s ranking on the SERP. The faster your mobile page speed, the more favorable Google finds the user experience to be for your site.
JSON-LD schemas are structured data bits that feed Google information via code in the text of a site. A JSON-LD tells Google what questions and answers your page has and translates your content into data.
WHY IT MATTERS: JSON-LD schemas have a significant impact on position. It’s difficult to rank in the top 10 on the SERP without this. The percentage of landing pages with JSON-LD schemas drops after the first SERP. If your site ranks on page 2 or below on the SERP, adding a JSON-LD schema to your page can make a significant difference in position.
Because of this finding, Hennessey Digital has decided to double down on generating JSON-LD schemas on all pages. To make the process as efficient as possible, we created a solution called HD Schema Builder which understands the context of the paragraph or page that the user is writing and is able to auto-suggest different types of schemas such as Question, Answer, Video, Image, Place, Action, LocalBusiness, Offer, etc.
Structured data on a web page that provides Google with clues about the meaning of the page. The JSON-LD tells Google what questions and answers your page has and translates your content into data. You can help your SEO by providing explicit clues about the meaning of a page to Google by including structured data on the page. (For example, on a recipe page, what are the ingredients, the cooking time and temperature, the calories, etc).
Other Key Findings
The most popular law industry website across all locations for “[Location] car accident lawyer” queries was lawyers.findlaw.com, ranking for all 200 cities included in our study with an average position of 3.57 on page 1 of the SERP. We speculate that this is a result of them having more than 3 million pages of content indexed on Google, and they have nearly 20,000 referring domains linking back to them.
The most popular law firm website appearing in search engine results is bencrump.com which showed up in 42% of the biggest U.S. cities and had an average rank position of 26.4. The second most-popular site appearing in search results was forthepeople.com, which showed in 41% of the locations and had an average ranking of 30.7.
We also analyzed technologies, hosting providers and scripts found on law firm websites and they use one or more of the following:
Hennessey Digital’s 2022 State of Law Firm Ranking
Top Technologies Found on Law Firm Websites
- 31% GoDaddy
- 39% Google Cloud
- 25% Amazon Web Services
- 65% WordPress
- 7% Hubspot
- 4% Drupal
- 3,4% Joomla
- 3% Duda
- 3% Scorpion
- <1% Magento
- 29% Ngage
- 21.9% ApexChat
- 2% Podium
- 0.5% Intercom
It’s interesting to note that of the sites ranking on Google’s organic search results across the 200 cities we studied, more than 65% of law firm websites, as previously mentioned, are built on WordPress, but nearly all of them use the WordPress SEO plug-in, Yoast.
Live chat is becoming more common on law firm websites. On the web pages analyzed in this study, more than half featured live chat, with Ngage leading the pack as the most utilized live chat solution integration.
Hennessey Digital provides clients with a fully-integrated chat solution with our Hennessey Digital Platform so clients can directly track leads coming from chat versus organic search and paid media.
A feature on a website that allows a customer or site visitor to communicate with someone from that firm or company in real-time.
A digital marketing strategy where you pay to have your message strategically placed to reach your desired audience. Examples include PPC, display advertising, video ads, branded content, sponsored social media posts, and more.
Recommendations for Improving Your
Law Firm Website Ranking
Create web pages with localized content for each city and legal practice area that you want your law firm to be found on Google.
If you’re a lawyer who wants your services to be found in more than one city,you must have a page with content for every geographic location and practice area in order to rank in search results. The good news here is our data shows that if you rank for a specific city, for example, chances are you’ll also rank for its outlying areas.
Make sure your website has technical and content variety.
The best-ranking pages are simply more interesting to search engine crawlers and to the end-user.Make sure your website contains a lot of variation with copy and rich media such as videos and images, as well as technical SEO variations in your title tags and scripts on the page.
Pay close attention to Google’s Core Web Vitals.
Google’s primary focus is user experience, and they use 3 metrics (soon to be 5) to determine if your website checks the box. The findings from our research point back to their core web vitals. To help improve your website’s rankings in search results, make sure your web design and SEO strategy are meeting Google’s expectations.
Search Engine Crawler
Also known as a “bot” or “spider,” search engines crawl your website for content and data, and indexes it for appearing in search results.
A subcategory of search engine optimization that involves optimizing the infrastructure of your website so it can be easily crawled and indexed by search engines. It deals with the technical components of your website — such as the sitemaps, page speed, URL structure, schema, site navigation and more.
Core Web Vitals
Core Web Vitals are standard metrics identified by Google and applied by its algorithm when evaluating all websites for optimal user experience.
What’s Next for the State of Law Firm Website Rankings?
In all, our findings validate much of what we know about SEO. We haven’t cracked Google’s algorithm with this study, and it’s important to know there isn’t a straightforward relationship between page rank and one specific factor, but a combination of factors that affect how a page performs in search.
The patterns between position and the technology a website uses hint at some of the signals Google pays attention to when it’s ranking pages in search results: trends we’ll closely watch to monitor how Google’s algorithm continues to impact rankings.
Our web development, SEO, and content marketing teams are here to move our clients up in position for their desired keywords. We get results for our clients through consistent hard work and innovation through studies like this.
Want to learn more?
Reach Out & Let’s Talk
This research and analysis was conducted by Hennessey Digital’s in-house team of SEOs, engineers, and data analysts. Page content and page speed tests were conducted on 15,786 unique landing pages under 7,711 distinct domain names. (17,867 total landing pages appeared in our results, but in some cases, duplicate landing pages appeared in more than one query we ran.)
For our site technology analysis, we looked at 1,323 randomly chosen websites of the 7,711 total domains available in our data set. We used SEO analytics software Cora to crawl landing pages and extract and join data, looking at 180 separate ranking factors or queries. All data was pulled, compiled, and tested in October 2021.
To run our tests, we applied multiple machine learning models to our data set, starting with the least complex:
- Linear Regression – A linear regression model was conducted for all ranking factors simultaneously. In its most basic form, we fit a straight line through the data and measure how well it fits.
- Decision Tree – This model starts with the most important ranking factor (e.g Factor 1 < X leads to branch 1; Factor 1 >= X leads to branch 2) and gradually flows out from there.
- Random Forest – This is an ensemble of decision trees and is much more reliable than a single tree that can be biased and is prone to random factors skewing the results. A random forest model is essentially a democracy of decision trees: each tree “votes” and the label predicted by the majority is what is predicted by the model.
- Keras Neural Network – The most complete model, this concept loosely resembles the neural network of the human brain. Each neural node learns a weight that controls the output of a specific factor or combination of factors, and after several passes through the data, the network learns how to use the factors to predict the label.
Multiple iterations were completed using each of these models to identify trends and assess significance. Results gradually improved as more data was incorporated. Our analysts selected the statistical model that provided the clearest view into ranking factors given the data set and objective of the study to flag trends and commonalities.
The name of a website, such as google.com or hennessey.com. It associates a website with an owner and its DNS records.
Authors & Research Team
Blin Kazazi VP of Engineering
Stanislov Ivanov Data Scientist
Brandon Caballero Director of Analytics & CRO
Liz Feezor Director of Communications
Cindy Kerber Spellman Senior Director of Marketing
Scott Shrum President & COO
Jason Hennessey Founder & CEO