On April 26th Search Engine Land’s Chris Silver Smith posted an article for his column Locals Only entitled Google’s Usability Fixation Reveals Local Ranking Factors that includes some great information that can easily be applied to the legal marketing vertical and law firm websites.
In this column, Smith focuses on what he calls “Google’s obsession with usability” discussing how factors such as site speed and load time have long been proven as influencing what sites Google views as quality. He takes this idea one step further making the argument that website usability affects in not just regular rankings but Google local visibility as well.
Smith advocates using a “search persona” approach when trying to decide what factors make a site user-friendly. In other words, he urges the small business owner to think about who is coming to their website and what they expect or want to find there. With this idea in mind, he lists a number of factors that can make a website more user- friendly.
Of course, right off the bat, he stresses that any business needs to include vital stats such as address, phone number, and contact information on their website. This information should be included in HTML-text, not just as an image or in flash. For example, you will notice that some law firm websites have all the firm contact information in an image at the bottom of the page. But then, in addition, it is good to have a box at the upper right, above the fold, that includes the address and phone number in HTML text.
A small but interesting detail he includes is that phone numbers should appear in the conventional format for the country in which the business is located. Therefore, in Smith’s view, lawyers should think about reformatting their phone number to appear as (305)000-0000. According to Smith, there should also be an individual contact page that includes not just a submission form but the address and phone number of every office/business location. And of course, there should be a map for every location, preferably a Google Map which he writes “could help Google to add a ‘plus-box’ map to your listings within regular web search results.”
Another item on Smith’s list which is certainly applicable to attorney websites is the best practice of creating a separate page for each employee, as the Boston criminal defense attorneys at this Massachusetts firm have done. From a usability point of view having bios and pictures of firm members make the firm more approachable and human. From a search point of view, it helps to ensure a firm is ranked for all of their attorney names… This is especially important if a law office handles high profile cases that are in the news. Also, if you have individual attorney pages there is a chance that Google will create an individual listing for each attorney.
Smith also stresses including “testimonials” on websites as a way to instill confidence in your potential customers/clients. In the case of law firm sites, particularly those for attorneys that handle injury cases, settlements could serve the same purpose by showing a proven track record of achieving results for clients. However, before including settlements a lawyer should check the regulations set by the Bar Association in their state because some states such as Florida have placed restrictions on including settlement information on websites.
If we weren’t already convinced that usability was worth the effort when developing a site because it can help with conversions and rankings, Smith makes a convincing argument by adding increased local visibility as an added benefit of making a website user-friendly.