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What are the Differences Between Local & National SEO for Law Firms?

View profile for Jamie Stevens
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In the early days of Google & SEO, the differences between local and national SEO were very simple. If you wanted a national business, you would simply search for the service, e.g. “personal injury solicitor”. If you wanted a local business, you would add the location “personal injury solicitor Bristol”. To a certain extent, this is still the case. However, Google now tries to predict what it thinks you want, not just the exact terms that you search for.

National, Local, and Mixed Search Queries

National

Generally, we see two types of searches that will bring up national results:

Informational

Informational searches, such as asking a question like “what is the time limit to make a medical negligence claim?” will in the vast majority of cases show national or even international results. This is because the location of the firm that answers the user’s query is not relevant to the user getting the information that they need.

Less routine legal services 

These are legal services that most people will never use in their lives that are more complicated and are likely to have fewer people searching for them. A couple of examples are people looking for compensation for birth injuries or brain injuries. With these services, it matters far more that the law firm is knowledgeable and authoritative about the subject matter rather than local to the searcher.

Mixed

Over time, we are seeing more and more mixed search results, where both local and national results are shown. These tend to be weighted more towards local results, with the map pack at the top, with some high-authority national firms shown further down the page. We often see mixed results for search terms where there is a lot of competition, where searchers may choose from a local firm or a national firm with good brand recognition that they may have seen on TV or elsewhere.  

Local

Local searches tend to be for more routine legal services that a large percentage of people will need during their lives, this includes services such as wills & probate, conveyancing, and family law. For many of these services, even if you don’t include the location in your search query, e.g searching “wills solicitors” rather than “wills solicitors in Bristol” it will show local results as Google has determined that most people who search using these kinds of queries are looking for a local firm.

Local organic results fall into two categories, local map pack, and local organic:

Local Map Pack

The local map pack shows up at the top of the search results. To show up in the local map pack, your firm must have a physical presence in the location for which the searcher is trying to find results, as well as a Google My Business (GMB) listing. For example, if a searcher searches for “divorce solicitors in Manchester” you would need an office in Manchester to have a chance of your GMB listing showing in the map pack.

Local Organic

Local organic results are very similar to national organic results and have very similar ranking factors. The main difference between local organic results and local map pack results (aside from visual differences) is that you do not need a physical location in the area, or a GMB listing to rank in the local organic results. Some firms use this to get business in locations where they don’t have an office if the service can be delivered remotely.

What are the main factors that make a site rank locally or nationally?

There are hundreds of different ranking factors that Google uses to determine whether a page should rank for a given search term and in what position it should rank. There are some key differences between ranking locally and nationally:

As you can see from the above comparison, national organic results, and local organic results are both heavily reliant on the on-page ranking factors that include the content on the page and the meta data (such as the page title). External links from third party websites are also extremely important as this is how Google gauges how authoritative your website is.

The main ranking factor for the local map pack is having a well-optimised Google My Business profile for an office in the location that the user is searching. Other ranking factors that are much less relevant or not relevant at all for national search are citations (business listings on directories) and Google reviews.

Content

High-quality content is important for both national and local SEO. However, there are differences in how content should be written for national and local SEO.

National SEO content:

  • Higher word counts for service pages (1,000+ in most cases)
  • More FAQs
  • More informational

Local SEO content:

  • Lower word counts (750 – 1,000 words in most locations)
  • Content Silos for each location
  • Content should be relevant to the local area

Can a page rank both nationally and locally?

Yes! A page can rank nationally and locally, however optimising the page for one is likely to reduce traffic for the other. For example, if I created a page about a service which was optimised to rank in Cardiff, there is nothing to stop it from ranking nationally if there isn’t too much competition, but a person carrying out the search from somewhere outside of Cardiff will be less likely to click on the page once they see that it mentions Cardiff in the page title. Due to this, we recommend having separate local and national pages if you want to target both.

Which is right for my law firm, Local or National SEO?

Whether a local or national SEO campaign is right for you mainly depends on the services that you are targeting, your budget, and the level of competition. A national SEO campaign will, in most cases, require a much larger budget than a local SEO campaign. This is because the level of competition is much higher nationally as you will be competing against well-established firms with highly authoritative websites.

It is possible to start with a local SEO campaign and then later expand to a national campaign as the authority of your site grows, which can be a good idea for firms who initially don’t have a large amount of money to spend, but have ambitions competing nationally.

If you need a bit more advice on whether local or national SEO is right for you, or you would like us to take the lead on your SEO campaign, contact sales@conscious.co.uk

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