When you mention SEO to most people, the first thoughts that come to mind are keywords and content; trying to get the right words on the page in the right places to get better results. There’s a lot more to SEO than that, though.
There is “under the hood” work that should be done on your law firm’s website to improve both the number of pages that get indexed in the search engines and where those pages appear in search results. People in the field often refer to this type of work as technical SEO. It involves all kinds of things from double checking code on pages to optimizing web server settings.
Even if it’s not something you can (or want to) handle all on your own, it’s good to at least be familiar with the basics of how technical SEO works. This will allow you to spot and correct obvious problems that would otherwise grow.
Following are some tips to help you make sure your firm’s website has the basics of technical SEO covered. If you find anything amiss on your site, it should be a high priority to get it corrected as soon as possible.
Verify Your Site’s Sitemap File
A sitemap is a file designed specifically to help search engines find all the pages that exist on your website. As the name suggests, it is basically a map of the entire site.
Most blogging and content management systems will create a sitemap file automatically. If you’re using WordPress, for example, you should be able to view your sitemap file by adding “/sitemap.xml” to your site’s domain, like this: http://example.com/sitemap.xml. If you get an error trying to use that filename, try sitemap.html or sitemap.php.
Once you’ve verified that a sitemap exists, you can also submit it to Google through their Search Console to ensure that it is seen and used. In the search console for your firm’s site, click on the “crawl” menu option and then on “Sitemaps.” Submit your sitemap and Google will scan the file and let you know if there are any problems with it.
If you don’t have access to the search console for your firm’s site, you can also place a small link somewhere on your site that points to the sitemap. Many sites do this in a small font at the very bottom of the home page. This guarantees that the next time a search engine crawls the front page, it will see the sitemap as well.
If you don’t have a sitemap file, you should contact whoever is responsible for maintaining or designing the site and ask them why it isn’t there.
Verify Your Site’s Robots.txt File
Another “hidden” file that should be on your law firm’s website is robots.txt. Similar to how you viewed the sitemap file, you should be able to bring it up in a browser by going to http://example.com/robots.txt. There are no alternate filenames allowed for this one.
The robots.txt file is used to send instructions to robots (which search engine crawlers are) that access your website. It can do many things, but it is most often used for telling search engines not to index certain pages or sections of a web site. One wrong line in this file can get your entire site blocked from search engines until it’s corrected.
Nothing is going to malfunction if this file is missing, but it is a good practice to make sure that the file is there and tells the search engines to index everything.
Check Your Site On Mobile Devices
More web traffic is coming from mobile devices with every day that passes. Google has stated very clearly that part of their ranking algorithm looks at how well a site works with mobile devices.
At the very least, you should load your firm’s website on a smartphone or two and see how it looks. If things don’t adjust to your screen size or you have trouble reading any of the text, you’ve got a problem.
You can also have Google scan your site and tell you what they think of it by using their mobile-friendly testing tool. The tool will evaluate your site and let you know if they see it as mobile friendly or not. If problems are found, you’ll get a detailed list of what’s going wrong, along with some suggestions for fixing it.
Configure HTTPS Protocol
HTTP is the protocol used to deliver web pages and their content across the Internet. HTTPS, which stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure, is the secure, or encrypted, version of that protocol.
Information sent through a regular HTTP connection can be intercepted and read by computers between the source and recipient. Information sent through an HTTPS connection is encrypted so that it can not be read by anyone in the middle.
Google is a big proponent of privacy on the Internet, and as such, they have started giving priority in search results to sites that use the HTTPS protocol. By enabling HTTPS across your site you can get a small boost in search results without doing anything else.
You will most likely need to contact the person responsible for maintaining your firm’s site, or your web host to set up HTTPS. Enabling the protocol requires configurations on the server in places you most likely don’t have access to.
Make Sure Your Site Loads Fast
Page load speed is another factor that Google considers in their rankings. They’ve made it clear that sites that load faster will get preferential treatment. This means that you could do absolutely everything right in other areas of SEO, yet get terrible results if your page loads too slowly.
Google released PageSpeed Tools to allow webmasters to test their sites and get feedback from the search giant. All you have to do is enter the URL of your firm’s website and the tool will check your site and give you detailed feedback on what needs to be done, if anything, to bring it up to snuff.
If the report says your page is loading too slowly, you should give the results to your site maintenance person or team and ask them to do what they can to correct it. In some cases, technical changes to the site could speed things up. In other cases, the only thing you’ll be able to do is upgrade or change your site hosting to a faster Internet connection.
Related: How to Improve Your Law Firm Website Speed
Repeat Your Checks Periodically
There are a lot more things that can be tweaked and changed behind the scenes, but what we’ve laid about above will give you a strong foundation to support the rest of your SEO efforts. See: An SEO Checklist for Law Firms.
The good news is that these kinds of things basically stay where they are once you set them up. All you’ll need to do is check periodically to make sure everything is where you left it and functioning well.