Keyword Research for Lawyers: Choosing the Right Keywords to Get More Traffic and Leads

Three-quarters of Google searchers never go past the first page. That tells you how important it is for law firms to get their keywords right.

If you’re not featured on the first page for your targeted keywords, most people won’t find you, and you’ll miss out on traffic, leads, and clients.

There’s no getting around the fact that to feature anywhere near the top of the rankings, you’ll need to do some keyword research.

Fortunately, if you hire SEO experts, they can do the legwork for you. In either case, it doesn’t hurt to know a little more about what keyword research for lawyers is and how to go about it.

After all, your chosen keywords are likely to form not only the foundation of your SEO strategy but your content strategy too. It’s a big deal.

In this post, I’ll take you through:

  • What keyword research is and why it matters
  • What search intent is and why it’s so important
  • Keyword research tools for lawyers: how to find profitable keyword opportunities

Let’s get into it.

What is keyword research, and why does it matter?

Keyword research for lawyers is about identifying the words, terms, and phrases your target audience is typing into Google’s search engine most frequently in their search for legal information and services.

It matters because keywords form the foundation of your SEO, your law firm’s website (metadata, URLs, etc.), and also a law firm’s content marketing strategy.

Keyword Research For Lawyers

It’s fair to say that your starting point with all lawyer marketing activities is to find out what people in your target audience are searching for most frequently.

Keyword basics for lawyers

Before we go deeper, let’s remind ourselves about some keyword fundamentals.

Ideally, you want your website and content to rank as highly as possible on page one of Google for many relevant keywords.

Put another way, when your target audience types in a search term related to your practice area, you want them to be directed to your online content rather than your competitors’ pages.

There are three types of keywords for lawyers to focus on:

  • Head terms: Three words or less, broad terms like “personal injury” or “criminal defense,” which are high volume/low conversion.
  • Body terms: Usually 4-6 words in length, including a little more detail like “child custody laws in Colorado” or “DUI defense lawyers in Toronto,” which are medium volume/medium conversion.
  • Long-tail keywords: Six words or more in length, usually quite specific, and often in the form of a question like “What is the punishment for common assault in Texas?” or “Is adultery grounds for divorce in Illinois?” They are usually low volume/high conversion.

Lawyer Keywords Head Body Long-TailAs you can see from the above graphic, search volume and conversion rate generally have an inverse correlation, so targeting the most popular keywords is rarely the right strategy for law firm SEO.

There are many theories on the types of keywords you should target with SEO campaigns.

We find that the most effective keyword targeting approach is following a typical customer journey. That means we need to understand search intent: what are people hoping to achieve by entering a particular search term into Google?

To conduct effective keyword research, we need to find out not only what our target audience is searching for but also:

  • The intent behind the search
  • and, how many people are searching for it?

Before we go deeper into search intent, remember that searches of more than four words make up 95.88 percent of Google searches. There are lots of clicks to fight for, and as long as you’re targeting the right phrases, you’re looking in the right place with long-tail keywords.

What is search intent, and why is it important?

Each keyword has an implicit intent.

For those readers unfamiliar with the “customer journey,” here is a simplified overview.

Keyword Research & Customer Journey

The best SEO keyword strategy maps to specific user intent based on where they are in the customer journey.

Search intent recognizes that not every search performed online is from someone looking to immediately hire a lawyer (purchase). Many searches are done to find information (awareness) and compare services (evaluations).

Compare the following three search queries.

1. Best DUI Lawyer in New York

With this query, the intent is clear: the searcher is seeking a top attorney to support them with a DUI charge (purchase intent).

Keyword Research Search Intent Transactional

Google’s search result for the term includes the Google Business Profiles for firms with optimized profiles and plenty of reviews. The organic search results on page one mainly feature lawyer directory entries rather than individual law firms.

They’re ultra-competitive and very difficult to rank for (a common trait of transactional queries like this). But these keywords are crucial for local SEO.

2. Jonathan D. Katz DUI lawyer

This search is a “branded query” where a user seeks information about a particular law firm. The intent may be to evaluate this firm’s services so Google returns relevant results related to the firm.

Keyword Research Search Intent Evaluate

3. DUI Laws in New York

The intent of this query is far less obvious. The user is simply searching for general information and Google delivers a different search results page.

Google features the firms that provide the best and most relevant information relating to the query.

Keyword Research Search Intent Information

Information queries like this usually reflect a potential client at the beginning of the customer journey (awareness).

Ultimately, best-practice keyword research for lawyers understands the difference between the three stages of the customer journey and the types of queries that relate to each — targeting keywords that cover every stage.

By understanding search intent, you can identify what the user is looking for and target profitable keywords by shaping your content around these terms.

Lawyers should ask the following:

  • What keywords will users search to collect information about a legal matter? (Informational intent)
  • What keywords will users search to find your firm or attorneys? (Brand intent)
  • What keywords will users search to hire a lawyer? (Purchase intent)

Customer Journey & Keyword Intent

Search intent and news-based content

Many law firms post articles about interesting current news items. While that’s OK in moderation, it’s probably doing little for your SEO.

Consider the search intent of someone who types in “Johnny Depp libel case against Amber Heard.”

While you might think that writing about this can earn you clicks, it won’t help you much as a personal injury lawyer because the intent of the search is likely to be to find out the news or an opinion on it — not to hire a lawyer.

Keyword Research for Lawyers Current News
(Image Source)

You may have other reasons for writing about current news stories. But consider search intent before you include news stories as part of your keyword/content strategy.

Keyword research tools for lawyers: How to find profitable keyword opportunities

If keyword research is starting to sound like hard work for lawyers, fear not.

Yes, legal keywords are competitive, and getting them right is important. But finding profitable keyword opportunities is made much easier by the abundance of keyword research tools available.

Many of these are completely free and only cost a little time. If you hire SEO specialists, like most firms, it won’t cost you any time.

With a few clicks and keystrokes, these tools will provide plenty of strong keyword suggestions and tell you how difficult it is to rank for these keywords.

All of the following tools make keyword research for lawyers a lot easier — and many of them are free.

“People also ask” sections on Google SERPs

Take a look at the following Google SERP (search engine results page) for the query “what are the property division laws in Calgary?”

Keyword Research Tools for Lawyers People Also Ask

Below the featured snippet at the top, which is provided by Spectrum Family Law, is the “People also ask” section.

This features related questions and is a veritable goldmine of keyword phrases for law firms to target:

  • What is the law of dividing property?
  • Is my partner entitled to half my house?
  • How do you divide relationship property?
  • How are assets divided in a divorce in Alberta?

Google generates these questions from thousands of potential options. The listed ones are considered the most closely related to the original search query. These and other FAQs can be ideal keyword phrases on which to base articles, blog posts, and other content on your website.

Related searches section on Google SERPs

Another tool that is staring lawyers in the face is featured at the bottom of every Google SERP: the “Related searches” section.

A query for “who can write a will in Chicago?” includes this section at the foot of the page.

Keyword Research Tools for Lawyers Related Searches

As you can see from this example, the types of related searches might be excellent keyword suggestions for an estate planning law firm in Illinois to target on its legal blog.

Legal forum Q&As

Other FAQs to target during the informational/awareness stage of the customer journey can be sourced by referring to the Q&A sections on legal forums.

Three of the best sources are the Avvo forum, the forum, and the Justia forum, all of which allow users to ask questions and receive free legal advice from qualified lawyers.

Here are the latest questions asked about employee discrimination law on the Avvo forum, for instance.

Keyword Research Tools for Lawyers Avvo
(Image Source)

Note also the panel on the right that includes “related topics,” which can also spur new keyword ideas for lawyers.

The forum features more general questions that can be filtered by practice area and a list of the most-recently-answered questions.

Keyword Research Tools Lawyers dot com
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Finally, here’s what the Justia Q&A forum looks like. You can filter questions by practice area and/or state, and questions are often very specific.

Keyword Research Tools for Lawyers Justia
(Image Source)

Most of these questions are asked by people with genuine reasons to hire a lawyer, so there is often purchase intent attached — even though users may not be instantly looking to hire a lawyer.

Google Keyword Planner

Google is the undisputed king of search, with more raw data than any other platform, the best analytics tools, and the broadest reach.

It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, that anything offered by Google to help with keyword research for lawyers is worth considering. The suggestions are based on a very broad cross-section of the internet.

Google’s Keyword Planner tool can help you identify keywords and check their search volumes in detail.


We’ve already established that search volume isn’t everything — the most-searched-for terms generally have low conversion rates and are very competitive.

However, there’s no point in targeting keywords your audience is not searching for. So, it’s important to understand the search volume of each major keyword phrase you target.

Google Trends

Google Trends is another free-to-use Google tool that may be of use to some firms. Law firm content is less susceptible to “trends” than other businesses, but this tool can help to identify if a specific keyword is trending upwards or downwards over time.

A good example is cannabis legislation, which is a hot topic in many states, meaning that cannabis business lawyers may be looking for related keywords that have started trending.

Keyword Research Tools for Lawyers Google Trends
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Neil Patel’s SEO information is among the best, and UberSuggest is his free keyword research tool.

Here’s what the dashboard looks like.

Keyword Research Tools for Lawyers UberSuggest
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UberSuggest provides volume and competitive difficulty information on your selected keywords and generates new ideas and suggestions for related keywords and content.


Unlike the other tools covered so far, Ahrefs is a paid tool. It’s one of the most comprehensive tools covered here because it provides competitive analysis and keyword research. For some law firms, this justifies paying a small fee.

With its Keyword Explorer, you can enter a term like “divorce lawyer” and a few related keywords like “divorce attorney,” “child custody attorney,” and “alimony attorney.”

The keyword volume and difficulty score will be displayed like this:


You can enter more than three keywords at a time, but they should be thematically similar so that you can target the right keyword topic clusters in your content.

Ideally, you’ll identify some keywords with not only a high search volume (100+) but also low keyword difficulty scores (generally under 30 means they are less competitive and fairly easy to rank for).

The “Questions” section of “Keyword Ideas” also generates keyword phrase ideas for informational query keywords.

In the “Top Pages” section of the Ahrefs tool, you can type in the keywords you’re trying to rank in your location and find the top-ranking competitor pages.

Once you identify these top competitor pages, you can analyze the quality of the content and start planning to improve on this with the content you develop — which should get you higher rankings over time.


Semrush is another leading tool for keyword research for lawyers.

It’s actually a suite of six different tools:

  • Keyword Overview: Helps you discover the organic and advertising value of any keyword based on search volume, intent, keyword difficulty, number of results, competition level, etc.
  • Organic Research: Helps you find ways to rank for your rivals’ most profitable keywords.
  • Keyword Magic Tool: Generates thousands of keyword combinations from one seed keyword.
Keyword Research Tools for Lawyers SEMRush
(Image Source)
  • Keyword Gap: Uncovers new opportunities for launching efficient SEO campaigns.
  • Keyword Manager: Creates powerful master lists that fit your SEO strategy and goals with real-time metrics for up to 1,000 keywords at once.
  • Organic Traffic Insights: Integration with Google Analytics uncovers “not provided” keywords and cross-reference data on your website’s organic search performance.

This may seem like overkill for some firms. However, a good way to use SEMRush for keyword research is to first identify your top competitors and then enter their URLs through SEMRush’s “Organic Research” feature — then “reverse engineer” what they are doing but do it better.

Google Analytics

We’re still not done with the Google tools for keyword research for lawyers.

Google Analytics is best known for providing stats on website performance but you can also gather important keyword data.

After you link Google Search Console with Google Analytics, go to Acquisition>Search Console>Queries for a list of possible keyword phrase targets.

Answer the Public

Answer the Public is another tool by Neil Patel and UberSuggest. This one is great for generating long-tail keyword phrases in the form of questions (who, what, when, where, why).

As you will see from the following example — a simple search for “estate planning lawyer — the sheer number of results generated” is amazing (you can download the results as a .csv file).

Keyword Research Tools for Lawyers Answer The Public
(Image Source)

You have plenty of keyword research tools to get stuck into but if you’re still hungry for more tools, try these:

The science and art of keywords for lawyers

Choosing the right keywords is about finding a balance between phrases with high volume and low competition.

Keyword research for lawyers is certainly partly science — and the tools outlined above will help you with identifying potential phrases, volumes, and competitiveness. They can also help you analyze the top-ranking competitors for the keywords you have identified.

From there, the science ends, and the art begins. To get rankings on page one of Google for your chosen keywords, you must create the best content for those keywords.

Or you can hire a lawyer SEO service to naturally increase traffic, lead generation, and client numbers.

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