SEO for Criminal Defense Lawyers: What You Need to Know

seo for criminal defense lawyersThere are prospects online right now looking for a criminal defense attorney in your area. But they won’t look beyond the first page of Google.

If they can’t find you, they won’t call you, and you lose that business. It’s as simple as that.

For criminal defense law firms, featuring on the coveted first page of Google for your primary search terms remains one of the best ways to attract new clients.

Your approach to SEO has a direct effect on whether new clients can find your law firm online or if they end up going to a competitor. What could be more critical in a business sense?

A solid criminal defense SEO strategy requires some understanding of SEO basics and how to market a criminal defense firm.

In this article, we’ll take you through the following:

  • What is law firm SEO?
  • Why do criminal defense firms need SEO?
  • What aspects of SEO you should focus on
  • How to implement a comprehensive SEO strategy

Let’s get started.

What is law firm SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing your online content to feature at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). In doing so, you can drive more traffic (and leads) your way.

What is law firm SEO

The goal of SEO is to make your website more discoverable by prospective clients. From there, it’s up to you and your content to persuade visitors and convert them into buyers.

Featuring at the top of Google is a proven way to attract new clients to your law firm. You can do this through paid advertising (like Google Ads), but SEO is a free, organic way to attract clients.

To help understand the aim of SEO, let’s consider the anatomy of a typical Google SERP.

Someone searching Google for criminal defense attorney in Atlanta, GA will see three key elements on the results page.

Google My Business listing

This map of pinned locations shows criminal defense law firms in Atlanta. On the left, there are Google My Business listings and three featured law firms with well-optimized profiles.


Featured snippets

Featured snippets are short snippets of text that appear at the top of Google’s search results to answer a question quickly. They appear above all other organic search results, and the text is taken from a page indexed on Google.

featured snippet

There are several different types of featured snippets. Most appear as simple paragraphs, but you’ll also see them formatted as numbered lists, steps, and tables.

Organic search listings

These listings are a location-based list of firms’ websites that best match the search term typed into Google.

criminal defense attorney organic traffic

A comprehensive SEO strategy focuses on helping your firm feature in all three sections of the page.

Why is criminal defense SEO necessary?

When building your criminal law practice, you’ll want to focus on SEO.

Around 70 percent of law firms have landed new cases through their website.

A coherent SEO strategy improves your chances of getting to the top of Google. But law firms have to overcome some specific challenges to rank highly, one being that law-related keywords are highly competitive.

An indication of this is that the most expensive keywords on Google Ads in 2021 were all law-related. That means they’re in the highest demand of all keyword phrases.

Law firms must invest resources into the right SEO strategies to succeed in such stiff competition.

Oykhman Criminal Defence in Calgary frequently runs SEO campaigns to dominate the first page of Google.

The results speak for themselves:

criminal defense lawyer google results

To achieve similar results requires expertise in four major areas of SEO:

  1. Producing high-quality, original, optimized content (on-page SEO) to build credibility and authority
  2. Local SEO to attract more local leads (important for most law firms)
  3. Technical SEO to tell Google what it needs to know
  4. Backlinks and off-page SEO to build authority and trust

The alternatives to SEO for law firms, such as traditional marketing methods like commercial billboards, print, and TV advertising, can still be suitable lead generators.

But they tend to be far less targeted and more expensive than SEO.

The leads also tend to be campaign-based rather than consistent and steady.

SEO done well is a low-cost, effective, and sustainable way to generate new leads for the long term.

4 criminal defense SEO elements to focus on

A comprehensive SEO marketing strategy needs to work on several fronts to attain top rankings and a steady flow of leads.

On-page SEO

On-page SEO is all about how you optimize your website’s pages for search. It involves multiple page-level factors that influence rankings.

This is a massive topic, and we’ll only scratch the surface here, but best-practice on-page SEO is based around the following:

on-page seo

Having a thorough content marketing campaign to create relevant, informative, and original content is the cornerstone of your SEO. Criminal defense lawyers have so much to contribute in this area that this should be the easy part.

The following screenshot from Dhar Law in Massachusetts is a good example of using a FAQ to answer questions going through visitors’ minds.

lawyer website faq
(Image Source)

Most people looking for legal assistance with a criminal matter have little idea how the criminal justice system works, how to hire a criminal defense attorney, or how to prepare to defend their charges.

As a criminal defense attorney, all this information is in your head and waiting to be communicated through your web pages.

Building powerful service pages, FAQs, and blog articles will be the foundation of your SEO strategy — great content that is optimized for keyword usage and the technical elements of SEO.

To do this effectively, break down your practice areas into very specific pages as The Maine Criminal Defense Group does.

law firm website navigation
(Image Source)

This enables specific keyword usage in your practice area pages, which will help your overall search performance.

Powerful practice area pages

Build long-form practice area pages (think 1,000 words rather than 300 words) that answer the key questions in your visitors’ minds rather than simply listing your services.

This page on theft crimes from Adam D. Brown, a criminal defense attorney in Georgia, needs a Table of Contents because it’s so comprehensive.

power page table of contents

FAQ page

A FAQ page is a powerful way to answer legal questions clearly and succinctly for your visitors.

In this example, criminal defense lawyer Cory Wilson in Calgary provides an in-depth answer to a common criminal law question and includes a video to help explain it.

law firm website faq
(Image Source)

A FAQ page can also help get you into the People Also Ask section of the SERP.

In-depth blog articles

Creating blog articles covering relevant topics for your target market is an effective way to go into more detail and generate user interest and SEO value.

Texas criminal defense attorney Andrew Wiliams covers a range of criminal defense topics of interest to his audience.

(Image Source)

High-quality content can also get you a ton of backlinks, and in some cases, free PR.

Featured snippets

The SEO value of criminal defense attorneys producing informative content is clear.

Searching Google for what are the penalties for shoplifting in Connecticut will return these results:

featured snippet for law firms

These featured snippets are sometimes called “position zero” because they’re placed right at the top of Google SERPs — above the local and organic search results.

They are the most prominent of all results and are free to the best answer to a direct question (according to Google).

There are other questions in the People Also Ask section below the featured snippet. So, you have multiple opportunities to appear above the organic search results if you produce the right content.

people also ask

Your content strategy should then focus on answering the most critical questions in your target audience’s minds. This not only raises your credibility and authority in the eyes of your visitors but can provide some incredible online real estate with Google without costing you a cent.

Keyword research for criminal defense lawyers

A quick word about keywords.

Yes, they’re important, but stuffing pages full of keywords at the expense of well-written and informative content will hinder your SEO rather than help it.

Bear in mind that every time a user searches for a particular keyword or keyword phrase, there is an intent behind it.

Search intent must be taken into account when developing your content.

types of search intent

The closer your content matches the intent of the user, the higher it’s likely to rank. Identify what the intent is and shape your content to address it.

To do this, consider a typical client journey, which usually goes something like this:

customer buying journey

Visitor intent depends on the stage of the buying journey. It’s important to find keywords that apply to each part of the journey and design compelling content around them.

With a keyword phrase like hire a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago, the intent is obvious.

However, if someone searches for defenses for DUI in Chicago, the intent is less clear: are they looking for information, looking to compare law firms, or hire a lawyer?

Technical SEO

Technical SEO overlaps with on-page SEO, and in many ways, is part of it.

However, we treat it separately here as most criminal defense firms need assistance to understand and implement it.

You should optimize each page of content on your website for its primary keyword(s) as well as connected or secondary phrases.

The main body content of an article should naturally feature the main keyword at the beginning and at various points throughout the text.

Other than that, an SEO specialist may need to help you with optimizing the following elements of each page:

  • Title tag
  • Description tag
  • H1 tag (main header)
  • Heading tags (h2–h6) (sub-headers)
  • First and last paragraphs on the page
  • Page URL
  • Image alt tags
  • Relevant on-page links (both internal and external)

The title and description tags are what you see on the Google SERPs. For instance, a Google search for New York criminal defense attorneys will reveal the following.

criminal defense lawyer search

Note how the primary keyword appears in both the title tags and the description tags for each of these law firms on page one of Google.

It’s important to get the title and description tags right because it will help determine whether searchers will click through to your website — and this is important to Google when ranking your website.

Other important elements of technical SEO that you may need assistance with include:

  • Page load speed (aim for under 2.5 seconds)
  • Mobile-friendliness/responsiveness
  • Site structure/architecture
  • SSL and HTTPS
  • Schema
  • Sitemaps
  • URL structure
  • Redirects
  • Removing page errors

All of the above factors affect how Google and the other search engines crawl, understand, and index your site.

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Webmaster Guidelines for technical SEO tips.

Also, as your website grows, ensure you maintain a good structure/architecture and navigation remains simple for visitors.

We recommend having the technical elements checked regularly by an SEO specialist to avoid problems that can lead to ranking demotions.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO is about establishing trust and authority for your website, which Google values extremely highly when deciding on rankings.

The importance of expertise, authority, and trust

The legal profession is held to scrutiny by Google. The information displayed in search results can have a major financial and life-changing impact on users.

Similar standards apply to accountants, financial advisors, and medical organizations. Great value is placed on expertise, authority, and trust.

google eat
(Image Source)

What this means is that content written by experts, like doctors or lawyers, will almost always outrank similar content written by non-experts.

The in-depth criminal justice content you develop will go a long way to establishing these qualities.

Building backlinks

However, another important ranking factor for Google is the backlinks that point to your site.

Think of every backlink you receive from a trusted source as a vote of confidence in your site.

Google highly rewards authority in rankings for keywords. You need a strategy to attract as many high-quality backlinks as possible.

The Ahrefs Site Explorer tool can help you check the backlink profile of your website and also of competitor sites. If you can identify where your leading competitors get their backlinks, you can reverse engineer and approach these organizations for your own backlinks.

ahrefs site explorer
(Image Source)

One backlink from a major industry publication, media outlet, industry influencer, educational organization, or another authoritative source can be worth more than 50 low-quality links in SEO terms.

But how do you build backlinks?

law firm link building

Off-page citations

You can also raise trust levels for your firm by proving that you’re a legitimate business and true to your word.

With this in mind, it’s important to develop biographical information about your firm and attorneys that is consistent with other online content.

Also, try to gather plenty of five-star reviews (especially Google reviews) from past clients. While this is not technically “off-page” SEO, it’s a Google ranking factor. Here’s a good example of a testimonials page from the Law Office of Andrew Williams in Texas:

law firm website reviews
(Image Source)

Citations of your business in online local directories and legal websites can also raise your level of authority and trust.

Listings in legal directories like Avvo and Findlaw confirm the legitimacy of your business and corroborate your office locations, services and other basic details, as well as featuring reviews from clients.

Here’s the Avvo listing for a leading criminal defense attorney in LA:

lawyer avvo profile
(Image Source)

A BBB profile with a high rating may also assist in raising the credibility and trustworthiness of your firm. Trust is also built by other “on-page” elements of your site, such as a valid SSL certificate, a privacy policy, legal disclaimers, and so on.

Local SEO

Local SEO is the process of optimizing your site for rankings when searchers are specifically looking for a criminal defense firm in your local area.

One of the cornerstones of local SEO is building citations (see above) as these confirm the validity of your business contact details (business name, street address, contact number, email address, website URL, etc.)

It’s important for SEO to keep these consistent and in the same format not only in directories but also on social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) and in your Google My Business Listing.

Google aggregates your business information from around the web, so addresses and other details should be the same.

Google My Business

Your Google My Business listing is the most crucial aspect of local SEO strategy. Make sure you claim yours and optimize it.

Anyone searching for your firm by name will see a prominent panel that dominates the right-hand side of the Google search page like this:

law firm google my business profile

Searchers who check Google Maps will also see the details of your firm and a pinned location if you have optimized your Google My Business listing correctly, like this:

law firm map pin google

If you are listed in the top three positions above the organic web results, it can generate considerable traffic for your website. Mobile users have the option to call directly from the listing as Google displays a button linked to your business’s phone number.

Once you’ve claimed your Google My Business listing for each of your locations, you must optimize it. Here are a few things you can do.

google my business checklist

This, along with listings on local directories and plenty of Google reviews should help you feature prominently in local search results.

SEO vs. UX

SEO and user experience (UX) go together like peanut butter and jelly, and any good website designer who works with criminal defense lawyers knows this.

You can have them separately, but together they’re much better.

Fortunately, packing your website full of high-quality content will improve user experience and also contribute to improved search engine rankings. But there are other elements to bear in mind.

Users come first

The golden rule is to design your website for your users first. Only then should you consider search engines.

Google is smart enough to know that a fast-loading, informative, well-designed website that works on mobile and desktop is great for visitors. Generally, visitors spend more time on high-quality websites (good for “dwell time”) and do not bounce away to another site (a low “bounce rate” is good for SEO).

Trey Porter Law’s website has a responsive design that’s intuitive and puts visitors first.

trey porter law
(Image Source)

What’s the point in having a high-ranking site that attracts legions of traffic if none of that traffic converts to paying clients?

Your firm has a vested interest not only in attracting criminal defense leads, but in providing a user experience that convinces leads to contact you.

Pay attention to the following elements of your website:

  • In-depth informative content
  • Easy to read, well-structured articles
  • Quick page load speeds
  • Simple and logical navigation
  • Rich content and media (videos, custom images, graphics, etc.)
  • Good internal linking structure
  • Plenty of features to promote engagement (e.g., questionnaires, quizzes, calculators, gated content, live chat, etc.)
  • Mobile-first designs

Core Web Vitals

Google officially recognized user experience or “page experience” when it introduced its Core Web Vitals initiative in May 2021. This acknowledged that certain factors related to page experience are used in Google search ranking.

At the time, Google said:

“At Google Search, our mission is to help users find the most relevant and quality sites on the web. The goal with these updates is to highlight the best experiences and ensure that users can find the information they’re looking for.”

Basically, Google analyzes three key elements of a page with Core Web Vitals:

  • Loading speed
  • Interactivity
  • Visual stability

It also recognizes the following factors as important signals for page experience:

  • Mobile-friendly
  • Safe browsing
  • No intrusive interstitials

This explains it with some more depth:

google core web vitals
(Image Source)

You can check how the pages on your site fare by accessing Core Web Vitals from the Google Search Console.

Bear in mind that Google places a heavy emphasis on mobile-first, so be sure to check your mobile pages.

If your score is low, think about arranging a criminal defense SEO audit and fixing any issues raised — as it’s likely damaging your rankings.

How to execute an SEO campaign

Most law firms outsource SEO. Sound knowledge of SEO strategies among lawyers is about as common as an SEO expert with criminal defense experience.

Getting to the number one position in the organic search results is tough and takes time, know-how, and commitment.

You need to have a good working knowledge of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and manage the following key areas:

  • Keyword research
  • Developing content for your site (practice area pages, FAQs, blog articles, etc.)
  • Optimizing pages for keywords
  • Attending to the technical side of SEO (site architecture, etc.)
  • Attracting backlinks (off-page SEO)
  • Optimizing for local search (citations, local directories, Google My Business)
  • Soliciting reviews from clients
  • Core web vitals

Few attorneys attempt to run SEO campaigns alone. Most are simply too busy even if they understand the mechanics of SEO.

Besides, SEO is an ongoing effort, not a one-time thing.

So, who do you outsource to?

With SEO, you usually get what you pay for. It may surprise you to learn that a bona fide SEO expert can charge a similar hourly rate as an attorney. Like a well-paid attorney, however, they’re expected to get results.

Anyone who can deliver the types of SEO results that Collins Attorneys in Albuquerque get for this search query is worth paying for:

top ranking law firm website

It almost guarantees an endless flow of quality leads if you can dominate the top of the page like this for your main legal keywords.

Ask around and speak to other business owners who have experienced great SEO results locally. You might also want to check on freelancer websites like Upwork. Before you hire, though, be sure to get references from other law firms, ask to speak to previous clients if possible and get proof of results.

If you want to save the running around, just select an established criminal defense marketing agency to look after your SEO.

SEO: A long-term investment in your firm

If you ignore SEO and just let “nature take its course” with your rankings, you will miss out on one of the most cost-effective ways to generate leads for your law firm.

The problem for most firms is that results don’t come instantly. They take time and a consistent, ongoing effort. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.

By focusing on the elements outlined above (great content, user experience, site structure, technical SEO and link profile), you will receive a steady flow of new enquiries for the foreseeable future, provided you keep at it.

For most criminal defense attorneys, hiring a high-quality SEO specialist is a long-term investment in the success of the business.

1-Year Digital Marketing Strategy for Criminal Defense Lawyers

The actual step-by-step process that we follow to get our clients 140+ sales leads every month.

Download The Guide