SEO paper and computer keyboardThis is the next post discussing why .attorney and .lawyer domains will matter to law firms. My last discussion covered why it’s a mistake to think the .attorney/.lawyer domains won’t be important in search marketing. In this post I’ll look at how your law firm (or any small business for that matter) should go about picking a domain. I’ll also look at a large misconception regarding whether the wording of your domain impacts search performance.

Picking a domain is the starting point for your search efforts. As I’ll explain, it’s one of the things Google looks to when determining the meaning/intent of your website. Domain wording will remain important for the foreseeable future. When you’re planning a new website for your firm, make sure that your SEO consultant helps you pick one that meets the criteria below.

Google’s ranking of your website will be impacted by the domain you choose

Google relies on your site’s URL to help it understand the page’s meaning. This is because, as I explained in my article on how the new .attorney/.lawyer domains will help Google better categorize websites, Google can’t read. By this I mean that the search engine can’t, as of yet, look at a paragraph and understand it in the way we do as human beings. Instead, Google looks at word patterns to group particular websites into categories. The wording of the URL assists with this. Here’s the word STRAIGHT FROM GOOGLE:

“Creating descriptive [URL’s]…could lead to better crawling [of your web page] by search engines.” “If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page…1

The search engine also states that:

“Consider using punctuation in your URL’s. We recommend that you use hyphens rather than underscores.2″

So, in simple words, Google itself says that your domain’s wording helps the search engine in understanding your site and that you should use hyphens to separate words (for the purposes of this article I won’t dive into why hyphens are important). Let’s look at putting this into practice.

Say you’re a personal injury attorney in Somewhere, USA. When picking a URL you want to help Google in understanding that you are a personal injury lawyer in that geography. To accomplish this you would go with a domain such as www.somewhere-personal-injury-law.lawyer or www.somewhere-personal-injury-law.attorney. If you only want to target a particular niche of cases, such as car accidents, then you may wish to use specific keywords. An example of this would be www.somewhere-car-accident-law.lawyer. This will help search engines more quickly understand the meaning of your website. 

Will the URL alone make the difference in your search rankings? No. Google uses more than 200 factors when ranking websites. Is it still important that you have a good URL? Absolutely. Consider this hypothetical – you go into Court knowing that the judge is going to look at five factors when deciding the case. Your client need not win all five; the five factors simply need to tip in your client’s favor. You know you can easily win the first factor with a little effort. You wouldn’t say “I’m going to completely ignore the one I know I can win and focus on the other four. I’ll go ahead and lose that first factor even though I can win it.” Ignoring your URL would be as big a mistake as ignoring that first factor; Google ranks about 200 factors. The URL is one of them. You can “win” this factor by simply picking the right URL. 

This brings us to our next point.

Many webmasters and SEO experts are wrong when they say exact-match domains don’t matter in search

Woman at a keyboard pulling her hair outUsing keywords, rather than a phrase such as your name, is referred to using an “exact match” domain. In 2012 the website MOZ performed a study after which they claimed that exact match domains were losing importance. This conclusion was after the analyst conducted searches, over a period of time, and tallied how well exact match domains were performing. Several people who can’t look at that study and see the obvious problems with it SEO consultants have hung their hats on that study in saying that the domain doesn’t impact search. Here are the two reasons why they’re wrong. 

First, as mentioned above, GOOGLE MAKES CLEAR that the domain you use remains relevant in search. Are you going to listen to the Supreme Court Justice (Google in this case) who unambiguously tells you what a law is or the law professor (the MOZ article in this instance) who offers their opinion based on their own research. Google is making it clear that the domain is still relevant in search. That settles any debate, as far as we’re concerned as the judge has spoken. 

Google makes its use of domains clear because, again, Google can’t read. While company engineers are working on teaching the search engine to read at an elementary school level (Matt Cutts talked about this at a recent Pub Con) the truth is that Google is still illiterate and will be so for the foreseeable future. From a simple software engineering standpoint, the URL you pick is important in search. 

Second, the MOZ article’s approach was flawed. There are over 200 factors that rank in search. All the study did was look at how sites were performing and reach a conclusion regarding the impact of domains (to be fair the article did state that “correlation does not equal causation”). It’s not possible to simply look at search results and say “it must be the domain and not the other 199 out of 200 factors impacting the final outcome. If you’re Webmaster points you to this MOZ article then be quick to call him or her on it. By the way, take a look up at your browser bar. Our domain on this site uses relevant keywords and is hyphenated.

Picking a domain with relevant keywords, while using hyphenated separators, will assist you in search. We’re strongly suggesting that attorneys lock up the new .attorney and .lawyer domains as we see them being highly important in the coming future. We’ll be migrating all of our clients over to them and will be discussing, in my next post, how to plan for the future if you have an existing .com.

References:

1 – Google SEO Starter Guide, Page 8 – Accessed at: http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en/us/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf

2 – Google Webmaster Guidelines – Content Guidelines: Accessed at: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/76329