Simplify It: How SEO Works for Local Services

How SEO works for professional service firms

SEO is great method for getting traffic, especially given some of the high cost per click prices for Adwords in certain industries like law.

Do a quick search about it on Google though and you’ll quickly find the information out there, quite in-depth and great quality, is often broken up into fragments that make it hard to understand how it works.

In this article I will summarise how SEO works and how it can be put into practice by a professional service firm.

Which stream fits your firm?

SEO for professional services, like law firms, accountants, etc actually come in two streams: Local SEO and Organic SEO.

Each of these are different in their levers and can be applied in different situations at simultaneously. Understanding the scope and purpose of each will help you understand what kind of SEO you should be undertaking and what the moving parts are so that you can choose the service that’s effective for your firm.

National SEO

The first stream, is the traditional SEO and targets people nationally. It works by investing into and optimising three parts:

  1. Technical setup

Technical setup means the technical foundation of your website. This includes things such as page load speed, site structure, whether you have HTTPs installed, etc.

  1. Onsite content optimisation, following keyword and content quality guidelines

Onsite content refers to the content actually on your website. This should follow some kind of Keyword Strategy (also becoming more of a topic or ‘intent’ strategy), which is brought to life through a content strategy. More than just text itself though, onsite factors include image alt tags, meta titles, and so on.

  1. Offsite factors, such as links, social shares, etc

Offsite factors refer to SEO elements coming from other websites. This includes links, shares and references.

When to use National SEO

Organic SEO is focused on the national or even international market. For example, an national chain of bookkeepers would be focused on this type of SEO (in addition to local SEO) since they may cover an entire state or country.

This doesn’t mean that local firms can’t apply this type of SEO. It can be narrowed down to a specific area by optimising specific pages with narrow keywords. For example, “best family lawyer in AREA.”

Local SEO

The second stream is Local SEO, which focuses on ranking for a particular, usually smaller, geographic area.

The moving parts of Local SEO are:

  1. Effective keyword strategies

Keyword strategies in this instance means understanding searches in your area, the competition and creating a strategy that maximises your possibilities for ranking for the most relevant terms against your competition.

  1. Profile creation and optimisation, such as Google My Business

For profiles, here it means mainly Google My Business (A.k.a. GMB) profiles that show up for relevant local search terms. Seen a result in a special section on Google after searching “[service] near me”? This is a GMB listing.

  1. Reviews and Citations, which are listings of your business in relevant local media (See relevant Australian legal directories here)

Citations and reviews work similar to ‘off site’ factors in regular SEO. Citations mean mentions of your business’s name, address and phone number. Reviews are reviews on your profiles such as GMB and Facebook.

These points are the levers driving the results of localised searches on search engines, such as “family lawyer near me”.

When to use local SEO

Local SEO should be used on its own when the firm’s catchment area is local, such as particular suburbs or a particular city. For most service businesses, this is going to be the primary focus.

It would be less suitable for a firm targeting an entire country as the GMB listing would just not effective in influencing results for broad geographies.

This also doesn’t mean that bigger firms can’t use local SEO. Provided that they have enough of a local marketing (city/suburb) it would make sense to take advantage of Local SEO and Organic SEO.

How to put SEO into practice

Having read about the two types of SEO on offer, you will now need to know how best to implement it. Implementation difference between the two streams.

Organic SEO

Typically, Organic SEO follows these steps:

  1. Site audit and technical fixes

First off, you will want to make sure your site has the right foundation for further work. I like to check at least for the following:

  • CMS setup
  • Site and URL structure
  • Loading times
  • Backlink profile (do you have getting spammy or quality links?)
  • Internal link issues
  • Javascript errors
  • Mobile responsiveness
  • Index tags like cannonical and no-index tags
  • Schema markups
  • Penalty checks
  • Sitemap
  • Site security, blacklisting and HTTPs

And many other elements which influence your technical SEO.

You can engage SEO specialists (like an agency) to do this on your behalf or use some SEO tools. Personally, I find SEO tools to often be faulty or overall less thorough that doing an audit by hand. These tools, however, are essential in aiding a manual check.

  1. Keyword strategy

Once an audit has been completed and changes are implemented, you will need to devise a content strategy.

Typically a keyword strategy requires specialist experience and takes into account:

  • Your ranking objectives for certain terms or services
  • The relevant keywords associated to the above and your business
  • The level of competition for these keywords

To create a list of topics which you can create content to attract rankings.

The most basic approach here is to choose to create content for just the most useful phrases (high user intent + traffic). However, these topics will be the most competitive meaning that it will be more difficult for your page to rank for that topic.

A simple strategy to accommodate this is to then focus on multiple middle and ‘long tail’ articles, which have lower competition.

The goal here is that the culmination of traffic from these keywords will provide a better return on investment than competing for highly sought after terms.

A more advanced strategy still is to tackle both high competition keywords and long tail keywords through the use of Pillar Articles and Supporting Articles.

What are Pillar Articles?

Pillar pages are content heavy pages (4000+ words) with in-depth information and analysis, designed to contest high competition keywords.

These are often on the most valuable topics that multiple organisations are trying to rank for at the same time.

What are Supporting Articles?

Supporting articles are designed to answer long-tail keywords or topics.

These articles give you the benefit of ranking for lower competition keywords. Meanwhile, these articles can also support your pillar articles by linking back to them and driving traffic towards the main topic.

Where to Source Keywords?

Keywords can be sourced from generating your own list of relevant terms, researching competitor’s ranking keywords and analyise their level of competition.

Useful tools:

Using the above, you will be able to devise your keyword strategy with a list of keywords/topics for both pillar and support articles.

Developing your keyword strategy:

Again, the SEO specialist or agency will be able to develop a compelling keyword strategy for you after having completed your site audit and initial optimisations.

  1. Content writing and development

With the topics now selected, you can now begin writing and posting your content. Content creation can be completed in-house or by specialist content writers and SEO agencies.

Content must be SEO optimised, however, and this includes:

  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions (to increase click throughs)
  • Images with proper descriptions
  • Images with alt tags
  • etc

This element of SEO is relatively straightforward compared to other steps.

  1. Content promotion and link building

Posting content will start to bring some organic traffic over time. However, don’t leave it to chance. Promote your content to your email list and look to build tasteful links back to your pages from quality sites (known as link building) as this has been shown to be a major determining factor for increasing the rankings of your content.

Link building is often a time intensive process and can be outsourced to contractors, however rates for a single quality link start from $150.

Local SEO

This will be added in a future update…


Invest in the right SEO for your situation to make sure your marketing budget is spent most effectively.

1 thought on “Simplify It: How SEO Works for Local Services”

  1. Hi Ben,

    great website – and thanks for posting about SEO. This is a topic that all (successful) webmasters need to have a look at. 🙂

    Just a couple of suggestions to what you possibly could add to your post to make it more “noob-friendly”:

    1. in the keyword strategy paragraph: would you be able to give a couple of examples of great keywords that would be the foundation of a niche article that might give a company customers?

    instead of going broad, they would be able to pick up some “low hanging fruit” by simply target keywords that are easy to rank for. Instead of going for “Lawyer New York” (I have seen that you use lawyer companies as your examples quite often), you could go “Divorce Lawyer in Manhattan”

    2. Not sure how long you want the “Pillar Articles” paragraph to be, but you can say that it should be content heavy (4000 words+), have illustrations/images and be as relevant to your main target for your business as possible.

    3. If you gave examples of the different content types, it would also help the reader. I know that people are quite stingy with links these days, but the more user-friendly your article is, the more people will in the end link to YOU! 🙂



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