Keyword Research for Lawyers


One of the most prominent tools for legal marketing online is search engine optimization (SEO). Appropriate keyword selection is crucial for SEO, because this is what will raise your website’s profile and boost visibility in search engine results. Keyword research is the process of finding and analyzing search terms potential clients are regularly entering into search engines. If you want your website to show up on the first page of search results, it’s a good idea to take some time to conduct keyword research. This article explains the process of keyword research so you can get the best results when promoting your law firm online.

Your Website Needs Keyword Research

You know how legal research on the current statutory or case authorities is a core part of how you prepare a brief or advise a client? Effective search engine optimization requires a similar research process.

Think about it this way. Building a website without doing keyword research is like filing a brief without any citations or authorities. Keyword research is the process of locating the exact keywords people type into search engines that are relevant to your website.

To be effective, you need to determine which keywords are too strong, such as government websites or large brand names, and which keywords are too weak to put effort into, i.e. keywords that few people search for. Keyword research can also uncover demographics to target, the popularity of your queries, their ranking difficulty, and other information that will help ensure your time and efforts are well-spent.

Best Keywords to Deliver Legal Leads

Most businesses, including law firms, have an initial idea of the kind of clientele they need. Keyword research helps you target this clientele online. For a personal injury law firm, this might be as simple as “injury lawyer.” Once you have this simple target in mind, you can branch out from “injury lawyer” to “wrongful death lawyer” or “traumatic brain injury lawyer.” But it takes a little research to know which phrases are your best bet, given the competitive landscape.

Below is a table to help you get started on initial keyword targets. As you go through the process, there are four elements to consider.

  • Search volume is the amount of times a user searches for that specific keyword.
  • Keyword difficulty is an SEO metric that estimates how hard it would be to rank on the first page of Google for a given keyword.
  • CPC is the cost-per-click in U.S. dollars, or the highest amount you’d have to pay for a click on an advertisement.
  • Keyword value is a custom metric that simply balances the search volume, keyword difficulty, and cost-per-click into a single number. The higher the keyword value, the higher the likelyhood that the keyword is a valuable keyword target.

Let’s look at the first keyword in the table, “car accident lawyer.” This keyword has a search volume of 74,000, which is modestly high, so you can expect a high degree of SEO traffic if you can successfully rank on search engines as a car accident lawyer. The keyword difficulty is 57, with a CPC of 115, and keyword value of 26,946. This data means that it will be rather difficult to make the first page of Google for “car accident lawyer” because advertising bidders find it rather valuable and are willing to pay up to $115 per click.

For a small or medium sized law firm, “car accident lawyer” will yield a high degree of search engine traffic if you can have your law firm rank on the first page for “car accident lawyer.” However, the keyword has a modest keyword difficulty and high keyword value such that it would be difficult for smaller firms to compete for it. It’s not impossible to eventually get onto the first page for “car accident lawyer” but it would take a good amount of time and effort to get there. As such, it may be better to focus on less valuable keywords first while you climb the SEO rankings for a “car accident lawyer.”

Click to view data chart:

SEO implemented correctly has a scaling effect based on age, which doesn’t just apply to the age of the domain alone, but the time spent on the website without stagnation. Often, websites keep from going stagnant by maintaining a blog or news section where content is published regularly. Publishing high quality content regularly also scales SEO efforts long-term, so it becomes easier to rank for competitive keywords as the website grows in authority and keyword ranking opportunities expand. This can also help you generate backlinks through published content other people link to on your site.

Finding Valuable Keywords

Begin the process of finding valuable keywords by referencing large well-maintained keyword databases like or Think of them as the Westlaw or LexisNexis of keyword research. These databases can help you locate target keywords by filtering for certain categories, such as search intent.

Search intent (also called user intent or keyword intent) is a measure of how the algorithm determines an individual’s purpose in using those words to conduct their online search. Keyword intent is useful for SEO research as there are a variety of reasons why someone might be searching for a particular keyword phrase, and the search engines often provide options that help refine that search in ways that help direct traffic (to or away from your site). For example, a user searching for “personal injury lawyer near me” may be looking for a personal injury lawyer to represent them, whereas someone who searches for “how to become a personal injury lawyer” is most likely trying to find a career rather than a lawyer to take their case. Keyword filters are critical in helping you locate the precise keyword phrases to focus on so that you don’t waste time with keywords that won’t bring the results you want – retaining new clients – or worse, damage your rankings for authority or trustworthiness (if you use keywords in a midleading way).

Applying filters in keyword research can help you narrow down your results quickly without spending too much time shifting through endless data. You can filter for local keyword intent by including only those keywords that have “near me.” You can apply a filter for conversion intent to see just which keywords have a higher chance of converting visitors. You can filter by search volume to see keywords with 1000 or more monthly searches. And you can filter for CPC to hone in on the more expensive keywords, which indicates higher competition for those keywords and a greater likelihood the traffic they bring in will convert into paying customers.

Screenshot of how to use Semrush to find valuable keywords

SEMRush and other tools also allow you to export data as a .csv file, which can be helpful in applying further custom filters to narrow down keyword options. You can distill a list of 100,000 keywords to 50 keyword options with a few good filters and a simple formula.

A Simple Formula for Refining Your Keyword List

Here is a step-by-step process on how to filter for keywords for efficient research purposes:

  1. Search for an estimated keyword like “Family Law Lawyer.”
  2. Export the keyword data and open the file using Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, or any other program that allows you to filter data and create formulas.
  3. In the next available column, add the formula “‘=B2*0.18/C2*D2’ in the a second row and apply that to all the rows in the list. The result will create a single keyword metric that you can use as the primary sorting factor for the list.
  4. Filter all formula results for ‘0’ out of the list and apply the previously defined filters (or whatever filters work best) to reduce the number of keyword targets.

The keyword with the highest value when all the keyword filters have been applied is likely your primary target keyword. All of the irrelevant keywords should have been filtered out, too.

Excel screenshot showing a filtered list of keywords

The keyword list that was originally exported was 3021 keywords long and the formula + data filter combination reduced the list down to 3 possible keyword targets. You can expand your keyword research infinitely by exporting organic ranking data for competing websites, adding it to the original spreadsheet and re-running the steps listed above.

Note: There will be some keywords with formula results displaying a #DIV error because one keyword metric or more contains a 0. They will likely be filtered out when filters are applied.

How to Select Your Keywords

The first step when determining the best keywords will be to check the search engine results page (SERP) of your target keyword. To check a SERP, type your keyword into a search engine using incognito mode. Google and other search engines often save a user’s previous inquiries in order to bring up results the algorithm determines to be most useful. Incognito mode will make sure you get “clean” results that more accurately match how other users are likely to see page rankings when they use that same keyword phrase.

In some instances, a search engine may return so many extra SERP features and sponsored ads that the first organic result might be on the second half of the page. If you see this, it may not be worth your investment given the steep drop-off rates for positions 1-10 in SERP.

There are three main indicators to consider when doing keyword research: relevance, volume, and authority. Your best keywords will be the ones at the intersection of the highest traffic volume, the highest cost-per-click, and the most relevance to your primary keyword.

1. Relevance

Relevance in keywords is just as important in SEO as it is when determining the admissibility of evidence. Each search engine ranks content based on what the algorithm deems most relevant to the searcher’s intent, also called keyword intent. In other words, search engines rank page results based on relevance to keyword intent.

If you search on Google for Chinese food, Google will give you results for Chinese food and not just any food that may be close by. The same is true for law firms and legal issues. Potential clients who want a divorce will not be looking for an employment attorney, and if you typically represent personal injury victims you may not want to show up in searches done by people looking for criminal defense attorneys. You want to set up your pages in a way the search engine will deem relevant for the searches being done by the potential clients you want to reach.

Of course, not every keyword search will yield a client. Even if your pages show up in front of 50,000 searches a month, only a percentage of those users will actually call your office. And only a percentage of those who call may actually have a good case for you. But you can weed out many of these disappointing calls by focusing on relevant keywords.

2. Volume

Keywords, like attorneys, are not equal in outcome. You may appear as the first result for a specific keyword, but if no one ever searches for that keyword, that’s an empty victory.

For this reason, your keyword research should include the keyword’s monthly search volume (MSV), or the number of times that particular keyword was searched per month. For instance, common phrases like “divorce” or “child custody” will likely have greater search volume than certain terms of art like “annulment” or “legal separation.” The popularity of your keywords (the overall volume of searches conducted) will impact the visibility of your website online.

At the same time, the higher the search volume for a keyword, the more competition there will be for that keyword. Big brands and inter/national firms often fill the top 10 results for high-volume keywords. It can take years of effort to displace these larger competitors for the high-volume keywords, if it can be done at all (for they are also conducting SEO to stay at the top). So there is definitely an art to finding keywords with a high enough volume that not so high-volume as to be practially unattainable for a smaller law firm with more limited resources.

3. Authority

You know that a legal opinion from the Seventh Circuit is unlikely to hold as much influence in California as a Ninth Circuit ruling. The same is true in SEO. Search engines weigh pages based on their authority. Websites that produce their own content written by credentialed individuals and cite recognized authoritative sources such as government websites, popular social media sites, and other trustworthy sites carry more weight. Websites that rely on lesser known sources and content lacking established authority will carry less weight.

Keywords for Law Firms

You’ve done the keyword research and selected your keywords based on relevance, volume, and authority. However, these factors only help you select keywords to attract search engines. You can also select keywords based on your firm’s own needs. Keywords can be further narrowed by subject, jurisdiction, and specialty, depending on your firm’s practice areas. Narrowing keywords through these criteria will help you weed out users that won’t actually generate any leads for you.

Keywords by Subject

Keyword research for law firms may start with general keywords such as “lawyer” or “attorney” because theses are commonly used by most people who are looking for help with their legal issues. Your research will branch off from these common areas depending on which legal subject you want to cover in your website content. For example, when you type “family lawyer” into a keyword research tool it may suggest related subjects such as “child custody,” “divorce,” or “alimony.” As you dig deeper, you can find additional subjects under each of these keywords.

Keywords by Jurisdiction

You can also target keywords by a specific region. For instance, if you practice in California and Nevada, you will want search engines to include your website when someone searches for a law firm in either California or Nevada. Similarly, you can drill down by specific jurisdictions. A search for a lawyer who practices in federal court in California may require different keywords than a California lawyer who only handles personal injury matters in state court.

Keywords by Specialty

You can also research keywords by practice specialty. You may be able to rank more highly in niche areas of the law that your competitors overlook. Appellate practitioners, maritime lawyers, and other niche specialty areas may benefit by aggressively targeting keywords in legal specialties that have less competition.

If you want your law firm to remain competitive in this increasingly digital world, keyword research is essential. But search engine optimization, and online marketing in general, can require a lot of time to generate results. For an easier path to a steady flow of client leads online, consider joining LegalMatch. With a member attorney profile on the LegalMatch platform, you can benefit from our 20+ years experience in keyword optimization and other forms of SEO and legal marketing technology. LegalMatch offers you many features that are geared towards ensuring that you have continuous access to quality client leads.

Check out these reviews and success stories from member lawyers that attest to LegalMatch’s commitment in supporting lawyers and law firms that trust in our services. If you are looking to expand your client base in a way that is cost-effective and convenient for your firm, LegalMatch attorney services may be your path to success.