For at least the 6 or 7 years leading up to December 2021, keywords in a law firm’s name had a major impact on Local Search rankings. Google changed their Local Search algorithm to correct this simple competitive advantage.
Understanding the history of the Local Search results will help you understand where Google is headed in the future.
Below is a quick, interesting story of how we got to this point.
In the Beginning…
There’s always been a way to game Google’s Local Search results, and when there’s a way, lawyers will find it.
Long, long ago, shortly after phone books (who listed businesses alphabetically) died, Google rolled out what has become known as the “Local Search results”. Some people call this “Maps” results, or the “local pack”, or the “3 pack”. Call it what you will, but it’s the first thing many users see when looking for a local business online.
At one point, Google displayed 7 results. The results were ranked based on their distance from the “centroid” of a city; the centroid being where Google decided the center of the city was. Attorneys quickly figured this out and began opening “satellite offices” at UPS dropoff stores, virtual offices and vacant buildings near the centroid so that they’d show up in the Local Search results.
Eventually, they changed this. Then, years later, they made user proximity a factor. This makes sense. Imagine driving through Philadephia while your tank is on E and doing a Google search for “gas”, only to see some gas station near Center City, while you’re 90 minutes away. With the rise of mobile searches, Google finally recognized this problem and made a user’s proximity a ranking factor.
Around 2016, or maybe even earlier, keywords began influencing Local Search results. For example, if you added “injury lawyer” to your law firm’s name, you had a significantly better chance of showing up in Local Search results than the competition. For example, a law firm named “John Doe Accident and Injury Lawyers” will almost always outrank “The Law Offices of John Doe”. Simply adding the keywords to a business name was (and is) a violation of the Google My Business TOS. People could flag the location, and Google would suspend the page until the owner renamed it appropriately. But what if you registered a DBA or actually changed your name? The first time I saw this in the wild was when a company called “Cell Phone Repair” opened up shop in cities across the USA. Competitors named “Bob’s Electronics” were instantly outranked.
In 2017 I wrote an article about how a law firm could change their name to outrank their competition. I had run the idea by a few of the firms that I worked with and none of them were interested (after all, we were already killing it in Local Search). Then a firm in San Diego reached out to me. After a little consulting, they changed their firm’s name and instantly made it into the 3 pack!
Yes. We Broke Google. Seriously.
Shortly after renaming the firm, other attorneys in San Diego changed their names as well. Within a couple of months all 3 of the firms in the Local Search results had “Personal Injury” and/or “Accident Lawyer” in their law firm’s name.
There are firms targeting the entire State of California, so of course, this new discovery spread like wildfire across LA, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento and spread out into the subrubs. Savvy SEO agencies began encouraging other clients in other states to change their firm’s name as well. Soon, personal injury lawyers in Philadelphia, Miami, Louisville, Houston, Chicago, Dallas and every other major city in the USA began changing their name.
I do believe we ignited the wildfire in San Diego.
Of course, we can’t have nice things for long in the world of SEO until Google picks up on it. Still, this little “hack” lasted for about half of a decade before Google corrected it by finally updating their neglected Local Search algorithm.
As of January 2022, there are a ton of San Diego Personal Injury Law Firms with “Personal Injury Lawyer” crammed into the title. 🙂
Keywords in a Law Firm Name Are Less Important in 2022 and Beyond.
Renaming your law firm to manipulate Google’s Local Search results is no longer necessary as keywords no longer influence Local Search rankings nearly as much as they used to.
The most important thing you can do is rank well organically & have as many great, recent reviews as possible (and be in close proximity to where your clients are).
For more information on the latest Local Search algorithm change and which factors decide your ranking, please see my article Google Local Search Results Algorithm Change Impacts Lawyers – December 2021.