As with so many other sectors, 2021 continues to be a challenge for the legal sector. The demands of remote working, coupled with pandemic-related employment law and family disputes, has piled the pressure on law firms.
On top of this, law firm marketers have a new obstacle to overcome: the latest Google update. In June 2021, Google began rolling out its Page Experience update, warning webmasters of three new “Core Web Vitals” guidelines to follow. Not only do law firms have to continue making great content; they also have to ensure this content is accessible.
Seeking Out the Star Players
So, which law firms are stepping up to the plate and adhering to the latest search engine optimisation guidance? Between March and April 2021, the Legmark team gathered data for our annual legal sector website analysis report.
The report features a custom-made scoring system out of 100, outlining a law firm’s online performance based on crucial SEO factors. These are a delicate balance of on-site metrics, such as keywords, total traffic and site speed, and off-site metrics, such as referring domains and domain rating.
Our ranking system considers factors from Google’s Core Web Vitals, such as page speed, but also looks at the broader “perfect recipe” for a high-ranking site. Additionally, for the first time in 2021, we gathered year-on-year data to name the most-improved law firms of the year. So, who comes out on top?
Top-Flight Law Firms
First Place: Stephensons
In first place, Wigan-based Stephensons showed outstanding progress in 2021. This is pertinent for two reasons. Firstly, our data was gathered from The Lawyer’s top 200 UK law firms based on revenue. Stephensons ranks at a very modest 148th in terms of revenue, proving that large firms do not always come out on top.
Secondly, Stephensons has jumped massively from 2020, climbing 39 places in our custom-made scoring system. This is thanks to a significant investment in page speed. The firm scored 196 out of 200 and 198 out of 200 for desktop and mobile speed respectively – showing that it is ahead of the curve by Google’s standards.
Second Place: Lindsays
Similar to Stephensons, Lindsays is also a relatively small law firm, ranking at just 153rd place in terms of revenue. That has not stopped the firm from climbing 11 places this year to second place in our Legmark Index.
Perhaps more interesting, when we compare the firm’s performance against Stephensons’, is the difference in individual metric scores. While Stephensons tops the charts for desktop and mobile speed, Lindsays scores 122 for desktop – though it boasts a very impressive 198 for mobile speed.
However, while Stephensons also ranks highly for traffic and total keywords, Lindsays flourishes with its domain rating. This proves that the firm has invested heavily in its off-site reputation, acquiring links from reputable sources to improve all-round performance.
While Stephensons also ranks highly for traffic and total keywords, Lindsays flourishes with its domain rating.
Third Place: Irwin Mitchell
Not surprisingly, we see one of the UK’s largest law firms (ranked 25th by revenue) in third place. We have used Irwin Mitchell as an example of the “perfect site” when it comes to ticking all the boxes for Google. Our radar graph analysis shows that Irwin Mitchell is just shy of 200 on almost all metrics – with total traffic scoring an impressive 200/200!
So, what is it that stops Irwin Mitchell from coming in first place based on our index? Firstly, let’s remember that the system is weighted – so one metric may have more value than another. For example, mobile speed is considered top priority when we remember factors such as ‘Mobilegeddon’, or, more recently, Core Web Vitals.
Secondly, as an established brand, Irwin Mitchell may also be relying on brand name searches rather than specific “X law firm” keywords. As a full-service firm, it is safe to say Irwin Mitchell has high-value keyword coverage. The firm’s value per keyword score, based on the equivalent cost to rank for a paid ad, comes in at 197.
However, where Irwin Mitchell falls relatively short is total keywords. Again, as a full-service firm, it faces the challenge of trying to rank for anything and everything, but may be a victim of its own success. Our research revealed that 15,000 searches for “Irwin Mitchell” are made each month. This is great for brand awareness, but the firm scores 179 for total keywords, showing it could rank for marginally more.
As a full-service firm, it is safe to say Irwin Mitchell has high-value keyword coverage.
The Most Improved Firms of 2021
While it is important to learn from the best-performing law firms of 2021, we must also consider those that have improved the most. Let’s not forget that search engine optimisation is constantly changing, so those firms that have improved in the here and now are hugely significant.
The top three most-improved firms for 2021 did not make the top 10 overall, but they have come on in leaps and bounds.
This innovative firm is shaking things up for the legal sector. Established in 2010, the firm says it does not believe in “law as usual” and instead works on a franchise model, only recruiting lawyers with more than 10,000 hours’ experience.
As a relatively young firm, Gunnercooke will need time before they can climb the ranks in terms of domain rating or referring domains. But they have harnessed the power of page experience, topping the charts at 200/200 for mobile speed. As a result, they have climbed 165 places in the rankings from 2020. With a little investment in off-site SEO, the rest of the ranking factors will follow.
As a relatively young firm, Gunnercooke will need time before they can climb the ranks in terms of domain rating or referring domains.
Kennedys is considerably larger than Gunnercooke, at 27 in the revenue index compared to Gunnercooke’s 109. This may have helped the team fund their investment in reputation-building between 2020 and 2021.
Kennedys has climbed 132 places this year in our Legmark Index, and the figures suggest this is all down to domain rating and referring domains. This is excellent news as a law firm – a sector that relies on reputation. For even better performance, Kennedys should now focus on site speeds.
Sills & Betteridge
When we compare Sills & Betteridge to Kennedys, it is almost a mirror image. This firm, which has climbed 113 places in 2021, has invested heavily in mobile and desktop speed. It goes to show once again that law firms must look at “the whole pie” when improving their search rankings.
Sills & Betteridge may have got the “quick wins” for now – but they should follow the lead of Kennedys to build up their backlink profile (and of course, Kennedys should follow Sills & Betteridge’s lead on page speed).
What can the UK’s law firms learn from this?
If there is anything that our 2021 report has proven, it is that no single factor makes or breaks organic search performance. Indeed, page experience and loading speeds continue to become more prominent, but we cannot overlook content, particularly in the legal industry.
If there is anything that our 2021 report has proven, it is that no single factor makes or breaks organic search performance.
Our full report looks at each ranking factor in detail, with some eye-opening results – including how smaller firms are topping the charts. It is a positive outlook for all UK firms, then, proving that revenue does not always equal competitive advantage. With the right investment, any firm can compete with “the big guys”.
The Legmark 2021 Legal Sector Website Performance Analysis is available to download now.
Sam Borrett, Director
Address: 5300 Lakeside, Cheadle Royal Business Park, Cheshire, SK8 3GP
Tel: +44 (0)161 818 8448
Legmark is a digital marketing consultancy that offers legal marketing, digital marketing and communications for law firms. Legmark can also offer advice on social media, content marketing and customer retention.
Sam Borrett is a nationally regarded marketing expert with expertise in delivering for the legal sector. He works for a range of clients in the sector on business development, SEO, website performance and several other areas, and has won several awards for his marketing and PR campaigns.