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Ranking Fluctuations Impact Vanity Keywords, Too

Long tail keywords are the very specific words and phrases that you want to target in your law firm’s online search engine marketing – “motorcycle accident attorney broken tibia charlotte north carolina” is a long tail keyword, while just “personal injury lawyer” is just a regular keyword.

In a couple of recent blog posts, we covered the limitations of these long tail keywords and even gave some examples. In short, there are simply so many of them that researching which ones to target and then isolating them for your legal blogging efforts is probably more trouble than it’s worth. For example, a legal blog post that ranked 13th for the Google search “spike in car accidents across the country” wasn’t even in the top 200 for the Google search “rise in car accidents across the country.” Instead, we think it’s better to simply blog, and hit those targeted phrases naturally.

The limitations on long tail keywords, however, don’t just apply to uncommon phrases that have a bunch of words, and are therefore only rarely searched for online. The limitations even spill over into the so-called “vanity keywords” of the legal field, which can scare some attorneys. However, despite these difficulties, it doesn’t mean that legal marketing is pointless, you’ll forever be alone, or that life simply isn’t worth living.

Limits on vanity keywords can be depressing

The “Vanity Keywords” of the Legal Field

In online search engine marketing parlance, a vanity keyword is a targeted word or phrase that has a high monthly search volume, but falls on the low end in the spectrum of specificity – lots of people search for it, online, and there are a lot of hits for the search, but also a lot of near misses, as well. Because of the size of the audience, competition for a high ranking in vanity keywords is fierce. However, the leads generated from a vanity keyword are less likely to be very warm because the people making a vanity keyword search haven’t provided the specifics they need to find the perfect match for what they really want. As a result, the conversion rate for traffic brought to your site by a vanity keyword will be low, and the bounce rate of that traffic from your site and back to the search results is typically high.

Examples of vanity keywords are:

  • Sacramento italian restaurant (what kind of Italian? Does pizza count? Are you looking for to-go and cheap or gourmet and high-end?),
  • Maine car dealership (Maine’s a big state! What kind of car? U.S. or foreign?), and
  • Chicago criminal defense attorney.

If the legal field has a vanity keyword, that’s the formula it follows: [Location] + [area of practice] + [the word “attorney” or “lawyer”].

Even in Vanity Keywords, Rankings Fluctuate With Tiny Search Changes

As we’ve said before: The usefulness of tediously researching long tail keywords is limited by the fact that tiny changes to the wording in a long tail search can drastically change your ranking.

This problem spills over into vanity keywords, as well.

Take a look at the Google searches for “Chicago criminal defense attorney” and “Chicago criminal defense lawyer,” bearing in mind, of course, that search engine results change constantly and take into account numerous factors including your location and past search history.

The only thing that changed in these search queries was the noun (from “attorney” to “lawyer”) which did not impact the intent of the search – “attorney” and “lawyer” are synonymous and can be used interchangeably. Despite the irrelevance of the word change, there are some obvious movements even at the top of the rankings, seemingly based on the site’s domain name:

  • fared better under the “attorneys” search, moving from 5th for “lawyers” up to 4th, swapping places with, and
  • placed 8th in our “attorney” search, but 6th in the one for “lawyer,” shoving and down one spot to 7th and 8th, respectively.

These changes, while small on the page, are significant in the pocketbook: loses 1.5% of the market share for clicks when someone searches for a Chicago “attorney” rather than a Chicago “lawyer.”

As you move down in the rankings, though, the fluctuations between the two searches increases even more:

  • goes from 10th in the rankings for “lawyer” down to 17th for “attorney,”
  • ranks 12th for “attorney,” but 17th for “lawyer,”
  • is ranked 28th for “attorney,” but 43rd for “lawyer,”

And so on.

No, this Doesn’t Mean that Keywords Are Dead

Yes, there are fluctuations in the rankings for even vanity keywords, even when you make a tiny change to the phrasing of a search query, but not to the meaning of it.

No, that does not mean that keywords are dead, as some online marketers have proclaimed. It’s simply a complication that you need to account for as you plan, execute, and analyze your law firm’s online marketing efforts. It simply means that you need to take your rankings with a grain of salt, coupled together with the understanding that they’re estimates, rather than “hard” numbers.

It also doesn’t mean that vanity keywords are useless. Vanity keywords, when compared to long tail keywords, have high search volumes and lots of competition, making them useful to get a general sense of how you’re stacking up against other law firms in your locale and practice area. But just because they’re useful doesn’t mean they’re the Holy Grail of your search engine optimization (SEO) analytics.