If you read this blog, you know that we like to keep up-to-date on the search popularity of all kinds of things – legal terms, corporate jargon, even people’s names. I recently had some time to kill on a flight, and I thought I would pop back in on the old adage that the word ‘attorney’ is an unequivocally more popular search term than the word ‘lawyer’.  This has been held to be true for as long as I can remember search and digital marketing being important for online law firm marketing.

So, I checked in on the Google-based United States search volume using the two words for some of the most searched-for legal practices on the internet (I previously covered which are the most popular based on volume).  What I found was that while the old adage holds true, it’s a lot closer for some practices than you’d think — and that fact should have an effect on which word you use.

Keyword Search Volume

What I’ve always secretly thought (as a result of personal inbound and conversion data) is that the word “lawyer” attracts just as much actual consumer traffic as the word “attorney,” and in some cases, even converts better for certain types of plaintiff practices (notably criminal defense and bankruptcy).

I have never had the chance to A/B test this with a client’s site.  To do so would require a site that is a.) no longer needed, and b.) pulling in a high enough volume of traffic that you can get a statistically significant result. (Unfortunately, those two parameters don’t often exist in the same place.)

Now, for those who might not know what the implications of these graphs are — keywords with higher search volume are more advantageous to rank for. Ranking well for a large volume keyword would attract the highest volume of Google search visitors to your site. To put it simply: if you were comparing two similarly related keywords, ranking third (let’s say) for a high volume search term should result in a higher amount of traffic than if you were to rank in the third position for a term with a low volume search term.  It’s a pure numbers game, as these graphical representations demonstrate.


Here’s a shocker – do you need to work the word ‘counsel’ into your inbound keyword strategy? Probably not, but it’s interesting that it has enough search volume to register on the scale with the behemoths.

“Attorney” vs. “Lawyer” vs. “Counsel”?

As you can see, notwithstanding a few relatively minor dips and peaks, the search volume for each of these three terms — attorney, lawyer, counsel — is fairly steady. Notice how those low points for the phrase “attorney” are during the summer months (typically July or August), by the way. This seasonal affect leads me to an interesting hypothesis.

I have always half-suspected that the conspicuously high search popularity of the word “attorney” is inflated by attorneys themselves searching for each other — and for answers to questions about the practice of law itself. For example, an attorney might search for something like “attorney advertising rules in New York,” or, “how can attorneys market themselves.” Because at the end of the day, attorneys are people, and people — billions of them, in fact — tend to come to Google with the questions that mom just can’t answer.

But what does that have to do with the time of year?

Well, you might think that if this hypothesis is true, it could manifest as a dip in search volume for the word “attorney” during the months of July and August — which, for many attorneys, is the only time that they can take anything close to a real vacation. This hypothesis could be further evidenced by the fact that there is a slight, but similarly insignificant dip in search volume for the phrase “lawyer” during those months.

With Google making the two words interchangeable in the SERPs for some (but not all) legal practice search terms — “bankruptcy attorney” vs. “bankruptcy lawyer,” for instance — the focus or neglect of one keyword in favor of the other in terms of your SEO ranking strategies isn’t so much of an issue. What is an issue is if you are pursuing keywords in practice areas where the two words are not interchangeable — and if the word “lawyer” is being searched for, then the way that you present your content for certain types of practices. Further, if you are in a practice area where “lawyer” and “attorney” are not interchangeable, you may need to adjust your on-site, backlink, and content strategies accordingly.

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“DUI Attorney”: A Case Study

The graph above represents the search popularity for the different variations on the basic idea “DUI attorney.” “DWI lawyer,” “DUI lawyer,” “DWI attorney” — they’re all pretty close, aren’t they?

If you can take the next step and assume that some amount of search volume containing the word “attorney” comes from those within the legal industry (i.e. attorneys themselves) then it could be that for this particular SERP, many more people who are the actual purchasers of legal services (i.e. clients and laypeople) use the word “lawyer” when conducting their searches. If this is true, should you use the word “lawyer” in the language on your site? Would that term convert better?

Does the word “attorney” intimidate — or validate?

This question is further complicated by the fact that, at least in terms of Google search position, the words “attorney” and “lawyer” are no longer interchangeable for all search terms.  In the case of DUI, they certainly aren’t.

Of course, there’s a gap between the more familiar “DUI” and the less familiar “DWI” — but even within each of those, “attorney” and “lawyer” behave very differently.

How Can You Tell?

Good news: it’s actually simple.

Open an incognito browsing window, and perform a search. For the sake of this example, let’s use the phrase “Philadelphia DUI attorney.” Note the first four search results. Also note the first four non-local results (at the time of my writing this):

  1. Findlaw
  2. Youtube.com
  3. Theduidefenseguy.com
  4. Avvo.com

Now, perform the same search using the word “lawyer” in place of “attorney.” The results?

  1. Youtube.com
  2. Findlaw.com
  3. Avvo.com
  4. Theduidefenseguy.com

Is that variation a big difference? No. But are they perfectly interchangeable? Again, no.

You also have to keep in mind that this is at the top of the SERPS.  As you go down the SERPS, positions become much less stable. What if the difference in your rank was from the eight spot to the 12th spot, and in such a competitive niche? That would result in a very significant difference.

Of course, it used to be true that it wasn’t even worth tracking variations of one term vs. the other, because the rank would be exactly the same. But what I’ve been noticing lately for some (though not all) legal practice categories is that rankings are different for the different uses of the word, e.g. the example above. This difference is usually small — say one to three spots — but in some instances, can be as much as five to 10 positions.

Try it out for yourself with your own practice areas – but remember to use an incognito window.

So… Which Should You Choose?

It’s hard to say.  My personal strategy has always been to more prominently pepper the word “lawyer” into the onsite and backlink profiles for consumer-based practices (e.g. criminal defense, bankruptcy). In my opinion, the word “attorney” — especially when used in combination with legalese-heavy content meant for consumers who are searching for the word “lawyer” (and who don’t speak a word of legalese) — can alienate and intimidate site visitors. In turn, that can negatively affect your conversion rate.

As you probably know, once a potential client visits your site, you only have a brief window in which to connect and further entice. Language that uses too much scary legalese and jargon might be the reason that one or two (or more) of them who came inbound using the word “lawyer” instead of attorney… ultimately hit the back button. The language was too dense, and thinking, “I can’t understand any of this,” they simply took their needs elsewhere.

What I can also tell you — from experience — is that for certain practice areas in certain geographies, we get a much higher volume of traffic and conversion rate for visitors inbound using the term “lawyer” instead of “attorney.” Even if the difference is search position is only one or two spots between the two variations of search term, that’s still one or two spots toward being Number One.

What I would suggest is that you do the research for your practice area and geographic location yourself.  If you find that the search volume for “ABC lawyer” and “ABC attorney” is close, use some ratio of both to cover your bases. If they are very close, perhaps consider going 50/50 in terms of  “ABC lawyer” over “ABC attorney.”

Wait, What About “Counsel”?

Yes, “counsel” was really in there. Is it surprising that “counsel” gathers enough search impression data to even register on the first graph in the article? Do you think that is also a result of other attorneys searching terms such as “opposing counsel in XYZ”? Since the phrase counsel is not interchanged with the other two, is it time for devote some on-site love to the phrase? Let me know what you think in the comments.

By the way — in case you were interested, here are the graphs of Google search volumes for some other popularly searched-for practices:

Divorce Attorney vs. Lawyer

(An interesting point in this graph are the seasonal low points.  Each low point is represented by the month of December for that year. That right there is definitive proof that considerably less people are searching for a divorce attorney in December than any other month of the year. Perhaps people don’t have the gall to file for divorce during the holiday season.)

Criminal Attorney vs. Lawyer


Real Estate Attorney vs. Lawyer


Bonus: Types of Injuries Most Searched for on the Internet


If you are interested in learning more about the differences between search terms, keyword rankings, and how Google differentiates between terms in the SERPs, contact Majux online, or give us a call at (215) 309-1631. Majux works with attorneys from different practice areas across the United States to boost SEO, maximize traffic — and ultimately, increase your bottom line. Call us today for a consultation, and find out what we can do for your firm.