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A New Google Algorithm Update Is Shaking Up The Legal Industry

Jan 22, 2018 | by Emma Hanes | SEO | Google Analytics
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The challenging thing about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is that Google and other search engines are constantly updating their search algorithms. What is considered “quality” and “relevant” changes frequently. While Google makes a few minor algorithm updates daily, every now and then Google rolls out a much more comprehensive update. One such recent update could dramatically change the legal industry and how law firms get clients from organic search results. 

Google updates can be difficult to spot because the company tries to release them inconspicuously. Google does this by rolling out updates slowly and by industry. The last six months have seen dramatic changes in rankings for legal specific keyword phrases, strongly indicating a large-scale update has occurred.

Did You Notice A Change In Rankings? 

Law firms that monitor their website rankings may have noticed a dramatic decrease in rankings last year around June and July of 2017. Alternatively, or in addition to, you may have noticed another shift in rankings around October and November. For law firms that may not monitor their rankings, the shift is noticeable in other ways – for example, you might have noticed a decrease in contact form submissions and calls during these months. 

While changes in organic rankings can be extremely distressing, don’t panic just yet. The latest Google algorithm updates have actually proven to be extremely beneficial, even though many websites now rank well in organic search results for fewer keywords and keyword phrases.

Measuring The Impact Of Algorithm Updates

If your law firm’s website drops from ranking on Google for 220 different keyword phrases to 35 in only two months, this is usually a cause for alarm. Such a huge drop must mean your law firm website is dying a digital death, right? Not exactly. To understand how these algorithm updates will affect your law firm, you have to look at more than just rankings.

Check The Number Of Indexed Pages 

Search engines like Google are constantly indexing webpages so they can recall them for search queries. Simply put, if Google does not index a page, it cannot appear in search results. For this reason, it’s exceptionally important for all of the pages on your website to be indexed. You can check the number of indexed webpages on your website in Google Webmaster Tools.

If you experience a sudden decrease in conversions (e.g. website form submissions) from your website, you should immediately check the number of indexed webpages. Google will sometimes de-index webpages it doesn’t like, so you need to make sure all of your webpages are eligible to show in search results. Even with several shakeups in rankings last year, overall we did not notice any de-indexing in the legal industry. In fact, we noticed positive growth and increases in indexed pages for the entire year for the websites we manage.

What’s Your Bounce Rate?

Bounce rate refers to the number of people who land on your website and immediately leave before interacting with the site or visiting an additional page. For the legal industry, a standard bounce rate is between 65% and 75%. 

Interestingly, the SEO experts at Stacey E. Burke, P.C. noticed that as keyword rankings dropped in 2017, website bounce rates improved dramatically to around 30% to 35%. These bounce rates have held steady and indicate website users are engaging with legal industry websites more. Why does this drastic decrease in bounce rate matter? When users are more engaged with a website and consume more of the content offered, they are more likely to convert into clients. 

Additionally, Google has explicitly said it views bounce rates as a very important ranking factor in determining which websites will appear in search results. Having a low bounce rate means your website provides useful and quality answers for searchers, while having a high bounce rate is generally associated with poor content. Google prefers websites with lower bounce rates because they are more likely to be a better search result for users. Because Google’s updates have had a positive impact on bounce rate, the improved bounce rate is actually going to help improve overall rankings in the long run.

Track Your Conversions 

In addition to improved bounce rates, we saw a corresponding increase in conversions with last year’s algorithm updates. More conversions are a great indicator of positive website engagement. Additionally, higher conversion rates also indicate very important behavior patterns about website users: they’re looking for answers, and they ready to ask them and convert in real time.

Quality Over Quantity 

So, while law firm websites are declining in search engine rankings, they are actually experiencing more success? Sounds counterintuitive, but it actually makes perfect sense. Before these updates, many law firm websites ranked for large numbers of keyword phrases; however, these keyword phrases were not necessarily good matches for the content provided on the website. We know this because the bounce rates for legal industry websites have historically been very high and well above the average in other industries. Essentially, if users liked what they found when they clicked on a website in search engine results, they would have engaged more with the website, thus lowering the bounce rate.

Law firm websites may rank for fewer keyword phrases now, but they are ranking for better keyword phrases. These keyword phrases are better because (1) they are more relevant to the content on the website and (2) the users searching for these keyword phrases are more likely to take action.

The users now connecting to law firm websites through search engine results are of much higher quality than before, as demonstrated by bounce rates and conversions improving despite an overall decrease in rankings. The updates from Google have improved the quality of website visitors to law firm websites, ultimately proving more profitable in the long run.

What This Means For The Legal Industry

Throughout 2017, many other industries reported massive changes in search engine rankings. For some sectors, the updates proved nearly fatal. For the legal industry, however, these updates have been extremely beneficial for law firms already utilizing best SEO practices. For law firms with neither an SEO strategy nor a strong online presence, now is the perfect time to start investing in a long-term SEO plan.

If law firms do not keep up with Google algorithm updates or SEO best practices, they will quickly be left in the digital dust. But keeping up with keyword rankings can be incredibly difficult and time consuming. The SEO experts at Stacey E. Burke, P.C. monitor keyword rankings for the legal industry so we can immediately spot potential updates and constantly adapt our law firm websites and content so they continue to provide maximum SEO value. Find out how we can help your law firm navigate the Google landscape today.

Sidebar 1293 180228 staceyburke About Emma Hanes

Emma Hanes has written content for dozens of attorneys and law firms with a variety of different practice areas. Her work has been featured in the Texas Bar Journal, the Top 10 Blog Posts from the Texas Bar Today, and SmallLaw's Pick of the Week.


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