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The New Google Algorithm Update That Impacts Every Law Firm Website

Aug 20, 2018 | by Emma Hanes | SEO
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It’s rare that Google algorithm updates ever directly impacts the legal industry. Luckily (or unluckily depending on your outlook), a Google algorithm update that began on August 1st takes direct aim at law firm websites. In the first month of August, law firms may have seen their organic website traffic fall off a cliff or skyrocket exponentially. Unfortunately, unless you are actively engaged in a very comprehensive SEO strategy, you probably suffered a loss.

What Was The August 1st Update?

You’re probably panicking thinking about a decrease in organic website traffic, but before I can offer suggestions to address SEO issues, I need to explain the August 1st update and Google’s quality guidelines. This update has been nicknamed the “Medic” update and Google released a brief statement about it: “This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year.” Generally when Google releases a “broad core algorithm update” it focuses on rewarding previously under-rewarded webpages; however, because this was a core update, ranking shakeups can be extreme.

Your Money Or Your Life Websites

According to analysis from Search Engine Land, the Medic update focused on one particular aspect of quality: authority. Specifically, the update has impacted a classification of website called “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL). In Google’s Search Quality Rating Program Guidelines, Google explains YMYL pages, “Some types of pages could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users. We call such pages ‘Your Money or Your Life’ pages, or YMYL.”

You may be thinking, “But I have a law firm website! I’m not a YMYL website!” Well you’d be wrong. Google provides examples of YMYL pages, listing shopping or financial transaction pages, medical information pages, financial information pages, any pages that discuss topics about happiness and health, and LEGAL INFORMATION PAGES.

That’s right, Google has pegged legal industry websites as YMYL pages. Google identifies legal industry pages as “webpages that provide legal advice or information on topics such as divorce, child custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.” Read that again. Any website that contains legal information. 

How Did The Medic Update Affect YMYL Websites?

Google is always concerned with the quality of its search results, and the Medic update focused on one particular aspect of quality: authority. In Google’s own words, “We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact users’ happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” This means only qualified experts should be talking about these issues because they are very serious to the user. The Medic update helped what Google considers authoritative sources appear higher in organic rankings.

How Does Google Measure Authority?

So the Medic update means YMYL websites will need excellent authority to continue ranking, but what exactly is authority? This is a somewhat difficult question to answer, but it would be a mistake to assume authority has anything to do with reputation. Google provides an example of low authority in its Search Quality Rating Program Guidelines. The search result is for the electronics page of the department store Target. Google acknowledges that Target has a good reputation, but recognizes that Target “is not an expert or authority on much of what it sells.”

Other signs that a webpage has little to no authority include no contact information, no indication of who wrote the content, and no evidence of expertise.

How Do I Get Google to Respect My Authority? 

There are some easy and some not-so-easy things you can do to boost authority. First and foremost, you should have detailed contact information on your website, including your address, telephone numbers, and email addresses. The best way to include contact information is to combine it with one of Google’s other authority signals – authorship.

Attorney website biography pages are incredibly important pages, not just for the users, but for SEO value too. To increase your law firm website’s SEO value, attorney biography pages should include the attorney’s office address, especially if your firm has multiple offices, a telephone number for that office, and the attorney’s email. You might already have this information on the contact page or in the footer of the website, but it needs to replicated on each and every lawyer bio too. Google needs to know the content on your website is produced by your attorneys, and Google needs to see methods of contacting your attorneys.

While you may think your law degree is sufficient to establish your expertise to Google, you need much more than that if you want to compete. The best way to show Google you are an expert is to include your publications, speaking engagements, awards, and professional memberships, ideally with links to these external digital assets. If you had an article published, is there an online version that you can link to? If you spoke at an event, was there a press release or recording of the event online?

If there is a webpage external to your law firm website that contains valuable information about you, link to it on your website. These links can be placed on the attorney bio pages, can be worked into the content across your website, or can make excellent topics for blog posts (hint: your blog should have an author function where you can assign authorship to your attorneys).

These are very clear actionable items that can help improve your authority; however, there are many ranking factors that contribute to authority and authority is only part of what Google considers in determining what is a quality search result. Law firms that want to show up in Google search results will need a comprehensive and adaptable SEO strategy that not only works to improve website authority, but also addresses hundreds of other ranking factors.

Law Firm Website Experts

If you are interested in getting your law firm website to show up in organic Google search results, contact the search engine marketing experts at Stacey E. Burke, P.C. 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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