The house always wins. It’s a cliche, sure, but only because it’s true.
In our new series of eBooks about SEO for attorneys, we’ve been talking about SEO as a game of probability, and we’ve been looking through the lens of card games as a method of explaining how to best play the game of SEO. The parallels between playing cards and engaging in SEO, when it comes down to it, are surprisingly apt.
When you think of each webpage on the internet (and Google has indexed upwards of 130 trillion of them) as a card, and every website as a hand made up of individual cards, the bet you make as a website owner is that your investment of time and/or money in order to add content to your site will mean a better hand, better visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs), and, ultimately, increased access to qualified potential clients.
Where this is true in a very general sense, there is still one missing piece to this equation—if you want to win in a game of cards, you need to have better cards than everyone else playing the game. Similarly, if you want to “win” at content-based SEO, you need to have better content to offer search engines and search engine users than your competitors.
You Can’t Bluff Google with Thin, Low Quality Law Firm Website Content
Google’s business model is based on selling ads.
For those ads to have value, both to search engine users and advertisers, the results the search engine return need to be helpful to users in order for the search engine to keep those users coming back for additional searches.
If Google returned low-quality results for a given search, the value of the ads on the SERP for that phrase would plummet. For this reason, it is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to provide thin, or low-quality, content on your site. It is similarly against your law firm’s best interest to provide anything but the best content you can manage to produce on your law firm website.
Google’s Panda update—which saw numerous modifications between its inception in 2011 and its final update in July, 2015—was geared specifically to target and takedown sites that were benefiting from hosting and selling thin content. There is little doubt that the search engine’s algorithm has included additional updates since that time, as well.
If you are populating your law firm website with content that fails to address search engine users’ questions with valuable, quality information, there is little chance that your content will find itself on the first SERP for a relevant query.
What Is Thin Content?
Essentially, thin content is content that fails to provide value to users or answer their questions in satisfactory ways. Doorway pages, which are webpages meant to attract users from a search engine and then direct them to another location, are thin pages. Content that is “scraped” (or copied directly) from another source is also considered thin content, as it provides no additional value to users than the original page.
Affiliate programs and links, which are links that direct users to a sales page and provide the referral source with income when a sale is made, are classified as thin for the same reason as scraped content—they provide no additional value to users.
A page that purports to answer a specific question for a search engine user (such as “What are the penalties for a first DUI in Arizona?” or “How do I file for a divorce in Florida?”), then simply supplies the user with your law firm’s contact information, for example, would also qualify as thin content.
Pages on your law firm website that appear to be duplications of other pages are also considered thin. This includes detailed law pages which offer the same basic information, but are altered to include different geographic information (such as city or county names) for each page.
Duplicate pages are not likely to land an attorney with a penalty for their ill-advised tactics, though they are equally unlikely to help a website’s SEO. Consider this brief passage from our forthcoming eBook, “Betting on a Long Shot”:
The biggest issue with duplicate pages is that a search engine may not know how to distinguish between them, or how to prioritize the content they contain. Search engines may therefore arbitrarily choose to favor one page over another in search results. Or those pages might split the SEO benefits of the content they contain, thereby downgrading the ranking on SERPs for all of the pages that contain similar content. Users might also divide the links they place between duplicate pages, which will have a similarly deleterious effect on your website’s SEO.
As a general rule of thumb, you will want to ensure that any page you add to your law firm website is made up of at least eighty percent original (or new) content.
How Do I Write Quality Content for My Law Firm Website?
In short, the best way to ensure that you’re offering high-quality content to search engines and search engine users is to make sure you are answering the questions those users are likely to ask, using the language they are likely to use.
To maximize your chances of finding that content on the first SERP for any given search, your best bet is to add content to your site that addresses specific long tail search phrases on a regular basis.
According to data compiled by Hubspot, about one in ten blog posts are compounding, meaning that the post sees an increase in traffic over time from organic search results. The thing is that you never know in advance is which posts will be compounding. Therefore, maximizing your odds of ranking well organically for a specific search phrase means posting often.
Writing content that appeals to search engine users and your potential clients also means making sure that your content is formatted for easy reading online (both on desktop and mobile devices) by breaking content up into smaller paragraphs and using headings. Further, you will want to make sure and use language that is familiar and appealing to your potential clients.
Resist the temptation to stuff your website content full of legal jargon and, when legal terminology must be used, make sure it is well defined. It might help you to develop one or more client personas based on the types of clients you most want to work with, and then write to those imagined clients when composing content to ensure that you are writing in a way that makes your content accessible to your target audience.
Other methods that can help your content appeal to your target audience include the use of colloquial terminology, when appropriate, the incorporation of local information into your content, and providing summaries that offer the information contained in longer posts at a glance for those who prefer to skim content than read it in its entirety.
Bringing It All Together
When it all comes down to it, Google is the house in the game of SEO, and there is no bluffing the house. Try, and you’ll likely find it hard to rank on SERPs for any of your content. Get caught and you may be penalized, or worse, removed from the search engine’s index entirely.
Playing the SEO game to win necessitates playing by the house rules, which Google provides for anyone interested in reading them. Stay within the framework of those guidelines and you’ll have a chance at success, especially as you continue adding content to your website and stacking the SEO deck in your favor.
For more on this topic, check in with the LawLytics blog this Thursday, June 19, to download the second of three eBooks in our “Summer of SEO” content series.