You’ve heard the old adage that law school teaches you to think like a lawyer. As an attorney, you’ve already got that down, so I’m going to teach you something equally as valuable to your law firm’s success – how to think like Google. Don’t worry, learning to think like Google is a lot cheaper than going to law school. As a matter of fact, it’s free.

First, a bit of background on what I mean when I say “think like Google” and why it’s important. Two years ago, Google changed it’s search algorithm in order to emphasize sites with a significant amount of well-written content (as opposed the thin, auto-generated content that used to propel sites up the rankings). This update to the algorithm, called “Panda,” made having high-quality, authoritative content more important than ever for a website’s search engine rankings. Without it, your site has little hope of ranking well. And, if you’ve got thin content, duplicate content, or scraped content, your site could be penalized.

With these high stakes – the health of your law firm’s website – it’s beneficial to take a moment to learn what Google’s algorithm considers to be high-quality content. Fortunately, Amit Singhal, the head of Google’s Core Ranking team has weighed in on the topic. And while these guidelines don’t give an exact formula for ranking well (if they did, everyone would game the system), they provide useful guiding principles.

When drafting content for your attorney website, ask yourself the following to determine whether the content you’re adding to your firm’s site is of sufficiently high quality:

1.Would you trust the information presented in this article?
2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
3.Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
4. Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
5. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
6. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
7. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
8. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
9. How much quality control is done on content?
10. Does the article describe both sides of a story?
11. Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
12. Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
13. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
14. For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
15. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
16. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
17. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
18. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
19. Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
20. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
21. Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
22. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
23. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

There’s a lot of information there, I know. But if you think about it, the principles are not dissimilar to those that you follow when drafting legal documents – be authoritative, be trustworthy, be thorough, pay attention to detail, and provide original analysis. You have significant expertise in your particular practice areas, let your online legal writing reflect that. Your legal marketing efforts are not as high of a priority as your actual legal practice, but using the same principles that guide your day-to-day practice of law can really boost the quality of the content that appears on your law firm’s website.

You’ve already learned to think like a lawyer, now it’s time to take those principles and start thinking like Google. Doing so can go a long way in improving your online legal marketing presence.