What Google Wants from Law Firm Websites in 2020

by Mar 6, 2020

When attorneys understand what Google wants, and they use the right tools, they get a better ROI from their law firm’s website.

Many attorneys want to understand what Google wants and how they can improve their law firm website rankings in search and, as a byproduct of that, drive more business to their law firms. 

There are two main principles:

  1. The first principle is to understand Google’s business model, and its guidelines, and to always work within those guidelines. Trying to trick Google at this stage in the game is a fool’s errand, and there is unlimited upside in playing by the rules.
  2. The second principle is that SEO, when done the way Google wants it done, is straightforward, and with the right tools and information, any attorney can do it.

These principles were designed into LawLytics, which has everything that attorneys need to have successful websites without spending a fortune. Using our software and following our methods, attorneys across the country have cut thousands of dollars from the marketing budgets. At the same time, they increase their revenue and create a more predictable flow of new business.

Here’s what you need to know about these principles and what Google wants from law firm websites in 2020.

A brief history of Google Search

In the early 2000s, internet marketing took off. A lot of that had to do with Google’s popularity: Google had correctly identified that people wanted to receive the best possible results for the searches they conducted. 

Google wanted to organize the world’s information so that it could give search users any information when they needed it. But, at that point, Google was in its infancy and wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is today.

That meant people were looking for loopholes to get around Google’s algorithm and ensure that their websites — regardless of whether those websites were useful or not — remained at the top of search. This kind of work is called “blackhat SEO”, and it’s designed to trick Google into ranking sites more highly than they would otherwise merit.

People who were engaging in blackhat SEO tactics caused problems for Google. Google wanted to provide people with the best and most useful results, and yet it was getting outsmarted by people who found loopholes in the system, using things like keyword stuffing or link schemes. 

However, Google developed some algorithm updates that did a lot to reward high-quality sites and relegate low-quality sites in search results.

Google’s Panda algorithm was a significant change to Google’s search results ranking algorithm. Google first released Panda in February 2011. The move aimed to lower the rank of “low-quality sites” or “thin sites” and return higher-quality sites near the top of the search results. Shortly after that came Google’s Penguin algorithm, which was another effort at cleaning up webspam in search.

Since then, Google has made continuing efforts to crack down on low-quality websites to ensure that what appears toward the top of search for any given query is the content answers the question the best way possible. 

Next, we’ll discuss Google’s most recent algorithm update.

Google’s January 2020 Update

In mid-January, Google released a broad core algorithm update, as they do several times per year. It is called the January 2020 Core Update. Of this particular update, they said: “Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before.”

Google made over 3,200 changes last year alone, but core search algorithm changes happen only several times per year, with significant core updates happening around once a quarter.

So what, exactly, is a core update?

Core updates impact how Google ranks websites and how Google determines the most relevant web page for a specific query.

A Google core update is when Google adjusts its core search ranking algorithm to return more relevant and useful search results to the searcher. For the past few updates, Google has confirmed them.

With any Google update, a core update, quality update, or user interface updates, the search results change. Even when Google makes an announcement like this in advance, it can cause some to panic. 

However, we love it when these updates are rolled out: when law firms follow the LawLytics methodology and use our system, they typically see across-the-board gains. Google is continuously looking to reward highly relevant, quality content with better placement in search results.

To that point, there was an August 2019 blog post that Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan posted in which he writes:

“[Search updates are] designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers. […] We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content that you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”

What does Google want from law firm websites?

The easiest way to understand what Google wants from law firm websites is to understand the business model that Google uses. 

Google depends on ads for revenue – that’s why it’s free to use Google, of course. But nobody would want to use Google if it were nothing but ads. That’s where website content comes in. Google depends on the organic listings — the content on people’s websites — to keep users coming back to use Google again and again to answer their queries.

Search users rely on Google to provide the best results for their questions. So far, Google has done an outstanding job. However, Google needs website content to return in those search results. If people don’t write and publish good content, Google has nothing to return to users. 

What Google wants from attorneys is to create high-quality content for Google users — and in this case, your potential clients, who are using search to learn more about their case or matter.

Basic guidelines for high-quality content creation on law firm websites

Google stresses the idea of “make pages for users, not for search engines,” because it’s trying to provide the best possible results for the searches that people conduct. If Google cannot offer user-focused pages with excellent information, people are unlikely to use Google.

Google depends on ads for revenue, but it depends on organic results to keep people returning to use Google. Your potential clients rely on search engines to provide the best results for their queries. Search engines, like Google, need good content to thrive and to be able to offer to potential clients to keep them coming back.

The one thing that Google has made very clear is that it values websites that provide value to search users. And, online, value translates to high-quality content. High-quality content is the most significant factor in online visibility because it’s what people are truly looking for when they do searches.

Avoid SEO tricks to get ahead with your law firm’s website

Make sure that you’re not trying to deceive your users on your law firm website. Avoid using tricks to improve search engine ratings unnaturally. Keep in mind that even if you’re writing amazing content for your law firm website, engaging in deceptive practices will eventually cause Google to punish your site in search results. 

Google has a vested interest in making sure that sites using search engine tricks don’t get ahead unfairly. Sooner or later, if you’re engaging in these practices (or if you’ve hired someone who is), your law firm website will likely end up relegated in search results. It can be hard to recover from that.

Google notes in its basic principles that you should think about what makes your law firm website unique, valuable, or engaging. How do you make your law firm website stand out from your competitors? For attorneys, the best way to do this is through unique, informational content that you create for your potential clients (who, of course, also happen to be Google users).

The importance of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) on law firm websites

How does Google define quality when it comes to content?

Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) are essential. E-A-T is a significant component of what Google is looking for when it assesses content quality on law firm websites.

In its search rating guidelines, Google says that financial advice, legal advice, and tax advice, with a high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness should come from trustworthy sources. 

As an attorney, you have the expertise and the authority to have a potential client trust you. Formal expertise is essential. But the proof of that for Google and your potential clients is in the content on law firm websites.

Your potential clients are searching for answers about their case or problem, and quality content on law firm websites can address those issues. This high-quality content is likely to be considered more favorable by Google and makes it more likely that Google will return your law firm website in results for relevant searches.

What happens once potential clients visit a law firm website? The content that exists on law firm websites forges a relationship that causes a potential client to feel that you are approachable, that you have the answers they need, and that it may be in their best interest to contact you.

The quality and quantity of the content on law firm websites is important: The content gives you a chance to show potential clients that you: 

  • Have the formal expertise and the authority to be writing about the topic
  • Have a large body of knowledge that should cause the person who finds this page to trust that you have a solid understanding of the topic
  • Can explain challenging concepts to them.

Among the E-A-T related questions that are worth asking as you’re looking at your content, consider:

  • Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it? (Clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s “About” page)
  • Is this content written by an expert who demonstrably knows the topic well?
  • Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors?
  • Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?

When attorneys create content, they should take a comprehensive look at a topic. Attorneys who provide a few sentences on a topic that warrants a considerably deeper dive are unlikely to gain the trust of a potential client or Google. Someone is not likely to trust taking action on their legal issue to a couple of sentences that don’t give them a holistic view of the problem.

What attorneys should avoid on law firm websites

Doing well with Google and driving more traffic to your law firm’s website is pretty simple. There are only three things you need to do to make your law firm’s website more visible in search results and drive potential clients to your site:

  • Create high-quality content.
  • Make sure that the content is well-structured.
  • Ignore everything else and not get caught up in the latest SEO trend or trick.

Luckily, Google gets specific about the kinds of things that you should ignore — and while the following is not a comprehensive list, these are tricks that often get attorneys into trouble.

What to avoid: Link schemes on law firm websites

Natural, earned links are great for law firm websites.

If someone is linking to a page on your site from their site, and they’ve done it after reading something on your site that impresses them, that’s great. That link serves as a virtual thumbs up — a vote of confidence that says, “I think what this person has to say is valuable and good for readers. I’m linking to it to make sure other people can enjoy and benefit from what’s here.”

Unnatural links are problematic. They fall into the “link schemes” bucket: Instead of earning a link through creating valuable, high-quality content, you got that link to unnaturally elevate your law firm’s website in search results.

Google defines link schemes as follows:

“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

Google provides several examples of link schemes that can harm your web presence, but among the more common ones that we see are:

  • Buying or selling links that pass rank. This includes exchanging anything of value for links, links in posts, or giving something away for free in exchange for them linking to your law firm’s website.
  • Exchanging links or cross-linking (i.e., you give me a link, and I’ll give you one)

What to avoid: Creating law firm webpages with little or no original content

Some attorneys believe that the more pages they create, the better law firm websites will do with search engines. This belief is problematic for a couple of reasons. 

Google wants you to make pages for users, not for search engines. If you’re creating a bunch of pages on your law firm’s website because you think that’s what search engines want, you’re on the wrong track. 

Creating a page for the sake of creating it doesn’t do your potential clients any good. There are law firm websites with thousands of pages that do well with search engines, but those attorneys created each one of those pages carefully, and the attorney filled each law firm web page with high-quality original content. 

It takes time to do that well. Don’t rush that process — if you’re going to develop a new page on a law firm website, make sure that you’re giving each page value for your potential clients.

What to avoid: Hidden text/links on law firm websites

The idea with hidden text and links is that you’re trying to deceive search engines into ranking your site more highly by hiding text or links that are not visible to the human eye, but that can be seen by search engines.

Google notes, “When evaluating your site to see if it includes hidden text or links, look for anything that’s not easily viewable by visitors of your site. Are any text or links there solely for search engines rather than visitors?”

What to avoid: Scraped content on law firm websites

Scraped content is a close cousin to duplicate content in that it can show up as content copied from elsewhere on the web. Some attorneys use content taken (“scraped”) from other law firm websites on the assumption that increasing the volume of pages on their law firm’s website is a good long-term strategy regardless of the relevance or uniqueness of that content. 

Scraped content can look like:

  • Copy content from other sites without adding any of your own insight, analysis or research
  • Copy content from another site and make only slight modifications (using find and replace along with synonyms)

The unique, original, and valuable elements of law firm websites come into play with all of the tricks that are supposed to fool Google. Google wants you to create unique, original, and valuable content. It doesn’t want you to copy content from another site, or to try and artificially increase your rankings, and so on.

What to avoid: Keyword stuffing on law firm websites

According to Google, “keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results

This is a technique that used to work back in the days of early Google when search engines weren’t quite as sophisticated as they are now. 

If you’re repeating specific keywords on your law firm’s website because you think you’re supposed to, or you’re repeatedly listing every city and town that you practice in over and over again with the attempt to rank well for local searches, you’re likely going to run into trouble.

A good test to see if you’re doing something that Google would approve of is to ask yourself if you would be comfortable showing what you’re doing to a Google employee. If you’re not, or if you’re not sure, you probably shouldn’t be doing that. 

The easiest way to avoid the search engine traps and tricks that sometimes get attorneys into trouble is to simply focus on creating the best law firm website content for your potential clients. 

Law firm website content assessment questions

There are some good self-assessment questions that are worth using whether you’re doing a content audit of your current law firm website, or for anything you plan to publish in the future. These questions will help you make sure that you’re going to give your potential clients detailed, educational information that they can use to make decisions and take action.

Here are some questions to think about as you examine the content on your law firm website:

Does the content provide original information or analysis? Don’t write something that already exists on the web, and don’t repeat legal information verbatim that a potential client could find elsewhere. If you’re writing what’s already out there on the internet, you’re shouting into a void.

Does your content provide a comprehensive description of the topic? Again, this comes back to the E-A-T of the page that this blog post mentioned earlier. Words are the lawyer’s tools, so if you can put those to work on your law firm’s webpages, just as you do when you speak with potential clients in your office, it’s going to pay dividends. Remember, your law firm’s website can act as a virtual extension of your physical office — what kinds of questions are your potential clients asking? What do they need to know from you?

Does your content provide insightful analysis beyond the obvious? This question is particularly important for law firm blog posts. We’ve seen attorneys who will copy/paste a news story into a blog and publish it, or simply recap a news story without any insightful analysis. 

Remember, if your potential clients want to find a news story, there are hundreds of other sources they could access. They want your insightful commentary on the topic. What does this news story mean for potential clients in your city or state, or county? What could the outcome of this issue mean for the subject of the story?

Does the content provide substantial additional value and originality? Two or three sentences isn’t going to cut it. What is your law firm website content providing to potential clients? Are they going to read what you’ve written with new ideas, with a new understanding of legal processes and so on?

Does the content provide a descriptive summary, either in the form of a headline or page title? Make sure that your law firm webpage titles are a good reflection of what a potential client is going to find in the text beneath the headline. For example, if you’re a DUI attorney, and you write a comprehensive page about the court process in first-time DUI cases in your geographic area, don’t title the page with something vague such as: “Court Process.” 

Make sure your potential clients know, at a glance, what that page is about. Maybe it’s something like: “What You Need to Know About Being Charged with a First DUI in Orange County.” 

Be sure to use headers, too. People are going to scan law firm website pages looking for information, and you want to give them guideposts. Continuing with the earlier DUI example, your piece might start with a look at what happens during a typical DUI investigation in your city, followed by the court process, followed by what happens at arraignment, followed by potential defenses, and so on. Make sure each of those headers are as descriptive as your main title so that your potential clients can find the information that they need quickly.

One question to ask as a self-assessment of your law firm website is this: Is this the sort of page that you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? 

How LawLytics makes law firm websites easy

When you remove the delusion that you can trick Google, law firm SEO is very simple, easy, and affordable. Any attorney can successfully participate in the process themselves.

LawLytics is built to make creating a highly profitable and sustainable law firm website using free search engine traffic easy and accessible for all lawyers regardless of budget, and without having any prior technology, marketing, or search engine experience.

The formula is simple. 

As a LawLytics member, you’ll use our platform to write about your practice by discussing things that you already talk about on a daily basis. When attorneys do that, their marketing becomes efficient and predictable, and their practices become more rewarding and enjoyable. 

When you join LawLytics, we’ll build you a brand new website, or import and improve your existing law firm website. We’ll show you how to use our software, and show you what you need to write, and how to write it.

If you can use a word processor, you can already use LawLytics. Our software is specifically for attorneys, and all of the technical aspects are baked into the platform.

The majority of our attorneys choose to write their own content, as that provides the best possible return on investment. And, once they understand how it works, attorneys tend to enjoy doing it. 

For attorneys who either don’t want to write or don’t have time, we offer a professional content creation service where we can ethically execute the LawLytics formula for you. You can also bring in any outside content writer or company, and the LawLytics ghostwriting features allow you to delegate to them safely.

It’s common for lawyers who start a new site with us and use our methods to become highly competitive or even market leaders within the first year. It’s also common for lawyers who bring an existing website into LawLytics to increase their traffic by multiples while staying in control of their website.

Getting everything you need to market your practice online doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. To learn more about what makes the best law firm websites, see the following blog posts:

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