Updated December 21st, 2015
About a month ago, Google released an unabridged version of its search quality rater guidelines. The document is a treasure trove of SEO information. For those of you who may not know what I’m talking about, Google uses data from human raters when it evaluates the quality of search results.
They want to know what real people think about the quality of a website, so they ask them to evaluate websites individually based on detailed criteria. The answers provided by raters can end up as part of the search algorithm, as we saw with Panda.
Google wants experts and asks its quality raters to find them
I wrote recently about how, according to the rater guidelines, law firm websites are held to a higher standard online as Your Money Your Life pages. The rater guidelines tell us what Google views as quality, and for Google, quality is all about trust. Google wants to advance subject matter experts to the top of the search results.
In evaluating quality, Google looks beyond just the website, it asks raters to conduct research on a website or businesses’ reputation. Google wants to know who is behind website content, whether they know what they’re talking about, and whether their community has recognized them for their expertise.
They guide raters on the research process as follows:
Many other kinds of websites have reputations as well. For example, you might find that a newspaper website has won journalistic awards. Prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize award, are strong evidence of very positive reputation. When a high level of authoritativeness or expertise is needed, the reputation of a website should be judged on what expert opinions have to say. Recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies, are strong evidence of very positive reputation. Reputation research is necessary for all websites you encounter. Do not just assume websites you personally use have a good reputation. Please do research! You might be surprised at what you find.
The SEO value of Avvo and other badges
Lots of law firms we work with like to display badges on their website homepage or attorney profile page. The belief is that these badges help to build trust with prospective clients who see professional affiliations as a sign of dedication to their craft. Of all the badges, the Avvo rating is most popular.
Does a high Avvo rating convey an SEO benefit?
Well, the links from Avvo are usually nofollow (meaning they’re coded not to pass SEO value), so being added to the directory in and of itself won’t make or break you. However, Avvo is a citation source specific to the legal industry, so a listing that is accurate and full of reviews can help with local SEO. But the fascinating part (at least for SEO nerds like me) is that Google is asking its raters to look off site for signs of expertise when evaluating websites.
When performing such research, Google raters are very likely to find Avvo.
Remember, “recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies, are strong evidence of very positive reputation.” Based on these guidelines, it seems that evidence of positive affiliation with organizations like Avvo, Super Lawyers, and others, can contribute as a quality factor for a law firm website and therefore does convey some SEO benefit, a portion of which is known (local SEO), and a portion of which may not be as yet known.
Lots of common sense is baked into the algorithm
Google wants to send its users to trusted businesses within search results. One of the ways they determine trustworthiness is by crawling the web looking for information to confirm that a businesses’ stated address is consistent across the web. This is really common sense. If a business is displaying conflicting information, Google could send a user to a closed location. This would be bad for business.
In this way, local SEO is driven by reputation information. So are the quality rater guidelines. Not only does Google want to see a great website with great content, they want to see evidence that people behind the site are part of the conversation in their niche. Bots, Google raters and most importantly prospective clients go looking for reputation information when they evaluating a law firm. Sites like Avvo that commonly appear in these types of searches can help demonstrate expertise and therefore do have benefit for SEO.