While there is certainly some mystery surrounding Google’s search algorithms, there is also more transparency than many realize.
Google publishes extensive guidelines detailing how website owners can create high quality websites, and there is a lot of information in the guidelines that is relevant to attorneys.
What are the search quality rater guidelines?
Just as our agency wants to deliver the best possible results to clients, Google wants people who use their search engine to find what they’re looking for. If Google search didn’t offer users access to reliable information, people would stop using Google and head over to Bing or Yahoo.
As a result, Google is focused on improving the quality of its search results and asks real people to rate what they find in Google search using a set of guidelines created in Mountain View. These people are called Search Quality Evaluators, and their opinions help Google better understand what searchers want.
From the introductory section of the guidelines:
Your ratings will be used to evaluate search engine quality around the world. Good search engines give results that are helpful for users in their specific language and locale.
This isn’t new
Google has used human raters for a long time. In fact, the notorious Panda algorithm was built based on survey data from human evaluators answering questions about web pages like:
Could this article appear in print? And would you give this website your credit card information?
Application to law firms
Law firm websites fall under the category of Your Money Your Life (“YMYL”) pages. These pages are held to higher standards of reliability than some other types of pages because according to Google, they “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or wealth of users.”
The following types of pages are YMYL pages:
- Shopping or financial transaction pages
- Financial information pages
- Medical information pages
- Legal information pages
As you can see above, two of the named YMYL categories apply to the medical and legal industry. I mention medical because there are a large number of plaintiffs law firms who create content around defective drugs and medical devices. These mass tort sites will be held to a higher standard. YMYL pages are held to a higher standard because allowing spam in these types of search results could negatively impact Google users.
How can a law firm meet the YMYL standard?
The name of the game today is trust. For law firms, and medical sites, Google is looking to promote subject matter experts.
Think of it this way – if you were building a search engine, which article would you want to feature on page one:
- The 600 word ghost written article by a summer intern, or;
- The 1,200 word article written by a partner with 15 years experience?
Easy choice. The experience of the partner adds value for the end user of the content – the woman doing research at home, late at night, trying to determine how the facts of her life fit into a body of state or federal law.
There is a mountain of information online Google can use to verify that the partner is indeed a subject matter expert.
Reputation and professional affiliation
Google’s Quality Evaluator Guidelines place heavy emphasis on corroborating reputation. The guidelines encourage users to go off site and conduct research to make sure the site is what is says it is, that it has a good and reliable reputation.
Consider this snippet from section 2.7.1 of the Guidelines:
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.
As we’ve outlined above, legal websites are exactly the type of sites where “a high level of authoritativeness or expertise is needed.” This means your professional reputation (as documented online) contributes to how Google views and ranks your website. Google is collecting data from evaluators whose job it is to do independent off site research on the credibility of your firm’s website, and on the lawyers in the firm. Google is instructing its evaluators to look at known review sites like Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau, as well as stalwarts like Wikipedia.
For the legal niche, affiliations like Super Lawyers, or prestigious recognition like the American College of Trial Lawyers can both contribute to the credibility of a lawyer’s website.
This also means that reviews play an important role in the way law firms are viewed. One or two negative reviews are inevitable for any business, but when bad reviews start to pop up with regularity, the overall firm brand is damaged, and the search engine takes notice.
Again, if you wanted to provide the best experience to users, which firm’s content would you rank – the firm with excellent reviews, or the firm with consistently bad ones?
Strong About Page
We know that a robust About page has been mentioned as a Panda ranking factor, and the Quality ratings seem to corroborate this. Google asks its raters to understand who is behind the content they find on a website. Section 2.5.2 of the Guidelines is devoted to “Finding who is responsible for the website and who created the content on the page.”
Because legal sites are held to higher standards, a thorough about page detailing who is responsible for the website and who creates content for the website is advisable. List professional affiliations, and link to them, list degrees, successful verdicts, licenses, anything to prove expertise and credibility to the online community.
Years of experience and community involvement
Here’s a scenario – you’re choosing a surgeon. Do you go with the rookie, or the physician who has been practicing for over a decade?
The same is true for attorneys. To build trust, let potential clients know how long you’ve been in business. For example, we just re-built the digital experience for a personal injury law firm. This firm has represented over 100,000 clients! You better believe we listed that prominently on the homepage.
Have a Purpose
In the legal world, one of the biggest problems with content marketing is producing content just for the sake of content.
Google has moved far beyond that. Adding content regularly won’t do much unless it has a purpose and delivers value to a reader. When Google instructs its raters how to identify the highest quality pages, it says this:
A High quality rating requires at least one of the following high quality characteristics:
• A satisfying amount of high quality MC.
• The page and website are expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic of the page.
• The website has a good reputation for the topic of the page.
In addition, the page and website should have most of the following:
• A satisfying amount of website information, for example, About Us information, Contact or Customer Service information, etc.
• SC which contributes to a satisfying user experience on the page and website.
• Functional page design which allows users to easily focus on MC and use SC as desired.
• A website which is well cared for and maintained.
Law firms aiming to gain traction with content strategies should focus on:
- Deep, well written, well researched content written by experts
- Citing sources using external links to authoritative sites
- Page speed and load time, especially on mobile devices
Google uses people to develop its algorithm
And it’s all about corroboration. Links are a form of corroborating that a business is part of the local community and operates in the niche it says it does. When Google crawls a link from a local food bank or professional organization, it gives greater context to the trustworthiness of the website.
Similarly, when a business’ name, address, and phone number are all consistent in local search results, its location has been corroborated and is deemed more reliable.
The search quality raters perform these tasks of corroboration at the human level for Google. With the explosion of small businesses on the internet, it’s no longer good enough to put up a webpage, it’s now necessary to build a trusted online brand with strong EAT signals.