Is Your Law Firm’s Website Ready For Google In 2019?

‘Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes’, and to that we really should add Google search engine algorithm changes.  According to some authoritative sources, Google’s algorithm changes an astonishing 500 – 600 times per year.  And when you stop to consider that the success of your business hinges on the search results provided by these mathematical algorithms, this can be disconcerting to say the least.

Most law firms defer the work of ensuring their website achieves the best possible Google search engine rankings to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) specialists, but those at the helm of today’s legal practices should be aware of what is coming in 2019 and adapt their strategy accordingly.  Don’t just leave it to the IT guys.

What exactly is Google trying to achieve?

Putting aside world-domination, Google is all about providing the best user experience. To achieve this it must provide recommendations of sites which are truly the best the world can offer.  And for the world’s biggest internet company, this means stamping out the cheating.  For years Google has sought to weed out web pages and sites which have used surreptitious means to rank highly, but 2019 will be the year when they will drive out this practice completely.  So precisely how will they achieve this goal, and how might this affect your organisation?

Quality content is king

It used to be simply ‘content is king’, but now ‘quality content is king’.  So important is this to Google, they now hire tens of thousands of quality ‘raters’ internationally to determine the effectiveness of its search results.  Each rater must follow a 200-page reference document to manually verify that a website falls into line with Google’s definitions of quality.  But thankfully, you don’t need to read all 200 pages to understand the guiding principles and underlying intentions.  Quality of content is determined amongst many other factors by:

  • accuracy of the content
  • the reputation of the website
  • the reputation of the content writer
  • whether the page or site meet the ‘beneficial purpose’ of the user.

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)

If you read nothing else in this article, read this.  Google is extremely keen to ensure that when providing information on important matters, such as health, law, and safety, they don’t jeopardise the lives of users.  In terms of the legal sector, section 2.3 of Google’s rater guidance states that legal information pages are those that “provide legal advice or information on topics such as divorce, child custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc”.  For such sites, ‘very high Page Quality rating standards’ apply, which necessitates:

  1. Very high-quality main content

Main content (MC) is any part of a web page which achieves its purpose, so this may include the core content of your web pages, blogs and news.  The most important point is that the content itself must meet the highest standards of accuracy.  To this end, it is imperative that content is legally flawless and reflective of the calibre of the stated author.  Therefore, if you are a senior partner in family law, an article attributed to you needs to be understandable to a layperson but also add value to other solicitors.

  1. Very Positive Reputation

Google is now placing an emphasis on reputation, not just for the site as a whole, but the named author of the content.  This means a content creator’s reputation will be analysed.  In practice, you will need to ensure your blogs and articles are clearly marked with the name of the author, their role and any memberships that add weight, such as an entry in the legal 500 or Chambers & Partners.  Google is looking for prestigious authors, or alternatively, those that have a “positive reputation if they are highly popular and well-loved for their topic or content type and are focused on helping users”.

  1. Very High Levels of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)

In Google’s own words, “formal expertise is important for topics such as medical, financial, or legal advice”.  In order to achieve high levels of E-A-T, your webpages “should come from trustworthy sources and be maintained and updated regularly”.


Beneficial Purpose

Another new concept all businesses will need to consider is whether each web page serves a real purpose for the user.  In other words, does the blog you published whole-heartedly offer something helpful and of value to the intended user, or was it essentially click-bait, designed to bring people to your site.  In this regard, Google’s rater guidelines state:

“Websites or pages without some sort of beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating”.


Final Thoughts

Google stated goal is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, and therefore it makes perfect sense that to do so, it needs to eradicate websites and web pages which are unhelpful, or much worse, down-right dangerous.  Therefore, law firms need to be aware that because their advice falls into the category of YMYL, their content will receive as much scrutiny as one proffering medical or financial advice.

The message though is overwhelmingly positive – by providing a website that truly serves its intended users in an honest and valuable manner, you will be ranked highly.  If you are still unsure, we recommend you make the following a priority for your online presence:

  1. Opt for long-form content on your website (800 words or more)
  2. Provide original, fresh, and engaging content at least once or twice a week (blogs)
  3. Take the softer approach with your content (your blog should never try and sell your firms services, only provide information); it develops trust in your audience and improves your reputation
  4. Reference the latest legal research, cases, and law – using the best legal research tools
  5. Where possible, link out to respected news sources, long-form journalism, and academic articles. Quoting is fine, as long as you acknowledge the source.
  6. Use videos, webinars, and vlogs to engage your audience and back these up with a blog
  7. Invest in quality. If you outsource your content writing, check whether the person writing has a legal qualification and whether they have access to legal research materials and databases such as LexisNexis PSL, Practical Law, Westlaw, Lawtel, and Free Movement (for immigration law), and that they are not simply using generic search engines such as Google or Bing.

The Legal Copywriting Company is dedicated to helping law firms and barristers achieve their marketing goals by creating engaging, SEO friendly content for their website and marketing materials and managing their social media.  To find out more, please fill in our contact form or email or phone 01691 839661.