Future of SEO for Law firms. Why attorneys need to pay attention after Google Core Update and follow YMYL and E-A-T
As an attorney, you would likely advise your clients to not try to attempt to take legal matters into their own hands. Sometimes, layperson efforts can hurt someone legally more than help because they lack the experience, knowledge, and expertise to handle matters correctly. Yet, this is exactly what many attorneys do when it comes to attempting to optimize their websites for search engines. A little knowledge, when applied incorrectly, can detrimentally affect your rankings more than it helps. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is changing continually, and if you don’t keep up with the current updates, you will hurt your rankings and your practice. Here is some important information about the recent updates that many attorneys are not understanding or applying correctly to their websites.
What is Google Core Updates
Google periodically will announce and release updates to its algorithm. In the legal field, this is a bit like when your state’s governor signs a new law, and it goes into effect. How the courts will apply the new law isn’t immediately apparent, but lawyers know they need to learn about it inside and out. The same is true with SEO experts learning about Google’s updates. Some algorithm shifts are major, and some are minor. In June 2019, there was a major Google Core Update expanding the significance of Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (EAT). This update affected many websites which caused them to lose significant ranking. EAT matters in search rankings because of the designation of certain topics as “YMYL” by Google.
What is YMYL and EAT? Does Your Law Firm Marketing Department Even Know?
In the past, websites focused on keyword matching to rank at the top for targeted keywords. This led to many sites appearing at the top of rankings that were not only unhelpful to Internet users but potentially dangerous. To rectify this, Google created a category called “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) that required websites with content covering certain topics to have significantly more expertise than non-YMYL websites. SEO experts know about this category because Google released its comprehensive guidelines that tell its human search evaluators how to rate websites that appear in search results so it can make adjustments to the algorithm.
How this applies, for example, a site dispensing medical advice needs to be posting content written by someone qualified to give that advice. For the legal field, webpages shouldn’t rank high in the search results for legal search terms that aren’t written by someone qualified to give legal advice. Any content that can affect a person’s money or their life in any significant way needs to come from a person qualified to speak on it based on their Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (EAT). The content itself needs to demonstrate the (EAT) or it will not rank high.
Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness for Lawyers
Legal advice should always be given by an expert. As an attorney, you should be an expert in the laws in your state and how they apply to certain legal situations. Your authority should come from your education, training, and from the license from your state to practice law. Because of your authority and expertise, any legal advice you give should be trustworthy. This is the intent of the recent Google Core Updates. Users searching for legal advice are expecting to find expert opinions at the top of the search results from someone qualified to give them.
Website Content and User Satisfaction
Because of Google’s shift away from keyword matching and toward user satisfaction, which is demonstrated by its guidelines, many websites are including blogs where the website owner can post regular, helpful content to keep their websites fresh. Most SEO experts would advise lawyers to do this very thing. The blog posts should be targeting a keyword or phrase that is a search term related to the website, but the emphasis should be providing high quality, engaging content, not stuffing the writing with the keyword or phrase. Keyword stuffing can hurt your rankings now rather than help it. Google wants a user to enter a search term and the top result is the most informative, most helpful, most engaging content available for that search term.
Website Content – How E-A-T Applies to Website Content for Law Firm Websites
In order for website content to help your rankings, it needs to sound like it was written by an expert with the authority to write on the topic for it to be trustworthy. Your content should reflect the EAT that you have as an expert. If it doesn’t, there is a mismatch between your EAT and the quality of content found on your website. Users are expecting an expert when they come to your website. Your content should meet their expectation.
Why Most Attorneys Struggle with Website Content
Attorneys are busy people with many important legal briefs to write and file as well as having a lot of irons in the fire. You are busy with the business of your law practice, as you should be. Keeping up with blog posts, keyword research, and writing can be difficult when you are just trying to manage your practice. In addition to that, you may be a great attorney, but not be that confident in your writing abilities. You may not even like to write and find it difficult to find topics or have any idea how to communicate them effectively. For these reasons, many attorneys outsource content writing that appears on their websites so they can focus on running their practice.
The Problem with Outsourcing Website Content
The big problem with this approach is that now the content that users are finding after keyword searches and are expecting to be from an expert isn’t actually coming from an expert. This is a big problem for Google as well because Google wants its users to be satisfied with the results that the search engine supplies for the keyword searches. When your content doesn’t reflect the EAT that a user is expecting for the search term, it isn’t helpful to them. The worse the writing is, the more untrustworthy it will appear to the user looking for answers. This is especially true if you are an attorney in the United States with clients that are native to the US and your content is outsourced to writers who don’t speak English as their native language.
Will Lower Quality Content Means Lower Rankings?
The more disconnect there is between the expectation of EAT of a website and the EAT actually demonstrated by the content, the worse your site will rank even if you are qualified as an attorney. A user will go from a search directly to your content without stopping to read reviews or look up your credentials. This what Google really cares about — the user experience, not the external proof of your expertise that the user will likely not even see. Although many SEO experts would advise you that credentials, backlinks, and reviews are important to EAT, it can’t override poor quality content that doesn’t reflect the EAT the user is expecting. If a user searches, goes to a webpage on your site, and leaves it immediately only to go to another website, that, and that alone can tell Google your site wasn’t helpful. You won’t continue to rank for that search term if users leave your site and go look for answers somewhere else no matter what you do otherwise. You can’t trick Google or the users.
Quality Content on Your Homepage
There should be no better authority about how your practice can help your potential clients than you. Make sure your homepage reflects that. Your homepage should be more than just a few sentences with a link to your contact page. Take the time to explain the legal issues users are likely facing who reach your website and why your practice is the best option for helping them. Explain what your practice does and how it can help people who are worried, upset, or confused. Although keywords are still important, it’s even more important that your content is clear, easy to understand, engaging, and helpful to your visitors. If you’ve been noticing videos included at the top of search results, you can bet it’s because Google has found that users prefer video. Including a video on your homepage can go a long way in making sure that your visitors are satisfied with your content.
If your practice has multiple areas of focus, create a sub-page dedicated to each area. Go into depth about the issues, legal ramifications, statistics, and the need for expertise on each page. The more information you include on each page, the more helpful it will be to your visitors. Helpfulness should be your focus above all else. This is what your potential clients look for from an expert. Make sure the EAT of your content reflects what users would expect from you.
Writing Quality Content
When writing quality content for your homepage, subpages, topic-oriented blog posts, and your “about” page, you want to make sure the writing is always the highest quality you can provide. This will help with your website ranking more than anything else. You should not outsource your writing to a third party and expect them to research and write about your field when you are the expert. If your writing is not up to par or you are too busy, write detailed notes or a rough draft that includes your unique knowledge about the topic. Give that to a freelance writer to a ghostwriter so they are not left to research and use resources that already exist on the Internet rather than your personal knowledge. Make sure the writer speaks English as their native language and is familiar with the American legal system. Move frequently asked questions from your FAQ page and include this information in your content. Your visitors should be able to find answers to nearly all of their questions on a website with thorough, well-written content.
EAT and Organic Backlinks
When your content is the most informative, comprehensive, and the highest quality found on a topic, other people will reference it. The more EAT those people have, the more this informs the EAT of the page. When links to your webpage are appearing on social media posts or within text-links in articles, especially ones from well-respected sites like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, this sends a signal to Google that others see you as an authority on this topic. The more authority the social media account or website has, the more EAT the backlink adds to your website. This is why thin content is not effective in creating social signals and driving social media traffic to your site. Other people with authority will not reference weak, ineffective content. Not only does your content need to be the best, most satisfying result for users that find it through search queries, but also so others with authority can reference it when writing about the same topic.
In a recent case study working with a personal injury attorney in Philadephia, my SEO team created in-depth content that was placed on our client website. Then, our PR expert reached a journalist at Forbes and offered some insight into my our content and how it can benefit her next news piece she was doing. By providing the reporter a unique news benefit, she was able to cite our client as a legal authority on the subject matter resulting in the client being mentioned in Forbes and earning a brand mention. A few days later, when our analytics team saw inbound traffic in Google Analytics account for that client, we noticed that this one thought leadership piece brought in over 19,800 page views in 30 days. This organic traffic signal of quality traffic and engagement must have been recognized by Google BOT, attaining page 1 of my client website. My team and I have many case studies that validate our SEO hypothesis that expertise, authority and trustworthy mentions and backlinks are still playing a critical factor in holistic link building. As I write this article, I would like to give 100% credit to my mentor, “Eric Ward,” who passed away suddenly on October 16, 2017, but his legend remains.
Should You Hire A Lawyer SEO Expert?
The best way to make sure that your website is keeping up with every Google Core Update is to hire an SEO company that specializes in website growth and lead conversion. An SEO expert can analyze what keyword searches your potential customers are using and make sure that your website has the best content for users making those queries. Don’t leave your search rankings up to guessing or taking approaches you think might work but are actually hurting your rankings. Leave SEO up to an expert so you can focus on keeping up with your practice.
About this article: This article is a labor of love and research from my content team and my SEO experts, who work behind the scene to make this all possible. If you like it, please share this to give love and likes so we can continue to do our best.
Author: Qamar Zaman and Team KISS PR – Website Growth Company
Qamar Zaman is a national SEO with expertise in lawyer SEO. Qamar has worked with over 100 top law firms since 2003. Qamar has been featured in Huffington Post, Forbes, Business.com and many SEO blogs. He has also been featured on Forbes Agency Council expert panel: 15 Strategies To Effectively Combine SEO And Social Media Campaigns.