As the lifeblood of many personal injury law firm marketing programs, maximizing SEO can be critical. Recent changes Google made to its search algorithms have certainly made waves throughout the legal community. For many law firms, tried and true marketing strategies have been impacted – many law firm websites have suffered tremendous loss of traffic. Here is what you need to know about Google’s famous algorithm menagerie and initiatives to regain your ground in the highly competitive Google search engine universe:
Spring 2013 ‘The Phantom Panda & Penguin’ Thin out the Crowd
‘Panda’ (launched in 2011) and its successor ‘Penguin’ (2012) were algorithm changes focused on serving quality and diverse content to users in search engine results; and Google rolled out back-to-back changes to each in May 2013. Google’s goal with these changes was to promote unique and relevant content for users, and discourage many unsavory techniques used by webmasters trying to trick the system. Essentially, any techniques that were used to gain multiple listings on a search page that were not gained in legitimate ways were being systematically pushed out of the top rankings or even penalized. While multiple listings for your firm on the 1st Google results page are good, they should be listings gained in earnest; your Google Places listing, your firm’s website, an Ad, and hopefully an article from a top publisher would be desirable and legitimate listings to have on the 1st results page.
Case Study #1: What the web “experts” did wrong?
This Law Firm was hit by the Spring ’13 updates. Image courtesy of SEMrush
In the case listed above, duplicate content and keyword stuffing were the culprits leading to massive traffic loss. These were their two key mistakes:
Copies of the Website on Multiple Domains: This is a tactic that is actually rather common in the personal injury community – and is not doing anyone any favors. This firm purchased multiple domains (e.g. personalinjuryexample.com, mypartnerandiexample.com, mypartnerandillcexample.com) and loaded an exact copy of their website on each. Previous to the algorithm updates, the hope was to rank for the same content on multiple 1st results page listings for the same law firm. Sites that are perceived as trying to manipulate the rankings, will be de-indexed, and any links back to the firm’s main website (a common practice in this scenario) will cause its ability to rank to suffer. The firm is also risking a dilution of rank improving opportunities by spreading its backlinks across many sites rather than consolidating them to one.
Copying Bad Content on Bad Websites: Another common SEO practice of personal injury law firms was to create or outsource content creation for multiple case types in the hopes of ranking their site for those particular searches. You’ve seen these articles: hastily thrown together pieces highlighting a few keywords like ‘car accident lawyer’ way too many times throughout. The articles are poorly written, the information is not useful, and Google certainly knows it. Webmasters were then placing these subpar articles on spammy article sites (ad ridden sites dedicated exclusively to helping webmasters get quick links). In the new world of Google – quality over quantity reigns supreme. Consider each link to your website a vote in your favor, in the new world of Google, each link from a good or bad website is essentially a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ for your website. Its ok to have some bad votes to your website (you can’t control the actions of others who want to link to it) but when your website’s link profile is primarily comprised of ‘bad’ and ‘easy’ votes, your website’s rankings will certainly suffer.
This goes for Bad PR too: Press releases are a great way to get legitimate news out to the media and public about your company. However, not all press release networks are created equal and not every event at your law firm is genuinely newsworthy. Google singled out paid media and advertiorials as a topic of focus for 2013, looking to block ‘link equity’ (‘yay’ votes) from many pages that obviously fall under this umbrella. While adding press releases to your overall marketing strategy is a great idea for your law firm, it should not account for the majority of your law firm’s links.
Summer 2013 ‘Hummingbird’ Speeds up the Conversation
In the greatest algorithm overhaul in the last decade, Google’s Hummingbird and its accompanying ‘in-depth’ articles update seek to understand and serve results of higher caliber particularly to ‘conversational’ queries. For example, when users now search for, “How do I file a car accident lawsuit in xxxxxx?” Google is now looking to answer the question rather than serve the best result for ‘car accident lawsuit’. The law firm below actually displays in the #1 results page position for this query, but rather than the home page, it is an article they have written. Let’s look at what they are doing right:
Case Study #2: What did they do right?
This Law Firm benefited from the Fall ’13 updates. Image courtesy of SEMrush
This Law Firm website is clearly coming out a winner in post-Hummingbird search.
Taking advantage of semantic data and schema markup: While Google is certainly trying to train its web crawlers to read and process websites like humans can, they are still a long way off. However, web crawlers are very good at looking at clues that webmasters can build into their pages to get a solid idea of what a page is about. The more information you can add about your images, your company, and the content of your page, the better. This law firm’s semantic and schema data are flawless; they are using keywords that are relevant to their content in plain (not over-stuffed) language, they are filling out valuable information about their company and their writers. With properly structured data, they are giving their firm the best shot at being found in search.
Quality Content: While the purpose of a law firm’s website is primarily to collect leads, it doesn’t mean that there is not an opportunity to provide quality and unique information to their users. One of Google’s core initiatives is to seek out and serve quality information to users, and they get better and better at it every year. In the case of this personal injury firm, each of their case type pages is filled with well composed statistics, case citations, and medical information. While they do offer a contact form and a brief advertisement, the focus of their page is providing information for victims, rather than the classic ‘if you or a loved one…’ pitch. By seeking to answer common questions that plaintiffs have, this law firm was able to make Hummingbird work for them and be served on the results page when users ask, “How do I file a XXXXX lawsuit.
The Bottom Line: Organic search is one of the most cost effective marketing channels out there for your law firm. By taking the time to think about what users what and how Google reads your website, even a small personal injury firm can make it to the top of the search pages and reap the benefits. Developing a quality website is not always the fastest or easiest task, but the long term benefits will be well worth the effort on the part of your personal injury law firm.