From 2018, Google has announced several algorithm updates that are meant to more thoroughly scrutinize websites in certain industries where poor buying decisions can cause harm to a consumer’s physical and financial health.
Websites in the legal industries have been explicitly said to have their trustworthiness scrutinized in this way. Law firms fall into this category.
Since Google is still just an algorithm, it looks at a very specific set of criteria when judging the trustworthiness of a site. This means that even perfectly reputable legal practices can slip through the net and seem untrustworthy in the eyes of Google. This can lead to decreased search engine visibility.
To ensure that this does not happen to your practice, here is exactly what Google is looking for when evaluating the trustworthiness of a legal firm’s website, and how you can optimize for this.
Google is looking for the credentials of your practice’s people
Google does not want to serve its users legal misinformation. One way of trying to prevent this from happening is by making sure that all high ranking web pages that contain legal information are authored by legal professionals.
Google looks for evidence of the qualifications of the personnel that a website represents. You should therefore make this information as easy to find as possible on your practice’s website.
The quickest way of doing this is through creating an “About Us” or “Meet the Team” page that lists all the staff in your firm along with their qualifications.
Your website should be linked to your company’s LinkedIn page that contains a corresponding set of profiles of your staff members along with their qualifications and credentials.
Any article written on your website that contains legal claims should be attributed to the specific person in your organisation who is best qualified to make these claims. For example, a blog post on divorce FAQs should be attributed to your divorce attorney. This attribution should be made on every informational page on your site.
Many law practices overlook attributing each page to a specific person in their team, but as Google ranks websites on a page by page basis, signals of trustworthiness needs to be demonstrated on every page that you hope to rank.
Google wants content that is in line with current industry best practices
Google’s semantic processing is now at a level that it can, to an extent at least, understand the claims that you are making on your website.
The search engine also sees information pulled from an amalgamation of certain “high authority” sources as “the truth” on a given topic. These “high authority” sources include government websites, academic institutions and high-level industry journals.
The consequence of this is that Google has some ability to tell whether the claims made on your website coheres with current thinking on a topic. If claims made on your website directly contradict what the authoritative sources say is the case, then your site and brand could be seen as less trustworthy as a result.
One vulnerability to these threats for a practice’s website is in their older blog posts. Laws frequently change, and if your older blog posts are not updated to reflect this then they could inadvertently contain misinformation.
All content on your website should be reviewed and updated regularly (ideally as often as every 3 months) and outdated articles should be consolidated into newer ones where possible.
If you outsource blog posts to a content agency then you need to properly vet your writer to ensure that they have some legal expertise. Ask to see recent samples of their work to make sure that their knowledge is up to date. Never publish anything that has not been checked over by someone in-house.
Google measures the trustworthiness of your brand as a whole, not just your website
When evaluating the trustworthiness of your website, Google looks to the digital footprint of your brand as a whole, rather than just the website itself.
Having your practice and their personal mentioned in authoritative legal websites will increase your perceived trustworthiness by search engines.
There are some easy ways of getting such brand mentions. Professional organisations, law school alumni pages and local and industry directories are all authoritative websites in the eyes of Google.
PR tactics such as trying to write features for trade magazines, doing local community work or publishing case studies on unique cases that you have worked on can also get you the type of brand mentions needed to be seen as an authority in your industry by search engines.
The level of presence that your practice will need to be seen as the go-to trusted source in your industry depends on the size of brands that you are competing against. For local practices, directories and industry organisations may be enough. National practices will likely need to engage in PR to compete.
Google looks for “signals” of brick and mortar business websites
One of the causes of Google paying increased scrutiny to websites in legal industries is due to the rise of purely informational lead generation websites that collect the email addresses of potential clients to sell them on to third parties.
These websites can often be run by non-legal professionals, so Google does not want to deliver these sites for searches that indicate a need for legal advice. The search engine would rather deliver real law firms run by licenced attorneys.
Google therefore looks for signals within an organization’s digital presence that indicate that it is indeed a brick and mortar business.
These signals include:
- A filled out Google My Business profile
- Customer reviews
- Social media pages (especially Linkedin)
- Profiles in local directories
While you do not need a huge number of reviews and local listings, having a few of these at least will help demonstrate the legitimacy of your practice and lead to improved rankings for legal practice search terms.