Conscious Solutions: What every law firm should know about Google’s core updates

If you’ve been keeping regular tabs on your keyword rankings and organic search traffic levels, you may have noticed a bouncy ride beginning at the end of April 2020. Since that time there have been two major Google updates; a Core Update on 20 April and one beginning on 4 May that seemed to take two weeks to fully roll out. May’s Core Update was bigger, but combined they have created a cascading wave of fluctuations in search engine results due to how Google is choosing to rank pages based on its new algorithm criteria.

What About the Local Search Rankings You Ask?

Good question, because the legal industry depends on local rankings to a large degree, particularly so for multi-location firms. It turns out that there has been significant above-average volatility in the local pack rankings this month.

What Every Webmaster Should Know About Google’s Core Updates

According to Google “There’s nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update. They haven’t violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines. In fact, there’s nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall. These changes may cause some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better…. pages that drop after a core update don’t have anything wrong to fix. This said, we understand those who do less well after a core update change may still feel they need to do something. We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”

How Should UK Law Firms Respond to the May 2020 Google Algorithm Update?

The most important thing to do is nothing at first. Let the dust settle as Google usually fixes what it ‘breaks’ in a major Core Update (and it inevitably does break things), and those fixes can take two weeks to take effect, will need time to settle and then we can see what we might need to fix, if required.

Some websites will emerge from an update with the same rankings but less traffic, others with better traffic (though not always the right traffic), and some can even emerge with the same or better rankings, but still receive less traffic. Those websites that have fulfilled the latest algorithm criteria the best will emerge with noticeable gains in correctly targeted traffic. It’s reasonable to allow a month to pass before taking any corrective measures as and when necessary. The dust really does need to settle here as you may even find post-algorithm gains or losses will self-correct in the following weeks.

After a bit of time has passed, analyse traffic to your home and service pages and see which ones have lost traffic post update. Take that list of pages and then consider those pages against the points covered below.

Google’s Content Quality Guidelines

  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
  • Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
  • Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopaedia or book?

The Additional Factors Affecting the Legal Sector

Unfortunately, we are talking about another algorithm update here, The Medic Update which I blogged about targeting what are called ‘your money or your life’ (YMYL) pages back in December of 2018. The legal industry is amongst those held to a higher standard of trust and authority than other industries that do not affect a user’s health, wealth or welfare hence the acronym YMYL.

As a result, law firm websites must maintain higher standards than a retail site. It must provide users with value-adding, authoritative, informative, well-structured content and it must demonstrate industry standard accreditations and relevant backlinks. In all things, it must demonstrate expertise, authority and trust in its dealings with site users.

This is basically the Google content quality guidelines above but taken to a higher level of trust and authoritativeness. Legal sector content must do more than simply sell its product. The good news is that if you are doing this already you most likely will emerge unscathed from most algorithm updates, although even the best content will need refreshing every couple of years in most cases. We hammer on endlessly about content with our clients because it matters, and it works.

The below image shows traffic to a YMYL website that made no changes to its content following a previous Core Update in December 2019. If you notice this kind of sustained drop and do not look at improving your content don’t expect the situation to reverse by itself.

To Summarise

If your law firm’s website has come out of an algorithm update with permanently impacted traffic levels after previously performing well, you need to begin by examining your content. No matter how good that content was formerly, it has now been deemed less valuable by Google and that won’t change until you fix the page, or they change the algorithm again.

Consider page length, formatting, internal and external links, keyword targeting, information to sales pitch ratio, meta data, images and/or other media, authoritativeness and demonstration of trust. Create your new page with these factors in mind and then request Google recrawl your new page (via the Google Search Console) to speed up the indexing process. Monitor progress and be prepared to let your new changes bed in.

If you follow the above guidelines (best practice) you should emerge from most updates unaffected.

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