How to Keep Up With the Latest SEO Trends
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” If you set up a website for your legal practice you may have caught sight of this term once or twice and wonder what it means. Search engine optimization for lawyers involves enhancing your website’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs) so your pages get as high up the first page of results as possible.
It takes time to find out all the issues and tricks of this trade and if you are also representing clients you probably won’t have much time to dedicate to the study of SEO. However, don’t panic, accept that learning SEO is an ongoing process, and make a steady progression. Following these simple guidelines, you will become sufficiently knowledgeable so that you can form a strategy to get your law firm’s site at the top of Google search.
1. Stay Fresh
SEO topics change all the time. Last year’s great idea may be this year’s poison. Google is the most important search engine on the Web and they change their algorithm frequently. The main driver for these changes is to block off the cheats that SEO experts come up with. Therefore, checking the date on any advice you read is vital. You don’t want to invest in making adjustments to your site only to find that those changes are now outdated.
This topic is outside your usual comfort zone of the law, but fortunately, Optimized Attorney has a series of SEO news roundups that are posted every week. Look for the articles labeled “SEO Trends.” You will see links to key articles on those roundups but you should also pay regular visits to the sites of Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, MozBlog, Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Roundtable to get human-readable information on the current state of SEO.
2. Study Time
Put aside at least half an hour each week to read an in-depth guide on a particular aspect of SEO – if you can get away from your case load twice a week, even better. Search Engine Land has a comprehensive library of guides. If you find yourself a little bewildered by these sources, you might prefer to look at the guides available on the Optimized Attorney site. You are probably used to buying legal guides from Optimized Attorney. However, the site also offers free in-depth guides on SEO, such as Recovering from Bad SEO, written by yours truly.
3. Tailor Your Research
You may start to find that much of what you read on SEO is irrelevant to the needs of your law practice. Don’t let that feeling put you off. This is a good thing. This signifies that you are now able to discern the different specialist topics within the broad field of “SEO.” Just as different specializations in the law require you to advertise in different publications, the circumstances of where your client base originates will also dictate the SEO strategy you adopt. For example, if you are a general practitioner, gaining all of your clients from the local community, you will need to focus on local search technology. If you get a lot of emergency room work, you will need to excel in mobile searches.
4. Take a Class
If you are a sole practitioner, or your firm has put all the success of its Web strategy on your shoulders, you may find that reading one guide a week is not enough to get you to the level of expertise you need. In these cases, you should consider taking a course. You can find SEO courses listed in the “Meet Up” system, like these events registered for the Los Angeles area. Some SEO training enterprises, like Search Engine Workshops have sites all over the world and you may find a location close to your home. If you are unable to take time out from your legal practice to go and sit in a classroom, you could look into online training, a quick scan of YouTube can get you training for free.
A final phase on getting the inside track on SEO is to get in touch with others in your position and those who specialize in the field. SES Conferences and Search Marketing Expo hold regular events at locations around the world. Attending one of these conferences will enable you to take a break from the day to day pressures of your legal work so you can fully focus on the topic of SEO. If you can’t leave your desk, then search Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to find SEO topics.
Understanding Google’s Algorithm Updates
Over the past few months Google unleashed their power on legal and other websites with the new exact match domain (EMD) update on September 28. A couple of days later, Google confirmed that it rolled out a major Panda algorithm update the day before the EMD. The tandem updates threw many webmasters for a loop.
Head of Google webspam team Matt Cutts then announced on Twitter that Google was rolling out the latest data refresh for Penguin.
Is all this action coincidental or deliberate? Any guess would be speculation at this point, but many prominent webmaster news sources have already voiced their suspicions. On that note, let’s examine each update to discern what exactly occurred.
The EMD Update
When the EMD announcement came in the last week of September, it came as little surprise to most webmasters. Google alluded to the change repeatedly as far back as 2010. Some niche site builders have ignored the threats entirely, opting instead to continue tempting fate by churning out low-quality websites. These sites often hinged on exact match domains to help secure their position in the SERPs.
The EMD algorithm is actually a filter through which Google sifts every website it has in its index. Now, websites with exact match domain names and low-quality content won’t cruise by Panda undetected any longer. If you are the owner of such a website, prepare yourself. The EMD algorithm will periodically refresh its data just like Panda and Penguin do now, so even if you escape the first go ’round, you may get caught in a follow-up attack down the road.
There are already rumors flying around that every owner of an exact match domain website is doomed. We disagree. The thought is that websites with high-quality content and an eye on good user experience will remain untouched by the algorithm. This remains to be seen, however – we’ll find out for sure when the dust settles after all the changes.
“Are the updates allowing Google to favor itself? I wouldn’t say so. After all, it didn’t wipe out:
- Cars.com for “cars”
- Usedcars.com for “used cars”
- Cheaptickets.com for “cheap tickets”
- Movies.com for “movies”
- Skylightbooks.com for “books”
Instead, EMD is more likely hitting domains like www.orangecountyduidefense.com, which is a made-up example but hopefully gets the point across. It’s a fairly generic name with lots of keywords in it but no real brand recognition.
Domains like this are often purchased by someone hoping that just having all the words they want to be found for (“Orange County DUI Defense Lawyers”) will help them rank well. It’s true that there’s a small degree of boost to sites for having search terms in their domains with Google, in general.
One fact is certain, however: Google tends to roll out updates hastily and then tweak and perfect with each refresh. If you have a high-quality site with an EMD and you were hit, don’t despair. You may have a chance to come back in the SERPs as the algorithm refines further over time.
The Panda Update
It is uncertain why Google did not announce the release of the new Panda update until days after it happened.
Some are speculating that the overlapping updates were an attempt to confuse webmasters and SEOs whose rankings would take a nosedive. It would be hard to decipher whether the hit was because of the EMD filter or due to Panda. When it’s hard to pinpoint the cause, it’s tougher to manipulate the rankings for a second time – forcing webmasters to play by the rules instead.
The Panda update is the twentieth refresh of the algorithm, and it was a big one: the change impacted roughly 2.4% of English-language search queries and it’s still baking into the index at the time of this writing. Remember, Panda deals with on-page issues such as keyword density and the overall quality of your content.
The Penguin Update
The Penguin update is different from Panda in that it deals with inbound links to websites.
If a website has a large number of low-quality inbound links, Penguin will likely demote that site in the SERPs when the filter runs. The Penguin algorithm has only had one update so far, before the summer even began.
The latest marks the third update of Penguin, and it’s a major data refresh that will affect websites spanning many different languages. Think of Penguin as a periodic filter that Google runs to catch websites with sketchy backlink profiles.
The Way Forward
This is a lot of information to digest for anyone … let alone those not in the search industry. When things settle, you’ll begin to see a little more clearly where your sites have relocated in the search result pages. That’s when it’s time to break out the stats and analyze site details such as your backlink profile, your content, and your domain name.
Do you have an EMD with thin, mediocre content? Then the EMD update probably hit you.
Don’t have an exact match domain, do have great backlinks but still felt the sting? Then it was likely Panda.
Is everything beautiful onsite but backlinks include some shady websites? Blame Penguin.
Once you know what hit your website, you can take corrective actions to fix the errors. The downside? You’ll have to wait until the refresh of the suspected algorithm attack to see if your website will bounce back. The upside? With a little work and the right analysis, your website’s position in the SERPs can be restored.
Google’s Penguin 4 Update Has Enhanced Spam Detection
The ever-changing world of online marketing and SEO is extremely volatile and often unpredictable. As techniques for ranking on search engines become mainstream, Google treats these tactics differently. A good example of this alteration in techniques is the latest update on Penguin 4.
Update to Google
This update contains, what some are calling a “curve ball” because it is simultaneously integrating some of the features from Penguin 2.0. According to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, “About 2.3 percent of English-US queries are affected to the degree that a regular user might notice.” Meaning that Google’s most recent update will more effectively attempt to weed out what Google considers spam sites.
Penguin 4.0 was released on May 22 and this update was the first time — within the context of the Penguin updates — that Google has opted to change the algorithm they apply to search results. The first three updates for Penguin all happened in 2012, and since then there have been an unending onslaught of speculation on when and how Google would implement the newest changes. On his blog, Matt Cutts went as far as to explain that “we’ve been referring to this change as Penguin 2.0 internally.”
These changes are not all bad or carry solely negative impacts for SEOs. For instance, one of the new features that Google has implemented with this update is the ability to report spam sites. You can find a link to that page here.
While the changes that Google has planned for future updates will continue to be ambiguous and mainly speculative, however, that does not mean that updates like Penguin 4.0 should be viewed as daunting or inhibiting. With more features on the way, Google is paving the way for SEO companies to be successful, as long as they remain within the bounds of what Google considers acceptable.
The past two years have seen almost constant change in Google’s algorithm. They just changed it again. This change is very welcome. Google’s core algorithm is a never-ending process. As soon as it has finished calculating the rankings of all the Web pages in the world it starts all over again. After the algorithm has given every page a ranking, Google then applies “filters,” which adjust the rankings of every page either up or down. The two important filters that command everyone’s attention are Panda and Penguin. Penguin judges pages for the quality of the links that point to it and Panda judges the quality of a page’s content. There have been big movements on Panda over the past week, and you may find that the rankings of your law firm’s website pages have suddenly adjusted. Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land spotted these moves. Search Engine Roundtable gives us the techie angle on the changes and Moz Blog has a nice trick you can use to manipulate rankings if you have a large law firm.
Here is the top story about recent changes in rankings. If you noticed the rankings of your law firm’s site judder over the last week, don’t worry – everyone went through it. As ever, Google didn’t give any warnings that it had changed its core algorithm, but the rankings of so many pages changed that it raised a lot of chatter on the Webmaster message boards. This recalculation was not just a regular rerun of the algorithm because a lot of rankings shuffled significantly. This leads the experts to surmise that Google has changed its algorithm. This topic makes everyone jumpy because we were all holding our breath for a run of the rarely applied Penguin filter. It wasn’t Penguin.
A week after the article above, this notification was put out by Search Engine Roundtable. The search engine seems to have been experimenting with its core algorithm over the week because everyone’s rankings have been up and down like a yoyo. Did your law firm’s pages bounce around Google’s results pages? Note a second confirmation from the high Gods of Google that this was not a Penguin visitation.
Aha! Now we know. It wasn’t Penguin, it was Panda. Panda is now officially not a filter, it has merged into the core algorithm. This is actually good news. Google runs its filters very rarely. So if you got a penalty on your law firm’s rankings from Panda or Penguin, you used to have to wait ages for any good work you did cleaning up your act for the next run of the filter to absolve you. Panda will now run almost constantly along with the main ranking calculations. This will make it a lot easier for you to experiment with your content – you will get much faster feedback on whether it is a rankings winner or a loser.
This story is a little bit confusing. It could be a good thing. We have all been informed that Panda is now a part of the core algorithm, but Penguin is not. However, reading between the lines, the news here may be that Penguin could be made redundant. Google insider John Mueller announced that the algorithm now blocks the passage of ranking points from one page to another, if the site containing the link seems a little spammy. Penguin’s task is to smite the pages that are pointed to by bad links and cherish those with good backlinks. However, if Google is just ignoring links from bad sites, then who needs Penguin? This change may be the reason for the big ranking changes you may have seen for your law firm’s site over the past week, and it also hints that the Penguin roll out that everyone is waiting for may never come.
If your law firm is very big and generates a lot of result page-worth pages, you may feel frustrated that a lot of them never appear in Google. They seem to have been dropped from the list and Google arbitrarily picks a few representative pages for your firm’s presence in the list. This article explains a nifty trick you can use to override the limiting factor. All those other pages exist in Google’s index, you just have to use guile to force the search engine to show them in results pages.
Search engines records all the pages on the Web through programs called Web crawlers – Google’s are known as Googlebots. The programs log each page and scan it for keywords. The search engine then applies an algorithm to each keyword listing to work out the order that pages will appear if anyone searches on that keyword. This is the ranking algorithm. Periodically, Google applies other programs that adjust those rankings. These programs are called filters. The most important filters are called Penguin and Panda. Tweaking your law firm’s website pages to catch a rankings boost from either Penguin or Panda is the main focus of SEO these days. There are filter runs in the pipeline and it is always worth keeping your ear to the ground on when they will occur. Search Engine Roundtable is an especially good source of information on what Google is up to. Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land also have information this week on the topic of filters.
This article gives an excellent explanation of filters and the effects they can have on the rankings of your law firm’s website. The writer makes the distinction between losing ranking through a manual penalty and losing rankings through the results of a filter. The core ranking algorithm runs almost constantly, but the filters are only applied periodically. If you see your rankings slide and do something about it, you won’t detect any immediate benefits from those changes. You have to wait until Google runs their filters again, but they don’t run them on a regular schedule and they don’t warn when they are going to do it. Just to add to the confusion, they often adjust the filter programs, so that factor that lost you rankings last time around may not exist any more as a down-ranking factor in the filter.
Barry Schwartz is the person to follow in order to keep track of impending algorithm changes or filter runs. He is the editor and main contributor to Search Engine Roundtable. However, as a legal practitioner, you may find that site a little too techie for your palate. Luckily, Barry also contributes to Search Engine Land, which is a lot more human-readable than Search Engine Roundtable. This article is an example of important search engine news that is the bread and butter of Search Engine Roundtable, but is so important that Search Engine Land got Schwartz to write a less technical version of the story so that the rest of the human race could understand it. This piece includes a list of the dates that Google has adjusted and reapplied its Penguin filter. As you can see, the operation of this program is sporadic. The company plans to make the filter into a constantly-reapplying algorithm.
This article is typical Barry Schwartz output over at Search Engine Roundtable. Barry specializes in following chatter on algorithm and filter updates. Here we read that an SEO consultant noticed a sudden change in a client’s rankings and put out the word to find out whether others experienced the same movements. Barry did his own research and concluded that there hadn’t been a reapplication of the mobile-friendliness filter. You may detect sudden changes in your law firm’s rankings on certain keywords. When that happens, it is always a good idea to check with Search Engine Roundtable to see whether that movement was caused by a filter.
Here is Schwartz reporting again on another adjustment that some SEO consultant had detected. In this instance, the talk is not about a change in one of Google’s filters, but in its core algorithm. If the keyword rankings of your law firm’s website suddenly fall, it could be because of a filter application or a core algorithm change. If you check with Search Engine Roundtable and there is no news of any such event, you may have incurred a manual penalty. If your rankings suddenly shoot up and there are no reports of any changes in Google’s programs just thank your lucky stars.
Panda is probably the filter you should keep your eye on most. In all likelihood you invest most of the digital marketing effort for your law firm in content for your website. The Panda filter rewards and punishes sites over their content. This article, also by Schwartz, illustrates the constant frustrations in the SEO world that Google’s management of Panda causes. A lot of Google watchers have been digging for months to try to work out when the Panda filter will be applied again. They thought they had pinpointed a date, and then it didn’t happen. If your rankings get hit by a Panda run because of shoddy content, you will rush to fix all those problems. You might even pay a consultant a lot of money to sort it out for you, and then get no benefit at all for the outlay. This is because you are stuck with that low ranking until Google runs Panda again.
Google’s New Rules
SEO Trends usually focuses on breaking news from the past week. However, this week’s post breaks out of that format, because an accumulation of not very important changes in Google’s algorithm over the past two months adds up to important moves that you need to review. Barely noticeable tweaks here and there have been pulsing through Google’s strategy and they point towards the search engine’s new direction, so it is a good idea to look into those changes so you can assess whether your law firm’s website needs a few tweaks as well. The major piece of news this week is that Google has released a revision of its Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines. Never heard of them? We have a link through to a very good summary of them from November 2015 when they were first released. You will also read about a series of small changes that Google has made over the last month, as reported in Search Engine Journal. The star guest publication this week is The SEM Post, whose owner, Jennifer Slegg, is our source for the original review of Google’s guidelines as posted in the Moz Blog.
Search Engine Land reports on the update to Google’s Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines, but the main benefit of the article is its link through to Slegg’s more thorough analysis of the updates, which we shall look at later. Very important points to note here are some new terms that Google has introduced into its in-house jargon. Note that Google now calls “local search” “visit-in-person.” Since the beginning of the year, SEO Trends has been emphasizing that Google is focusing on local search and here is more evidence of this trend. Another essential topic for law firms is the “Your Money Your Life” category, because that includes legal postings on the web. One more phrase that should now become central in every website owner’s dictionary is “E-A-T,” which stands for “Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.” Those three quality factors seem to be the new pillars on the façade of Google temple.
This is a very important article that you should try to make time to read in its entirety. Basically, it is a thorough explanation of what Google wants to see on Web pages. Back in November, when the quality rater’s guide came out, it wasn’t seen as hugely important, because the scores that quality raters give pages don’t actually count towards rankings. You might think then, that these guidelines are a waste of time, and back last November, you probably would have been right, which is why we didn’t feature it in SEO Trends. However, Google’s revision of these guidelines shows that they are becoming more important and they give an increasingly central view of Google’s shifting strategy. So, read through this article and check that your law firm’s website is on-message with the topics it covers.
Don’t follow the link to download a copy of these guidelines, because you can get the updated version, which you will read about next. Don’t worry too much about the “spammy” warnings of the article, because if you have taken on board all the advice about Penguin and Panda, you already have those problems covered. You also don’t have to spend too much time on the “supplementary content” section, because the updates have reduced the influence of this category. The very important sections here are the “Your Money Your Life” principle, and the section about “E-A-T.”
Now we meet up with Jennifer Slegg on her own property, The SEM Post, to get her very thorough run-down of the changes to the guidelines. Again, this is very long, and you may be too busy with your legal case load to find time to read it all. However, try to make the time, because it is very important. You can download the new guidelines from the Google Inside Search website.
After all that reading on the Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines you may not have much time to spare from your legal case work to read any more about Google changes. However, this article has some more important news for you. Although its title heralds 3 Google updates, the article actually lists 5. We have touched on AMP before at SEO Trends. You should be looking into this technology more as a method of speeding up delivery of your site to mobile devices, rather than as a boost to ranking factors. We have also covered the moves that Google has initiated to alter the display of advertising on its results pages. However, the point about disclosure is worth noting. As a lawyer, you will be aware that it is sometimes better to over-declare than accidentally omit a connection, so this factor may be relevant to your website.
History of Google Updates
Google Introduces “Pigeon”
Google released a new ranking algorithm, called Pigeon on July 24th. Although that event is slightly outside of this roundup’s timeframe, not many people noticed the shake up at the time and commentary and analysis only started to emerge over the past week.
Small to medium law firms get the vast majority of their clients from their local area, and so Pigeon‘s specialization – local searches – should interest you greatly. Search Engine Watch, The Moz Blog and Search Engine Land will help you understand the latest changes in local search processing.
This Search Engine Land article was the first to notice the update and attempt to explain it. Reading this piece will help you get grounding in the purpose of the Pigeon algorithm. This article doesn’t contain any analysis or technical specifications, so a non-technical law partner or practice manager should be able to digest it easily.
Moz got one of its marketing scientists, Dr. Peter J. Meyers, to write this article covering a number of recent search engine changes. Pigeon is the last of the four major recent changes wrought by the search engine that Dr Meyers classifies as a shake up. As a scientist, Dr Meyers illustrates his writing with graphs. Don’t let this put you off if you are not technically minded, though. The main thrust of his Pigeon analysis focuses on pins on Google maps that represent multiple businesses. This will be of interest to you if your offices are in a building that houses many other law practices.
Google didn’t come up with the name “Pigeon,” Search Engine Land did – and they have been crowing about it ever since. This second article on the topic from SEL covers the inevitable glitches that emerged with Pigeon, as with just about every other new ranking algorithm. New algorithm updates take about a week to settle in, so if your law firm’s rankings have suddenly gone haywire, don’t worry too much.
SEL pounded the Pigeon again with this piece at the end of July. Here, a number of SEO consultants weigh in with their analysis of the initial impact of the algorithm. You will see a lot of references to “packs” in this article – this means when one pin on a map represents several different businesses.
One of the experts featured in the above SEL article, Mike Blumenthal, is the primary source for this Search Engine Watch analysis of Pigeon. Law practitioners with little technical knowledge should find this article easy to understand.
Google’s sequencing of search results is performed by a number of algorithms that give a score to every page on the Web with respect to particular keywords. The page with the highest score comes highest in the query results and this is called its “ranking.” Issues that can enhance or damage a page’s rankings because of content quality are assigned to a suite of programs called the Panda algorithm. Indicators show that Google has decided to rethink its position on what it defines as “quality content.” In March 2014, the company gave even clearer signals that Panda is being downgraded. This move will have a major impact on the content marketing policy of law firm websites.
At its inception, Panda was called “Farmer.” This was because it was created to downgrade the importance of “content farms.” A content farm is a company that exists to mass produce articles for the general public. Many of these media companies produce quality articles by established writers. However, as with any bandwagon, the strategy soon became overplayed. Large volumes of poorly presented articles written by cheap Third World telecommuters soon proliferated and quantity triumphed over quality. The first release of Panda occurred in February 2011. The company continued refining the algorithm through to September of that year. The September 2011 update was dubbed Panda 2.5 and it seemed to benefit sites like You Tube and news sites above all others.
The “Freshness” update of November 2011 amplified the effects of Panda 2.5. It put in place the final element that left content marketers with two conflicting strategies. This caused the advancement of blogs and news items above detailed analysis that has long-term currency. Sites offering celebrity gossip proliferated as did plagiarizers. The importance of freshness meant that a copy of an article ranked higher than the original article, because it was newer. The Freshness update affected three times as many sites on the Web as the original Panda release. It altered everyone’s content strategy.
Before Panda, a US law firm could increase its rankings by adding pages of legal advice to its site. You could attract visitors to your Web page by writing titles such as “What do I do in a divorce?” “Who gets the kids?” “The truth about rights for fathers,” and so on. This type of content rarely alters, so you could write it once and then attract visitors year after year. The law changes very slowly and so you would only need to update your advice articles periodically.
Following on from the freshness update you should have switched your content from a knowledge base to a news site. SEO experts should have advised you to produce a blog on your site and add a news page as well. The blog would cover topics like a fathers rights to child access, but should use current examples, rather than express eternal truths. The firm’s news page would probably have been read by few people. However, an item on the installation of a new coffee machine and discussions over changing the firm’s logo, would add freshness to the whole site and therefore advance the rankings of every page. You should have got your major partners and specialists to post blog articles on other websites to attract visitors to your own site. This strategy is called “guest blogging.”
Google noticed that they had created another monster and in the December 2011 updates they very quietly began to tone down Panda and reduce the importance of freshness. The process of getting back lost rankings is called “recovery” and blogging was the most effective Panda recovery strategy you could have implemented. However, the most effective Panda recoveries have all been implemented by Google themselves.
Google’s head of “spamdexing” is Matt Cutts. “Spamdexing” is Google’s terms for the clever tricks that cheat the system and improve a site’s rankings. Therefore anyone involved in search engine optimization is very interested in whatever Matt Cutts has to say. In January 2014, Cutts announced on his own Google-endorsed blog that he was sick of guest blogging. This, in connection with the Panda recovery updates of 2012 and 2013 signaled that the company was about to swing back in favor of articles and against blogs.
Cutts was a guest speaker at the SMX West conference in March 2014. He announced that the company is currently working on a “softening” of Panda, which he expects to be released in May or June of the same year. The justification for this Panda recovery is that the search engine wants to help small businesses and that means small legal practices catering to their local communities will benefit. However, taken in context of all other Panda recovery moves, this announcement can have only one result for your content marketing strategy. Dust down your old articles and make sure they are still current. Get ready to de-emphasize your law firm’s blog and reinstate your knowledge base.
We reported in March of this year that Google was planning to release an update to its Panda algorithm that would greatly benefit small business websites and would negate much of the disadvantages imposed on content-rich sites by the Google Panda algorithm. We forecast that this update would occur towards the end of May and lo and behold, on the 20th of this month, the SEO news site began to report that the new update had gone live. It is called Panda 4.0 and it will greatly assist the websites of small US law firms.
Search Engine Land was the first to break the news of the rollout with this evening posting on May 20th. Webmasters had been reporting sudden changes and reversals of those changes in their ranking on Google for weeks. This intimated that Google was testing a new algorithm. These signs, together with Matt Cutts’ announcement back in March put all the SEO news sites on alert looking for news of the update. Search Engine Land’s late night news desk caught the announcement of “Panda 4.0.”
Search Engine Watch caught up with events the next morning on the 21st. This article explains the confusion about the effects of the Panda update because it was rolled out in conjunction with an amendment to Google’s algorithm adjustments to down-rank the sites of Payday lenders.
This article, posted by Search Engine Land on the 21st, details the winners and losers of the algorithm update. This topic was also covered by Search Engine Journal, who also noticed that the rankings of eBay got severely battered. This was a puzzle, as is the mix of losers, which include Biography.com and History.com – two sites noted for quality content. Heartwarming news comes from the winners list, which includes a number of sites giving medical advice and listing medical professionals. This confirms rumors that the update would improve the rankings of professionals giving advice – professionals like doctors and lawyers. No legal sites made it into the list of winners, but algorithm updates usually takes weeks to bed in and take full effect. So stay tuned for signs of benefit to law firm websites from this update.
“It Was A Manual Action Against eBay, Not Panda 4.0″ That Caused A Drop In Rankings, According to Re/Code
Although Search Engine Land caught this story, we have already had two articles from them in this roundup, so let’s take this news from Search Engine Journal. It turns out the sudden down-ranking of eBay was the result of a manual penalty applied to the auction site and was completely unrelated to the Panda 4.0 rollout. Therefore, this event shouldn’t be taken into account when planning your law firm’s Web strategy.
By May 22nd, the dust was settling and pulses were getting back to normal. The SEO news sites were able to start filing their more considered reports on the update and this article from Search Engine Journal is a nice example. The article hands over the mike to a number of well-known SEO experts, so you will save yourself time trolling around all the sites by reading through this compilation. The article is an easy read for a non-technical audience.
This Search Engine Roundtable article covers pretty much the same territory as all the others listed in this roundup, but with one advantage for the non-techie lawyer: it’s brief. The main point of interest in this article is the long list of Panda updates it includes. This is an eye opener for those of you who are not that into SEO. The list is very long.
However, bear in mind this only covers updates to one of Google’s many algorithm and only goes up to March of last year, when Google decided that its Panda updates would be too numerous to name.
In last week’s SEO Trends article you read about Google’s filters and how difficult it is to detect when they will be run. You will remember that despite keeping his ear constantly to the ground, Search Engine Roundtable’s Barry Schwartz was unable to predict when the next run of the Panda filter would be. Estimates that it was about due at the beginning of July were proved wrong. Barry concluded that the next run probably wouldn’t be for at least another month. Immediately following Schwartz’s formulation of that conclusion, Google announced a rollout of a new updated version of the Panda filter, called Panda 4.2. We revisit Search Engine Roundtable this week to follow Schwartz’s discovery of the new Panda version. Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land carried more reaction to the event. Panda is the filter Google uses to adjust rankings according to content-related issues. The likelihood is that your law firm’s website has evolved considerably over the past year, but hasn’t seen any improvements in rankings. This run of Panda should fix that problem.
Schwartz posted this article on Search Engine Roundtable on the 20th, back when he didn’t know what was about to happen with Panda. This was a lucky piece of timing for Schwartz because he put his finger nicely on the common lament of SEOers, and foretold that the pending Panda update might fix the problem. He relates the experience that somebody posted on a community board. That person had worked through a backlog of issues with a website to address all the factors that Google has introduced over the past year to boost rankings. However, the webmaster detected no improvement in the rankings for the site. Schwartz suggests that the site was probably in need of a Panda run to wipe away the overwhelming weight of downranking factors applied at the last run. This is a common occurrence in the world of website design, and you have probably experienced it with your law firm’s website.
As is usual, Schwartz was the first to spot the Google filter run. However, he chose to announce his discovery in Search Engine Land on July 22, rather than on his home website, Search Engine Roundtable. There is some important advice in this piece that you should take on board when checking your law firm’s Google rankings over the next month. Schwartz says that this rollout is happening very slowly and will not cover the whole of the Web for another month. You may get ranking boosts on some of your pages but not others. However, keep watching because they will all get processed eventually.
Schwartz released the Panda rollout news at Search Engine Roundtable on the 23rd. In this piece he explains that his own site was hit by the last Panda run in 2014. He notes that he can already detect an upswing in the traffic his site gets through Google. He elaborated on this theme the next day with more information about his own site’s experience with both the September 2014 Panda run and the latest rollout. He doesn’t explain whether he believes this improvement is due to adjustments he made to his content, or whether Google has rewritten the filter to make it more forgiving. Certainly, if you have tidied up the content on your law firm’s website, you should now start to see some ranking gains as reward for your hard work. His follow up article, Stats On My Google Panda 4.2 Recovery, gives further analysis.
Search Engine Journal caught up on the 24th with this article on the Panda rollout. Here we read about the experience of SEO guru Glenn Gabe, who has noticed a fall in Google traffic and also a rise. The article doesn’t explain whether these opposite effects were experienced on two different sites, or two pages on the same site. However, this is something to bear in mind when looking for changes to Google referrals to your law firm’s website. The phenomenon of a page dropping in the rankings may only be because that page has not been re-scored by Panda yet. As rankings are relative, one page going up means other pages will go down. Therefore, you may see some odd results until the filter has been applied to all the pages on the Web.
Search Engine Watch also waited until the 24th before posting news about the Panda run. This report echoes the findings of the Search Engine Journal article – some sites are unchanged, some have got an upgrade, some have lost rankings. Keep monitoring the throughput from Google to the pages on your law firm’s site. Today’s rankings are not final.
Google started to roll out a refresh of its Panda filter on the 18th of July. For “technical reasons” Google chose to roll out this update very slowly, and warn that it will take months to complete. The fact that rankings are relative means that no one will get a definitive view of their changing positions until the rollout has completed. A month after the implementation began we should be getting some feedback from the SEO community about the effects of Panda 4.2. However, the SEO news sites are silent on the topic. This week’s SEO Trends examines advice on Content coming out of the SEO news sites, in order to seek buried news on Panda. Have the new rules of Panda been completely ignored, or are the SEOs integrating their knowledge of the new normal into their advice on content marketing? Search Engine Journal, the Moz Blog and Search Engine Roundtable have all been scanned this week in the SEO Trends search for Panda.
Moz makes a living by selling SEO tools, so the company has to keep on top of changes in Google’s ranking methodology. You may have played around with the free tools Moz offers when analyzing your law firm’s site. This week, the company produced its survey of ranking factors, as rated by SEO experts. They don’t mention Panda at all. However, Panda examines the quality of content and those issues are covered across a number of Moz’s site characteristic categories. Most experts seem to think that linking issues are increasing in importance, above those of content. The follow up article on the Search Engine Ranking Factors survey slices the data on a different plane, but doesn’t offer any more Panda-specific advice.
Search Engine Roundtable’s Barry Schwartz makes it his life’s work to track changes in Google’s algorithm. In this article he communicates information emerging from Google about the treatment of dead links. This is an odd one. Google is supposed to rate sites on the quality of the experience that visitors receive from a site. The 404 error message is the screen your browser shows when it gets a response from a Web server that the requested page does not exist. That means the user followed a dead link into a site, which is surely a bad user experience. Google’s Gary Illyes says that 404s do not influence the Panda score of a site. Schwartz explains that one SEO method to remedy Panda-downranked pages is to just delete them, ridding the site of their rank-losing poison. It seems that is a good strategy you could use for clunkers on your law firm’s site.
Google is up to something. Their staff seem to be giving misleading answers on the factors that influence ranking. It could be that they are being “clinically honest,” which is a tactic most lawyers would understand. The headline of this article states that user actions on websites do not influence ranking factors. However, the Google insider was specifically asked about users filling in forms on sites. He said Google’s Web crawlers can’t track such actions. However, the comments section of this article is more useful than the article. It is true that Google Panda rankings are not derived from monitoring the movements of visitors to a page. However, “bounce rate,” which is the time a visitor spends on a site is a factor. Panda assesses design quality of pages and computes attributes by analyzing its text and layout.
Wikipedia seems to have suffered a recent across-the-board loss in rankings. Could this be Panda 4.2 at work? The author doesn’t explore that possibility. Google has so many different algorithms and filters now that it is difficult to detect the effects of just one of them. However, given that Panda 4.2 focuses on content, and that Wikipedia is all about content, then there is a strong possibility that the bamboo eater had a hand in Wikipedia’s turmoil.
Informational pages on your law firm’s website will be the most likely targets of the latest Panda rollout.
Eric Van Buskirk explores why some sites get hit for content, while others seem to rank highly for almost identical content. He recounts the damage done to the eHow site by changes in Google’s algorithms. He attributes eHow’s failure to the introduction of the Hummingbird filter, but in fact, it was Panda that killed eHow. Many claim that Panda was originally designed specifically to hit eHow, which used to consistently fill up the first page of Google’s results. It is interesting that Wikipedia, which now occupies positions previously held by eHow, just got hit. It seems that 4.2 was aimed at Wikipedia the way that the original Panda was aimed at eHow. Writing articles on Wikipedia and citing your own site’s pages is an excellent source of link juice into your law firm’s website. It is a recommendation given before on SEO Trends, and it is a factor that this study by Van Buskirk includes. Follow the examples in this article and apply them to the informational pages on your law firm’s website to see if Panda damaged your rankings as it passed by your site.
Pandas & Penguins – Reasons to Fear or Reasons to Celebrate?
If you’re familiar with SEO, or someone who routinely monitors keyphrases and those all-too-precious Google rankings of your website, there’s a chance that the words “Penguin” and “Panda” strike fear in your mind. For many businesses, the word “Penguin” will certainly bring back unpleasant memories of last fall’s Google algorithm update, which sent hundreds of thousands of top sites plummeting to the “unfound” nether regions of Google’s ranking system. On the other hand (and hopefully this was the case), you may have been one of the lucky ones who benefited and experienced the desired positive results on your own site. Either way, Penguin and Panda are coming back around and we want you to know that at Optimized Attorney, we’re ready.
What Exactly Is Panda?
If all of this is new to you and that paragraph seemed like it was written in a foreign language, Panda is basically Google’s attempt to stop sites with low-quality content from ranking well within search engines. The latest Panda update just went live on March 15th, which means Google is once again redefining what it believes is high quality content, and it’s slowly changing the rankings in accordance with its new definition.
What James Knows – What James Is Doing
We do know that rather than dramatic, sudden shifts in rankings, this algorithm update is going to be gradual. According to Matt Cuts, Google’s distinguished search engineer:
Rather than having some huge change that happens on a given day, you’re more likely in the future to see Panda deployed gradually as we’re rebuilding the index, so you’re less likely to see these large scale sorts of changes.
We also know that the content we put on our sites is of extremely high quality. We don’t foresee any of our clients being negatively affected by this update; in fact, because we produce such high quality content, we believe that our sites will likely gain rankings as other competitor sites start to lose rankings from poor, low quality content.
What about Penguin?
Penguin updates are Google’s way of preventing sites that have spam and/or are associated with spam from ranking well. There are couple things to note here: Google is increasing the scope of what it defines as spam, as well as implementing a “guilty by association clause.” This means that potentially, if a “spammy” site is linking to your site (or vice versa), you could be punished with a lower ranking.
What James Knows – What James Is Doing
We know that we use only high quality links, and we do not use spam techniques to rank our clients. Again, this can be positive! As an added means of prevention, we are actively checking and disavowing any links that are directed to our clients’ websites from websites Google may consider spammy. Not only do we not think you’ll be negatively affected, you may even see an increase in your rankings as other competitors lose out from links they’ve obtained from non-credible sources.
So: What Does All This Mean?
To sum it up: we don’t think you need to worry. In fact, we only see positives and rewards for our clients who DO have top-notch content and top-quality links. However, with these algorithm updates, it’s impossible to guarantee anything one way or the other. We do want to ensure you that we’re monitoring all of our clients’ rankings even more closely than normal, and if we see any drastic changes, we’ll be the first not only to go over them with you, but also to develop a plan of attack and reinstate any rankings that get hit.
Penguin 2.0 Update
For attorneys, staying ahead of the game is necessary when you’re marketing your law firm. Google is always changing the rules when it comes to search engine optimization. They just released their latest update called Penguin 2.0, and it will transform web marketing for all businesses.
We understand that SEO can be confusing, and we’re here to help break it down for you. Here are some of the changes you can expect to see:
You cannot buy advertorials to boost your site’s ranking. Google has penalized many companies for doing this. For example, the UK flower seller Interflora got in trouble for using advertorials as a way to boost their site’s ranking before Valentine’s Day. They are implementing ways for this to stop completely.
Deny link spammers.
Google is targeting and addressing black hat spammers, so that way those websites are less likely to show up in search results.
They are implementing better ways to detect if and when your site is hacked, and to make sure that cleanup is much easier.
Authority in specific categories.
Google wants to make sure that any authority in a specific space will rank better in search results. For example, if you Google search “fast food,” McDonald’s might be the first to show up in results.
If you’re marketing the proper way and include great content, you shouldn’t have to worry about this. These changes are simply for those that are trying to beat the system by using Black Hat SEO and spamming. By the time these changes are implemented, it will be very hard for these types of web marketing schemes to infiltrate search ranks.
If you want to know more about the SEO updates, take a look at the video Google released:
Search Engine Land has a reputation for identifying and naming Google filters and their new versions. The rest of the industry follows their schema. For example, when Google created a new algorithm to enhance rankings of small businesses in local searches earlier this year, Search Engine Land spotted it and named it. That algorithm got the name Pigeon from Search Engine Land, not from Google. In this article, you will read that Penguin 3.0 was rolled out in October. As filter roll outs usually take about a week, how can Penguin 3.0 still be affecting your law firm’s rankings? It seems there have actually been a series of adjustments.
After posting the above article, Search Engine Land’s editor, Barry Schwartz kept his ear to the ground (or his bot to the Web) and noticed more changes. You will find a schedule at the end of the article which details the Search Engine Land opinion on the dates those extra updates occurred. If you have seen worrying and inexplicable movements in your law firm’s rankings, check down this list of dates to see whether you problems were caused by Google.
If your law practice is a small firm and you are trying to manage your own website in between case work, this article is a godsend. The flowchart embedded in the article gives a good strategy for monitoring your site’s rankings. If you click on it, a larger version will appear in an overlay. However, if you right-click instead you can select “Save image as..” and download it. Print it out and pin it to your wall.
Penguin down-ranks sites that have links from link farms and use scams like doorway pages or keyword stuffing to get unnatural advantages in the rankings game. The links that point to your law firm’s website from other sites are beyond your control, which opens up an avenue for competitors who may apply dirty tricks to pull your rankings below theirs. If you clean up your site, you will still have to wait until Penguin is run again before the penalties you were given by the previous run disappear. One solution is to just put up a new page that will get indexed in the normal way. You then have the dilemma of how to retain the following your old page attracted. A redirect is one method for doing this and this Search Engine Watch article discusses the merits and detractions of this technique.
Search Engine Journal has found a reason for the unusual duration of the Penguin 3.0 roll out. It seems Google intends to keep applying Penguin over and over again forever. This is good news and bad news for your efforts to keep your law firm’s rankings up. Google doesn’t announce any of the changes to its algorithm, so a high frequency of Penguin runs gives them a handy slot into which they can slip a major change whenever they feel like it. On the other hand, you won’t have to wait a year to recover your rankings once you have corrected any Penguin-provoking mistakes on your site. If this is true, the redirect method may become defunct.
Search Engine Roundtable reported last week that Google insider, John Mueller, has started to give very heavy hints that the release of Penguin 4.0 is on the horizon. This is both good news and bad news for all you SEOers in the legal world.
You probably remember that Penguin is Google’s “filter” that penalizes what it terms as “spammy” links. Once you have a Penguin penalty on your rankings it stays there until Google runs Penguin again. Even if you do all the right things to clean up your link profile, you won’t get any benefit for your hard work until Penguin comes around again. Google hasn’t run the Penguin filter for 85 weeks. On the other hand, if you have been taking risks with the quality of links you have pointing to your law firm’s website, you have very little time left to get on the right side of Google law before Penguin comes around. So, everyone focus.
The easiest way to get rid of bad backlinks is to use the Google Disavow system. Unfortunately, you may have tried this and encountered problems getting the system to accept your file. If you have had that kind of trouble, you are not the only one. Here is a quick tip on getting around the problem. Apparently there are certain characters that the Disavow system has problems with and if one of the URLs in your file contains one of those characters the whole file gets thrown out. If that sounds similar to a problem you had submitting a file for your law firm’s site, try submitting the URLs one line at a time.
This study raises two worrying aspects behind link perception. If backlinks are assumed to be paid for, users won’t click on them. Web surfers are notoriously resistant to advertising. The second problem is that paid links are one of Penguin’s targets. These are classified as “spammy.” As any lawyer knows, sometimes perception is more powerful than reality. The rankings of many Web pages have been hit as collateral damage, not because they have done anything wrong, but because the tricks they used to attract ranking points sailed dangerously close to actual contraventions of Google law. If you get a backlink on someone else’s site and they make it a nofollow, then you won’t get any link juice passed to your site, and the link will be worthless in terms of rankings.
Let’s move away from the troubling topic of Google penalties and think happy thoughts. If you are worried about any dodgy link-building tactics that a hired hand may have performed on behalf of your law firm’s site, then maybe it is just better to go back to the drawing board. If you paid someone else to create a link profile for you, try planning your own link building strategy. Once you have your goals in place you can check through your existing back links and disavow any that don’t fit into your new plan. Google always states that the best way to keep on the good side of Google law is to create genuine, targeted, trick-free marketing strategies for your website. If you do that, you should be safe from Penguin.
Once you have your law firm’s strategy in place you need to identify the appropriate, relevant sites where you want links from. Then you’ve got to persuade the people that run those sites to actually give you a link. This is easier said than done, particularly when you consider that Google law says you can’t pay for those links. Actually getting the right link on the right page of the right site is a stumbling block that most link builders come up against. This article gives some tips on overcoming that strategic obstacle.
Here is news of a cheat that seems to be working very well. This strategy could easily be implemented for a law firm. For example, you could write about 10 different sites about your practice area, by focusing on different types of clients. Then, you would give mutual links across all your sites. However, this is a dodgy strategy that might get hammered by Penguin 4.0. Hold off on trying anything like this until Penguin has been around. Given that it has been 85 weeks since the last Penguin run, you are likely to have plenty of time to experiment with cheats once Penguin 4.0 has finished its rounds.
There are so many different aspects to search engine optimization that you could quite easily spend so much of your time focusing on your rankings that you end up having no time left for your case load. Obviously, you need to focus on your legal work, and you don’t have time to do all the work yourself. SEO Trends issued a Penguin Alert two weeks ago. Penguin will penalize your site if there are “spammy” links pointing into it. No matter how little time you have to devote to your SEO strategy you should focus on your law firm’s website’s links profile right now.
Although time pressure may lean you towards outsourcing this task, we recommend doing as much as possible yourself on the issue of backlinks. This is because quick-fix offers can end up getting you into a worse position than no links at all. You will learn from Search Engine Roundtable, Search Engine Journal, and Search Engine Land.
SEO Trends has repeatedly focused on local search signals during the course of this year. Here in this report from Search Engine Journal, you get a chance to see the latest factors that will get you a good ranking for your law firm in local search. The top factor listed in this report is a familiar one: Links. It would be tragic if all of your hard work to get good local signals into your site is all negated by a large Penguin penalty. So, this shows how a penalty for bad links can undo all of the benefits you seek from other ranking factors. “Trust flow” and “citation flow” mean that the links that point into your site should come from sites that have authority and also are closely related to the topics of your pages.
After just a short time running your law firm’s website, you probably realize that different aspects of your site feed through into ranking points at different speeds. Sometimes, you do a lot of work on trying to increase your rankings, and it seems to have had no effect at all. In reality, that work will eventually pay off, but it just depends how long it takes for Google to notice those changes. There are many methods to discover what links are pointing into your pages. However, to get the definitive view of Google, you can look in Google’s Search Console. Search Engine Roundtable reports that the backlinks listed there are the links that Google counts when it calculates your rankings. These are the links that Penguin will take into account when deciding on a penalty for your site.
Here is a note of caution from an SEO consultant about how easy it is to attract bad backlinks. You may end up actively participating in the creation of that link, and possibly think that link is worth paying for. Always keep in mind the concepts that the link should come from a serious, authoritative, and well-organized site. Also, the topic of the page the link is on and the page on your law firm’s site that the link points to should be closely related. The easiest guide to deciding whether you should cooperate with a site to get a link is whether the people likely to visit that site and see the link are the type of people you are likely to get business from. So, for example, if you work in immigration law, an article on a minority community website would work very well; if you do family law, a link from a women’s center or a parent advocacy group would be a good idea.
Here is another word of warning about “too good to be true” link offers. The biggest warning Google gives us about backlinks is that you shouldn’t pay for them. To summarize: never, never, never pay for a link. It may be that the company that emailed you with an offer of a very high-quality link for your law firm’s site only got in touch with you. In reality, these people probably also emailed every other lawyer, and every pig farmer, every bakery, and every nail salon in the Northern Hemisphere. They are leaving dirty paw prints all over the Web. Penguin will spot them and slap penalties on all of their customers. Let the other law firms in your area fall for that one. You’re better off not paying.
Should you be focusing on your link profile right now? Yes, you should. Should you be losing sleep over the topic? Actually, yes, you should. However, just to end on a happy note, so you don’t turn to drink, here’s an uplifting piece that says you shouldn’t get stressed. The point of this article is not to tell you don’t bother about getting links for your law firm’s website. If you read through the article you will see that links are very important. The theme of this report is don’t go all out to get links at any cost. That message ties in with the advice of the two articles above – don’t pay for links, and don’t put links on irrelevant pages.