How Google’s Recent Algorithm Changes May Affect Your Law Firm’s Website-And What to Do about It

date: 05/25/2012

There has been lots of buzz about Google’s recent algorithm updates causing many website owners to panic. First there was the Panda update, which was released in February of 2011. This update was aimed at decreasing the rankings of low quality sites, and reportedly affected about 12% of all search results. Then there was the Penguin update, which went live on April 24th, 2012, targeting sites engaging in web spam tactics such as keyword stuffing and unethical link building.

While many webmasters are reporting dramatic decreases in organic search traffic, others are experiencing positive results. The good news is that if you play by Google’s rules, these, and all future algorithm updates, can benefit your website. Let’s talk about what you can do to make sure your law firm’s website benefits from these tweaks.

You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but now more than ever, your focus should be on creating high quality content for your website. Up until recently, the more pages you had indexed in the search engines, the more search traffic your website attracted. So there was an incentive to create as much content as possible, even if it was repetitive and low quality. Creating content for the sake of creating content is no longer an effective strategy. Focus on creating a smaller amount of high quality content as opposed to a high volume of lower quality content.

One of the best ways to do this is to incorporate a blog into your website. Using a platform such as Wordpress makes it easy to upload content without having to go through your IT department. Again, focus on writing useful information that will benefit and educate prospective clients. Additionally, if you have pages on your website that add little value and generate zero traffic, consider removing them so your best content stands out.

The Penguin update claims to penalize “over-optimized” websites. What exactly does this mean? Sites that abuse search engine optimization (SEO) tactics might be negatively impacted. This includes both onsite SEO (title tags, content) and offsite SEO (backlinks). Let’s discuss some best practices to ensure your website isn’t penalized for over-optimization.

1.    Refrain from keyword stuffing.

Keyword stuffing is the practice of repetitively using the same keyword in an effort to boost keyword density and improve rank for that specific keyword. Google is now penalizing any attempts to manipulate their search results. Keyword stuffing has been a popular technique used to inflate rankings in the past, but this tactic no longer works. Plus it provides a horrible user experience, as content is written for the search engines and not the end user. Always write with a prospective client in mind. If you were in their shoes, would you want to read your content? If you answered no, then it shouldn’t be on your website.

2.    Make sure your title tags sound natural.

Title tags are very important and search engines weigh this content heavily in their ranking algorithms. Keyword stuffing title tags worked well in the past, but updates suggest that this practice will most likely be penalized. The title tag is what people click on from the search results page, so you want this to read well and describe exactly what the specific page is about. Definitely include relevant keywords, but not in a repetitive manner.

3.    Vary your anchor text.

Anchor text is simply hyperlinked text. In the past, search engines gave a lot of weight to anchor text, as it generally is a good indicator as to what the page being linked to is about. So if a given webpage has the anchor text “Austin Personal Injury Attorney” on a variety of high authority sites, that specific webpage would likely rank well for the key phrase “Austin Personal Injury Attorney.” However, many webmasters have been abusing this tactic, trying to game the system and inflate rankings. It looks unnatural to Google if half of your links have the same exact anchor text, especially if it is a non-branded key phrase such as “Austin Personal Injury Attorney.” You need to create a natural backlink profile. If someone wanted to link to your webpage, how would they do it? Most would simply type in, or Your Company Name. Very few would use a non-branded keyword. So keep this in mind when building links. Make sure to vary your anchor text, including internal links within your website as well as external links from other sites.

4.    Vary your target pages.

Don’t point all your links to your homepage. A natural backlink profile will include links to your subpages as well as your homepage.

5.    Acquire links from relevant sources.

This one is pretty obvious. If you have a personal injury website, don’t get links from gambling sites and online pharmacies. In addition, you want links from a variety of site types. If you have almost exclusively one type of link, such as blog comments or directory links, this doesn’t look natural. You want as much diversity as possible. Also, if you only have do-follow links, this looks extremely unnatural. Even though no-follow links most likely have no SEO benefit, they are still an important part of any backlink profile. Otherwise, it looks like you’re trying to game the system.

The use of short cuts and exploitation of loopholes to succeed online is becoming a thing of the past. Spend your resources creating great content and promoting your content through useful channels. If you follow the above best practices and stick to Google’s webmaster guidelines, you won’t have to worry next time Google rolls out a major algorithm change.

About the Author:

David Smethie is Deal Origination Manager at RD Legal Funding, LLC, one of the nation’s leading providers of lawsuit settlement funding for plaintiff’s attorneys.

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