Law firms that market their services online understand the importance of search engine optimization, and particularly of ranking highly on Google. Because ranking highly can mean the difference between being found online and getting very little website traffic, understanding how Google ranks sites is one of the keys to successful online marketing. Now for the first time, Google has released its official 160 page Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines.
The Guidelines are rules that Quality Raters, AKA Google’s human fact-checkers, use when evaluating search results. While the Guidelines don’t actually spell out Google’s algorithms, these rules provide insight into what website characteristics and features Google feels searchers are looking for and want to find when they do a Google search. This information is invaluable to firms who want to improve search engine rankings, so for those who don’t have the time to plow through all 160 pages, here are a few key takeaways to consider from the guidelines:
What Factors Does Google Consider Most Important?
Google acknowledges that it doesn’t judge all websites on an equal basis. It’s unreasonable to hold the blog of a hobbyist or start-up business to the same high standards as those of global corporations.
“We have very different standards for pages on large, professionally-produced business websites than we have for small amateur, hobbyist, or personal websites. The type of page design and level of professionalism we expect for a large online store is very different than what we might expect for a small local business website.”
Google holds certain websites, including your law firm’s site, to a higher standard than others, because of the significant impact that the pages can have on a web searcher’s health, wealth, and happiness. Google refers to these as “Your Money or Your Life Pages (YMYL)” and devotes a section of their guidelines to them. They detail specific types of sites that fall into this YMYL category:
- Shopping or financial transaction pages, including online banking and all online stores
- Financial information pages, including pages that offer information on “investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchase, paying for college, buying insurance, etc.”
- Medical information pages, including general medical and pharmaceutical pages as well as nutrition and niche health
- Legal pages, including all types of legal information, from websites focused on how to create a will to sites providing information on immigration or custody issues.
Google wants to ensure the data on these pages is as accurate as possible because incorrect information could have a negative effect on serious issues in the web searcher’s life. YMYL pages are referenced frequently throughout the guidelines and the importance of holding these types of sites to the highest standard is repeatedly stressed.
YMYL pages should be supported by references, by extensive supplementary and additional content, and by opinions from experts, as these criteria are what Quality Raters look for when evaluating YMYL sites. Supplementary content includes things like sidebar tips, images, links to related articles, and strong navigation.
Google is also looking for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) on highly ranked pages. The acronym EAT is used to remind Quality Raters to always be looking for things that make sites seem more trustworthy. This can include author bios revealing credentials, or contributions from recognized experts. Raters are even directed to look to Wikipedia and other sources of information to find out about authors and publishers of sites focused on more formal topics- like the law. Making sure you have completed bios in multiple locations on the web can be helpful in convincing Google that you really are a legal expert.
Finally, page design is important to Google and the guidelines for Quality Rates reflect that importance. Page design doesn’t refer to beauty in this case, but rather to how easy it is to navigate the site. Main page content should be easily accessible and front and center so site visitors don’t need to scroll down to see content. There should be no disguised ad content, and the content visitors come to see should be the primary focus of the page they land on. Sites should have an About Us and Contact Us page so users can find out who they are dealing with and get in touch- even if the contact page is something as simple as providing an email address. It’s also important for sites to have lots of relevant content, and to make sure all supplementary content is helpful to visitors.
By following these basic guidelines and paying attention to what Quality Raters care about, you should be able to improve your site in Google’s eyes- which can draw significantly more traffic to your pages.
Director, Web and SEO Services
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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