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SEO for legal websites – does Google know you exist?

SEO for legal websitesSEO for legal websites (Search Engine Optimisation) is an ongoing job. Google and Bing keep moving the goalposts and that means you have to move with them.

Moreover, if you don’t, you’ll find your entry moving rapidly down the rankings. Metaphorically, that means the shutters are down on your shopfront.

Back in January 2017, I published an article on this very subject. Since then, Google has made over 12000 changes to its search and indexing algorithms. Consequently, the goalposts have moved dramatically. That led me to think it’s high time for an update which, in turn, led to a lot of head scratching. Fortunately, the good people at Yell.com beat me to it and produced an extensive, free guide to SEO which you can download here.

However, before you do, let’s take a look at a couple of issues.

What are the changes?

Unless you are either a complete SEO geek or an algorithmic programmer – as well as a lawyer – just don’t go there. Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Search engine algorithms are far more inscrutable than that and both Google and Bing are reluctant to open up about them.

However, one major change took place around 12 months ago and it really will affect your ranking. With 60% of searches now performed on mobile devices, mobile compatibility is more important than ever. Google shifted its focus from mobile-friendly to mobile-first. The search giant abandoned its separate mobile and desktop indexes and focussed solely on mobile friendly indexing for all types of machine.

So, what does that mean for you? Basically, three things:

  1. If your website does not have a mobile-friendly (responsive) design, you’re heading down the rankings rapidly.
  2. If you haven’t adapted your SEO “snippets”, “SEO titles, “meta descriptions” and the way your site is worded, your ranking will drop off the edge of a cliff.
  3. It gets worse, – if you haven’t done either of the above and you haven’t added new content to your site, cancel Christmas!

Without getting too technical, let’s take a look at what each of these means in simple terms.

1. Mobile friendly.

This is an easy one to get your head around. You’ve almost certainly come across websites that look great on a desktop but are hard to read or plain impossible to navigate when viewed on a mobile phone. In web design techspeak, that means they are “unresponsive”. Google and Bing penalise that heavily.

2. Snippets, SEO titles, meta descriptions and wording.

Okay, so I promised to keep the jargon to a minimum! Take a look at this image of how LawWare’s entry looks in Google on a mobile phone.

The whole thing is called a snippet. The SEO title is outlined in red and the meta description in blue. If you haven’t upgraded your SEO since the changes took place, you’ll probably find some of your title or description is missing.

You don’t just update SEO titles and meta descriptions when you compose your webpages. They are not part of the on-screen text. Amending them is a specialist exercise. So, if you don’t know where to find them, skip down to the “What should you do?” section below.

Lastly, the wording of your web pages can affect ranking. In essence, this means that search engines read your pages and determine how easy to read they are. Long sentences, long paragraphs and lack of subheadings are penalised. And, if that’s not bad enough, pages containing less than 300 words are considered lightweight.

3. New content.

If your site stands still, going unchanged for month after month, Google moves on. Part of its assessment criteria involves “relevance”. That means the older the site is (without changes and additions) the less relevant it is. Consequently. it will rank lower.

What should you do?

These are the key changes you should make to address these issues:

  • Get your site completely re-designed if it is not mobile friendly – this is not a job for an amateur.
  • Change your meta descriptions, SEO titles and wording – if you know how to do that.
  • Add a regularly updated blog to your site to keep it current and fresh.

That is the bare minimum. However, before you get all fired up, read Yell.com’s free guide to SEO, and then ask yourself if you have the know-how to ring the changes. You will see from Yell’s guide that I’ve barely scratched the surface in this article. Competent SEO for legal websites includes a host of other criteria. Things such as keywords, citations, backlinks, reviews, paid adwords and social media interaction all play their part in delivering a top search engine ranking.

Is all this making your head explode? Mine certainly did years ago! I do still carry out SEO duties on the LawWare website – writing this post is just one part of that. However, if SEO is not the bread and butter of your daily work as a solicitor, do not pass go, do not collect £200; get help. I strongly advise you to get some help from a professional web design / SEO organisation. If you need any advice doing that, please contact me.

Someone once described good SEO for legal websites to me as being like turning on a tap of new business. If you fail to keep up to speed, that tap will turn itself off.

Mike O’Donnell, September 2019.

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