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SEO remains crucial to the success of winning new clients from the online market, but how can law firms ensure the next Google algorithm update doesn’t take their search engine recognition away?

 

Considering the path that lies behind Google and its approach to ‘search’ is a good way of understanding the path ahead.

In the early years of Google, there would only be a handful of algorithm changes; now, however, it makes thousands of changes annually (though most of these are typically too small to notice). Every business with a website must understand the importance of SEO, and, like everyone else, those working in the legal sector must adapt to the dynamic nature of Google algorithms to maintain search engine visibility.

Understanding Google’s approach to search

As a user, when searching for a product or service, you want the search engine to instantly give you the best possible results for your query. Through Google’s algorithms, alongside various ranking factors, its search engine will deliver web pages ranked by relevance on its search engine results pages (SERPs).

Whilst Google’s minor algorithm updates don’t typically affect SERPs, sometimes, the search engine will roll out a large-scale update that will significantly impact search results and, more importantly, all the hard work you as a business put into your SEO strategy. These changes can sometimes be so fundamental that they require an entirely new approach to keep current high rankings and gain further rankings in the future.

For law firms in particular, more recent changes to Google’s algorithms require more thought regarding the quality of the content produced. Many topics, including content that can influence or impact a person’s health, safety, financial stability or well-being, are categorised by Google as ‘Your Money Your Life’ (YMYL). Google pays this content high regard, recognising the cruciality of expertise and credibility alongside first-hand experience.

These YMYL pages require certain features for Google to rank them higher on SERP results. If your content sends out Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) signals, Google recognises your material as informative and educational and not misleading. Whilst E-E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor in Google’s search algorithm, it’s important to note that it is a guideline used by human quality raters to evaluate the overall quality of search results.

Read our comprehensive blog on E-E-A-T to learn if your firm’s website presents information that Google and users trust.

Google's evolving algorithms

Historical overview of Google algorithm updates

From Google’s first notable algorithm update, dubbed ‘Florida’ in 2003, there have been numerous large-scale updates affecting SERPs up to 2017. Since then, Google has referred to its more significant updates as ‘core’ updates, which have significantly increased in frequency and specificity. At a glance, here’s what the recent years of Google updates have generally focused on:

  • 2020: January and December broad core updates reshape many SERP landscapes. In May, one core update in particular broadly impacted many industries, affecting websites’ visibility based on the quality of content, user experience and E-A-T signals.
  • 2021: Significant changes occurred in June and July, aiming to enhance the user’s search experience by prioritising page experience signals; the year also introduced the Page Experience Update, which integrated Core Web Vitals as ranking factors, highlighting the importance of website speed and usability. Read more about Core Web Vitals and how you can approach them at our All About Core Web Vitals blog.
  • 2022: The May core update and the Helpful Content Update in August focused primarily on user experience, pushing websites to refine their content strategy around user benefit. The updates also penalised those engaging in keyword stuffing or producing unhelpful, low-quality content; this is an update you simply cannot ignore, and our blog on Semantic SEO will tell you why.

Analysis of major Google algorithm updates

Alongside its core updates, several critical search algorithm changes were previously introduced by Google over the past 10 years, leading to businesses adjusting their SEO strategies in response.

Hummingbird (2013)

The arrival of the Hummingbird algorithm enables Google to interpret search queries more sophisticatedly, providing results matching searcher intent over individual terms within the query. The importance of keywords remains. However, the algorithm allows pages to rank for a query even if it doesn’t contain the exact words entered by the user, achieved with natural language processing relying on latent semantic indexing, co-occurring terms and synonyms.

This change at the time required businesses to optimise their content for meaning and relevance over keyword presence, focusing on the ideas behind the keywords to understand the audience’s language in a more improved manner and diversify content accordingly.

Medic (2018)

The Google Medic update specifically targets medical websites alongside those associated with potentially life-altering decisions like education, finance and law. As a result, web pages on such YMYL websites sending out weak E-E-A-T signals have been affected.

At Cure Digital, we stay on top of Google’s direction and changes. With the Medic update in mind, our blog on E-E-A-T and law firm content delves more into how law firms, in particular, benefit from a good understanding of how to create content that ranks highly following this update.

BERT (2019)

Building on some of the concepts from Hummingbird, BERT uses natural language process technology to gain a deeper comprehension of search queries and interpret text whilst identifying entities and the relationship between them. Accumulating concepts from the previous algorithms Panda and RankBrain, BERT allows Google to understand more nuanced enquiries and results.

The initiation of BERT sees Google finally rewarding good writing, and striving for meaningful copy has become all the more important. More than ever, businesses have been forced to create content that answers specific queries in a detailed and straightforward manner.

Common themes in Google’s algorithm updates

Google’s most prominent updates present a recurring theme in the desire to reward the most authoritative, in-depth and high-quality content possible.

Google really does want the Cream to rise to the top!

By addressing search issues, including spam, trust and authority, and general quality, Google is constantly improving the quality of search results alongside the businesses and websites that appear.

Ever since Panda, which dropped in 2011, Google has continued to reward valuable content whilst penalising that of low quality; this is why it’s crucial to understand what Google looks out for when choosing to trust a website as a reliable source. Duplicate content, shallow articles and spammy content practices are becoming more commonplace than ever due to the rise in AI—Google is attempting to push content creators to invest more in comprehensive research and thoughtful analysis.

Updates like Hummingbird, RankBrain and BERT have further enhanced Google’s ability to understand the meaning behind user queries, delving into the context and nuances behind each search. Google can now match queries with more relevant results whilst not solely relying on keyword matching. These changes have encouraged content creators to focus on the intent behind the keywords, creating material that aims to address underlying user needs better than ever before.

In conjunction with this, Google began recognising a shift in user behaviour towards mobile devices. That’s why, since Mobilegeddon, core updates have concentrated on mobile-first indexing, with the goal being to ensure websites are easy to navigate, load quickly and provide an optimal experience on mobile. But  Google’s shift toward a laser focus on user experience doesn’t just stop at mobile devices—more recent updates like the Page Experience update aim to deliver a smooth and engaging user experience by incorporating Core Web Vitals. It’s clear that elements like loading performance, interactivity, and a page’s visual stability directly impact how users see and interact with content. Google has prompted businesses through its core updates to optimise their websites for content and technical infrastructure.

People globally trust Google search to find information, learn about topics of interest and make crucial decisions. Google uses its algorithm updates in many respects to remove poor-quality results from SERPS. Some SEO professionals still use alternative, often unsavoury, methods to gain results that may last for a while but may drop like a lead balloon at the next core update. Our clients trust us to be the authority on delivering organic search recognition that stands the test of time and drives continuous improvement.

Cure Digital’s proactive strategies for law firms

At Cure Digital, we understand that SEO strategies must adapt and improve amidst Google’s frequent algorithm changes. We aim to keep our clients ahead of the curve through innovation and strategic practices, allowing them to stay visible to their prospective clients no matter how search algorithms evolve.

We draw on many years of experience helping law firms grow and prosper online.

We’re already preparing our legal clients for SGE, GEO & AEO… the next AI-interface-driven phase of Google’s onward Journey.

Our team lives and breathes SEO, and we invest in our people and tech to keep our clients ahead of the game.

Contact us today, and let us tackle Google’s ever-evolving algorithms together.

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