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March 2024 Google Core Algorithm Update: FAQs for Lawyers

By David Arato

Answers to questions lawyers may have about the March 2024 Google Core Algorithm Update and what steps to take in its wake.

2024 Google Core Algorithm Update- FAQs for Lawyers

On March 5, 2024, Google announced a significant update to its core algorithm, which determines how websites are ranked in its search results. The update affected thousands of websites negatively, with some being completely deindexed by Google — meaning they do not exist in the results at all.

Search Engine Land is calling the update a “game changer” and “seismic.” While the March 2024 Google Core Algorithm Update affects the internet as a whole, it is particularly important for website owners in “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) industries like law.

YMYL industries

Here are answers to questions lawyers may have regarding the update and what steps to take in its wake.

What Changes Did Google Make in the March 2024 Algorithm Update?

Google announced two specific changes on March 5:

  • Changes to the algorithm intended to provide users with the most helpful information on the internet and reduce unoriginal results.
  • New spam policies to keep the lowest quality content out of the results.
google algorithm update policy

Why Did Google Make These Changes?

While never explicitly stated, it’s pretty clear that Google made these changes in response to various reports of poor-quality search results and the rise of AI-generated content created by large language models like ChatGPT. According to Google, they’re “enhancing search so you see more useful information, and fewer results that feel made for search engines.”

How Is Google Targeting Spam?

Google has identified three areas that it is targeting in an effort to reduce spam in the search results:

  • Scaled content abuse
  • Site reputation abuse
  • Expired domain abuse

Scaled Content Abuse

Scaled content abuse involves the creation of a large amount of content with the intention of manipulating site rankings. Google has a long-standing policy against using automation to create low-quality or unoriginal content at scale. In its update announcement, Google admits that it’s not always clear whether automation was involved in content creation, so it’s changing its policy to focus on this abusive conduct regardless of whether automation was involved.

What does this mean for law firms? Create high-quality, original content that demonstrates experience, expertise, authority, and trust (E-E-A-T). You can use generative AI in your content creation process; just keep in mind that AI output will not align with E-E-A-T without significant editing and expert input.

Site Reputation Abuse

Site reputation abuse occurs when third-party pages are published with “little or no first-party oversight” with the intention of taking advantage of the first-party site’s ranking signals. This kind of content includes partner, advertising, or sponsored content that has little to do with the site’s main purposes and provides little or no value to users. For example, if a well-regarded legal website hosted third-party content about where to buy car insurance, that page would likely violate Google’s policy on site reputation abuse.

Expired Domain Abuse

Expired domain abuse involves purchasing an expired domain and using it in an attempt to manipulate the search rankings by hosting low-quality content that provides little or no value to readers. According to Google, some examples of expired domain abuse would include casino-related content on a school’s former website or commercial medical products for sale on a site that formerly belonged to a medical charity. This type of content will be treated as spam by Google.

What Should Law Firms Do in Light of the Google Update?

If you are a lawyer or own a law firm that has a website, you are probably wondering if you need to take action in the wake of Google’s update.

Create High-Quality, Original Content That Demonstrates E-E-A-T

It’s pretty clear that this update is in direct response to the deluge of AI-generated content hitting the internet. It’s now possible to create hundreds of human–sounding articles on a topic in a matter of minutes — which is exactly what Google is calling scaled content abuse.

For lawyers and law firms, this update provides an opportunity to stand out from the crowd by creating original, high–quality content that demonstrates experience, expertise, authority and trust. To do so, you can:

  • Have robust biographical information about yourself and the other lawyers in your firm.
  • Highlight your academic and professional achievements, such as published work, speaking engagements, media appearances and notable cases.
  • Make sure your content is accurate and links to authoritative sources that allow users to verify any legal or factual assertions you make.
  • Create content that demonstrates “information gain,” meaning that it adds something new to the existing material already available on the web.

Again, this does not mean that you can’t use AI in your content creation process. It just means you can’t use AI to hit the “easy button” and generate 50 articles on your practice area, post them and expect your content to outrank the competition. In fact, if you do this, you should prepare for your rankings to drop — significantly.

Here are some of the ways you can safely use AI to create better content faster:

  • Topic ideation
  • Overcoming writer’s block
  • Identifying and generating keyword phrases
  • Quickly rewriting boilerplate text, such as your calls-to-action sections
  • Creating outlines

Just remember to significantly edit any output you use to make it your own, and be sure to verify any factual or legal statements. (Read: “First Rule for Writing With GenAI.”)

Remove Unrelated Third-Party Content on Your Site

While it is unlikely that your law firm website is hosting unrelated third-party content, if it is, remove it as soon as you can. Google has given site owners until May 5 to comply with this new policy.

Do Not Use Expired Domains to Game the System

Again, this is not likely to be an issue for many law firms, but do not purchase expired domains in an effort to manipulate the search engine rankings. Doing so could put you in violation of Google’s policies regarding expired domain abuse.

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David Arato

David Arato is the founder of Lexicon Legal Content, a content marketing firm that creates SEO-optimized and consumer-focused content for law firms and digital marketing agencies throughout North America. He leverages his extensive legal and marketing expertise to help clients enhance their online presence and attract more clients. Get in touch on LinkedIn or email david@lexiconlegalcontent.com.

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