You want to tick all the boxes to make sure you have a “trustworthy website” so that clients feel confident in hiring you. You want to project a professional image. But there’s another reason: Google’s algorithms can reduce the visibility reputable law firm websites they deem untrustworthy.
Two years ago, Google released the first of many algorithm updates that attempted to make the search engine more discerning when evaluating the trustworthiness of websites in industries where misinformation could have negative repercussions for a consumers’ physical and financial health.
Google has dubbed these industries as “your money or your life” industries.
Websites for the health, finance, insurance and legal industries have come under additional scrutiny by Google, with law firms of all sizes falling into this bracket. (You can find a full list of industries that Google has dubbed “your money and your life” on page 10 of their 2019 Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.)
As sophisticated as search engines have become, they are still based on algorithms. This means that Google measures the trustworthiness of your practice’s website in a formulaic way. The websites of reputable law firms can be deemed untrustworthy by search engines and suffer reduced online visibility — making it more difficult to get found in local searches.
Elements of a Trustworthy Website, According to Google
While there are several things you can do to ensure clients and prospects view your website as trustworthy, here are the ways Google measures trustworthiness — and tips for making sure you set up your website the right way.
Keep Your Content Up to Date and Properly Cited
Google’s semantic processing is powerful enough that it can “understand” a good number of the claims made on your website. Google also looks to certain types of websites, including government websites and academic institutions, as being authorities on topics. As a consequence of these two factors, Google can tell if the claims made on your website are in line with current laws and best practices within the legal profession.
So, if there is information on your website that directly contradicts the information given in these authoritative websites, your website could be seen as a source of untrustworthy information. If search engines believe your website contains misinformation, they may well reduce your visibility in organic search.
Having outdated information is the most common way that your practice’s website can be penalized for having misinformation. Regularly audit and update the information on your website — especially static pages with information on the firm’s practice areas, attorney bios, and firm news items. This doesn’t necessarily apply to dated blog posts that discuss current events of legal news, but, when feasible, it is always a good idea to freshen up older content or consolidate older posts into newer ones.
Also, claims made on your website that are not common knowledge should be cited to an authoritative source, ideally a government page on local laws or a governing body within your specific niche.
Make Sure Qualifications and Credentials Are Perfectly Clear (for Everyone)
One way that Google filters out misleading information in “professional” industries is by looking for evidence of qualifications and credentials of the people that a website is representing.
While law firm websites almost always provide in-depth information on the firm’s lawyers, some hide information about their professional staff, perhaps to protect privacy. This is a big mistake.
A trustworthy website should have a dedicated “Meet the Team” page that contains profiles of lawyers and staff, along with all their qualifications, experience, and memberships in professional bodies.
Ideally, your practice will have a company Linkedin page, and the “People” section will correspond, as far as possible, with the information on your website’s lawyer bios and “Meet the Team” page. Again, all of your team members’ profiles should be complete and include their qualifications and industry experience.
Also, since search engines rank websites page-by-page, every page on your website that contains legal information should be attributed to the person in your practice who is the most qualified source of that information. This should be marked either at the start or end of the post or page and should link back to the person’s lawyer bio or profile on your “Meet the Team” page.
Get Mentions and Links From Other Legal Industry Websites
Google puts more trust in websites and organizations that it sees as “authoritative” in their industry. As Google essentially has an index of vast swathes of the web, it measures this authority by looking at your presence on the internet as a whole, rather than just your website.
Being mentioned on other websites will increase the search visibility of any website. In industries where Google pays extra attention to trustworthiness, however, it is even more important to be mentioned — and linked to — on the right kind of websites — namely, the most authoritative legal publications.
Some easy ways of getting these mentions are by looking to industry-relevant directories and professional bodies where people on your team have memberships. These often have profile pages or directories where members are listed. If you are not yet listed, then contact the organization and ask to be included.
Once you have these foundational links in place, move on to the next phase. The same tactics you use for business development — writing for legal publications and trade publications and publishing press releases about cases you’ve handled — can get you mentions and links from the types of websites that will increase your trustworthiness and authority.
Note that you don’t need to target only the high-authority legal websites to improve your website’s authority. As long as the website contains trustworthy information for your industry, being mentioned there will, over time, enhance the trustworthiness of your own site.
Ways to Engineer the “Digital Signals” of a Bricks-and-Mortar Business
One of Google’s key aims for these particular algorithm updates is to reduce the visibility of recently popular “lead generation” websites. While there are variations on the business model, typically, lead generation sites and directories are purely informational: They offer general guidance and resources in exchange for the consumer’s email address and other personal information, which they then sell to third-parties (say, law firms).
There is nothing illegal about the business model, and there are many reputable and long-standing legal directories and lead-gen sites. (Check your state bar’s ethics rules before using a lead generation service and do your due diligence.) Still, the people who run lead-generation websites don’t necessarily have the qualifications to practice in the profession they are targeting. For this reason, Google has highlighted lead generation websites that do not make their authors’ credentials explicit as ones to make less visible in searches. (An example is the “About Dry Sockets” website listed on page 50 of Google’s search rater guidelines.)
When filtering out lead-generation websites, Google looks for signals that indicate a website represents a bricks-and-mortar, client-facing business. These signals include:
- Having a Google My Business account with a specific location
- Having a “Contact Us” page with a location
- Acquiring a steady stream of reviews and testimonials from clients
- Having social media pages with some engagement — especially Linkedin
- Having some presence in local media
- Having a presence in local directories (with your correct contact information)
Most of these signals are easy to acquire with a little focus. What’s more, these tactics are probably already in your business development and digital marketing plans. Now, you have one more reason to get to work!
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