Our benevolent marketing overlords at Google are at it again—a new update to the search algorithm is punishing sites that are producing content only for the purposes of appearing in search engines. Here’s everything law firms and other professional service providers need to know, and how savvy lawyers can use this to their advantage.
How were things before Google's Helpful Content Update?
Before the “Helpful Content Update,” many marketers and law firms would try to game Google by producing large quantities of content about various legal questions just to appear in Google Search.
The playbook would often involve listing target keywords and using inexpensive services to produce content en masse, that while satisfying the requirements to target those keywords in the eyes of Google is actually a drag to read at any length. You know this content, it has no craft, and while it might answer your question when you click through to the site you can see you’ve been got by a blog that isn’t actually helpful or credible.
Another common tactic is to latch on to some trending topic and work to apply it to your practice, even if it doesn’t really make sense. (Not at all like a marketing agency taking advantage of trending conversations around the Helpful Content Update to explain it to current and potential clients in the legal industry…)
What is the Helpful Content Update?
Google says the update is one “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
The update is a change in how Google ranks all websites, using a sitewide determination of how helpful–user first, and not automatically written for search engines–your site is. Websites that are using a shotgun approach of creating tons of content, not for the purpose of being helpful but to see what sticks on Google, or content that is low quality or generated automatically, will no longer rank as highly. Meanwhile, the algorithm will boost higher quality content written by people for people that make sense to be visiting the site in the first place.
Check out some of the soul-searching SEO prompts from Google themselves:
- Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
- Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
- Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
- Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
- Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
- Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you'd write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
How can you make the Helpful Content Update work for you?
Just like your commute, choosing the path with the most traffic probably isn’t best.
Luckily for our law firm clients, an update that prioritizes long-form, original written content plays exactly to your strengths as a lawyer! Google is telling us they want more legal nerdery, not less.
The game hasn’t fundamentally changed, Google is just saying they are cracking down on the rules. The goal is still to produce valuable, meaningful content to your audience and the tenets of agile SEO are more important than ever. In fact, this update just codifies what we already knew about marketing for premium professional services—building relationships with potential clients involves leading with truly niche and valuable content.
If you have a marketing team that supports in writing helpful legal content, choose local, journalist-approach writers over large corporate or offshore content farms.
The lesson is as old as time, quality wins over quantity–whether it’s the number of blogs you write, the amount of search engine traffic your site gets, or the agency writers you hire to help produce it…