law firm content marketing

A History of the Major Google Algorithm Updates: A Legal Marketer’s Guide

by Joe Balestrino • November 26th, 2019 • SEO | Blog

Major Google Algorithm UpdatesGoogle algorithms are one of the more complex search engine optimization (SEO) factors, that unfortunately fall completely outside of your control. In Google’s early stages, they made only a few updates to their algorithms. Now, Google makes thousands of changes every year. While most of them are small and go unnoticed, they can all affect your search performance. There have been a few major updates that make a big difference to legal marketers. Below, we sum up nine of the major Google algorithm updates to help legal marketers better understand how the search engine prioritizes content.

What are Google algorithms?

According to Search Engine Journal, Google’s algorithms are a complex system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. The search engine uses a combination of algorithms and numerous ranking signals to deliver web pages ranked by relevance on its search engine results pages (SERPs).

Major algorithm updates and what they mean:


“Quality scores” are introduced. This score is assigned to web pages and used as a ranking factor. Panda rollouts have become more common, so penalties and recoveries can happen more quickly. We suggest using a site crawler like Website Auditor to run site checks for content duplication, thin content, and keyword stuffing. 


The objective of this change is to down-rank sites whose links are manipulative. This means you should pay special attention to backlinks and the activity associated with them. 


The goal here is to help Google interpret search queries and provide relevant results based on searcher intent as opposed to just keywords. Keywords still play a role, but Google has gotten better at returning a page that matches a query even if the exact keywords are not present. To take advantage of these algorithm changes, make sure you’re addressing concepts and not just keywords in your content. As well as keywords, make sure you research related ideas and synonyms. 


Sometimes, location plays an important role in a search. This update created a stronger relationship between the local algorithm and the core algorithm: traditional SEO factors are now used to rank local results. Focus on off-page SEO as well as on-page. Make sure you are listed in local business directories and relevant lists for your area. 


This update ensures that mobile-friendly pages rank at the top of mobile search, while pages not optimized for mobile are filtered out from the SERPs or considerably down-ranked. If your law firm’s website isn’t optimized for mobile it will remain hard to compete online. Focus on speed and user experience. Google offers mobile friendly tests so that you can see which areas of your site need improvement. 


This update technically falls under the Hummingbird algorithm, and applies a machine learning system that helps Google uncover the meaning behind search queries. Google states that this factor is the third most important in their ranking. To improve performance here, you need to focus on relevance and comprehensiveness. We suggest completing a thorough competitive analysis to see which concepts seem most timely and relevant. 


These updates ensure that search results more closely match the user’s location. For example, the closer you are to a business’s address, the more likely you are to see it in your results. Make sure you include location-specific rank tracking as part of your analytics. When it comes to digital marketing efforts, make sure you’re including your location whenever possible. 


Google needed to do something to combat the growing number of low quality blogs that have been created mostly to generate ad revenue. This update targets any site that is in violation of Google’s general webmaster guidelines. You should review Google’s Search Quality Guidelines to make sure your content is high quality. In summary, don’t try to trick anyone (the search engine or a reader) into thinking your page is informative, if it’s essentially just an ad.


Short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, this is a major update that attempts to improve language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries. Google can now more accurately understand the nuance and context of words in searches and better match those queries with helpful results. Context is a really critical component here. 


Effective SEO takes time, attention and skill. This history of major Google algorithm updates: a legal marketers guide is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to successfully navigating the sophisticated world of Google. Measuring the impact of your work and ongoing refinement is critical to your law firm’s SEO success. Contact us today if you need assistance developing a comprehensive SEO strategy that will improve your search engine visibility.




Are you ready to get started generating new, qualified leads?

Contact us to get started and let us help you energize your digital marketing and business development efforts.

Contact Us