There’s a very good chance you’ve noticed some changes in the traffic your site receives from Google over the last few weeks. You may be suddenly receiving a bit more, or, unfortunately, you may have noticed a drop. If your law firm has seen a rise or drop in traffic — or even a series of rises and drops in traffic — since about mid-December 2017, you can chalk it up to some Google algorithm updates.
Several search engine watchdog groups began noticing significant changes in search result rankings around December 12th and 13th. SEO experts and webmasters claimed that some pages which had held number one spots for years suddenly dropped by several positions at the least. There were a few reports of improved results, but for many, the algorithm update seems to have come with negative consequences.
On or about January 5th or 6th, 2018, experts again reported seeing some shifts in search results. These changes are said to be less dramatic, and generally thought to be minor adjustments and tweaks to the more significant update that apparently rolled out in December.
As is usually the case, Google was very quiet about any changes that were made. They did confirm some updates, but said this was just business as usual. “We released several minor improvements during this timeframe, part of our regular and routine efforts to improve relevance. In any given week, there are various changes that happen with Google’s search algorithm. Many are unnoticed. Many are minor. Last week was like that. After a few publishers reported changes, we checked and didn’t see any major or single change on our end.” said Danny Sullivan, Google’s Public Liaison for Search.
What Sites Have Been Affected
Although any site could feel the effects of these recent updates, SEO researchers seem to agree that sites making use of one particular SEO technique seem to have lost the most as the changes were rolled out. At least a portion of these recent updates appear to be focused on removing non-valuable pages based on keyword permutations.
To make that a little clearer, keyword permutations are when a site sets up extra pages that really add no extra value, but try to capitalize on slight variations of the same basic keywords. For example, a law firm trying to acquire clients from several different cities or counties might make pages targeting [Practice Area Name] + [City A] and then [Practice Area Name] + [City B], etc.
Using keyword permutations has been a fairly common SEO practice in the past. When you stop and think about it, though, you can see how Google would want to discount these pages that are obviously going to be nearly complete copies of each other. They are really intended solely to manipulate the search engines, which is a cardinal sin.
What Your Law Firm Should Do
You may not need to do anything at all, but if you’ve noticed a drop in search traffic to your firm’s website, it’s worth investigating.
First you should try to determine which particular pages lost rank and traffic. From there, you can try to match up a pattern. Do the penalized pages share anything in common? Do they all follow a similar template? Do they have keywords that are too close together? Are they more for search engines than real people? Were they designed with keyword permutations?
You might not be able to find a pattern at all, but if several pages dropped in rank, you will most likely find something they all have in common. When you find that thing, that’s where you start trying to rebuild. Assume that common characteristic is the problem and figure out how you can remove it.
For example, if your firm’s site was using keyword permutations and a lot of pages lost positions in search results, you should think about how you can get some of those permutations back into the results.
Let’s say you had 50 pages with a keyword for your legal service and then the name of one of fifty cities. Obviously, that’s not going to work now, but if you take the top five cities that were bringing you the most clients and figure out how to work those keywords into a more content-heavy and relevant page somewhere else, you might have something that will rank well and keep leads and clients coming in.
The main thing to keep in mind with any Google update is that the search giant is always looking for the most valuable and relevant content. Most often, if one of your pages loses rank, it’s because either the content is just not good enough, or someone else has put together something better on the same topic. The way to get your position back is always going to be to simply create better content.
What are your thoughts on this recent Google algorithm update? Have you seen changes in your law firm’s traffic recently? Let us know and we’ll be happy to help you navigate successfully into the next phase of your SEO efforts.