Google’s algorithm is a topic of much discussion and strategy in legal marketing. Somewhat mysterious and a little magical, Google’s mechanism for ranking search results is a constant source of frustration for lawyers who want to be found online.
Last year, Google announced it was making a “helpful content update” as part of its larger effort to ensure searchers found unique, helpful content written by people (not ChatCPT), for people, in search results. This “people-first content” approach is meant to reward content that visitors find satisfying while penalizing content that fails to meet visitors’ expectations.
Creating and posting content that is original and valuable, which is also full of search engine-seeking keywords, can be a balancing act in legal marketing. Google wants to ensure the scales tip favorably to human-created content that contains thoughtful, expert insights over content looking to game Google’s algorithm. The update is meant to penalize keyword stuffing, stale and regurgitated content, and bot-written content from artificial intelligence platforms — all of which lack perspective, creativity, and value.
People-First Legal Marketing Content
Google explains that people-first content creation is done with the end user’s needs in mind, but also includes SEO best practices to help searchers find what they need.
Based on Google’s advice and guidelines, people-first legal marketing content will:
- Be posted on a law firm website with an existing or intended audience who would find that content useful.
- Clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and depth of knowledge. For example, a personal injury attorney’s blog about the statute of limitations on auto accident lawsuits would not only explain what the filing deadline is, but why there is one and the consequences of missing it.
- Be posted on a website that is consistent with the content’s primary purpose or focus. This means that a law firm that practices family law should not post blogs about bankruptcy law. This will cause confusion for the end-user and lower rankings for the entire website.
- Leave the reader feeling that they learned enough about the topic to help achieve their goal.
- Make the reader feel like they’ve had a satisfying experience.
On the flip side, law firms and lawyers looking to create people-first legal marketing content should be aware that answering “yes” to some or all the following questions means they are likely creating “search engine-first” content:
- Is the legal marketing content primarily being created to attract visits from search engines?
- Is the law firm producing a lot of legal marketing content on many different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
- Is extensive automation being utilized to produce content on many topics?
- Does the legal marketing content mainly summarize what others are saying without adding value?
- Is the legal marketing content about things simply because they seem trending and not because it’s appropriate for the law firm’s existing audience?
- Does the legal marketing content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
- Is the legal marketing content adhering to a particular word count on the assumption that Google has a preferred word count? (It doesn’t.)
- Does the legal marketing content cover some niche topic area without any real expertise to get search traffic?
- Does the legal marketing content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as guaranteeing there’s a way to circumvent tax laws or win a lawsuit?
E-E-A-T for People-First Legal Marketing Content
While Google will never reveal the ingredients in its search algorithm secret sauce, it does share hints on how its systems prioritize content that seems most helpful. The algorithm identifies a mix of factors in determining content that is based on experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness — known as E-E-A-T.
Google explains that trust is the most important characteristic and that all the other E-E-A-T aspects contribute to the content’s trustworthiness. But content need not contain each E-E-A-T aspect.
To create legal marketing content that passes E-E-A-T muster, Google suggests the content be evaluated with these questions in mind:
Who created the legal marketing content. A byline at the top of the blog post or article is an effective and expected way to create transparency for readers. Even better is if the reader can link to more information about the legal marketing content’s authors, such as the attorney-author’s bio page on the firm website. When it’s self-evident who the expert is behind the legal marketing content, readers feel the content is more credible and trustworthy.
How the legal marketing content was created. When appropriate, make it clear the relationship or role the attorney-author had or has to the topic. For example, if the news post is about a recent court victory that the law firm was involved in, then say that. If the news post is about an outcome the attorney-author was not involved in but has insight into how it came about or its impact, write about that. Importantly, if the content was fully or partially generated by artificial intelligence, then it’s prudent to disclose that.
Why the legal marketing content was created. The answer should be because the content will help people. The why of legal marketing content should come through clearly to the reader because the information being shared is useful and interesting.
The bottom line is that law firms wanting to rank higher in Google searches should create content that focuses on being helpful to the reader above being found. There is the temptation to create content with only SEO in mind, but that will not give law firms a good ROI. Insightful, expertly written, and credible legal marketing content will reap the Google rankings reward.