An essential component of SEO success for law firms continues to be high-quality, original, focused content. If there is one thing that Google is constantly looking to rank high in its organic results, it is high quality original content focused on the term the user searched.
Writing content requires an upfront commitment of time and resources. That said, you derive real long-term benefits from writing the content, as once it is written, most material does not need to be updated very often. Investing your time and energy in writing high-quality original, focused content for your website is the most cost-effective strategy for online marketing.
We can divide our discussion of high-quality, original, focused content into its individual components: (A) high-quality content, (B) original content and (C) focused content.
1. High-Quality Content
Any content you publish on your website needs to be high quality, so that it reflects well on you and your firm. Search engines also are interested in websites with high quality content because they want to refer their users to authoritative sources.
Google, in particular, has focused on identifying and providing higher quality content, with its updates to their search ranking algorithm, called Panda, which started in 2011 and have continued periodically since.
Panda seeks to prevent low-quality content from ranking highly in Google’s search results. In the past (through 2015) Panda was updated periodically, causing a waiting period even after content was cleaned up. The good news is that Panda is now part of Google’s core algorithm, so your ranking should improve more quickly when you improve your content.
How is quality measured? Search engines evaluate a number of factors to determine the quality of a webpage. Some quantifiable elements of a written page that the search engines can use as proxies for quality include page length, spelling, grammar, and keyword density (which is used to detect text spam). Other factors that may be used to measure quality are harder to understand, such as the uniqueness of words used on the page (e.g., using terms not found on other webpages, such as legal terms, increases the probability that the page will not be penalized by the Panda filter).
Search engines favor webpages with substantial content. More content is seen as a signal of higher quality. If you have too few words of content on a particular webpage, that page’s ranking will tend to be low and will get little, if any, referral traffic from the organic search results. We recommend that each page include at least 500 to 650 words of original content to establish substance. If the page becomes overly long, it might not be the best user experience, so it may be more digestible for users if you break down a 3,000-word article, for example, into a few pages.
It is important to remember that word count refers to the unique content on the webpage; it does NOT include text that is on every page of the website, such as text in the header, sidebar, or footer. Sometimes there might be an initial jump in rankings for shorter written content on a new or redesigned website, but eventually Google will index all of the pages of the website and distinguish the unique content on each page from that which appears site-wide. The website’s ranking may suffer if the unique content is not long enough.
You also need to make sure to check your content for spelling and grammar. This is as easy as opening up Microsoft Word or another word processing program and running a spelling and grammar check on the content.
Finally, ensure that your content is useful to the reader. If it is just pieced together sentences and paragraphs, it will not rank well. Google does a very good job distinguishing between content that is written to game the SEO system and content that provides real value to the reader, even if there are some SEO features included in the content. Write content that you can be proud of – it will help your webpage rank better and make a better impression on visitors.
2. Original Content
Originality is the second key component when search engines approximate quality. Search engines do not want to rank highly two pages with the exact same or substantially similar content. In nearly all cases, the original version of the content will be the one that ranks higher.
You can check the originality of your content by using a service like Copyscape, which matches the text of a webpage against other webpages. We recommend purchasing the Copyscape paid service, which costs 5 cents per search.
Do not worry about duplicate content that is from your header, sidebar, or footer of your own website. Google and other search engines will recognize them as part of your site structure and will not hold that against you. Nor should you be concerned if you have a small amount of content that appears elsewhere on the Internet. Your content might include a quote from a state statute or a blog feed; as long as you attribute the content to the original author, it shouldn’t be a problem from an SEO perspective.
However, we recommend at least 500 words of original content in addition to the duplicate content. If you do have duplicate content on your webpage (not including the header, sidebar or footer of the website itself), try to have a substantial majority of original content to duplicate content. For example, if you have a 300-word quote, try to have 600 words of original content (for a total of 900 words on that page). In addition, try to put the original content before the duplicate content on the page. Content that appears higher on a page tends to be given more weight than that which appears further down.
If you have multiple pages on your website that have substantial similar content to each other—enough to be considered duplicative—you can address the issue either by rewriting one of the pages, or by using a canonical tag for one of the pages so that Google knows both pages are substantially the same and that Google should only rank one of them. A canonical meta tag is an HTML markup element that specifies the preferred version of a webpage. You can learn more about them here.
Finally, if someone has copied your content, check to see whether you are ranking higher for it. Copy a sentence or two of the content from your webpage and paste it into Google’s search field. If your webpage with that content ranks higher than the other webpage that has it, you are probably fine and the person copying it is likely being punished. If the other webpage is ranked higher, then you can either contact the person who copied it and ask them to remove it, file a DMCA request with Google and the other search engines to have them remove the page that copied yours, or rewrite your content.
If you copied someone else’s content, then write an original page and replace the copied content, for legal, ethical and SEO reasons.
3. Focused Content
In addition to writing high-quality, original content, you need to write about the subjects for which you want to rank. For example, if you want to rank for (and thus reach clients in) Chicago, then you should use the word “Chicago” on your webpage (and for larger cities like Chicago, the page itself should be focused on Chicago, as opposed to trying to incorporate an entire region of smaller cities).
For competitive terms, it is important to ensure that the webpage markup is also focused on the term (e.g., the
<title> tags and meta descriptions should be properly used).
In general, we recommend that you try to use variations of the key terms on the webpage, but do not over use the term. If you overuse a term, Google might punish your page for that particular term alone in the search results. We have seen instances where a lawyer has used the same term on a single page in excess of 40 times. Don’t do this; it will definitely not help, and it can potentially be disastrous. Be reasonable in how many times you use a term. A good rule of thumb is to try reading the content out loud and see if it sounds natural. Any key words and phrasing should be integrated into the content in a natural way.
Consider using synonyms and varying the order of the words for key terms. Google associates words with their synonyms, such as “lawyer” and “attorney,” or “car” and “auto.” Going back to our previous example, you might use synonyms and vary the order of the words on your webpage, and thus could have (1) Chicago car accident lawyer, (2) auto accident attorney in Chicago and (3) Chicago lawyer handling car accidents. Google will associate these terms as being the same, and it will often make your page easier for human readers to read and understand.
Law firms should continue to focus their efforts on writing high-quality, original, focused content. This is the best SEO investment you can make.