Google is making major changes to how it ranks websites called the helpful content update. Here’s what lawyers need to know.
This blog is provided for general information only. Always talk to a laywer or other appropriate professional before making decisions.
What is the helpful content update?
The helpful content update is a major change to the Google search algorithm. It’s designed to boost “helpful content written by people, for people” and push down unhelpful content.
Law firms will need to review their content marketing strategy to make sure they’re publishing helpful content in the eyes of Google.
When is the helpful content update?
The helpful content update is rolling out at the end of August. If you notice large swings in your website traffic (up or down) within the next few weeks, your rankings have probably been impacted by this update.
What is helpful content?
Helpful content is content that gives people what they want when they do an online search. They might be looking for information or to buy services.
If you’re targeting your content to people who are looking to buy your legal services, that’s an indication that your content is helpful. Additionally, if you put up free guides or white papers on basic topics where people may not need a lawyer, that content is also helpful if it’s giving people the information they’re looking for (and letting them know you exist if they need a lawyer later).
What is unhelpful content?
Unhelpful content is content that’s designed primarily to get people to click from search engines without giving them what they want.
You’ve probably clicked on many clickbait websites that somehow get themselves to the top of search results even though they don’t actually answer your search question. That’s what Google is trying to eliminate.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a goal to get prospective clients from search engines and to use search engine optimization. What’s wrong is if you try to manipulate search engines into ranking your law firm website for searches that don’t help potential clients.
Another aspect of the unhelpful content update is repeating what’s already on the internet. Google doesn’t want websites just paraphrasing content that’s already out there and then using artificial means to try to outrank it.
How do I know if my content is helpful or unhelpful?
In addition to reading the Google update linked at the start of this post, you’ll also want to be familiar with Google’s quality rater guidelines. Quality raters are people who check websites to make sure Google’s AI search algorithms are delivering results that are in line with Google’s intent.
The quality ratings range from fails to meet to fully meets a searcher’s needs. Meeting a searcher’s needs includes answering their question or being the law firm they hire.
The main way Google can track this is if they keep reviewing additional search results after visiting your website. Google also takes into account that in some searches, people will still look for second opinions or compare law firms even if they have already found a helpful page.
What law firms need to do is make sure their content marketing strategy is tightly focused on their practice areas and answering the informational versus buying intent of the searcher.
Here are some examples of potentially unhelpful content:
- You only do criminal defense but have a blog post about personal injury law.
- You try to rank for “free lease template” but don’t offer a free template and try to get people to hire you to write a lease.
- You use a mass production approach to content marketing and hire writers (or use AI) without legal expertise. Your content contains the right keywords but contains incorrect information that Google can detect by comparing it against similar websites.
How do I make legal content not repeating what others have already said?
Repetition is a real problem in law firm search marketing. Even without getting into law firms and marketing agencies that copy what other law firms are doing while making sure it’s technically not plagiarism, there’s only so much to be said about legal topics.
If there are 50 DUI firms competing in an area, differentiation becomes more difficult. You can look to:
- Create more in-depth content
- Answer more questions
- Cover more niche contents
- Include more information about your law firm and your approach to these cases
Additionally, Google understands the intent of searches. It expects more similarity between competing law firm practice area pages than it might on a blog post titled, “10 Tips About X You’ve Never Heard Before.”
What happens if I have unhelpful content?
Google will look at helpful vs. unhelpful on both the page and site levels. If you have unhelpful content, it can cause your helpful content to rank lower.
Once your remove unhelpful content and/or add more helpful content, Google will deem your website more helpful and reevaluate your rankings over time.
What should law firms do in response to the helpful content update?
There are several steps you should take to make sure the helpful content update helps your content marketing strategy instead of hurting it.
- Review your website and remove any obviously unhelpful content (off-topic or not matching search intent).
- Audit your remaining content and decide if it’s helpful as is, should be updated, or should be completely rewritten.
- Don’t publish new unhelpful content — if you outsource content, make sure they’re not just hitting a blog post quota or trying to boost your stats by targeting high-traffic but unrelated keywords.
- Continue to publish new content that’s high quality and that search engines would consider helpful.