Law Firm SEO Applications of Google Quality Rater Guidelines Update

Gyi Tsakalakis
September 13, 2019
On September 5, 2019 Google updated its Quality Raters Guidelines

As reported by Jennifer Slegg at The SEM Post:

We have a brand new version of the Google Quality Rater Guidelines, and there are quite a few updates in several areas, namely news content, YMYL and EAT.  This is the first update to the guidelines since the Spring, and Google is definitely focusing on some specific areas in this update – especially news content and video content – along with reputation.

You would do well to read that entire post. Jennifer does a remarkable job of keeping up-to-date with these changes.

I'm not going to revisit each aspect of this updated version, but there are a few points that, in my view, are particularly relevant to law firms.

YMYL Pages & Law Firms

Google continues to update and expand its documentation on Your Money or Your Life Pages. I can remember recognizing the significance of the QRG update from 2015 with respect to YMYL pages.

Hopefully, it should go without saying, that when Google specifically references your business, it's worth taking a look at what they're saying. If the concepts of YMYL and E-A-T are completely new to you, I'd check out Sam's post.

Here is the current version of the YMYL section of the September 5, 2019 QRG:

2.3 Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) Pages
Some types of pages or topics could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.
We call such pages “Your Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL. The following are examples of YMYL topics:
● News and current events: news about important topics such as international events, business, politics, science,
technology, etc. Keep in mind that not all news articles are necessarily considered YMYL (e.g., sports,
entertainment, and everyday lifestyle topics are generally not YMYL). Please use your judgment and knowledge
of your locale.
● Civics, government, and law: information important to maintaining an informed citizenry, such as information
about voting, government agencies, public institutions, social services, and legal issues (e.g., divorce, child
custody, adoption, creating a will, etc.).
● Finance: financial advice or information regarding investments, taxes, retirement planning, loans, banking, or
insurance, particularly webpages that allow people to make purchases or transfer money online.
● Shopping: information about or services related to research or purchase of goods/services, particularly
webpages that allow people to make purchases online.
● Health and safety: advice or information about medical issues, drugs, hospitals, emergency preparedness, how
dangerous an activity is, etc.
● Groups of people: information about or claims related to groups of people, including but not limited to those
grouped on the basis of race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation,
gender or gender identity.
● Other: there are many other topics related to big decisions or important aspects of people’s lives which thus may
be considered YMYL, such as fitness and nutrition, housing information, choosing a college, finding a job, etc.
Please use your judgment.
We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially
negatively impact a person’s happiness, health, financial stability, or safety

Needless to say, a variety of these areas are relevant to law firm content. Of particular interest is the section on Civics, government, and law.

From a strategic standpoint, it's probably worth considering adding information to your pages relating to these topics. This is particularly true at the local level. We have been implementing this strategy for many years now. If you create this type of content on your site, it's essential that you maintain it.

At the risk of stating the obvious, your site should contain information about the legal issues with which you assist clients. Again, it's essential that this information is properly maintained.

But merely having this information on your firm's website is really just table stakes. You must also consider the interplay between YMYL and EAT. Google wants to understand who is responsible for a website. This is especially true for YMYL pages. Because these pages demand a high degree of trust, Google suggests that these types of pages need information about who is responsible for the content.

So, if you have practice area pages that don't make it clear who the responsible author is, they may have some impact on the quality rating of the page.

Now let's be clear, I'm not suggesting that failing to include this information will tank your rankings. But let's face it, legal SEO is extremely competitive. Every signal you can send search engines is worth considering. Further, doesn't it just make sense to communicate with your visitors (read: potential clients) who wrote what on your pages?

On a quick search, this most recent version of the QRG contains 112 references to "YMYL." This is clearly an area of interest for Google. Here is another excerpt with which lawyers (and their SEO consultants) should familiarize themselives:

For informational content: very high quality MC is original, accurate, comprehensive, clearly communicated, professionally presented, and should reflect expert consensus as appropriate. Expectations for different types of information may vary. For example, scientific papers have a different set of standards than information about a hobby such as stamp collecting. However, all types of very high quality informational content share common attributes of accuracy, comprehensiveness, and clear communication, in addition to meeting standards appropriate to the topic or field.

Head over to the pages of your law firm's website. Hopefully, the content is original. But is it accurate? Comprehensive? Professionally presented?

One of the challenges is balancing these expertise factors with writing for potential clients. The language you might use to convey nuanced expertise on a particular topic is likely to be much different than the type you might use in marketing copy to a potential client. It's essential to balance these competing interests. In fact, you might consider separate pages that speak to each of these audiences.

Reputation & Expertise of Author

Many years ago, I posited to a client that Google wants to know who the best lawyers are. That wasn't novel then, and certainly isn't novel now. Like then, Google still isn't great at understanding this concept. However, they're getting a lot better and I expect that they'll become better at this fast with the help of artificial intelligence. So what does this mean? It means that merely crafting expert content isn't enough. Your reputation as an expert will likely play an increasing role.

That being said, Google still has a long way to go. In fact, if you've been doing law firm SEO for the last decade, you probably view these concepts with a massive amount of skepticism and cynicism. Frankly, I do too. After all, how could Google possibly begin to understand your reputation as an expert? And that's sort of the point, we can't understand how they're doing it. But we don't need to. We know this is the direction they're going. This is where they're investing a lot of money.

Practically speaking, this means understanding how the web is becoming more inextricably entwined with the real world. Unless we decide to shut the whole thing down, this blurring of the lines will only continue. Which means that traditional notions of reputation and relationships will become more impactful to online visibility.

Again, this isn't really all that novel. At a very simplistic level, being elected to a leadership position at a reputable professional organization by your peers demonstrates some level of professional reputation. From an SEO perspective, lawyers who are mentioned (and get links) from those pages will benefit from that recognition in the analysis of search engines. Again, Google's understanding of these concepts is rudimentary at best. Which is why I so often parrot: meh, links.

But at some point in the future, there is likely to be a tipping point at which time Google's understand is not primarily based upon the link graph (although based on the recent link relationship update, that time seems to be off in the distant future).

There are a variety of other areas in the most recent version of the QRG that lawyers and law firm SEO consultants should pay attention to. I plan on diving deeper into each of these sections over the next several months.

Have you reviewed the most recent version of the QRG? What jumps out at you?

Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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