From time to time, we like to share some observations about SERPs. Particularly, why certain sites rank. Keep in mind, we don’t know all of the signals Google uses to rank sites. Nor do we know how much weight is given to those signals. These are just some observations.
Here’s a search engine result page for: los angeles personal injury lawyer
If you’re new to Google SERPs, you may want to check out our page on SEO.
There are a couple basic points I’d like to make before diving into this SERP.
First, hopefully you know that search engines results are in a constant state of flux. That means that if you were to perform this search from my machine, with my internet connection, it’s likely that over time you’d see variations in these results. Further, you should also know by now that SERPs are both personalized and localized. That means that if you were to perform this search on your machine, wherever you are, it’s very probable that your results will be much different.
Second, it’s worth noting that this query was just randomly decided upon by me. I’m not saying that ranking for this query will generate business for your firm. If you appear on this page and it does, great. We’d love to hear about it (although we recognize that lawyers aren’t big into sharing perceived competitive advantages). For those of you who are trying to learn more about SEO, keep in mind that rankings don’t necessarily equate to traffic and traffic doesn’t necessarily equate to paying clients.
Okay, let’s dive in.
By now, most of you probably know that the listings that have the “pink-ish” background are paid search advertisements. That means that these law firms pay Google to appear there. This is the main way that Google makes money. Advertisers pay Google each time a searcher clicks on on one of these ads. Since we’re not talking ppc advertising here, I’m not going to dive too deeply into this subject. I will say that if you are interested in advertising here, spend a ton of time learning how to do it. Most of you will be be better served finding someone who you can trust to manage your paid search ending marketing campaigns.
After the pink-ish paid search results, we come to local results. These firms appear here because Google’s fancy math has determined that these firms are the best response to the search. Again, we don’t know all of the factors and weights that go into this determination. However, smart people have noticed a correlation between rankings and a variety of local search ranking factors.
In my opinion, these firms have probably worked to get their local business citations (Name, Address and local Phone Number) consistent across the various data sources that Google uses to generate these results. If you want to learn more about this process, head over to GetListed.org. Of course, you are also welcome to contact us and we’d be happy to explain it you by phone. There are other factors that contribute to local search rankings, some of which we will discuss when we get to the traditional rankings below. If you think about it, Google wants to serve up local businesses that are close and are likely to provide a good experience to its users. If you take Google at its stated purpose, then it stands to reason that other factors like, what other people have to say about these lawyers matters. If true, then it’s reasonable to conclude that client testimonials contribute to local search rankings. If you look at the listing above, you’ll notice that each of them have several Google reviews on their respective Google+ local pages.
After the local listings, we come to the traditional organic results. Similar to the local results, these listings are generated by Google’s fancy math. However, the traditional search ranking factors are somewhat different from the local search ranking factors. These “SEO” factors can be placed into two major buckets, on-page factors and off-page factors.
On-page factors are signals that your pages send to search engines. These include things like keywords in your URLs, title tags and other HTML on your pages. There are on-page factors for individual pages, as well as, domain-wide.
Off-page factors are signals that the rest of the internet sends to search engines about your pages. They include things like links pointing from other sites to your pages, mentions of you and your business elsewhere, etc.
Since a lot of people use search engines, some business owners spend a lot of money to rank in search results. And I can tell you, as an SEO, there are a lot of lawyers who are getting a lot of great business from search.
Some of the things that lawyers are doing (or paying other people to do on their behalf) to get their pages to rank in Google, violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. There are teams of very smart people at Google who are responsible for identifying things that violate Google’s guidelines and making sure that those pages don’t rank as well.
It’s worth noting that Google isn’t perfect and some of this stuff still works. One of the things that Google publicly frowns upon in paid links. Or at least the specific set of paid links that are purchased to manipulate search rankings. As a potential example, let’s turn back to our “los angeles personal injury lawyer” SERP.
Using http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/ we can view some of the back links that point to the sites that appear in our example. Here’s one example of www.thejewishweek.com linking to www.faralaw.org:
Now, allow me to be clear, I have no idea whether or not this firm pays this site to be listed here. Considering some of the “link company” in the “Featured Sites of Interest” section (I’m looking at you http://www.abercrombietfitch.fr/catalog/seo_sitemap/category), my hunch is that these are paid links.
Looking at a more complete picture of this site’s back links, it’s pretty easy to recognize that these are some of the most “authoritative” links to this site (at least in terms of Moz’s PageAuthority and DomainAuthority metrics).
Obviously, this is just one small example and there are numerous other factors that are causing these sites to rank. If you’re interested in learning more about this specific SERP, head over to Moz and plug these domains into OSE. You can also check them out in Ahrefs and Majestic SEO too. You’ll get a pretty good idea of what they’re doing to rank.
If you want to know more about the on-page factors that are contributing to their rankings, I suggest that enter them into Screaming Frog or some other crawler. This will help you get a better picture of what they’re doing on their sites that are contributing to their rankings.
If, after reading this and conducting your own research, you still have questions about why they’re ranking, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re happy to show you a more full picture and even to help you compare your site with your competitors.