As we enter 2024, many law firms look for new opportunities for growth. If your growth strategy involves your website, chances are it’s been affected over the past year by updates to Google’s search algorithm.
Google has rolled out at least 10 major updates to its search ranking algorithm throughout 2023.
What Are Google Algorithm Updates?
These are changes to the “black box” or the “secret formula” that dictates how Google’s search rankings shake out the way that they do.
There’s hundreds of silent, minor changes to the algorithm each year. Major ones are those that Google announces to the public, because these can result in a reshuffling of the deck between you and your competitors.
If major algorithm updates sound ominous or obscure at first, maybe the closest comparison would be like an appellate court decision. It’s not as sweeping as tort reform or a Supreme Court verdict, but it can change the way the “law” — the core understanding of what a useful, authoritative website looks like — applies; in this case, to your website.
Why does Google update its algorithm? Because they can. Historically they have rolled out these updates worldwide for their Search product, believing the improvements help searchers arrive at the best destination for their query sooner.
However, now that Sergey Brin and Larry Page are out of the picture, we’re a bit more skeptical of Google’s motivation. Sundar Pichai, the new CEO of Google maintains a keen focus on increasing profits for their Ads products, which all appear on Google’s search result pages.
This presents a clear conflict of interest: “If the organic results are really good for users, why would a user want to click the ads?”
Google has been caught manipulating search results to increase ad profits before. For this reason, we keep an extremely close eye on Google’s ever-changing algorithm, and adjust our clients’ strategies accordingly.
How big algorithm updates impact a law firm performance’s on Google
Google’s major algorithm updates tend to generate brief turbulence for law firm rankings.
Within the first few days of a rollout, you’ll sometimes see wild fluctuations to your firm’s Google search positions. Your firm might disappear from the top 10 organic spots or the local pack for a spell — only to reappear like nothing happened. Your trucking accident page might jump to the top of the stack for “trucking accident lawyer” for a day, then go back to third. We sometimes call this “the Google dance.”
Algorithm updates take multiple days to play out. In that time, everything on your law firm’s website gets compared to everything on other law firms’ websites — through a new lens. Each algorithm change examines large and small details to determine a website’s usefulness for a given search term.
Once everyone’s rankings settle into their new positions, we can see sites gradually start to rise upward or trend downward in traffic as a result.
Every industry — from attorneys to garage door companies — has to deal with the shakeup when it comes time for a major algorithm update.
Let’s recap these ten major Google algorithm updates in 2023 and how they impacted the legal landscape.
February 2023 Product Reviews Update
- Started: February 21, 2023
- Goal: Supporting higher-quality product reviews in English and ten other languages.
- For law firms: This update matters more to eCommerce sites with goods to sell. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to consider offering services and creating content to reach the bilingual and non-English speakers in your community.
- Bonus points: Review your review schema to ensure your rating shows up in the search results by your website’s organic results.
March 2023 Core Update
- Started: March 15, 2023
- Goal: Recognizing quality content across all regions and languages. Core updates cause major shifts in ranking as the algorithm changes how it assesses and compares content.
- For law firms: Make sure your content demonstrates what Google calls E-E-A-T: your experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Your firm needs high-value, informative content that speaks to your knowledge in your field of practice in order to be ranked by Google.
- Bonus points: Every single page on your website should be optimized for conversion. Your homepage will not be the page most people land on, so make sure your practice area pages are conversion-friendly.
April 2023 Reviews Update
- Started: April 12, 2023
- Goal: Improving the relevance and quality of business reviews on Google.
- For law firms: It’s important that your clients leave detailed, authentic and comprehensive reviews of your services through your business page on Google. Your overall rating shows Google and your audience that you deserve to be at the top of your local pack; quality and quantity is key.
- Bonus points: Train your intake staff to ask for reviews from every single caller that has a good experience. (This should be everyone.)
August 2023 Core Update
- Started: August 22, 2023
- Goal: Refining the algorithm’s content assessment process.
- For law firms: Like the March 2023 core update, this is another period where the cream of the crop content can rise while the generic, outdated content out there may sink.
- Bonus points: Keep your practice area pages updated regularly to ensure Google sees your content as fresh throughout the year.
September 2023 Helpful Content Update
- Started: September 14, 2023
- Goal: Helping Google’s algorithm spot the most helpful, informative content for users.
- For law firms: Helpful content updates essentially try to separate the content that’s useful to humans from the content that’s trying only to please Google’s algorithm. Law firms should create content that’s original, well-researched, and tailored to the target audience it’s trying to reach.
- Bonus points: Don’t try to “game the system” on your practice area pages. Instead, provide deep, accurate information that will show visitors and Google that you are a subject matter expert.
October 2023 Spam Update
- Started: October 4, 2023
- Goal: Updating spam detection systems to eliminate hacked, auto-generated and scraped content.
- For law firms: Hopefully, your website wasn’t hosting any deceptive content in other languages and wasn’t impacted by this at all. Still, these spam updates from Google highlight the need to have a clean website with a healthy backlink profile and to steer clear of black-hat SEO tactics.
- Bonus points: Utilize a web host that will secure your website and will back your website up periodically to ensure that if a hack ever does take place, you can roll your website back to it’s previous state without losing any data. (All of our clients get this.)
October 2023 Core Update
- Started: October 5, 2023
- Goal: Refining how useful content is assessed.
- For law firms: This update seemed to introduce a lot of volatility to search rankings while it was rolling out up until Oct. 19th. Search engine optimizers everywhere in every industry waited to see whether their strategies needed to be adjusted, but all it really means is that it is important to make sure your factual, authoritative content is established for the long term.
November 2023 Core Update
- Started: November 2, 2023
- Goal: Raising the value and reliability of search results.
- For law firms: The fourth core update this year again meant to reward websites that are creating and maintaining high-quality content.
November 2023 Reviews Update (IMPORTANT)
- Started: November 8, 2023
- Goal: Rewarding businesses with genuine and high-quality reviews.
- For law firms: With every Google reviews update, it’s a good idea to have collected detailed, insightful feedback from clients in the hopes it’ll be recognized by the algorithm in charge of the local map pack. According to Google, the reviews system is set to be fine-tuned at the same rate as minor updates. And so, this will be the last major review-specific update they’ll announce to us.
- Bonus points: Help clients craft in-depth reviews to ensure that Google sees their reviews as helpful and relevant. Monitor your reviews CONSTANTLY to ensure they are actually publishing on your GBP when they are left. This is a recurring issue with many GBP profiles, and can only be fixed by utilizing Google Product Experts and escalating the issue to higher-level customer service representatives in the GBP team.
What do I need to do when there’s a Google algorithm update?
Whenever there’s a new major change to Google’s algorithm, all anyone can do is watch. The rule of thumb is to monitor your site for a short period of time before planning a new move.
That’s because the above updates lasted from two weeks to three and a half weeks in duration to finish rolling out globally.
It’s worth noting that Google has repeatedly told the online marketing industry that drops in ranking after an algorithm update don’t mean that a website is being penalized or singled-out. It means the algorithm has gotten better at spotting the great content that should rank. In SEO, you don’t often do anything wrong; there’s likely just competitors that are doing it better.
So, crafting a user-friendly, error-free, and informative website is really how to future-proof your law firm’s performance online.
- Here are our tips for surviving major Google updates throughout 2024:
- Invest time into producing high-quality, deep content that addresses the legal issues of your audience.
- Have satisfied clients leave authentic, detailed reviews of the services your law firm provided them.
- Take a look at the before-and-after of your metrics. Try to look beyond the month-to-month fluctuations and look at your quarterly, semi-annual and year-to-year performance.
- Keep believing in best practices for law firm SEO; no major algorithm update is going to make your firm’s website crater overnight (unless you’re doing black-hat SEO), but you do have to be responsive and recognize you might need a strategy adjustment to recover your rankings.
- Remember that organic traffic and keyword metrics aren’t the end-all, be-all to the most important performance indicator of your business — the volume of cases you’re signing.
Your law firm SEO strategy needs to be a continuous process that adapts to Google’s changing algorithm as it adapts to what matters most to searchers.
You need a knowledgeable SEO agency that’s not only monitoring your rankings, but also steadying the ship and navigating it through all the ripple effects when a major algorithm update drops. Our team builds websites and content libraries designed to withstand major algorithm updates — and help law firms grow for the long term.
That’s what drives us.
Reach out to us to learn more about working with us.