You probably depend on search engines like Google to drive visitors to your law firm website and bring in new clients. If so, you know that it can be a challenge to outrank the competition for your target search queries. Law firm SEO is competitive, and search engine optimization can seem mysteriously complex to the uninitiated (or deceptively simple).
For the most part, Google’s 200+ search ranking factors are closely guarded secrets, and Google makes adjustments to its search algorithm daily. That’s why law firm SEO experts pay close attention when Google provides any clue about its search algorithm, clues like their publicly-available “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.”
Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines is a 164-page document that acts as a sort of “textbook” for what Google considers high-quality content. These guidelines are used by “Search Quality Raters” to evaluate web pages, testing how well the search algorithm works.
Although Google’s search rater guidelines don’t reflect how the algorithm works exactly, they tell us how Google wants the algorithm to work.
At the heart of the guidelines is a content quality standard referred to by the acronym “E-A-T.”
What is E-A-T?
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. To achieve the high page quality standards set by Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, your site content must demonstrate:
- Expertise – The content author (most likely your law firm or an attorney in your firm) is a clear expert on the topic. He or she is licensed with the appropriate training and credentials.
- Authoritativeness – The content author is recognized by others to be an authority on the topic. Going beyond expertise, the author often influences others who are also considered to be experts on the same topic.
- Trustworthiness – The web page and/or content author can be trusted to provide accurate information, keep data safe, and not scam users.
Websites that fall under Google’s “Your Money Your Life” (YMYL) category are those that can literally affect someone’s financial or physical well-being. Google explicitly refers to sites that give health, legal, or financial advice as YMYL sites, which are under the highest level of scrutiny to meet E-A-T standards.
Google confirmed that E-A-T is an important ranking signal in a white paper published in February 2019 titled “How Google Fights Disinformation.” Google’s goal with each algorithm update is to provide more credible content in their search results, so law firms that strive to meet E-A-T standards are far more likely to have higher SEO rankings than their competitors.
Why is E-A-T Important for Law Firm Websites?
Google categorizes “legal information pages” as YMYL pages, meaning that they “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.”
You aren’t likely to outrank your competitors unless you apply the E-A-T standards your law firm’s website content.
What Can Law Firms Do to Improve E-A-T on Their Websites?
There are several ways to improve E-A-T for your law firm website.
You need to establish that your content is authored by licensed, trained experts with the appropriate credentials. Licensed attorneys are considered to have formal expertise, and you can further promote each lawyer as a brand through the following:
- Include an attorney profile page on your website for each lawyer in your firm. Be sure to list legal credentials and licensing, continuing education details, lectures and seminars.
- Create and optimize practitioner Google My Business listings for each attorney in your firm, if appropriate.
- On each attorney’s blog post, be sure to include an author byline, photo, and a brief bio with a link to his or her practitioner page.
Your content authors should be recognized by others as experts, and their advice should influence other experts in the field. You can earn recognition as an authority by having:
- Outside independent reputation information such as reviews and client testimonials
- Recommendations from expert sources like professional societies and membership organizations
- News articles, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions, and ratings from independent organizations
- Legitimate awards and award badges
- Links, citations, and offsite mentions from authoritative sites, shares from social media, and news coverage mentions
- Consistent brand messaging between your site and 3rd party websites
- Consistently produced, well-researched, properly attributed and cited original content
- Contributions to offsite content such as in respected publications, guest blogging, or by answering Q&As on 3rd party websites like AVVO
Authoritativeness is one of the most crucial aspects of E-A-T. Your authority must be widely recognized to meet E-A-T standards.
E-A-T Case Study #1
At Paramaya Web Consulting, we worked with an SEO client about 10 years ago who was a solo lawyer with a practice focused in one niche area of civil law for years. We worked with him to improve the quality of his content and expand his online reputation, and his website soon outranked competitors statewide for his practice area, including large firms with much larger marketing budgets. His website was driving half a dozen new client leads to the firm every single day. Because the site was so authoritative, it was frequently cited and linked to from other websites, which further established his authoritativeness in that one area of law.
Because his website was such a successful tool for client acquisition, he decided to branch out into personal injury, a more lucrative practice area for his firm. He was surprised to find that he wasn’t immediately getting leads for the new practice area like he did for his long-term area of civil law.
The problem was that he wasn’t recognized as an authority in the new practice area at all. None of the glowing online reviews about him referenced personal injury. There were no related testimonials on his site. No award badges and no Q&A answers on AVVO. He was not recognized as a speaker in the area of personal injury law. We had to start over building his authority for a new practice area.
It’s not enough to just be seen as a good lawyer. You need to be seen as an authority in your specific practice area.
You must establish that your firm’s website can be trusted to provide accurate information, keep data safe, and not scam users. You prove your trustworthiness by sharing:
- Reviews and testimonials from clients or other attorneys
- Case studies
- Technical security (HTTPS)
- About Us page – Make it clear who is responsible for the website.
- Your contact information on every page in an easy to find location
- BBB rating
What Might Indicate a Low Level of E-A-T for a Law Firm Website?
Avoid sending these low quality signals:
- Poor spelling and grammar
- Negative reviews or a poor reputation
- Low-quality content
- Exaggerated content titles
- Not enough information to satisfy the purpose of the content
- Ads or supplementary content that distract from the main content
- Inaccurate or misleading content
- Copied or scraped content
- Broken page functionality
If you find that your law firm’s site is not up to Google’s E-A-T standards, you should start the improvement process by auditing your brand and your content. Research what people are saying about you and your website.
E-A-T Case Study #2
We worked with another attorney a few years ago who was considered the foremost authority in his area of law within his state. For a long time, he dominated the SERPs for his target search queries. Then around March 2018 and again in August 2018, his traffic began to decline precipitously. He hired us to perform an SEO audit to investigate why.
The site’s traffic declined around the same time that Google made two significant algorithm updates that SEO pros believe are related to E-A-T. During our audit, we found a conspicuous pattern of negative reviews that related to experiences people had when they initially called the firm. The reviews were on multiple reviews sites, including on the attorney’s Google My Business listing.
We encouraged him to reevaluate his and his staff’s phone manner and invite his satisfied clients to leave reviews to counteract any negative ones. He followed our advice, and his organic traffic has now returned to previous levels.
Improving your site’s E-A-T takes time.
There are no shortcuts to establishing high-quality page content. It takes dedication and drive to provide accurate, useful, accessible content to your users.