Tanner Jones 2015-01-16 01:08:46
Online searches give users results based upon specific rules, called algorithms. Algorithms are often updated to improve user experience, or UX. Google is legendary within the tech community for its algorithm updates, often issuing hundreds of smaller updates throughout the year. Google periodically issues substantial updates. You have probably heard the terms Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird. Those updates significantly altered the search engine results page (SERP) for many law firms. In some cases, law firms saw their website rankings plunge. That, in turn, sharply cut search traffic being referred to the site, which led to a decrease in conversions and, ultimately, a decrease in signed cases. How Algorithms Affect Website Ranking Algorithm updates from Google, both in the past and more recently, have greatly impacted the ranking of various websites. Penguin updates have cut out the majority of “spammy” websites from the picture, knocking these sites off the first page. Sites that were created with quick tricks are now languishing in the never-never land of the back pages. Black hat SEO companies are constantly searching for ways to outsmart the various Google algorithms. Some of these companies once used backlinks that were specifically designed to boost rankings. It is clear that many of Google’s algorithm updates are intended to negatively affect sites that have used black hat methods to improve rankings. At the same time, these updates have benefited sites that provide users with valuable answers to queries typed into the search bar. The takeaway: providing users with accurate information of real value is more important than ever before. Attorneys that are concerned about site ranking can avoid worries about their site ranking by simply ensuring that their site is created, managed and updated with strict adherence to recognized best practices. The next update – whether an algorithm that affects content or any other aspect of how a site is ranked on the SERP — will have little to no negative impact on sites that are created correctly. You can be prepared for future algorithm changes, without knowing the specifics of each change, by investing the hard work now to enjoy the benefits later. User Experience: It Matters. While it is true that content is king, user experience has advanced as one of the most critical issues in website creation. If you place the user above yourself by maintaining quality standards in every aspect of your site, then it is a safe bet that your site will not be greatly impacted by any algorithm updates. Ensure that your website is not only stocked with useful information, but that it provides an enjoyable and easy experience for all. Examples of Good UX Some of the best practices for UX include how you use headings. Called H1 and H2, these heading tags help to split a site up so it is easy to read for a user. Sites that are created with headings that actually describe the content below, and that have simple top navigation buttons so users can easily move through the site to find the data they need, will rank better. Users tend to stay longer and read more of the information presented on a navigable site. Descriptive metadata (the information about what the page on the site covers) is also critical, and must be created with the end user in mind. Having the right URL can make a big difference in how your site ranks, and providing strong calls to action – directing the user about what to do – is also an effective white hat SEO technique. Responsive site design that is not only attractive but easy to use is a crucial aspect in how well a site will function as a marketing tool for a law firm. Examples of Bad UX When a website is overfilled with poorly-written, disorganized, or cluttered content and images or has no clear top navigation buttons, user experience suffers immensely. These mistakes can be extremely costly, as you have only seconds to engage the user. Long, complex URLs don’t work, and multiple calls-to-action on a page are a detriment. Your site must function fast and correctly when accessed by a mobile digital device. More and more people now perform searches with a smartphone or tablet rather than a desktop, causing sites that do not provide an aesthetically pleasing mobile experience to suffer. Take a look at this link to view an example of a hideous UX: http://www.theworldsworstwebsiteever.com/. Content Best Practices When creating content for your site, it is critical that you avoid content that is simply wallpaper. Many site designers pay little attention to the quality of content – a massive error. You must avoid shallow or non-substantive content that says little or nothing and takes the user nowhere. Provide accurate, usable data with links to relevant and trusted sources. Pages that focus on one field of law are effective for those searching the area for an attorney, but you must present your firm in a manner that engages the user and answers his or her questions or concerns. As mentioned before, headings and sub-headings should break up the page for easy reading and scanning of data. Here is an example of a site that has all of these elements in place with the user in mind: http://www.cohenjaffe.com/. Design Best Practices Less is more. You want clean, simple and attractive design. A cluttered, busy site with too much going on is not only confusing; it will direct the attention of the user to the wrong places. Prioritize your subpages by allowing only the most important informational pages to be linked to the home page. Ensure your site has simple navigation on the top of the site that functions perfectly no matter what type of digital device is used in a search. Search Best Practices Be very careful and on high alert about who and what has linked to your firm’s website. Consider finding a trusted company involved in online marketing to fully evaluate all of the backlinks to your site, as the wrong links impact ranking. Eliminating disreputable backlinks is an important factor in maintaining your online presence as clean, trusted and reputable for search engines – and users. You can earn relevance and leverage your firm’s authority by engaging with your local community in various activities. In doing so, your firm will earn more and more trusted links to your site. Create assets on your site that are valuable to users and worth sharing. These assets can include infographics, e-books, white papers, giveaways, checklists and other information that is useful and shareable. Here are two examples of assets that add value and relevance to a website: http://www.burch-george.com/oklahoma-football/and http://www.frankeidson.com/craftbrew-bac-calculator/. Final Thoughts There is no shortage of companies that are aggressively marketing to attorneys, and who promise fast and attractive results. It is extremely important that you understand that the strategies you employ now to get fast results could have a detrimental impact on your site’s long term success. The Web will continue to grow and is already the place where prospective clients search for the right lawyer and evaluate law firms. The bottom line: now is the time to make absolutely sure that your firm’s search marketing initiatives are in line with all Google guidelines and recommendations for best practices. This is the only strategy that will actually protect your site from the release of tomorrow’s algorithms. Tanner Jones is the marketing director for Consultwebs.com, the premier provider of online legal marketing. For more information, email tjones@consultwebs. com or call (800) 872-6590.
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