A recently published study performed by Backlinko provides insight into the correlation between several page factors and their effects on search engine results. Backlinko looked at a comprehensive sample of 1 million Google search results to determine its findings. The study confirmed some closely held search marketing beliefs while also producing unexpected results. Here is a summary of key findings, along with tips for how attorneys can use them.
Links are still important
Despite Google's apparent attempts to diminish their importance, backlinks are still a key factor in a page's search ranking. A backlink is simply a link to a page from an external source. The study contains two primary findings relevant to backlinks.
1. Both link quantity and diversity affect a page's ranking. The number of backlinks a page has earned is still important. The study found a correlation between the raw number of urls linking to a page and the page's rank. However, more important is the diversity of places the links are coming from. In other words, it is better for a page to have 15 links from 15 different sites than 20 links from the same site. The study found that the diversity of links — the number of individual domains linking to a page — has a stronger correlation to that page's rank than any other factor reviewed.
2. Page Rank may be fading, but link authority still matters. Page Rank, invented by Larry Page in the early 1990s, used to be a strong determinant of a page's search placement. Page Rank is a metric that assigns a value of 0 to 10 as a reflection of a page's authority. A page with a high Page Rank could pass Rank to another site in the form of a link. It was a reflection of the value of the page being linked to that it could receive a link from a highly authoritative page.
However, as spammers learned to game the system, Google began devaluing Page Rank and has not updated that aspect of its algorithm since 2013.
Link authority, however, is still a valuable asset. The study used a measure of link authority developed by Ahrefs, the Ahrefs Ranking, to test whether this authority still matters. The results were positive. In fact, the study found that both a site's link authority and an individual page's link authority correlate with higher rankings. A page itself may not have high link authority, but it can inherit some authority from the site as a whole.
Attorney Tip: To help achieve your firm's marketing goals, work to both earn links from and link to a diverse number of pages. Provide in-depth, quality content covering niche areas on your site, since this type of content is most likely to earn a link. Develop relationships with journalists and members of professional organizations who may look to you for stories or quotes. And make sure your firm is listed on major, reputable directories, like Yelp.
Content depth and quality are relevant
The length and depth of a page's content is more important to Google than exact match keywords. In the early days of Google's algorithm, a page could achieve a high ranking even if it was filled with mostly nonsense — as long as that nonsense contained a lot of keywords. Now, a page may rank within the top three organic places on the first page of results and not even contain the keywords a user is searching for. This is because Google has been tweaking its algorithm to look at the meaning of a page and not a specific string of words.
To demonstrate this phenomenon, the study uses the example of a page about making satay sauce. The page ranks number one for the term “Indonesian Satay Sauce,” even through that exact phrase never appears anywhere on the page. The page does, however, go into great detail about the sauce, including a history, recipe, nutrition facts and descriptions about how the sauce is used.
The study also confirms the finding of several other groups with regard to page length: longer content tends to rank better. In this sample, the average length of the content on the first page of Google's results was 1,890 words. Google is looking to return results that provide actual value to users, and the algorithm seems to be determining that long, in-depth pieces are most useful.
Attorney Tip: Diversify your content and provide helpful information, not just a sales pitch.
Obviously, your firm's website needs to convince people to call you, so it will contain sales language in the form of your experience, history, philosophy and representative case studies. In addition to these items, Google is looking for informational content.
Try adding long-form pages to your site that cover a single topic in-depth. Include graphics, statistics and facts relevant to the area of practice you are covering. Discuss similar cases that help put the law into perspective for visitors. When writing content, try to ignore your keywords and put quality first. If you provide real insight into a topic, Google will value that more highly than it would a page you managed to cram “personal injury lawyer” into 10 times.
Schema is not as important as advertised
Schema markup is a semantic vocabulary that can be added to code to help search engines display rich results. Schema markup describes things like an event, a review or an organization by adding small lines of code to a page that tells a search engine what type of content is on that page.
Schema markup has received a lot of buzz as a way to boost search rankings. The theory was that search engines found the descriptive code to be valuable and would reward sites that use it. According to this study, however, there is no correlation between the use of schema markup and search placement.
Attorney Tip: Schema markup may not help your pages rank higher, but it can influence whether or not a searcher chooses to click on your result. Results that are well-formatted and contain items like images, video or reviews stand out and may influence searchers to choose your listing over a competitor's. Include schema markup if appropriate, but do not rely on it to improve rankings.
Images help... to a point
The study found a strong correlation between pages that contain at least one image and search rankings. Pages with at least one image ranked noticeably higher than those with none. However, the return diminishes after one picture. Pages containing many images did not perform any better than those with only one. Posts on blogs and social media that use images receive more shares, and according to this study images also help with a page's ranking.
Attorney Tip: Invest in a portfolio of high-quality images of your attorneys, staff and offices. Also consider purchasing stock to supplement your portfolio and add interest. People are visual creatures. Humans are biologically wired to judge based on appearance, no matter how neutral we may attempt to be. Studies have also shown that visitors are more likely to trust and relate to pages that contain pictures of the actual attorneys with whom they will be working. Using the right images can help with both SEO and conversion.
Load times matter
Google considers page load speed to be an aspect of a site's user-friendliness. Sites that load slowly are cumbersome to users, especially those on mobile devices. This study confirmed what Google has been implying about site speed: pages that load more quickly tend to rank better. In fact, pages on fast-loading sites also significantly out perform pages on slow-loading sites.
Attorney Tip: Optimize your pages for maximum speed. Compress all images for web use and host large files like audio and video off-site. Create responsive pages that display information strategically based on the user's device. You may also want to ask your development team to use Google's PageSpeed Insights tool, which provides a speed score and a list of tips on how to improve a page's load time.