Google’s Panda Update—How Lawyers are Dealing with Search Rankings

Attorney Ehtical Search Techniques on Panda



A lot of LA lawyers were severely hurt after Panda and Penguin in April of 2012. After all, it is the most competitive law market in the world, and Google looks at it like people should be paying them, not an SEO person. So many believe that these updates specifically targeted sites that always were on page one, in order to force them into a PPC campaign. Many of our friends tried just that, and found they got little, if any good calls for what amounted to 20-50 dollars a call/click, and stopped, laid off staff, ended the PPC campaigns, and are now looking for work.

Many Lawyers and a Small Front Page on Google

After all, there are at least 52,486 lawyers in LA County alone (source), according to the California State Bar. But there are only a few slots on page one of Google. So this begs the question, one of your website pages isn’t rising on Google; you wonder why it isn’t, for your specific keywords. One of the reasons could be your on-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not up-to-date, in these days of post-panda, with Google spiders crawling pages.

Panda Is Huge Factor

The Panda update affected many lawyer sites severely, with the way the search engine ranks pages on the Internet. The first release of Panda was in February 2011, and since then, it is being improved upon as often as every couple weeks. What Panda was created for is to reward web pages that have completely unique and high quality content. Google specifically intended to target and remove out-dated web pages, unattractive or copied content from the search engine results.

Proper keyword density and Meta data optimization is not enough any longer to obtain high rankings in the search engines. Website rankings in Google search engine now have more than 500 factors (used to be just 200) that contribute to the rankings. There are ten that are the most important out of the approximately 500, to give your website a chance to rise in the search results.

A Hungry Panda is a Good Panda

Focusing on making Panda hungry is a good thing, which starts with well optimized Meta data. These are the ten most helpful tips to get good rankings in Google search results:

  • Title Tags: One of the most important is the title tag, <Title> for on-page optimization. There has been research done that shows when keywords are placed further to the left in a title, this will rank better, than titles with the keyword placed to the right. The page title has to make sense, and there should never be more than two keywords contained in it. Titles for web pages should not have more than 70 characters, which include spaces. This is the absolute limit that Google will display in the search results.
  • Header Tags: Header tags, <H1>, <H2>, and <H3> should be used for the headlines in content, and should be different than your <Title> tag. They should accurately illustrate the text that follows. The most SEO value is with the <H1> tag since is the main title of the page, and it should have a variation of your keyword. This isn’t completely necessary, after the Panda update. The <H2> and <H3> tags have SEO value also and are the sub-headings of the page. For this reason it may be a smart idea to query your keywords in Google and create some <H2> and <H3> sub-headings, which are based on the search suggestions. Using Google search related suggestions at the bottom of the web page can be helpful. It is also a way to get new ideas for popular keyword and keyword phrase ideas.
  • Text Based Keywords: Your chosen keywords that are placed in the text should be done strategically, throughout the page, but in a way that will make sense to visitors reading the page. One thing to know, is that it is always smarter to forget about keyword density, in the event that you are providing a better reading experience for visitors without the usual density. Generally keywords and variations are included once every 100 to 150 words. When you are dealing with long-tail keywords, which are 4 words or longer, you want to avoid placing them as often as a keyword.
  • Meta Description Tag: In the search engine results, the Meta description will appear right below the <Title> tag. The Meta tag description should be at most 150 characters, which includes spaces and it is advertising of a kind displayed on the search engine results page, known as the SERP’s. The whole idea of this description is to get the people running searches to click through to your website. Even though the Meta description has lost almost all of its SEO power, but it is useful for the Click Through Ratio, (CTR) of the website. A keyword used in your Meta description will increase the attractiveness of the listing, since the keyword will be bold.
  • Content Length and Grammar: Search engine rankings for pages with poor grammar are now being penalized, and rightfully so. Make your page content perfect, because now one page with poor grammar on it, can damage the entire website search engine rankings.
  • File Names and Images: Page file names and images both should have the names of your specific keywords. It might sound silly, but it can help rankings and nothing should be left to chance. Alt attribute within the image tags can be useful with both the accessibility of the web page and the optimization. What this does is describe images to the viewer that cannot see them due to a visual impairment or because of a slow Internet connection. When describing images, you should use a 50 character sentence, which includes your keyword. The 50 characters should be enough to accurately describe the image.
  • Image Optimization: Optimizing your file names and alt attributes is important, and you will want to reduce the file size and flatten your images. Google, since the release of Panda has started to penalize websites that take too long to load. Google recommends loading time of 1.5 seconds for websites, so if your web page is taking longer than that, you might consider reducing image file size or switching web hosts, depending on which is the problem. Making the images more compact can be done in Photoshop, by reducing them approximately 25 percent. At this reduction the difference in any quality loss will be almost unnoticeable. What will be noticeable is the loading time of the web page. One thing that should be avoided, is the use of copyrighted images, not only is it illegal to use these without express permission, it will hurt the SEO value of the web page.
  • Video Optimization: This is done by creating a YouTube account and then including a link to your website home page, in the profile section. Then when uploading a video, make certain that the title is based on the keywords for the page you are going to embed it on. Enter keyword targeted tags, which will make it easier for spiders to classify the video’s category. Then in the description field of the video, put a link back to the page you are optimizing on your website. Embed the video on the upper part of the page, so visitors do not have to scroll down the page to find it. In order to have a good optimized page, website owners generally have a page containing at least one video they produced.
  • Internal Links: One of the greatest factors in search engine ranking is having a perfect internal link structure on your website. This will need to be easy to navigate for the search engine spiders and for visitors viewing your pages. The anchor text or link text must contain descriptive keywords, which will explain what will be viewed on the next page.
  • Outbound Links: Outbound links, are beneficial for SEO, when they are to authoritative web pages, since the Panda update. Citing each one of your sources is crucial for getting the largest benefit out of the new change. It is permitted by search engines that hate duplicate content to use a short blurb, from the authoritative website, and place it in <cite> tags on your website, and it might not be a bad idea to do. It is still important to have your web page at least 85 percent unique.

The next thing to understand is the authority of the website, and how it is determined. One way to interpret authority is by Google PageRank, and the domain extension of the website. When a domain ends with .gov or .edu, they are affiliated with government agencies and with universities, which many believe gives them instant authority. Of course says no. Traffic heavy websites may also be authoritative websites, no matter what the domain ending or page rank. The one way that you can easily find an authoritative website is by “ your keyword” when you are searching for authoritative government agencies to link to for your website and the same, replacing .gov to .edu for searching authoritative education domains.

Panda’s High Maintenance and Getting the Most Out of it

There have been some big SEO changes since the Panda update, and one of these is the amount of content each page needs to have. Before the update, search engines would rank website pages that had between 300 and 600 pages of text, just fine. Those days are gone! Today if you want to have a chance of good rankings on the search engine, some experts say just about every page on your website must be at least 750 words in length to even get ranked. Even for product pages, instead of the shorter versions, they now should read like an encyclopedia. Of course, I have seen plenty of cases where that is not true. But typically they are older sites. Google seems to favor older domains a lot, even if the content isn’t that great, so whatever.

If the product page is for paint, then there should be information about where this type of paint came from, what it is used for, what are the properties it is made from and other information. The most important thing that needs to be questioned for Panda, when optimizing web pages, will be is this the best page on the Internet with this topic and using this keyword? The object of search engines is to provide relevant information that is useful to the searchers and do it as fast as possible.

This is one of the reasons that they often have results for Wikipedia at the top when you do a search for a “personal injury lawyer“, for example, since it has articles that are filled with information, citations, links and pictures. The articles have multiple internal links and outbound links to reputable authority websites. One of the best ways to ensure your web page does good and rises in the ranking algorithm, is by designing it like a Wikipedia article web page. Understand that?


Posts by Michael Ehline

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