Google Panda 4.0 Update and Attorney Websites
By personal injury lawyer, Michael Ehline – In this article, I am going to talk about the latest Google ranking changes from the view of a solo lawyer, or law firm that lost big traffic starting on Saturday, May 17, 2014, a day which will be remembered by many attorneys in “infamy”. Before I ran with the cattle and started immediately blogging about the latest major canons of algorithmic iterations online, I wanted to give the spiders a chance to do their dance and see where the final rankings settled.It appears that the rankings that exist as they do today, are the final ones, and thus, I will now take a stab at this.
Why The Lawyers Keep Calling Us Since Last Saturday
The quick answer is “they lost rank and want to get it back”. Most of the calls are from clients of Justia and Findlaw. But I digress. First, let me open up with some history here. Circle of Legal Trust was started as a direct result of the devastating after effects of Penguin and Panda of April 2012. Since that time, our attorneys have acted as ambassadors, reaching out to social media and SEO communities.
During that period, many newcomer attorneys to Google hired SEO companies that were able to rank brand new sites with just a few tweaks, some LSI and some creative linking, or by paying companies like FindLaw a boatload of money for a FirmSite “lease” that may have already been built and pre-linked with Findlaw backlinks.
Some chatter indicates that these sites may have already been ranking and simply converted to the use of the newest paying customer (See Conrad Saam’s comments here on Findlaw pre-built websites.) In the meantime, many of our members – for various reasons – have had an artificial algorithmic filter holding our once great ranking sites down while we were re-doing our sites for Google compliance. But on Saturday many of us came back to our pre-2012 ranks. As a result, since Monday, I have been getting inundated with e mails and phone calls from law firms and SEO companies offering me big bucks to join the Circle of Legal Trust.
In any event our core group of loyal, participating attorneys who were fearful of building their real estate on someone’s expensive land, and once bitten twice shy, followed the advice of Eric Enge, Andre van Wyk, David Amerland, Ronnie Bincer, and Mark Traphagen, myself and other experts. All of these experts have spoken at HOA’s and members were encouraged to listen in. After a few years of slow and steady recovery, last Saturday all of our hard work and dedication finally hit paydirt. It seems that the chains of Panda and Penguin slavery may have finally been lifted for the patched C.O.L.T lawyers at least. So this is why we are getting calls and contacts.
But moving on, the most recent in a long list of Google updates is Panda 4.0, which affects how websites rank on Google’s search engine finally hit. This is the largest algorithm update of the year and according to SEO experts it may also give smaller businesses a better shot at being seen on the search engine. Most of you who are members already know what Panda is, but if not, go here.
Although the Panda update is not a Penguin update, to me, they seem so interrelated that they are difficult to separate. This is because external links linking back to you from crappy content sites, lower the value of the links coming in to your site. And The function of Panda is to target the thin content on websites, like aggregator sites. This means that websites like Ebay, and some Firmsites appear to be losing ranking now.
Recent Drop In Findlaw Sites?
Conrad Saam has also noticed a SERPS drop in FindLaw Firmsites that borders on cataclysmic for many firms that presumably were paying huge money. (See article “…Firmsites Crushed by Panda…”) My experience has been that Findlaw offers a mixed bag of services. Lower paying customers get links back that are on thinner content pages, and higher paying clients get links from better written Findlaw pages that carry more authority.
My current research since Saturday shows that the bigger paying Findlaw Firmsites are still doing “Ok”, but the other ones that had links from thinner pages seem to fall into the the “Saam’s category”. Many had speculated for years that Google favored Findlaw since they had a high PPC spend, or that there was some other nefarious reason this company with its huge ego was continuing to rank so well. This latest algo iteration seems to have nailed the coffin shut for that argument. The takeaway is that over the past few years Panda updates have been coming out and this has resulted in marketers and attorneys who want a good placement to make sure that on and offsite content is just as well written as a Huck Finn novel. No matter what, these lawyers must ensure they have high quality original content everywhere. They must also make efforts to neutralize bad content offsite, since links from bad content hurt them.
Websites meeting all of these standards have not seen a significant change with most of the updates that Google has rolled out. But few ever really met these standards, and as a result PPC use did go through the roof, and complaints of poor quality sites replacing filtered sites have been the norm for the past few years. It seems the bell curve may have finally hit and the shake may be calming down a bit.
This current update may even make it easier for placement on the search engine for attorneys, law firms and small businesses, who have focused on premium content, rather than sites that are filled with less than mediocre content. Panda 4.0 is an update that many have nothing to fear, for the website marketer depending on good rankings on Google’s search engine if they have followed the algorithm updates over time and refrained from using anything other than the best quality content on their site.
Of course, that is not all there is to it. Brand building is huge. And with big legal sites now apparently leasing pre-built sites to legal greenhorns, it is my belief that tying a brand, as opposed to simply ranking well because you have an exact match domain, will soon be a ranking requirement. Our members have a Circle of Legal Trust “Patch” on their sites, and most of their sites are humming since last Saturday.
But Alas, You Cannot Pay to Join the Circle of Legal Trust
Naturally, people are seeing the correlation and assuming they can pay me money to get their sites to rank too. Sorry to burst your bubble, but our membership is not “pay to play”. Don’t forget that I am a Marine. If you want to feel the pride of being a C.O.L.T. member, you have to “earn” it. (See the rules here.) You cannot pay, since all we do is teach and provide emotional and moral support similar to a biker club. Once you are accepted, there are paid services, but they have nothing to do with linkbuilding or websites and are basically a way for me to help offset some of the organizational costs. So if you really want to learn to rank, you have to stop thinking about shortcuts. Google will find you if you use these ancient and dis-proven methods. Think of your website as a young baby Superman escaping the Google algo for Planet Black Hat, and Google in the role of General Zod. “I will find him” says Google. And Google will find him!
If you try and steal Google’s “Codex” and run off to another planet, Zod will come after you, he will find you. Winning means convincing Zod that you are an ally and not a usurper. In this case, you need to focus on working within the laws of Krypton or die from Kryptonite poisoning. If you are interested in recovering lost ranking, and ready to handle your marketing in house, our attorneys await you with open arms and so will Panda! If not, keep listening to your SEO people and stay away.
Posts by Michael Ehline
- SEO Search Terms and the Legal Field
- Attorneys and Penguin 3.0 - Winner and Losers
- NAPIL Bites the Dust?
- Was It Panda or Was it a PBN?
- Insights into Google Quality Rater Guidelines For Legal Websites
- Google's Local Pigeon Thinks Legal Directories are "Law Firms"?
- Politically Appointed Donors & Courts Move to Erode Net Neutrality
- New California Rules Codify Politeness
- Top Local Citation Sources for SEO Local Search
- Net Neutrality Laws and Their Effects in the Courtroom