SEO Search Terms and the Legal Field

By Michael Ehline – At the outset, I wanted to thank Bill Slawski, a law school graduate and intellectual powerhouse, for his selfless contributions and interpretations of the latest Google Patents, as well as his valuable codex of data on SEO By The Sea. It seems that the more research I do, the more I find that things he spoke about years ago, are happening now, and at light speed. Contained herein, is my first stab at using an infographics creator as well. So I found it was taking me a long time, and decided to just write and go back later and create more images, like an Evergreen article.
The meat of this article deals with effective ways that lawyers should be writing. Most of us who have had a term paper graded in college are familiar with Flesch-Kincaid, so with that concept in mind I will explain this piece in more detail.  Google has instituted a “Reading Level Tool” (Watch the video), to help searchers find more stimulating content for their education level, or other purpose. So we know that Google is looking at how we write and the level of education of the author. Why is this important? Well, one reason could be to distinguish between an expert on a topic, as opposed to a simpleton who is simply writing copy stuffed with keywords.
The idea here for you to grasp, is that Google, with Hummingbird, has abandoned the old ways of the Force, and jumped light years ahead into Semantic search. Soon, it is possible that Google will “imply” a backlink to your site, just from a mention of your brand, even with NO link. Of course, Slawski had already discussed all of this, but the way we usually find out about it, is when someone else writes about it on Moz or something. Now, I am no expert like him, but as far as writing goes, in my opinion, it is the new backlink. Google has a database of great writers from Hemingway, to Carl Sagan. It knows what good writing is. It knows if a lawyer is writing it, it will be written like Clarence Darrow, for example. Anyone who has read the book “Resist Not Evil,“will see right away that this could be an effective writing style for a lawyer to employ in legal briefs, as well as later memoirs. But Google has taken this idea even further, by using certain synonyms, antonyms, phrases and terms to ping off of one another in a mathematical way, that is absolutely mind-blowing. Now this article only represents my understanding of the current state of writing. I spoke to Bill Slawski by phone yesterday, and it appears he has information in his brain housing group that make this below expose old news. So mind you, anything I write here should be followed up by following Bill and attending any HOA or seminars he speaks at. I am more of an interpreter for lawyers and the SEO world. But Bill represents the zenith in search technology as far as I am concerned. So now let’s get to the meat. Since I am a personal injury attorney, I decided to approach writing an article that would do well for a sought after term for a products liability lawyer. I chose “DEFECTIVE BREAST IMPLANT LIABILITY!” I am sure you have noticed the ads like that that shout on the sidebar of the article that you’re reading on some of the legal sites that serve up adsense on their websites, or sell sponsored slots for lawyers. But most of us want to rank in organic search for that term, and not rely upon sifting through click fraud reports and cost per click data. Most of us want to rank right there for the term. The good news is that for those who reject the old ways, through contextual advertising and proper use of SEO terms, the legal field has been transformed and allows for a greater reach of information for both attorneys and their potential clients. While this large stream of information may exist and grows every year, this does not mean that it is a case closed to get your message out there. There are several techniques that a skilled attorney can also become a successful web entrepreneur. The most effective way to get to the top of Google or to get those clicks coming into your site is a combination of marketing strategies. The overlap can drive up your PageRank (Yes having a trustworthy site is still a big deal) and your hits. Google does change its policies and search algorithms, so some of these tactics are time sensitive and may have already evolved as I was saying. Still, they offer a window into the ever shifting and growing field of internet marketing.

Using the main keywords in the main body strategically, helps tip off Google to what the term is you are trying to rank for. The trick is to not keyword stuff.

1. Appropriate Keywords

Google’s use of keywords is changing, especially over the last several years. Google caught on to various ways that companies were goosing their search engine rankings by artificially adding in relevant search terms and in some cases paying others to do so on their behalf. Google has shifted their focus away from just relevant terms and an automatic spit out of the most on their search engine and closer to contextual awareness. When writing about a certain topics, using branded links to link to your site, rather than blind ones, or exact match ones also play a role. The use of ‘dumb’ terms and not just exact match terms has become such a topic that Google started penalizing sites that overindulged in what it considered artificial links. Yes, even branded anchors “may” be spam depending on how and where they are used in copy and in the external links to your site.

So use those terms, in the proper way by considering:

Term Frequency and Context

So you can’t get to the top page of Google anymore by just writing “CAR ACCIDENT ATTORNEY CHICAGO” 1,000 times in an article about last night’s Laker game. To fulfill proper SEO, the use of proper terms in context is key. Writing about car crash statistics for the South Side from 1997-1999 will provide a more specialized and more genuine look for the web crawlers. The use of branded links also won’t compete with naked links that might be seen as linkbait. When I cite an article, I usually cite the actual hyperlink, and write the name of the document at the base of the article I am writing, just like I would if I used footnotes in a legal brief. Of course, this varies depending on the audience I am writing for. Finding a sweet spot in your writing that appeals to the widest and target audience is hardest part as far as I am concerned. Making sure that your key terms and links are not swamping the document or your page overall is vital. Having “IMPORTANT PERSONAL INJURY LAW FIRM” 25 times in a 400 word article has become a major red flag under Panda and Penguin. Having a ratio in the low single digits surrounded by proper information makes a lot of sense. Stop using keyword density tools. Huge mistake from my perspective,

Proper Vocabulary

Look up a search term that won’t have a lot of results, and the search engine will start spitting out similar terms. As Google’s search algorithms are getting “smarter,” you will see it try to fit in similar ideas into your search. Sometimes it will even do so automatically. Millions of searches and constant fine tuning by the web engineers show this shift. Lucky for the consumer that is looking up search terms every day, now their search for New York baseball scores can include David Wright’s home run from the previous evening. This also represents a major challenge and opportunity in the legal world. The companies and firms that know how to properly write pieces on the internet will start out at the middle or top of the pack. The proper use of various terms that are interrelated and synonyms will make a vital difference. One of they keys to this is to use language that is natural. As in making it easier for the reader to actually read– like it isn’t an advertisement at all. When Google looked for exact search terms, many articles would completely shift to meet that term letter for letter, leaving disjointed and sometimes nonsensical sentences. A proper use of different terms and expressions written in the way that you would like it to be read is often more important than the conscious use of proper terms. Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm will give you the extra weight for longer, realistic writing. Of course some experts say that long documents are being used to ad terms, and not to answer the question quickly, and that a 200 word article that can do that, is probably more effective and not “thin” content. Again, this is to be judged on a case by case basis and really requires you to use common sense.

Including the Proper Organization of Words

Making sure that a sentence makes sense and is related to those around it is not only important to the reader, but also to Google and Bing. Having terms that fit together when written will make a significant difference for your page. If you are able to fit these key terms together in a proper semantic distance the algorithm will determine how well (or not) that these terms fit together. By using the key term relationships, both from proper writing and synonyms, you will gain in your rankings.

Including Proper Phrasing

When dealing with topics that could be related but are not expressly so, you can gain from Google doing the work for you. Well, not exactly. Google will automatically weight different topic depending on the keywords and phrasing usage. Complete phrases that will properly bounce off other phrases and terms also plays a key role. Remember that these different terms can have radically different meanings by the changing of a single word, as Google knows. This phrase based indexing allows for related terms to be highlighted in the search. The use of the term ‘attorney’ may not mean much and individual phrases may fall flat without context. Just as the single word ‘attorney’ may not do as much for you, just writing “DOG BITE ATTORNEY” surrounded by phrases not properly parsed will not give you extra weight. A series of key phrases, that could include information on other injuries, personal injury law, case studies, and others can dramatically increase your rank.

Including Entity Salience

Unique terms that are not commonly used in relation to the concept that you are writing about can be a double edged sword. A term that is too vague or not used outside of your site could be completely ignored by Google. However, having a proper term that will become a hot search engine topic could skyrocket you to the top. This can be seen when people become instantly famous and their name or information about them is constantly searched immediately. Their name could pop up on Google under their LinkedIn or Facebook profile, but ultimately the sites that had their name or role in context will jump on the first page. While this is more difficult to discern for proper SEO work, the habit of including real world, well-written data can help drive an increase in salient terms.

Proper Organization

Think of a newspaper and how it is laid out. Different fonts and sizes and placements are meant to convey a message to the human eye. It is the same for the webcrawler. The top headline will most assuredly be more important than the small classified ad in the back, just as your h1 title will be more important than your footer. The proper use and segmentation of your content into relevant sections will create more weight to the engine. The changes included in HTML5 will further extrapolate the importance of these different terms and organization.

So You Want to Become Google’s Law King?

There are only ten coveted places on the front page of Google searches. Most people don’t even bother (or have to) go beyond the first page to find what they want. When facing how to gain a foothold in the legal world with your strategy, it is important to remember several factors.
  • Determine not only what people look up but what they read. It is not uncommon to have a blind smattering of different terms shoehorned into a perfectly serviceable article for seemingly no reason. If this is the case, the disjointed nature of the terms and the lowered readability will cause issues both for the consumer and for the search engine.
  • Using related terms should seem obvious, but the early incarnations of Google’s webcrawlers did not take this strategy into high account. Now, you have to in order to survive. The proper use of information can include news articles, original research, opinion, or other factors to expand on the article and its relevance.
  • Make it worth reading. As said above, having a blob of text that is bland or doesn’t make sense does you no service. When your readers can actually engage in your content and not immediately realize it is meant to get their attention, you win.
Determine how the page should be set up and use a template that you would read yourself. Properly index with vital terms, headlines, bold and italic fonts, and the writing of a person, not just a web specialist. Keep all of these in mind as you fare the seas of Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines. Writing like Darrow may not even be enough. You sort of have to be a legal ninja and write the way Google parses, AND write like Darrow. There are many factors to making sure that you get those phone calls and the proper use of the above will certainly help.

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