Google wants to give searcher’s the best content on the web whenever they use its search engine. Due to the large volume of content and mostly unfettered freedom anyone has to publish things online, Google has to constantly discern which websites are reputable and which ones aren’t.
One of the most abundant legal information sources online are the website of attorneys and law firms all around the U.S. It’s immensely important to Google that when people search for legal information they can trust what they find.
But how do you ensure Google finds you trustworthy?
By ensuring your website is adhering to Google’s standards regarding E-A-T.
What is E-A-T in SEO?
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. The concept was introduced to the world of SEO through the public release of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG). E-A-T is a framework Google uses to guide its highly complex search ranking algorithm. Google aims to provide searchers with high-quality search results that satisfy their needs.
We call this concluding the searcher’s journey. When a person searches for something, they have something they want (i.e. search intent). Google aims to give people what they want in the most efficient way they can. If Google can get you what you want faster, you’ll perform fewer searches. In doing so, Google accomplishes several of its primary business goals at once:
- Builds trust in Google as a resource to use for searching online
- Reduces the number of processes Google has to expend resources on to get people what they want.
Does E-A-T Directly Impact Search Rankings
The QRG and E-A-T do not directly impact search rankings but instead serve as a way to assess whether or not their algorithm is working the way they want.
As such, E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor in the sense that you cannot find and tweak a specific variable within the ranking algorithm to boost your website’s rankings, but rather, it is the accumulation of doing a lot of really small things the right way that adds up to consistent growth in your organic traffic.
The best way to think about it is that E-A-T reflects the direction Google wants its algorithm to go in the long run. By aligning yourself with these principles now, you set yourself up for success in the future.
Every time an algorithm update occurs, you won’t have to worry about your traffic suddenly dropping. Instead, you can look forward to them as they will often benefit from them instead.
But why does E-A-T even exist?
To unravel that, there’s an important concept we have to cover first: YMYL.
What is YMYL?
The acronym YMYL stands for “Your Money, Your Life.” Google notes in its QRG that certain pages or topics should be treated more carefully than others—specifically pages or topics that could potentially impact a person’s future happiness. Examples of topics that fall within this classification are:
- Content related to news and current events: This covers news-related websites from CNN to Buzzfeed with the primary effort to ensure accurate and factual news doesn’t get muddled with content published with lower journalistic standards.
- Civics, government, and the law: Misrepresentation on how things pertaining to the way our government and laws work are fundamental to a functioning society. This is especially important for personal injury firms and why Google will even personalize certain results related to lawsuits on a state-by-state basis.
- Finance: This includes websites that discuss things like credit cards, home loans, investing, annuities, etc. are a high priority for Google. There’s a lot of money to be made for these companies and as such, the entire space attracts a lot of bad actors who care more about the commissions they get from companies than they do the people applying for them.
- Health and safety: This includes websites that talk about medical treatment, injuries, and products related to safety (including home security and antivirus software). Medical-based websites are especially noteworthy given the infamous Medic update in August 2018 which signaled Google’s first major shift to favoring websites that presented mainstream medical information over alternative medicine options. This is also important for lawyers when discussing medical malpractice information and treatment/injuries associated with accidents in personal injury lawsuits.
- Groups of people: This includes websites that would rank for terms whenever people search for information claims about groups of people, including but not limited to those grouped on the basis of race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.
- Shopping: While it may not seem as impactful as those above, websites related to shopping are still important for Google to rank appropriately. Especially when you consider that over $246 million in losses were reported in 2019 due to scams related to online shopping.
When evaluating expertise, Google places a heavy emphasis on the creator/author of the main content on the page. The importance of expertise can vary depending on the topic. Topics that fall within the category of YMYL have a higher standard for expertise than more general topics.
For example, a website that has content about health conditions such as Healthline will have a higher standard to adhere to than a website about book reviews (like GoodReads). The same applies to websites that discuss areas of law. You’ll want to ensure that the content you publish on your website is written by an expert and not outsourced to inexperienced amateurs.
Google specifically states that websites that provide medical or legal advice should be written or produced:
- By people or organizations with appropriate medical/legal expertise or accreditation.
- With a professional style and should be edited, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.
This doesn’t mean that every single article on your website has to be written by someone with a J.D. though. Google notes that plenty of people have enough experience and expertise to credibly address a topic. In the case of law firms, this could be paralegals, private investigators, or writers who have been researching and writing about topics related to the law for years (e.g. such as dedicated writers working for SEO and content marketing agencies).
Authority may seem like expertise, but there’s a slight nuance. Authority is more than just subject-matter expertise, it’s subject-matter expertise combined with notoriety. Think about how many professionals there are in the world who definitely have the credentials to advise on their field but aren’t widely well-known.
If they walked up to someone who didn’t know them and began giving advice, it wouldn’t be absurd if they were viewed with a hint of skepticism. After all, how would anyone know that this person is an expert?
These are people who have expertise but lack authority.
A similar correlation can be drawn in the online world. There are many attorneys who are great at what they do and well-known within communities of attorneys and other legal professionals.
However, Google can’t gauge how authoritative you are based on how well-known and credible you are if those signals aren’t present online.
This is why relatively unknown attorneys can outrank more popular ones on Google who lack a robust online presence.
Google really wants to make sure the content they rank at the top is trustworthy. If they fail in this regard, people will begin to lose trust in Google as well. Google relies on people trusting it as the go-to search engine out there in order to attract advertisers so it can generate a profit.
Trustworthiness is primarily earned through independent sources that are more likely to be unbiased. Examples of this include things like reviews online, mentions across the web (e.g. backlinks), and user-engagement signals. If people don’t think your site is trustworthy, they’ll leave pretty quickly.
Other small things can impact trustworthiness like an SSL certificate (a security certificate that helps ensure your site visitors’ information is secure), easily and accessible contact information such as a phone number, mailing address, and email.
For YMYL sites, pages specifically about your website that explain who you are, how people can contact you, why your website exists (e.g. its purpose) are all important as well.
E-A-T SEO Checklist for Lawyers
This is rarely a problem for law firm websites given the various ethics guidelines in place that stipulate how to conduct marketing yourself online, but you can take it a step further by going out of your way to explain your approach to producing content and the importance you put on maintaining high editorial standards.
Drugwatch, a website that focuses on educating the public about mass torts, does a fantastic job at this with its About and FAQ pages. Their about page includes more than your standard information about who works there and their history—it also covers their editorial standards and code of ethics.
Their FAQ page takes things even further and gives people who want to figure out if they can trust this website all the information they might need, including who funds them, how they make money, and where they’re located.
Get more reviews
Getting reviews on Google can be critically important for your law firm. While a lot of people still visit and evaluate attorney websites before making a decision, they often see the results in the local map pack first. People will browse these reviews to see how others experienced working with you. Google also looks at this too, not just on your Google My Business listing either but across the web on pages like Facebook, Avvo, BBB, etc.
You don’t have to chase down getting reviews on every single website—it’s more important to have a few hubs of consistent reviews that speak well of you online to give Google the confidence it needs. More importantly, you want to avoid receiving negative reviews as Google will take that into account as well.
Check the facts
If you’re going to state facts or figures in your content, back them up with links to original sources. Additionally, exercise due diligence and ensure that you’re citing reputable sources that are accurate and up to date.
Show contact details
One of the most impactful things you can do to build trustworthiness is to make it very easy to discover who your website is owned and operated by as well as how to contact you. Whenever a website doesn’t have easily accessible information about its location such as its address and phone number, it adds an element of uncertainty on the authenticity of the website as a whole.
This is especially impactful for lawyers who often benefit from ranking in the local pack of Google search results which heavily relies on confirming that your business is where it says it is. Having that information accessible on your website is critically important when optimizing your firm’s website for search engines.
Add Authors Bio and Include Your Credentials
There are mixed opinions on this and we’ve seen it go both ways. For large B2B businesses, it is perfectly normal for their content to be published by the organization as a whole without a specific byline (e.g. many Gartner Reports).
As a law firm, however, you have the opportunity to not only tie your own credentials directly to the content but having them on there can also make it easier for people to feel more confident that you are an expert and contact you for help.
Drugwatch includes the author’s information and makes it clear she isn’t an attorney herself but backs up her expertise to write on this subject by stating her curriculum vitae.
You want to go above and beyond the basics as well and include information about the editor and medical reviewer. This establishes that your content goes through an actual editorial process prior to publication and in the case of this particular article, which is about additional diseases linked to talc, makes it clear that the content was reviewed by a qualified medical professional prior to publication.
It is a prime example of how to establish E-A-T for YMYL sites in the legal space.
Edit or Delete Low-Quality Content
If your site is full of irrelevant information or low-quality content, you should get rid of it. Low-quality content drags the overall reputation of your site down. You can think of dropping this content like dropping zeros off of an average. You can tell content is low quality by a few indicators:
- It drives no business value for your website (i.e. no conversions such as form submissions or calls)
- It drives little to no organic traffic to your website over the past 12 months.
- It is not directly relevant to what you offer as a service. This is common on attorney websites who overdue coverage of news-related items and recent accidents. If you have content like this on your site, silo it under a different directory (e.g. domain.com/news/accident-on-highway-10-today/) away from your more relevant content in your blog.
Don’t feel bad getting rid of underperforming content either. If the content isn’t driving conversions, traffic, or relevancy to your business, then why does it exist? Think of your content like you would an employee. If it’s not providing any value to the business, would you keep it?
Note: The only exception to this rule is if the page has some decent backlinks from other websites. If that’s the case, consult with an SEO professional on whether to keep it or have it redirected to a more useful page.
Focus on High Quality of Backlinks
Backlinks are the foundation upon which Google’s original algorithm (PageRank) was built. Whenever a highly authoritative and trustworthy website links to you, it serves as a powerful signal that you can be trusted as well. Quality isn’t just a measure of authority and trustworthiness—the context in which the website links to you is paramount as well.
For example, if a chiropractor links to a page on a personal injury lawyer’s website from one of their own articles about recovering from back pain after a car accident, that would make sense. Whereas if a random food blog links to that same injury lawyer’s website from an article about chocolate cake, it doesn’t carry the same weight. Keep this in mind whenever you’re attempting to build links for your law firm.
Secure your site with HTTPS
Security is important. Ensuring your website has an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate properly configured is a very simple measure to take that is good for both Google and your website visitors. Google has taken this even further lately with recent updates to Chrome that will inform the user if the website isn’t properly secured.
Social Media Activities
While social media isn’t going to directly impact your rankings, it is a great channel to spread awareness about your law firm. The more well-known you become the better. Benefits from this in terms of SEO are twofold:
- It increases the likelihood that someone will search for your brand name specifically on Google when looking for the services you offer—this is a powerful indicator for Google to associate your brand with that type of service.
- It increases the odds that you’ll receive passive links whenever someone is thinking of a source to cite.
Beyond SEO, being more well known for being a great attorney will naturally increase the number of referrals you get from people as well. It’s not uncommon for someone to refer a firm to a friend even if they’ve never personally interacted with them but simply because they could recall them.
Has Your Firm Developed E-A-T with Google?
It’s not easy to determine whether or not Google’s algorithm thinks you’ve satisfied its criteria. A good indicator for law firms is how well you rank for topics more broadly related to the law (and even its intersection with injuries and accidents as they relate to the medical field) as opposed to your direct service pages.
Follow the guidelines we’ve outlined above if you find that you’re not doing as well as you’d like. Law firms turn to us all the time to help them solve this problem whenever they lack the time or internal resources to do it the best way because they know that in a hypercompetitive industry like theirs, every little advantage helps.