Google’s Panda Update and How It Affects Law Firms
Google has always been the center of SEO practice. Its ubiquity within the internet ecosystem is the main factor. When SEO experts mention that the practice revolves around constantly learning and adapting, it's because algorithms—especially Google's—are bound to change and improve all the time.
The algorithm becomes smarter, more accurate, and further aims to serve the user with the most relevant content based on what they're looking for. While searches used to be based on keywords, now it takes all the searcher's information and tailor-fits the results based on their location, search history, and overall internet footprint.
SEO is all about adjusting your content and strategies based on those changes (updates!). Ranking high on the search results helps to get your name out there.
Speaking of adapting, Google has implemented (and continually releases) updates that greatly affect how SEO is done. Ranking high is all about showing the algorithm you have the best content based on their standards—and if those standards change, so should the content you produce.
In this guide, we'll talk about the following:
What’s the Panda Update
What it Means for SEO
What it Means for Your Law Firm
What's the Panda Update?
Also known as Google's Farmer Update, Panda sought to weed out low-quality spam content by penalizing sites that produce them. It also simultaneously rewarded the sites that came out with fresh, high-quality content and pushed them up the search rankings.
The algorithm sorts these sites by considering interface, design, load speed, and reputation.
Sites like eHow and About—being content farms from their conception—were heavily affected by this update. Rankings have been reported to have drastically changed since its introduction in 2011.
Since the update, Google has not favored any of the following types of content:
These refer to pages with insufficient or insignificant material and services. If you build several pages with just a few sentences on each, you'll almost certainly be labeled as having thin content. It's fine if your site has one or two short pages, but it's a red flag if it takes up a significant portion of the web.
Content that occurs in several locations. These can be copied material from other websites or content that appears on several pages of your own website with little to no variation in the content.
Any material that is devoid of facts and offers readers little or no value. If the content is derived from unreliable sources, it depletes the entire site’s authority. Far too many obvious spelling and grammar mistakes can also affect the overall quality of the material.
Content that is too short to offer any meaningful value to the reader.
Too many topics
This happens when your website is disorganized and covers various unrelated subjects rather than concentrating on a single project.
Loading the page with too many keywords.
Producing a large number of low-quality, short pages. Sometimes, content on these pages are produced through fully-automated content machines/programs.
There are far too many advertisements
If there are more ads on a page than there is content, it is an issue; especially if it disrupts the user experience.
There are far too many 404 errors and redirects.
Content that isn't relevant to the search terms
Pages that don't have the information that search engines are looking for.
Websites blocked by users
Users' extensions have been used to restrict those websites. To see if your site has been affected by the Panda Update, there are so many online tools you can use to find out. Look at your stats—bounce rate, click-through rates, time users spend on your page, unique visitors, etc.
If your numbers have begun to drop, then it’s time to change what you’re doing. There is simply no point to keep churning out content that simply doesn’t get picked up in the rankings. Your goal is to make sure your pages are visible to as many searchers as possible.
The Panda Update is Here to Stay
Google modified its approach to Panda updates after 2015, incorporating the algorithm into the overall core updates.
The end of official Panda update announcements and confirmations was the most noticeable change for most users. Panda is a key algorithm because it no longer necessitates many changes.
Essentially, the algorithm has proved its worth in the face of a rapidly-shifting online environment, and Panda's improvements are here to stay. For you, this ensures that the focus remains on high-quality content and a positive user experience. Even though you might not be able to predict a Panda hit as quickly as you once did, it is still possible.
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Considering all the changes implemented by the Panda Updates, here's what you can do to keep up with it:
Produce Quality Content
Build content that does not break Panda's content guidelines. Duplicated, low-quality, irrelevant, thin, and auto-generated content should all be avoided. As a result, you can concentrate on producing unique and high-quality material.
Mind the User Experience (UX)
A bad user interface can signal that something must be wrong with your page. Bad navigation, slow site speed, unnecessary advertising, 404 errors, excessive links, cloaking, keyword stuffing, and other similar practices are discouraged.
Encourage People to Interact
Although Panda may not be able to thoroughly analyze every aspect of your content for accuracy, Google can use what they call "user signals" to consider what visitors to your website say. If visitors do not spend enough time on your site or bounce rates on your pages are too high, you might be in trouble.
What Does This Mean for Lawyer SEO?
The introduction of the Panda Update simply means this: Google prioritizes quality over quantity.
If you ever read up on SEO materials published more recently, you would have noticed the emphasis on content quality. SEO strategies have now shifted from producing a constant stream of short, repetitive content to drafting more thoughtful and elaborative long-form content.
And why shouldn’t you push for better content? A 4000-word legal guide on California Wrongful Termination—carefully cited, spell-checked, and extensive—is more likely to be cited as references than a 300-word FAQ.
Using the hypothetical "wrongful termination article" above, let's create a possible customer journey. For example, someone thinks they were wrongfully fired. They're not legal experts, nor do they know people who are. They get on Google and end up clicking a short FAQ that answers a single question.
They get their answer, and it’s a yes. What happens now?
Usually, that person will want to know if they have a fighting chance. They want to know if it’s worth it—are the damages worth the risk and stress? Should they just move on and find another job? If that 300-word FAQ simply answered “yes, you have a case” and nothing else, that searcher is going to click out and ask another question on Google.
While you might have some compelling stuff that answers a few questions on your short-form content, having a complete guide (in this case) would have encouraged the user to stay on your site longer.
However, these are new practices and SEO beliefs that have been largely prompted by the Panda Update. Back then, keyword-bombed, low-quality content was favored by the algorithm. Poorly-written content still got clicks just by the sheer number of them floating around the web. Things have shifted now, so we should all adapt.
When you’re making new content, always be mindful of how the algorithm will take it. Is the content I’m making reliable? Is it extensive and useful to the reader? Have I checked my grammar and spelling? Are my keywords relevant to the information I’m presenting?
How Panda affects law firm marketing?
Marketing law firms is a fairly recent practice, at least compared to other industries, but the principle of quality over quantity stays the same. Instead of posting short-form blogs that briefly ruminate on one topic, it is better to discuss and use your knowledge to create full-length guides.
So, how do you adapt?
Here are a few tips to help you produce content that the algorithm favors:
Use Your Expertise
Like most professionals, you have authority over your expertise—your law practice. Focus on the area of law you are best fit to handle, and write (or create in however way) what you know.
The internet has completely changed the way people look for information. A layman no longer needs to find friends, schedule appointments, or find law books to answer their legal questions. They only need to find out from you, an expert, and decide for themselves if they want to work with you on a legal matter.
So, write what you know, and as thoughtfully as you can.
Write Easy to Digest Content
As previously mentioned, most users looking for legal answers on the web don't always have a solid legal background. Avoid using specialized language when you can, and when you do, explain it. You can also provide examples to clearly depict a specific calculation or scenario.
Overall, make sure your content is layman-friendly (without it losing its air of expertise, though!). Experienced lawyers are not likely to look around Google for basic legal knowledge, anyway.
See What Your Competitors Are Doing
Looking at your competitors' content is standard SEO practice. Look at how they deliver content—how they break down ideas, how they organize their headers, how they sort their FAQs—and see what you can incorporate into your content creation.
Look at their use of tone and their calls to action. They're higher up the rankings because Google deems them to be doing better than everyone else, so you should take note.
The prospect of the algorithm drastically changing from time to time can be intimidating. However, you should remember that Google has already deemed the Panda Update a success and might stay around for a long time.
In this age of internet ubiquity, it doesn't make sense to adjust your marketing strategies towards new practices. Sure, you can stick to physical posters and signages, but it gets increasingly obvious that the world is going to move past those practices soon. SEO is born from a new internet culture, and it's here to stay.
The best thing you can do is learn what it takes to master it now, but be ready to read up when the new update rolls around.