Each year, Google makes thousands of algorithm updates to ensure that it delivers on its mission to provide the best possible search results to its users.
The company’s continued commitment to high-quality results (and high-quality website experiences) should help attorneys understand what Google wants from law firm websites and prepare you for what your website needs to do to succeed online at the end of 2021 and beyond.
Below, we highlight the three biggest updates in 2021, what they mean for your firm and your website, and how to succeed with Google moving forward.
Update #1: Page Experience (“Core Web Vitals”)
Google’s Page Experience update involved “Core Web Vitals” (CWV) – a set of metrics related to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability on websites.
While Google itself noted that this update was not likely to cause drastic changes, it should highlight the importance of substance over style for law firm websites. If your law firm’s website is slow to load, unresponsive, or has other elements that create a lower-quality user experience, it’s time to update your site to meet Google’s standards.
According to Google:
This is similar to changes we’ve had in the past, such as our mobile-friendly update or our speed update. As with those signals, page experience will be more important in “tie-breaker” types of situations. If there are multiple pages of similar quality and content, those with better page experience might perform better than those without. In short, publishers shouldn’t worry that when we begin using page experience, that they may suffer some immediate significant drop, if they’re still working on making improvements. But publishers should be focused on making those improvements a relative priority over time. This is because as more and more sites continue to improve their page experience, it will be the norm that publishers will want to match.
Google defines its Core Web Vitals as:
“A set of real-world, user-centered metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience. They measure dimensions of web usability such as load time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads.”
The purpose of this update is to encourage web designers to build pages that are accessible to all web users. Google wants to ensure that the internet is a place where people (including your potential clients) can access the information that they need, regardless of what device they are using, what internet speed they have access to, and what abilities they have or do not have.
Of this update, Google said:
“While this update is designed to highlight pages that offer great user experiences, page experience remains one of many factors our systems take into account. […] We hope that this adjusted roll-out schedule will help you continue to make refinements to your website with page experience in mind.”
Update #2: Core Algorithm Updates (June, July, November 2021)
Google made several core algorithm updates in 2021, announcing three in June, July, and November of this year. Google describes these updates as a “significant, broad change to [Google’s] search algorithms and systems.”
According to Google, the purpose of these updates are to ensure that “[Google is] delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers.”
Core algorithm updates are likely to negatively affect law firm websites that don’t take a focus on high-quality, educational website content, and reward sites that do.
If your law firm’s website provides potential clients with useful information that they can easily find, navigate, and digest – and adds educational value for them – you’re on the right track.
While Google does not reveal exactly what it changes when it makes core algorithm updates, the search engine notes that webmasters should focus on providing the best content that they can, because “that’s what our algorithms seek to reward.” Google also offers a self-assessment questionnaire to help webmasters determine whether or not they’re providing high-quality content on their websites.
Update #3: Web Page Titles
In August 2021, Google announced an update to how its search engine generates web page titles (the code snippet on every page that tells both users and search engines what the topic of a particular page is).
The titles that you give to the pages on your law firm’s website are important: they give users quick insight into the content on your pages and why it’s relevant to their query. Titles are often the primary piece of information used to decide which result to click on in search results, which is why Google wants to ensure that its users have access to the best possible titles to match their searches.
Of this update, Google said:
“Overall, our update is designed to produce more readable and accessible titles for pages. In some cases, we may add site names where that is seen as helpful. In other instances, when encountering an extremely long title, we might select the most relevant portion rather than starting at the beginning and truncating more useful parts.”
What do these updates mean for your site?
As Google continues making algorithm updates, it should reinforce the need for your law firm’s website to provide a quality user experience – both in design and content – for your potential clients.
If you’ve stayed on the right side of Google’s guidelines and you’re focused on a quality user experience for your law firm’s website, you’re on the right track.
Google will continue to refine its algorithms to provide the best search results for users — those who are going to benefit from these algorithm updates are those who avoid the allure of a SEO “quick fix” and instead focus on the fundamentals of user experience on the web.
If you haven’t been doing the fundamentals, or you’ve tried to trick Google (or paid an SEO person or a marketing agency to try to trick Google on your behalf), it’s time to start working within Google’s guidelines: By following Google’s best practices, attorneys can build a meaningful marketing channel that survives – and even thrives – when Google makes its next algorithm update.