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Expertise, Authority, and Trust: Factors that Make and Break Law Firm SEO

The leaders in law firm marketing explain what you need to know

Getting to the top of Page One on Google isn’t easy for anyone, and it’s particularly hard for law firms: legal is the single most competitive category in search.

The way to get to the top isn’t a secret, though. It comes down to three factors: expertise, authority (or authoritativeness), and trust (or trustworthiness), collectively known as EAT. Google’s Quality Guidelines mention these three factors a whopping 137 times. Together, they will make or break your website’s search performance, and by extension, all your digital marketing efforts.

Your marketing agency’s job is to maximize your EAT, and Big Voodoo’s track record speaks for itself: 90% of our clients are on Page One at any given moment, and that increases to 98% among clients who have been with us for at least 18 months. Here’s what you need to know about expertise, authority, and trust.

Establishing expertise in the legal vertical

Expertise is based primarily on the quality of your website’s content. For law firms, Google applies particularly high quality standards: legal content is what Google calls a YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) category, meaning the information consumers find in this category can have significant implications for their health, finances, or quality of life.

That means your website’s content, including static pages and blog posts, needs to be high-quality and original – not duplicated from other websites. Creating this level of content requires time and effort, but that effort is worthwhile. Just as importantly, your content needs to align with what prospective clients are searching for and what questions they’re trying to have answered. Ultimately, Google’s goal is to give searchers what they’re looking for, and we invest a great deal of energy in analyzing search data and identifying what prospective clients need so that we can create content that addresses those needs.

Just as important as the quality of content is the source of the content; especially in YMYL categories, Google wants to ensure the author is a bona fide expert. Here, attorneys have a built-in advantage because being a lawyer confers a degree of expertise. That’s one of the reasons robust “About Us” pages and attorney bio pages are so important: by putting your credentials in a format that Google can see, you help the algorithm understand the source of your expert content. If you have additional credentials, such as board certification, a Master of Laws degree, or published works, listing those on your website also helps with the E in EAT.

Showing Google your website is trustworthy

While Google has stated that there is no “trust factor” that is explicitly part of their algorithm, various elements of your website that determine consumer trust also affect search rankings.

One key element is making sure your website is secure, using an HTTPS connection and a valid SSL certificate. This certificate verifies your website’s identity, which makes it easier for Google (as well as users) to distinguish your legitimate website from spam sites that may be imitating you. For websites that handle sensitive personal information (which certainly includes any website someone might use to contact a lawyer), a valid and up-to-date SSL certificate is a must.

Another critical element of trust is to make sure your firm’s contact information – your name, address, phone number, and website, or NAPW – is accurate across the internet. That means it must match on your website, Google Business Profile (GBP), social media profiles, state bar association’s website, and any other places your firm is listed, such as attorney directories and business directories. At Big Voodoo, we conduct meticulous citation audits to ensure that our clients’ NAPW information is up to date and accurate so that Google knows they can trust our clients’ websites.

Yet another trust factor is having client reviews and testimonials on your GBP (and, to a lesser extent, on other platforms). For example, asking your satisfied clients to review your firm on Google is a very powerful way to improve your rankings, as is responding to reviews (positive and negative alike) to show engagement and customer service.

The biggest factor of all: authority

We’ve saved authority for last because it’s truly at the heart of search rankings. Google wants to present users with websites most likely to satisfy their queries, which means the most accurate, reliable, and authoritative information.

The fundamental problem with measuring authority is that machines do not have a good way of managing it directly, and human evaluators couldn’t possibly keep up with the many thousands or even millions of pages a search engine could conceivably rank for a single search term like “car accident lawyer.” Google gets around this problem by using links in much the same way that lawyers use citations from legal opinions: when a website that Google already recognizes as authoritative links to a site that Google isn’t sure about, it passes along a portion of that authority to the linked site. The most valuable links have a high degree of relevance to the subject matter; for law firms, that means getting links from authoritative websites in the legal category.

Authority can’t be created overnight, but it can be passed on

Here’s the catch: you can’t build authority overnight. The most authoritative websites on the internet have invested many years of time and effort. Indeed, many highly authoritative sites belong to publishers and organizations that started building their authority before the internet as we know it even existed, via print publications and other channels; when they moved online, they already had a strong base of readers that essentially jumpstarted their authority in the eyes of search engines.

Most law firms, of course, don’t have the luxury of time. You need to start bringing in cases now. As a result, some attorneys fall prey to spammers and scammers who use techniques that manipulate search rankings in violation of Google’s Terms of Service. Those techniques may work for a short while, but when the bill comes due, you’ll be hit with a penalty that damages your rankings for years. There’s a better, more sustainable way to succeed.

This is the power of Big Voodoo’s exclusive partnership with ALM (formerly American Lawyer Media), the owner of the most authoritative domain in legal search: Law.com. With 19 award-winning publications, Law.com has laid the groundwork to drive better search results for attorneys. Big Voodoo partnered with Law.com to create the Lawyerpages, a groundbreaking directory and legal search platform that allows law firms to tap into Law.com’s unmatched authority in the legal space.

There are several tiers of profiles on the Lawyerpages. The most powerful option – the Power Profile – brings together all three elements of EAT. In addition to an authoritative backlink from Law.com to your site, a Power Profile builds trust with Google by creating an accurate citation on a highly trusted site and establishes your expertise with a sponsored article on the Law.com domain.

If your firm is ready to dominate legal search, there is no more reliable route to the top than through Big Voodoo and Law.com. Contact us to find out how we can get your firm to the top of Page One.

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