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Stop guessing about what the future may hold for your website’s ranking. Get some (real) advice instead.

After months of anticipation, fear mongering, and speculative coverage of Google’s most recent attack on spam (dubbed Penguin 2.0), the search giant finally released it at the end of May. The problem that many law firms are dealing with in the face of this change is not knowing what to do. And to guide them, many “specialists” and “gurus” are equally clueless. You don’t need fortune telling and snake oil, you need real advice.

To help you navigate the turbulent waters that await you, here is a guide of what to expect, how to react, and what to do as you move forward with your online marketing.

Don’t panic. Don’t celebrate.
Immediately after any major change, search engine rankings are unstable. If you see your website’s position on a popular keyphrase completely disappear, don’t panic. If you see your website skyrocket to the top of page one for your most desired keyphrase, don’t celebrate.

Instability is normal as Google’s index gets shaken up when implementing new changes. During this time, you and your competitors may fall to the ground and touch the sky. More than likely, neither will become permanent. Give it a few weeks and pay attention to how your competitors are fairing during the update.

Watch for indications of future decreases.
If a stable page 1, rank 1 keyword is moving up or down by a few positions, that is ok. But if a former solid high page 1 suddenly drops to page 5 and stays there, this is a good indication that this position will not recover on its own. Here is what you can do:

Draft a few press releases on the topic that you can connect to that sub-page. This will help increase the number of links and citations relating to that individual practice area. Update your Google+ Local profile to include the category that is most closely related to the falling keyphrase.

Make changes to your website.
The titles, content, headings, and features on your website that were once put in place to help your positions may now be harming them. Do a top to bottom review of your home page and each sub-page of your website.

Titles
Your title still needs keywords, but with a focus on the conversion more than the keywords. An old title may look like this:

Boston Divorce Lawyer, Divorce Attorney, Family Law and Custody, Norman & Smith, PA

Here is the same title, cleaned up:

Need a Boston Divorce Lawyer/Attorney? Experience Matters – Norman & Smith, PA.

How will Google display your title? Surprisingly, not exactly as you tell it. Google will pull information from your Google+ Local profile and construct a title to display in the results. So the new Google Penguin 2.0 friendly title may be displayed in Google as:

Norman & Smith, PA: Need a Boston Divorce Lawyer/Attorney?

Are you worried about losing family law and child custody keywords that have been removed from the title? Don’t be. They were diluting the value of that page and not helping you rank well for those terms. Even if they were giving you a little boost, they no longer will. Build a separate section of your website dedicated to child custody and the umbrella term of family law to attract attention for those keywords. Make sure the content is useful and not spammy or boiler plate.

Headings
Back in the good old days (3 years ago), it was a best practice to state the full keyphrase within a header 1 (h1) and header 2 (h2) tag. Keyword usage in headings is still important, but Google is looking for you to put a little thought into it, make it creative and make it say something.

Old Header 1: Boston Divorce Lawyer

Old Header 2: Divorce Attorney in Boston

New Header 1: When you need a divorce lawyer, experience matters.

New Header 2: Did you know over half of marriages in Boston end in divorce?

Google is aware of synonyms. While the terms lawyer and attorney should be used in your title as “lawyer/attorney,” your content should not be cluttered with duplication of these words.

The old way of writing may have looked like this:

When you need a divorce lawyer in Boston or Boston Massachusetts divorce attorney, the lawyers and attorneys at Norman & Smith are here to help. We have been helping families when they need a family law attorney or divorce lawyer since 1983.

If you are like most readers, your eyes glazed over and boredom set in right around “lawyer in Boston or Boston Massachusetts divorce attorney.” That statement says absolutely nothing. Not only is it not adding anything to the meaning of page, its actually making that page less valuable.

Overuse of keywords = negative value

Your spammy competitors (everybody has one) may have benefited from such keyword litter in the past, but they will find it difficult to compete in the index that Google is creating with each of their updates.

Think about the goal of your website. It is primarily to attract new clients. If your pages are littered with keyword spam, can your really expect anyone to +1 your content? Will they share it on LinkedIn? Will they share or like it on Facebook? All of these practices are as valuable as a link and less likely to happy if your content is not compelling and useful.

A reworked, Google Penguin 2.0 friendly introduction could be:

Since 1983, the lawyers of Norman & Smith have helped Boston families work through family law matters such as divorce, custody disputes, adoptions, and spousal support. We share your goals. We want your case resolved quickly so that you can move on with your life. When you work with an attorney at Norman & Smith, you don’t just get their experience, you get the knowledge and expertise of our entire team in your corner.

In the reworked paragraph, you are giving Google useful groups of words to compile when someone types “Boston family law attorney” or simply “divorce lawyer” into a search. And you are also telling visitors how they can benefit from your services - showing them why they should contact your firm. Some examples:

Family: families, family law
Lawyer: lawyers, attorney
Practice areas: divorce, custody disputes, adoptions, spousal support

With their Google+ Local profile connected to the website, Google will know Norman & Smith practice family law and that they are located in Boston Massachusetts. Therefore, it’s not necessary to start a location multiple times in the website content.

Recap on moving forward

1) Rankings are always unstable after a change. Don’t panic. Don’t celebrate. Give it a few weeks.

2) Draft short titles that make a statement and use a minimal amount of keywords. Google may show your title differently.

3) Your headers need to say something beyond your keyphrases.

4) Talk to your readers, not the search engines. Meaningless keyword focused content adds negative value to your website.

5) Get connected. Connect on social networks, connect with colleagues, link to other resources from your website, and get a link to your website from pages that cover topics related to your firm.

6) Setup local profiles and directory listings that reiterate your region and practice areas.

The future of search engine optimization is actually easier to understand than the complicated bulk keyword/linking montage of days behind us. You can focus on content that elevates your firms’ brand. You can add value to your website by connecting to networks and useful websites.

The future of online marketing is not about search engine optimization, it’s pure search engine marketing. You can market your firm; you do not have to just focus on words and placement.

Connections. Connections. Connections.

The future buzzword in search engine marketing may not be “links” but rather “connections.” Google is looking at your website’s entire portfolio of connections, plus other sites that link to your website and activity on Facebook and Google+ pages that connect to your website. Your website quality is not just about the number of good links, it’s about all of your connections: the websites and social connections that reach out to you and the websites and social profiles you reach out to. Here are a few examples:

Cocitations
Pages that contain your keywords and link to your website even if the keyword itself is not included in the link

  • News article on CBSNews.com about child support disputes links to your site
  • Press release on Lawfirmnewswire.com about divorce rates links to your site

Directory Connections
Listings your firm has claimed

  • Your site is listed in Dir. A under Family Law > Divorce > Contested
  • Your site is listed in Dir. B under Family Law > Child Custody

Profile Connections
Social links to your website

  • Google+ Local links
  • Facebook Page links
  • LinkedIn Page links
  • Twitter Pages links

Author links

Outbound Connections
Links from your site to valuable sites

  • links to NYTimes.com
  • links to va.gov
  • links to wikipedia.com
  • links to courts.gov

Local Cocitations
Links to your site from local listings

  • Bing Local - Yelp - Yahoo! Local - Profiles connected to your site match Google+ Local information
  • Hotfrog
  • Citysearch
  • Yellowpages

About Author

Jason Bland is a regular contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine covering legal news, tech related litigation, and marketing strategies that effect highly competitive practice areas.

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