You’ve finally decided to get into the game and develop a serious, well-designed website for your law firm. It’s got everything your prospective clients need. But they need to find it first. Sure, many visitors will be looking for you specifically, but you also want to rank well on more general searches.
For that, you need to optimize your website – a process commonly known as Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”). You know that SEO is really important to do well, because it determines how your website ranks in various search engines, so you studied up. You fixed what you could, but you also got help from professional marketers.
After spending considerable time – and money – you believe that you finally have a solid SEO strategy. The thing is, it’s all about to fundamentally change.
How SEO Works:
When someone performs a Google search, they enter words or phrases about what they want to find. Google, with a mission to provide the best possible results (and thereby keep people using their search), uses their vaunted algorithm to find the best websites.
Relying on a complex list of criteria, Google provides the best possible websites based on two primary criteria: relevance and authority. For more information on how SEO plays into that assessment, check out this post.
For 15 years, Google has constantly tweaked its algorithm to provide the best search results, and punishing sites that have used shortcuts to improve ranking.
Google remains the most used search engine in the world, so your website – and your related digital marketing – is designed to bring people to your website based on Google’s algorithm.
3 Seismic Shifts that are Fundamentally Changing SEO
Recently, the marketing company Hubspot identified three emerging patterns in online searches that are likely to change the face of SEO as we know it. While distinctly separate, the three emerging patterns have two things in common:
- Searches are now happening outside the browser window; and
- The rules for optimizing your content for search have yet to be defined.
So what are these specific trends, and how will they impact your law firm’s SEO?
1) Mobile Devices are Bypassing Traditional Search Engines
The most important shift in digital marketing occurred not too long ago – internet consumption from mobile devices overtook desktops. As of nearly a year ago, 60% of internet use took place on a mobile device. No experts believe that trend will reverse, and it’s likely that the number’s gone up considerably in the last year.
But here’s the interesting part – 85% of the time we spend on our mobile device is spent in mobile apps. And it’s actually just a few mobile apps.
Internet activity occurring through those apps likely accounts for the majority of internet used by mobile devices. But guess what – content within a mobile app isn’t easily found by a regular Google search.
That’s right: 85% of the content you access on your mobile device is not searchable on Google. It doesn’t know how. At the moment, the best search for that content is Spotlight on your phone, which searches within apps and even shows web results (bypassing Google). But what rules does Spotlight play by? Not Google’s. It may be a while before we even find out.
2) Social Networks are Getting into the Search Business
Another major shift in the SEO landscape is happening on the major social networks. Over the past year, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat have all released new tools for performing advanced searches within their ecosystem.
And it’s not a small thing, either. Facebook’s little search bar handles 1.5 billion searches every day. For reference, the unquestioned global leader in internet search – Google – handles 3.5 billion searches every day. Further, many of the searches in Facebook are targeting content rather than people.
Consider the power of in-network search tools alongside this other major change in the biggest social networks – favoring content within their ecosystem. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Snapchat have all released features or systems that favors content on their networks. That means a link that takes a user from LinkedIn to your website’s blog will rank lower than a post on LinkedIn itself.
Social networks have long been a great way to funnel visitors to your website, even playing a key role themselves in your website’s SEO rankings. However, the shift towards keeping social media users within their ecosystem means you’ll need to optimize your content based on that network’s rules…
… which we do not know.
3) Voice Search and Digital Assistants Fundamentally Change How We Search
To me, this is the most interesting of the three major shifts in SEO:
The rise in mobile platforms has been accompanied by a rise in another technology: digital assistants. From Siri to Cortana to Google Now to Alexa, technology companies are investing big-time in giving you an electronic helper.
What you may not realize is that those digital assistants are changing the way you interact with the internet.
Hubspot has identified three key ways that our increasing use on connected devices and digital assistants is changing the nature of online searches:
Natural Language: Instead of relying on specific keywords or search queries, devices and digital assistants are getting better at providing responses based on our normal patterns of speech. Probably the most impressive version of this right now is the Amazon Echo.
Expanded search windows: Since we’re performing more searches away from our desk, the traditional model of typing in a few keywords to begin a search is less common. Since searches can be performed anywhere, the substance and composition of those searches (particularly the length) is changing.
Context and history: Regardless how effective Google is at tracking your internet history, the starting point for any Google search is the keywords you enter. Digital assistants are beginning to short-circuit that process based on your personal history – asking you if you want to re-order the same product, or anticipating your question about how much traffic you’ll be dealing with on your ride home. These changes are actually removing entire steps in the traditional search process.
Describing further, the Hubspot article describes what these changes really mean:
When the internet is suddenly all around you, it becomes more and more common to discard your keyboard and directly ask the universe for what you want. This changes the structure of these queries. What you want may be less specific and structured than traditional search queries. Imagine optimizing for queries like, “What should I do tonight?” as opposed to structured searches like “Best Sydney Area Restaurants.”
What Do These SEO Shifts Mean for Lawyers?
To be honest, it’s not clear what these shifts mean for anyone. That’s because nobody really knows the rules yet. Since the operators of search engines, whether browser-based like Google, social networks like Facebook, or digital assistants like the Amazon Echo, are still in the business of finding you what you want.
The best part of this change for lawyers, in my opinion, is that people will be able to ask much more specific questions when performing a search. As such, your best SEO weapon is making sure that your content contains the answers or direction they’re looking for. Share great information, and the search engines will find you.
The worst part is that, at the moment, nobody really knows where you’ll need to put your content if you want it to be found.
About the Author
Brian Focht is a civil litigation attorney and technology enthusiast. In addition to being the author of The Cyber Advocate, he is also the producer and host of the Legal Technology Review podcast, and co-founder of B&R Concepts, a small business technology consulting company.