It’s not easy keeping pace with changes in law firm digital marketing. As soon as we get comfortable with a strategy, something new and shiny appears. Search engine optimization (SEO) itself may not be new and shiny, but it continually evolves as Google updates its search algorithm. Most of the time, SEO strategy is reactive to updates, but occasionally the search giant provides advance glimpses of future updates, giving us a chance for proactive action.

Early this month, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, released a video with a heads-up on a soon-to-be-released algorithm update. (Scroll down to view the video.) This update will most likely impact SEO for lawyers and law firms.

Cutts explains how Google is getting better at identifying “authorities” in particular industries. If the search engine determines that a person or a site is an authority in a certain subject area, that person’s content or website will rank higher. As your authority increases, so will your search rankings and, by extension, your website traffic.

Obviously this will have an impact on attorneys and law firms who are considered authorities in their areas of practice. This means that it will be more important than ever to ensure your professionals are positioned as authorities and to retain that authority status.

How does Google determine authority?

Google doesn’t employ subjective judging standards like Olympic figure skating or beauty pageants do. Rather, objective mathematical indicators, i.e., key metrics, determine which sites are authorities.

Link profiles: When a high number of quality websites link back to your law firm’s website using key industry terms in anchor text (i.e., the link text), this indicates to Google that your website must be a trusted source for information. The principle behind this is fairly simple. If a bunch of credible sites are pointing to your site, there is a higher likelihood that your site is also credible. Link-building continues to be an SEO staple but has evolved from a quantity game to a quality game.

Co-citation: When two names are mentioned together on other websites without using links, a relationship is established between the two co-cited names. Let’s say your law firm’s name and the US Department of Labor are mentioned together in a Cornell University Law School blog, a page on the American Bar Association website and an article in The Economist. This co-citation by third-party sites (your firm name beside the US Department of Labor name) creates an association that tells Google your firm is connected to subject matter similar to that of the Department of Labor. Since the Department of Labor is a trusted authority, your firm’s website will inherit that authority by association. 

Co-occurrence: This is when a company or person’s name occurs a high percentage of the time alongside industry-specific terms. This association, seen with high frequency across quality sites on the Internet, informs Google that your name must hold authority in that subject area.



How to adjust your law firm SEO strategy accordingly 

  • Set up Google authorship for your content contributors. Creating the connection between an author’s Google+ profile and his/her online content is step one for letting Google know who you are and what you write.
  • Publish high-quality, relevant content that informs or analyzes subject-area material specific to your law practice. Provide your perspective and analysis to demonstrate your expertise.
  • Include links to relevant, high-authority sites in your content. If your content is picked up by other websites, they might link to or name your website and the sites you link to.
  • Don’t link to low-quality sites in your content.
  • Share your content via social media for exponential reach to increase your chances of increasing backlinks, co-citations and co-occurrence.
  • Leverage PR opportunities to get your content in front of reporters. In-depth reporting often naturally builds links and creates co-citations and co-occurrences.

Don’t delay! Position your law firm and attorneys to leverage this expected Google algorithm update. If you need help or want to discuss SEO specific to your firm, contact me at or connect with me on Google+.