Understanding Google’s algorithm updates and how it affects your legal website
Referring to Google's naming conventions as 'interesting' in relation to their search engine algorithms would be an understatement. Who would have thought that benign sounding animals such as 'penguin', 'panda' and 'hummingbird' would elicit such fear within certain sections of the online community? Yet, they do. For the uninitiated, Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird are the code names used by Google for their search algorithm updates over the past few years in their attempts to produce the most high-quality results for users.
Having a basic understanding of the impact of the various algorithm upgrades may provide lawyers with an appreciation of what they are dealing with when it comes to website page ranking.
Released in 2011, Panda was introduced with the intention of lowering the rankings of inferior sites, while at the same time rewarding high quality websites with better page rank visibility. Panda was the first update from Google that took advantage of artificial intelligence when serving up search results, and was the most sophisticated upgrade at the time. Factors such as the trustworthiness of the website, design, speed and returning visitors all had a role to play with the Panda update.
A year after the implementation of Panda, Penguin was introduced with the aim of penalising sites that violated Google's Webmaster Guidelines. The primary purpose of Penguin was to punish sites that used black-hat SEO to inflate their visitor numbers by having links from less than reputable sites point back to a website with the goal of artificially inflating page ranking.
The most recent update to Google's algorithm, Hummingbird, was introduced in the second half of 2013. Signifying the most sophisticated algorithm tweak to date, Hummingbird was designed to make search more 'human friendly'.
One of the more tangible effects of Hummingbird can be seen via the auto-complete function which now forms part of Google search. Additionally, Hummingbird has paid closer attention to a person's location, search history and interests, paving the way for natural language search to be undertaken in which the following types of search query is possible: "Where can I find the nearest property lawyer?"
What do the algorithm updates mean for your site?
For lawyers who consistently post high quality content, the impact of Panda and Penguin was probably negligible. However, Hummingbird may be a potential search engine game changer in its impact of how clients search for law firms. Although Hummingbird may have a significant impact on search results, there is still no substitute for producing high quality content and a website built with the user experience in mind. Furthermore, lawyers should utilise both Google+ and Google Authorship to give their website the best chance for achieving an attractive search ranking.
Hummingbird is just the latest evolution in Google search, and you can be sure that the company will constantly be striving to find better ways to produce relevant search results for the end user. Lawyers who are not only able to adapt to the changes, but actively embrace Google's algorithm tweaks, may find that their online marketing efforts will go from strength to strength.