Tech Brief: Climbing the online search ladder

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September 2016 - Seth Price

 

The world of local digital marketing is always evolving—and some recent, major developments will affect the way law firms appear in online searches.

If you want to attract local clients, ranking high in organic search results—selected for their relevance to the search terms—may no longer be sufficient.

Google has made several changes to its search results page, meaning paid ads and local pack results now appear “above the fold,” and organic search results are buried in the bottom half. Law firms that depend on prospective clients finding them through an organic listing may need to rethink that approach.

Google’s organic search results are ranked based on information that the search engine’s algorithm gathers from crawling relevant websites. Search engine algorithms have computer programs (called “bots”) that go through your entire website—indexing the ­webpages and processing all of the information in the code. The algorithm uses this information to determine rankings based on relevance, authority, and other factors.

Organic search results include the webpage’s title, a brief description of the content, and a link to the webpage Google believes is relevant to the search query.

In February, Google changed the location of paid ads from the right side of the search results page to the top of the search results page, making paid ads—marked with a green “Ad” button—the first results to appear on the page after a user enters a search term.

In the past year, Google also changed its display for local search rankings. Certain searches include a “pack” of local results, which displays the addresses and contact information of regional businesses that have registered with Google.

In August 2015, Google changed the number of local search results from a seven-pack to a three-pack—and moved them directly below the paid ads on the page.

The original seven-pack listed the name, address, and phone number of each business, but it did not provide links to the websites—so users had to scroll down to the organic search listings to find them. Although Google reduced the number of local search results, the current three-pack includes links to the businesses’ websites.

Consequently, a website link for a search result ranked third in a local search will appear above the website link for a search result ranked first in an organic search—and users will no longer need to scroll down to the organic search results to access the local business’s website.

Lawyers with regional practices who have been using organically well-ranked websites as a key component of their marketing strategy will need to diversify and focus on local search results. This is underscored by how rapidly the search landscape changes: On June 22, 2016, Google announced that it intends to change one of the three-pack results to a paid local result.

How can law firms ensure they show up in local search results? Unlike organic searches, local searches require business owners to clean up listings with outdated or incorrect addresses, phone numbers, and website URLs for Google to trust that the business information is correct—and thus a better result for its users.

Here are some steps you should take:

  • Ensure that your law firm or practice is registered with Google. This includes registering your firm name, business address, phone number, and website URL.
  • Check to see that your business information—name, address, phone number, and website—also is reflected in online directories, both local and national, and that it is identical across all listings. Search your firm name in Google and see if your business information is reflected accurately in the search results. Directories include Yellow Pages, Avvo, and Superpages.
  • Update all listings, especially if you changed your address, phone number, or business name in the last several years.
  • Put content on your website that is specific to regions where you want to rank in local search results. For example, if you want to rank for employment law searches in Seattle, you should have content on your website describing the services you offer in Seattle.

Working on local search results can be a time-consuming process, but the results can pay real dividends. Ranking in the three-pack can put you above top-ranked organic sites, giving you a larger share of clicks from prospective clients.


Seth Price is a managing partner at Price Benowitz in Washington, D.C., and a founder of Blu Spark Digital. He can be reached at seth@pricebenowitz.com.