*Updated January 14, 2021
As a lawyer, your website falls into what is known as YMYL – Your Money or Your Life. That’s not a threat, that’s what Google categorizes as a website of extreme importance to a person’s well-being. Google classifies the credibility of your website based on an element of their algorithm that’s been around since 2014: EAT – Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness.
Here’s How Google YMYL and EAT Work Together
The law, finance, politics, health information and other critical topics fall into the YMYL category. It stands to reason that as Google’s moderators review these websites they want to recognize the websites with the most trustworthy information so that Users will trust that the results delivered on a search are credible. How do they do that? EAT! As an attorney, you should understand that both the benefits of crafting a strategy around Google EAT, and the ramifications of ignoring it can be significant.
In late 2018, Google released an update to their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines to the public and reemphasized the critical nature of EAT. Google was being quite transparent about what their human search evaluators should be looking at when manually examining a website and determining how to apply this element of their algorithm to a YMYL website.
In section 3.2 the subject of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness is explained:
“For all other pages that have a beneficial purpose, the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important. Please consider: The expertise of the creator of the MC [Main Content]; The authoritativeness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website; The trustworthiness of the creator of the MC, the MC itself, and the website.”
This means that more than ever before, Google wants to classify your website by your law firm’s reputation, credibility, authority and trustworthiness.
Why Does Google Care About Your Website Being Authoritative or Trustworthy?
Most of Google’s business model depends on Users trusting that the results delivered on Google are accurate, highly relevant and trustworthy. If you didn’t like the results that Google delivers, it would be very easy for you to start using Bing as a search engine instead of Google. That thought threatens the very existence of Google and their $1 Trillion dollar advertising mechanism. It is within Google’s best interest to deliver an expert on a User search, who has an authoritative website, who has proven themselves to be trustworthy. This way Users will feel confident in Google’s search results the next time they need to do a search for anything, and thus their advertisers continue to have an audience to market to.
There is also new information that suggests that Google might be keeping an “Authority Profile” for your website. Essentially, this would be a log of how well your website addresses information you publish on specific topics, and how spammy or “salesy” your pages might be. They’re essentially wanting to ensure that your website is a reliable source that they can trust, and that your website doesn’t solely exist to sell a product or service.
Will EAT Directly Impact Google Rankings?
Let’s get lost in the weeds for a moment. In a very general manner yes, Google’s perception of your website’s E-A-T could directly impact how your website ranks in Google search results. The primary reason for this is that EAT is established from actions and activity that generally benefit the SEO process anyway. However, there’s no official EAT score, or tool online to run your URL through to get a measurable metric. So in a very technical sense, the answer would be no.
If you have a YMYL website, which you do if you’re a lawyer, then you better start paying attention to how Google perceives your law firm and the credibility and trustworthiness of your website. In February 2019, Google released a white paper titled “How Google Fights Disinformation” where they state:
“Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content. However, it is specifically designed to identify sites with high indicia of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.”
HOWEVER, E-A-T is only one element in the long list of variables that Google’s algorithm and human moderators use to validate how a website should rank. Technical factors, quality of content, inbound links, prominence, and numerous other factors all play a role in how your website ranks for your desired search phrases.
How Does Google Know a Law Firm is Credible?
As you can imagine, the complexity involved in determining a website’s author as more or less credible than another is mind boggling. Within their guidelines, Google tells it’s rating team to consider references about you, or authored by you in a number of platforms to help determine your EAT (not in any particular order of known importance):
- High quality, unique content (on your website or authored by you)
- Profiles on authoritative websites & legal directories
- News articles
- Blog Posts
- Magazine Articles
- Forum discussions
- Ratings/Reviews from independent organizations or affiliations
- Customer/client reviews
- Responding to customer & client reviews (as discussed on chatmeter)
- Social Media participation
- Better Business Bureau
Most of the items mentioned above have at least somewhat of a high barrier to achieve. In the bare minimum sense, you at least have to be a lawyer to be included on a legal directory, you have to be newsworthy to be included in the news, and so on. The good news is that if you’re already doing legitimate SEO, you’ve probably already been touching these things in one way or another for some time. Although this looks like a checklist, this is more of a way to prove your authoritative influence and show why Google can trust you enough to deliver your website to Users. These “assets of influence” will likely change over time. Additionally, this is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to get a brand new website ranked immediately after launch – these aren’t things you can get in place quickly and without time & effort.
How Do I Update My Website to Improve EAT?
Now that you know Google could be scrutinizing your website, you should probably take a moment and perform an audit to improve how your law firm’s EAT is conveyed. Although there’s no playbook for EAT, here are the pages of your website we typically closely examine when trying to optimize for EAT:
Home Page: Quickly examine your Home page to see if it immediately conveys who are, what you do and the area you serve. Additionally, you should have credibility indicators like your awards, affiliations and preferably some selected client testimonials displayed.
Attorney Biographies: You should review your biography and make sure that all possible sources that could indicate EAT & credibility are included. Additionally, other lawyers at your firm should do the same and check it annually. Many attorneys don’t like to “brag” about their accomplishments, but there’s evidence to suggest that a lack of displayed credibility may hinder your website’s visibility.
About Us: If you have an “About” section of your website, make sure that it clearly outlines what you do, and that the firm’s accomplishments, expertise and accolades are well represented.
Testimonials: It would be ideal to have client reviews and testimonials displayed throughout your website, and it’s also advisable to have a page accessible through the Main Navigation that showcases numerous reviews from Yelp, Google, Avvo and other review platforms.
This is a Time Consuming Process
Improving the E-A-T for your law firm website takes time. Think about it this way – you wouldn’t trust someone overnight enough to give them your endorsement to another attorney or judge right? Google has to make a determination based on all of the information above that you’re one of the best websites to deliver in a search result. Essentially Google is somewhat endorsing your website in the eye’s of the User by delivering it on page 1, so they better trust you! In our years of business we’ve seen lawyer websites jump from page 10+ to page 2-3 for competitive key phrases in as little as 90 days from implementation of an EAT audit and SEO overhaul. Sometimes we hit Page 1 of results within that time frame, depending on the competition for a specific search phrase, technical SEO and the quality of the content on the pages. If you’re tackling this project yourself I wouldn’t expect to see results in rankings and visibility for some time.
Does Google Think You’re Unreliable?
It’s difficult to discern what Google thinks of you, but if your website can only be found on page 1 of results for searches for your name or law firm name there’s a problem – whether it be EAT or otherwise. However, while the suggestions listed above may help, if you’re not well optimized on and off your website, it’s nearly impossible to rank well for a competitive search in a competitive city. For that, it may be time to call the experts in law firm SEO at Everest Legal Marketing.