For nearly ten years, search engine optimization, or SEO, was one of the main techniques that web marketers used to get their website noticed by major search engines. However, recent events have changed how the biggest search engines list their results. Updates to Google in the last 24 months have affected over 20 percent of pages on the internet, and your website could easily be next if you're still using outdated SEO techniques. In this guide, we'll take a look at where SEO has been, what happened to it, and what you can do to replace the kinds of search engine optimization techniques that no longer work due to recent changes.
What Is Search Engine Optimization?
Every search engine uses a different algorithm to figure out which results are more relevant to users searching for a particular term. But search engines aren't perfect, and any algorithm can be manipulated by people who create their content specifically to get the attention of search engines. Search engine optimization describes the process by which companies would build websites specifically to get higher results in web searches by consumers.
Because all search engines used keyword frequency as part of their formula for computing relevance, almost all early SEO was focused on using keywords frequently. When search engines initially caught on to this, they started penalizing sites that used keywords too frequently (suggesting that they were spam content instead of original, quality writing).
How SEO Was Used and Abused By Law Firms
Even though Google and other search engines would penalize sites that overused search terms, they all had a “sweet spot” for keyword frequency that would tend to put their page into the top echelon of pages for a particular search.
As law firms started using SEO, many of them used low quality, keyword-heavy content to optimize their website, or created spammy backlinks that came from websites that sold links. This kind of SEO abuse meant that consumers were more likely to get pages in their searches from attorneys who were simply listing keywords or bought links than lawyers who had worked on including relevant, well organized information on their website.
Search Changes Start: Penguin and Panda
When so many websites started gaming the system instead of providing quality content, Google realized it had to step in. The reason was simple: many searches were yielding low quality content even though there were plenty of great websites about the topics being searched for.
Two algorithm changes, codenamed Google Penguin and Google Panda, started changing how SEO worked. They started relying in part on the quality of backlinks, using Google's PageRank feature as a proxy for website quality level. They also started penalizing websites that were poorly organized, contained low quality content farmed from elsewhere on the web, or were linked by sites in patterns that indicated link buying instead of legitimate link building.
While these algorithm changes affected about one fifth of web searches, they only temporarily deterred search engine marketers. Within months, workarounds had been figured out that allowed low quality sites to rise to the top of search results again. Google, Bing, and other search engines knew they had to change how they functioned.
The Solution: Human Search Evaluators
Many of the limitations on Google's algorithms were simply due to the fact that the algorithms are just sophisticated computers—but even the most sophisticated computers can't really understand language, or what makes a really good website different from a bad one.
Enter the human search evaluator. Google and Bing now employ veritable armies of these workers, who review common search queries and look for which results would be most likely to be needed by the actual human beings conducting searches. What's more, their computer algorithms are using these results from human search evaluators to hone their understanding of what separates quality and non-quality content. Future updates to Google are likely to incorporate the knowledge that is brought to bear by these human search evaluators.
What The End of SEO Means For You
If you know that you have low quality SEO content on your website, don't despair—but you should get the content off your site as quickly as possible. You should also make sure that you're requesting the removal of any backlinks that are from low quality sources.
It's not the end of the world that your old techniques don't work any more. Look on the bright side: by getting rid of the parts of your website that were designed for the old web, you've taken the first step to cleaning house and making sure that you have the best possible foundation for a website that is positioned to take advantage of the new ways pages are ranked.
Many law firm websites are slow to adapt, and this gives you a golden opportunity. While your competition is still using outdated SEO techniques, you can get ahead fast by making a transition to new, higher quality content techniques.
Finding Alternatives to SEO
Today's search evaluators look to see whether your web pages have quality, original content that helps people actually read information relevant to their search query. This means that you need to work on making your content relevant, easy to understand, and high quality.
If you need immediate new traffic to your website because you've declined in search rankings, one of your best bets may be pay per click advertising. This kind of advertising is a great stopgap if you're trying to figure out what to do next, because it can get you new clients the same day you start a campaign.
Another major alternative to traditional search engine optimization is using social media to build your law firm's brand. This kind of branding approach can be tricky to get started, but it's a much better long term strategy than relying on pay per click advertisements. Expect several months to really start seeing results from social media, and to get good results you'll need to really think about the brand image you're projecting online and research the best social media marketing techniques.