2014 Legal Marketing Year in Review

2014 was a big year in Internet marketing. Some of the hottest trends – the rise of mobile and the explosion of apps – were plain to see. But many of the biggest changes happened behind the scenes. These affected Internet marketing dramatically but were invisible to the average Internet user. Staying up to date in this evolving landscape is a challenge. In this issue, find out about the big changes in 2014, five lessons for 2015, and how we work very hard to keep you safe, secure, and visible.

5 Factors That Influenced Your Online Visibility in 2014

It seems like every year there is big news in Internet marketing. The tools and techniques continue to evolve. This forces attorneys who market themselves online to get more sophisticated and to step up their game – or get a good partner who can help them.

2014 kept this streak rolling. There were many important events from Google algorithm updates like Panda, Penguin, Pigeon to natural language searches, the impact of client reviews, the retirement of Google authorship, and malware attacks on big-name companies as well as millions of websites just like yours.

Let’s take a look back at the biggest changes last year and see how these “behind the scenes” factors will impact your Internet marketing in 2015.

Factor #1: Google Algorithm Updates

Search engine marketing is becoming more important every year. Having your website listed at or near the top of Google, Yahoo, and other search engines boosts your visibility, differentiates you from competitors, and enables prospects and clients to find you more easily.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) must be constantly refined to keep up with changing Google guidelines and savvier searchers. Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times. While most of these changes are minor, Google occasionally rolls out a “major” algorithmic update (such as Google Panda and Google Penguin) that affects search results in significant ways.

Here are the major algorithmic changes of 2014 that had the biggest impact on search, as reported by Internet watcher MOZ.

  • Penguin 3.0 — October 17, 2014

More than a year after the previous Penguin update (2.1), Google launched a Penguin refresh.  The Penguin algorithm primarily looks at a site’s backlink profile and may demote a site that appears to have a poor backlink profile. For example, if you used automated programs to generate thousands of backlinks from unreputable sites or if you’ve over optimized anchor text such as a backlink with the hypertext “Best Boston Divorce Attorneys and Divorce Lawyers”, your site was most likely demoted.

  • Panda 4.1 (#27) — September 23, 2014

This significant Panda update included an algorithmic component. The Panda Update focuses on content quality. It is supposed to remove redundant, irrelevant content and spam from Google’s index. While Google will never reveal all of the details of it’s algorithm changes, it has been made very clear that relevance and quality of content presented on websites will continue to be very important factors.

  • Pigeon — July 24, 2014

Google shook the local SEO world with an update that dramatically altered some local results and modified how they handle and interpret location cues. The well-know map packs disappeared from the local search results. Google claimed that Pigeon created closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithm(s). This update drastically changed which factors Google looks at when determining local rankings, including stronger ties to traditional web ranking signals such as domain authority, physical address published on website, and the proximity of address to the point of search.

Since 2011, MOZ has counted more than 83 major algorithm updates to the search engine giant. That means SEO experts have had to adjust tactics 83 times in three years.

Lesson #1

SEO is not a one-time deal. Algorithm changes have a real impact on the visibility of your website and although you may never realize these subtle changes, in order to remain competitive in the search results you must track and respond to these changes accordingly.

Factor #2: Growth of Natural Language Search

Last year saw the rise of natural language search, also known as “conversational search.” This is a new type of search in which search engines return results based on the intent of the searcher rather than the search terms used. This means you don’t have to be as specific when you’re choosing the words for your query.

Natural language search finds answers to questions rather than delivering a match with the search terms used. When it works, results are closer to what the searcher needs than results from a keyword search engine.

For example, instead of using “Freedom Tower” and “height” to find the height of the tallest skyscraper in the country, you can ask, “How tall is the Freedom Tower.” Google returns the actual answer:  “1776 feet” and an image.

Siri is an example of an application that uses natural language processing to answer questions and make recommendations. According to the New York Times, companies like Google, Facebook and Apple employ dozens of linguists (natural language programmers) to analyze language patterns and slang to improve user experience.

Lesson #2

The rise of natural search means a decrease in the need for heavy keyword usage and an increase in the need for great content that your prospects want to read such as representative cases, client reviews, and question and answers.

Factor #3: Impact of Client Reviews

Many purchases today – from shoes to restaurants to attorneys – start with customer reviews. We read reviews because reviews are an analysis of a company’s products or services that come from people just like us.

However, client reviews are even more important when it comes to online visibility. From a local SEO standpoint, reviews can be the difference in placing ahead of a local competitor in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), and in smartphone searches.  Reviews are another signal the search engines use to determine authority.  If you have quality reviews and obtain them on an ongoing basis the better your likelihood for elevating your local search engine rankings.

Lesson #3

Reviews are important. Prospects read reviews before they reach out to your firm and search engines like Google place meaningful weight on client reviews which will boost your visibility in the search results.

Factor #4: Retirement of Google Authorship

In 2012, Google announced a new feature called Google Authorship. This let you link any content you published to your Google+ profile. This meant every time someone searched for you, anything you had written with your byline would show up with your photo and any other articles with your name on them.

We in the Internet marketing world got very excited about this new feature. Sadly, just when we all started using it, Google announced that it would be completely removing authorship markup. By the next morning, authorship bylines had disappeared from all SERPs.

Google experts reported that the primary reason behind this shuffle is the company’s commitment to testing. Every product, and every change, is constantly tested and evaluated. Evidently, data collected from three years of Google Authorship convinced Google that showing Authorship results in search was not returning enough value compared to the resources it took to process the data.

Lesson #4

Don’t get too comfortable. Anything that the data show as not meeting Google’s goals, not having sufficient user adoption, or not providing significant user value, will get the axe.

Factor #5: Malware Attacks that Affected Websites

In 2014 there were many high-profile cyber attacks and data breaches – and it doesn’t look like they’re going to slow down in 2015. Some of the biggest and most secure companies suffered from hacks, with data, personal records and financial information stolen and sold on the black market in a matter of days. This is in addition to Internet-wide bugs such as Heartbleed, Bash, and POODLE that weakened systems around the world.

Of course your site is susceptible to hacking and malware attacks too. Very often a saboteur will write a script that seeks vulnerabilities in small websites like yours. Their motivation can range from utilizing your website resources, redirecting your website traffic, displaying advertisements in the form of pop-ups or hyperlinks, to stealing sensitive information.

Lesson #5

Security is an ever-growing issue and keeping your site’s software updated and secure is an ongoing process.

Ahead for 2015

This year promises to be just as exciting as previous ones, with many new challenges and opportunities for everyone doing Internet marketing. Getting results, staying visible, and driving client inquiries will require the right mix of strategy and tactics, supported by knowledge and experience. At Bardorf Legal Marketing, we’re working very hard behind the scenes to keep up with every change and update and get you the top tier results. Best wishes for a very successful new year!