Search engines have seen a lot of change over the past two years. Most noticeably, mobile traffic doubled in 2013 as the adaptation of searches from mobile devices and the need to have search queries answered faster and more accurately become increasingly popular. This influx of search traffic radically changed how websites are ranked in search engine results and how information in the SERP (search engine results page) is displayed. As part of a solution to be faster and smarter, Google has created a “database of things” known as the Knowledge Graph which could divert traffic to law firm websites as well as affect new case generation.
To welcome the new year we break down all that goes into this “database of things” so that you can be sure that your law firm is primed for the new SERP real estate.
Introducing the Knowledge Graph
One of the biggest additions in 2013 was the Google Knowledge Graph, a database that contains information and answers for search queries. Direct answers to search queries rather than links to websites is the future of search. Google is building these answers in the Knowledge Graph and delivering them directly to the user in the search engine results.
Here is the introductory video about Knowledge Graph from Google:
Search a law firm’s name to see Knowledge Graph in action as it pertains to the legal realm. In this example, a card or panel with the firm’s name, address, business hours, etc. is displayed in the right-hand column of the SERP.
Google uses a number of data sources, primarily user data, to build this graph and present panels like the one shown above. Google understands intent and word associations of search query to best identify exactly what the searcher is searching for, delivering the best result. In addition to user data, Google also uses certain on-page factors such as microdata or structured data to help build the graph.
Where Does the Data Come From?
Google knows who has written an article or blog post if the user has verified their authorship. Authorship is important because Google ranks a page not only based on the content, but also on the author’s knowledge on the subject. As a result of using authorship as a ranking element, users benefit by finding content written by experts in that field.
Based on a searcher’s location, Google will present the closest businesses in the results page based partly on address and phone number, or NAP data, marked-up on a website using schema.org or microdata format.
Google aggregates review data from hundreds of citation sources, including Google+, Google Place pages, Kudzu, Yahoo, and Merchant Circle, into their search results. This review information is used to calculate and display the number of stars a particular firm is ranked.
Google+ is a combination of authorship and social media. Since Google has access to this data, why not display in search results? If you search for a law firm’s listing, and its Google+ page has been activated, it should appear in the search results.
Social Media Profiles
On personal Google+ profiles there is an area to add other social media profiles. Google could use this information to display in a search result, making authorship again relevant. The one caveat is that social media profiles are not directly connected to firm Google+ pages, only personal pages.
Microdata format helps identify certain types of information in HTML content often called structured data. Its markup is meant to tell search engines what type of information it is. Using microdata format such as schema.org helps Google populate the Knowledge Graph with data points such as business name, address and phone number.
In the following example, the highlighted sections show where schema.org formatting is used in the HTML code to identify the business address and telephone number of Plevin & Gallucci.
If your website does not have your business address written in a microdata format, then Google is missing a signal to rank your site locally. In fact, this year’s Local Search Ranking factors, “NAP in hCard /Schema.org” ranked 22nd out of 83 factors for ranking locally.
More to Come… Legal-specific Structured Data
Legal-specific structured data, or data specific to the law profession, could be very beneficial to delivering better results in the future. Here are on page elements consistent in law firm websites across the world that could be used for structured data.
Each firm takes cases in specific legal areas such as personal injury, medical malpractice or product liability, to name a few. This information is important to consumers because they need to know what particular firm handles their type of case. If there was a ‘practice-area’ specific markup, that data could be verified by cross-referencing legal citation sources such as Justia, Avvo and Lawyers.com.
Verdicts could be an interesting area to use structured data markup. For each verdict there is a dollar value, practice area and title. These data points are consistent from one verdict to the next and used by law firms across the country.
Blog posts are, of course, already used in Google’s search results and associated with authors. However, just like Google+ posts (see above) their presence could grow, appearing in future lawyer search results pages because they offer more relevant context.
Imagining the lawyer search engine results page of the future is easy, if you consider best practices in developing a law firm’s website. If you have a website, what do you put front and center so that you can communicate with your visitors effectively? You might list your practice areas or include testimonials to communicate a straightforward idea of the type of law firm you are. The same goes for Google and their mission to provide their users the fastest answer. Through Knowledge Graph, Google wants to answer your search queries as quickly and accurately as possible.