When E-A-T Doesn’t Mean a Lunch Break

April 28th, 2019 by Rachel Reynolds   |   Posted in SEM / SEO / PPC

While “EAT” leads most of us to think about restaurants or a plate full of yummy food, it means something totally different in Google’s world.  And because it’s critically important, law firms should familiarize themselves with the ins-and-outs of “E-A-T.”

Defining E-A-T

“E-A-T” is insider SEO lingo for the elements that Google says are essential to achieve credibility and excellence in your online content.  It also likely affects Google’s assessment of your site’s quality.  These elements include:

  • Expertise
  • Authoritativeness
  • Trustworthiness

On what factors does Google base its evaluation of site quality? There are far too many to list here, but one of the most important is your site’s content. No amount of bells and whistles with design can make up for low-quality content when it comes to user experience and Google ratings.  Haphazard and low-grade content are deal-breakers!

Why Authorship Matters

Google likes content that users can trust is accurate. Don’t you? One way to evaluate trustworthy content is to evaluate the author. Imagine reading a book about quantum physics written by a chef. While some chefs may have a past life as physicists, it is probably pretty rare.

How do you determine if a writer has expertise in quantum physics? You research the author to find evidence of education and achievement in that field. Similarly, if you find a legal resource online, you can trust the information more fully if it’s written by an attorney; preferably an experienced, well-qualified attorney. This is why you need to be the legal resource upon whom people feel safe and confident relying.

When your readers have clear reason to view you as a credible, trustworthy source, Google does, too.

Now it’s time to pull up a chair at the kitchen table and E-A-T. You can prove your credibility by building your online reputation of Expertise, Authority and Trust. Let’s look at how.

Prove Expertise in Your Content

Highlight the expertise of your lawyers and firm by creating richly textured attorney bios, including educational pedigree, achievements and professional citations or awards.  Be viewed as a subject-matter expert that potential clients, even journalists or peers, can rely on.  Content should be authored with expertise and agility, and when applicable, information needs to be backed up by undisputable facts and reliable sources.

“Good enough” is no longer, well, good enough where content is concerned. Invest in high-quality, compelling, original content.

Illustrate Authoritativeness

Ask yourself: why should potential clients listen to me?  What authority do I have?  There are thousands of law firms and web sites out there competing for clients’ attention.  Users make split-second decisions about whether to stay on your page and keep reading or jump to a different page and forget about you.  Tell your readers relevant information that they can’t find elsewhere.  Ditch happy marketing language and focus on clear, concise, informative statements.  Content should speak with authority and command the reader’s attention.

Trustworthy Content

Nobody likes a blowhard or a speaker who comes off as shady or less than trustworthy.  Trust is key in getting user buy-in (as well as Google’s).

So set your content bar high!  Google’s algorithms are extremely sophisticated and sensitive when it comes to ranking content, and the old run-of-the-mill writing or cut-and-paste solutions don’t make the grade these days.  Do yourself a favor – invest in skilled, high-quality, original content that causes your website to stand out and shine.  You’ll be glad you did!

Who is this Author Anyway?

When you evaluate the credibility of a writer, you will look at specific factors that help you determine whether or not you trust the information they provide. If you’re reading about wrongful death claims, you want to trust the person writing that content has a solid legal background.

Prove yourself. Make clear to your site’s readers that you are a law firm they can trust. Show off the experience, expertise and commendations of your attorneys. How do you do that? There are many ways, and we’ll dig more deeply into them below.

Martindale-Hubbell A V Preeminent rating badgeFor starters, don’t be shy about listing awards attorneys and your firm, overall, have won. Note memberships in law-related organizations and don’t forget to note any positions of leadership held in those organizations – past or present. Mention quality ratings on law directories like Martindale-Hubbell or Avvo. List titles of presentations you’ve given. Don’t forget to show your education, too. Be sure to note the degrees earned and at what schools. Did you win a big case and get press coverage? Were you a legal resource to whom a journalist turned for input? Promote such stories by linking to them from your website. While you’re at it, be sure you also linked to organizations and directory profiles with ratings, as well as information about awards you won.

Avvo rating of 10.0 badge
Ok, so you’ve proven you are at the very least well qualified to provide informative legal content to site visitors, what next? Prove that those you helped give you a thumbs up, too. Obtain positive, credible client reviews in locations like your Google My Business page, Avvo and even Facebook. Don’t ignore legal sites that offer opportunities for peer reviews. Client (and even peer) testimonials on your site can boost your trust factor. Any kind of online third-party endorsement that Google can find from clients, media, and community leaders can also increase the perceived trustworthiness of your online content.

Promote your firm’s involvement in the community and announce events sponsored by your firm. This shows you are committed to your community and invested in serving those local to your firm.

And while you’re at it, do a review of the back-links to your website – are there links from credible and trustworthy sites?  Consider backlinks to be a vote of confidence. If writers on another site believe the information you provide is so trustworthy and useful that they link to you, it is a strong signal to Google that your information is high quality.

Be Aware: Google Considers Law Firms “YMYL” Websites

“YMYL” stands for “Your Money or Your Life,” which is Google’s shorthand for identifying online content that it considers critical and life-impacting. Such content includes medical, legal, financial and transactional websites. Google holds YMYL content to an even higher standard of quality because it believes users’ safety and well-being are at stake when they use these sites. So be forewarned, any legal online content is going to face the highest level of scrutiny by Google.

Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines

In many ways, Google tries to mirror in its algorithms the same evaluative approach you take in deciding whether or not to trust an author. Thankfully, we have access to some of their criteria. Google has very extensive guidelines when it comes to ranking the quality of online content.  You don’t need to guess or feel around in the dark to create compelling, highly readable content.  Instead, familiarize yourself with Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines (QRG) and keep a synopsis of the guidelines nearby for handy reference.  Another great source that explains the guidelines and provides examples of their impact is an article by Dr. Marie Haynes about Google’s core algorithm update in March 2019 related to site quality.

Our Gladiator staff would be happy to do a quality rating audit of your firm’s online content and make specific recommendations, too.  Contact us for an initial consultation.

Where Do I Start?  Ask Yourself These Questions

To move to any new place, you first have to get a snapshot of where you are now.  Take a focused moment to assess the current quality of your online content.  Then you can create a plan for increasing its quality.  Begin by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is it clear who is the content author and that he/she has expertise and credibility?
  • How does my content score where E-A-T is concerned?
  • What off-site reputation information is available about my firm?
  • Are there any on-site testimonials, user reviews or other third-party endorsements?
  • Is there legal advice or statistics that should be kept up-to-date on my site?
  • Is there obvious evidence of low-quality content?
  • Is there an obvious way to contact the site’s author?

Evaluate Your Site’s E-A-T

Author Expertise

Quality content should make it abundantly clear who has authored the information.  Now, the author can be a person, a firm or another organization that is cited, but it should not be a rambling, omniscient voice that is untethered to any easily identifiable source.  The “voice” or “point-of-view” is essential to creating content that is credible, trustworthy and authoritative. On your firm’s site, an author should appear to be an attorney. An obvious example is the byline on blog articles.

Tip: You can add brief author bios to your site to show off a few important examples of an attorney’s expertise.

Off-Site Reputation

Are the attorneys listed as authors of the content on your site clearly identifiable as skilled, experienced and even esteemed by peers and legal organizations? If you were to research your reputation, can you find clear examples of why the attorneys at your law firm should be trusted? Do Google search of your firm’s and attorneys’ names to see what being said about you on other sites.  You might be surprised.

It's Not Just What You Say,
It's How You Say It

When it comes to E-A-T, there are clear factors Google can identify both on your site and elsewhere that demonstrate the expertise and trustworthiness of your firm and attorneys. If your bio pages are lacking, is there simply information missing, or are there holes yet to fill? Consider strengthening your online reputation as an expert in providing legal information. The more details that your readers can potentially find that helps them trust you, the better your quality in Google’s eyes.

Should You Improve Your Trust Factor?

Where possible, consider pursuing membership in legal organizations, build out profiles on major legal directories and for those that have ratings and reviews – actively seek a strong score. Promote your educational background. Pursue added activities that can be found online, such as presentations.

In some cases, show proof of the above on your site. Link out to legal organizations, to your speeches and even to major directories where you have a high rating. Help guide Google right to the proof of your expertise and qualifications.

Reviews and Testimonials

There’s no way to overstate the importance of positive client reviews and testimonials when it comes to brand equity and Google quality ratings.  They are essential and should be part of your content planning and intake process.  For a full discussion of client reviews and how to secure them, see Gladiator’s recent blog about steps to an effective intake process

Keep Time-Sensitive Information Updated

There’s nothing worse than going to a website with outdated statistics or information that is sleepy and past its prime.  And we’ve all seen those sparkling announcements about “upcoming events” that took place 6 months ago.  Ouch!  Nothing sinks your credibility faster than outdated content.  As we always say here at Gladiator, a website is a living, breathing organism that must be tended continually just like a garden.  Be sure to review your online content regularly and update statistics, event dates and news references.

Nix Low-Quality Content

Very often, an attorney or a firm is not the best judge of its own content.  We are too close to it and enmeshed in the information.  Our website is our darling and we think it’s perfect.  To get an objective view of the quality of your site’s content, ask an outside agency or a group of users to give feedback on what they read.  Then, hard as it may be, take a buzz saw to any content they identify as low-quality, confusing or irrelevant.  Content must be edited and pruned just like rosebushes.

Contact Us and “About”

This may seem obvious on its face, but you’d be surprised how many websites require a lengthy fishing expedition to find contact phone numbers and email addresses.  Users’ frustration can be compounded by vague or wordy “About” tabs and sections that forget to mention firm name, geographic location, purpose and a call to action. You certainly don’t want a site visitor to suspect that your contact information is hidden because don’t want to be contacted. Law firms want site visitors to contact them so they can get a potential case. So, it’s hard to imagine law firm sites lacking very clear contact methods.

Always Remember E-A-T When Creating Content

So, the next time you hear “EAT” you’ll no longer be thinking of sandwiches and desserts.  Instead, you’ll have insider knowledge about Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness in online content.  Google is very clear about what it considers high-quality content, especially for YMYL (read: law firm) websites.  You can’t afford to allow low-quality, sloppy or rambling content to drag down your firm’s Google Quality Rating.  Take action!  Create authoritative and informative original content and enjoy the return on your investment.

SEO Tips for Law Firms

Tip #1: High-Quality Compelling Content Is Critical

The time is passed for cookie-cutter, ambiguous content on law firm websites. Google has clearly indicated that Expert, Authoritative and Trustworthy original content registers high on its quality ratings metrics.

Tip #2: Build Your Off-Site Authority

Where possible, add references to your awards, organizational memberships and major achievements in the content you control that is not on your site. Update your attorney profile on major legal directories, use press releases to promote awards and large verdicts or settlements. Use the About sections of your social media profiles to mention your awards, memberships and achievements.

Tip #3: Showcase Expertise

Beef up your attorneys’ bios and be sure to include the universities they attended, their professional credentials, speaking engagements and articles they’ve published. All of these things speak to your firm’s level of Expertise.

Tip #4: Review “Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines”

Take 10 minutes to read this blog and share it with your attorneys and staff. Do a quick review of Google’s E-A-T quality raters’ guidelines. Information is power when it comes to creating online content. It’s easier and less time consuming to get it right the first time than it is to have to go back and edit, cut and re-create content.

Tip #5: Create Informative “About” and “Contact Us” Tabs

Start Here: Make sure every user can easily find (within 2 seconds) your firm’s contact information and its purpose. The headline on your homepage and landing pages and any information above the fold should make it exquisitely clear why your firm exists (purpose) and how to get in touch with you.