Google Announces Changes to Search: What Legal Content Marketers Need to Know

Google Announces Changes to Search: What Legal Content Marketers Need to Know

Google Update Legal Content Marketing

On March 5th, Google announced changes to its policies and systems in an effort to fight attempts to game their results with low-quality content. The announcement is almost certainly in response to the rise of spammy AI-generated content and reports that the quality of search results were degrading

The announcement detailed two specific changes:

  • Google is updating its core ranking system algorithm to surface the most helpful content and reduce unoriginal content in the results
  • It is updating its spam policies to keep the lowest-quality results out of Search, such as obituary spam and expired websites that have been repurposed as spam repositories

Google Plans to Reduce Low-Quality and Unoriginal Results

In the announcement, Google states that it is updating its core ranking systems to better identify websites that are unhelpful, have poor UX, or seem like they were created for search engines instead of human readers – including sites that were created to match specific search queries.

Scaled Content Abuse

In addition, Google is changing its spam policies to address new abusive practices that lead to “low-quality or unoriginal content at scale with the goal of manipulating search rankings.” Google acknowledges that this policy was originally designed to address content produced by automation at scale, but also acknowledges that it cannot always tell whether automation was involved:

Moving forward, Google plans to focus on “abusive behavior” regardless of whether content was produced by humans, automation, or some hybrid method. According to Google, this will allow it to take action on pages that “pretend to have answers to popular searches but fail to deliver helpful content.”

Site Reputation Abuse

Google also plans to crack down on sites with high-quality content that host low-quality content. Publishers do this in an attempt to obtain ranking benefits from posting on the hosting site’s reputation. The search engine’s concern is this practice can mislead users who have different expectations for the content on a given site. Moving forward, third-party content on trusted sites will be treated as spam. This policy will not be enforced until May 5th of this year, giving site owners time to take remedial action.

Expired Domain Abuse

Finally, Google is taking action against publishers who purchase expired domains in an attempt to boost poor-quality or unoriginal content. According to Google, this has the potential to mislead users who believe the content was published on the older site. The search engine will now treat such domains as spam.

Takeaways for Law Firm Content Marketing

To a large extent, these updated policies refine what we already knew – Google wants to surface high-quality content that is helpful to its users. Here are some specific takeaways for legal content marketers moving forward:

  • Google is not focusing on how content is produced. It is focusing on penalizing attempts to game its ranking systems. As a result, make sure that all of the content you publish is original and helpful to readers.
  • It’s okay to use AI in your content generation process, but the content you publish needs to be helpful to your readers and add something to the conversation.
  • If you use AI in your content generation process, make sure the final product does not look like unedited AI output.
  • Remember that the content on law firm websites has significant real-word effects on readers, and it is within a category Google calls “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL). More than ever, your content should demonstrate E-E-A-T: experience, expertise, authority, and trust.
  • Consider information gain when creating content – are you adding new, relevant information that is helpful to your readers? If so, your content will have a good chance of ranking. If it simply reworks existing information, it may not appear in the search results.