The Google Medic Update & Mobile-First Indexing – The Impact on Law Firm’s Websites
There are two factors that influence whether, where, how, and for which search terms any given page will be presented by Google in response to a user’s search query: Indexing and Ranking.
Rankings vs Indexing
Many people often confuse the two factors.
- Indexing occurs or does not occur when a web “bot” like GoogleBot visits your law firm’s website and decides if it will store that page and its contained data and/or resource media in the Google Index to retrieve later. That is all, and it may or may not choose to index your page. It has a particular aversion to duplicate content, for example, and really hates to index it.
- Ranking is what happens when the search engine looks at its Index of potential results to display, and then decides how and when and in what position to display those results depending upon the user query and the current rules of its’ own algorithm, which can also include device, page load times and other factors. You cannot rank without being indexed and your ranking position will change depending on the current state of play with the algorithm according to its’ most recent update.
The Medic Update
Back at the beginning of August 2018, Google released a broad core search algorithm update that has since been dubbed the “Medic Update” although that is a misnomer.
The health and medical industry (hence the name) was indeed the major target, but the update actually affected much more than medical websites, including a class known as “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) pages.
Google explains YMYL pages as “pages offering advice on major life issues that could impact your future happiness and finances, such as pages giving legal or financial advice”.
Obviously, the legal industry fell squarely into the crosshairs of this very major update, and here at Conscious we were watching many keyword rankings moving up and down dramatically in any 24-hour period, that lasted weeks as Google self-corrected for inevitable unintended errors in the algorithm.
After taking the pulse on our own clients’ websites, ever since, as well as amalgamating the opinions and observations across the entire SEO industry it is now possible to draw some firm conclusions as to what Google was actually trying to achieve with the Medic Update.
Of note should be this comment from Google itself:-
“We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact users’ happiness, health, financial stability, or safety”.
High-quality pages translate into a number of the usual factors including unique well-formatted content, page load times etc, but in this case, Google is also looking for Qualified Experts with appropriate credentials and the authority to dispense wisdom regarding the user’s search query.
In SEO terms “authority” generally refers to the strength of your backlink profile, but in this case, we also suggest that “trust” is also a major factor. That means that Google wants to see relevant accreditations on relevant service pages and staff bios with full “industry trusted” accreditations linked to their source pages (and vice versa if possible).
It wants to see links to third-party articles that have been published by staff members. It wants to see blog posts by qualified authors that link back to their profile pages with above mentioned credentials. In other words, for YMYL pages it wants to see proof that you are the best possible page to present to the public and it’s up to you to now prove it. The times for remaining modest are past.
Conscious has already prepared for parts of this by designing client websites and often service pages with Law Society (and other body’s ) accreditation logos, however, there is much room for improvement as regards staff pages and those require a good deal of client-side info gathering and effort.
Do not look at your law firm’s staff profiles as an afterthought, but rather your first line of trust building. By linking accreditation sites and articles to those bio pages, you are also building “Authority” at the same time. A double win. It should also be said that your About Us pages are excellent places to crow about all of your accreditations and qualifications too.
Google does use these pages to evaluate your website. Don’t waste the opportunity to tell them why you are so well accredited and qualified.
Conscious has been reporting on the incrementally rolled out Google Mobile-First indexing process since March 2018, however, the process went off the charts at the end of September. We saw virtually all of our remaining clients switched over in a 2-day period, as did much of the wider web world. The image below is a snapshot of just some of our Search Console notifications from 19-20 September…there were a LOT.
What Mobile Indexing simply means is this: Google will crawl the mobile version of your website to decide what it will place in its Index. What remains uncertain are the complete set of rules for turning that Index into Rankings,
However, the vast majority of our clients were forewarned about this, by Conscious, and have moved to responsive websites that present the same content to users on either a desktop or a mobile device. Mobile responsive websites were, in effect, partially future proofed against this shift in how Google indexes websites.
What is also fairly certain is that what has always been considered best practice will remain so (content fits window, accessible menus, buttons fit fingers, fast load times), and things like invasive popups, ill-fitting content and slow pages will still be considered bad for your SEO.
Mobile first may now mean it’s time to revisit ‘expanding accordion’ content that will allow for an even quicker mobile user experience but that is a point we will revisit later. One thing for certain, there is now a good reason to fully traverse your website from mobiles and tablets as if you were a new visitor to double check that everything works easily and ergonomically.
Our Own Post-Mortem for Law Firms Mobile First & Medic Update
Not everyone gets out of an algorithm update alive. See an excellent article and video at the highly regarded SEORoundtable website titled “Google Listens & Responds To A Site That Lost 60% Of Their Traffic After An Algorithm Update from October 2018. There were a lot of unhappy webmasters following the Medic Update.
99% all of our clients have come out of the upheavals of the past few months with Organic Search traffic up from their year on year traffic comparisons. These appear to come in three bands: up 15%ish, up 30%ish and up 60%ish.
Many of our sites with the above improvements were doing even better before these updates to some degree. The sites that have fared the very best have the highest number of pages that are well formatted with original, value-adding content, have a strong authority backlink profile as well as links to and from industry authorities and governing bodies.
The sites that have performed the worst share one or more of the following traits: they have only a small number of pages with very shallow content; have pages filed under multiple categories or other duplicate content; have low Domain Authority; have older site designs that translate to a less optimum mobile experience, even if patched with a responsive design; have very weak staff bio pages; have few if any links or references to or from industry authorities and governing bodies.
Recent algorithm updates and indexing changes are merely a continuation of recent trends covering the past few years. Webmasters who have been assiduously following best-practice procedures most likely came through the past six months with flying colours. Those who cut corners practised gray hat or black hat SEO or rested on their past successes most likely did not. The biggest winners are most likely running a website with the following traits: mobile-responsive design, lots of original well-formatted and value-adding content, an active and effective blog (fresh content), a strong backlink profile with Domain Authority that beats their local and/or national competition, no mobile-specific penalties like invasive popups.
It should also be noted that in addition to the major core Medic Update in August, there have been pretty much bi-weekly adjustments ever since, even though Google does not always admit to them or name them. Webmasters and search rankings result watchers noted at least two tweaks in September and October and already at least one in November. An excellent source of articles on recent changes can be found on the Search Engine roundtable website.