Have you ever wondered how search engines actually work?
If you go to Google, and conduct a search for ‘backlinks,’ you will get a search engine results page (SERP) with a couple of paid ads, a featured snippet, and the top 10 organic results for that keyword.
But if you look closer, just below the search bar, you’ll see that those results were pulled from a total of 36,900,000 possible results for backlinks, and were delivered to you in .92 seconds.
That’s almost 37 million possibilities, sorted, ranked, and delivered to your web browser in precisely ninety-two one-hundredths of one second.
That pretty impressive, even for a computer right?
There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes (that most people never even think about), every time you perform a Google search.
In this article, we’re going top cover the ‘behind the curtain’ aspects of a search engine, and explain how Google can sort through that much information on a topic, and present you with the most relevant results in less than a second.
What is a search engine?
Search engines like Google consist of three basic components:
How search engines crawl websites
The part of a search engine that actually touches a website is a crawler. Crawlers are also referred to as search engine spiders, but both terms refer to the same thing.
Before the crawlers go to a webpage, the search engines create a list of URL’s to be crawled and then go to a scheduler.
Scheduling the crawlers
The scheduler is not a person, it’s a piece of the search engine itself.
The scheduler then decides when each URL (webpage) should be crawled, based on the relative importance of both new and known (previously crawled) URL’s.
Then the scheduler sends the search engine spiders to crawl the page at the assigned time.
Send in the spiders (crawling)
A search engine spider (or crawler) is essentially a computer program designed to download the content of webpages.
Crawlers are how search engines ‘discover’ new content on the web by re-crawling known URL’s to see if new links have been added to the page.
For example, every time we publish a new article to our blog, the title of the new article, along with the featured image and the URL for the webpage appears in the first (top-left) position on our main blog page.
Then whenever the search engines re-crawl and download the content of our main blog page, they find the link to our new blog article.
After the crawler has downloaded the content of a page (URL), the contents pf the page are then passed to what is known as the parser.
The search engine parser’s job is to extract the links, as well as other important information from the downloaded page.
The parser will then send the list of URL’s that have been crawled (and downloaded) to the scheduler.
The links, and important information that the crawlers downloaded from the page are then indexed by the search engine.
Indexing, also referred to as indexation, is the step in the process where the parsed information from the URL’s that were crawled is added to the search engine’s database.
In technical terms, Google’s database is referred to as a search index.
The search index is like a giant library, a digital library, that contains the information from billions of webpages that have been published on the internet.
You may have heard about the latest machine-learning related update to Google’s algorithm. It’s called BERT, and it has a lot of website owners nervous.
But there’s no reason for any law firm SEO expert to fear this new BERT update as it only affects about 10% of searches worldwide.
This guide will answer any questions you might have about Google’s BERT update.
What is the Google BERT algorithm?
Google’s BERT algorithm was rolled out on October 25, 2019. The engineers at Google have hailed it as the greatest advance in their search algorithm in the last five years.
Others inside Google claim it is their biggest update since RankBrian, and ’one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of search.’
BERT is a ‘deep-learning’ algorithm that relies on something called natural language processing, or (NLP).
The algorithm analyzes natural language processes like questions and answers, and entity recognition.
In plain English, Google has adjusted the way its algorithm uses pattern recognition to better understand how human beings communicate so that it can deliver the most relevant search results for its users.
What does BERT acronym stand for?
BERT stands for ‘Bi-directional Encoder Representations from Transformers.’
What does the BERT algorithm do?
The first thing to understand about BERT is that website owners, and SEO professionals should all take a deep breath. Unlike Panda and Penguin, the idea behind BERT is not to penalize websites.
The whole concept of incorporating BERT into the algorithm is simply to help Google better understand the intent behind more complex searches.
BERT is not focused on the content of your website.
Rather it is focused entirely on understanding search queries.
Specifically, BERT is designed to help the algorithm understand the meaning behind a search query by paying attention to the order of the words in the query, and better understanding the context of the query.
BERT pays attention to ‘stop’ words in search queries. Prepositions like ‘to’ and ‘from’ are ‘stop’ words.
Rather than having the algorithm discount the importance of stop words in a search query, BERT pays close attention to those prepositions, and exactly where they appear in a search query.
Here’s an example…
Let’s assume you are from Brazil.
Then let’s say that you wanted to travel to the United States.
So you type in a search on Google something like this:
‘2019 Brazil traveler to usa need visa’
Before BERT was introduced, the first results was how U.S. citizens could travel to Brazil without needing a visa.
Close, but yet so far away from the actual intent of the search query.
The searcher wasn’t asking about how people in the U.S. could travel to Brazil. They wanted to know about traveling from Brazil to the U.S.
Now, after the BERT update, the first result in the SERP is much more relevant…
Let’s look at another example of how BERT has improved the relevance of the top results to certain types of queries.
Let’s assume your significant had a desperately needed prescription called in by a doctor, but was too sick to drive to the pharmacy to pickup the medication.
You, being the amazing spouse you are, volunteer to go pick it up.
But before you go, you check google just in case to ask…
‘can you get medicine for someone pharmacy’
Look at the top results Before and After the BERT update.
The algorithm is now better able to understand the subtle nuance in that search query – which implies that the searcher wants to know if they can pick up a prescription for someone else at the pharmacy.
What does technical optimization for your website mean?
Technical SEO refers to the process of optimizing your website in order to help search engine bots (also known as crawlers or spiders) successfully:
access all the pages you want indexed
crawl the pages of your website
understand the content of your site
index the webpages of your site
render the pages of your website in web browsers
Technical SEO isn’t exciting (at least not to normal people anyway), but it is an important part of any attorney SEO expert campaign. Getting the technicals aspects of your website correct becomes even more critical when you’re operating in an online vertical that’s as competitive as legal services.
Website Architecture/URL Structure
Creating user-friendly URL’s that are also SEO-friendly for the pages on your site is a top priority at the start of any website optimization campaign.
Here’s a basic example of how to create a user-friendly URL:
Let’s say you’re a DUI attorney…
Now let’s take this one step further, and create a URL that’s also URL friendly…
Finally, let’s assume you also offer representation in other types of criminal defense cases in addition to driving under the influence…
Now we’ve provided the type of URL structure that will help the search engine crawlers better understand your website.
Adding an SSL Certificate To Make Your Website HTTPS
Installing an SSL certificate on your site means that any user-input information such as:
… is encrypted when it is transferred between your site, and the server.
Adding an SSL certificate creates an HTTPS version of your website, which creates a situation that must be addressed at the same time.
‘Merge’ the Versions of Your Site Into One Preferred Domain
Believe it or not, you actually have 4 different versions of your website:
You didn’t do anything to create these different versions of your site, but the search engines recognize all four of these URL formats.
The problem with that is… the search engines don’t consider these different versions of your website to be the same. They actually consider each version to be a different (separate) site.
We don’t want that. Very bad for rankings.
So we need to consolidate all four versions of your site, so that there is one – and only one site recognized by the search engines.
The 301 Redirect
Most SEO professionals simply create a 301 redirect that points three of the versions to the fourth version (URL) for your website.
For example, if you decided to use:
… as the one version of your site you wanted the search engines to recognize.
You would simply setup a 301 redirect for the other versions that all point to https://www.YourSite.com.
A 301 redirect tells the search engines that a particular URL has been permanently moved to another destination URL.
You can think of it like the change of address form you would fill out at the Post Office when you move to a new house.
You can use the canonical tag when you have more than one page on your site that is essentially the same. More precisely, when you have more than one page dedicated to the same topic, including a lot of the same content.
The canonical tag lets the search engines know which webpage is your preferred page for that topic.
Canonicals give the search engines one webpage (URL) that should be displayed in the SERP’s, and funnels the SEO value of the other pages on that same topic to the preferred webpage you setup as the canonical.
Revealed: The Top Search Ranking Factors For Local Businesses
Most searches for legal services are local in nature.
So how do you make sure your site rankings in the Maps 3-Pack, and in Google’s organic listings for relevant local searches?
Optimizing for local search results can get confusing (and overwhelming) pretty quickly, with over 300 ranking signals having been identified by professionals from the top law firm SEO services.
From a big-picture perspective, optimizing for local search really comes down to just a few things.
You have to build trust with the search engines. Google wants to know that:
You are who you say you are
you’re located where you say you’re located
you actually do what you say you do (your services)
Building trust takes time. Time, effort, and resources.
How do you build trust with a search engine?
You need votes, and you need consistency.
Votes = Trust
Every backlink you acquire from a high-quality, authoritative website is like a ‘vote’ in Google’s eyes. The more ‘votes’ you have the more trust you earn with Google.
Consistency builds on that trust
The more Google sees consistent information across the internet that corroborates things such as the information in your Google My Business listing, the more certain the algorithm can be that the information is correct.
Think about it this way.
When you create a Google My Business listing for your firm, Google actually has no way of knowing if you’re a real business or not.
Sure, they send you a verification postcard, but Maps search results in many industries are full of fake, spammy listings that aren’t legitimate, local businesses.
The search engines don’t dispatch a real person to physically verify that it’s really you, and that you actually have an office at the location you listed in your GMB profile.
Remember, the algorithm is just a machine. It’s a computer.
So Google has to rely on the next most viable option to determine if they should trust you… which is to use the information they find about your business in other places online to confirm what you’ve told them.
You have to build relevance in the eyes of the search engine algorithms for the searches that are important to your practice area(s).
Building relevance also takes time, effort, and resources.
At the same time that you’re building trust, and relevance with the search engines, you also have to increase the authority of your website.
Google My Business (GMB) Signals
Primary GMB Category
It’s very important to choose the most appropriate primary category for your GMB listing. If there is a primary category available that more closely matches your practice area than a generic category like lawyer, or law firm – choose the more specific category.
For example, most criminal defense (and DUI) attorneys select ‘criminal justice lawyer’ as their primary GMB category.
Not surprisingly, attorneys at personal injury firms choose ‘personal injury lawyer’ as their primary category.
After you’ve chosen the most specific category available relating to your practice area, then you want to choose several secondary GMB categories.
Secondary GMB Categories
Your work isn’t done once you’ve selected the primary category for your GMB listing. You also want to add several supporting categories to your listing as well.
Categories like lawyer, and law firm are generic, but they will be useful when you ‘theme’ inner-pages on your website for additional, or sub-practice areas.
Site Mirroring – Step 1
It’s important to include your primary Google My Business category in the h1 header tag on the appropriate page of your website – the page with the theme that most closely matches that category.
Example: A criminal defense attorney with a single office location would include the primary GMB category ‘criminal justice lawyer’ in the h1 header tag on the home page of his or her site.
You want Google to see your primary category reflected prominently in the HTML code of the appropriate page on your website.
Site Mirroring – Step 2
Uploading a collection of images to your Google My Business listing is an important part of optimizing your profile.
Some examples of the types of images you should upload to GMB are:
images of individual attorneys in your firm
group images of your attorneys
images of the interior of your office
images of the exterior of your office location
Images of your signage
images of billboards or other advertising assets
images of awards your firm has won
seals and logos of recognition you have received
For example, if you’ve been named a Top 100 Attorney, that’s the type of recognition you’d want to upload a seal or logo for to your GMB images.
The Only Off-Page Optimization Guide You’ll Ever Need
What is off-page optimization?
Essentially, just about anything you can do to improve your positioning the SERP’s that isn’t actually on your website falls under the umbrella of off-page.
Most people assume that off-page optimization refers strictly to link-building activities.
While link-building is certainly the foundation, off-page also encompasses other factors like social media, and brand mentions. In hyper-competitive online verticals like law firm search engine optimization, you need to build as many high-quality backlinks as you possibly can from quality websites that have high domain authority ratings.
Why is off-page SEO so important to search engine rankings?
Off-page, at least the link-building aspect of it, is a lot like a popularity content.
It’s helpful to think of backlinks as ‘votes.’ Search engines look at backlinks as the measure of a website’s ‘popularity’ with other websites – and people as well.
The more backlinks you have from other websites, the more value you build in the eyes (the algorithms) of the search engines.
All these ‘votes’ for your website must mean that you have plenty of high-quality, authoritative content on your site.
No one actually knows how the different ranking factors are weighted in Google’s algorithm.
But according to data from a study conducted by Moz, it is widely believed that off-page related factors account for more than 50% of where a site ranks in the SERP’s.
Trust And Authority
When you first launch your shiny new website, you’re the new kid on the block, with o friends, and no reputation.
The more backlinks (votes) you accumulate for your site, the more trust you establish with the search engines.
It takes time to develop trust with any search algorithm, but if you stick to acquiring backlinks from other quality sites with strong domain authority, you will enhance your reputation with Google.
Off-page signals, such as anchor text, are also used by search engine algorithms to help determine what your site is about.
Because anchor text has been such a widely abused part of link-building, it’s best to follow a conservative anchor text strategy.
You will still be able to let the search engines understand what your site is all about, and the anchor text in your backlink profile will look natural.
Types of BackLinks
How a link was earned determines how it is classified for SEO purposes, and there are essentially three basic categories of backlinks.
These are he type of links you earn by producing content, and they require no direct action on your part.
These are the links that you acquire through the direct result of your efforts. Manually-created links usually involve some form of outreach on your part.
These are the links that you create yourself – hence the name. Forum comment links, directory links, press releases, and blog comments are a few examples of self-created links.
How the value of a backlink is determined
It should come as no surprise that SEO professionals will always advise you to avoid links from low-quality, or spammy websites. You want links from other high-quality, authoritative websites ‘voting’ for – linking to, your site.
But what factors do search engines use to assess the quality, or value of the links pointing to your site?
Popularity of the referring domain
Topical relevance between the referring domain and your site
The anchor text in the backlink
The trustworthiness of the referring domain
Authority of the referring domain
Authority of the specific page (URL) contains the backlink.
The 10 Most Important Search Engine Ranking Factors For Topping The Google SERP’s
There are hundreds of search engine optimization factors that affect how well your website will rank in search results. But we’ve boiled the list down to the Top 10 most important factors that you want to focus on first.
1. Quality Content
The quality, and completeness of the content on your site is the ultimate ranking factor., If your content isn’t up to snuff, it doesn’t matter how perfectly optimized your website is. You aren’t going to rank anywhere near the top spots on page one.
So what exactly is ‘quality content’ in Google’s eyes?
Consider this: In more competitive niches, such as lawyer seo – you might need twice that amount of content on your page to rank in the top spots. READ MORE
What does search engine optimization actually mean?
SEO = Search Engine Optimization
So now you obviously understand that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, but you probably don’t know what exactly it is that needs to be optimized for your website – not to mention how to go about actually doing any of it. READ MORE