How Google’s E-A-T and YMYL Updates Affect Law Firms

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Eat and YMYL

Eat and YMYL

Google pushes algorithm updates constantly. Most of them are minor, affecting fractions of a percent of queries, or just making minor, iterative changes and refinements to the existing processes. Despite the frequency of these updates, they aren’t too disruptive, and most of us don’t even notice them.

Sometimes, they push something that dramatically affects entire industries or, in some cases, the internet as a whole. 2011’s Panda update was one such paradigm shift. We haven’t had another update quite as impactful in the decade since, but some have come close.

In 2018, one update caused a paradigm shift in certain industries. It was focused on specific topics, including financial, medical, and legal, among others. It has since been dubbed the YMYL update and internally uses the E-A-T factors to rank sites within the YMYL category.

What does all of that mean? Let’s demystify it for you.

What is YMYL?

YMYL is the category of sites affected by E-A-T SEO.

It’s an acronym that stands for “Your Money or Your Life.” It’s a cheeky way to refer to a broad category of sites that directly impact a person’s life more directly than the average website.

For example, if a blog about SEO or marketing has low trust and issues terrible advice, it can hurt a website or maybe waste some money for a business, but that’s about it. If a health website publishes bad advice, someone could take that advice and wind up sick, maimed, or dead. The stakes are much higher. The same goes for financial advice, law advice, and other critical topics.

What is YMYL

YMYL is a broader category than many people might suspect. However, it’s on a graded system. Any site that has a payment gateway at all needs to have at least a certain amount of trust – after all, it’s an immediate financial decision, and a lack of trust could lead to stolen information or identity theft – but the burden of trust isn’t necessarily as high as it is in other industries. There are recourses, like credit card chargebacks, after all.

YMYL tends to focus most on three primary industries:

  • Medical and Health. Health decisions impact your life and can have a long-term, lasting impact, so trust and accuracy are hugely significant.
  • Financial advice, particularly individual finances. One wrong investment can wipe out life savings and cause all manner of problems.
  • Legal advice and law. There are strict regulations about when and who can give legal advice, so enforcing those seems like a no-brainer.

Additionally, some news coverage falls under YMYL. In particular, news about government, politics, and elections often has a higher standard due to the proliferation of fake news. However, this is more of a broad application of E-A-T than it is a focus of YMYL.

What is E-A-T?

E-A-T is another acronym.

EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It has been around since 2014 but was given its own section in the Search Evaluator Guidelines in 2018, along with YMYL.

Note: For those who don’t know, Google employs legions of freelance contractors to spot-check search results and rate them by their perceived accuracy and validity to a search. These search evaluators are given a document called the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. It’s a PDF around 170 pages long and contains a vast amount of detail about the internal workings of the search algorithm. They used to keep this secret hidden under NDA, but it was leaked in the past and now is made publicly available.

What is EAT

E-A-T was mentioned previously in this guidelines document but was given its own section in 2018. That section, 3.2 in the PDF if you want to follow along, can be summed up as a description of what each of the three attributes of a piece of content means.

  • The expertise of the creator of the content.
  • The authoritativeness of the content creator, the content itself, and the website hosting it.
  • The trustworthiness of the content creator, the content itself, and the website hosting it.

Sites and content with high E-A-T levels will rank higher than sites with lower levels. The 2018 YMYL updates pushed this into focus by emphasizing E-A-T on sites in the YMYL category to a greater degree. Law firms, in particular, are one of many that are affected by it.

One important note here is that there’s no definitive E-A-T score. E-A-T is essentially a judgment made by humans, and the machine learning algorithms are trained by human feedback. It’s made up of an accumulation of signs and signals that Google can read, and they’re all things you can influence for your law firm.

So, how do YMYL and E-A-T affect law firms?

These updates make it so that law firms that want to rank for legal queries need to display as many E-A-T signals as possible.

What are E-A-T Signals?

E-A-T is made up of many small details that build up into a bigger picture.

EAT Signals

That’s why it’s hard to pin down and why there’s no single score to influence; it’s more of an impression you give to your readers.

Fortunately, most of these signals are also used in other areas of SEO or marketing, particularly for law firms, so many of them are things you should already be doing.

What’s on the list?

  • Author information. A visible author is better than no visible author. The author should have some level of verification of their expertise; in the case of a law firm, they should have experience or a degree and license to practice law, or at least have a lawyer review the information presented in a post for accuracy.
  • Positive information about the author or law firm on other websites. These can be citations in news articles, a Wikipedia page, profiles in legal directories, positive mentions in forum discussions or social media, positive reviews on systems like Google Business Profiles or third parties like YP or Avvo, and other references.
  • Website and business trust information. What makes a person trust a website? Many of the signals are subtle. Having an About Us page, Attorney profile pages, pages for legal services, pages for bar information and license information, a privacy policy, contact information, and even trust seals and awards or certifications displayed can all be valuable here. No single signal is defining, but they’re essential as a whole.
  • High-quality and helpful content. One of the key takeaways from the search evaluator guidelines document is that Google prioritizes valuable content. Thus, each content on your site should be geared towards helping the people who find it understand the subject and take appropriate action. Content that does not support the readers who land on it should be given a lower rating.
  • Authoritative backlinks. Links (and unlinked mentions) are a core part of all SEO, but links with an element of authority attached are the best.

These signals all focus on showcasing the expertise demonstrated by your content, the authority of your law firm, and the trust your legal team is worth.

How Do You Boost Your Law Firm’s E-A-T Signals?

If you’ve seen drops in your search rankings and traffic, mainly when Google has pushed new changes to their YMYL algorithms, you will need to work at your E-A-T to regain what you lost. If you’re worried about potentially losing ground later, you can also proactively work on your E-A-T optimization to insulate yourself from future changes.

Create Trust Pages

As a bonus, everything that E-A-T demands is beneficial in other ways. After all, it’s never a bad thing to further build trust in your law firm, right?

The good news is that you can do a ton of stuff to boost your E-A-T both directly and indirectly. The bad news is that it will take time to take effect. The sooner you start, and the more you sustain your campaigns, the better. Here’s what you need to do.

1. Create or Enhance Site Trust Pages

Site trust pages exist to provide information that helps your readers trust you.

Trust Page Examples

They include:

  • An About Us page showcasing information about your law firm.
  • An Attorney’s page that displays bios for each lawyer, attorney, or practitioner in your firm.
  • A Services page (or several) for your areas of expertise and your services.
  • A Privacy Policy page with your site terms and policies.
  • A Contact Us page with all the information necessary to contact you, including address, phone numbers, and a contact form.

If you already have these, enhancing them by adding more content and keeping them updated can be helpful in many cases.

2. Increase Site Trust Signals

Site trust signals are a little different from business trust signals. They are things like using HTTPS for security (even when you otherwise wouldn’t need to), having trust badges on purchase pages, linking to your social media pages, and other signs of trust.

SSL Secure Site

Another thing to do is make sure your site uses a modern design and is responsive on mobile devices. Users inherently lose trust in a site that looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 90s.

3. Create, Publish, and Update Content Regularly

Content marketing is a massive part of SEO these days. As a law firm, your area of expertise is packed with topics the average internet denizen doesn’t necessarily understand, which makes informational and explanatory content extremely valuable.

Updating Post

Publish content at least 2-3 times per month, or as often as 2-3 times per week. Make the content at least 1,500 words long and as high quality as possible, helpful for your readers, and useful. Your goal is to be an authoritative, comprehensive, and well-written resource for the people who want to learn about your area of law.

Make sure to pay attention to SEO elements like keyword usage, image usage, content formatting, metadata, and linking.

4. Add Trust to Published Content

You can enhance already-published content.

  • Update it to ensure accurate information. Generally, updating content once a year is enough – unless something changes regarding the law. You want to keep your content as up-to-date as possible.
  • Add more links, particularly to first-party sources and other authoritative information resources. Build trust by showing you’re getting your information from an even more trusted source.
  • Add fact-checking as necessary. Fact-checking by a lawyer can make legal content written by a ghostwriter more valuable, for example.

All of this allows you to enhance the value of any existing piece of content and publish new content at a higher baseline.

5. Grow Citations and Testimonials

A huge part of SEO for a law firm is reputation management. Building testimonials and growing citations is an essential part of building trust.

Testimonials Examples

Testimonials and citations play a significant role in how Google and your users perceive you. Remember, when Google’s human raters look over your site, one thing they’ll do is run a search for your business and evaluate mentions of you elsewhere.

6. Earn Authoritative Backlinks

Backlinks are a core component of SEO. Links (and unlinked mentions) from other law firms, legal directories, legal reporters, high-profile industry sites, etc., are helpful—the more natural links you have from more unique, relevant, and authoritative domains, the better.

Authoritative Backlinks

It would help if you focused on attracting links from authoritative sites and people.

Final Thoughts

SEO is a long and ongoing process for a law firm or any other site. Doing a little each day or each week is the true path to success. As we mentioned, E-A-T puts a stronger emphasis on some aspects of SEO than others. As a law firm with the ability to give advice that can lead to significant, life-altering outcomes, you have a higher burden of trust necessary to succeed. YMYL and E-A-T codify that burden, but it’s nothing new for a lawyer.

Google’s EAT and YMYL updates are intended to improve the overall search experience by filtering out lower quality results. The updates are intended to make search better, but they also have a secondary benefit:

They force lawyers to learn how to write better content.

Google’s EAT update emphasized the importance of focus while Google’s YMYL update emphasized the importance of expertise in specific legal areas. The updates have provided marketers with a valuable checklist for creating legal content and lawyers an actionable item list for what needs to be done in order to reach their clients more effectively.

Please let us know if you have any questions! We’re always happy to help.

David Curtis
David Curtis
David Curtis is the founder and CEO of Blue Pig Media. With twenty years of successful execution in sales, marketing and operations, for both clients and vendors, he has a bottom line ROI driven mentality rooted in metrics driven performance across highly competitive global corporate initiatives.

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