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During the course of 2015, SEO developments were driven by changes in Google’s algorithm. The major move of the year occurred in April, when Google introduced its mobile friendliness algorithm weighting. This move caused consternation in the digital marketing world and we covered the run up to the move in the SEO Trends column. Content Marketers have had a rough year. Google Authorship was binned, Knowledge Graph made an appearance, giving Google the top spot in its own results pages and a seemingly ineffectual release of the Panda filter in July left all content strategies in limbo.  Link builders had a good year, with two reports on ranking factors published in August showing that links have risen in importance, contrary to previous forecasts of their demise.  Social media continued its rise in importance throughout the year with social signals increasing in importance in Google’s ranking factors.

In this review of the year we look back at how we reported the major SEO trends through 2015. Look out for some last minute tips for your law firm’s digital marketing strategy mixed in with our review.

Content Marketing

This branch of digital marketing has probably had the worst time of it in 2015. There had been whispers through the spring of 2015 that a new release of Panda was on the cards. As Google never announces what changes it has made in its algorithms and what it’s filters contain, SEO practitioners tend to put their strategies on hold until the new version can be analyzed and a new direction formulated. The release of Panda 4.2 finally occurred in July, but it was no help. The rollout was reported to be slow and had no effect on anyone’s rankings. Google reports that the implementation of Panda still hasn’t finished, leaving everyone guessing about the future of content marketing. We recommend working with different aspects of content on your law firm’s site, such as content formats, outreach content and content improvements until the dust settles. Over the last week, however, some fail-safe direction on content quality has emerged with Google’s own content assessment standards leaked on the Web.

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Link Building

In contrast to the difficult year that content marketing experienced, link building reclaimed its position as the most influential factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. Two important industry reports on ranking factors, published in August this year, both put backlinks at the top of their lists of influences. Our Link Sources post in that month gave you some solid tips on how to beef up your link profile. Two more reports, from Moz and SMX, at the end of September, also discovered that links are major influences on rankings. Although 2015 was a very busy year for lawyers who tried to keep up with the headline topics of mobile and local search, we paid regular visits to the topic of link building throughout the year. The tips contained in our posts: Backlinks, Links, Linking Strategies and Link Sources are still well worth reading. Our report on External Influences last week highlighted that an update of the Penguin filter is on the cards. As Penguin penalizes bad links, that is an article worth reviewing.

Social Media Marketing

Social signals occupy an ever-increasing slice of the ranking algorithm. We have been following this trend in digital marketing since 2013, and by now, you certainly should have a social media strategy for your law firm’s marketing presence. If not, take a look at our SEO Trends post from January on social media marketing – it contains some great 101 advice on the topic. Our Social Media Strategies post in March will help you evolve your platform memberships into a coherent plan. Our Changes in Social Media report explains the risers and fallers this year in social media communities.

Mobile Search

This has been the hottest topic of 2015. Google’s push for mobile-friendliness throughout the spring started with an announcement in March that they would skew rankings to favor mobile-friendly sites. We stayed on that topic for the whole of April. If you didn’t get caught up in the panic and you still don’t have a mobile-friendly version of your law firm’s website, our last minute guide on mobile-friendliness topics is worth a look. When the update finally happened, it turned out to have less impact than forecast. This was because so many websites were updated for mobile friendliness that everyone got the same rankings boost. Google hasn’t left mobile search alone, however. A technology called Accelerate Mobile Pages, or AMP: this is the new frontier in mobile search and we first spotted it in the Winning with Low Rankings post in October. The main topic of debate back then was whether anyone would actually bother implementing AMP. However, just a few months later it seems that you had better get knowledgeable about AMP. We touched on the topic earlier this month in the Rankings Boosters report. Google has announced that it will change its ranking algorithm to favor AMP sites in February. So, you really need to start learning this topic now, so you can have your law firm’s site AMP-ready for the change. Thankfully, Moz has noticed how important AMP has become and they have published an excellent guide on the topic this week.

Local Search

Google’s drive towards creating local search results started back in 2013 and the SEO Trends column has been reporting on these developments ever since. This year, mobile search has dominated the headlines, but as local search is closely linked to mobile search, this topic has never been far from our thoughts. Small law firms get most of their clients from their immediate vicinity, so this avenue of digital marketing is very important. Getting into the “local pack,” which Google introduced last year at the top of its search results is very important. We gave you tips on how to achieve that in our Local SEO post in March. We gave Multi-Location Enterprises tips on how to use local search to their benefit back in August. Our Local Search, Local Marketing Tactics and Finding Local Audiences posts kept you abreast of the local search topic. Local search is going to get hotter over 2016 as Google smartens up its new “nearby” search method. You can read about this developing technology in our Mapping post.

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Paid Search

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but SEO advocates try to stress the importance of gaining visibility without paying. Sometimes paying for a position on results pages, or just advertising on other sites, or on TV or print media is worth the money. Our March Pay Per Click article introduces many of the acronyms that PPC experts bandy about – this is worth a revisit so that you can understand what PPC consultants are talking about. The SEO Trends report in September about Pay Per Click explained the integration of YouTube campaigns in Google AdWords – YouTube could be a very useful outlet for your paid advertising campaign. Remarketing, also known as “retargeting,” is probably the hottest trend this year that doesn’t have the word “mobile” in it. We first noticed this marketing marvel back in May, with a mention in our Sales Conversion post. We came across this strategy in relation to Facebook marketing in our Changes in Social Media post in September. Remarketing featured heavily in our November post, Developments in Advertising. By this point, the subject was becoming very hot indeed. Keep your eye on remarketing – it will be the main advertising force in 2016.

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