Google Limits Search Results Per Domain for More Diversity – How Does This Affect Law Firms?

Early June, Google released a change to how search results are handled and displayed. On the surface, the latest change seems like an oxymoron. Limiting search results to two pages per domain for more diversity begs the question of: What happens if a search query is relevant to more than one page in the domain returned? While it is nice to get diversity in search results, it appears that this latest change may cause confusion instead of clarity. Indeed, it appears the complaints are already rolling in relating to irrelevant search results.

Is the ways search results are displayed called a core update or a change? It seems that there may be a difference in the language used and precisely what it means to sort out what this latest adjustment to Google search means. For the record, most pundits are calling this new development a change and not an update since it is not officially a part of the regular update roll-out that typically happens about every two years. According to Google’s Danny Sullivan, “It’s not going to be perfect. As with any of our releases, we’ll keep working to improve it.”

What about keyword strategy?

The point of a keyword strategy is to launch several items of content and web pages using a single keyword query. If done correctly, the results will rank well in search results and may overtake other search results. For example, for a law firm dealing with car accidents, it will be important for it to rank well in search queries dealing with car accidents. To rank well a firm will want to develop content like blogs and long form pages on the topic. If those pages are optimized, informative and accurate, then they will rank well in results. This in turn means that one law firm could have had multiple content pages show up in search results.

Recently, however, Google users said they wanted to see more variety in their search returns. In the case of law firm content, users wanted answers to their queries to come from different firms or other sites. Of course, those with top performing websites and content would prefer things remain the same, because limiting what is displayed may reduce traffic and rankings. Sullivan at Google says that the site diversity change should not affect rankings. That remains to be seen.

The idea behind the change is that Google now restricts the number of domains that show up on a page per query. While this may sound like relatively simple change, law firm websites, webmasters and SEO legal professionals need to know how this affects the websites they maintain and/or develop.

What are the takeaways from this change?

  • The major point Google wanted to make was that they had listened to feedback about getting multiple pages from the same website on a search and that they wanted more choices.
  • The latest change is not intended to penalize websites optimizing multi-pages for the same keyword.
  • The idea is to limit search returns to no more than two per domain – but there are going to be exceptions that are not quite clear yet but may have to do with displaying what Google feels is relevant to the search. How Google can know users intent for a search is open to question. It may be more like a best guess.
  • The limit of two search returns per domain only refers to organic search listings not Google’s other features, such as map listings, snippets, etc.
  • Sub-domains are to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, meaning sub-domains are, in general, to be treated as part of a root domain.
  • Sub-domains may be treated as separate sites for diversity purposes when deemed relevant.
  • If Google thinks the sub-domain pages are relevant to show multiple times with your main domain, they are treated as separate within the search results.
  • Note that the key issue here is relevancy.
  • The diversity change applies to a main domain and sub-domain pages in total, not separately.
  • Diversifying sub-domains does not work.
  • This is not an algorithm change and it is not expected to affect your law firm website’s ranking.
  • The changes may affect website traffic however since not as many pages are to be shown.
  • Having only two pages in the top results lowers the chances of someone choosing a link to your website.
  • Allegedly, this recent change is not going to penalize your law firm’s website in the search results, but that is not entirely clear yet.

What does a law firm do to market a website now?

A well known saying among lawyers is: “Try to never ask a question that you do not know the answer to.” The June change is one of those questions that even the authors or technical architects of the latest change do not know the answer to.

Your firm needs to know where it stands as a result of this recent change and how the firm’s website traffic and search rank changes, if at all, over the next several weeks. If you have a passing familiarity with how search engine optimization works, you should have some answers in time. If you do not know how search engine optimization works, it is time to ask the firm who maintains your website.

Does this sound like a headache? It could well be. Does your firm have issues or questions about how the changes affect your law firm’s traffic and/or rankings? If so, report them to Danny Sullivan on Twitter.

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