Significant Changes to the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

Google Featured Snippets and Answer Boxes have been shyly (and increasingly) showing up in legal related queries. There’s been significant changes to the displayed results for high converting search terms (think, “DUI Lawyer Atlanta”) recently. Ads disappeared entirely from the right rail and moved to the top. The local (mapped) results have gone from showing predominantly seven listings down to three. Google introduced paid listings to those local results as well. And ads become much more complex with a multiplicity of ad extensions.

Featured Snippets are fairly common for queries like, “chocolate chip cookie recipe,” in which the actual searched for content is displayed at the top of the search results. This is, depending on how you look at it, either SEO nirvana (position zero!) or SEO hell (users don’t even have to go to your site to view the answer).

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We’ve occasionally seen some Featured Snippets showing up for a few random legal results when doing research for clients. But its frankly been few and far between and the results have looked, at best questionable—almost like an odd edge case.

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But now we’ve run across a result that is pushing an editorial quality (of lawyer) element into the results in the form of a Featured Snippet from US News and World Report. The result below for the “antitrust lawyers” query returns a Featured Snippet of best antitrust lawyers (my emphasis).

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Now, why Google chose to feature US News results instead of a legal specific directory, I have no idea. In fact, the process/art/black magic of getting into those Featured Snippets seems to widely be considered a combination of authority and being lucky according to most search nerds who follow these things. I suspect the marketing teams at Avvo, FindLaw, and Superlawyers are falling over themselves to see if they can secure that Snippet.

Of special interest is the fact that the query didn’t specify anything related to quality, i.e. “top antitrust lawyers,” but the results clearly shows the search engine assumes people are looking for quality lawyers. Not an outlandish assumption, but not something we’ve seen pushed so aggressively before. Also, note in the example that some of the data is flagrantly missing.  Hardly a great user experience, so it’s clear this is early stage testing from Google. It will be interesting to see if Google continues to push a quality (of lawyer) element into search results.

As I see it, if these changes stick around, this would be one of the most significant changes to online marketing for lawyers in a very long time.

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