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Should You Italicize or Bold the Keywords in Your Legal Blog?

As professional legal bloggers, we read a lot of legal blogs and see lots of techniques being used. One that we see constantly is the bolding of keywords. Some of the most egregious examples look like this:

“As personal injury lawyers, the attorneys at [law firm’s name] seek to help our clients get the compensation they need to overcome the personal injuries they have suffered, especially if they are back or spine injuries suffered in a workplace accident.”

The practice has likely survived from the early days of search engine optimization (SEO), when bolding keywords was thought to improve a site’s rankings for those terms. Unfortunately, SEO changes rapidly, and there does not seem to be much if any benefit to this practice, anymore.

Bolding Keywords Used to Have Some Effect… Maybe

Bold keywords likely do not help SEO for legal blogs
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Back in 2006, Google made a somewhat cryptic statement: For SEO purposes, Google treated text that was put in bold the same as text that was italicized. This included text that was labeled with the “strong” or “emphasis” tags.

This statement raised eyebrows for what it didn’t say: That bold or italicized text was treated the same as regular text.

Web developers and online marketers picked up on this clue and ran with it, writing content and legal blog articles with emphasized words filling half the page.

The results, however, were inconclusive – no study was able to authoritatively show that the bold or italicized keywords benefitted the site’s rankings in any way.

Current Trends in SEO Suggest Emphasizing Keywords Does Nothing

In October 2013, Google followed up on their 2006 statement, saying that they “don’t think the [2006] answer has changed in any way.”

However, SEO has drastically evolved since 2006, and even since 2013. Black hat SEO techniques used to look for little algorithmic loopholes – loopholes exactly like bolding keywords – to exploit and boost the rankings of poor sites over websites that users would find far more rewarding. Over time, Google tightened or even closed many of those loopholes and changed their approach to a more holistic one that promoted relevant and important search results, often by eschewing traditional SEO signals in favor of signs of user intent.

The current state of SEO has no place for the phrase “legal blogging” to net us more SEO points than the phrase “legal blogging.”

A Sweep of the Experts Finds Support

The legal bloggers at Myers Freelance are not alone in thinking that bolding or italicizing specific words in your legal blog does nothing on the SEO front.

Back in 2013, Moz, the SEO behemoth, asked 120 leading SEO experts about the importance of bolding, italicizing, or otherwise emphasizing text online. With 10 being “very important” and 1 having “no importance,” respondents gave the practice a 2.8. More recent iterations of the survey have dropped the question, entirely.

Granted, the experts that Moz uses in its surveys are notorious for living in a kind of SEO echo-chamber, leading to survey results that only reinforce previously-held beliefs. However, the strong negative response to the practice of putting content in boldface – even as early as 2013 – sends a strong signal that it is not worth your time or energy.

The Takeaway

Putting keywords or phrases in bold or in italics in your legal blogs is not something to spend your time on, as there is very little chance that it boosts your site for those terms.

However, there is a different facet to this answer: There’s no reason why you shouldn’t use different typeface, if emphasizing words or phrases would help your reader comprehend what you’re saying or if it would comply with norms in the legal field. So go ahead and write “negligence per se” or boldfacing the holding of a key case – it won’t confuse search engines because they don’t seem to care.