Google recently announced that it no longer looked at a certain line of computer code to determine whether an article was only one installation in a serious of posts. The announcement, however, came years after they had made the decision to ignore the code.
The developments can impact your law firm’s SEO, especially if you make a practice of writing a series of posts in your legal blog to cover exceptionally complex topics.
The HTML Code for a Series of Articles
Search engines look for information that is relevant and important for any given search query, and knowing when one webpage is part of a series of other pages is essential for doing this. For years, web marketers have used a line of HTML to signal that a particular page is linked to others in a series.
That HTML code, colloquially called rel=next/prev, would go in the article’s “head” section alongside the piece’s canonical URL, not the article’s body where most of the content would get written.
It would look like this on the first page of the series:
<link rel=”next” href=”http://www.example.com/topic/page/2″ />
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/topic/” />
Like this on the second page, referring both forwards to the next article, and backwards to the prior one:
<link rel=”prev” href=”http://www.example.com/topic/” />
<link rel=”next” href=”http://www.example.com/topic/page/3/” />
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/topic/page/2/”/>
And like this on the third and (in this hypothetical case) final article:
<link rel=”prev” href=”http://www.example.com/topic/page/2/” />
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/topic/page/3/” />
Google Removes Code, Marketers Howl
Back in March, Google announced that it no longer used rel=next/prev to determine whether an article was in a series of other posts, or whether it was a standalone piece. As part of that announcement, though, Google admitted that it hadn’t been looking at that line of HTML since 2011.
The silence on the topic likely would’ve gone on for far longer if professional online marketers hadn’t noticed that Google had scraped mention of the rel=next/prev tag from its Webmasters Help page. Subsequent questioning led to Google coming clean and admitting that it no longer used the tag.
In its announcement, Google said that it looks for other indications that a page is a part of a larger series, like interlinking. Additionally, Google dropped a huge hint about where SEO is going in the future when it said: “Studies show that users love single-page content, [so] aim for that when possible…”
What This Means for Your Legal Blogging
There are several important takeaways, here. None of them are truly surprising, though they can all influence how to best write a legal blog.
1. Move Away from Writing a Legal Blog Series
Back in November, 2017, we wrote a blog series about writing a legal blog series, covering such topics as:
- Avoiding keyword competition between articles
- Avoiding an SEO penalty for duplicative content
- Planning and then executing the series
The problem was fairly straightforward: How should you deal with complicated legal topics that would take vastly higher word counts to effectively cover than your normal legal blog posts?
The problem is also an old one. In the nearly two years since, the answer is fast becoming don’t write a legal blog series. Instead, sucking it up and getting all of that content into one landing page, rather than a series of legal blog posts, is becoming a more enticing option. After all:
- Google’s rel=next/prev tag announcement pushes marketers towards keeping all of the content on one page,
- Google’s Freshness Update slowly saps the SEO pop of legal blog posts that have dates on them, and
- Largely because of the Freshness Update, evergreen legal blog posts are dying, to be replaced by narrower practice area pages that are aimed at specific legal concepts.
2. Bing Still Uses the Tag, So Don’t Delete It
While Google has admitted that it no longer uses the rel=next/prev tag, Bing, apparently, still does.
Going back and deleting all of the tags on your law firm’s website, therefore, would be both a waste of time – Google has said they don’t matter, not that they are a negative – and could actually hurt your web traffic from the other search engine.
3. Make Sure to Interlink in Your Existing Series
If you do decide to write a legal blog series, or if you have already written one or several, it could be worth it to go back and make sure that they are all interlinked to one another. A disclaimer-like introduction will do, as would a bulleted or numbered listing of the installments in the series.