Google is a Legal Tech User’s BFF

User searching for directions.
Users rely on search engines such as Google to find basic information about Legal Services .

Googling has become a standard way of life for users in the digital age. As the demand for online legal services grows, it’s important that Legal Service Providers understand how to leverage Google to ensure their organization’s information is accurate. Regardless of your role within the legal / judicial universe, it’s extremely important to meet your users where they are online.

It’s no secret that when folks have legal questions, often one of their first actions is to hop online and search Google for answers. This mentality is habitual. Like a best friend, we’ve learned to rely on Google for all types of advice. People search for restaurants, flights, hotels, medical advice, shopping etc. The bad news is, unlike a restaurant or hotel review, inaccurate legal information discovered online can have dire consequences – unknowingly to the user.

When I worked for the NC Administrative Office of the Courts, I noticed that some county courthouse operating hours were not accurate when searched Google. Although our website was the official information source for going to court in NC, I wondered how many people were getting wrong information through a simple online search. I understand that missing a court date because “Google said the courthouse was closed” is a BAD EXCUSE but seriously, who is responsible for making sure information is accurate for people seeking basic legal information?

Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.

Charles Babbage

My hope is by dropping some knowledge about how Google plays a key role in your organization’s online identity can increase awareness, accuracy, and efficiency for your users. Let the fun begin 🙂

How users find your organization through Google Places

Google Places (also known as Google My Business) can be thought of as the modern day “Yellow Pages” of the web. Most organizations already have a Google Places profile but if you don’t, you can set one up for free by visiting https://www.google.com/business/.

Claiming an existing Google Place

You can check to see if you already have a Google Place by searching for your organization online. If you notice that your organization has a Google Places listing but you’re not sure who manages it, there’s a good chance that Google has automagically created this listing based on previous user searches. As a good best practice, you should claim your Google Place to ensure accurate information is displayed. To do this, simply visit the link below and follow the instructions to claim your place!

https://support.google.com/business/answer/2911778?hl=en

How Google Places work

When users search for an organization, Google returns a list of places that match a user’s search query. Since Google knows a user’s IP address (location), it will geolocate places near a user’s location.

Google Places listings.

It is good to note that search queries are often very vague. It’s important that you have a “plain language” description in your Google Place profile. For example, a poor places description would be:

“A Pro Se Litigant nonprofit in the greater Raleigh area”

A better description would be:

“A legal services organization in Raleigh, North Carolina focused on helping low-income individuals through child custody, divorce, domestic violence, and other civil legal issues.”

Short, sweet, and to the point.

How to rank higher on Google (SEO)

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard about SEO at some point in your digital life. SEO is an art form itself and I don’t plan to cover that in this post. I will say that Google’s algorithm (the logic that determines how websites are listed when searched) does rank websites higher that follow best practices. This link gives a great overview of best practices to follow – https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/7451184?hl=en

Along with following good SEO best practices, you may want to consider growing your digital footprint creating content on other mediums that references your organization. Some good ideas are:

  • Create a Youtube channel with 30 – 60 second videos about your organizations and the services you provide. Be sure to include your organization’s name in the video title.
  • Pick a social media outlet and post content often. Make it interesting – perhaps share a statistic about a recent rise in cases or a historical fact about your county, city, or state.
  • Use a SSL certificate for your site (https). Your hosting provider will be able to assist you with setting this up but Google is beginning to rank sites with https higher than those with http. More on this here.

How to link to Google searches on your site

My last tip is a simple yet useful workaround for creating a link to a Google search query that you can include on your website. To give some context, our team was recently working on a Self-help packet for a customer and they needed to provide directions to a local Courthouse so that users could file their forms once completed with Civvis.

Since Google has become an information repository for locating addresses, we created a dynamic link that users could click on and search for their local courthouse.

Here’s what the link looked like:

https://www.google.com/search?q=your+search+goes+here

The key things to remember when creating a search url is:

  • The url will start with https://www.google.com/search?q=
  • Followed by the search terms separated by a + sign

For example, if you wanted users to click on a link and see a list of divorce attorneys near their current location, the query would look like this:

https://www.google.com/search?q=divorce+attorneys+near+me

When a user clicks on the link, here’s what they will see in Google. Give it a try.

Google places results returned using a query url.

If you really want to show off your dev skills, you could always pass a dynamic variable in the Google search string that will change based on some user data collected in a webform. Note: this requires some server side magic.

And the Google search URL would look something like:

https://www.google.com/search?q={county}+courthouse+near+me

Where {county} is the dynamic variable that a user selected on a webform.

Wrapping up

It’s very easy to overlook the importance of accurate information on Google. If you already have a Google Places / Business listing, I recommend reviewing often to ensure your information is up to date. If you do not have a Google Places listing, create or claim one ASAP! Chances are somebody has been searching for you.

Let’s continue working on redesigning access to redefine justice. I hope you find post is useful to you and your organization. If you have questions about this topic or would like to learn more about Civvis, drop us a line at info@civvis.com.

Regards,

Sam
Co-founder / Client Director
Civvis