The Google Zeitgeist challenge to law firms and lawyers

by Laurie Anstis on December 16, 2011

At this time of year, Google publishes its annual Zeitgeist report, setting out trends in its searches for the year. As well as the usual lists of top pop and film stars, it also includes the top 10 searches on “how to …” and “what is …” – so that we can see what topics and terms people are searching for answers on.

Of particular interest to lawyers is that in the top ten “what is …” searches for the UK are “what is copyright” and “what is probate” – both substantial legal topics that law firms ought to be well placed to answer, and hope to win paying clients from.

So what do people who are searching for these terms get?

These days, Google personalises searches based on previous searches made by an individual, and other information they can obtain or guess at, such as the location of the person making the search, so no two searches necessarily return the same results, but these screenshots are what I got from searches on those terms, having deleted any Google cookies and selected “pages from the UK”:

What is copyright?

First, we get a definition from various dictionary sources – fair enough, but not in any sense a guide to copyright law.

The next entry is from a university. Academic institutions need a good understanding of copyright (something Emily Goodhand is doing work on), but internal university guidance on copyright is not necessarily what the world is looking for.

We then have a note from the “UK Copyright Service”. Lawyers would probably hope that clients would come to them first, rather than the likes of the  UK Copyright Service.

After that, we have the IPO, and various academic or other services. There are no lawyers or law firms.

Where are the lawyers? I don’t know. Your results may vary, but I got through five pages of results without finding any. There didn’t even seem to be any advertising by lawyers on the paid-for results.

What is probate?

Probate is a key area of private client law. The picture is better here. The second result seems to be from a firm of solicitors. The third and fourth result might be, but it’s not really clear.

Rather ominously for solicitors, the Co-op ranks higher than the Law Society in the Google results.

Even given these few solicitors firms, the showing is poor for what will be a key high street area of law.

The challenge

Google results are not everything. Some firms might not want to encourage the kinds of work or enquiries they get from search engines, but here is the challenge to law firms and their marketers: this time next year, make sure your firms are on the first page of these results.

Update: Darlingtons Solicitors are the first to accept the challenge. Will anyone else join them?

3 comments

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by The Google Zeitgeist challenge to law firms and lawyers - Laurie Anstis - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR on 16 December 2011 at 10:01 am. #

Well, “what is” the question, really. The searcher is most probably looking for a definition or at least a quick guide that will teach them the basics of copyright/probate, not for legal counsel regarding copyrights on a particular circumstance or set of facts. Had that been the case, I venture to guess that the searcher would have searched for “where can I find a copyright lawyer” or “who can give me copyright counsel”, et al.

I am a lawyer and understand copyrights quite well but when I’m looking for information on, say, balance sheets I wouldn’t want to land in an accounting firm’s website since their websites are mostly there to sell a service and not answer any general questions I may have. If I wanted an accountant’s services the language I’d use in the seach box would not reflect the pursuit of general knowledge on the topic but an intention to acquire the services from someone with that knowledge.

by Gabriel Müller on 16 December 2011 at 6:21 pm. #

Interesting that both those terms feature… although there seems to be some strange issue with the UK data.

The graphs on Zeitgeist seem to show zero (or almost zero) data each month when I try and look at it. Also, the Google Adwords traffic estimator gives 9,900 UK searches a month for “what is copyright” and only 1,900 for “what is Scampi?” which rather surprisingly is number 2 in the chart.

It may just be my browser or something, but the Zeitgeist stats do look a bit “fishy” (excuse the pun!).

Is it worth optimising your site or buying ad words on the basis of these 9,900 searches a month? Possibly I guess, but it really depends what these searchers are looking for. Are they in the market for legal advice, seeking help with their homework or something else?

Given that there is estimated UK search traffic of 450,000 searches a month for “copyright” I think the main thing the data shows is that “What is xxxx?” isn’t a terribly common search formulation.

by Jon Bloor on 16 December 2011 at 6:52 pm. #