Person developing an SEO planThis is the next post in my Social Networking for Attorneys series. In my last post I discussed why Google+ is the most important social network for attorneys. I covered why Google’s social network directly impacts a lawyer’s SEO efforts; Google+’s use of identity allows one to establish credibility in his or her field. In this post I’ll discuss how attorneys may establish themselves as an authority in their given niche.

I talked a lot in my last post about why Google having an understanding of identity will improve search quality. The idea of establishing one’s self as an “authority” may sound intimidating at first. The truth of the matter is that it is not difficult for attorneys who are willing to put in a little bit of effort. Let’s take a look at exactly what it means to be an online “authority,” how attorneys can establish themselves as authorities, and some common mistakes to avoid.

What it means for attorneys to be an “authority” on Google+

Those who wonder what it means to be an authority in the eyes of Google, and feel it is a mystery, are missing one very important fact. The internet is nothing but people using computing devices. Establishing online authority is no different than establishing your importance in everyday life. The more people share your work, comment on your work, and endorse your work, then the more you are seen as an authority in the physical world. Similarly, the more people click your Google+ posts, share your posts, comment, or otherwise endorse your posts then the more Google+ will signal you as being authoritative. The rules of the physical world don’t change simply because we are talking about an online social network. Applying these concepts will put you ahead in the game.

It’s not difficult for attorneys to establish themselves as authoritative on Google+. There are a couple of ground rules to remember. First, as I discussed in my article on the importance of social media to law firms, in the real world people don’t care what attorneys are thinking or doing until they actually need a lawyer (I guess we don’t seem as cool to other people as we do to ourselves). Second, in the legal profession the respect of one’s peers goes a long way. These concepts apply in everyday life and they apply on social networks like Google+. So, in other words, you become an authority on G+ by gaining the respect and endorsements of your peers.

Interaction with other legal professionals is the key to attorneys who wish to leverage Google+. The more those professionals (whom Google can identify as legal professionals by how they filled out their profile) interact with your content then the more Google will see both you, and your content, as being authoritative in the legal field. Compare this to real life – if you write an article in a law journal then then the authoritative value of that article will increase as it is cited by more and more attorneys. Similarly, if you share a link to one of your blog posts, and it is endorsed by an increasing number of attorneys, then that article is seen as authoritative and you, as the writer, are seen as authoritative. Now let’s take a quick look at how you can establish authority amongst your peers.

Gaining endorsements from other attorneys on G+ is not difficult. First, the social networks “community” feature provides a great forum for you to connect with and interact with other legal professionals. I find the best of these communities to be Lawyers on G+, which is moderated by Preston Clark and the Lawyers of G+ community which is moderated by Crystal Ponti, Jeffrey Lapin, and Yours Truly (I’m not above a little shameless self-promotion). Simply being in these communities, however, won’t make you an authority. It’s important that you remember the golden rule of social networking – be interesting and interested. I talked about how to be interesting and interested in my post on how attorneys can use social media to build relationships so I won’t repeat it here. Following these tips will go a long way towards establishing your credibility in the eyes of Google.

Common mistakes for attorneys to avoid when using Google+

There are three common mistakes that are often made on Google+. Here’s what they are and why you should avoid them:

Avoid reciprocal follows – Hmmmm……the more people I have following me then the more important Google will see me as being right? Wrong!!!! Google entire existence is based on being able to find and analyze patterns. Do you really think the search giant won’t know that Person A and Person B are only following each other for the sake of having more followers? All those reciprocal followers won’t do anything, in the eyes of Google, in terms of you gaining an authoritative reputation. It’s not about the number of followers your have, it is about the quality of your followers. By “quality” I mean those people who are following you because they are interested in you. These are also the people more likely to click, comment, share, and endorse. Don’t follow someone simply because they follow you. If someone is interesting to you, or is one of your quality followers, then by all means follow them. Don’t, however, follow someone simply because they follow you.

Survey conducted on smart phoneBe selective with that +1 button – When you hit the “+1” you are endorsing it. If you endorse everything then you are the boy who cried wolf and your endorsement becomes meaningless over time. I compare this to the golden days (before the internet) when information was gathered through surveys. When a survey company collects a survey, and it’s clear that the person checking boxes on the survey didn’t read the questions, guess what happens? The survey company throws out that response as being statistically irrelevant and it is not included in the calculation of results. So don’t jump up and down in excitement when someone randomly hits the +1 on every post on your G+ page (do you really think they read every one of those posts?) as those “endorsements” are likely not being considered by Google. If you want your vote to count then use the +1 button for things that actually interest you.

Be selective with sharing – The discussion we just had about the +1 button goes for sharing as well. If you want your vote to be valued then share things because you think they will be of interest to your audience. The less you discriminate when sharing then the more Google will discount the weight of your share when ranking content.

Following these tips will go a long way towards establishing your “authorship authority” with Google and this authority is becoming increasingly important in search rankings. Currently Google+ is the only social site being considered for such “authority” signals. This can be expected to change in the future as, over time, authority will be ranked by viewing the web as a whole. In 2014, however, it is important to understand the important role that Google+ plays in search.

8/5/15 Update – Social media is something which, obviously, changes very rapidly. Several events in 2015 have led to my writing as to why attorneys should consider Google+ dead in terms of usefulness to their law practice.

11/30/2014 Update – After this article was written Google ceased the tracking of authorship from Google+. The idea of “author rank” is no longer a factor in search ranking as of this update. I still believe that attorneys should leverage Google+ as part of their social media strategy however.

Also, the above article originally contained a link to the “Lawyers of G+” community. Due to a drop in quality engagement, in that community, we no longer endorse it as we did when the above article was originally written.