Legal Help Search Audit

What is a Search Audit for legal help websites?

Our group at the Legal Design lab developed it in 2019, with support from the Lazer Lab team at Northeastern University. Using a specialized software, we run thousands of searches on Google (or another search engine), using queries that normal people use when looking online for legal help, from designated zip codes.

The audit software records what the search engine results are. What would a person searching for this legal help query, from this zip code, see as the top result? What would be the top 10 sites that are listed on their first page of results?

The audit records the search results, including the websites, text, ads, ranks, and other details into a database. (Like the one you see below).

Then our team analyzes the results to identify patterns, concerns, and opportunities.

Search Audit results, 2023-24

Our team ran Search Audits in partnership with 14 different states’ law help website teams. Each of these teams is a Legal Help Online Cohort member. For their states, we ran thousands of common legal help searches through Google Search and recorded the results.

We created interactive search audit dashboards for each member’s jurisdiction. This helps them understand the local online ecosystem of legal help. What are people seeing when they look online for help? And how is their law help or court site ranking on Google Search? Take a look at the audit results for each state below.

Louisiana Search Audit results

Arizona Search Audit results

Ohio Search Audit results

California Search Audit results

Connecticut Search Audit results

Washington Search Audit results

Florida Search Audit results

Wyoming Search Audit results

Indiana Search Audit results

Massachusetts Search Audit results

Michigan Search Audit results

Texas Search Audit results

West Virginia Search Audit results

Search Audit results, 2019-20

Below find our November 2019-January 2020 audit results. Our team had queries about 4 legal problems: eviction, debt collection, contractor fraud, and domestic violence. Read more about our Search Audit design & findings at our paper Does Googling Justice Work? in UCLA Journal of Law and Technology, 2024.

We collected sample Google searches through user surveys and keyword research.

Then we ran these search queries through the audit software, specifying that the searches were coming from zip codes in Hawaii and North Florida.

The software recorded what Google showed in response. You can see the data in the table below, including:

  • how many ads were shown
  • how many .com, .org., .gov., or other domains appeared
  • how many foreign domains (like or .au or .sg) appeared
  • which websites appeared most frequently
  • which websites don’t appear at all

Audit results 2019-2020

Please explore the results of the Search Engine audit we ran, by looking at what websites Google showed to people searching for certain legal issues from certain zip codes.

You can expand the display to explore the data in detail. If it does not load immediately, please wait a few seconds for the spreadsheet to appear.

Explore the Ads

What advertisements were being shown to the search engine’s users? We have segmented out the Ad results for the 4 different issue topics.