Lawyers have begun to see the necessity and value of quality websites and law firms are trying to maximize those sites using search engine optimization (SEO).
Unfortunately, too many lawyers know little about SEO. They don’t know what to ask of potential SEO service providers and are unaware of the potential effect of some commonly used SEO tactics on the lawyer’s practice, reputation or website viability.
Recent updates to Google’s algorithm, specifically with respect to how websites link to one another, have made it even more important for lawyers to be well-informed about the strategies their SEO providers are using to boost their firm website’s search engine rankings.
Not surprisingly, some so-called search engine optimization ‘experts’ are taking advantage of lawyers who know little about technology in general or search engine marketing specifically. Some of those companies are using SEO tactics that are questionable at best. In the past, those tactics may have yielded short term results, but they can get a firm penalized, which can cause long-term headaches, particularly in light of the new Google updates.
Last Spring, I wrote a piece for the Lawyerist blog on Google search algorithm changes that discussed some of the changes that had been made, and how they affected lawyers. Although that post still applies, this one discusses one of the newest issues – links.
What’s so important about links?
Your link building strategy is one of the most important search engine optimization strategies that can be employed to improve visibility of your law firm site on the web. Why are links important? Because linking is one of the ways that connections are made on the internet. As a result, when a search engine 'spider' (a computer program) sees a lot of links to a specific piece of content, it is logical to assume that the content is relevant and trusted – otherwise, why would so many other sites link to it?
The problem has become that some webmasters, web developers and “SEO experts” tried to ‘game’ the system by building link farms and planting irrelevant links, making the sheer number of links to a particular web page or piece of content less reliable as a measure of quality and authority.
Google Algorithm Changes – Panda and Penguin
As with all Google updates, the new updates (called Panda and Penguin) are designed to return more high quality search results. These updates concentrated on identifying (and penalizing) duplicate or plagiarized content and artificial link building.
In the past some SEO strategies have included building pages using other people's content, creating pages with the same or similar content and linking back and forth to generate additional numbers of links to a site, or link farms which simply contained lists of links solely to try to improve their search rankings of those sites, with no relevant or useful content.
As one consultant put it, “The new Google Updates are aimed to pointing out sites using SEO to alter page ratings and are focused on banning such sites from the engine’s results.Over optimizing is now a threat for any web page.”
What does Google want to see in linking strategy?
Links are still important, but not just for the fact that they are links. Google wants content that is rich, genuine, valuable and informative. Links should be a natural part of the content and lead to other relevant content.
Effect of Google’s Recent Updates
The latest Google updates have also resulted in some strange behavior by those intent on making a buck from people who may not know any better (some of whom may be lawyers). Some companies may be taking advantage of the change to charge businesses for ‘reputation management’ or ‘anti-piracy’ services allegedly aimed at ensuring that the firm does not get penalized by Google for ‘bad’ links. These companies use scare tactics and charge website owners to remove even legitimate links from the web. One example is this story about a blogger who received a notice from one of these anti-piracy services to remove a legitimate link in a blog post.
Now, don’t get me wrong; it may behoove some individuals or companies to hire anti-piracy experts to keep an eye on the internet for copyright infringement or plagiarism, and if your firm was one that engaged in bad link building behavior (even inadvertently), you may need to remove some links to your site. But the example above was neither – it was a blog post by a satisfied customer linking to the product she purchased.
The fact is that if you have a website or other information about you or your firm posted on the internet, there is little that you can do to prevent someone else from linking to you. As long as the link is legitimate (as this one appears to have been), there is absolutely no reason to panic or to think your firm might be penalized as a result of such a link. To the contrary, this is exactly the kind of genuine, natural link to relevant content that Google respects. Indeed, it's hard to know why any business would want to remove this kind of link from the web.
On the other hand, this could have been the result of what is known as a “negative SEO campaign” in which a competitor company hired the “anti-piracy company” in an attempt to have legitimate links to its competitor removed from the internet and thereby reduce their search engine rankings.
Finally, if you are one of those who did engage in bad linking strategies (or your SEO company did so on your behalf), you may become a victim of another group seeking to make some money off of the new Google updates: those very same ‘spammy’ websites or link farms where your 'bad' links reside. Some of these sites may have even charged you for posting links on their site in the first place. Now, a number of these sites are charging businesses to remove the links from their sites.
Now that you know what the newest Google updates are all about, watch for future posts on how to check to see if your site may be in violation (and in danger of being penalized), and what positive linking strategies you can use to build traffic to your firm website.