Magic can be fun. We all love an illusion that defies the laws of reality. However, when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) for law firms, it is critical to know if you can trust what you see. Specifically, some law firm marketing agencies may lead you to believe they can pull a rabbit out of their hat by making inbound links to your law firm website magically appear. In this blog, we will discuss why law firms should avoid black hat link building techniques, focusing instead on proven strategies that boost your website’s credibility and authority over time.
SEO Explainer: Why Law Firms Should Avoid Black Hat Techniques
SEO is the process of building website authority and content to attract qualified leads. It requires focused effort over time to establish credibility by creating quality law firm website content that appeals to search engines and is useful to people with an interest in your legal practice and geographic areas. In short, in the race to the top of the search engine results page (SERP), you want the turtle, not the hare. This is why law firms should avoid black hat SEO strategies and the law firm marketing agencies that use them.
Links are essential in SEO. Law firm website link schemes may appear to produce SEO results with rabbit-like speed. But the hare is likely to run into trouble along the way, whether with Google, attorney ethics issues, or both. Meanwhile, those employing white hat law firm link building should see steady progress over time that eventually wins the race.
Link Building for Attorneys: An Overview
When a website creates a hyperlink to content on your website, a connection is created. These inbound links provide clues to search engines, like Google, about the nature of the content on your website. Links from authoritative, respected websites in your practice areas, relevant industries, and geographic areas help establish that your website and its pages are a credible source of information that is respected by others.
In basic terms, links serve as votes of confidence for your content from other sources. Think about the people, organizations, and businesses you would ask to provide a reference for your law firm in the physical world. The source matters. You wouldn’t provide a potential client with a reference from a questionable source. The same holds true in link building for attorneys and law firms.
To put it simply, this is why law firms should avoid black hat link building methods. Website link schemes and other questionable tactics are, at best, ineffective in the long run and, at worst, highly detrimental to law firm digital marketing efforts.
Google Policies and Examples of Black Hat Link Building
Google, the most used search engine in the world, explicitly prohibits link schemes and other link building tactics that are designed to manipulate PageRank or artificially inflate rankings in search results. Penalties for violating these policies can range from loss of website authority to removal of your website or its pages from search engine indexes. If search engines determine that your website is spammy or not credible, they may stop ultimately crawling your content, which means people searching for information related to your services on the Internet are highly unlikely to see it.
Link building practices that are prohibited under Google policies include the following:
- Buying or selling links, including the exchange of money or goods and services in exchange for backlinks;
- Excessive link exchanges (link to me, I’ll link to you; links to and from multiple websites managed by a service provider);
- Large-scale guest posting campaigns that use keyword-rich anchor text to manipulate rankings;
- Automated link building programs;
- Requiring a link in terms of service or otherwise impeding a website owner’s ability to control links to and from a website;
- Text ads that pass PageRank;
- Advertorials and paid content with unnatural links;
- Links in articles or press releases with unnaturally optimized anchor text;
- Low-quality directory links and links from bookmark websites;
- Links hidden or embedded in web page elements like widgets;
- Links that are distributed widely in footer or template content on various websites; and
- Unnatural links in forum comments and content.
While these tricks may seem obvious and easy to spot, marketing providers could be using any of the kinds of law firm website link schemes and tactics without the knowledge of their clients.
Know the Tricks: Why Law Firms Should Avoid Black Hat Link Building
One of the more offensive examples of black hat link building TOPDOG uncovered while researching competitors for a client involved a marketing agency creating excessive, unnatural links to and from their clients’ websites, essentially creating a web of generally unrelated, unnatural, and loosely relevant links. Widespread, keyword-rich footer links were also used on many of the agency’s websites, a practice that is against Google guidelines.
The same agency, owned by a practicing attorney, was also using client websites to boost their own law firm’s ranking by adding a link to the owner’s law firm website in client website footers. While it is common for the company that designs a website to include a link to their marketing firm’s website in this area with the client’s approval, adding a link to an unrelated legal service is a clear violation of Google policies and could constitute a breach of client trust.
At a minimum, these link building strategies are unlikely to be effective in the long term. At worst, they violate search engine policy and could have serious impacts on SEO and website value. Additionally, attorneys and law firms must be particularly aware of black hat law firm website link schemes and the possibility that these practices run afoul of attorney ethics rules related to advertising and online content.
White Hat Law Firm Link Building
These examples of black hat link building emphasize the need for law firms to know what practices their legal marketing agency uses for SEO and link building for attorneys. Black hat marketing strategies are ineffective, potentially damaging, and unnecessary, especially considering the availability and efficacy of techniques used in white hat law firm link building.
Google warns businesses and website owners to avoid working with providers that employ black hat SEO techniques or guarantee search engine rankings. Reliable legal marketing firms use white hat law firm link building and other SEO strategies to improve your website’s authority and search engine rankings over time.
Examples of white hat law firm link building include the following:
- Pursuing listings in respected and relevant legal, local, and industry directories over time in a natural way;
- Contributing useful articles, expertise, quotes, and opinions to relevant and authoritative media sources;
- Creating resources that provide value to Internet users and potential clients, including blogs, graphics, fact sheets, and white papers;
- Seeking publication of attorney and law firm news on relevant websites, including local media, industry websites and publications, law school alumni websites, and others;
- Sponsoring local organizations and nonprofits;
- Participation and membership in relevant industry groups and organizations; and
- Partnering with others with ties to your practice and geographic areas.
These methods of white hat law firm link building create value over time by illustrating the depth of your practice and involvement in the legal and local community to search engines and Internet users. Natural, legitimate links establish authority and facilitate a better user experience online. And that’s how the tortoise wins the race to the top of the SERPs.
Why Law Firms Should Avoid Black Hat SEO Strategies by Working with a Trusted Legal Marketing Agency
Demystifying the SEO process is essential to avoiding the potential risks of law firm website link schemes and other black hat link building practices. Law firms need a legal marketing provider who allows them to see what’s going on behind the curtain.
At TOPDOG Legal Marketing, we work with clients to help them understand white hat law firm link building and the other SEO strategies we use. Learn more about why law firms should avoid black hat link building and SEO or get information about how TOPDOG can help your law firm by calling (844) HEY-T-DOG (439-8364) or completing our online contact form.