Time to Stop Link Building

Legal Link Building

What!! Shelly, you can’t be serious! You know very well that backlinks play a large part in Google’s Algorithm. We can’t just stop building links. Our rankings will drop like crazy. Or maybe they will skyrocket.

Yes, I know how very important having backlinks is to your website and its rankings. But I am here to tell you, you need to stop link building. More specifically, you need to stop TRYING to link build. It’s gotten to the point that practically everything we do online is now being done with the sole purpose of getting a magic backlink. The effect? Not good. Our content and online efforts have dramatically suffered in quality and originality.

The legal industry in particular, is a major offender of this. I skip over 99% of the content, posts & tweets that come from Lawyers or Law Firms because they look like nothing but spam to me. I also know very well that this content is most likely coming from a very misguided SEO person or company and not from the actual law professional.

Eventually all of the link building tactics we seem to discover become overused and will stop working or even cause penalties. That is not a way to future proof your business online. Take for instance Guest Blogging. What started as a seemingly white hat content building technique caused tons of content producers and content publishers to suffer penalties. Ann Smarty, founder of My Blog Guest was recently interviewed on Bright Local and spoke about how her company was penalized by Google as well as many of the people and companies using My Blog Guest. I have so much respect for Ann, as do most of us in the SEO industry. When she first launched My Blog Guest, I was immediately impressed with the concept and what Ann was trying to accomplish and quickly joined to check it out. However, I quickly realized that while the concept was impressive, the actual content being produced and the website publishers were not. Most appeared spammy or low quality and the content being written was obviously created at the sole purpose of building links. I was very disappointed that such a great idea had become polluted. I do hope that one day, the community returns to the original intent. I would most certainly use it if it did.

With the very public knowledge that guest blogging for the purpose of link building is considered unacceptable and a huge risk, I am still seeing companies using this tactic. Today, while cruising the job board at Problogger, I noticed this job request for “Need Guest Blogger To Post On High Traffic Housing/Home Improvement Sites” while there is a slight possibility this anonymous company will require its hired authors to “no-follow” these links (I highly doubt this) this posting to me appears as a paid link-building tactic poorly disguised as paid writing gig.

Looking to pay for quality guest posts on high traffic websites related to the housing industry. You will need to be able to post your own blog on the site with a link back to our site. Paying from $20-$50 per article depending on the specifics.

Please include a link to places you would be able to place the article with a link back to our site and any additional information why we should choose you for the job.

I know you are probably wondering, if we stop trying to link build then how are we supposed to get links and have great rankings? We go back to a not so original concept……..Marketing and Brand building. Start taking the time to develop original & helpful content. Spend the extra time to contribute great content to popular industry websites, but stop expecting backlinks in exchange. Get out there on social media and (here’s another not so original concept) actually network and share your knowledge with the masses. Guess what? Stop worrying about getting links and focus on contributing online and the links will come naturally. Maybe the blog or news site that publishes your article won’t include that link to your website but if  you actually took the time to write quality content, others will talk about it, link to it, and they might just link to you. In fact, people are more likely to share the link love when its not expected of them. So quite possibly this concept will cause your link profile to skyrocket, organically. Which is exactly what Google has been trying to get us to do all along.

The Ugly Truth about Legal Press Releases

If you are working with a ethical, experienced & skilled professional then you have been well informed of the importance of making smart online marketing & optimization choices that will benefit you not just today, but also in the future. Majority of the SEO and online marketing tasks are not going to provide you with instant results but will help build solid rankings that will last over time. Now granted, some social media marketing and getting your profiles properly configured on say, Google+ for business can provide a quick boost of traffic and rankings, but please be wary of those who promise their tactic will give you quick results. Most likely, this will only hurt you in the long run, even if they seem to help in the beginning.

Time to Start Marketing Smarter

Be very wary of the latest link building trends. Take press releases for instance. A few years back many SEO’s jumped on the press release bandwagon and would start submitting press releases for just about anything they deemed “news worthy” and I use that term loosely. Releasing a press statement was no longer about informing the public of important company news in hopes of attracting media attention. Instead, people would shell out extra money to have backlinks coded into their press releases and linked using the firms’ targeted keywords in the hopes that the press release would be picked up by content scrappers and plastered all over the world wide web and gaining the company tons of prime keyword laden backlinks to boost their Google search rankings. Like all widely known link building tactics, SEO’s and law firms all over the world abused this tactic. Like all other abused tactics, this quickly caught Google’s attention and it wasn’t long before Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Web Spam team) announced that they would not could links located in Press Releases for SEO value. The tactic was also added to Google’s Webmaster Tools Link Schemes page. Despite these declarations, several industry pros and come to the conclusion that this tactic still works for SEO. Wait, if this is still working, I should be doing this right? Wrong. It’s been in my experience that it takes a while for Google’s algorithm to fully catch up to publicly announced link schemes. However, when it does, it is usually a major update and tons of websites not only loose rankings, but often suffer penalties.

You may be wondering, should I avoid sending out press releases altogether? Don’t be afraid to submit press releases if you are doing it for the right reason. Be selective when deciding what is an appropriate reason for releasing news. Don’t do it every-time someone sneezes in your office. No one cares. When releasing news, do include a link to your website to give individuals and media a way to contact you if they wish but don’t go overboard. Only one link is necessary and you are best to use your legal company name as the anchor text. When you press releases come across as spammy, that is exactly what they will be labeled as by the media and by the search engines. They will only be picked up by scrapper sites which will eventually negatively effect your rankings. Successful link building is about quality, not quantity.

The Big Takeaway: Don’t bother releasing news unless it is truly newsworthy to the public.

 

*Update: On May 29th Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land published an article after studying the effects of the latest release of the Panda 4.0 algorithm update and discovering that Press Release sites were also hit hard by this update. According to Barry, “PRWeb.com, PR Newswire, BusinessWire and PRLog all seem to have lost significant rankings in Google” and “PRNewsWire.com seems to have shown a significant drop in SEO visibility, dropping ~63% after Panda 4.0 was released”. Further proof that legal press releases for SEO purposes need to be stopped now. Law firms who used this as a frequent online marketing tactic probably took a hit as well.

Hey Lawyer. You are a Spammer.

If you build lots of them they will come….

I see it everyday, in every market. Lawyers are spammers. Yes, I am probably talking about you. With your 50+ individual “unique” websites (a.k.a. Microsites) all for one law firm. “Oh, but I practice in multiple cities and have multiple practice areas” you say. You are still a spammer.

To give you some credit, a year or two ago this was a surefire way to have multiple websites ranking well in different areas, especially if you got lucky and registered a bunch of EMD’s (Exact Match Domains) and had your SEO team build out websites for each domain.

Your SEO team rejoiced and encouraged this tactic, because:

  1. The odds were in your favor, it may just work.
  2. They get to stay very busy with this strategy and make lots of $$ money off of you.

The truth is, you can rank one website for all those different practice areas, case types and even rank in multiple cities, counties and states. I’ve seen it done. Build a strong authoritative domain and any page you add to it will rank quicker and higher than building a new website and starting from scratch with no authority. I promise you. Your budget is better spent building a better site. Learn how to target those different areas through better design & quality, more useful content.

Since early 2011 Google has been busy making major quality changes to it’s algorithm. Panda was first and targeted content farms. Panda has continued to roll out many updates (and still is currently) even further targeting sites with poor quality and thin content. Next came Penguin this past April. It first targeted spammy on-page optimization tactics such as keyword stuffing. Soon, those unnatural link warnings started rolling in and those with backlink profiles made up of primarily spammy links were penalized. Then, this fall came the EMD update which drastically diminished the value of exact match domains. This means that your domain name no longer has an advantage for ranking its key phrase like it used to. The website now needs to be of quality.

Truth is, you don’t have an unlimited marketing budget. You have wasted a ton of money building out all these websites, most of which are worthless now. Your attempts at ranking multiple website for the same markets looks spammy. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Google doesn’t see the connection between these sites and doesn’t know you are responsible for them. These sites aren’t unique. Yes they have a different design and yes, I know you learned years ago that you can’t copy the same content from one site and use it on ten others and you had  all the content “uniquely written”. Truth is, there are only so many ways you can talk about the same thing. Majority of the copy I read on a lawyer’s site is nothing but thin sales copy. It may work for the search engines, but is it going to actually convert and get you clients? Probably not.

Going forward, you should consider consolidating your domains of value into your main “branded” website. Start thinking about building your “Brand” online, and focus on quality, out-of-the-box content ideas that will actually get you the kind of backlinks that you want. Stop spreading your marketing budget so thin between your sites that none of them have the chance to be of quality. Funnel your budget into your main website and start marketing smarter. If your SEO team is not on-board with that, it’s time to start looking for a new one. They have not evolved with the changes that the industry is going through and will only work against you and waste your money. In fact, if they are still encouraging you to “Let’s build out a new site for that!”, you should be running the other way. They are not thinking about your future and are only thinking about making more money from you.

You started with SEO because you knew PPC was only a temporary and expensive fix to lead generation. You wanted those organic rankings which would benefit you for years to come. So STOP using short-term ranking tactics. Start practicing ethical online marketing and implement long term strategies. Using unethical techniques for rankings is not a long-term strategy for your practice.

Now, stop spamming the web and get busy contributing to it.

Foot Note: there are in some instances where have more than one site is fine and I will post an article detailing those soon. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date on new posts.

Your Exact Match Domain Names May Soon Be Worthless

Whether you got really, really lucky or paid big bucks to a domain scammer seller, your Exact Match Domain Name was a big score in the legal field. In return, you’ve had 1st page, top of the fold rankings for major keywords without having to struggle nearly as hard as your competitors. Well, your advantage will soon be ending, if it hasn’t already.

2012 has seen some tremendous shifts in Google’s algorithm, a lot of which were aimed at targeting sites with low quality, thin content & spammy backlinks. Just a few short days ago, Google’s own Matt Cutts tweeted “Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results. “

Matt Cutts latter confirmed that 0.6% of search results were affected by this algorithm change and I am quite positive legal results were included. Now having an exact match domain name is not going to be enough to get you choice positioning in the SERPS.

Those of you who spent the last several years kicking yourself for registering your business name as your domain name can rejoice. Your unique branding will allow you to stand apart from all the different variations of your city name with practice area such as Dallas Injury Lawyer and Injury Lawyer Dallas.

This algo change was a long time coming. A domain name is not a good indicator of the quality of a website and should not be such a major factor. If it hasn’t hit your EMD or your SERPS yet, I am sure it won’t be long and Friday’s algo update won’t be the first with regards to EMD. No doubt it will be further refined and more sites and results will be effected.

Now, if you have been focused on building your Brand and maintaining a high quality and link worthy website, just keep on doing what you are doing. This won’t effect you. If not, you’d better get started.

 

Legal SEO Myth of the Week: The Mobile Site

Newflash: It’s NOT necessary to have a separate mobile website. It’s not even preferred.

Some of my legal client’s have been getting bombarded with spam emails telling them their site is not mobile friendly and they need to have their very own mobile site. Truth is, if your site is coded well, launching a mobile site can hurt your rankings.

Instead of spending some money developing a stand-alone mobile site, you should be investing in making your existing site “Responsive“. Also, do not take a company up on that “free” mobile site they have been convincing you that you need. Nothing in this industry is truly free and when it’s cheap you get what you pay for.

Think I am full of it? Even Google has officially announced that they prefer a Responsive site to a Mobile Site This coming from a company that owns a mobile website development service.

Bonus: a Responsive website is much better for your budget. Why would you want to spend more money to build and maintaining a separate website  if you don’t need to. Odds are, your mobile site won’t rank as well in mobile search as your current website. Most mobile sites strip out a lot of the rich content which search engines rely on to rank you. Honestly, in my option if you are going the mobile site route you need a different mobile site for tablets devices and smart phones. A mobile site built and optimized for a smart phone is just a tad too boring and lacking in features for my tastes when I come across one on my iPad. I almost always click the option to view the “full website’ if there is one.

The cutting edge of website technology is not creating a stand-alone mobile website. It’s making your existing website better.

Some ways to make your website mobile friendly:

Fluid Layout

This allows your layout to adapt to the resolution of the viewer’s screen. The layout of your website will change depending on which device it is being view on. A responsive site  is essentially the same site sharing the same code base but appearing differently in Desktop Browsers, Tablets & Smart Phones. By default, most mobile devices will show the full webpage which in some cases can seem like you pressed the “zoom out” button 10 times. Nice to see the full layout, but difficult to navigate when the link you are looking for is very tiny and hidden in the upper right hand corner.

Mobile Friendly Forms

All of your form elements should be optimized to make it easier for smart phone users to fill out. This means short forms with only the essentials such as Name, Email, Phone (if necessary) and a brief message area. The email field should be coded as such so that a user is directed to the touch pad with the @ symbol on it. The same goes for the phone number field. If properly coded, a phone field should pull up the numbers only touch pad. Not every mobile device follows these rules but most do.

Optimized Phone Numbers

Your phone number should be coded so that a potential client can tap on it to call you without having to memorize or write down your number and dial separately.

Optimized Address

Your address should be prominently located on your site and allow client to click on it to transport it to a map app which can assist them finding your office. Pro Tip: Don’t have onsite parking? Include addresses on the best places to park near your office.

 

I Won’t Follow you Because you Follow Me

I first registered my personal twitter account on May 21, 2008. Back then Twitter was a fantastic tool career growth & learning. I followed all of the SEO professionals whom I respected and immensely enjoyed following their feeds. When I had a question, I could reply to their tweets and get personal responses I could trust. I honed my SEO skills immensely in my early days on the platform.  Since I was pregnant with my fourth child at this time, this was great for me since I could not attend conferences and build in-person industry relationships.

However, in the past several years as Twitter has been discovered by the masses, it’s been difficult to filter through the bullshit and spammy tweets and get to the good stuff. This is why I have decided on my own personal policy to help keep my Twitter feed relevant to me.

Policy on Following – I do not auto-follow those that follow me. I try to keep my follower list highly relevant to those in my industry or with other similar interests to mine. Half of the people who follow me are either spammers or are trying to get my business. If you want me to follow you, engage with me when I tweet. Repeatedly.

I would much rather have followers who actually care what I have to say and feel I add value to their feed. I love when people actually tweet back at me when I say something or I ask a question. This is the whole purpose of Twitter. Please don’t feel that you can’t tweet at me just because I don’t follow you. Also, please note my above comment about having four children and please do not take offense if I do not respond immediately or somehow miss your tweet altogether.

That said, if you would still like to follow me on Twitter, please do! You can do so here: Shelly Fagin on Twitter

Footnote: This is my policy for my personal twitter account and not necessarily my views for business accounts, especially brands.