Link Building for Lawyer Websites
Two questions all lawyers ask at least once in their professional career:
Why can’t I find our firm’s website anywhere in Google’s results pages?
– and –
How do I get onto the first page when someone searches for legal services that we offer?
In this article, it is assumed you know which keywords you want to rank for and your site’s on-page elements are in order. If not, your site may not be ready to receive the benefits of links. Watch our free video series to learn more about preparing your site for links.
If your site is in order but it still is not ranking, we then need to determine the current overall health of your website. From there we can discuss possible courses of action to get you more search visibility.
Head over to majesticseo.com, a tool where you can get some basic information about your website.
Once there, type your website’s address into the box in the center of the page – leaving out the http:// and www – and click enter.
On the next page, make sure the drop down menu to the right of your URL says Root Domain. That way the entire website is being analyzed. If it doesn’t, choose it from the drop down and click enter again.
How Many External Backlinks Does Your Website Have?
You will fall into one of two categories. Do you have more or less than 500 External Backlinks? [Five hundred is the arbitrary cutoff line I’ve created for most legal markets. Some markets are less competitive and will require less links for your website to rank. While in other markets, you will need thousands of links before you can even compete. For this explanation, let’s stick with five hundred.]
If Your Website Has Less Than 500 External Backlinks
This means your site is not ranking because it’s not getting enough nutrients.
Here is what Google has to say about links on it’s company page, Ten Things We Know to Be True
“Google search works because it relies on the millions of individuals posting links on websites to help determine which other sites offer content of value. We assess the importance of every web page using more than 200 signals and a variety of techniques, including our patented PageRank™ algorithm, which analyzes which sites have been “voted” to be the best sources of information by other pages across the web.”
– http://www.google.com/about/company/philosophy/, 4. Democracy on the web works
Here’s what that means. Your website’s ranking is determined by the number and quality of links pointing to it. This has been true since Google’s inception and will continue to be true into the foreseeable future. The company is based on this premise. Changing it would mean changing the company’s core beliefs.
Without making your eyes glaze over, let me explain how search works. A computer, known as a spider in the industry, has the job of going out and indexing the web’s pages. Once it gets onto a page, it scans the words on the page to decide what the page is about. Once finished, that page is now in the index.
But, where does the spider go next? And how does it get to the next page?
The answer is the spider follows the links. Both the internal links (pointing to other pages on the same site) and the external links (those pointing to pages on other domains).
You still with me?
The more links pointing into your website from other domains, the more that spider will come to visit. After a while it will think, “Hey, I come here often because a lot of sites are pointing here. It must be important.”
Again, your website’s ranking is determined by the number and quality of links pointing to it. That covers the number of links pointing in.
What about the quality? What makes a link high or low quality? And what role does that play in your website’s ranking?
Well… if your site was linked to from the homepage of the New York Times, that should have a much different effect on your site’s ranking than a link coming from a brand new Tumblr blog.
Because the New York Times has authority and credibility. No one knows anything about the person that just setup a free blog.
Google knows the New York Times is credible the same way a person in the real world knows if someone else is credible. Enough other people they know, trust and respect has told them so.
Online, this again comes in the form of links. Plug nytimes.com into Majestic and you will see it has about two hundred million (197,929,700) External Backlinks from almost nine hundred thousand (881,415) Referring Domains. A lot more authoritative than Bob’s new Tumblr blog with ten backlinks from two Referring Domains.
At ApricotLaw, we’ve dubbed this Website Nutrition and created a video called You Are What You Eat to explain the concept further.
Nutrition is the perfect analogy for link building.
Links deliver nutrients from one site to another.
A site like the New York Times, with its hundreds of millions of links, is overflowing with Nutrition. Think of it as an enormous tanker filled to the top with fluids. Not only is it filled to the brim but it has millions of feeder tubes, of all sizes, connected to the back of it. All those links pointing in provide a never ending supply of juice.
Bob’s blog on the other hand is like a bottle cap with a few drops a day dripping in.
Which one would you rather have connected to your website? Bob has no link juice to give you. The New York Times can give you all the nutrients you’ll ever need.
Another quick analogy from Your Are What You Eat to drive this concept home.
What makes one food better for you than another?
That would be what it has eaten up until that point. How was that plant or animal cared for in its lifetime? If the animal’s owner went to great lengths to provide only the best nutrients, that steak you are putting into your mouth would be of the highest quality.
On the other hand, if the cow was treated poorly, raised in the same small space with thousands of others on the cheapest food the farmer could find, the end product would obviously be less tasty and nutritious.
The USDA has a grading system to tell you what you are eating.
Online we can easily look into a website’s past to see if it was raised with great care. Would we feed it to our website after looking into its past or would we have second thoughts? Would a link from the site strengthen or sicken our site? Just like food, one link may not have a great impact one way or another. But over time the impact is dramatic.
You should now have a basic understanding of the concept of Website Nutrition. If your site is lacking basic nutrients, you cannot expect it to rank for many phrases.
You’re probably anxious to jump into where to get the best backlinks for your legal website. Even though the next section is specifically for websites with over five hundred backlinks, I would, however, suggest you read through it and perform the additional tests on your website. It will help you avoid pitfalls whenever you build links to your website.
If Your Website Has More Than 500 External Backlinks
If the number in Majestic is greater than five hundred and your site is not ranking for any term you type into Google, no matter how long that phrase may be, we need to perform a few more tests to see what’s going on.
Has your law firm’s website been penalized?
Leave Majestic open because we will be returning to it later. Open Google.com in a new tab and type your website’s address into the search bar like so, YOURWEBSITE.com. Obviously, replace YOURWEBSITE with the name of your site. For its own name the site should appear as the very first organic listing.
If you see an authority listing (multiple pages on your site appear in the same Google listing) that shows that Google trusts your site.
As long as your website is at the top, that tells us it has not been heavily penalized. The more pages on your site listed on the first page, the better. Authority listing, the best.Try searching for the site with and without the www. For one the authority listing may appear but for the other, it may not. That’s ok.
If you have an Exact Match Domain (one that has the target keyword in the URL), it may not appear all over the page but it should still appear in the top spot.
If your site is in the top organic spot, skip the next two sections.
If you don’t see it at the top, then we need to see if the site has been completely de-indexed (erased from Google’s index altogether).
Has your law firm’s website been de-indexed?
Type this into the search bar: site:YOURDOMAIN.com – leave out the quotes and replace YOURDOMAIN with the name of your site. Hit enter.
This should list all the site’s pages.
If it says, “Your search did not match any documents,” then you have a bigger problem. Your site has been de-indexed!
Here’s what to do if your site’s been de-indexed
Some people may tell you to plead with Google to re-include the site in its index. I think that is a waste of time.
Start a new site on a brand new domain.
Move all the content from the de-indexed site over to the new domain exactly as it was and start over.
Don’t leave the content on the old site. Either delete all the posts and pages or simply set the site to no-index. This is a simple one-click fix on the Reading settings page in WordPress.
If the site shows up first for its name
Thankfully, the site shows up first for its own name. Let’s move on to a different metric to see if we can figure out why its not ranking for any relevant phrases.
Back at majestic.com, scroll down the page a little until you see a pie chart titled Anchor Text.
The anchor text, link label, link text, or link title is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. The words contained in the anchor text can determine the ranking that the page will receive by search engines.
Hover over each section of that pie chart and notice what terms are most used as Anchor Text in links pointing to your website.
Before we talk about what that pie chart should look like, let me tell you what it shouldn’t look like.
If all you see are terms that you’d really like your website to appear in Google for, that’s a problem. It’s called Anchor Text over-optimization.
In the old days of SEO, if you wanted to rank for “personal injury lawyer Daytona,” all you needed to do was make sure every link pointing to you used that Anchor Text.
From Wikipedia’s definition,
“The words contained in the anchor text can determine the ranking that the page will receive by search engines.”
Once too many people were exploiting this loophole, Google rolled out a ranking formula update, rendering it ineffective.
What Google rewards right now is an Anchor Text profile heavily weighted toward your brand. In other words, if you are really an authority people will link to you by name.
Remember, that number only includes when those three words were used exactly like that, in the same order and without any other words.Looking once again at the Majestic analysis of NYTimes.com, their anchor text pie chart shows seven of the top nine most used anchor texts are different variations of the brand name. The top one being “new york times”, used in 5% of all its links. With hundreds of millions of links, “new york times” was used millions of times!
If your website suffers from Anchor Text over-optimization, the solution is dilution. You will need to build more links with brand and generic anchors until the percentage of targeted keyword anchors comes down.
Later on we will discuss which type of links are best for Anchor Text dilution.
Why even White Hat SEO can get you in trouble
It’s worth noting that even if you were extremely carefully to get links from only the most reputable sources, you could have still over-optimized the site’s anchor text.
That means many SEO’s who swore by only White Hat tactics, but ignored Anchor Text ratios, got no where. They could have been going “door-to-door” asking authority bloggers to write about them with a link back to their website. They thought they were doing the right thing, playing by Google’s rules. But because they asked for each link to have the Anchor Text “personal injury lawyer Daytona,” their website doesn’t show up anywhere. All their noble efforts were in vain.
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]o far we have covered a lot of ground. We have analyzed your website to diagnose any possible health issues. You know how many backlinks are pointing to your website, if the site has been penalized or de-indexed, and what role Anchor Text has played in your rankings (or lack thereof).
Are you ready to move on to the more juicy topic of links?
First we will take a broad view and discuss what a natural link profile looks like. Then we will dive into individual types of links and what each is good for.
A Healthy Diet of Backlinks for Your Law Firm’s Website
Any site that appears on the first page of Google for many different keywords has links pointing into it from a variety of sources.
Think of YouTube. Its videos rank in Google search for just about everything.
What types of websites link to YouTube?
The answer is any and every type of site links to Youtube.
How natural would it be if YouTube only had backlinks from Guest Blog Posts? Sounds ridiculous right?
But that’s exactly what most people “doing” SEO try to do. They think that one type of link is safer, better, more accepted than another type so they focus on getting only that type of link.
And the reason that doesn’t work is the same reason YouTube wouldn’t have links from only the body of blog posts. It is not natural. And Google knows it.
A website that has organically become the most popular in any market is one that has links from all types of sites.
What Backlink Has the Greatest Impact on Your Ranking?
Earlier we briefly discussed what makes a backlink high or low quality. “Quality” may be the misleading. We are not discussing the difference between good and bad. As if one type of link is allowed by Google while another one is frowned upon.
We are talking about the impact any particular link can have on your site’s ranking. For the most part, one link will not shoot your site to the top of Google for any phrase worth ranking for. But a diverse link profile, that includes the most powerful links, will cause your site to completely dominate its space.
Simply put, the most powerful links come from relevant, authoritative web pages. The more closely related the referring site is to your website and the more authority it has online, the greater impact it will have on your ranking.
Relevance is pretty self explanatory. A site about gardening can and does link to a law firm’s website occasionally. But that is the exception, not the rule.
Furthermore, which of the following scenarios carries more weight? Your gardener tells you about a great law firm you should call or a lawyer tells you about how great another law firm is?
The lawyer’s recommendation will mean more to you than your gardener’s, in most cases.
It’s the same online. Google puts more weight on a “vote” from someone in the same market than it does from someone in an unrelated niche. It makes perfect sense.
We touched on this earlier. A page’s authority online depends on the number and quality of links pointing to it.
And again from the fourth thing Google knows to be true, every page’s importance is assessed and assigned a score from one to ten called PageRank.
Nothing will impact your site’s ranking more than a link from a high PageRank, relevant web page.
So how do we attract or acquire the best links? After all, we cannot simply ask the New York Times for a link on its homepage.
I think now is a great time to explain different types of links that are available and what each one is good for.
Types of Links Available for Your Law Firm Website
1. Guest Blog Post on Real Authority Websites
These are blog posts on real websites actually ranking in Google, not to be confused with posts on a guest blogging networks. Some sites ask you to provide the blog post and others will write it for you (like a sponsored review). These are links that must be earned, not bought, making them extremely difficult to acquire and at the same time highly effective.
Advantages: Great for building authority and trust, ranking, referral traffic from the site itself, low risk.
Disadvantages: Labor intensive making them expensive, very low number of links making them ineffective for fixing anchor text problems.
2. Web 2.0 Blog Post
These are blog posts on sites like Hubpages.com, Blogspot.com, Tumblr.com, WordPress.com and many others. They are easy to acquire because anyone can sign up for a free blog on these sites and post content with links. The Web 2.0 sites typically have high PageRank making them very low risk when built in reasonable amounts.
Advantages: This is general website nutrition, and a part of all balanced link building diets.
Disadvantages: By themselves they don’t have a noticeable impact on ranking.
3. Press Release Distribution
When you have something newsworthy to announce, the press release distribution will post your content and links on hundreds of authority news sites around the country. It seems like Google has always approved of press releases because it’s what real businesses do.
Advantages: High number of links at once making them great for diluting over-optimized Anchor Text, trusted authority news sites making them low risk, great for building authority and trust.
Disadvantages: None that I can think of.
4. High PageRank Private Blog Network Link
These sites are acquired for the sole purpose of passing PageRank through to your website. They are considered risky because the network sites are not meant to add value to readers. Public blog networks were de-indexed by Google a few years ago, forcing people to build their own private networks. When the network is built properly and these posts are combined with a great foundation of branded links, there is nothing more effective in boosting your site’s ranking.
Advantages: If you are in a competitive market, private network links truly give you an unfair advantage.
Disadvantages: Expensive to build a private network properly, sites are usually not relevant to your website, Google is putting more weight on links from real sites that show actual visitor data, these sites work great right now but may not work as well in the future.
5. Local Directory Listing
These are listings on sites like Yahoo Local, Google Maps, Yelp, Judy’s Book and thousands of others.
Advantages: Great for local companies, these safe links are a part of every real companies link profile, used for diversity.
Disadvantages: These are usually weak links that don’t provide ranking boost on their own.
6. Legal Directory Listing
These are listings on sites like Million Dollar Advocates, Inner Circle, your state’s bar association website and hundreds more. Most successful law firm link profiles contain their share of Legal Directory Listings.
Advantages: Great for building trust because these are on the most relevant sites you can find. A few paid legal directories place your listing on high PageRank pages, giving your site a noticeable boost in rankings.
Disadvantages: The best directories are not free, submitting your information is labor intensive, they usually don’t have a noticeable impact on ranking.
7. Social Bookmark
Similar to when you bookmark a web page in your favorite Internet browser, sites like Digg, Delicious and Reddit allow users to publicly bookmark their favorite pages. Having your content bookmarked is a sign that you are publishing valuable content your readers appreciate enough to save for future reference.
Advantages: Mandatory as a part of a healthy, balanced, website diet.
Disadvantages: Not powerful at all
8. Social Media Mention
This is when people share your content on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus and include a link back to your website.
Advantages: People sharing your content or services with their online friends and followers helps you build trust with Google, good for diversity of links.
Disadvantages: Not powerful at all
9. Video Sharing Link
Similar to Social Media Mentions except on video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo. These sites allow you to put a live link in the description of your uploaded videos and also in the timeline where available. Video is becoming more important than every online so it’s a good idea to include these as a part of your link profile.
Advantages Good for link diversity.
Disadvantages Very little positive ranking effect on their own
How to Take Over the First Page of Google
Most attorneys only think about getting more traffic to their website. But a website is only one of many places on the Internet prospects can find you. By focusing on only one type of virtual property, you are attracting a fraction of people looking for the services you offer.
In the results listings of any Google search you may see a YouTube video, Facebook page, Twitter account, Google Plus post, press release, Hubpage post or a page from a million other web properties. On these websites you can create a free account and take advantage of all the trust and authority the domain has built up.
Allow me to explain.
Your website may have one hundred pages and posts and a thousand backlinks. YouTube has millions of pages and hundreds of millions of links pointing to it. By creating a new video page on YouTube, you gain a tremendous head start over any attorney website.
What does this mean to you?
YouTube’s hundreds of millions of links and millions of pages act as insulation, allowing you to be extremely aggressive with your link building. No matter what you do, you cannot penalize YouTube.com. The worst thing that can happen is your video page does not rank for your target keyword. Same thing goes for Facebook, SBWire and all other authority Web 2.0’s.
How Much Risk Are You Willing to Take?
A one-size-fits-all link building plan will rarely be effective. There are so many factors to take into consideration. Here are a few:
- Age of the website
- Links built in the past
- Anchor Text ratios
- Time frame for results
- Level of competition for target keywords
- Goals of the website
With a brand new law firm website, we like to prescribe a very low number of the highest quality links available. The goal here is to get the site seasoned in Google, not necessarily to rank it quickly.
After a month or two and a solid foundation of links, we can begin to build a greater number of links from a wider variety of sources.
For your law firm’s main website we suggest having a long term vision and over the course of a year or more, building the site into an authority in your market. This is the safest way to maximize the number of visitors Google sends to your website.
Imagine every month feeding your website the best nutrients available, strengthening it little by little, until one day you can barely recognize it. At that point, you can rank for just about anything you want, easily. With such authority you can publish a new page and have it rank in a few days with very few backlinks. This is the same reason YouTube videos rank so quickly and easily. Because of YouTube.com’s built up authority.
Compare this to going to the gym. We’d rather build up our strength over time by working out a little each day than trying to get big overnight. The long term strategy is sure to get us where we want to go with minimal risk of hurting ourselves. Being anxious to achieve our fitness goals in under a month, taking steroids and working out for hours every day greatly increases our chance of injury and other adverse health effects.
With an older site, we normally have to go in and strengthen the current foundation of links before moving on to delivering basic website nutrition. Sites with Anchor Text over-optimization issues fall into this category.
If you need results immediately, we will need to build a greater number of links in a shorter period of time. Under normal circumstances, we highly discourage clients from pursuing this strategy with their main website. Unless you are willing to accept the possibility that Google will one day not completely trust your site, placing a ceiling on the number of visitors it will send you, this strategy is reserved for pages you have on other websites or mini sites you’ve built specifically for this reason.
Generally speaking here are two rules to live by with SEO.
Fast equals high risk
Slow equals low risk
How much risk are you willing to take in your current condition? On its own, one strategy is not good or bad. Its simply the right strategy for your firm at this time or it is not.
If you’d like a complimentary SEO analysis and custom link building plan created for your firm, contact us today.
The analysis and plan are time consuming and labor-intensive so we don’t expect to offer them for free for long.
Call now while this offer is still available: 212-960-8584