It’s no secret that links help your rankings on search engines. It’s also no secret that likes, follows and +1’s are signs of popularity and working their way into search engine ranking factors as well.
Here’s the problem. Too many marketers (and, yes, even lawyers) have tried to manipulate the ranking and liking system. They create low-quality links and focus all their link text (aka anchor text) on words that they want to rank on. Which is against Google’s Guidelines. Or they buy +1’s, tweets and fake followers to create the appearance of popularity with other users — but that’s it. Other low-quality tactics commonly used are:
- Comment spam: Writing nonsense comments on blogs and adding links in them.
- Article spinning: Using software to rewrite one article 100 different ways with the same links and then submitting the article versions to various websites.
- Forum links: Creating profiles in forums and using the signature box for links, and writing forum posts stuffed with links.
- Low-quality press releases: Using free or paid SEO press release sites and adding very targeted anchor text within the article.
- Low-quality directory sites: Submitting your website to thousands of directories that have no or low editorial guidelines, simply for the sake of link building.
- Link networks: Creating various websites or pages on sites to control and point links back to your own site. Sometimes these pages are simply lists of links; other times there is low-quality, copied or spun content surrounding the links.
I’ve thought a lot about these tactics (in the past even I have tried a few less than “white hat” methods) and why people resort to them. Here’s what I have determined:
1. They don’t have patience. Often people want to rank on their main keywords overnight. They want the money they spend on SEO to bring instant success so they are willing to take higher risks. Usually, they care solely about ranking improvements on a small set of keywords and don’t care much about long-tail traffic growth.
2. They don’t have the budget. Building your own links can be cheap and much easier than earning them. Spammy link services can create thousands of forum links for a few dollars. When you have very little money to put toward SEO, it’s tempting to decide to stretch dollars by choosing quantity over quality.
3. They don’t know the rules or the risk. I don’t think many lawyers have read the Webmaster Guidelines. Even those who have might not know the rules constantly change and that Google has became much more consistent in penalizing sites that don’t follow its guidelines with manual link penalties or Penguin updates. Simply, they don’t understand that the risk of being too aggressive is having their website drop in the rankings for months, years or forever.
4. Most important: They don’t understand the “law of the harvest.” If you read Google’s idea of the perfect algorithm, you will see that it’s based on the premise that you reap what you sow. It’s based on quality — and that takes hard work and creativity, is slow to progress and is extremely difficult to scale. If you put the hours into making the content on your website exceptional and provide value, then the audience you target will want to follow you. They will link to your content and tweet and share it. If you build your brand and earn a fan base, they will search for you by name and interact with your social profiles. If you write an article for another website that has serious value, it will drive people to your site — and if you are smart about ensuring that you are writing to the right audience, those people might even use your services. This is what Google wants to reward: Quality, unique, creative and vital content.
So, does your website have these characteristics? Do the links to your site come naturally to diverse pages and have diverse anchor text? If not, then your strategy might be similar to planting seeds in bad soil.
Get the Right Mindset
The most important step you can take is to learn to “think” about earning links, likes and shares compared to building them. When you build something, you do it all — you make it and you control it. When you earn something, someone else is rewarding you for your work.
So stop looking for shortcuts and measuring rankings on a few keywords. Instead, start looking at:
1. Organic and referral traffic growth. If you write a guest post on a local news website about a subject like bicycle safety or local car accident statistics as a PI lawyer, you will be able to track how many people visited the article, how many people shared the article and how many people came to your site by following a link from the news site to yours. You can also look for organic traffic jumps around the week you publish.
2. More care for the long tail. Everyone is trying to rank on broad search terms like “(location) car accident injury lawyer.” What about building content around more specific key words like “spinal cord accident lawyer in (location)”? Sure, you will get less traffic, but the traffic for more specific and detailed search terms usually converts into clients more easily. In most cases, long-tail traffic can make up more than 50 percent of your total traffic and, sometimes, an even higher percentage of your new cases.
3. Focus on conversion. When you create content, always be thinking about conversion — its ability to convert viewers into clients — instead of rankings. While you may get a higher page ranking if you stick to writing for search engines, those low-quality links and shares will not get you clients. Always create for people first.
If you choose to change your mindset, you will start looking for better-quality opportunities to promote your law practice. The result will be the links, likes and shares that actually bring you long-lasting results. Take it from one who has tried every trick in the book. There are no “tricks” that beat authenticity and good local marketing.
Mike Ramsey is the founder of Nifty Marketing, a local search marketing company in Burley, Idaho. Mike is passionate about helping good people and good businesses grow, and launched NiftyLaw as a place to learn how to handle online marketing. You can follow him on Twitter @mikeramsey or at +Mike Ramsey.