Over the years of helping law firms rank in Google, we’ve seen some truly cringe-worthy recommendations from other attorney SEO agencies. Not only can some of these search engine optimization techniques be damaging for regular business’ success, there are even more risks for attorneys when it comes to questionable law firm SEO practices.
We’re one of the best SEO companies for lawyers in the country because we’re attorney owned and understand the unique needs of law firms for ranking in Google.
We want to share some common misconceptions and pitfalls of working with a so-called "attorney SEO expert" who doesn’t really understand the unique challenges of legal SEO. Our hope is your firm can better avoid being taken advantage of or getting lackluster results from an legal SEO company.
Avoiding Bad SEO Companies and Poor Quality SEO Services
Finding the right law firm SEO agency can make all the difference when it comes to ranking high in search results. And for lawyers? There’s even more at risk than just lackluster SEO results when it comes to choosing the right SEO expert to work with, thanks to ethical rules for attorney advertising and marketing.
The SEO industry doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation and is rife with so many scammers that it has lead to a push for industry regulation in Australia. Google has taken steps to combat against SEO fraudsters by allowing small business owners to report the allegedly fraudulent SEO pros and has even successfully sued some companies with deceptive SEO practices. All the same, scammers are still out there, trying to take advantage of unknowing law firm owners.
Types of Law Firm SEO Services to Avoid
The first step to choosing the right SEO pro is understanding what kind of agreement you’re signing when you decide to hire an SEO company to help your law firm rank higher in search results. Not all SEO contracts are the same so make sure you understand what you’re getting before you sign the dotted line.
- Guaranteed results: No one can control Google’s results. Companies that guarantee top rankings may resort to illegal or immoral techniques and practices that can end up getting your site removed from Google Search entirely. Not only can it risk your firm’s long term success, some of these practices can even put your license at risk. Google even says a ranking guarantee is a red flag. Ask if your SEO pro guarantees results to see how they respond and make sure you’re not hiring someone who will tell you only what they think you want to hear.
- Pay-per-rank services: Performance based ranking services, or pay-per-rank SEO firms, are a trend that’s starting to gain more traction as the SEO industry becomes more competitive. While this might not be a big deal for other industries, law firms should be particularly wary of performance based marketing. Not only is this business model questionable when it comes to ensuring ethical SEO practices, results can be easily manipulated by unscrupulous actors. Have a clear picture of what your SEO expert includes in your SEO contract and watch out for pay-per-rank services.
- Whitelabeled SEO Services: SEO is a service that is often whitelabeled, or outsourced by the company you’ve hired to someone else that actually performs the SEO work. There’s significantly less oversight in whitelabeling relationships and you often can’t talk directly to the person overseeing or even doing your law firm’s SEO work. Ask who will be working on your law firm’s SEO and how your team will be structured and if those working on your SEO are employees of the company you’re hiring.
- Technical-only SEO: Content marketing is at the core of today’s search engine ranking strategies, especially with numerous updates that focus on having the right content to answer a search at the moment it happens. If your SEO provider is only focusing on code, website speed, and things users can’t see, they’re missing the majority of SEO opportunities, including local SEO. Make sure your SEO pro talks about more than just technical elements to the work they’ll do and how SEO benefits your firm beyond higher rankings.
- Renting High Ranking Domains: Renting a domain for a period of time is against Google’s best practices. We always advise that you should own your own domain as well as your website hosting to avoid these kinds of issues. Your SEO pro should be working on your website, not a property they own. Ask about copyrights and what happens to SEO work at the end of your relationship.
- Negative SEO: Unless you want to potentially be disbarred or sued under the Lanham Act, avoiding negative SEO is a good move. Negative SEO is the practice of buying bad links to link to a competitor or doing other actions to make your competition look bad in the eyes of Google. The idea is it drives your competition down in search—and your site reaps the rewards. Ask if your SEO pro uses negative SEO techniques, like creating low-quality links to your competitor sites.
SEO Techniques Your Law Firm Should Avoid
When vetting a law firm SEO expert, asking questions about how they do their work and techniques they use should be one of your top priorities. While this might feel overwhelming because you’re unfamiliar with SEO and it feels like a foreign language, a great SEO expert should be able to explain complex SEO techniques in easy to understand language and answer questions to help you understand key concepts to SEO success. Knowing some basics about SEO can also be helpful.
Watch out for any of the following techniques when vetting a potential SEO expert you’re thinking about hiring, both in how they talk about techniques they use as well as any work or case studies they’ve shared.
- Hidden text: Once a common practice to stuff keywords into pages, hidden text that doesn’t appear to website visitors is a big mistake and can get your site removed from Google.
- Lists of keywords at the bottom of pages: Also known as keyword stuffing, long lists of keywords at the bottom of pages or listed in content is also against Google’s best practices.
- Duplicate content, content automation, article spinning, copying or scraped content: Beyond concerns about copyrights, Google doesn’t rank content that is a copy, a near copy, or poorly written. Machine written website copy still doesn’t fly for Google’s rankings (though it might in the future).
- Gateway pages: Sending real traffic to one page and Google’s bots to another page to trick the algorithm into better rankings is also a way to get removed from search results quickly.
- Spam: Spamming other sites for backlinks, putting spam hidden on your site, or using spammy email practices can get you blacklisted in a heartbeat by Google. This includes guest post spam on blogs and websites that is written just for a link and posted on low-quality websites that provide no PR or reputation building value to your firm.
- Over-Optimization: There is such a thing as too much SEO. Over optimization of websites can set off Google’s quality checks that makes Google rank the website poorly. If SEO is prioritized over the actual people coming to your site, you might rank well but not get many cases—because you’re selling to machines and not humans.
- Web 2.0: An extremely risky SEO technique favored by blackhat and greyhat SEO pros, Web 2.0 is the practice of using user-generated links (think profiles on directory sites, Blogger blogs, Wordpress.com sites, etc) using free portals and tools. While some of it is legitimate, like listing your firm in real directories, there are questionable practices of making free websites with spun content that link to your law firm website. Not only does this practice go against Google’s best practices, it’s particularly risky for law firms because there’s often little control over what content is being published elsewhere by your firm.
- Link farms: An extension of Web 2.0 strategies, some SEO pros give access to a "network of sites" that will link to your website to help rankings. Google has spoken out about this practice before.
Finding the Right SEO Company for Your Firm
While that’s a laundry list of things to avoid in an attorney SEO company that are big red flags when it comes to selecting a provider, finding the right one can be a bit more challenging. The most important factor when searching for a law firm SEO company is to make sure that you feel comfortable with them and how they do SEO, as well as their awareness of ethics issues for SEO.
Since 2013, we’ve helped our clients see success with SEO, including top national search rankings for our legal clients. Want to find out what it’s like to work with a good SEO company? Contact our team today to talk to one of our SEO professionals and learn more about how SEO can benefit your firm.