Lawyers, Law Firms, and Junk Called Black Hat SEO
Just this week, my agency’s legal marketing blog received three comments – all of which we consider SPAM – on behalf of a Chicago Bankruptcy attorney (whom I will not name here). This attorney’s website has been developed by a Seattle “SEO firm” which is using what I consider to be Black Hat techniques to create content rich links from legitimate websites to their client’s website (in this case the “Bankruptcy Attorney Chicago”) in order to gain higher rankings in search engines such as Google and Bing. I cannot say this enough – I feel very strongly that this form of marketing will hurt attorneys and their law firms in the long run as it is against various search engine policies and violates rules of professional conduct.
The problem is that the lawyers who hire the SEO firms that say they will “get you on the first page of Google” don’t know the difference between Black Hat and White Hat techniques; they don’t know the right questions to ask the sales reps from these companies; they are not holding these companies accountable for compliance with ethical standards; and they do not understand the potential long-term consequences of Black Hat SEO tactics.
Black Hat SEO is generally defined as using:
- techniques that are illegal (e.g. hacking a competitor’s site)
- techniques that mislead bots (e.g. cloaking)
- techniques that are risky and not disclosed to stakeholders (e.g. paid links that your client/boss doesn’t know about)
- techniques that are not consistent with search engines’ guidelines (e.g. SPAM-like link building)
Many SEO firms disagree with the forth bullet – however – all four bullets are equally important to legal marketing and to remain in compliance with the rules of professional conduct by which law firm marketing and individual attorney marketing are judged.
I read an excellent blog post on SEOmoz.org on White Hat SEO by Rand Fishkin, the CEO and Co-founder of SEOmoz. While this post was written in 2011, the advice he gives for organic, White Hat SEO techniques is as true today as it was then. Rand is an SEO thought leader – also located in Seattle – and I suspect he would be appalled at the tactics being used by one of his neighboring firms.
Here are just some tactics I recommend for long-term, valuable, White Hat SEO that won’t get you in trouble with search engines or the ethics review boards:
- Use a URL that says what your firm does (in states where monikers are permitted by the rules of ethics)
- Create niche blogs within your law firm’s website and share valuable content with readers using relevant and accurate search terms
- Publish relevant, valuable and content-rich articles, white papers and commentaries with legitimate publishing outlets
- Take control of the valuable (and often free) direct links and social networking real estate such as dmoz.org, Google Maps, Avvo.com, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and hundreds of others)
- Participate in online Q&A’s, forums, LinkedIn Group conversations, etc. (while NOT providing legal advice)
- Issue accurate, truthful, relevant, newsworthy and content-rich press releases, adding them to your firm’s website, posting them on PRWeb and sharing appropriate press releases via other newswires
- Build and populate a branded YouTube channel with relevant, professional and properly tagged videos
In fact, I personally monitor the comments to my Avvo Lawyernomics blog posts and I have received many comments that I consider to be Black Hat and worthless to our readers. As a result, those comments have not been approved. I don’t want to waste our readers’ time with such wasteful junk.