I began building websites for local businesses back in 2000, and a number of my clients were attorneys and law firms. This was thrilling to me for several reasons, but primarily because I thought “lawyers talk and write for a living, they’ll have tons of great content!” Not quite.
The attorneys I worked with were so incredibly busy that they didn’t even have time to meet with me personally. I worked with office managers and paralegals. And they tended to be paranoid about publishing anything online. All they were comfortable giving me was content about their firm and partners that had already been published elsewhere. Fortunately, at that time, most of it had not yet been published online so to Google it was fresh, new content.
Meanwhile some big companies were giving away free websites to lawyers. I wasn’t too worried about my competition, because these sites were full of ads and generic content that all the sites shared. But over the years, those websites improved, and the paid versions looked pretty slick and had tons of content that had been “approved” for publication.
And these sites were performing pretty well for their lawyer clients. They looked professional and serious and helped law firms rank well in search engine results. They were built by a firm “specializing” in lawyer websites, so it was a no-brainer, right?
Fast forward to 2015. After Panda. Penguin. And now these massive networks of lawyer websites are under Google scrutiny. All those articles that thousands of lawyers around the country have on their websites are generic. Not unique. Not original. Shared. That kind of content is devalued by the Panda updates to Google’s search algorithm. All those links that are shared across these networks of sites are being devalued by the Penguin updates. These websites have fallen out of the top search results.
Unique Content and Natural Links to the Rescue
It is better to have fewer high-quality, original articles and blog posts on your legal website than it is to have hundreds of articles that you’re sharing with thousands of other attorneys. Google loves original content and their algorithm is highly refined to crawl, analyze, compare and rank content. Smaller custom websites with great content are now routinely outranking the former giants.
For example, below is a search for “dui lawyer Fort Worth” showing a local law firm with a 5-page website as the first organic result. All the content is original and highly relevant and the site hasn’t been over-optimized.
Similarly, it is not the number of links that point to your website that matter. It is the quality of the links. Paid links, linking schemes and links from sites that are unrelated to your subject matter are disregarded. They can even get your site penalized. Natural links from sites with authority and good reputation are worth much more and are more helpful in making your site rank.
The dui lawyer site referenced above has backlinks from only 8 external websites; primarily lawyer directory sites. Though this example is purely anecdotal, it is representative of the new reality.
Performing well in local search results is just one part of a successful marketing plan for any business, not only attorneys. Social media participation, directory listings and paid search campaigns are the other major contributors to gaining visibility in the digital marketplace. But what’s happening in the highly competitive field of attorneys and law firms can also be applied to every other category of business, so make sure that your website features only real, original and relevant content and that your backlink profile is clean. Your website is the foundation of all of your online marketing efforts.