As search engines have developed, it has become far more difficult to trick them into thinking that your law firm’s website is more relevant and important for certain searches than it actually is. Tricking search engines into promoting a website in the rankings is black hat search engine optimization (SEO).
Now that it’s become more difficult to inflate your own rankings, though, professional marketers have shifted focus into tanking other sites. This practice, called negative SEO, can be done in a variety of ways. One of the most popular is to spread suspicious backlinks to the target site – the backlink blitz.
If your law firm’s website is targeted in this scheme, it can get penalized and buried in the rankings. Here’s how to fix it.
From Black Hat SEO Tactics to Google’s Penguin Algorithm
Back in the early days of Google, search engine marketers learned that the Holy Grail of online marketing was to get other websites to link to your own. Search engines saw these backlinks as high fives or hat tips from other domains. Surely that meant that the destination of the link was a good source of information?
Needless to say, search engine marketers abused backlinks. Marketers would:
- Create entire websites of nothing but links to other sites that they were trying to promote
- Pay other sites to post links back to their own
- Search out unmoderated forums and comment areas to post links to their site
Backlinks became almost useless for determining the quality of a given website.
So Google created its Penguin algorithm to sift the “real” backlinks from the “spammy” backlinks. Websites that had tons of suspect backlinks pointing towards it got hit with a serious SEO penalty that tanked its rankings.
The black hat SEO maneuver of indiscriminately sowing backlinks to promote your own domain has all but disappeared.
Negative SEO and Targeting Competitors with Bad Backlinks
That maneuver, however, did not die. Instead, it morphed into a way of attacking the websites of your competitors: If indiscriminate sowing of backlinks to my site dooms my rankings, then directing all of those links to my competitor’s site would doom my competitor’s rankings.
Even if attorneys never considered the possibility, any law firm that contracted with an online marketing agency has paid money to people who are completely aware of a backlink’s power to make or break a site.
Worse, many digital advertising agencies operate on a “results only” model: Many do not tell their clients how they improved the rankings of their website. Your competitors might even be unaware that their marketing team is using negative SEO to cut your legs out from under you.
In short, spreading nefarious backlinks to a site in order to kill its ranking is a technique that is alive and well, and just because you don’t think your legal competitors would do it does not mean that it’s not being done to your website, right now.
How to Check Your Website for Signs of a Backlink Blitz
If your law firm website’s rankings have tumbled, one possibility is that someone out there is running a backlink blitz – dropping suspicious-looking backlinks all over the web.
You can detect this by auditing your backlink portfolio. There are dozens of online tools that do this for free, and many more that only force you to sign up for a free account. They include:
If the audit reveals far more backlinks than you were expecting, it’s possible that you’re being attacked. You can also scroll through the results that you find and click on any that come from sites you don’t recognize. Signs to look for are:
- Lots of backlinks to your law firm’s website in random forum posts or comment areas
- Backlinks in non-English content
- Backlinks coming from websites that look suspicious
What to Do Next: Disavow Those Links!
At this point, the real thing to do is to hire a marketing professional. Backlinks are still the Holy Grail of marketing your law firm online, and making a mistake at this juncture can set your site back months or even years.
You need to disavow the backlinks that are hurting you, and only those backlinks that are hurting you. If you disavow all of the links that point to your website, you’ll lose all of the progress you’ve made online, so far.
You can request that Google disavow specific links – thereby ignoring them when running its algorithms – by filling out their form.
Unfortunately, Google’s disavowal process takes time – often a couple of months – and you can expect to have to provide evidence that you are, in fact, the owner of your law firm’s website.
Taking matters into your own hands and challenging the suspicious backlinks by contacting the owner of the site they’re appearing on – yes, for each and every individual backlink – is something to consider, as well.