A representative of Google has confirmed there was a Penguin 3.0 update that occurred on Friday. This is the first Penguin algorithm update in over a year and the question is how will it affect attorneys and are they seeing any fluctuation on their websites? Don’t assume you were penalized if you fell in ranking. There can be many non Penguin reasons.
Many of us in the Circle of Legal Trust had been chattering only a few weeks ago of Webmaster Tool notifications they received only a few weeks ago that granted them pardons for their sins of not doing SEO the way Google wants it done. To the joy of many of our members, manual actions against their sites had been lifted. So just ahead of Penguin some of those crusty old sites started to gain above some of the newer sites that had not had penalties leveled against them. Especially, and in particular, a whole gaggle of personal injury law sites, had been released from manual penalties.
It stands to reason that the Penguin refresh also released many of the sites that were under an algorithmic filter, and that was lifted for them starting on October 17, 2014.
1. The Winners:
The main winners of this update from the perspective of Googlers biting their nails, were people with only a few links that appear in Majestic, or Ahrefs, for example. At least those sites that appear to have only a few backlinks at first glance. What we are seeing however, is that previously, badly penalized law firms have been transferring their content to a new domain, possibly changing their business names to fake names that are not registered with the State Bar, or as corporations, or even recorded DBA’s. One trick that is working well for these outfits, is 301 redirecting the old, penalized site to the new, clean one.
Step two is that they are then building just one or two authority links to the new site and voila, the site somehow is getting link justice from the old site, but not picking up the penalties. Of course, Google says the penalty will follow the 301, but our testing and investigations prove otherwise. In any event, the other winner is Google of course. With most of these updates, Google’s PPC seems to skyrocket. As the PPC budgets fall, another update like Venice, or Pigeon will come along, and another stock increase.
Of course, these rises are artificial and they always fall off. Based upon our internal polling of attorneys, this is due to:
- PPC not rendering in an effective way in the handheld realm, which is now the preferred method over a desktop, and;
- The fact the PPC is so difficult to use and master for a non rocket scientist.
It is still is not clear all the details involved in the Google update or how the search results will be affected. Especially, this is the case for legal professionals, even though it is possible to use SEO methods to retrieve their data. The dust still needs to settle. The other winners are those who gained in credibility. At Pubcon Las Vegas Bruce Clay discussed link building and said he believed from his sources that there would be a coming Penguin update and he was correct. Twitter has also been buzzing including screen shots by Moz’s Cyrus Shepard with data from an assortment of SEO reporting tools. Some of the data showed some sharp inclines and declines, while other tools did not show much of a change with the Penguin 3.0 update.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf several times, until he nailed it, Barry Schwartz was also a winner. I for one was glued to his posts during the stressful period for the several months of false positives he reported every-time someone from Google said “Penguin” under their breath. There has been some speculation whether the update is dodging the SEO tools. What this would mean for lawyers waits to be determined.
Even though it is apparent there was an update last Friday, until Google confirms the Penguin update in a published announcement it is possible the update is continuing on and still correcting and evaluating. Google says this is a mere refresh. So if you took the steps to remove too many exact match anchors and disavow the links that appeared to be caustic, now is the time of reckoning. Hold tight, the full effect may not be seen yet or the impact it may have in the Google search result percentages. But look out, because a full blow, “jarring and jolting” update that is bound to tank your rankings is probably just around the corner. In other words, unless you are spending a lot on PPC, don’t think about planning for any vacations anytime soon.
The Winners Going Forward
It is clear that building authority is key when attracting backlinks. This means attracting links to your site from resources pages of other lawyers you like and trust, and who are committed to following the often vague and ambiguous Google Quality Guidelines. For most lawyers who also need to run their businesses and don’t have 12 hours a day to stay up on what Google just did that hurts them, they are at a turning point. It is probably now better for most firms to focus on PPC. The costs involved in generating so called “quality content”, is fast becoming much more expensive than a decently managed, paid campaign. Companies like Findlaw can be an option, except for all of the horror stories we hear from so many recovering Firmsite clients who joined the Circle of Legal Trust.
There are also free lancers out there who can help you get links and contacts by working more as a broker and PR company, than a big corporation relying upon the power of a few mega sites that sell advertising on. I would recommend companies like MockingBird Marketing, or personable guys like Chris Dreyer if you really want to get votes from unique people who are voting for you due to your product. For design, graphics and programming, I think the only guy I trust would be Andre van Wyk. These guys are usually buried, but this is where I would head if I wanted to stay in the organic search game.
Also, paid campaigns don’t typically knock your business out of the SERPS like a Penguin or a Panda. However, if you can find someone who knows how to write with an open thesaurus as their codex, and you have a gigantic budget, you can still rank underneath the increasingly narrowed local results and paid results.
Don’t look at backlnk proflies of other lawyers and try and get links that their sites are on. That is not “unique” or “compelling.” Besides, most of their links could be caustic and be part of their disavow file anyways. even if it is a “good” link, it does no separate you from the other lawyers to be on the same sites they are on. Of course, having your link on a legitimate attorney organization site is a huge benefit due to cobranding and co citation benefits. Sites like www.personalinjurywarriors.com are run by organizations that take votes, have a board of directors, and actually lobby congress, and do judicial outreach. They also have consumer magazines and provide answers to questions on recent issues dealing with consumer laws and regulations.
If you are looking to place your brand somewhere, these are the types of organizations that will add value and probably get you a nationwide referral network. Pure directories and sites populated by professional writers, as opposed to real lawyers will probably lose their luster with Google, as she becomes smarter. Other than that, try and get site owners that have special value to what you are about, let you write an opinion piece, or sponsor one of their outreach programs. Think about it. Be different.
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