The Danger of Using Guest Posts for Your Law Blog

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By Michael Ehline of Ehline Law Firm PC – For any attorney who surveyed the last year of Penguin, Panda, and their iterations, guest posting isn’t something that is unfamiliar, if you are into blogging. In our last article we covered a few ways it can be taken to extremes. Making use of guest posting has been a method used in Search Engine Optimization to help in improving Page Rank. The incoming back links increases the Page Rank, along with search engine results position or SERPS. There are also many other things that can be done to enhance this search engine ranking and trust. Page Rank is best explained as an algorithm that ranks pages with a trust score of 1 to 10, and is named after Google’s founder Larry Page, who along with Sergey Bin introduced it at Stanford University in 1996. Prior to this guest blogging did not exist, not everyone had internet service and those who did weren’t that interested in blogging. Large businesses also did not take advantage of this way to grow their business through the internet.  So many small guys like me had a chance to learn the internet and embrace Google’s vision.

Now everyone is blogging, even including most of the big companies that are now online. Over the past approximately 12 years or more, blogging has grown into where it is today, which is a large percentage of the internet and a billion dollar business. Now blogging has grown to proportions that there is competition and e-commerce firms are on the increase. Google Page Rank for ranking the pages of these individuals putting forth information to get their page ranked in a way they hope will give them an advantage over their competition. Guest blogging has had several purposes, the first as a proven method to build page rank and SERPS, and the other is showing the relationship between bloggers.

Google’s head of search quality team, Matt Cutts released a statement a few months ago about the fact that posting guest posts can be detrimental to a blog, and when it is looked at from all sides this statement makes sense.

Once the Panda and Penguin Updates occurred, blogging became basically the only way people thought they could build back links in order to improve their Page Rank. this is because directories were now pretty much evil, the zines were destroyed, and to a lesser degree, so were the press release sites.  Links from those sites became a boat anchor on your SERPS even if your Page Rank stayed high. So there was a mad dash to get “guest posts”, in order to get links. I warned that we should not be seeking guest posts, but instead that we should be looking at more natural methods for attorneys to get VOTES, and also to focus on relevant content curation. Then over the months, since the updates some bloggers stopped accepting guest posts on their blogs. They must have had a reason! After some research it became more clear, starting with how Google views guest posting.

What Effect Guest Posting May Have on SERPS

Having guest posts on your blog can actually hurt you and here is why. We know that Google data is made up of back links, site links, page rank and other data, which is referred to as Google Juice. The more the juice is shared out, the less the sending blog will have. But ultimately, Google decides how much juice leaves a particular page, and that Google WANTS to see your resources, your footnotes, your anchor text that a person might actually click, like “learn more about this” or “See the personal injury attorney blog”. Making sense?

Guest Posts Can Lead to Broken Links

Allowing guest posts from untrusted people, such as lawyers who have not been through COLT boot camp, hazed, and hat their site dragged through the mud, insulted, and then fixed according to the data available on search engine quality guidelines, both parties are at risk.  The greenhorn attorney marketer web guru, etc, will probably screw up and return a 404 error at some point. This means at some point, there will be some outbound links in your blog that are broken and that can lower your trust with Google, as they will think you have a poorly administered website.  If you want to rock and roll, your site has to be the best. There is no guarantee these links will go directly to a proper domain or that they will not be deleted, or 301 redirected to some other site that sucks.  The more crappy guest posts on your site, the higher risk there is of having broken links, and Google does not like when a blog has a lot of broken links. This could end up costing the blogger in the way of Page Rank and SERPS. Think about it.  You need links to and from people who are plugged in to the Googleverse who follow the best search practice techniques.

There is One Larger Problem

The other problems are minor compared to blogging relations, which is when a attorney guest poster is using one of the tools to build relations with other law bloggers. This can have an effect on blogging relations, and it is common for everyone to want to contribute a guest post if you have a popular blog. Where this problem can rear its ugly head, is that not every blogger produces high quality content and that can lead to a guest blog getting rejected, which reflects on that site. If a writer stops contributing, then it will typically mean their readership will also leave. There are many ups and downs and we can all think of more I am sure.

Lost Identity as a Blogger

Having too many lawyers guest posting on your site can result in you site becoming like a Findlaw, or Lawyers.com site, where your blog loses its identity in a sea of other lawyers who post their a lot. So it can diminish your original message. Most legal bloggers have their own style and format, which the blog will take on. This means if a blog is publishing guest posts in a large percentage, then how is the blog owner going to publish their content to get their message out.  Think about this, it could contaminate the blog and lose your blogging identity to a point where readership of the blog will not know what the tone is or who owns it.

Guest Posts and Spam

One of the things that are hated by both Google and Bing filters, are spam and irrelevant, wordy, and overall unhelpful content.  Allowing guest posting can lead to a spamming filter being tripped, by you, linking out to irrelevant links for your top level site. This can actually cost the site readers of the blog. The days of general content blogs are pretty much over for purposes of ranking for a particular term, except in certain unusual cases, and perhaps more-so once authorship signals are more prominent as a ranking factor for law firms and solo practitioners.  For now, we are dealing more with the semantic web, and less and less with the power of links themselves. IN effect, the person and the person’s site as a whole are the ranking signal. Does this makes sense so far?

So in any event, we need to be contextual with the semantically related words surrounding any freely given link, and constantly curating relevant content alongside our brand. An potential acceptable example could be a car accident personal injury attorney linking out to a repair shop. But there had better be a contextually darned good reason to do that. A proper example would be a review of a few shops the attorney has whitelisted, such as the attorney is trying to direct his clients to a trustworthy auto body shop.  This could be rightly discussed in the context of an insurance claim of a bodily injury/property damage claim.  Get it? Context?

Even then, mentioning many car repair shops on your host site, would start to change the character of your website to a content/link farm, as well as making it less targeted to who you are. (divorce lawyer, general practitioner, admiralty law specialist, and so on and so forth could become diluted). An example of a way to destroy your rankings and assure little semantically or contextual relevance, would be having a link (within a guest post, for example), on your site pointing to a porn site.  Your link would naturally be surrounded. General content blogs are similar to an Ezine, for example.  Google assumes these are marketing farms as far as I can tell.  We are not interested in that.  What we want as lawyers, are clients who were educated by finding our content on sites that potential new clients would seek. And of course, if me, as a site owner, can get a piece from Ron Miller, with his rel=author link in it, moving forward, Google will see that as HELPING my blog, since a respected, popular author actually agreed to post there.  But he could also be called for a round table, or a quote or whatever.  It does not always have to be some “guest post”….boring. Getting this?

How can You Change The Way Other More Novice Legal “Marketeers” Think?

  • First, direct them to the Circle of Legal Trust, so we can educate people in best search practices, as they are so dynamic.
  • Put a limit on the amount of guest posts that will be allowed. (reserve these for incredibly good content with legal citations, IRAC style paragraphs like when, plus facts, plus because, or Issue Rule, Application, Conclusion and so forth.  Understood? Only allow a great writer to write, and even then YOU MUST EDIT THE PIECE. This includes making sure you do not have a bunch of money anchors going to commercial sites. You must make certain that there are many naked links out to authoritative sources (and no NOT Wikipedia – but perhaps some of the links in a wiki footnote?)
  • So in short, have strict guidelines the so called guest posters must follow in order for their content to be published on the site.
  • Make sure that only high quality content is published on the site.

In the end, you must own it. So you edit it! Once that occurs it is really no longer even a guest post, it is an education piece that is co-authored.  Ta da.  You both win. Are we getting this yet? These are ways to make certain a blog is what the owner thought it should be from the beginning, and if it is not, then it might be time to make the changes to keep your identity and have the quality content that search engines like. The other thing that is important is to feed it, keep blogging and watch your Page Rank!

Posts by Michael Ehline

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