By attorney Michael P. Ehline: There have been some lawyers saying their websites made a dramatic plunge down or amazingly went up in SERPS after Google’s new algorithm change, which people are referring to as Panda 2.0 and its progeny. This may be due to Google analyzing what the website owner, or their marketing company is doing in SEO work on their sites, and determined randomly whether they should give the sites a plus or minus.
Why Would They Do this is The Next Question?
First, a little history. For years, it has been know that posting to blog networks, was a great way to rank your site. Many of these networks were/are owned by the same individuals, and were not that easy to spot with whois info, hosts, etc. Most of these sophisticated networks all linked back to the main legal site, with the same exact match anchors. When a site lost rank, the lawyer network owner(s), could add some more exact match anchors to the KW they lost rankings for, and jump back up in a dynamic search. I used to report this unethical behavior all the time. Especially, when I saw a competitor get a link spike for all the same terms.
So Google decided that too many exact match anchors, link spikes, etc., was not natural, and was probably spam and started blowing lawyer blogs and websites out of the SERPS. Matt Cutts even preached that if you could simply go back and remove those links, and make changes to your site, then you could lose the penalty. Heck, they even sent e mails to many suspected spammers. Naturally, many spammers, and well as legit sites tried to remove these “too many exact match” links. And all along, Google was tracking this activity, including activity on your own site, such as cloaking, tiny letters, and keyword stuffing and who knows what else.
Video Highlighting What Matt Cutts Said About Links Google No Longer Trusts
So was Cutts playing with us to trigger a response? The answer is pretty simple in the mind of a trained attorney like me, as well as the search company’s mind. Obviously, they want to track the reaction of the site that received a penalty (they say it is an “algorithmic change”, but it is a penalty to you), and then decide if the website should be punished MORE. This isn’t paranoia or delusions!
It is the Google patent that was granted on August 14, 2012, which in part reads:
“20. A device, comprising: a memory to store a first rank associated with a document; and a processor to: retrieve the first rank; dynamically compute a second rank associated with the document; select a rank transition function that represents a transition, over a period of time, from the first rank to the second rank; compute, based on the rank transition function, a sequence including a plurality of transition ranks over the period of the time; detect, during the period of time, changes to one or more ranking factors associated with the document; compare the sequence to the detected changes to the one or more ranking factors; identify a signal of rank-modifying spam based on comparing the sequence to the detected changes to the one or more ranking factors; determine whether the signal of rank-modifying spam satisfies a threshold associated with a positive identification of the rank-modifying spamming; and reduce, when the signal of rank-modifying spam satisfies the threshold, a rank score associated with the document.
21. The device of claim 20, where the processor is further to: inject, when the signal of rank-modifying spam does not satisfy the threshold, noise into the rank transition function during the period of time; detect one or more additional changes to one or more ranking factors associated with the document, the one or more additional changes occurring after injection of the noise; and update the signal of rank-modifying spam based on the detected one or more additional changes.
22. The device of claim 21, where the processor is further to: adjust, when the signal of rank-modifying spam does not satisfy the threshold, the rank of the document; detect an additional change to one or more ranking factors, associated with the document, the additional changes occurring after adjustment of the rank of the document and update the signal of rank-modifying spam based on the detected additional change.
23. The device of claim 20, where the processor, when reducing the ranking score associated with the document, is further to: assign a negative ranking score to the document.
24. A non-transitory computer-readable memory device comprising: one or more instructions which, when executed by one or more devices, cause the one or more devices to detect a change in a ranking factor associated with a document, where the change causes a rank, for the document, to transition from a first rank to a second rank; one or more instructions which, when executed by the one or more devices, cause the one or more devices to identify a rank transition function, where the rank transition function defines how an estimated rank, for the document, changes from the first rank to the second rank over a transition period associated with the transition from first rank to the second rank; one or more instructions which, when executed by the one or more devices, cause the one or more devices to calculate, based on the rank transition function, a sequence of estimated ranks, associated with the document, during the transition period, and one or more instructions which, when executed by the one or more devices, cause the one or more devices to compare the detected change in the ranking factor to the sequence of estimated ranks, associated with the document, during the transition period; one or more instructions which, when executed by the one or more devices, cause the one or more devices to designate the document as being subjected to rank-modifying spam based on a comparison of the detected change and the sequence of estimated ranks; and one or more instructions which, when executed by the one or more devices, cause the one or more devices to reduce the rank for the document in response to designating the document as being subjected to the rank-modifying spam.”
What Exactly Does This Mean in a Language the Website Owner Can Understand?
Basically, although they have had the means to use the technology in the patent, they wanted to set up a trigger to see how good/bad it works, and then make adjustments accordingly. So here is a checklist.
- First if you have met the threshold associated with black-hat activities, then Google is going to classify the site owner as a potential black-hatter.
- The next thing that will happen is your website’s position will go up or down in the SERPS, to do this, they will add “noise” to the ranking calculation.
- After the lawyers’ website goes up or down in the SERPS, they will wait for a while, before checking to see how the webmaster reacts in either increasing or removing the black-hat methods. Additional changes will also be detected.
- When they determine the site is not above board, and you are using black-hat methods, after this the website will be regulated in the SERPS, though the document rank will be reduced.
The entire patent can be read at: http://www.google.com/patents/US8244722, since Google patents every new idea, this is a place to start reading. As one can see, Google wants to see if you, or someone you hired is trying to dilute links, etc., and then make a subjective decision that it is or is not a black hate technique.
Black Hat SEO Is Now a Bad Word Equated to “Hitler”
Remember anyone doing deliberate SEO, Google is going to determine if they are a black-hatter. This is why SEO is now a “bad word”. However, I believe the Penguin/Panda scare was a tool to trigger action in black hatters. Unfortunately many innocent sites will be and are getting screwed.
The Unintended Consequences – Punishing Innocent Victims – Negative SEO
But the unintended consequences, are that myself, for example, had been hit with thousands of forum and directory links, about month prior to the damning Penguin in April of 2012. So I immediately started send “intent to sue” e mails, DMCA Takedown Notices, as much of the content had been scraped from my sites, paying and doing everything I could to get rid of these.
Mind you, these were exact match anchors like: “accident attorney”, “car accident attorney”, “personal injury attorney”, and so on. These are all terms that I already had ranked well for, and had no need for more. In fact, the links spike is unlike any in the history of my site. So clearly, Penguin thinks a link spike is unnatural, assumes you, the lawyer did it, and punished your results.
Negative SEO is Getting Even More Sophisticated
Now, the negative SEO is getting even more sophisticated. Now, hackers are using malicious code to 302 redirect pages of PR-0 (PageRank zero as opposed to 3 or 6) Worpdress sites that are unrelated, back to my site. You see, redirects are also a signal to Google of potential black hat
Unsavory criminals are also using malicious code to deindex whole websites that may link to your site, and when the code is removed, and the site recovers, Google sees guess what? Yep, a huge LINK SPIKE back to your site, from all the sites that linked back to yours.
But Wait Matt Cutts Says Don’t Worry Unless You Participated in Black or Grey Hat SEO
I disagree with this video. If you are a lawyer who ranks well, you are a target and since Google now has affirmed that your site can get blasted by having a certain footrprint all a competitor has to do is recreate that footprint on your site.
The Next Jarring and Jolting Penguin Update
Matt Cutts told a group of SEO people they would not want to see the next Penguin update and then said that the next several Google algorithm updates would be “jarring and jolting” for webmasters and SEO people. Everyone now knows Cutts was right and many have experienced the jolt and never wanted to feel this way, because of an update.
You SEO companies, all of the websites you own and if you work on sites for clients, it is being spied on by the search engine powers that be who are taking notes. Then there are the effects of all this. Google is fighting spammers, so in this circumstance Google can appear like a champion to stockholders, etc. In reality, the patent was only just approved, but was just a pending patent till that time. So Google has probably been using the algo since 2005. The difference is the warning e mails sent to suspected spammers.
This is probably what Google used to “trigger action”. Of course, that action could be you removing links the way I did, or you blackhatters just logging in and removing or changing links (no following, making them branded, partial exact match, etc.) But white hatters who got attacked with link spikes from negative SEO, would also do the same thing. And of course, yes, ranking did start to improve so it must have worked, right? Well maybe not? The first step was for Google to change their policy and negative SEO, and instead of being neutral and discounting the links, as they used to do, they now allowed it to punish the sending and receiving sites.
At Least One Trusted SEO Expert Says No Way – This is REALLY About Reducing Spam
I had a little counterpoint over at Bill Slawski‘s blog (a patriot from the great State of Virgina) He came to the defense of Google, stating:
Chances are extremely good that making changes that improve the quality of web pages, such as adding breadcrumb navigation, adding improved titles and meta descriptions and heading, adding fresh content, removing overoptimized links, and so on are likely to not go through a process like this.
I also sincerely doubt that the purpose of a patent like this is to increase ad spend on Google. It’s to stop people from manipulating search results, and I think it’s a very good idea.
Enter the Spike In Google Adwords Sales
The other side of this is once you lawyers are used to being able to monetize traffic by being at the top of the organic SERPS, then your site is gone and then the choice is to consider using AdWords. The loss you feel is another attorneys’ gain. They will simply take your place at the top of the SERPS, and like you start relying on the income from traffic (get hooked on heroin.) It will only be a few months until Google will find something wrong with their website and they will then drop in SERPS like you did. Then their choice, like yours will be down to using AdWords. And when the FTC doesn’t really do anything about it, who cares anyways, right?
SEO legal website professionals, what happens with them, especially working on client’s sites? One of the problems is, when the website owner who is using their SEO firm sees their rank dropping in the SERPS, they will most likely fire the firm. Then they will take that money they were spending on SEO and use it for AdWords. Google will not see this as a bad thing, putting the poor SEO professional out of work, but as justice. It appears that Google’s point of view is that SEO professionals are cheating Google, by using so called “free” places to reach the top of the organic SERPS, instead of buying AdWords like everyone should. So the idea is probably to create an environment of fear, uncertainty and doubt, and force users into PPC.
Problem – Most PPC Calls Are Garbage
Of course, the many of us who cannot afford $50.00 to $80.00 a click for a term like “personal injury attorney” have to make a choice. And of course there is always the problem of click fraud, that is REAL. My experience of using Statcounter, etc, was that competing firms were constantly clicking my ads, and using up my daily bids, as well as foreign IP addresses, that were clearly set up to exhaust my bids. Most of the calls I got were from people “shopping”. You see, like you, I ignore PPC when I do a search. I want to see the organic results. With PPC, I had to spend my entire day tracking the clicks, where they came from, and then try and convince Google to reverse those charges. Plus, I had to pay for BS, negative keywords that automatically you are forced to bid upon, unless you spend your days removing them from Google’s list, and trying not to also accidentally list a keyword you DO want to bid on.
Google will make more profit because of all this, and the legitimate sites. Well who cares, they were not paying anyways. Right? They will claim this was an unexpected element of the updates, while banking the profit. Google says to “do no evil”. We shall see if they also abide by the same philosophy, or if that is a “do as I say, not as I do” command. As a Google stockholder, all I can say is that I got tired of seeing Wikipedia show as result number one for “personal injury attorney”, and started using Bing!
So Google is inadvertently forcing up PPC, lowering excellent sites from the first page, and propping up thin, poorly linked sites in organic. One thing we are seeing, is that the legal sites that do rank, are typically crusty old domains with few backlinks. In fact, I have discovered that many of them are part of a very well coordinated SEO blog network. Instead of using exact match, they are using anchor terms like “view personal injury attorney blog”, etc. These are just some of my observations as an attorney who spends his time looking and direct and circumstantial evidence.
What Does this Mean to Most Attorneys
Simple, stop using SEO companies. Join a group like the Circle of Legal Trust, and optimize your own sites, and stay in compliance with the Google quality guidelines here. Don’t participate in linking schemes and err on the site of minimalist. Build your author ship signals. There has to be a better way than backlinks anyways. After all, one thing is sure, Google has admitted that “negative SEO”, as well as “positive SEO” works. And tomorrows positive SEO could very easily be considered to be a “violation”. Your only other chance, is to get a pass and get whitelisted by Google. My guess is that you would have to be a pretty good friend of an insider for that to occur. In any event, I wish all you attorneys trying to rank good luck! In my case, I am gonna try to get a job at Google. If you can’t beat em, join em!
Michael Ehline is an appellate attorney, and personal injury attorney, with an emphasis on legal and historical research, and also president of the Circle of Legal Trust.
Posts by Michael Ehline
- Program and Syllabus COLT Con 2017
- Las Vegas 2017 Circle of Legal Trust Convention - April 20, 2017-April 22, 2017
- Branding for Attorneys and Law Firms 101
- Problem Avoidance 101 for Attorneys and Social Media
- Penguin, Lawyers and the New SEO Landscape
- Building Meaningful and Effective Web Content
- Joe Mas takes the Award for 2016 for Best Speaker
- Trust Con Las Vegas 2016 Was a Hit!
- Legal Branding and Notoriety Just Got Easier for Attorneys!
- Program for April Vegas 7th-9th