Understanding link building can be challenging for attorneys, but once they start to give more time to their link-building strategies, they may be able to grasp the concept, and it’ll start to make more sense to them. Just like how attorneys refer clients to one another for better legal representation, backlinks act in the same way, referring clients to a law firm’s website.
Backlinks are a great way to become an authority on a particular subject, and they help a lot in creating brand awareness. Good backlinks can improve traffic on your website and also help you gain more clients, while on the other hand, bad backlinks can put a dent in a law firm’s SEO ranking.
In the past, to redirect traffic to a website and rank higher in SEO, companies would pay a few hundred dollars for thousands of low-quality websites to backlink to your website. However, today, especially after Google’s Penguin update, the search engine has put up penalties, either manual or algorithm penalties, for breaking Google’s quality guidelines.
At C.O.L.T, we aim to equip our fellow lawyers with the best SEO practices and show them how they can improve their website rankings. In this article, we will explore bad links to your site, why you may have them in the first place, and how you can get rid of them.
What Is Link Building?
The law firms that you see pop up first in search engines are the ones using link-building strategies to improve their SEO rank and attract website traffic. Lawyers can remain competitive by getting relevant and high-quality links by linking their websites with others.
One of the most important link-building tactics involves backlinks, and these can contribute to your website’s SEO rank.
Backlinks: What Are They and Their Types?
Every law firm wants to be on the first page of the Google search engine, in the top 10 searches for their practice area. While there are hundreds of firms competing against each other, there are only 10 spots on the first page, and everyone is aiming for these spots.
Some law firms may naturally rank high purely because of their quality content and the power of their domain, and this is why backlinks are a crucial part of SEO and help build your website’s ranking power in search engines.
There are two types of backlinks, which are:
- No-follow links: These types of links only increase traffic to your website, but it does not affect your site’s SEO rank. This is because these types of links have a tag associated with them that lets search engines know that they shouldn’t consider it in your site’s link profile.
- Do-follow links: These types of links carry link equity that allows search engine crawlers to scan the website and rank it accordingly. These types of links are much preferred over no-follow links.
The more backlinks a law firm’s web page has, the more traffic it receives as, Google believes that these attorneys are experts in their field. It not only helps in increasing organic traffic but also magnifies brand visibility, boosts website authority, and improves SEO scores.
However, there are firms that practice shady SEO tactics to increase traffic to their websites by purchasing backlinks. To prevent website owners from exploiting the search engine, Google has introduced new guidelines in their Penguin update, and those practicing bad SEO are now penalized, and to remove the penalties, you must disavow bad backlinks.
Blindsided by Bad Backlinks
Google has laid out the entire guidelines on backlinking, and you can find them on Google’s quality guidelines by doing a quick search on the search engine. These guidelines are in place to ensure every website plays by the same rules, and failure to follow these guidelines could result in penalties. One of the major signs of violations of their terms is bad backlinks.
Many lawyers may start to panic after receiving a notice from Google for violating their guidelines and most of you may not even know how all of this happened in the first place. You’re not wrong to think that, and many businesses, unfortunately, are often blindsided by bad backlinks.
There are many reasons why you may have received this Google penalty, so let’s explore some of these scenarios.
A lawyer is always busy reading legal documents, preparing a strong case, and representing their clients in court, among many other responsibilities. Most of us do not have time to look at every aspect of our website, from following the best SEO practices to keyword research, writing content, and more. The simplest solution to maintaining your web presence is hiring an in-house expert or outsourcing the work to an SEO agency, and to ensure positive results, these companies or the in-house expert may have built a shady backlink portfolio in the past. At the time, you wouldn’t have questioned the unreal growth your law firm website is experiencing, but because of these practices, you are now facing penalties from Google.
In 2012, there was a wave of people buying backlinks for their websites to generate traffic and improve their search engine rankings. It was the easiest way to cut your competitors in the SEO game and make your way to the top. The usual rate for purchasing backlinks in 2012 was around $99 for a couple hundred or even thousands of low-quality backlinks. Although you may not be purchasing backlinks anymore for your website, your past actions without realizing the future negative ramifications could possibly be why you’re facing penalties from Google today.
If you haven’t had an SEO company working on your website or paid for backlinks in 2012, then chances are that your competitor is spamming your website with low-quality links. Yep, it’s more common than you think. There are more than 9,000 personal injury attorneys practicing in California, with most of them in and around Los Angeles and the competition is extreme. You never know who could employ such tactics to hurt your business.
Another reason why your ranking tanked overnight could be because of the use of keyword anchor text in external backlinks. Previously, website owners used to have heavy keywords implemented in their anchor text in external backlinks to manipulate Google to rank their website for that keyword. This act was commonly referred to as “the Google bombing.” People started exploiting it to the point that we saw really hilarious examples, such as if you Googled “miserable failure” back then, the search engine would return “George W. Bush.” This had to change, and after the 2012 Penguin update, Google rolled out important changes to their ranking system, with the primary target being the anchor text.
How to Disavow Bad Backlinks in 2022 Manually
Step 1: Reach Out to Your SEO company
After receiving that message from Google regarding penalties, most law firms would want to fire the SEO company managing their website. Although you might be right in doing so, we don’t recommend it as it’s not a good idea at this point.
The easiest way to get out of these penalties is by reaching out to your SEO company. These companies keep records of the links they build, and they also have a record of all the log-in information for different websites, forums, profiles, and more. If you’re on good terms with the SEO company, they might help you out with the penalties by removing the links either for free or for a charge.
If the SEO company declines to undertake this task, you can ask them to at least provide you with the links so that you can disavow them yourself.
Step 2: Identify Bad Backlinks
If the SEO company is unwilling to help you with the backlinks, you need to identify these spam links to your site yourself.
Do keep in mind that even if the SEO company removes the bad backlinks for you, there will still be a large number of links that were not manually removed, so you have to undergo this step either way.
The first thing you need to do is to download all these bad links to your site. Start by logging in to your Google Webmaster Tools account and navigating to “Traffic.” When you click on traffic, you’ll see: search queries, links to your site, and internal links.
Click on “links to your site.”
When you click on the “links to your site” option, it’ll bring up information about your page, including the total number of links, and so on. There will also be a section “who links the most.” Click on the “more” button and then click on “Download latest links.” You need to download the links in a CSV file, so make sure you choose that option.
With the downloaded CSV file, you’ll be able to see all the spammy links to your website. We’re going to be finding links containing the following words:
The reason we’re doing this is that most of the spam links come from comments, forums, profiles, and forum profiles.
Here is how you can find these words in CSV.
- Open the CSV file.
- Navigate to the Find feature in the CSV file or simply press “Ctrl + F.”
- Now, start searching one by one. Let’s start with the word “forum.” Type the word in the search bar and click on “find all.” You’ll see a preview pane on the left side with all the links that contain the word “forum.”
- You need to select all the URLs. Click on the first URL and then scroll down in the preview pane to the last URL, hold shift, and click on the last URL.
- Now copy all the selected links by first clicking outside the find box and pressing “Ctrl + C.”
- Open up a new spreadsheet by pressing “Ctrl + N” and paste the copied links over there.
- Now head back to the previous CSV file and delete the copied links to avoid any duplicates since you need to search for the other suggested words too.
- Once you delete the links, you must continue this process for all the other words we have listed previously.
Disclaimer: Using this method will not eliminate all the backlinks on your website, but it is an easy way to remove most of the bad links, which is enough to get your penalty lifted. You may want to go over these links before deleting them to identify if there are any good links in them. However, even if you delete some of the good links, it shouldn’t be an issue as you’re on a quest to eliminate most of the backlinks to get your website back on the ranking board.
Step 3: Compile a List of Domains
When shady SEO companies are building links to your site, they will often create multiple links from the same website or domain. It is crucial to have a list of the root domains from which all these sites are coming, as it will help later on in the next few steps when you’re going to disavow these links.
Here is how you can compile these root domains:
- You created a list of spam URLs in a new excel file earlier. Open that file. At the same time, open another worksheet where you’re going to finalize these links.
- Go to your excel file with the spam URLs and copy the root domain of the first link, then head to the new excel worksheet. Paste the root domain in the first column.
- Now head back to the previous spam URL excel sheet and search for all the links with that domain name. Ctrl + F to bring up the search box, paste the root domain in the search bar, and click “find all.” Copy all the links and paste them under that root domain column by clicking Ctrl + V.
- Now head back to the spam URL excel sheet and delete all the links to avoid duplicates. Repeat this process for all the root domains until you’re left with no links in the spam URL excel sheet.
Step 4: Request Link Removal by Emailing Webmasters
If you were unsuccessful in manually removing all the links, this step is crucial for you to follow. You need to email all the webmasters to remove the links, and to do that; you need to collect the email addresses of the webmasters for the root domains you have collected.
Create a new excel worksheet where you will have all the root domains listed and add contact information to each of these so that you can email them later on.
So, how do you find email addresses for webmasters or site owners?
There are several ways you can go about doing this. We’ve listed some of the different ways for you to try and hopefully find the email addresses you’re looking for.
- You can search the website manually on Google and navigate to their “about us” or “contact us” page to get the email address.
- You can also perform a Google site search by using the following command: “site: enterdomainhere.com” “email””. Google will search for all the webpages with the word “email” on them on the domain site you’re trying to search.
- If the website you’re trying to search does not have a private registration, then you can pull up the details about the webmaster by searching on the following link: http://who.godaddy.com/.
- Sometimes websites do not provide an email address, but they do have a contact form for users to reach out to the site owners. In such situations, you would want to send an email using the contact form. Copy the contact form link and paste it next to the contact details for that root domain in the new worksheet you have created.
- If there is no email address and there are no contact forms, mark it down on the excel sheet in front of that particular root domain. You will need this information when you’re sending this excel sheet to Google for a reconsideration request.
Now you’re all set to start sending out emails, but before that, make a quick email template to use to make this process a bit easier. You should not rush this process by sending in bulk mail as they could end up in the spam folder. Make sure that you customize every email for that webmaster and include the backlinks from that particular website.
It is important that you keep track of all the emails that you send in an excel spreadsheet. Information in the excel sheet should include the link URL, webmaster email, date for the removal request (date of the email sent), and the link removal status.
Step 5: Follow Up
If you have not heard from some webmasters in a week’s time, you need to send them a follow-up email. Remember, we’re letting Google know that we tried everything possible to undo this bad backlink situation. Just like in step 4, you should send out customized emails with the relevant backlinks that need removing.
Step 6: Disavow Leftover Links
With this entire process, you’ll be able to remove most of the links. However, you might still have some bad backlinks left, and now you can use Google’s disavow tool to remove these.
The disavow tool lets Google know of all the websites you want the search engine to avoid when ranking your website.
You need to create a “.txt” file with all the links you want Google to disavow. Copy the bad backlinks from your previous excel spreadsheet and paste them into the notepad before saving it as a .txt file.
There are two ways you can go about disavowing links, and these are either doing it individually or disavowing the entire website. You should disavow links individually if you feel that the website or domain has some good links. However, that is not usually the case. You can disavow individual links by copying the entire URL and adding it to the .txt file.
We recommend disavowing the entire domain as it’s simple to do that and you’ll also avoid more spam links from that domain in the future. To do that, you must add “domain:” before all the root domains you want to disavow. For example, see below.
- domain: rootdomain1.com
- domain: rootdomain2.com
Step 7: Send a Reconsideration Request to Google
Now that you have your .txt file ready, you need to upload it to your Google Webmasters Tool Account.
- Start by accessing this link: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main
- Select the website you wish to disavow links to.
- Click on the “disavow links” button.
- Upload your .txt file by clicking on the “Choose File” button.
- Hit “Submit,” and you’re done.
You may be wondering why you went through all these tedious steps instead of simply adding all the links to the .txt file and using the Google disavow tool to save some time. Google has previously stated that using the tool alone without any other efforts will not help in removing the penalties, and they want to see whether you’ve put in the efforts to disavow the links. Consider it as a sort of punishment for spammers without letting them off the hook that easily.
Step 8: Pleading in Your Reconsideration Request
We understand how tiring this entire process can be, but hold on as this is the last step where you get to plead your case to Google.
For your reconsideration request, you need to prepare and include three documents. Don’t worry, if you followed all the steps, then you already have those 3 excel sheets available to you. You simply need to transfer the data from those three excel sheets to Google sheets and docs.
You need to make:
- A Google Spreadsheet with all the bad links you removed manually.
- A Google Spreadsheet with all the bad links you removed manually, with the details of when you contacted the website owner and the status of those emails.
- A Google Doc with the bad links you disavowed using the Google disavow tool.
When you have these three documents ready, you need to draft your reconsideration request. In this, you must mention why you think Google penalized you. If you were guilty of using bad link-building tactics, you must admit guilt. Or, if you used SEO companies and were unaware of their tactics, you must mention the names of those companies with their website URLs.
You need to let Google know how you manually removed the links and also add the URL to the Google Spreadsheets and Docs. Let them know that where you were unable to remove the links manually, you contacted the webmaster via email. Write in your reconsideration request that after trying to remove most of the links manually, you were still left with some links due to no response from the webmasters, forcing you to disavow the remaining links using the Google disavow tool.
Your reconsideration request should also include your SEO strategy going forward. Let them know that after hiring the SEO company, which was a huge mistake, you’re no longer focusing on link building but instead providing the best user experience possible through high-quality content.
Once you feel that you’ve created a great reconsideration request, you can visit the site below, where you need to select the website first and paste your reconsideration request before sending it to Google.
You’ll receive a response from Google in 7 to 14 days. However, it can take more or less. Google will send you an email stating whether they’ve accepted your reconsideration request or declined it. If the penalty gets lifted, you’ll be able to see traffic increase on your website in just a couple of weeks. You will not receive the same ranking as you had previously and will need to work towards regaining your website’s authority by posting high-quality content and earning high-quality organic backlinks.
If Google rejects your reconsideration request, then you need to revisit the backlinks by using tools such as Majestic SEO and have a hands-on approach to identifying spam links.
Identify Spammy Links and Create Disavow Lists Automatically
We’ve explored how you can identify spammy links manually using the Google Webmaster tool. However, here we will let you know how you can find bad backlinks using a combination of SEMRush and the Google search console.
When you copy a phrase from your website and paste it into the Google search engine, it’ll return with search results. However, if your website is low quality, the search engine may return with “no results found.”
Whether you paid an SEO company to work on your law firm’s website or you purchased 1000s of low-quality backlinks, you can leverage technology like the SEMRush backlink audit tool. The tool helps website owners detoxify their websites of harmful links and improve the website’s ranking.
SEMRush scans the website for all the backlinks and the corresponding domains – you can connect your SEMRush with the Google Search Console to pull all of the backlinks and provide a toxicity score.
The software uses the toxicity score to determine which links are harmful to your website, helping save a lot of time. The scale goes from 0 (which is good) all the way to 100, which signifies that the link is highly toxic. However, you have to be really careful when using SEMRush as, even if it tells you the website is toxic, at times, that might not always be the case. Make sure you visit the website where you have doubts.
Once you visit the website and are sure that the website is causing more harm than good to your law firm’s website, it is time to add it to the disavow list within SEMRush. It will help create a disavow file that you can then upload to Google using the steps mentioned earlier.
Avoid Being Overly Aggressive
Linking aggressively to websites using keyword-heavy anchor texts does the website more harm than good. A good example is a personal injury attorney writing an article for another website might use keyword-heavy anchor text to link back to their website. SEMRush has a tool to help you identify all the anchor texts on your website used in your backlink profile.
People in the past thought that using keyword-heavy anchor texts would help them rank better on Google and other search engines. However, that is not the case, as anchor text should sound natural.
Many businesses spend a lot of time on SEO, but since they are doing it all wrong, it’s causing their websites a lot of harm. Website owners think that the more backlinks they get, the better their website will rank. They quickly reach out to their friends and ask them to link back to your website.
Google tries to search for patterns and anomalies to prevent any manipulations. Heavy keyword anchor texting on non-relatable websites linking to your website within just a few weeks sends an alarming signal to Google that something is not right.
It is crucial that you have relevant content and have backlinks through external content, but you should do it in an organic manner.
You can use Google Analytics to analyze the traffic coming to your website. If the traffic is coming from backlinks, analyze whether the people are staying on your website. If the traffic is coming from backlinks due to external content and the people are staying on your website, it is a good sign that you’re building the right kind of links.
Great Link Building Strategies for Law Firms
There are many strategies you can adopt, but not all of them will work well for your law firm’s website. Here, we will explore the best link-building strategies that have proven to be effective in the past for SEO experts.
Jump into Guest Posts
Starting guest posting is one of the most popular link-building strategies, and more than 50% of the SEO experts recommend going down this route. There are many websites that have authoritative content, and writing guest posts for them can increase the visibility of your law firm’s website.
An attorney can provide their valuable knowledge by writing an external post for these websites, and in return, the websites can provide a link on that blog post that links to their law firm’s website.
Duplicating Competitors’ Backlinks
If your competitors are doing really well on search engines, then it’s about time you started duplicating your competitor’s backlinks. Search engines do not care much about which website did it first, so you can easily adopt this strategy without any worries about penalties.
The easiest way to go about this is by using online tools such as SEMRush or Moz. These websites can scan your competitors’ websites for backlinks and provide you with their backlink profiles. This can help you track their strategies and stay on top of your competitors.
You can then reach out to all those websites backlinking to your competitors and ask them if they would be interested in backlinking to your website as well, in exchange for a high-quality post.
Use Resource Pages
Visit the California Bar Association and skim through their pages. You’ll come across many resource pages that have provided links to various legal websites for individuals looking for legal help or information pertaining to different topics. A great strategy would be to approach these types of websites and ask them for an opportunity to backlink to your website.
Delete Broken Backlinks
Broken backlinks are an indicator of a low-quality website and thus negatively affect the website’s SEO rank. Almost 40% of the SEO experts recommend removing broken backlinks, replacing them, or informing Google webmasters about them.
Get Listed in Online Directories
There are many legal online directories that have information about law firms and lawyers in the United States. Online directories are a great way to attract local potential clients to a law firm. Approach these online directories to list your law firm at the top of their lists with a no-follow link.
Use Social Media Backlinks
Law firms are now taking their content to social media to create awareness of legal issues, provide solutions to legal problems, and guide their readers accordingly. They provide a link in their social media posts to their website to ensure that readers can access the law firm’s site for more information.
Social media is a great tool for backlinks as content on social media is usually shared by many individuals, which increases the number of people that your post reaches out to. If you have a link present in the social media post, you’ll most likely witness an increase in website traffic if your post gets shared multiple times.
Reach Out to Unlinked Mentions
There is a chance that your law firm is specifically mentioned on other websites without any links to your law firm’s website. This is a great opportunity for you to reach out to these publishers and ask them to link the unlinked mentions to your law firm’s website.
Join Hands with Opinion Leaders
To increase the visibility of your law firm’s website, you can always try to partner up with other firms. Whether you’re using brand advocates to make meaningful partnerships or conducting quality interviews with industry leaders, partnerships can help your law firm remain visible in search engines.
Add Links in Comments
Blogs and forums have comments enabled, allowing users to provide opinions and interact with each other. Law firms can head on to relevant forums and blogs with comment options and start commenting on their website’s link on it. Around 22% of SEO experts recommend adding links in the comments section as part of a website’s link-building strategy.
Write New Content
There may be websites with content that has backlinks to your competitor’s websites. Why not improve upon the content and replace the old content with yours? This strategy is commonly referred to as the “skyscraper technique.”
The technique requires in-depth research on a topic you wish to write about. In your research, you must identify the weaknesses of already existing content and improve upon it. Here is how you improve your link-building strategy using the skyscraper technique.
- Research top-performing content according to the keywords that are relevant to your law firm.
- Take note of the publishers that have such content in their posts and take down their contact details.
- Analyze the existing content, find weaknesses, and create a better piece of writing that adds value to readers.
- Get in touch with the publishers and recommend your new article.
The skyscraper technique works well as you’re approaching publishers who are seeking great content on their website for their target audience. This is a targeted approach, as you’re getting in touch with people who are already interested in top-notch content. The success rate for this is around 6 to 12%, which is considerably high for a cold outreach strategy. However, the success rate can be more dependent on how great your content is.
How Long Does It Take to See Results from Your Link Building Strategies?
Link-building strategies should always show consistency. If you’re using social media backlinks or approaching publishers for new content, you must keep up with these efforts. You don’t want to do it once, wait for Google to detect it, and then start working on the strategies again. This can be a very time-consuming and inefficient way to improve your website’s ranking.
It takes about 3 to 6 months for Google crawlers to crawl through the websites and detect the links. However, the results can be seen earlier than this time frame.
A recent survey revealed that 51% of website owners saw the results of their link-building strategies in one to three months.
Is Link Building Relevant in 2022?
Link building remains an integral part of Google when considering ranking your law firm’s web pages. The Google algorithm continues to use link building as a factor when ranking a website. As long as it continues to use this as one of the ranking factors, it will remain an important part of lawyer SEO.
What Is the Law Firm SEO Success Factors?
The entire article focuses on bad backlinks and great link-building strategies to help your website rank among the top. Let’s wrap this article up with the factors affecting a law firm’s SEO success.
There are five things an attorney must focus on to improve their website’s SEO, and these are content, experience, structure, compliance, and authority.
Your website’s content is what grabs the attention of the reader and makes them visit other relevant pages on the website. Google uses text to predict the best answer for your search results, and content plays a crucial role in SEO ranking.
Your website’s user experience determines client acquisition, and site architecture, readability, and conversion paths are important factors in educating, convincing, and converting a client.
A visitor must know how to use your website, which means your law firm’s website must be intuitive. The visitor should be able to read the content without any distractions, so focus on the font, and quality of the content, and avoid unnecessary animations.
The three structural requirements for a law firm’s website are as follows:
- The website should be mobile-friendly: A mobile phone is much easier to access and use than a computer or laptop, and if your website is not optimized for mobile phones, it will definitely lead to a bad experience for potential clients.
- The website should be secure: When you visit a website, you will see a small lock icon that suggests that the website is secure and a website without that lock is an unsecured website which scares away potential clients, and this is why your law firm website should have a valid security certificate.
- The website should load fast: Slow websites can cause a lot of frustration and affect a user’s experience and in many cases, potential clients might visit your competitor’s websites if your website is ridiculously slow.
Google rewards high-quality content and severely punishes those websites that conduct manipulative tactics. Now you don’t need to worry about your competitor’s ranking and can easily succeed by following Google’s recommended guidelines.
“Authority” is the trust that Google attributes to your law firm’s website compared to your competitors for the same search results, and this is based on how useful your content is, how easy is it to utilize or consume your content, and how legitimate are the inbound links to your website.
Google can easily detect when a website owner purchases links and severely punishes them with penalties and bad SEO rankings, so the only way to get effective links is to curate high-quality, relevant content.
You cannot fake authority with purchasing links, so ensure that your content is of high quality and your website has a fantastic user experience.
If you’re looking to become a contributor at C.O.L.T or are looking for a trusted attorney, contact us at + (888) 494-5015 or send us an email at email@example.com.