This week my website started appearing on the first page of Google results for the phrase “patent lawyer.” Not so unusual, until you consider that I spent zero dollars in making this happen. Stranger still, my website leverages very few of the search engine optimization (SEO) strategies deemed critical by conventional wisdom in taking a website to page one. As a result of this apparent anomaly, several people have asked me to explain why I have succeeded where other, more heavily financed and thoroughly strategized attempts, have failed.
Google is Not Static
As Google refines and hones its ranking criteria, unscrupulous companies constantly game the system by anticipating what Google thinks is and is not important. Using “black hat” strategies, these companies charge clients large fees in exchange for an outgoing link from one or more of the companies’ popular websites. If a popular website thinks a less popular website is worth linking to, then, the theory goes, Google will consider reranking the less popular website higher in its search results.
The Black Hat
Black hat strategies include things like keyword stuffing , doorway pages , blog scraping and link farming . Such strategies, however, run the risk of Google delisting the website from its search results altogether. Even black hat companies, therefore must be judicious in using such techniques. Conversely, white hat strategies involve non-deceptive techniques to increase search engine ranking. Typical white hat strategies involve providing quality, original content on a regular basis, combined with incoming links from popular, non-paid third-party websites. As one might expect, as Google becomes more and more sophisticated, Google rewards white hat strategies with higher rankings and punishes black hat strategies with lower rankings.
Recently Google punished Findlaw for selling “link juice ” to low page rank law firms . Link juice is receiving cash for linking a very popular website to an unpopular website for the purpose of increasing that unpopular website’s search engine ranking. Not surprisingly, Google frowns on this type of activity, as it undermines the integrity of the search engine results.
In addition to costing thousands of dollars per month, paid link juice provides only a fleeting benefit. As soon as the payments stop, the links go away, along with the search engine ranking. But how can a law firm, or any company, increase its search engine rankings without huge costs or black hat strategies? While white hat strategies are much slower in building search engine rankings (BlawgIT has been around for five years), but because they are not dependent upon any single source for links, the benefits are longer lasting and slower in waning.
What are some of the best white hat strategies? Credibility, content, community and consistency are all things to keep in mind when attempting to increase your search engine ranking.
Credibility comes first, simply because it is the most difficult to change down the road. Once you lose your credibility, it can be very difficult, if not impossible to regain. While credibility obviously entails avoiding making false or outlandish comments, it also encompasses much more subtle themes as well. Does your blog over promote your services? Nothing destroys credibility faster than laying out an issue for which your law firm is the only solution. What kind of outgoing links do you have on your website? Are you simply trading links to increase your search engine ranking? The key is to avoid any type of deception. If you are doing something on your blog or website solely to increase your search engine ranking, think again. Odds are it will come back to bite you in the end.
Conventional wisdom has always been that content is king. While content is still critically important, it is probably third or forth down the list in terms of importance. Would you rather have one person reading one hundred of your articles or one hundred people reading one of your articles? Content is important, especially high quality content, but it is important to consider all four factors when creating your content. Quality, consistency, credibility and relevance always trump quantity.
Networking is probably the most important aspect of any white hat SEO strategy. Your community may stem from your blog itself, social networks, print media, lectures you give, books you write and/or from others evangelizing your online message. The best and worst part of community is its viral nature. Community, and the associated inbound links that come with it, typically does not build in a straight line progression. Obtaining those first fifty links may take 80% of your effort, while the next five hundred links may take only 20% of the effort. This discourages a lot of companies looking for a one for one return on their community building efforts. Get involved with other, similar blogs. Leave insightful comments. Include outgoing links to similar blogs. Building a community does not take a lot of effort, but it does take a consistent effort over a long period of time.
Try to attract a lot of different inbound links from a lot of different sources. Look for those sources to link to you in reference to one, or at most two, very narrow subject areas. If you are a general practitioner, consider focusing your blog on one particular area of the law. There is no faster way to get lost in the search engine shuffle than in trying to be all things to all clients.
Consistency, while not indispensible, is important in growing your search engine presence. As tempting as it may be to blog about last night’s football game, or a recent news event unrelated to your area of practice, such ventures undermine all of your hard earned gains. Do you want search engines to index you on the first page of “patent lawyer dallas cowboys” or just “patent lawyer?” Pick a narrow topic and focus.
Another aspect of consistency is to be regular in your writing. Do not bite off more than you can reasonably chew. Writing six articles one week and then nothing for a month throws off your readers. Moreover, irregular publication encourages search engines to visit and index your blog less frequently, resulting in a lower overall search engine ranking.
The key to organically increasing your search engine ranking is to attract inbound links to professional, quality and regular content you produce over a long period of time. Try different things. What works for someone else might not work for you. Pick a style that fits your personality. Get involved with similar blogs by leaving comments and linking out. Although it will not come quickly or easily, diligent professional attention to your blog and your network will, over time, pay dividends far in excess of any black hat paid placements.