The best SEO for law firms: Don’t ignore your link-building strategy

Even if you’re not a digital marketing pro, you’re probably familiar with search engine optimization (SEO). You may even pay attention to your law firm’s top keywords, keep track of which pages are ranking on the first page of Google’s search results, and do some keyword research of your own to identify new topics to blog about.

Those are all great things! And if you’re already doing them, you’re in better shape than most law firms when it comes to SEO.

But if you truly want your law firm’s website to dominate the search results, you can’t stop there. Google’s algorithms consider more than just the keywords you’re targeting. That’s especially true for “your money, your life” (YMYL) businesses like law firms, which Google holds to much higher quality and site authority standards than other types of content.

If you’ve got a website you’re proud of, you’re updating it regularly, and you’re looking to take that next step, it’s time to think about link building.

At the most basic level, link building is about getting other websites to link to relevant pages on yours.

Google’s robots, also known as “web crawlers,” are constantly working their way through publicly accessible websites, indexing the content on a given page and working their way to new pages using the on-page links.

These links, which are sometimes called “backlinks or “inbound links” are essentially counted as votes by Google when assessing the quality of a page, and factor into the search ranking algorithm.

Generally, the more inbound links you have pointing from other relevant websites to yours, the better. (There are some caveats we’ll explore later.) The basic logic here is pretty straightforward: Google treats a backlink like an endorsement. When your pages attract lots of reputable, inbound links, the search engine assumes that you are doing a better job satisfying users than pages that don’t.

But even though Google has indicated that links are a top three ranking factor, more than 66% of the webpages on the internet are completely backlink-free.

Here’s the issue: unlike the quality of your content itself, you often don’t have complete control over the linking process. Links can’t simply be placed on other people’s websites. (And don’t bother trying to make new sites of your own just for the purposes of “link farming”—Google’s algorithms have been way too smart for that for a long time.)

You have to earn those virtual endorsements and having a good strategy (as opposed to a haphazard one, or none at all) can make a huge difference.

Even though Google has indicated that links are a top three ranking factor, more than 66% of the webpages on the internet are completely backlink-free.

With backlinks, quality is usually more important than quantity. Here are a few considerations you should factor into your backlink strategy.

  • Authority: Links from reputable websites, like news sites, and major online legal directories, matter a lot more than links from outdated, personal blogs.
  • Follow vs. no-follow links: Websites can designate their links as follow, no-follow, sponsored, or user-generated content. With a follow link, the website is effectively endorsing the link and giving it ranking credit. With a no-follow link, it is telling Google that the website is not endorsing the content on the linked page. Most news sites use no-follow links. However, Google considers these designations “hints,” and not an absolute mandate. So, while a no-follow link might not carry as much weight as a follow link, it can still affect your SEO.
  • Social media links: While social media shares, likes, and comments do not improve your SEO on their own, increased traffic from social media sites can signal to Google that your content is important.
  • Toxic links: Inbound links that come from sites that Google identifies as toxic, such as one from a known “link farm,” can actually hurt your search ranking rather than help it.

There’s no quick and dirty path to dominating the search rankings through link building—not anymore, anyway. On the upside, that means unscrupulous firms and marketers can’t cheat their way to the top of the rankings by abusing the system. But it does mean that your law firm will have to put in some effort to develop a winning link building strategy, and success may take some time. The good news is that, in the long run, the results can be well worth it. 

Your law firm will have to put in some effort to develop a winning link building strategy, and success may take some time. The good news is that, in the long run, the results can be well worth it. 

As mentioned above, websites for law firms fall under Google’s “Your Money, Your Life” (YMYL) umbrella, which it uses to categorize webpages that could have a meaningful impact on the “future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety” of users. Other examples of sites that would fall into this category include financial services, medical information, news agencies, and ecommerce vendors.

Because of the impact YMYL sites can have on a person’s life and livelihood, Google imposes much higher page quality standards when ranking them, compared with other types of websites. Domain authority—that is, how reputable Google thinks your website is—can have an especially dramatic effect. And when Google decides to make core updates to its search algorithm—as it did in the summer of 2021—YMYL sites can be particularly vulnerable to large negative swings in organic traffic.

So, how does an ordinary law firm boost its domain authority? That’s a complex question all on its own, but—as you might have guessed—having lots of high-quality links pointing to your law firm’s website is an important part of the equation.

So now that you know what link building is, and why it’s important (especially in the legal industry), it’s time to get the difficult (and fun!) part—actually putting an effective law firm link building strategy into place.

Some of these things are relatively simple and straightforward. Others are trickier and will take time.

Make sure your firm is listed in the high-value online directories

Making sure your website, name, address, and phone number information is listed (and accurate, and consistent across the board) on the most relevant listings sites is an important link building tactic for law firms. It’s also one of the very few tactics that still qualify as an “easy win,” so there’s really no excuse not to do it.

Free directories that matter for law firms include general business listing sites (like Google My Business, Bing Places, and Yelp), as well as reputable legal directories like Justia and FindLaw. Consider other reputable places (i.e., not a link farm) where you can easily add or request a link to your website, such as your bar association profile, non-profit board bio, and chamber of commerce listing.

However, paid directories are on the rise. Avvo previously let you include a website link in a free profile, but this feature is now behind a paywall. Similarly, Nolo, Martindale-Hubbell, and Lawyers.com only offer link-building opportunities to paid subscribers.

As for paid directories, Nolo, Martindale-Hubbell, and Lawyers.com are the main players in the industry and may be worth considering once you’ve thoroughly exhausted your free options.

Create awesome, linkable content

Long-term, the best way to get a lot of high-quality links from other websites is simply to create a lot of high-quality content that people want to link to. It’s also the link building tactic that’s going to be the least susceptible to the capricious, ever-shifting algorithms of search engines.

These so-called “natural” links, which arise organically on domains you don’t control and are not directly placed, paid for, or requested by your firm, are the holy grail of link building. They are, after all, exactly what Google is trying to measure and assess in the first place.

And because Google’s been tinkering with the formula for a couple of decades, it’s slowly been closing off some of the shortcuts that used to work in years past, like link swapping and link farming, (or at least made them less effective). 

Research suggests that certain types of content are more likely to get links than others.

  • How to and DIY: Legal consumers often try to handle their claims before reaching out to an attorney. Content that helps them make smarter decisions early is highly shareable and can build up trust and brand awareness.
  • Tangential: Very few websites will organically link to content that is self-promotional. Tangential content addresses issues that are related to your practice, but does not directly address your services. (For example, you might publish content about car seat safety or dangerous intersections in your community.)
  • Thought leadership: If you have a unique perspective or compelling opinion about your practice or legal consumers’ challenges, there’s a chance it could earn backlinks. This doesn’t mean that you have to write controversial content—but well-researched and well-written thought leadership can resonate with other lawyers, the media, and legal consumers.

However, great content comes in many forms. Tactics we’ve used include in-depth guides, ebooks, comprehensive FAQs, infographics, videos, and much more. Think about the biggest and most common pain points your clients are going through, what the best ways to reach them might be, and then do your keyword research to refine your strategy.

In the best-case scenario, your perfectly optimized content will rocket to the top of the search rankings and high-quality backlinks will start pouring in from every corner. It’s legitimately awesome when that happens!

But whether things turn out that way or not, it’s still best to have a more active and strategic link-building campaign to make (and leverage) personal connections with others who can give you a boost.

A few outreach tactics that are especially relevant for law firms include:

  • Find guest posting opportunities. As an attorney, your experience and perspective can be valuable for readers of websites other than your own. Depending on your professional niche, these organizations could include general news sites, law school student groups, support and advocacy networks for specific injuries, travel advice … the list goes on. Identify a few publications that matter to your target audience, figure out if they accept guest posts—and if they do, pitch your idea.
  • Find your unlinked mentions and broken links and request backlinks. There may be many places on the web where your name or law firm is mentioned or referenced, but not linked—or the link is outdated and points to a page that no longer exists. Some SEO tools (including SEMrush and Ahrefs) even have tools to help you find them. If you identify any unlinked mentions, shoot a quick email and ask them to simply add a link.
  • Reach out to people in your network. You probably have a large network of people who like your law firm or have worked with it in the past. Past and current clients. Past and current employees. Vendors that you partner with. Conference and event organizers. Charitable organizations you volunteer with. What kinds of linking opportunities do you see? Would it make sense to ask for a link on the website of an organization or conference you’re sponsoring?
  • Partner with non-profit organizations: Working with a non-profit organization that serves your clients or the community offers many benefits. First, your law firm is providing essential support to an organization that needs volunteers, expertise, and donations. Second, links from .org sites are a powerful indicator of your content’s quality and your firm’s reputation.
  • Hold webinars. Virtual learning sessions can be powerful link-building opportunities. Consider offering webinars that speak to legal consumers, your referral network, or the non-profit organizations that you partner with.
  • Start your own scholarship. College and law school scholarships are a link building tactic that firms have been using for years. The theory is pretty simple: offer a scholarship, build a corresponding landing page on your site and promote it a little, and you’ll get a ton of valuable .edu backlinks. However, the evidence on whether this tactic is still effective in 2022 is mixed at best. While we wouldn’t necessarily discourage a scholarship program, it’s probably not cost-effective strictly as a link building campaign. Do it primarily because you want to help a student, not because you want to dominate the search results.

As we said above, link building isn’t as simple as link = good. Remember, Google’s been tweaking its algorithm for a very long time. Every year, the search engine gets better at weeding low quality links out of its ranking factors and identifying websites that use manipulative tactics or “quid pro quo” to boost their backlink profile.

In the best-case scenario, the techniques below may not help you much, but hopefully won’t hurt you either. In the worst-case scenario, Google will slap an automated (or even manual) penalty on your site, and you’ll have to work hard to disavow those bad backlinks and rebuild your site’s authority.

And really, if your current link building strategy is in violation of Google’s guidelines, it’s not a question of if you’ll be penalized, but when. Our recommendation? Don’t play with fire.

  • Buying links. Do not pay to put links to your site on the web. Not only is it an expensive way to do SEO, but it also comes at a high risk. Google’s guidelines forbid paid links, and their algorithm is designed to identify and filter them out. In the worst case, Google could consider paid links to be part of a “link scheme” and actively penalize your site in search.
  • Going overboard with “link trading.” Asking for a vendor you work with or an organization you support to give you a link? Totally legitimate. Asking literally anyone and everyone to trade links, even low-authority and borderline irrelevant sites with no supporting copy justifying the link? That could get you penalized.
  • Creating “link farms.” This is another manipulative old-school tactic that maybe worked 20 years ago, but not anymore. Webmasters would create peripheral “microsites” simply to link back and forth with content on their primary site. Google has gotten good at catching and penalizing this sort of practice, particularly if they notice your site getting a high volume of links from low-quality sources in a short period of time.

What’s the overall lesson here?

In short, you want legitimate links, from relevant sources, that make sense. Buying, trading, begging, or otherwise taking link building actions that could be characterized as artificial, spammy, or manipulative are considered “black hat link building.” Such tactics are definitely frowned upon—and potentially dangerous for your SEO.

Does your law firm need help with SEO? You’re in the right place

SEO is critically important for any law firm, and link building is a huge part of the equation. But it’s also a complicated and ever-changing process—and a huge shift in the landscape could be just one Google core update away.

If you need help putting together the right strategy for your law firm’s website—one that’s designed to drive reliable, long-term results that are less vulnerable to search engine volatility—contact the SEO experts at LaFleur Marketing today. Digital marketing for law firms is what we do, and we’d love to chat with you about where your firm is today and where you’d like it to go next.

To get started, call us at 888-222-1512 or fill out our simple contact form today.

References

Evolving “nofollow” – new ways to identify the nature of links. (2019, September 10). Google Search Central. Retrieved from https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2019/09/evolving-nofollow-new-ways-to-identify

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

stephen m

Stephen Mulder is a content editor with LaFleur, a digital marketing agency specializing in highly regulated industries. A veteran writer and editor, Stephen has more than a decade of experience writing for law firms, health care providers, small businesses, major online retailers, news outlets, and more. He is a member of two West Michigan-based choirs and lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and son.

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