Advanced link building: “we are killing black men….”

This is a short clip from a tragically prescient link building presentation I gave at PILMMA way back in 2016.  It touches in a a very very difficult subject, challenges the legal community to get more involved locally and showcases the SEO benefits of doing so.  Yeah – it may seem tone-deaf callous and opportunistic, but really its a call for the legal community to get more involved in their communities at a very intimate level.

 

Link Building: Where to Start

Starting a Link Building Project

Link building is one of the building blocks of SEO. It helps to make connections, building domain authority, and motivating you to create interesting content. We all know this, but where do you start? Well, let’s start with where not to start.

 

Avoiding Schemes and Scams

There are countless businesses around promoting opportunities to buy lots of links for cheap. Don’t utilize them. Link building schemes are great for short-term growth and long-term destruction. And the growth isn’t even real since the incoming traffic rarely converts or interacts. 

Bottom line: don’t buy links.

 

Finding (Legitimate) Opportunities

Looking for places that will provide you with links or are willing to collaborate is hard work. It helps to begin where you are more likely to get a response. This could be directories, local newspapers, even alumni newsletters. These are examples of places where you can simply add a link to your website’s homepage or your attorney profile and call it a day.

 

One technique we like using here at Mockingbird is Lookback Link Building, a termed coined in-house. It can help get high-quality links without asking publications to change recent pieces.

 

The next level of link building is guest blogging or writing content that sites want to link to. This usually takes either an extreme talent for writing alongside high subject matter expertise or a longstanding and good reputation in the field. You should always aim for creating the highest quality content as possible, but the bar is a bit lower if you’re already a well-known name.

 

Building Connections

Making connections is hard in this world, and it’s even harder when you’re asking for a favor. Prepare yourself for a lot of rejection and even more indifference. A lot of your requests will be ignored. You learn to live with it.

 

So what do you do once you make a connection? If the type of link you’re requesting is just putting a link in an article where the firm or attorney is mentioned, ask for that. Explain how it will help the readers who might want to learn more about the subject. Try not to make it sound like a business transaction. People don’t like feeling like they’re giving you something for free.

 

Beyond singular links, you need to build connections with publications and websites that might be open to collaborating with you as a subject matter expert. This means that they would be open to you writing guest pieces or linking to your content. This is a great position to be in. If you find yourself with these types of connections, don’t piss them off. They’re your ticket to a high domain authority.

 

The Benefits of Link Building

If you aren’t convinced that an improved backlink profile will help you out, we have multiple case studies to show you otherwise:

 

Backlink Explosion (How to Monitor the Quality of Your SEO “Experts” Link-building Work)

Wondering what your SEO company is doing to generate all those backlinks (despite the fact it’s not moving the needle AT ALL for inbound traffic, calls or business)? I just got off the phone with a firm questioning their current agency’s reports that were assuring the client they were generating hundreds of backlinks a month. This was delivered along with a thick slice of “SEO is a long term game, you just need to be patient” cake.

So we dug in a bit deeper to see just what was going on. Apparently, they’d gotten 93,000 new links over a roughly 6 months period.

Hmm…

From a total of 11 referring domains.

Double Hmm…

Here’s what the backlink profile looks like according to aHrefs (and btw, yes Google can algorithmically ID these patterns).

 

 

This is clearly spam (i.e. unnatural, non-editorial links that at best, won’t help your site perform). So you can do this type of monitoring yourself of the link-building efforts of your own SEO…here are the red flags I’m seeing:

  1. A massive influx of links at a certain time.
  2. 93,000 links coming from just 11 domains… which is not indicative of someone organically linking to interesting content.
  3. This is reflected in the DR (Domain Rank) score put out by the aHrefs tool. Note that these scores are always bad estimations of Google’s perspective of a site’s overall authority, but they are directionally useful. For context, for a client like this (criminal defense in a mid-sized city), Domain Rank scores should be in the 35-45 minimum range.

If you want to go even deeper – the aHrefs tool shows exactly which domains the links are coming from (in our example, 99.9% of the site’s 93,000 backlinks came from 2 of those domains… not coincidentally owned by the same company).

Note that this is an extreme example which I selected to illustrate the point.  Overall the reporting is going to be much more nuanced… but still worth watching especially when your agency tells you they are busy building backlinks but won’t show you the results.

Martindale-Hubbell Aggressively Marketing Their LinkSpam Network

Psssst…buddy…you…with the struggling website…yeah you. Want to buy a link? How about 5? I’ve got some nice, hot, untraceable links right here in my coat.

In the past 10 days, I’ve received questions from three different legal marketing agencies about Martindale’s new SEO product: The Martindale-Nolo legal marketing network which includes Nolo and Lawyers.com. It’s essentially a mass purchased linkbuilding scheme and people want to know: does this violate Google’s SEO guidelines against LinkSpam.

Short Answer: Yes it does.

But first, let’s hear from Martindale directly:

 

Hmmm…key messages are:

“providing stronger link value…helps increase links through our legal network of websites…help you gain higher search engine rankings”

Also…it’s “affordable” – meaning it’s paid. Isn’t this the flagrant buying and selling of links? Yes it is.

FindLaw Linkspam Provides Historical Context

Back in 2008 Findlaw got exposed for doing exactly this: mass emailing their clients with the offer of purchased links. This was called their: SEM-C product which enabled customers to purchase links and even specify the anchor text (remember anchor text?). You can find a copy of it here. This program got blown up quickly and received widespread backlash among the knowledgable (albeit small back then) legal online marketing community.

So, I didn’t think anyone would be so stupid as to replicate this experiment. Apparently I was wrong. Another variant of Martindale’s marketing materials states:

“This helps increase links through our legal network of websites and directories back to your firms website. Gaining stronger authority and helping you gain higher search engine rankings.”

Google Guidelines Violation

Does this really violate Google Guidelines?  Yup. Yup and Yup. Read excerpts of those guidelines below and ask yourself if there’s any possible way Martindale isn’t setting themselves and their clients up for failure:

  • This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank.
  • This includes exchanging money for links or using automated programs or services to create links to your site.

Note the key concern for law firms here is that these penalties impact not only the seller, but also the buyer of said links.

The Avvo Question

Now speaking of legal directory links, I’d be remiss in noting that AVVO recently sold to Internet Brands, who is also the owner of…Martindale. Back in July of this year, I reported that Avvo was removing contact information unless one purchased Avvo Premium. It was unclear if this included a link to the website. It’s also unclear if Martindale’s “network of legal websites” extends to Avvo as well, but it’s not too hard to connect these dots. I did reach out to the new Avvo people to discuss this further, but they demurred. On a personal level, I’d find it tragically ironic if Avvo is included within this scheme.

So…what’s going to happen?

If history repeats itself, all of these sites (both the sellers and buyers) may have a negative impact on their search traffic. According to the SEO rumor mill, the FindLaw link selling scandal generated a significant and protracted decline in traffic – although I frankly didn’t hear any rumblings of how this impacted the purchasers of said links. Granted that was way back in 2008, but I don’t suspect Google has gotten specifically dumber as it pertains to linkspam over the past decade. Further note that Google relies heavily on algorithmic learning and have been seeking out link networks for about 15 years now. Hiding this network from Google, especially with the large and prolific footprint of Martindale/Nolo/Lawyers.com (and hopefully not Avvo) would be extremely difficult. All Google needed was the linkbuilding smoking gun…an offer to sell links. And apparently, Martindale has just mass emailed that smoking gun to all of their customers (including agency owners who know better.)

Another Indicator That Your “SEO Content” Is Awful

I’ve been railing against the conventional wisdom that more content is the magic SEO bullet for years now. In fact, for many of our clients, we’ve been proactively working on decreasing pagecount, instead of increasing it. There’s a great framework for assessing the value of investing more money on more content in a Searchengine Land article I wrote that essentially shows how to evaluate the efficacy of content in actually generating traffic. Simple stuff, but often overlooked – which is crazy given the vast investment many lawyers make in vomiting out more content at a regular clip.

There’s an even easier way to review this through a very simple report in Google Search Console. This simple report shows the number of pages in your sitemap compared to the number of pages in your sitemap that are actually indexed. In the extreme example below, less than 12% of their sitemap is actually indexed. This means while Google knows about the content, they don’t actually care and those pages will NEVER surface in search results.

Note that this could be for a variety of reasons:

  1. The sitemap is dated and/or broken and showing pages that don’t exist (this happens more frequently than you can imagine)
  2. The site has a tone of content, yet lacks the authority (backlinks) to support the volume of content.
  3. The content on the site is extremely poor and/or copied.

Assuming the sitemap is correctly configured…if the vast majority of your blog isn’t being indexed…why would one continue generating content?

Lawyers of Distinction’s New Top Dog

Mockingbird Marketing is pleased to announce that Lucy Davis of Seattle, Washington has been accepted as a member of Lawyers of Distinction. Lawyers of Distinction limits its membership to the top 10% of attorneys in the United States, and accepts only those who pass their objective evaluation of an attorney’s reputation, experience, license, qualifications, and disciplinary history. Through their vigorous research, Lawyers of Distinction has chosen to bestow this remarkable honor on our dear friend, Lucy.

Lucy Davis is a highly experienced and compassionate personal injury attorney at Davis Law Group in Seattle, WA. With many years of close client relationships, Ms. Davis takes a different approach to advocating for innocent victims of negligent crimes.

Ms. Davis is a member of the King County Bark Association and the American Kennel Club. She is also a strong supporter of the Courthouse Dogs Foundation.

In her spare time, Ms. Davis likes to take long walks and spend time with her family. During the summer months, she spends her time outdoors, either bike riding or boating around Lake Union and Lake Washington. Naturally, Ms. Davis is a die-hard UW Huskies fan, and enjoys attending the Dawg Wagon tailgate party.

Ms. Davis received her Bachelor’s degree from Springfield University, and her Juris Dogtor from Manhattan Law School in New York.

On behalf of Mockingbird Marketing, we want to congratulate all of the skilled attorneys who have been awarded the distinction of being in the top 10% of attorneys in 2017. We can’t wait to see the great things that 2018 brings, especially for Lawyers of Distinction.

*Disclaimer: Lucy is not a lawyer, but she really did win this award. This post is satirical and meant to be humorous. If you’re in for even more of a laugh, take a look at Lucy’s marvelous acceptance speech.

Building Quality Links on Trusted Sites – Email SPAM

You’ve likely received an email with a subject line like “Building quality links on trusted and high authoritative websites” or “Blogpost/Links.” Heck, even search quality representatives at Google get these embarrassingly lazy emails to try and sell high DA (domain authority) links.

Here’s an example I received this morning:

link building spam email

I appreciate being part of your team, mate. However, I’m not buying the BS.

We know what linkbuilding is, and it’s not following up to a poorly written email and handing cash to a stranger.

We know that linkbuilding, especially for law firms, is difficult. So difficult, many law firm marketing agencies won’t even bring it up to you. Go ahead – ask em. What is your SEO agency’s strategy on earning your website links?

I’m hoping their answer didn’t involve replying to Deep and spending your hard-earned money on the small chance of getting that buzzfeed link…

For the record, Google is very good at ignoring these types of links. You may even be penalized for breaking their quality guidelines.

Please, don’t fill Deep’s pockets.

gary illyes spam email links

Linkbuilding Ideas for the Average Law Firm

SEO theory can be broken down into 3 main pillars: technologycontent, and authority. Technology is by far the most difficult aspect of SEO to jump into, just hearing about robots.txt files, XML sitemaps, internal link structure, minifying CSS, and all the other jargon can make your head spin. It’s best to hire an expert to deal with the technological side of your website. However, Joe the attorney down the street can actually do a lot more than you would think to improve the other 2 pillars of SEO for his website.

Many small business owners are aware that content is a significant aspect of SEO and have heard somewhere along the line that “content is king.” Every firm should work in house on creating high quality and unique content that offers valuable insight to the user (see: “Why You are Your Firm’s Best (and Worst) Content Writer“). Many firms (and agencies) actually overdevelop content while ignoring authority. We often see a lot of wasted investment in content on sites that don’t have the authority to support the amount of content on the site.

So, while the content of your website is a very important factor for getting people to find your firm in Google’s search results, it’s not the only one. Google needs other external signals to determine which website deserves to rank over other websites competing for the same search terms, this is where authority comes in.

In order to determine a website’s authority, the big G uses the number of links pointing from other external websites to yours. Think of each link as a vote of confidence for your website (that’s how Google views it). After all, what others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself. So, how can we get those all important votes of confidence (read: links) from other high quality websites on the web?

One of the easiest and most effective ways a law firm can get new links is through current community and organizational relationships. Think about the types of organizations, businesses, and non-profits your firm already supports and find a way to leverage that offline relationship for the online benefit of a link.

Common Link Opportunities:

  • Community Theaters and Arts Organizations
  • Local Universities/Colleges
    • Is anyone at your firm on the board?
    • Bio pages for speaking
    • Linking to course materials provided on the main website
  • Local Events
    • Local meetups organized by a firm member
    • Local events where a firm member happens to be a speaker. What is the organization behind that event?
    • Local events hosted at your firm
  • Corporate Park or Strip Mall Website
  • Charity Runs/Walks/Bike Rides sponsorships
  • Trade Organizations
  • Labor Unions
  • Legal Organizations (The National Lawyers Guild, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Local Bar Associations, etc.)
  • Small Businesses (possibly former clients)
  • Local Chapters of National Charities (Toys for Tots, United Way, Special Olympics)
  • Pro-bono work for local businesses or non-profit organizations
  • Local expert witnesses you work with
  • Organizations or clubs (even a recreational club like a sailing club) where a firm member is a board member
    • You can often link to the firm from the bio page. “Attorney smith is a partner at Smith & Smith PLLC”
  • Art purchased for the firm (Take a picture of where it’s now displayed and send to artist and they may link back to the site).
  • Community page for “Businesses we trust” in which you provide honest testimonials for any local businesses you’ve work with.
    • Service Providers: Janitors, Electricians, Moving Companies, Painters, Plumbers, Carpenters.
    • Caterers
    • Delivered Goods
    • Leased equipment
    • Employee training
    • Local IT company
    • Car Dealership (for company vehicle)

Making the ‘Ask’

The hardest part of linkbuilding is actually moving forward after you’ve identified a linkbuilding opportunity. If you believe the owner or webmaster is willing to provide a link to you on their website, send a friendly email to see if they can make it happen. There is by no means a perfect recipe for making the ask, but here’s my $.02: send an affable email that makes the simple ask “will you link to my website” and then follow up with a very friendly nudge a few days later if you haven’t head back. I would go so far as to recommend a phone call, if and only if, that feels appropriate. If you need inspiration, below is an example of an email we drafted for a client that is on the Board for her Alma Mater and listed on the college’s website…

Hi [insert name],

I wanted to thank you again for the honor of including me on the Alumni Board of Directors. I was just reading through my bio and love that you mention my firm’s name. I am wondering if it’s possible to also link to my website? 
Once my marketing agency found out I’m on the Alumni Board at Example University, their eyes lit up and they have been begging me to ask you about this since. 
[Insert ending salutation] 
You know the person you are emailing… use your own voice and be brief.

Wrapping Up

Linkbuilding is tough work, but extremely important and completely doable for an attorney. So many law firms do great work within their communities — it’s important to show that online as well. If you would like help with linkbuilding or want to learn more, please feel free to drop me a line: dustin[at]mockingbirdmarketing.com

If you have ideas that you would like to share, please comment below!

When the Top 10% Means Nothing

One of my clients was recently contacted by Lawyers of Distinction, an online legal directory claiming to only list the top 10% of lawyers. But what are they using to determine who qualifies as the top 10%?

“Lawyers of Distinction uses its own independent criteria, including both objective and subjective factors in determining if an attorney can be recognized as being within the top 10% of attorneys in the United States, in their respective field. This designation is based upon the proprietary analysis of the Lawyers of Distinction organization alone, and is not intended to be endorsed by any of the 50 United States Bar Associations.”

Doesn’t get much more vague than that.

Let’s say you ignore these first warning signs because you’re struck by flattery, and you start to poke around the site to see who is listed and what perks come with the exceptional honor of being in the top 10%. You may stumble upon the membership page and notice that your award will cost you $425 per year, at the least.

Lawyers of Distinction Membership Packages

What that $425 membership is really paying for is the link back to your site, and the plaque you can prominently display in your office. You also have the option to buy more plaques at $100 each, because who doesn’t need a plaque in the lobby and the restroom?

I was curious to know what the next steps would be for my client who had been nominated. Here’s the page I was taken to from the email he received:

Lawyers of Distinction Application from Email

Pretty basic information. But I wondered what would happen if I were to “Apply for Consideration” directly on their site…

Lawyers of Distinction Basic Application

Almost identical.

With a giant red flag waving in my face, I wondered how legitimate this company is. So I looked up their address using Google Street View:

Conrad wrote an eerily similar post two years ago about the American Institute of Personal Injury Lawyers whose corporate office was also located at a UPS store.

You’d think a company dealing with the top 10% of lawyers would have a physical location. Especially if they’re boasting their combined power with Avvo.

“Avvo has become an integral component of attorney marketing. Avvo provides comprehensive attorney profiles, client reviews and peer endorsements. The problem with Avvo membership alone is 97% of all U.S. Attorneys have Avvo profiles. With lawyers of distinction membership you can “distinguish yourself” and leverage your Avvo rating. The combination and synergy of these two memberships can make the difference in your push for top search engine optimization in your local geographic market and nationally, resulting in additional clients. Harness the power of this combination to fortify and solidify your strong legal reputation for excellence. We congratulate you!”

So in the spirit of the New Year, let’s cut out the shady directories and use our resources on more valuable marketing tactics.

But if you’re really just interested in the Costco discounts, they can hook you up.

Lawyers of Distinction Discounts