The following are SEO-specific questions that were answered during a recent Q and A session and transcribed for our readers. Please excuse any discrepancies in the transcription.

“I have to have a scholarship to get valuable links to help my website.”

I have extensive documentation on scholarship links that I’ll reference (notice the section on scholarship links – this is in 2019 but not much has changed), but the short answer is definitely no. There is even an ethical, potentially ethical, intro to even this question that scholarship, which is typically purely a philanthropic activity, should not have an ulterior motive of building authority to your website. So, the longer answer is that law firms have been creating scholarships for the sole purpose of getting EDU links for over a decade, so this is not remotely a novel idea. It is important to know that unless you are doing this purely from an ethical standpoint or a philanthropic standpoint for your desire to give back, do not expect anything to come from the link-building standpoint.

The reason I say this is that websites managed by EDUs have noticed this being an ulterior motive of law firms for quite some time. They are oftentimes burying the links, removing the do-follow, not even updating the page that often, or putting hundreds and hundreds. Of the links on the same page where they’re difficult to even get crawled for you to see an SEO benefit. Other people are moving to do sponsorships, charity links, and their own 5Ks and 10Ks, but it has always been our thought that to do this with giving back in mind primarily, and to not expect to get a link in advance, especially for something that has been so overdone such as scholarship links.

“If I rank well for all of my keywords from SEO after a while, I don’t need to have an SEO working for me any longer.”

What happens is after you have already accomplished getting your top three rankings for all your major keywords and you dust off your hands and say, “My work here is done,” it would never be advised to completely drop off doing SEO, especially in legal. The main reason being your keywords are going to be vulnerable from a lack of activity and you always must imagine that there are dozens of other law firms that are working around the clock to bump you off those coveted positions that you work so hard to rank for.

So, what would be advised and what typically happens in our situation is to in some situations maintain those positions, meaning you do not have to do a full-fledged campaign oftentimes any longer once you are ranking number one unless you are in a hypercompetitive area. But know that you’re always going to need fresh links, know that you should always periodically update those pages that are ranking well, should always be blogging or adding additional content to the website and internal link into those pages just to know that you’re proactive on it and Google’s not going to start pushing you down the front page for the keyword because of a lack of activity on the page.

You can either scale down your efforts or shift your efforts to move on to the next thing, but always keep in mind that you should revisit. In legal, it would never be advised to ever discontinue doing SEO at any point. It would be more a matter of shifting focus or maintaining what you have accomplished by potentially scaling down the scope of work that you must do for those pages.

“Google is monetizing results more and more so SEO isn’t as important as it used to be.”

This is a great question and every time I hear it, I am by no means defensive whatsoever. It is up to an aware and initiative-taking SEO team and SEO professional to consider everything that is happening on a search results page.

One of the best examples I can give is the Local Service Ads that started to roll out in their entirety back in August of 2020, that for most SEOs would have been a direct assault on everything they worked towards, which are of course organic results. And this was a paid position that was going to appear above Google Ads, meaning that without a doubt, a lot of desirable search terms would have maps and organic placement pushed even further down because we would have Local Service Ads followed by any number of Google Ads ranging from one, two, and in some instances that we may not see as much anymore, but three or four. So, you can imagine even on mobile, you are scrolling quite a ways before you even get too organic.

The reason that this didn’t come to be a huge issue from an SEO standpoint, and I can verify this by all the campaigns that we had across the board, not having too much of a shift even with a whole new search result being positioned at the very top is that the Local Service Ads at the end of the day were still an ad and the average consumer that doesn’t want to click on the ad still is oftentimes not clicking on the ad. In fact, in a lot of the data and surveys that we did every three months for almost two years following the rollout of the Local Service Ads was that most of the click-throughs were occurring, most of the click-throughs were being taken away from Google Ads and diverted to Local Service Ads.

If before this update on search results, 30% of clicks went to Google Ads after the rollout of Local Service Ads, there is still 30% of the clicks ads, it is just that now, Local Service Ads were getting 20% clicks, now Google Ads were getting 10% of clicks. So, we did see declines in the amount of engagement on Google Ads. What happens with SEO over time is that the organic is still getting commonly 60% to 70% of all clicks for short-tail keywords. And it is about how those clicks are comprised. Is it going to be on the maps? Is it going to be organic? Is it going to be a website versus a directory?

The consideration now is how many search results appear, even display ads, if people are searching more voice search or long-tailed and there is even a search term that triggers a local service ad or Google Ads. Depending on search behavior and how people prefer to search, there is always going to be an opportunity for SEO or their organic to be the primary search result that people are looking for.

“What kind of links are you building for my website?”

This varies oftentimes from agency to agency. There are hundreds of different ways of getting links. Once you really do a deep dive into SEO and you focus on that being a core discipline for years, the goal really of the agency is to not always put the onus or responsibility of acquiring links on the law firm.

And this kind of goes back to the scholarship link. Building authority is a part of the scope of work that an agency should be responsible for and the success of a link-building strategy and in turn, building authority to the website should not be something that the law firm has to undertake in an arrangement with an agency. While you can do scholarships and charities and all those things that were mentioned before, it should be sparingly that the agency almost requires or puts that responsibility on the law firm. It should be the responsibility of the agency to engage the law firm and do a link-building strategy that is going to build enough authority to be competitive without requiring the time of the law firm.

You do want to focus more on the legal industry if possible from both actually a work standpoint and a logical standpoint, you don’t want to be getting general links, just general business links all the time for links building, but in some instances, it’s fine, especially for citations, but you wouldn’t want to get links from a supply chain blog or you wouldn’t want to get it from a mommy blog or a yoga blog. Cultivating relationships with different legal blogs and curating lists of legal resources is a priority at least for our agency.

And our link building portfolio is typically comprised of backlinks from legal resources, legal blogs, citations, business directories, legal directories, occasionally sponsored content, sometimes what are called Web 2.0 profiles or profiles that afford an opportunity to get a backlink from very authoritative websites, that they can be general. And through this mix of coming from many different referring domains, many of which everyone has access to but in some cases, resources that are accessible to us through relationships we have built over the past decade, we are able to be competitive in every single market from your Houston car accident to your Hickory, North Carolina estate planning lawyer.

“I’d love to do more Google My Business locations, but virtual offices aren’t working anymore.”

That is what we often hear these days, and to an extent, it can be correct if there is not a criterion or checklist that you are observing. There are webinars that I am familiar with and other, I guess you could say pitches or conversations around the industry that I have been plugged into that say that a virtual office strategy no longer works. And that is not always the case. This conclusion is created from people that have not had success themselves anymore, from people that they are not able to accomplish getting virtual offices or other office locations verified, so therefore, it is not working for anyone else, which is a shortcoming that they must deal with and does not necessarily affect everyone else.

I think that the widespread conclusion that this does not work anymore is mostly derived from people that do not want to put an effort to take extra steps for approval that is necessary nowadays. It used to be easy to set up any virtual office anywhere even a Regus, an Opus, or a Da Vinci. Simply sign the contract with the virtual office or the company and immediately go through the verification process. What the issue is that Google’s taken more steps for recognizing how your company is actually established in that location ahead of time and will put you through a rigorous approval process should there be nothing that they can go off of to prove that you have existed in that location, which does really validate how critical they are of this process now.

Because anyone that goes through the process of really renting an office, getting signage, registering with their state business organizations, and buying insurance, you are going to leave a footprint that Google’s going to be able to see present in the search index. Those things would just happen automatically, that your business or your brand would be associated with the location. There are steps that you do need to take ahead of going to Google to try to register your business. If you are to do a satellite office that may not always be physical, you do want to take certain steps in place to establish that you have a new location there whether it be things such as adding to your website in advance, or doing citations, or building up that footprint naturally that you intend to take the next step up to verify that location with Google.

Or else, Google is going to go through a rigorous process of making you do a video overview and other things that you, in some instances, would not be able to successfully provide. these are steps that need to be done that you did not necessarily have to do before. And when they are done properly, even though they are extra steps, you can still successfully secure satellite offices to increase your presence via Google My Business. Now, afterward, once you establish that business, you will have to have a strategy in place for now getting reviews or doing further optimization. Just be prepared that every office location still must be competitive by putting the effort once it is approved and can be listed in Google My Business.

“I don’t want to do anything black hat and have my website penalized one day.”

The concept of black hat versus white hat is very arbitrary, at least for SEOs, meaning that there are two sides of SEO they can do to get Google’s favor. They are doing things at a white hat capacity, which is okay, and there’s black hat, which is not okay. The thing is that Google’s guidelines when it comes to SEO are to do things very, very naturally. doing anything that is contrived or very explicit as far as your marketing goes would be black hat either way.

For example, these terms are used mostly when it comes to link building because only black hat that was ever perceived by anyone, that wasn’t related to link building used to be onsite and used to look like keyword stuffing which is just unnaturally using keywords in excess rate, your content and then keyword cloaking which was literally writing keywords over and over and over again and making them the same color as the background and you couldn’t see them unless you actually clicked and highlighted them.

So, since both those things are universally antiquated by SEOs that only leave us links and any form of link building or link acquisition could be construed by Google as being black hat, regardless of what your SEO says, as far as what their natural or white hat link building opportunities are. One of the more common ways you will see people trying to convey that they do white hat link building is through what is called outreach link building which they go to other websites and try to convince them to link to their website because they have a piece of information or an article of interest to them.

But of course, the ulterior motive, just like it is for a scholarship link, is to you purely get a link and frankly, they could not care less if they benefit from the information on the website. And that I could argue is the black hat SEO in the purest form. It takes a massive amount of bad SEO for a website to be dinged for black hat. You would have to acquire many, many, many horrible links from very obviously unrelated websites for that to happen. And even in that situation, black hat does not really affect too many people because competitors would be doing negative SEO to each other all day through these unsavory link-building activities, and everyone would be penalized at this rate.

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