Backlinks always seem to be the missing piece of the puzzle for law firms in regard to an effective SEO campaign. If you want a quick guide on how backlinks work and why they are important, I’d recommend checking out our article, “How are SEOs Building Links to their Websites in 2019?” before getting started on the rest of this article. I often call backlinks, or the act of link building, the most elusive part of doing SEO, since many SEOs actually do not know how to build links, either. The vast majority of agencies will outsource link building, put the majority of the quality link building on the law firms in various ways (I will explain more), or simply shout “Content is King! You can naturally get quality law firm website links from writing quality content,” from the rooftops, barely ever turning the needle in rankings because who in the world really would naturally link to a website of a law firm?

legal marketingBefore going any further, let’s denote the difference between proactive white hat link building and black hat link building.  What people in the digital marketing community would deem “legitimate” vs. “illegitimate and could hurt your website.” The short answer is, there is no difference. Google would regard any specific efforts to proactively get backlinks as unnatural – it doesn’t matter if you go on Fiverr for a link package, buy a guest post on a legal news website, or start up an altruistic campaign with a secondary motive to get backlinks. They are all the same. We just need to look past it.

There are several considerations at this point to accept these facts and how we all compete on a level playing field:

  • The legal industry is immensely competitive, and people didn’t get to the first spot by simply writing great content and doing enough PR to create a highly-effective backlink portfolio (though for some firms, it could have been a solid contributor). The websites on top got there from engaging in aggressive link building campaigns. If you won’t do it, your competition will thank you for it.
  • Google has shifted its focus on how it perceives backlink portfolios for a number of reasons. First of all, it is way too easy to just buy terrible links and point them to your competition.  If poor links worked this way in 2020, people would focus far less on obtaining quality links and instead focusing on building toxic links to their competition, continuously burying each other’s websites until all our favorite directories like Avvo, Justia, and Nolo came up and pushed through the ashes.
  • There are plenty of tools that will analyze your law firm website’s links and tell you which ones are toxic (ahrefs, SEMrush, etc.). If you want peace of mind that you’re not subjecting your website to harmful links, you can run a backlink tool and submit the toxic ones to the Google Search Console disavow tool after doing a batch of links.
  • From my experience, it isn’t so much the source of the link that can do harm as much as the anchor text itself. Be careful about situations where you’re using a high number of vanity keywords as the hypertext to link back to your website.

Law Firm Link Building Campaigns are Commonly Elusive, Difficult SEO Strategies 

legal marketing companyLaw firm link building is a concerted effort between you and your dedicated marketing team, whether that person be in-house, a consultant, or an agency. A question that I almost never get is “what do you do for link building?” and really, this could be one of the most important questions I could receive as someone entrusted to build an effective SEO campaign. For the record, our law firm link building approach typically consists of:

  • Business citations
  • Local citations
  • Manual legal directory submissions
  • Select high-quality manual general business directory submissions
  • Leveraging relationships in the legal industry to build legal links for clients on legal resources and blogs
  • High-quality business website profiles
  • Social media profiles
  • Occasional guest blogs/sponsored content
  • A few others – nothing really proprietary here, just thoroughly organized

Should Law Firms Be Doing Scholarships or Charity Events for Links?

I would never discourage anyone to do anything from a philanthropic standpoint. I would advise anyone doing half-hearted contributions for scholarships, sponsorships, charities, and the like to reflect on their motives, if the motives are primarily to obtain backlinks. This is extremely common, encouraged by plenty of agencies (not just in legal), so acquire those coveted .edu links. This is among the biggest burdens of building authorities placed on a law firm, and has existed for well over a decade. I distinctly remember avoiding this approach to link building when I worked in-house nearly a decade ago, back when scholarship pages on .edu sites weren’t remotely as saturated as they are today.

I’ll admit, it probably would have worked quite well then. But in the last few years? Significantly less. At this point I’d venture to flat out say “late to the game” likely rings true. Just look at some of the following instances of where scholarship links are posted.

https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/scholarships/ – this feed hasn’t been updated since 2018.
https://www.eop.mu.edu/mucentral/financialaid/resources_pvt_scholar_misc.shtml – this has an HTTP error.
http://roguecc.edu/FinancialAid/Scholarships/ – .edu sites like this get inundated so often that they have to create an outdated, searchable hub to find specific scholarships.  And you can bet that many of those on-the-fly pages aren’t indexable.
https://www.sdmesa.edu/financial-aid/online-resources.shtml – there are hundreds and hundreds of external links all on one page (1,032 to be exact), greatly diminishing the value of each link featured.

Though you may have benefited from more link value in previous years, the value of your link diminishes over time as more external links are added. With certain site structures and crawl budgets on scholarship pages, you may eventually lose all value from the link completely.

The sdmesa.edu page had 940 external links In November of 2019.

  • 675 external links in August of 2018.
    564 external links in November of 2017.
    477 external links in November of 2016.

You see the trend and my point.

These links have an origin point of high complexity and high reward. But over time, their value unequivocally diminishes, save the fact you have some low authority .edu links in your backlink mix (which inherently does offer some value).

One part of link building that is so invaluable is control. Being able to control the destination and anchor text is more value than many SEOs realize.

Is the law scholarship featured here really the only scholarship to have existed on the Marquette.edu website?

This is because the page used to be http://www.marquette.edu/fa/resources/priv-scholar-opp.php and now redirects to a main scholarships page. Whoops.

A law firm that relies heavily on the authority of scholarships and .edu (and this also applies to anything charity or donation-wise) is essentially anticipating a high spike in authority that will slowly decline over time. The gaps won’t appear immediately, but over time, if there aren’t other forms of link building to pick up the slack, you could find yourself scrambling to get out of a hole.

  • The value of these pages diminishes over time as more and more links are added.
  • Pages featuring scholarship links get removed, redirected, and reassigned all the time. The IT crew and Webmasters at these edu’s couldn’t care less if you lose your link in the process.
  • Scholarships wind up buried deeper and deeper on websites via archives and multiple pages (EX: instead of being .edu/financial-aid/scholarships you end up at .edu/financial-aid/scholarships/page/2 and eventually .edu/financial-aid/scholarships/page/77.
  • Links are eventually no indexed, no followed.
  • Fewer and fewer .edu websites even accept new scholarships because they already feature hundreds, or know firms are gaming the system.
  • Your backlink destination is mostly going to your dedicated scholarship page on your website, not the homepage or another important practice area page you would want to build authority to on the page level.

Let me preface again, never reconsider any philanthropic endeavor you want to take from the goodness of the bottom of your heart. But if you think this is going to be a cornerstone of your link building campaign, think again.

Well Then, Mr. Naysayer, what Law Firm Link Building Strategies Do You Have?

I mentioned a good portion of the link building we do on behalf of our clients (which was mostly derived from the link building I did in-house and completely dominated locally), but let me leave you with three specific ones that could be of high value to help you ween off of any expensive, burdensome approaches you’ve been subjected to. Since we’re all in this to win, often times a paid opportunity is going to be your “sure thing,” though if we have opportunities for non-paid that aren’t too much trouble, we always love that approach as well.

Paid Law Firm Link Opportunities

Sponsored Content on Legal Resources

If you’re going to be dropping a few hundred dollars on a link opportunity, you may as well contribute to a reliable news source within the legal community and get a backlink from an established legal website. Think your local bar association and local legal communities – many of them have ongoing advertising opportunities. If they haven’t done content contributions, they’d be more than happy to figure it out in some cases for a reasonable price (and hopefully come to a reasonable price in the low hundreds instead of the low thousands).

Law.com, Above the Law, JDSupra and websites of those nature also have opportunities. They’ll eventually have you pushed down over time, but you can guarantee they won’t add a bunch of lawyer website links to your custom post, you’ll be able to have some sort of control over your law firm website links, and they’ll go to the appropriate pages on your website.

Negotiated Directories

Did you know that, when negotiating some directories, you can sweeten the deal by contributing to their own news and blogs? Many directories perform their own SEO to rank for keywords, making their directory as relevant as possible. They’ll be open to your content contributions as a way to expedite their own online visibility, while providing you a link for making the contribution worthwhile. You’ll probably have to have some sort of paid arrangement with these directories, but once you start a solid rapport with your rep, ask about contributing content. It never hurts to ask in this situation.

Donations

Feeling generous? Donations are a great way to give back to a specific community or a group of people you are passionate about. It’s very easy to compile a great list of organizations and then pick the ones you want to contribute to;  just see below:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1QHrVbwADIBATc6K7r1r12nLsr1QDckNM0-uO2GANkwY/edit?usp=sharing

How do you compile such a massive list?

I said very easy, and I’ll stand behind it. Take https://championsforlearning.org/give/ for example:

Just like other organizations lawyers donate to, some will provide backlinks and some won’t. This shouldn’t affect your decision-making.

Non-Paid Law Firm Link Opportunities

Podcasting

Podcasting is great for link building, though there’s no guarantee that the podcast website which will be linking back to you will be authoritative. Admittedly, many of them probably aren’t. But the fact of the matter is, podcasting is so much more fun than you would imagine it being if you’ve never done it before. Other benefits are as follows:

  • Building friendships, partnerships, and expanding your network
  • Transcribing the content (with permission I suppose?) and using however you like afterwards
  • Adding to your bios and social media platforms for some nice social clout
  • Working on your public speaking and getting feedback on how you talk about subjects and information

I’ve seen a handful of people make businesses out of booking you podcasts to speak on (insert the laughing crying faces). You can easily book plenty of podcasts using cheap options (a virtual assistant can write a quick bio about you, and then send them on their way) or free options (I’ve gotten with a few people for podcasts via https://app.matchmaker.fm/ and have been happy about the results). I don’t know how much these paid companies cost to book podcasts for you, but I’ll probably never find out.

Just make sure that, when you’re doing podcast outreach, you have something unique you can speak about and your topic fits into the theme of the podcast you’re pitching.

There’s also the whole “making your own podcast” approach, which can open you up to another world of potential links. But, let’s save that one for another day.

Local News and Press

law firm marketingThis could easily be assisted with paid options, such as employing a fancy PR company (which actually may not be the worst idea in competitive markets) and maybe a paid HARO account. But there are a few ways to get in front of local news and news personalities, and that could be engagement on social media.

Lawyers are naturally already seen as leaders and authorities in their communities. So, comment on the news. Reply to tweets. Put out op-eds consistently on your blogs and post videos. The more of a presence you have in your community, the higher the chances are for local news personalities to gravitate to you for giving your legal input on occurrences and developments that need your take.

When you’re quoted on the recent news, you’ll then have an opportunity to request that anything that references you and your firm also include a link back to your website.

Alma Mater Updates

Your Alma Mater likely has profiles for alum that can be created. They’re especially excited to hear about what a successful lawyer you’ve become after graduating! Check in with them to see if you can create a bio or a profile that includes a backlink to your firm and personal pages. Maybe they’ll even be open to hearing a success story or two.

What About Buying Some Links from a Website from an SEO Website?

This entire conversation is about if we should be buying legal links, right? Always be cautious about buying links from websites (naturally) because there can be consequences to taking a blatantly discouraged approach to getting links.

  • Be aware of what kind of links they are. The more sensationalized they are, the more likely they are to do nothing. They should be fairly straight forward – blog links, profile links, web 2.0 links, social signals etc. If they’re more like “ULTRA QUAD-TIERED, 8X DISTILLED to 40% ABV LINKS SUPERCHARGED BY GOOGLE-VETTED GOOGLE PREMIUM DOCS,” that’s your sign to move on, quickly if possible.
  • If there are results or case studies, they have to be realistic. Link building is one component to getting great rankings along with proper on-page and great content, so it won’t be a panacea for all your SEO woes. Look for case studies that show reasonable, somewhat long-term improvements. Going from rank 30 to rank 3 in 30 days for a hyper-competitive keyword is almost never going to happen. On the other hand, going from rank 30 to rank 8-14 in 60-90 days for a competitive keyword is much more realistic.
  • You can basically ignore all the reviews. We’re in the SEO’s world now. Getting 500 reviews for a product is child’s play.
  • Never buy links on Fiverr. Just don’t do it, ever. Buy your one-off graphics and your vectorization of your logos for print media on Fiverr. Just never links, no exceptions.
  • Lastly, you’ll probably never want to buy links directly to your homepage for your main keywords. These ventures are best suited for more niche pages, or building up the authority of existing assets that already have authority and creating pass-through. This is something SEOs almost never do. Yet, it’s a great opportunity to almost filter out the potential negatives associated with direct links and get a bit more link juice on the other end.

Let me paint you a quick picture of that last part, since it’s how many more experienced SEOs with an emphasis on link building actually do their link building (I’m really giving away the farm in this blog, aren’t I?) Here’s a quick (very quick) graphic I put together to demonstrate this tactic.

At the top tier is your website, followed on the second tier by backlinks from sources that there’s no question that they’re legitimate. Maybe the BBB could be a point of contention. To each their own.

The best use of these purchased links that many business owners want to try is in this format. It removes most of the risk associated with directly buying links and passes it through to a website that will still pass along additional authority. Essentially, authority begets authority.

If you want to pursue places that have been known to provide some reliable link packages, you can check out https://www.konker.io/, https://www.legiit.com/, and some forums like Black Hat World (don’t let the Black Hat scare you. Remember, all purchased links are technically black hat), and Warrior Forum. You’ll have to make judgement calls on those. I hope this literally blows your mind if it’s new to you – just don’t get carried away! Any links that come in to a website as an influx doesn’t look natural, even in cases where they could all be from 100% natural sources.

Just when you didn’t think this blog got any sweeter, I’ve actually experimented with a bunch of packages and I can tell you the results for all of them over several months! So, now you have a head start on which packages you can try first. Again, I have to advise against doing this for your main url, or even technically your website as a whole; but free will guides the most adventurous of us to new horizons.

These were packages I tried for legal microsites. To be clear, we do not choose to do any form of link building packages for our clients since we feel we have too many other approaches available that are more in line with the results we are looking for. Sometimes we do it for ourselves to see if they work in some situations. And in those situations, it is very much a pass-through authority strategy.

Type of Links Cost Link Reference?
Outreach Links 139/3 https://www.legiit.com/profile/RealAuthority/outreach-from-real-sites-permanent-premium-niche-specific-links
Outreach Links 139/3 https://www.legiit.com/profile/RealAuthority/outreach-from-real-sites-permanent-premium-niche-specific-links
200 High DA Links $45.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/granking/10-high-da-seo-backlinks-from-90da
Outreach Links 139/3 https://www.legiit.com/profile/RealAuthority/outreach-from-real-sites-permanent-premium-niche-specific-links
Domain Authority Stacking? $12.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/MissingLink/domain-authority-stack
400 2.0 Backlinks $40.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/MissingLink/i-will-build-out-400-web-20-backlinks
Robot Submitter PBN $15.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/Mr_Robot/money-robot-pbn-backlink-3-tier
Links ({need to use another platform) $59.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/Rankjacker/domain-authority-stacking-mentioned-on-matt-diggity-kotton-grammer-blog
Links $100.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/SerpHaus/i-will-increase-your-trust-flow-and-citation-flow-of-your-site
200 Links $54.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/AmedAbraham/200-white-hat-foundation-links
100 Links $44.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/AmedAbraham/200-white-hat-foundation-links
Robot Submitter PBN $15.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/Mr_Robot/money-robot-pbn-backlink-3-tier
Links Basic $35.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/SuperstarSEO/superstar-seo-ranking-rocket
Links Standard $90.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/SuperstarSEO/superstar-seo-ranking-rocket
Web 2.0 Links $15.00 https://www.legiit.com/profile/MissingLink/stacked-web-20-links

 

These are the types of descriptions and costs you’ll likely come across. The more expensive it is does not translate immediately into it being better.

The results vary tremendously. For example, I ordered the top 2 packages as duplicates to see how they received their “outreach premium” links. Using SEMRush’s Authority metric to measure the improvement, one microsite went from a score of 3 to 13 in 3 months. The other went from 2 to 5 with the same package.

The package that seemed to work best (from the biggest improvement standpoint) were the “Stacked Web 2.0 Links”. That was 4 to 17 in 3 months. You can’t expect to continually get 13 point gains with each proceeding package as authority gets exponentially more difficult to acquire, but the variation will certainly help it creep along.

It’s hard to guarantee if a package that worked once will work again. That also leaves the fact that if a package works well the first time, repurchasing it will add an equal amount of authority again. This is not true, by virtue of no increase in referring domains. But that’s another story.

Quality Links Work.  Link Building for Law Firms is Tough, But Possible

The bottom line: You don’t have to pay for quality backlinks, but if it’s in your budget, it might help less established pages gain authority. With a creative strategy and dedicated marketing crew, you can take advantage of more effective methods of gaining quality backlinks, such as establishing relationships and posting content that showcases your expertise regularly. To get started, contact us for a free legal marketing consultation or complete our contact form