Law Firm Link-Building: Good Content + Appreciative Audience = Success


Posted in Blogs | Content Marketing | Search Engines

For law firms that care about search engine traffic, the task of acquiring backlinks is high on their to-do list. This is due to the fact that today — and at least since Google’s 2012 Penguin Update — backlinks are a leading signal to Google that a particular webpage contains high-quality content.

Google’s PageRank algorithm piggy-backs on the collective judgment of the Internet by treating backlinks as one indicator (among many) that a website contains quality information. Google wants to present the best available information to its users, so PageRank sorts the highest quality websites to the top of search results responding to user queries.

Regarding backlinks, the consensus view among leading search engine marketers is that Google considers:

  1. the total number of backlinks pointing to a website
  2. the quality/authority of the websites publishing the backlinks; and
  3. whether the websites publishing the backlinks are topically related to the linked-to website.

All three attributes are important: number, quality, and relevance. Large numbers of backlinks from low-quality, unrelated websites don’t move the needle anymore.

While conducting research for this post, I consulted a dozen or so articles by law firm SEO consultants on the topic of law firm link-building. Funny thing. All articles emphasized #1 (number of backlinks). Few, if any, paid attention to #2 (quality/authority) or #3 (relevance).

Here’s a handful of link-building suggestions from search marketers serving the legal profession:

  • sponsor scholarships
  • participate in charitable activities and local community events
  • spy on, and ape, their competitors
  • write guest posts on other blogs
  • write high-value resource pages
  • acquire listings in free and paid directories
  • button-up citations
  • write an article on a law school website
  • share expertise on forums
  • “Do something weird” and attention-grabbing
  • Offer discount coupons for legal services
  • Sponsor contests
  • Publish and share infographics

OK, I guess so. No doubt these activities will generate links to the firm’s website.

It’s worth noting, however, that none of these suggestions address head-on Google’s stated search quality criteria of writing valuable content that relevant, high authority websites will want to link to. Instead, these link-building suggestions all, at some level, urge law firms to game the system somewhat by creating low-quality links merely for the purpose of creating links.

Do these strategies work? If you believe search experts outside the law firm marketing industry, they don’t. Not anymore. Current thinking about the best way to obtain links emphasizes the creation of content that readers will genuinely like and want to share.

According to SEO consultancy Moz.com, Google’s Penguin update rewards “quality, not quantity”:

[M]ake sure you are producing link-worthy content. Outsourcing your article writing for $5 a piece won’t get you very far. If your visitors don’t like your content, they will leave your site. High bounce rates = bad user experience. Bad user experience = lower Google rankings. It’s really that simple. If you provide content that has value, people will stay longer on your site and possibly hit the like or tweet buttons on one of your articles. This enhanced user experience will pay off SEO-wise.

So … what if a law firm’s link-building strategy began with a basic sincerity of purpose by endeavoring to produce high-quality content that others would want to read and, hopefully, link to? What would that look like?

I am going to assume that the firm’s content is current and good. The task today will be to find online publishing partners who will appreciate and share the firm’s content.

Find Non-Competing Publishers in the Law Firm’s Niche

For any legal practice area, the Internet contains numerous websites with a shared subject-matter focus that are not in competition with law firms. These websites will publish good content from any source, provided it meets their editorial needs. Many of them have a high Domain Authority, so links from these sites send Google a strong signal that the linked-to resource is high quality.

A good one-two punch can capitalize on these opportunities. The first order of business is to create an inventory of all such websites. Here are a few examples to stimulate your thinking:

  • Accounting websites don’t compete with law firms, though they do publish legal content on tax issues.
  • Financial advice websites don’t compete with law firms, though they do publish bankruptcy law news.
  • Human resources websites don’t compete with law firms, though they do publish information about labor and employment law.
  • Trade magazines serving the retail industry are not competition with law firms, but they publish information on a wide range of legal issues: labor and employment, tax, consumer protection, land use, competition issues, data privacy and security, to name just a few.

You get the idea. These websites are all promising sources of links to law firm websites if they are provided with good law-related content. Any law firm should be able to come up with a good list of candidates for a link-building initiative.

Several Concrete Examples

Howard Bashman’s How Appealing (Domain Authority 71) blog, an Internet treasure, publishes news about appellate rulings and any other business involving appellate courts. Here How Appealing links to Adam Feldman’s Empirical SCOTUS blog post on readability of U.S. Supreme Court briefs. That same day How Appealing noted and linked to attorney Matthew Steigler’s post on the application of the Fourth Amendment to rental car searches.

Has your firm published a blog post or other content that might be of interest to How Appealing’s readers? Send word of it to appellateblog@hotmail.com. There’s go guarantee Bashman will mention or link to your post but the chance is definitely worth the time it takes to send an email. As hockey legend Wayne Gretzky reportedly observed, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

SCOTUSblog (Domain Authority 83) is a leading source of information about U.S. Supreme Court proceedings. Every day editor Edith Roberts runs a roundup column highlighting news from around the Internet on Supreme Court matters. Here SCOTUSblog published links to several blogs, including Loyola Law School Prof. Adam Zimmerman’s Summary Judgment blog’s post on a Supreme Court decision upholding an binding arbitration language in a general power of attorney agreement.

Have you written on a topic that might be of interest to SCOTUSblog’s readers? Send word of it to Roberts at roundup@scotusblog.com.

For firms with labor and employment practices, Michael Haberman’s HR Observations (Domain Authority 45) blog is one to consider. HR Observations is a heavily trafficked source of news for human resources officials. Here Haberman links to Proskauer partner Allen Bloom’s post on “comp time” legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the privacy area, Pogowasright.org (Domain Authority 48) has a substantial following. The site aggregates privacy and data security news, often mentioning — and linking to — blog posts written by others. Here Pogowasright.org picks up a blog post by Calwatchdog on San Francisco’s filing of a lawsuit against Uber over alleged privacy violations.

Law Professors: Credit Where Credit Is Due

Law professor blogs can be a great source of relevant, authoritative backlinks. Educators are hard-wired to spread knowledge and to give credit where credit is due. If you have the goods, you’ll get the link. Here Santa Clara Law School prof Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law (Domain Authority 65) blog gives credit to the the news source (Pogowasright.org) and cites a few other analyses of the same case, including one at Covington & Burling’s Inside Privacy blog.

Here the Workplace Prof Blog (Domain Authority 89) publishes a link and observations from Patterson Harkavy partner Jonathan Harkavy regarding a Fourth Circuit sexual harassment ruling. Harkavy drew the mention without even blogging about the case. He sent his thoughts to the Workplace Prof Blog’s editors in an email.

Conclusion: One Approach to Law Firm Link-Building

Earlier in this post I mentioned a “one-two punch” approach. The first punch is to create a list of non-competitor websites that will publish information related to the firm’s practice areas. The second punch is to reach out to those websites after the post has been written.

When conducting outreach, the firm should (1) state the news, (2) mention why the recipient might be interested in the news, and (3) leave contact information. No more is necessary:

Dear Blog Owner/Reporter:

I thought your readers might be interested to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning that a pair of gerrymandered voting districts in North Carolina violated the Constitution. The ruling has implications for similarly drawn districts in Alabama, South Carolina and Texas.

Smith Jones Baker partner Mollie Cantrell analyzed the ruling on the firm’s blog. She can be reached at mcantrell@smithjonesbaker.com.

Blogs that have a “news” strategy are going to be more successful in link-building than those that have a “comment” strategy. News is always in demand. Opinions? Well, we all have them, don’t we?

Can this approach work for every firm? Obviously, larger firms will have an easier time identifying websites to include in their link-building efforts. Businesses and niche news outlets dominate the web.

For firms that serve individuals (personal injury, class action, bankruptcy, criminal, divorce practices), the job will be more difficult, but not impossible. My advice would be create a strategy that emphasizes local community news, filling whatever information gaps the firm can identify in existing news coverage.