Once upon a time, search engine optimization was a relatively simple process. The goal of a search engine optimizer would be to build up as many backlinks (links from one site to another) to their target website as possible; the more backlinks, the higher your search engine rank. Backlinks mattered because they were seen as a popular vote for a web page, and based on that vote it was assumed that the page in question contained useful content. The search engines created link profiles for websites consisting of all of these ‘votes’ and then used that profile as a major factor in deciding what your webpage’s ranking should be on the search engine results page (SERP).
Consider Wikipedia as an example. It’s a website generally considered to be full of useful, truthful (more or less) content, and for that reason many web pages all over the internet reference information found on Wikipedia, and link back to it. That’s the main reason why you’ll see a Wikipedia page as one of the top search results for thousands and thousands of queries.
SEO: The Dark Side
Unfortunately, that’s when the dark side of SEO came into play. Shady businesses entered the equation, offering backlinks for purchase by the thousands that would boost your SEO rank but were ultimately irrelevant or spam. These are called “link farms” or “link directories”. We’ve all seen these sites; huge lists of links to other pages but little or no useful content. Google, of course, noticed this unethical behavior, and in an effort to discourage the practice of link buying, began penalizing websites that had low-quality pages linking to them. They did this by updating the algorithm their search engine uses to determine rank, and this update was given the codename “Penguin“. Penguin still rewarded pages for “good” (i.e. relevant) backlinks from trusted websites but dropped those with a plethora of bad backlinks from irrelevant, distrusted sites significantly in its search results.
Why would Google care if a website links to a bunch of other websites without offering any real content itself? How does it affect them? Well, the goal of a search engine is to provide a quality user experience by enabling users to find the information they’re looking for as quickly as possible. That’s how ‘Google’ became a commonly used verb. So many people were turning to the search engine to answer their questions that it became a cliché. Link directories and spam websites have no useful information for your average user so they don’t provide a good user experience, and therefore Google would prefer not to send their users to such websites.
What’s Important Now?
So how does your law firm’s link profile matter today? In short, it should only contain backlinks from high quality websites that are relevant to the page on your site they are linking to. Otherwise, it is likely that Google’s algorithm will consider it a low quality, ill-gotten link, and punish your website’s SERP ranking for it. If you have a lot of these links in your profile, it can do real damage to your site’s ranking, making it difficult for potential clients to find out about your firm.
Google’s Disavow Tool
To help people clean up their website’s link profile, Google allows you to disavow (i.e. disown) bad backlinks, in an effort to remove them from your link profile so that you won’t be penalized for them. The company has posted a great tutorial for doing so on its website, which you can find here. What it involves is submitting a list of the bad backlinks to Google asking that they not be taken into consideration when determining a website’s SERP ranking. It’s important to note that by doing this you are merely asking Google to consider your request, it isn’t a guarantee that the links will no longer be included. Also important to note is that Google really, really wants you to try and have the backlinks removed manually before you submit the request, and will require documentation proving you’ve attempted to contact the webmasters for the sites in question asking to have the links removed altogether.
But here’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes it’s not possible to reach anyone in charge of the offending website. Other websites will even ask for money in order to have the link removed. Also, those businesses that used to sell backlinks to boost SEO before Penguin still exist today, only now they can be hired to perform “negative SEO” by adding bad backlinks to a competitor’s website in an effort to drive down that site’s ranking in the SERPs. It’s a highly unethical practice, and one that we recommend under no circumstances. Nevertheless, it’s out there, and could turn into a serious problem if one of your rival law firms tries it out on your website.
Google recommends that you disavow backlinks at least once a week, but even if you don’t have time for that, doing so regularly can be crucial for your SEO success. As a general rule of thumb: once you download the list of backlinks from your Google Analytics account, don’t simply click on them to test them. If they seem irrelevant to you, you’ll often be able to tell by the title; a 99girls.com page likely won’t have content relevant to your law firm’s website.
Contact Law Father for Experienced Help Today
Disavowing backlinks is a tedious, but absolutely essential part of any successful SEO campaign. Doing so ensures that you won’t be penalized without your knowledge – keeping your site and its backend clean from any unwanted spam and making it easier for people to find you. Law Father is a leading SEO and inbound marketing company and has years of experience working with attorneys all over the country. We can help you with any of your website and online marketing needs, including cleaning up your link profile. Contact Law Father today by calling 800-325-7715 or fill out the contact form on our website at www.lawfather.net.