Monday, April 29, 2013

Linking From Your Firm Blog to Main Website - Guidance from Google

SEO "Best Practices" seem to change on a monthly basis. In January you are told to use keyword phrases in a certain way; by February, that way is out-dated. In April there is one approach for using links in a blog; by May that approach is considered counter-productive.

All of this can be baffling for an attorney working on marketing efforts. And it is the bane of existence for those who specialize in search engine optimization for law firms.

 The rapid change in many of the small SEO details actually makes it more important to simply stick with the big-picture ideas that have long been the most important part of converting searchers into clients online. That begins and ends with solid original content. That is why hiring legal content writers is perhaps the single best marketing investment for attorneys. They will produce a tangible product that can be used indefinitely and that is at the crux of attracting clients in the manner that is coming to dominate the market.

Of course, it still is not as simple as deciding to focus marketing efforts on legal content. There are still SEO details that must be factored into content like blog posts. For example: Links. How many should you use? Can you link to your own stuff? Should you have a separate separate site to help with cross-linking? Will that cross-linking be considered spam?

Google Provides Guidance - More of the "Goldilocks" Principle

Fortunately, this week Google officials provided some helpful advice on that one specific issue which has a bearing on legal blogging.

In a new video, the head of Google's search team answered the question: "Does linking two sites together violate quality guidelines?"  This is a pretty fundamental question for law firm blogs.  Many of them, including those created by Justia, LEXblog, and others, create "off-site" blogs.  That means that the blog is separate website, with its own URL.  The idea is that content added to the blog can then be linked back to the main firm website for SEO benefit.

This was standard practice as short as a few months ago, but concerns were raised recently about whether or not this practice would be looked down upon as Google continues its updates to require more unique content.

In answering the question the Google official explained that cross-linking was not per se a bad move.  Instead, he noted that it must be done moderately--following the Goldilocks Principle.  In fact, he noted that it makes complete sense for various sites to be linked together, especially if those sites have related, but different concepts/content.  In other words, it is logical for a lawyer to have a firm website, where basic information about the firm, its attorneys, its practice, contact information is found ON TOP OF a separate blog site where the firm provides more timely content about legal developments, news, etc.  Linking from one to the other is helpful, and will not result in penalties if done reasonably.

Instead, the Google search chief noted that problems only arise when there are a large number of sites--50, 100, 200--that are less related and continually link together.  That looks like a "linking scheme" which will violate the companies guidelines and result in penalties.

What does it mean for your legal blog?

Essentially, this explanation of Google guidelines is an affirmation of the merit of some basic law blog writing principles.  Most notably, separating the blog is still helpful.  Adding common sense links, occasionally, between the blog to the main site has merit.

Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

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