When it comes to online marketing and building a brand, lawyers like you have plenty of options. There’s social media, content marketing, PPC advertising, and SEO – just to name a few essentials that law firms leverage on a regular basis. But if there’s one element that ties all of these together, it’s link building. And for lawyers that master the art of link building, significant opportunities await.
The Evolution of Legal Marketing
At the heart of every successful, modern law firm is a marketing and advertising strategy that’s designed to identify, attract, and qualify leads. And though it seems pretty standard in today’s industry, the truth is that legal advertising and promotion was actually prohibited in the United States up until the mid-1970s.
The decisive moment in the history of legal marketing occurred in 1976 when attorneys John Bates and Van O’Steen were faced with the dilemma of either violating ethics laws to advertise their services, or watch their clinic dry up. They chose the former path and put an advertisement in the local newspaper. The ad had the dual effect of generating business and drawing a lawsuit from the state bar – a lawsuit that Bates and O’Steen would eventually win in the Supreme Court.
Since 1976, legal advertising and marketing has rapidly turned into a billion dollar industry. And while most people are familiar with the billboards, bus stop signs, and loud TV commercials, there’s a new frontier of legal marketing that discerning lawyers are using to generate new clients, scale up their practices, and expand their digital footprints. It’s called link building and it needs to be a part of your strategy, too.
What is Link Building?
If you’re a visual learner, it may be helpful to picture the internet as one big map. Each page on the internet is a town or city. Some are small and rural, while others are buzzing urban epicenters with millions of residents and visitors. Links are the streets between these pages. The more links there are pointing to a particular page, the more opportunities there are for people to visit. And when these links come from important pages – i.e. other big cities – the authorities in charge (Google, Bing, Yahoo) are more likely to encourage people to visit.
Search engines like Google have proprietary algorithms that they use to crawl websites, discover new web pages, and determine which pages should be ranked highest in their results (and for what search terms and subject matter). Search engines use a variety of metrics to rank pages – including the content of the page. But they also like to see lots of high quality links pointing to the page from external websites. In light of this, law firms use link building strategies to create magnetic traffic patterns that satisfy search engines and pull prospects in.
The concept of a link building service is predicated on the notion that the right links can bring increased visibility, traffic, and leads. Formally, it’s the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites, blogs, and web pages that trace back to pages on your website. But it’s not as easy as pasting a bunch of links on the web. There’s a science to link building and only the firms that follow these laws of nature will be successful.
Black Hat vs. White Hat Link Building
Just 10 or 15 years ago, link building looked entirely different than it does today. What was once seen as the wild, wild west of digital marketing is now a practice with lots of rules, requirements, and newfound best practices.
In order to ensure your law firm is using link building to your advantage, you have to understand the difference between black hat and white hat link building.
Black Hat Link Building: Aggressive is the best word you can use when characterizing black hat link building. Techniques involve keyword stuffing, hiding text, spam content, the use of link farms, plagiarized content, parasite hosting, cloaking, and other sleazy methods of business. Black hat link building is designed to generate a quick return, but generally comes back to bite a business more in the long run. (Google is increasingly cracking down on black hat techniques and penalizing law firms that use them.)
White Hat Link Building: If black hat link building is aggressive, white hat link building is calculated and sustainable. It uses techniques that are within Google’s guidelines and executes linking strategies that appease both search engines and human readers. It can take months for white hat link building strategies to fully materialize, but a disciplined approach eventually creates a solid foundation that can be built upon for years to come.
There’s also a middle ground that those in the industry refer to as grey hat link building. But, for the most part, grey hat strategies are simply techniques that Google has yet to crack down on – loopholes and shortcuts that often don’t provide much tangible value to begin with. So as you think about carving out a link building strategy for your law firm, white hat techniques should be your only focus.
Key Principles of White Hat Link Building for Law Firms
The primary goal of white hat link building for law firms is to secure backlinks to your site from high-authority domains. But what does authority mean, in this context? There are two metrics people in the industry use to measure a website’s authority:
Moz’s Domain Authority. The Moz Domain Authority (DA) rating operates on a 0 – 100 scale. The higher the rating, the more authoritative the site is. DA is calculated using a proprietary formula that prioritizes factors like total links and linking root domains.
Ahrefs’ Domain Rating. Also operating on a 0-100 scale, Ahrefs’ Domain Rating (DR) calculates the strength of a target website’s total backlink profile.
The more you’re able to secure backlinks from high-authority domains, the more visible and authoritative your own web pages will become. And because most of your law firm competitors don’t take the time to track down high-authority URLs, these links will give you a decisive advantage.
6 Link Building Tips for Lawyers
Now that you understand the basics of link building for lawyers, let’s dig in to the proverbial meat and potatoes – the how of link building. Here are a few tips and best practices that we’ve found to be most effective and sustainable:
1. Invest in Quality Content
Before you can delve into the actual process of generating external links that point back to your website, you need something for these links to point to. Link building starts with creating quality content that’s magnetic, useful, and worthy of links.
Linkworthy content – as it’s known – isn’t self-serving. It needs to have value for the reader. In other words, a press release announcing an award your law firm recently won’t do much good for you. But a 3,000-word blog post that helps people understand how they can maximize a car accident claim will.
In order for content to be linkworthy, it either needs to be highly relevant and newsworthy, or evergreen. Examples of highly relevant and newsworthy pieces of content would be these blog posts by an immigration attorney on some of President Donald Trump’s recent actions. An example of an evergreen piece of content would be this infographic on the benefits of hiring a personal injury lawyer. Both types can be valuable.
2. Knock Out the Basics
Before turning your attention to websites and links with higher domain authority, you should take some time to knock out the low hanging fruit. Free legal directories don’t yield a ton of value, but you definitely want to have your firm linked to as many as you possibly can. These include websites like Justia.com, FindLaw.com, Avvo.com, Thumbtack.com, Yelp.com, and HG.org.com.
There are also some paid legal directories that may or may not be worth your time. These include sites like Lawyers.com, Nolo.com, and SuperLawyers.com. You’ll have to be the judge of whether or not these are worth pursuing.
Furthermore, take the time to claim profiles on all social networking platforms – even if you don’t plan to use them right away. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
3. Use Guest Posting (With Discretion)
Getting other bloggers and webmasters to link back to your site can be challenging – particularly when you’re just starting out and your URLs can’t be easily discovered. One way to get around this is to offer to write free content in exchange for a link or two back to your website.
Guest blogging is a strategy by which attorneys can publish content on another website – usually an industry blog or independent website that addresses legal topics – and resource some of their own content through backlinks. Though it isn’t quite as effective as it once was – Google doesn’t like to see lawyers abuse this practice – it’s still very productive when used with discretion.
The key to effective guest posting is to only publish content on reputable websites. Furthermore, try to utilize connections you already have and incorporate links naturally within the body of the content (not in the byline or footer). Avoid using overly-optimized anchor text and diversify your content from site to site.
4. Do Something Noteworthy
Over time, a steady commitment to quality content creation will give you an arsenal of useful content that other websites can link back to. But here are things you can do to kickstart your efforts and generate some quicker, yet sustainable results.
In order to stand out, you need to do something noteworthy. As of lately, many lawyers have been leveraging educational scholarships. With this tactic, a law firm launches a scholarship program where monetary awards are developed for students. These scholarships are then marketed to educational organizations that have valuable .edu domains. Wanting to help out students – i.e. their primary audience – these websites link back to the scholarship programs and feed authoritative backlinks to the law firm’s website in the process.
Obviously a tactic like this requires a significant financial investment, but authoritative backlinks are valuable in their own rights. It’s all about weighing the SEO costs and benefits for your law practice.
5. Become a Resource
If you don’t have time to write content, one of the best things you can do is become a resource for someone who does. Simply making yourself available can yield significant dividends in terms of backlinks and online visibility.
One option is to join the HARO network, which stands for “Help a Reporter Out.” This website connects reporters and journalists with people who have leads and stories. Attorneys can use it to make themselves available to people who are hungry for content ideas.
You may also be able to leverage your educational background. Your law school or undergraduate university likely has websites, blogs, and online periodicals that are in need of content. Offer to provide an interview or resource for them in return for a link back to your website.
Little tactics like these add up over time and will enhance your website’s domain authority and rating.
6. Work With a Link Building Specialist
You probably don’t have a ton of extra time in the day to focus on writing content, identifying linking opportunities, contacting webmasters, and building out a linking strategy. After all, you’re an attorney – not an expert in digital marketing.
Instead of trying to develop a robust link building strategy that adheres to Google’s constantly evolving best practices and guidelines, consider working with a link building specialist that uses white hat techniques to help law firms enhance their online presence and domain authority. Time is money and you’re better off filling up your schedule with billable hours.
Build Your Strategy With SEO.co
At SEO.co, we specialize in link building and SEO for lawyers, to increase online visibility and scale up their firms in a sustainable manner that maximizes short-term results while simultaneously creating a strong foundation for future growth. We write the content, handle the outreach, secure the placement, and deliver awesome links that maximize your budget.
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In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International.
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.