SEO, Web Design

By Postali

What to do After a Penalty

This is the last installment in a 3-part blog series on algorithm updates and penalties. In the first 2 posts, we covered preventative measures to avoid Google Penalties and how to diagnose a penalty.

So, your law firm website has been hit with a Google Penalty. You’ve diagnosed it and understand the root cause.

At Postali, we pride ourselves in honesty and realism. We won’t say, “It’s okay. It happens to the best of us!”

The truth is – If you have been affected by a Google penalty, it means one of two things:

1.Your website does not follow best-practices for user experience, content or website structure.

2. Someone has manually performed an action that directly violates Google’s guidelines, such as buying links or implementing sneaky redirects.

Effective SEO for law firms involves a commitment to providing high-quality content and ensuring your website adheres to web development best-practices such as optimizing your content for use on a mobile device.

Google’s algorithm is designed to reward websites that focus on creating the best experience for their visitors with high rankings.

It’s also designed to identify and penalize websites that employ unethical tactics in order to manipulate rankings.

Google’s algorithm changes constantly, so ranking fluctuations are normal. Penalties, on the other hand, require an action plan. Here is what to do when your website has been given a manual penalty or you’ve experienced a significant performance decline following an algorithm update.

1. Identify accountability.

Penalties are avoidable, and this point is crucial to understand. We talk to many attorneys who tell us that their SEO agencies or consultants will place blame on Google or try to convince them that being penalized by Google is more common.

Google provides detailed webmaster guidelines, which outline actions that will lead to a penalty. With larger algorithm updates, they will often publish documentation well in advance. For example, Google has stressed the importance of creating a mobile-friendly website for years before it become part of their algorithm.

Once you’ve identified the root cause, you will need to establish accountability. You may have neglected your website’s SEO strategy for too long, resulting in a penalty. An SEO company or consultant may have engaged in a link buying scheme without your knowledge.

For law firms, these are the most common causes of penalties that we see in the industry.

Establishing accountability is crucial. Many attorneys trust that their SEO companies are acting within their best interest and are surprised when they learn otherwise. Understanding exactly how the penalty occurred is an important step in preventing it from happening in the future.

2. Get the right people in the room.

This is challenging for many attorneys we talk to. If you hired an SEO company and your website got penalized, it puts you in an extremely difficult position. How do you trust the next SEO company that tells you they will help your website recover?

Recovering from a penalty requires the expertise of an SEO professional. Use your network of attorneys to get recommendations for ethical SEO companies you may want to solicit the help of. For law firms, there are several SEO agencies who will be able to give your law firm a results-oriented plan to recover your rankings and avoid future penalties.

Here’s one quick tip to help you gauge the ethics of a law firm SEO company. Ask about their policy on working with competing law firms, and ask them to recommend other SEO agencies. If a company is working with a law firm in the same city and the same practice area, they should gladly offer suggestions of other reputable companies to reach out to. A “white hat” (or ethical) SEO will have no problem being honest with you and giving straightforward advice about other professionals who can help you recover.

It’s important to find the right SEO partner for your law firm and establish trust. When you have the right team in place, your law firm is poised for much more than just recovering from the penalty. The right SEO partner will help you recover and build a long-term plan for your firm’s SEO strategy.

3. Stop the bleeding, if you can.

Penalties take time to recover, but there may be in some instances in which you can at least stop the bleeding.

If your algorithm penalty is manual, you will need to fix the issue that led to the penalty. This could be cleaning up spammy backlinks or removing your sneaky redirects. We recommend you do this as quickly as possible, but ensure your efforts are thorough.

After you submit a reconsideration request, Google will review that you’ve resolved the issue. If you’ve rushed through your work, they may not remove the penalty, which will cost you even more time.

Your penalty may only affect a page or a handful of pages on your website. While you work to fix the issue, look for opportunities to leverage the pages on your website that have not been negatively impacted. Can you improve the experience on other pages on your website or ramp up your blog frequency? These may be opportunities to make up some of the business that your penalty is costing you.

If you have a sitewide drop in rankings from an algorithm update, it’s more difficult to stop the bleeding, as your recovery will take time and there are not many opportunities for a quick win. If this is the case, re-evaluate your other marketing efforts. Do you have budget to increase your law firm’s paid search or direct mail efforts while you recover from the penalty?

4. Set a realistic recovery plan with a long-term strategy.

Unfortunately, many law firms don’t understand the value that organic search provides until there is a crisis. But, this can also be a way to kickstart a new SEO strategy.

Recovering from an algorithm penalty can take time. It can be frustrating. But it’s not impossible.

Whether or not you can quickly address the root cause, you need to set a plan in order to poise your website for not only a full recovery, but for success in the future.

During a penalty, SEO is top-of-mind for you and everyone at your law firm. This is the best time to flesh out a long-term strategy and ensure you have the resources to help your law firm can regain its rankings in a sustainable way.

Plan your goals and establish your budget for SEO. A long-term strategy will likely fall into one of the following categories:

Re-vamp your existing website.

You may want to keep your law firm’s website and overhaul your strategy. To start, ask yourself:

• Am I creating relevant, informative content for my website visitors?
• Am I consistently updating content and blogging about current trends relevant to my practice?
• Is my content earning backlinks from high-quality, authoritative websites in an ethical way?
• Is my site optimized for mobile devices?
• Does it provide a great user experience?

Your answer to all of these questions should be a resounding “yes.” If not, your SEO professionals can conduct a full audit and create a plan that sets your law firm up for success.

Start fresh.

Attorneys often need to take this approach if they’re unable to gain access to their website from previous web developers. It’s also an option to consider if your domain has extensive link penalties that you simply don’t have the resources to recover from.

When you start fresh, it may take longer to establish rankings, as it means a brand-new website for your law firm. But if you have the budget and find the right partner to work with, a fresh start may be exactly what your law firm needs.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our blog series on Google penalties and algorithm updates. Have a question we didn’t cover? Let’s talk.