Posted On: By Postali

White Hat SEO: Employing SEO strategies that are in full compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and eliminate a risk of penalty. In contrast, “black hat SEO” refers to unethical practices that are meant to manipulate rankings but violate Google’s guidelines.

Choosing the right law firm SEO agency is extremely important. When you rely on the expertise of an agency or consultant to execute your organic search strategies, it can be difficult to understand if their tactics carry any risk of a penalty.

Google’s algorithm is meant to do two things:

  1. Reward websites that have a great user experience and outstanding content with high search rankings.
  2. Identify websites that engage in spammy or unethical practices and keep them out of search results.

In the legal industry, we see SEO companies engaging in tactics that are meant to manipulate search rankings and violate Google’s guidelines. This is known as “black hat SEO” and can be virtually impossible to spot from an untrained eye.

What is a Google penalty?

There are two types of penalties: algorithmic and manual. Algorithmic penalties occur when Google’s bots automatically detect that your site is violating its guidelines through routine crawling of your website. This may be something like publishing large quantities of thin content. If you receive thousands of backlinks overnight, this is also something the algorithm would pick up and penalize your site for.

A manual penalty occurs when a reviewer at Google analyzes your website and concludes that you are violating guidelines. This may be engaging in spammy linkbuilding tactics, publishing duplicate content or having a poor user experience.

It’s important to understand that a penalty and a drop in rankings are not necessarily the same thing. With a penalty, Google will remove your website from search results until it’s resolved. On the other hand, an algorithm update may just cause your website to lose rankings but not be penalized. If your website experiences a loss in visibility in organic search results, the first step is diagnosing whether it’s a penalty or a result of an algorithm update.

A penalty from Google can have devastating effects on your law firm’s business development in the long term. Recovering from a penalty is time-consuming. You can expect at least 90 days where your website is not generating any leads from organic search. In addition to the time and money you may need to spend cleaning up the penalty, you may also need to increase investment in other marketing channels like PPC in order to keep the leads coming in.

One of the most challenging aspects of SEO is that it takes more time to build a strong organic search presence using white hat techniques Black hat SEO can yield rankings faster, but put you at a very high risk. Google is continuously updating their algorithm to combat these practices. For websites that engage in black hat techniques, it’s only a matter of time before a penalty will hit.

At Postali, we have never had a client’s website affected by an algorithmic or manual Google penalty.

We create strategies focused on long-term, consistent business growth and set realistic expectations and goals for our attorney SEO campaigns. We’re not interested in quick wins that will put your law firm’s website at risk down the road.

What if my law firm’s website has been hit with a penalty?

Many attorneys come to Postali looking for help with recovering after a penalty. In many cases, they weren’t aware of the tactics their marketing agency was using.

We can identify the cause of the penalty and help your website recover. Depending on the cause of the penalty, this may include:

  • Removal of spammy, low-value backlinks
  • Disavowing backlinks
  • Correcting problems with duplicate content
  • Submitting reconsideration requests (for manual penalties)
  • Fixing any issues with your Google My Business listing that may be inhibiting your ability to rank in local SEO results (LINK)
  • Migrating to a new domain, if necessary

How can I prevent an algorithm penalty?

Google’s algorithm is always changing. Each time they announce a new update, website owners everywhere are anxious to know how they will be affected and what they can do to avoid a penalty.

While it’s important to keep up-to-date on Google’s algorithm changes, their core principles don’t change. They are looking for high quality websites that provide the best experience for users. If you are engaging in white hate SEO practices, you don’t have to worry. These practices include:

  • Producing unique, useful content that addresses the needs of your website visitors. This includes keeping an up-to-date legal blog and creating content about your firm and its practice areas.
  • Designing a user-friendly website. This includes fast load times and being optimized for all devices. These are very important factors for Google as mobile devices continue to increase in usage.
  • Earning high quality, topically and locally relevant backlinks. This may be a feature in a local news story about state-specific legislation affecting your practice area or a reputable local business directory.
  • Representing your business accurately and adhering to all specified guidelines on Google My Business. This includes having a dedicated USPS address and earning honest and thorough reviews from real clients of your law firm.

What exactly is black hat SEO?

If you are outsourcing your law firm’s SEO efforts to an agency, you should be able to trust that they are not engaging in spammy, manipulative tactics, known as “black hat SEO.”

Unfortunately, this is still prevalent and can be difficult to gauge. With law firm websites, the black hat SEO tactics we see used most frequently are:

  • Paying for links or building low-quality links. These include free directories that provide no real value. (You should be able to request your website’s backlink profile and every link should be from an authoritative, reputable website.)
  • Violating Google My Business Guidelines. These violations include keyword-stuffing in the business name, paying for reviews or inaccurately representing the law firm office’s address.
  • Thin, duplicate or low-quality content.

Postali believes in full transparency in everything we do. We report to our clients on the links to their site, our content initiatives and Google My Business updates. Our content is unique, SEO-friendly and regularly updated. Our linkbuilding strategies comply with Google’s guidelines, and we design fast, mobile-friendly websites for all clients.

How can I make sure my website’s SEO strategy is white hat?

We’ve found that there are some common red flags that indicate a company may not be using white hat SEO tactics for your law firm. If you hear any of the following, proceed with caution:

  • “Guaranteed” rankings for a specified number of keywords and/or within a short timeline (3 months or less). As much as you would love to have guaranteed results, the reality is that it’s just not possible to do so. At Postali, we have market research down to a science and can set benchmarks and expectations, but guaranteed rankings are a telltale sign of black hat SEO techniques.
  • Contract structures that are based on number of keywords ranked. Generally, this means your website will get ranked for irrelevant keywords that will not help your business. In order to be successful, law firm websites need consistent optimization for relevant keywords, not a one-time push for quantity over quality.
  • Unwillingness to show examples of work
  • Vague contract language and lack of transparency on strategy

Questions You Should Ask

Any SEO provider should be able to provide confident assurance that your website is in good hands. At Postali, we share our previous work and walk our attorneys through our strategies. A reputable, white hat SEO agency should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is your linkbuilding strategy? Do you comply with Google Webmaster Guidelines?
  • Can you share examples of websites you have worked on?
  • What results can I expect and in what timeframe?
  • Have you ever had a website affected by a penalty?

Algorithm updates are a part of SEO. They require monitoring and shifts in strategy, but a white hat SEO strategy avoids risk of penalty. We often see algorithm updates benefit our clients by giving a ranking boost or penalizing a black hat competitor.


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