It can be tempting to try to increase your law firm search rankings through unethical methods. But the risks far outweigh the rewards.
Every search engine has a collection of rules to determine search rankings. Their goal is to match queries with the most relevant results, giving their users the best experience. The rules are a framework for their algorithm to determine a page’s relevance to a specific search. Like any collection of rules, they are open to abuse.
What is Black Hat SEO?
Black hat SEO is the term for SEO practices that abuse the rules. Instead of crafting a better page with higher quality content, users of black hat SEO tactics try to game the system, placing their results above the good faith efforts of other pages. They violate the search engine’s guidelines in an attempt to manipulate the algorithm and ultimately deliver lower-quality matches on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Black hat SEO is not illegal, but since it does fly contrary to the goals of search engines, it is ruthlessly policed. Practicing black hat SEO is basically asking search engines to punish your site. While black hat SEO can give you a short-term boost in SERPs, in the long term, you will be hit with hefty penalties in your SERPs and might be kicked off the search engine altogether. Getting booted off Google is tantamount to business suicide.
If you take nothing else from this piece, remember that black hat SEO is never worth the risk.
Common Black Hat SEO Tactics
Recognizing black hat SEO is vital for the survival of your firm. Digital marketing firms that practice any of the following techniques should be avoided because they will only hurt your SEO.
Your SEO provider should only use ethical methods of search optimization, often referred to as “White hat SEO”. White hat methods are search optimization methods that are proven to increase your organic website traffic and approved by major search engines, most notably Google.
If you suspect your SEO provider is using any of the methods outlines below, you should contact them immediately.
Backlinks, links to your page from outside, are a cornerstone of SEO. Search algorithms assume that the more alternate sites link to yours, the more informative, important, and interesting your content is. As you can imagine, this makes you appear higher in search results. Buying backlinks actively subverts this, since this is no indicator or actual quality.
In this very space you will find us telling you that inserting your keywords into your content is a big part of SEO. The difference can seem like a tightrope at first, but look at the end product. Keywords that convey or enhance the meaning or readability of a blog entry are good SEO practices. Using your keywords so much that they actively inhibit the ability of the reader to parse a blog entry is black hat SEO.
Hidden text is exactly what it sounds like: text that the reader can’t see. Either it’s the same color as the background, it’s hidden behind an image, placed off-screen, or even input with a font size of zero. Hidden text is often used in conjunction with keyword stuffing, though with no intent that the stuffed content will ever see the light of day. Unlike keyword stuffing, which can have some gray area as to what constitutes it, hidden text is obvious when website use it.
Search engines love content, but it must be original. Website/Article spinning is the process of polishing and re-releasing old content. By simply swapping out synonyms, changing a sentence’s structure here and there, or re-wording a paragraph, they’ve created something new, or new enough.
Article spinning can be done manually or with programs, and either way is penalized. While this only works on text-based content like blog entries for now, recent advances in face and voice synthesizers mean it could spread to audio and video content as well. Regardless, this is bad form and will be penalized when it is inevitably discovered.
Automatically Generated Content
Much like the last, this goes against the internet’s hunger for original and high-quality content. The idea here is that any one of these options produces substandard results, and in the second two cases, why not just link to the original? As difficult as content production can be at times, there is no substitute for doing it yourself. Or hiring a professional.
These are pages that aren’t intended to function as actual destinations, but rather to funnel visitors to other parts of your site. Essentially, these are a way to backdoor ranking on keywords that aren’t entirely relevant to your site. Each page on your site should have a specific and legitimate purpose for human users. If a page only exists for the algorithm, it’s black hat SEO.
Cloaking involves showing one version of your content to visitors and a different one to search engines. The idea is that by seeding both with different keywords, you get twice the bang for your buck and can rank in divergent queries.
There’s no issue with having different versions of your site that load depending on your visitor’s device, or versions in various languages. If a different version serves a recognizable purpose, you won’t be penalized. If it’s only there to game the system, expect to get slapped down.
Much rarer these days after Google specifically disincentivized it, this is the act of including your link into any comment and commenting on other blogs. It still exists, and you should not do it, but it’s much less likely to encounter in the wild than it was a decade ago.
Abuse of Structured Data/Rich Snippets
Rich snippets and structured data are another of those things, used correctly and in good faith, that are a necessary part of any good SEO strategy. They allow more information to be displayed on SERPs, giving potential visitors a better idea of what’s on your page. Abuse comes into the picture when the information you provide is inaccurate. Keep your structured data correct and up to date, and you won’t have a problem.
Private Blog Networks
Private blog networks are another holdover from the previous iteration of the internet, when they were common as web rings, but they do still exist. As web rings, with the intention of providing visitors with a community of related content, there’s nothing wrong with them.
Some black hat SEO providers will use multiple fake sites in the form of a private blog network to artificially inflate the number of backlinks on your site. Search engines are good at spotting these fakes.
Redirects are perfectly fine and when used in good faith, will not harm your SEO in the slightest. Redirects used in an attempt to obfuscate your content are a common black hat SEO tactic. As with everything on this list, redirects are only bad when you’re trying to fool a visitor.
Lead Science: Your White Hat SEO Partner
As long as businesses look for get-rich-quick schemes, black hat SEO will be popular. However, like every one of those schemes, black hat SEO is never good for your firm’s long-term success. As black hat SEO goes against the very grain of what a search engine is supposed to do, they have gotten shockingly good at detecting black hat SEO and punishing it severely.
While good SEO is a journey, it’s worth it to do the job the right way. Operating in good faith ensures that your work will stand the test of the algorithm and continues to draw visitors as bad faith operators fall by the wayside.
To increase your search results the right way, you need a digital marketing partner that lives and breathes SEO like we do at Lead Science. The Lead Science search-optimized website platform and elite team of SEO experts can help rocket your law firm’s website to the top of search results. Our comprehensive SEO packages include:
- Full SEO audits: Our team will analyze your website and quickly identify any issues affecting your search performance.
- Keyword research and optimization: We research the optimal keywords for your website and implement them in custom website content and blog articles created just for you.
- Link building: Lead Science SEO experts strategically develop and implement internal and external link building programs to maximize the search signals and usability of your website.
- Social and reputation management: We work closely with your business to ensure that your social presence and online reputation is as sterling as possible.
- Advanced analytics: Lead Science Beacon Website Reporting (Powered by Google Analytics) provides clear, concise reporting on the performance of your website on a 24×7 basis.
- And many more unparalleled SEO features and services to grow your search traffic.
At Lead Science, we have decades of experience doing SEO the right way, helping our clients to enduring success. Schedule your discovery call today. You’ll love what we can do with our white hats on.