Everyone in digital marketing talks about link building, how important they are, and how we should focus on getting them. But this is only half of the story. If you blindly charge out and try to get as many backlinks as possible from anywhere you can get them, you are probably doing more harm than good to your law firm’s website. Curating a backlink profile is about identifying high quality, not quantity. You could have a portfolio full of bad backlinks that are working against your SEO efforts.
Know the difference between good and bad backlinks and improve your legal website.
What Is a Bad Backlink?
Bad backlinks are those that are from domains that are not trusted. Before Google started cracking down on black hat SEO efforts, webmasters manipulated the Google algorithms to improve their site’s ranking. They would spam the internet with inbound links to their website. It was purely about increasing the number of backlinks with no consideration for quality.
The Google Penguin update in 2012 aimed to put a stop to these tactics. It punished websites that had a high number of unnatural links. Instead, Google anted site owners to focus on producing quality content. Then good links would naturally build from other people wanting to link to the quality content.
BE CAREFUL. Some questionable SEO and marketing services still use this tactic today. Employing this type of service will ultimately harm your law firm’s website. Google could blacklist your website from its directories through a manual action, which prevents it from showing up in search results. To fix this Google penalty, you’ll either have to work extra hard to get your website out of the hole before you can improve performance or start over with a brand new website.
“In some circumstances, incoming links can affect Google’s opinion of a page or site. For example, you or a search engine optimizer (SEO) you’ve hired may have built bad links to your site via paid links or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines. First and foremost, we recommend that you remove as many spammy or low-quality links from the website as possible.” -Google
How to Find Bad Backlinks
There are a ton of paid and free services that will help you find bad backlinks to your law firm’s website. One of the easiest ways is through Google Search Console. This is a good place to start. As you read through the list of links in your Google Console dashboard, ask three questions:
- What kind of website is it?
- Does the link improve your law firm’s performance?
- Does the website look legit?
If you don’t want to use the Google Search Console, you can try Moz, ahrefs, or SEMrush. These sites all offer their version of a backlink audit. The amount and type of information varies with the free versions, and you’ll need to pay if you want a complete picture. What’s nice about these services is that website owners can take control of their website optimization.
Websites that are low quality will have tons of outbound spammy links, making your website one of hundreds or thousands that it links to. This is not good. Websites that don’t have a clearly discernible purpose should also raise questions.You can identify these websites by their low organic traffic and lack of quality content sitewide. These types of links are considered low quality backlinks.
Some websites will be legitimate but not useful to your law firm’s content marketing goals. For example, you have a legal practice in a particular city and state. Yet someone representing an unrelated business four states away has linked to your website. This backlink does nothing for your website’s domain authority or SEO performance despite it being a legitimate website, making it a bad backlink. Google’s crawlers have become smart enough to decipher that the two websites aren’t relevant. Someone visiting one website is highly unlikely to go to the other website and find the information they are looking for.
It can help to have a list of red flags to look for when sorting through the referring domains.
Types of Bad Backlinks
Several types of bad backlinks can plague your law firm’s website. You’ll want to keep an eye out for all of them when cleaning up your link portfolio. These are links that just magically appear in your reporting one day for no real reason or purpose. They come from domains that make no sense or sound spammy. Unfortunately, search engines now associate your legal website with this trash.
One or two of these spammy backlinks won’t kill your SEO. Google’s crawlers and algorithms are pretty sophisticated and adept at filtering out these spam links. Because of this, you don’t need to be diligently checking for spam backlinks every day. However, if you check one day and have an excessive number of them, it’s smart to do some house cleaning.
You may not be able to clearly define what spam is, but you would recognize a spammy site when you saw one. They are full of ads, offer nothing useful, and likely try to capture your personal information. These websites are the last thing you want to be associated with your law firm.
Link Mills and PBNs Affect SEO Rankings
Have you ever gone to a website only to discover that it was nothing but hundreds of blog posts? These are called link mills. Each of those articles was paid for by a business trying to develop its backlinks portfolio. However, this is the completely wrong way to go about it. Because “link mill” is an unpleasant term, you may hear them referred to as private blog networks (PBN). This takes the link exchange system and puts it on a mass scale, with several of these link mill websites all interlinking together to create a massive, messy web. They take shady actions to hide their true purpose, such as using different domain extensions, registrars, and hosting providers. However, none of these tricks outsmart Google. The links you pay for through these services are all bad backlinks.
If Google catches you using these paid-for linking services, you face your website plummeting in the rankings. So don’t walk, run, away from PBM sites. If someone says they have a guest post backlinking program they want to sell you, make sure it’s not using PBNs.
Unrelated Industry Websites
Sometimes you will have backlinks from a legitimate website that’s completely unrelated to your law firm, law practice area, or local geographic area. While these links or referring websites aren’t inherently bad, they can create confusion. Your goal is to direct people looking for your legal service to your website. Unfortunately, these unrelated backlinks from a random website that use irrelevant keywords for the anchor text will create confusion. Now, all of a sudden, Google thinks your law firm moonlights as a boat repair shop or pet sitter on the side. The result is that your website starts ranking better for these terms and less well for your intended keywords.
Press Release Websites
This one can be a bit confusing. Press releases aren’t bad. Press releases with a link to your website aren’t bad. The problem arises when you abuse the system. Don’t put out a press release if it doesn’t convey relevant or valuable information. Don’t put out a press release that is full of keyword-heavy text. Don’t put out a press release that’s full of links. Developing backlinks and curating SEO takes time. This is a long game, and any attempt to game the system will create an outlier in Google’s data metrics. This signals to Google that you’re trying to cheat at SEO.
Forums and Blog Comments
A relevant forum website can be a useful place for one of your backlinks. However, as is the common theme of this article, everything should be done in moderation with a focus on quality. Don’t blindly spam a forum site with links to your website. Actively participate in the forum; it will help build your firm’s and your reputation. Wait to add a backlink to your site when it’s relevant and contributes to your response. Taking this approach will also reduce your risk of getting blacklisted from the forum.
Take a similar approach when commenting on blogs. You find someone else who has a relevant and informative blog post on their website. It’s great to comment and engage with them. If it adds to the conversation, you can include a backlink to your website. However, doing this every time or too much makes you look spammy. Now you’re creating bad backlinks to your website.
Excessive Guest Post Links
A guest post strategy is good to have as a part of your content marketing strategy. You can use your guest posts to improve brand outreach and develop brand authority. However, guest post links will not give you SEO rank improvement. Everything should be done in moderation, so excessive guest posting could be seen as trying to manipulate the Google algorithm. This is especially true when every single one of your guest post links uses keyword-rich anchor text.
Additionally, you don’t want excessive link exchanges with another website. It can be tempting to continually exchange links with another website administrator because you already have the personal connection and report with them. However, too many back and forth links raises a red flag for Google.
Links Hidden in a Widget
Let’s say you have a nifty widget created by a developer for your law firm’s website. It’s incredibly handy, and you find that people are embedding on their websites. This is great! However, don’t be tempted to hide a backlink to your website in this widget. Google sees right through this attempt at gaming the system. At best, it will simply ignore these links, and your website gets no benefit. At worst, Google will punish your website for not following its terms and conditions.
How to Remove Bad Backlinks
To begin the process, start with a list of the websites you don’t want to be associated with. You can then go to your Google Search Console to use its disavow tool. It’s not instant, so be patient and wait a few days for your requests to process. This is also not a one-time thing. Over time you will discover new toxic or bad backlinks that you will want to add to the list. When this happens, you’ll add the new offending URL or domain to the list and upload it again.
To create your list, open a text file window on Windows. This is the easiest way to create a .txt file that’s required for uploading. Next, create a list with one disavow link per line. To block an entire domain, you’ll add “domain:” to the front of it. Once you’ve saved your document, you can upload your disavow file on the Google Search Console Disavow link Page. If you’ve done it correctly, you should see a confirmation page. If you need more help on uploading your list, the Google Disavow Tool has a handy guidelines page to give you more insight.
Another option is to manually contact the administrator of each toxic website and ask them to remove the link. However, this is time-consuming and may not bring you any success. Many spammy websites won’t have any contact information listed, requiring additional research to find someone. Then if you do, you may not get a response. Then, they may not act quickly to remove the link, remove the right ones, or remove all of them.
Get Rid of Your Website’s Bad Backlinks
It’s important that you build a robust list of backlinks, and it can be tough to accept that you need to get rid of some. However, if you want your law firm’s website to really flourish and have significant SEO improvement, you need to disavow the bad backlinks. While cutting the fat, I can help you increase the meat. By creating informative and approachable legal content, you can generate more good backlinks.
Let’s chat about how we can work together to improve your law blog’s content.