SEO Link Building Advice for Attorneys: Interview with Luke Ciciliano

| January 15, 2014

Luke CicilianoSearch is still in its infancy and so is the practice of SEO.  I love getting others’ perspectives on optimization techniques.  Collaboration and sharing of ideas helps everyone learn more.  Today we have Luke Ciciliano1, Co-Owner and COO of SEO for Lawyers2 answering questions about building links to a website.

First I would like to say a special thanks to Chris Dreyer3 of Attorneyrankings.org4 for asking me to discuss link building. This is an area that many attorneys, and people concerned about SEO in general, ask me.

strategyA discussion of link-building has to start with a discussion of where it ranks in one’s SEO strategy

Links are one of biggest topics to come up in SEO discussions. Many attorneys believe that getting backlinks is the most important part of getting your site to the top of search. To understand how to go about getting links, it’s important to first discuss why backlinks have historically been important and what their importance will be going forward.

Google’s founders met in graduate school in the early days of the consumer internet and began trying to make sense of the web. It’s important to remember that search engines, prior to Google, were not very good at returning relevant results. In order to give people a better way to search the web, they needed a way to rank the importance of websites in their particular niche; relevant search results cannot be returned unless you know which sites are the most important for a particular query.

google-foundingGoogle’s founders had accumulated a large amount of data regarding different web pages and looked for patterns that could be used to make better sense of the web. They realized that if site A was linking to site B then that could be seen as the first site endorsing the second site. If a site had more of these endorsements then that was “…probably due to [the linked to site] being a better page. ” They then used this idea to form the concept of “Page Rank,” which ranked sites on the number of backlinks they had pointing in their direction.

Google used the idea of Page Rank as an early way of rating website quality. This gave them a way of knowing which site to rank first in response to a query, which site to rank second, and so on. It is important to understand, however, that this method, which was far better than anything used by the competition, had to be developed within the confines of computer technology available in the mid-1990’s. This means that as newer technologies became available to Google then better methods of ranking websites could be used to return search results.

Google began its shift away from a link-based approach of ranking websites in 2011. At the 2011 D9 conference Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, was asked about this shift5:

Q: “Is your…approach…which was so different than everybody else with Page Rank… still the right way to go?

A: We are trying to move from answers that are link based to answers that are algorithmically based where we can actually compute the right answer. We now have enough artificial intelligence technology…to compute the right answer. We don’t consider ourselves beholden to a set of links as we can now just give you the right answer.

This new approach, for determining which websites are the most relevant to searchers, was developed by having human testers rank websites based on overall quality to determine whether the website was one they would visit again . This new “overall quality” approach is how Google now ranks websites in search.

Backlinks are still important in search but the importance of them is continuing to decline. That being said, backlinks are still one factor that is considered in search. Increasingly, however, only certain links will provide your site any type of a boost in search.

Before answering the questions below, I felt it was important to discuss the history and future of link relevance in search.

disavow-linksHow should I go about building links? Should I contact other site owners directly or should I build them by submitting my site to directories, business listings, etc?

First, you should only worry about links that are going to provide value to your site. As mentioned above, many links will provide minimal return to your site. When building links to your site you should focus on those where there is editorial oversight. By this I mean that you should only get links from sources where 1) an actual person is making the decision to include the link, and 2) that the site you are requesting the link from actually has some standards rather than simply adding every last site that requests a link . These are the types of quality backlinks that will help your site in search.

Contacting other site owners directly is fine. This is feasible when you have content relevant to the other site owners. For example, I once wrote a comprehensive blog series for my law practice, which consisted of 5 separate posts, on “Fathers’ rights in Nevada.” I contacted a few different bloggers that followed the issue of fathers’ rights and informed them about my series and let them know that it may be of interest to their readers.

These bloggers then placed a link to my site on their page as a resource to their readers. Blogging6 is a great way to have your site viewed as a resource by other relevant sites which will, in turn, link to you. This is one reason why attorneys should write their blog posts in the form of a series7. Blogging in a series makes your site a greater source of information which, in turn, leads to more links.

Submitting to directories8 or business listings is also a good way to get quality links. If the directory just automatically includes everyone that requests submission then the directory adds no value to your site. If the directory automatically accepts everyone requesting submission then it’s not worth your time.

If I do reach out personally to other site owners to get a link, do I just come right out and ask for link to my site? I mean, what’s the payoff for them? What can I do to make it worth their while?

If you ask a site owner to include your site there needs to be value to them. I wouldn’t “ask” as much as I would suggest including a link to my site as a resource for the users of the other site. This helps the other site owner add value to his or her readers.

anchorShould I always try and get people to link back to my site using keywords that I want or should I leave it up to the site owner?

I would suggest what anchor text you would like to use but it’s ultimately up to the site owner. Sites that don’t automatically use your requested anchor text are exercising the type of “editorial oversight” that Google likes to see. If a site won’t automatically use your anchor text then that’s one more notch in the column of whether a link on that site is worth your time.

How fast can I build links to my site?

This depends on the quality of your content. Obviously you can build links that add no value to your site pretty quick. But in terms of quality links, that make your site valuable in the eyes of search engines, then you need links from those linking to you because they find your content truly valuable. That’s why the best way to get links is to focus on your content and I have stressed the fact that attorneys should update their blogs with quality content frequently9. More quality content on an attorney’s blog means that there are more potential websites to which the attorney’s blog may be a resource.

cashI know I’m not supposed to buy links but what if I pay an individual site owner (whose primary business is not selling links) to put a link on their site, can Google really track that?

Selling links is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and the search engines are very good at detecting patterns. The only links worth paying for are in directories that provide the type of editorial oversight described above; these are paid directories10 that don’t automatically include every site that requests submission. When you pay for these submissions you are actually paying that directory to review your site and not for placement in their directory; if your site doesn’t meet their standards then you may be rejected and the fee you paid will not be refunded.

Google says not to exchange links but if the link is beneficial to users, isn’t that ok? I mean how can they tell?

Google can spot a link exchange rather easily. The company’s entire existence is based on its ability to recognize patterns and relationships. The search engine will know a link to your site was acquired through a link exchange. That being said, exchanged links may very well provide value to a user. Exchanging links (as long as you don’t violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines) won’t harm your site; it simply won’t add any value. Google will not count these links as quality links to your site.

Does the proportion of no-follow to do-follow links on my site really matter assuming they have a natural pattern?

The key in this question is the term “natural pattern.” As long as you are using words and links naturally then there will be no problems.

seo-logoShould I trust an SEO company to build links to my website?

At SEO for Lawyers we help our clients with their link building efforts. This ranges from helping attorneys with the direction of their blogging and content to helping them establish the right types of relationships for appropriate linking. In other words, we go about it correctly. There are plenty of SEO companies, however, that don’t have a clue of how to properly build links. The answer to this question is that you can trust an SEO company to help with link structures but just make sure they will go about it correctly.

Are backlinks a really important factor for SEO or are there other things I could be focusing on?

See my discussion above. The idea of focusing on links is like putting the cart before the horse. Attorneys should focus on the quality and frequency of their website content and the links will flow from that. Focusing on content and overall quality will not only get you links, but it will help you in the other areas Google has been increasingly emphasizing since 2011.

Sometimes in Google Webmaster tools I see strange links to my site that I didn’t build, they look like ok sites but should I be worried?

Google recognizes that you can’t control who is going to link to your site. If you are going about it correctly then you don’t need to be worried about “negative SEO. ” The only people, in my opinion, who need to worry about links they don’t recognize are the one’s engaging in shady SEO tactics to begin with. That being said, I know a lot has been made lately of using Google’s “disavow link” tool11. I have never had the need to use it on my sites and our clients at SEO for Lawyers are doing quite well in search and we’ve never had to disavow any links.