How To Survive Google Penguins: A Simple Overview For Lawyers

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2012 was a big year for anyone in the legal search marketing field. Law firms that had properly developed and maintained websites ranked well and typically continued to increase their case loads. Those that did not saw their internet caseloads shrink. At the same time, several big updates from Google changed the search landscape forever.

Google has had Webmaster Guidelines in place for years that recommended against many of the tricks that were used in the past to help websites gain rankings unnaturally (in a manipulative way). Google decided in 2012 to start enforcing those guidelines by penalizing and/or reducing the ranking of sites that violated them.

The major changes in the last year were:

  • Penguin Algorithm Update: This was the first attempt by Google to devalue the rankings of sites that used manipulative (unnatural) links to obtain rankings. In prior years, it was fairly easy to gain stellar rankings by purchasing link packages to your websites. After the Penguin update, law firms that had purchased links – maybe even years ago – were hit hard.
  • Exact Match Domain (EMD) Devaluation: In the past, it was easy to buy a domain name that had great keywords within it to gain a wonderful boost for those keywords by exploiting Google’s preference to return branded domains. With little additional effort, domains like “” would have performed very well for the high value keywords “Minneapolis Personal Injury Lawyer” based simply on the keyword rich domain name. The EMD update does a better job of differentiating between brand names and websites devised to exploit keywords. Google’s EMD basically removed the extra boost these exact match sites were receiving in the past.
  • Panda Algorithm Updates: It is all about quality content and user experience now. If your content is thin, copied from other places, or not providing any real value, you will probably see a loss of rankings due to Panda, which devalues websites with poor site-wide content.
  • Google+ and Local: Google prefers local results over those that are not in the searcher’s geographic area. Google also prefers knowing what author wrote the content. Google+ (Google’s social platform) and the old Google Places are now merged into one. Google+ is very important because it is the record that ties you, as an author, to your content. Google+ also helps Google understand whether or not your business is real (using verified addresses) and provides business reviews to help people determine the quality of your services. It will become harder and harder in the coming year(s) to rank for topics on which you are not seen as an authority and in locations where you are not seen as a quality business.

So where does this leave us for 2013?

Today Google released an update to their algorithm (Penguin 2.0) that will further identify and penalize manipulative linking practices. Google’s Matt Cutts stated in a recent video, “So this one is a little more comprehensive than Penguin 1.0 and we expect it to go a little bit deeper and have a little bit more of an impact than the original version of Penguin.” This had many SEO companies, as well as in-house search marketers, scrambling to clean out any older, low-quality links and really focus on building great content in order to attract natural links as well as Social Media mentions. Matt announced today that “2.3% of English queries will be impacted by this update”. We will be monitoring this update and will have a follow-up once the dust has settled.

At Consultwebs, we saw the writing on the wall some time ago and actively monitor link profiles for our managed sites. We work closely with our clients to not only build great unique content, but also leverage Social Media, Google+ Local and Google Authorship to help our clients build a site that is trustworthy and protected against future algorithm updates. Doing it Google’s way requires considerably more work and, often, we cannot advertise immediate rankings but our company’s goal is for our clients to have excellent online representations of their firm’s brand for years into the future, not quick rankings for the next few months. Note: If an SEO company promises immediate rankings, please give us a call and we will explain why immediate rankings are not in your best interest.

If you are worried about the impact that this year’s Google updates may have on your website, here are a few quick tips to help you understand what is most important for you to look into:

  • KNOW who is linking to you. Ask your SEO vendor for a list. Also, ask what your vendor is doing to attract ongoing quality links to your website. This will help ensure that proper procedures are followed and that you will not be in danger in the future.
  • Leverage your relationships to build high quality links. This is often the most over-looked asset. Many firms have relationships with organizations, universities and other businesses that provide wonderful opportunities for guest posts, links from biographies, links from testimonials, etc. High quality links help protect you from a few low quality links causing your site harm.
  • Make sure you are working with someone with extensive knowledge of Google+ Local. Our local SEO expert, Grant Brott, advises, “The biggest changes I see are the complete rollout of the new Google Places dashboard and the new release of Google Maps. Both will affect local SEO in major ways, I believe. Google Maps will bring a whole new interactive experience that could catch on very fast and provide more potential traffic that will make having proper Google Local listings that much more important.”
  • DO NOT BUY LINKS THAT ARE SIMPLY DEVISED TO HELP YOUR RANKINGS. Google’s Matt Cutts says, “If someone is paying for links that pass PageRank (which violates our quality guidelines), that can affect both the source site and the destination site.”
  • Build content that you would be proud to have a client read before contacting you. Be helpful, use your expertise to help others, and Google will help you.
  • Promote others and they will promote you. Many law firms write blog and Social Media posts only about themselves and what they offer. As Dicky V. said in an interview last year, his mom once told him, “Be nice to others and they will be nice to you”. Help support the mission of others by posting about what they are doing on Social Media, or write a blog article about a local business or community hero. Anybody who has a WordPress site gets what is called a Pingback, a notification that someone linked to you. If you write about a great organization and they get a pingback that you just wrote about how awesome they are, there is a good chance that they might return the favor — or at least write a note to say thanks.

If you have questions about the upcoming updates or just want to see what Consultwebs can offer for your firm, write us at We work exclusively with legal clients. Therefore, we understand the web marketing needs of law firms. We also work to achieve a strong ROI on our clients’ investments and promote strong brands. Our goal is your success, not only for the short term, but for years to come.

JR Oakes

J.R. Oakes is in charge of developing and managing a comprehensive approach to search engine optimization for the law firm clients of In this role, J.R. constantly analyzes and adapts the marketing firm's SEO strategy to address the constantly changing factors that go into high search engine rankings. Follow JR on Google+ or Twitter

Comments Comments


Hey JR thanks for the very well written update. While there are tons to consider, it still comes down to writing good stuff and getting real organic links. Gaming the system is really just cheating and now Google can detect it better than before.


    Thanks for the comment Steven. I agree. I think interactions like this are a great quality indicator as well. If you have a blog, use the comments.


Joseph Mas

The hardest part of this is getting people in the firms who are not marketing or SEO experts to understand the changes that took place with Google. And that ranking and normal SEO is much different now than it was even a year ago.



    I agree. I think it has to do with priorities. Many firms are very busy with day to day business and in reality, as little as 2 years ago a firm could turn everything over to an SEO company and they would be fine. Today, it is important for firms to work WITH in-house seos or seo vendors to make sure their reputation is protected online AND that they are building a strong brand on-line based on the foundation of great content, intuitive design, strong social / relationship building, and finally doing real stuff in their community.


Karen Russell

I agree. Lawyers and law firms do not have the time to understand the changes with Google’s Panda and Penguin so they will find someone to handle it for them. I have spoken to many who would rather do this. The issue is that so many of the so-called SEO experts have no idea what they are doing and make “guarantees” they simply cannot keep. I tell my lawyer friends to steer clear of those companies. I like what I have seen from ConsultWebs and I can tell you are “white hat” SEO folks.



    Thanks for the comment. Yes, we are all white hat. Life expectancy of a black hat is not that long.


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