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Penguins, Pandas and Modern SEO: Should Lawyers Be Concerned?

Significant changes are taking place with Google’s search engine algorithms and it’s important for all SEOs to keep up-to-date and understand the changes, but it is equally important for lawyers to know that their SEO teams can be trusted and aren’t using black-hat tactics to get them to the top of the Google rankings.

‘We paid a guy for that’

When I used to practise law, I recall asking one of the senior partners a law firm how they got the firm’s website high up in Google (at that point, I thought getting the firm high even for its name, let alone useful keywords, was an achievement). He replied briefly ‘We paid a guy for that’, without further explanation. It turns out that said website wasn’t actually performing in search well at all for what should have been its best keywords (by best keywords, I mean terms such as ‘solicitors edinburgh’ or ‘employment lawyers london’. Now it’s more important than ever for lawyers to make sure the SEOs have a sound strategy in place that generates returns not just in the search rankings, but also in terms of business generated for the firm.

Panda and Penguin

Google likes to name its updates after black and white animals, most likely signalling the distinction between ‘black hat SEO’ and ‘white hat SEO’.Penguin SEO Update image courtesy of cnystrom on Flickr So we have two major strategies in place by Google to combat webspam, led by Google’s Matt Cutts and termed ‘Panda’ and, most recently ‘Penguin’ (indeed some have suggested there may be ‘Zebra’ or ‘Skunk’ updates to come in the future).

Originally termed the ‘webspam update’ by Google, the Penguin update came into effect at the end of April 2012 at the same time as speculation had arisen over an ‘over-optimisation’ penalty, causing a great deal of concern for webmasters and SEOs who feared they would lost traffic and revenue. SEOMoz has, helpfully, outlined what types of SEO practices have come under fire with the Penguin update:-

- Aggressive exact-match anchor text used for links

- Overuse of exact-match domains

- Poor quality blog spamming and article marketing

- Keyword stuffing with internal and outbound links

Essentially, Google has been aiming to cut down on low quality spam techniques which don’t take much time or investment. The impact has been substantial.

Google officially claimed that Penguin affected around 3.1% of English search queries, compared to the first Panda update’s 12%. Combined with a large number of unnatural link notices via Google Webmaster Tools and the rollout of Panda 3.5, April was, as SEOMoz notes, a cruel month for some search marketers and their clients, while others saw their clients rising in Google.

Taking Action

Google’s combating of spam tactics are not going away and the Penguin update strategy is likely to be developed over the course of the next few years, leading to further changes in Google’s search rankings. SEOMoz, for instance, makes the comparison with Panda, where Panda 3.5 came out 14 months after the first Panda update.

So what needs to be done?

  1. Don’t panic or think about sacking your current SEO providers.
  2. Do ask your SEO team to explain the changes to you and clarify how their approach is going to survive the current and upcoming Google Penguin updates.
  3. Check or ask your SEO team to check your Google Analytics for losses in traffic, particularly any changes between 24th and 25th April.
  4. Check your positions in Google for your strongest keywords. If you have lost 10 or more places i.e. you’ve been thumped to page 2 or lower in the rankings, the reason is probably mostly attributed to the Penguin update.
  5. Clarify your SEO strategy, particularly in respect of link building. If there is a heavy reliance on paid links, links from blacklisted networks, footer links with exact-match anchor text or links on other sites that are site-wide i.e. appearing on every page of a website, there is a danger of you slipping places in the SERPs.
  6. Ensure you are continuing to build a valuable website, with continued updates to content. If you are not producing content on your website or submitting guest articles to other websites, you will most likely be dropping places in Google.

Further reading

SEOMoz on Penguin

Search Engine Land on Penguin

Glen Gabe on Penguin

Contact us

While we appreciate that as solicitors you have more important things to worry about than black-and-white animal metaphors; the changes with legal services such as the introduction of ABS and the most important thing - client work itself – should take priority. We would, nevertheless, be pleased to hear from you and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have on these recent developments with Google’s algorithm changes. Contact us here.

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