Links have always been an important factor in Google’s algorithm. One of Google’s original innovations, which distinguished it from other search engines in the 1990s, was associating the text of a link with both the page the link is on and the page to which it links. The relationship between the two pages was unique at the time; most search engines only associated the text of the link with the page it was on.
An original abstract about Google written by Larry Page and Sergey Brin stated that “anchors often provide more accurate descriptions of web pages than the pages themselves.” Google returned accurate results because it assumed (among other things) that if a lot of pages linked to the same page using similar language, like “best coffee in Seattle,” then there was a good chance that the page being linked to was actually an authority on delicious Seattle coffees.
This assumption also opened the door to a lot of cheating. If you could get enough links pointing to your site with the same keyword-rich anchor text, you would rank well. Once webmasters started gaming the link system, the quality of Google’s results suffered. Google started actively targeting low-quality and spammy links, and with the release of Penguin in 2012 many sites’ rankings suffered significantly. The process of link building as a whole became tainted, and many people were afraid to try to seek out links at all.
But Google has never been able to ween itself entirely off a reliance on links as a ranking factor. And the company does not actually discourage link building as a practice. In a question and answer session at SMX Advanced in June, Matt Cutts admitted that trying to earn 100 percent organic links was taking anti-link sentiment a bit too far. In response to a question about the future of link building, Cutts said, “No, link building is not dead. And a very small percentage of links on the web are nofollowed. There’s a lot of mileage left in links.”
SEO is not just about ranking well, it is also about driving high-quality traffic to your site. Link building takes time, but it can provide a boost in both rankings and visitors. The investment is worth the effort.
Here are some strategies for link building that fall within Google’s range of acceptable behavior:
Local link building: Local link building is one of the most effective link building strategies since Google already takes location into consideration when returning search results. Attorneys in particular rely on building a client base within a specific geographic area and should pay attention to their local link portfolio.
Part of local link building is old-fashioned networking. Get involved in your community. Take part in events by hosting or sponsoring activities with local charities. Attend meetings and join social clubs or associations relevant to your practice.
You may also grow your network by featuring prominent community members in interviews on your website or as guest bloggers. Organizations doing community-based work often welcome the chance to spread their message and will gladly link to your site in exchange for exposure. Do not be afraid to ask. If you build local partnerships and provide value to the organization, the request should seem natural.
This aspect of local link building is time and resource intensive, but can pay off significantly. While working to better your online rankings, your firm is also becoming a trusted voice in your community, and you are likely to benefit from local word-of-mouth referrals.
A second more technical aspect of local link building involves local directories and resource lists. You may be able to gain links from chambers of commerce, local bar associations and other industry related groups. Look for organizations that have resource lists on their websites and consider which would likely benefit from a link to your site. Present a succinct and positive case for why a site should include you, and you may find it is easier than you thought to gain some high-quality links.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out): HARO is an excellent resource for attorneys who want to grow their professional network and authority. HARO links journalists who need sources with professionals who can provide thoughtful quotes and give their perspective on stories related to their industry. Attorneys may be considered authorities on a variety of topics depending on their practice focus, and HARO provides an outlet to gain valuable publicity and solidify expertise.
Directories: Being listed in both national and niche directories is a powerful ranking tool. Make sure you are listed on large national sites like Yelp and Nolo, and confirm that all contact information (name, address and phone number) is consistent on all sites. Once you are on the big sites, look for smaller directories that are specifically relevant to your practice. Links from directories provide a double benefit: they help with your search ranking, and they give you exposure on large sites that also rank well for your keywords.
Broken link building: Broken link building is a way to gain links without having to produce any content. Broken link building involves searching for broken links and then reaching out to a site that contains a broken link and offering your page as a replacement. While broken link building does not require new content, you may find some links that are a great fit for your site but do require fresh pages. In these cases, you can produce the content and then offer the newly updated pages as the perfect fix for another site’s broken link problems.
Broken link building is steadily gaining in popularity. Moz produced The Broken Link Building Bible in 2012, which is still a helpful resource for firms wishing to try the tactic.
Review linking: Gaining positive reviews from clients is extremely helpful. However, writing reviews can also provide a benefit. A good review says that you believe another business (and its associated website) is credible and trustworthy. Writing a review also positions you as an authority on the subject, adding to your own professional reputation. Write a positive review — making sure it is honest — of a local service provider with whom you have experience. Once the review is posted to your site, some simple outreach will often earn a link back.
Of course, your firm will still want to continue to update your site regularly with fresh, helpful and relevant content in an effort to earn organic links. But relying only on organic links may not be enough. There are a variety of ways you can proactively seek out good links that will not cause penalties or headaches — just positive recognition.