Black Hat SEO

Black hat SEO is like robbing a bank: anyone can do it, you’ll make a lot of money real fast, and you’ll probably get caught.

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a grind. After working on your law firm’s SEO for months, it will grow tedious. You will want to take shortcuts. Perhaps a marketing agency approaches you, offering promises of instant success. It sounds a little shady, but you want results.

The old rule of thumb applies here. If you have to ask if an SEO technique is legitimate, it’s probably “black hat” SEO and should be avoided.

Still, it can be good to familiarize yourself with common black hat techniques. If nothing else, you can use this list when evaluating contractors. Reputable agencies will do none of the things on this list, because they know the only impact it will have on your rankings will be negative.

Content Spinning

Content spinning is the opposite of weaving a story. Rather than a rich tapestry that highlights what your firm can do for its clients, you get incoherent word vomit. Spun content is easily recognizable to anyone with minimal English skills.

To create spun content, you first take an authentic article and then mechanically search and replace words, often with minimal consideration for the broader context. Consider this real-life gem:

Lawyer [REDACTED] has dealt with many instances in private harm. He has knowledge in encouraging shoppers who are hurt as a result of deficiency of correct protection tools provided on The work web page.

If you squint, you can see the outline of the sentence that used to be, right?

Disreputable SEO agencies love spun content. Its production can be automated, meaning it costs nothing to generate. Sadly, it’s also worth nothing. Your visitors will distrust you, and Google will ding you for writing non-grammatical nonsense.

Content Farming

One step above spun content is farmed content. Great content is an investment in your site. It requires employing a subject matter expert to research and write an authoritative article.

Farmed content, on the other hand, is farmed out to a lowest-bidder contractor. The SEO agency that you are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars per month to may well be turning to an outsourcing site like Upwork. Here’s an actual ad for a law firm blog writer:

Ad for copywriter - 2 pennies per word, must be expert in several fields

When you’re only offering two pennies per word but are looking for someone who will write copy for a diverse set of legal fields, you’re not going to get the cream of the crop. Instead, you’ll get someone with no legal bona fides, and often a poor grasp of the language. That turns into superficial dreck like this:

When an accident happens to you, and you can get severe injuries. Also, an accident can make you lose your property and can result in death. You will need a lot of cash to clear the hospital bills for your treatment of the injuries. You should ask for the compensation of the money spent from the insurance provider. Through using the court, you can get the compensation of the money spent on the treatment or for losing your loved one. Visit [REDACTED] to learn more about Injury Attorney.

Granted, this is at least proper English. Google won’t punish you for writing non-grammatical nonsense. On the other hand, ask yourself if this content is likely to make a client trust you, or to spur others to link to you. If the answer to both is no, this content isn’t serving you, and isn’t worth paying an agency to produce.

Link Quantity vs Link Quality

Some agencies are eager to show quantifiable progress. They know that you know that building links to your law firm is the key to ranking well. They hope that you’ll be satisfied with a chart showing an increase in the number of backlinks to your site.

However, not all links are created equal. Just like motions in a court case, some links are better than others. Some carry more weight. More isn’t always better. Worse, some will anger the judge.

When you’re building links, you want links from authoritative or geographically-relevant sites. Your SEO agency should be providing you with monthly or quarterly updates showing:

If they’re not being transparent about their links, your SEO agency might be engaging in link swap or link farm schemes. These private link network schemes are used by black hat SEO agencies to build links to your site from a network of affiliated, non-arms-length sites. Since the affiliated sites are themselves not very authoritative, links from them don’t do much. Worse, Google may identify the sites as bad actors that are gaming the system, and may actually punish your site for being associated with them.

Links from link farms are usually pretty obvious. Rather paying for a top-level domain, they come from a free subdomain. Often, they’ll use a free blogging platform, like these examples:

Blog Comment Spam

Links in comment sections don’t help your law site rank.

While this may have worked in the late 1990s, the web has evolved to stop comment spam. If links are even permitted, they’ll be tagged with the rel="nofollow" attribute to signal that they aren’t so-called “editorial” or “dofollow” links. Google only considers “dofollow” links when determining how reputable a site is.

Keyword Stuffing

I like to think of keyword stuffing as writing for Google, instead of writing for your users.

It results in unnatural text like:

A sexual harassment attorney will help you through sexual harassment. You should keep track of the time and details of each sexual harassment event so that you can present your case. Always work with a professional sexual harassment lawyer who will help you achieve your goals.

It turns out that English, like every other natural language, follows Zipf’s law:

[T]he most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc.: the rank-frequency distribution is an inverse relation. For example, in the Brown Corpus of American English text, the word the is the most frequently occurring word, and by itself accounts for nearly 7% of all word occurrences. True to Zipf’s Law, the second-place word of accounts for slightly over 3.5% of words, followed by and.

Google has indexed hundreds of billions of pages. They know how rare the phrase “sexual harassment” is. For it to appear four times in three sentences is statistically… improbable. Google will recognize this as a ploy to game the rankings, and rank you accordingly.

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