Chris Dreyer About the Author Chris Dreyer is the CEO & Founder of Rankings.io, a law firm search engine optimization agency that offers high-quality SEO services for lawyers. Chris contributes to the Rankings.io blog and also to many Internet marketing & legal marketing publications including but not limited to Moz, Ahrefs, Legal Ink Magazine, Attorney at Work, and more.
Search Engine Optimization Guide for Law Firms > Chapter Eight

Attorney Link Building

What is Off-site SEO?

Off-site SEO refers to all the optimization work done in other parts of the internet that benefits a website in search results. It includes things like building links, generating content to be placed on other domains, promotion and outreach, and collaboration with others in one’s industry, amongst other tactics.

A solid off-site strategy is a crucial element of success in search marketing. Where on-site SEO is important for Google’s access and users’ ability to navigate/convert on your site, off-site is essential for driving traffic.

Link Building

Most off-site strategies revolve around one end-game: building links. Links are one of the most important ranking factors for websites in search; Google has confirmed this59.

Brian Dean

From Brian Dean of Backlinko

“Your best bet is to create content in a Shoulder Niche.

 

I’ll explain:

Most attorneys that I’ve worked with create content strictly about what their law firm does.
And it leads to boring content that no one would ever actually read (like: “5 Tips for Finding the Right DUI Lawyer”).
Instead, you want to find content in a related niche that people would want to share and link to. In other words, “Shoulder Niches”
For example, let’s say you run a law firm that specialized in DUI cases.

Related shoulder niche topics include:
-A compilation of drunk driving statistics
-Data on DUI cases by state
-A guide that includes DUI laws in different states

When you create content that provides value (and promote it), you can find yourself with high-quality backlinks, which help ALL the pages on your site rank.”

If you analyze top-ranking domains in any given industry, all else being equal, it’s typically the quantity and quality of inbound links pointing to those domains that differentiates their search position for a given keyword phrase.

The following are some well-known and effective off-site SEO strategies for link building:

Legal Directories
These are sources of general information for searchers that are having legal issues. The legal directories available online can be either free or paid and may have a variety of different features available for users.

These are great sources of links because there are literally hundreds of them60 and they are contextually relevant to the legal vertical.

Here are some tips for selecting good directories:

  • Look for high DR (Domain Rating61) websites (DR20+ is a good place to start).
  • Look for directories specifically designed for your practice area.
  • Look for directories that have features other than just being listed, such as the ability to contribute content, answer legal questions posed by visitors, earn reviews, etc.
  • Make sure the directory doesn’t look spammy or low-quality (i.e., would you feel comfortable submitting your credit card information there?)

Guest Posting
If you’ve done your homework on SEO then you may already be aware of the negative connotation that guest posting has in the search community.

Google frowns on linking strategies that are spammy, deceptive, misleading, and/or do not add any value for web surfers62. Google has also come down hard on businesses63 who generate networks of guest post partners for the sole purpose of building links.

Having said all of that, guest posting is definitely still a viable link building strategy, as long as you are careful in how you go about it.

Here’s how attorneys can do that:

  • Generate really helpful articles and get others to promote them: You can collaborate with other non-competing law firms, website owners, business owners, etc. to get your content placed on their site.
  • Don’t over-optimize your anchor text: It is true that pages tend to rank better when they are hyperlinked to a high-authority page64 using the keyword phrase for which they are trying to rank. Doing that too much, however, creates a pattern and could draw unwanted attention to your link building activities.
  • Don’t go too fast:  Building 2,000 links to your site using guest posting strategies won’t necessarily get you penalized; however, building 2,000 links in 30 days will definitely get you noticed and not in a good way. It’s the speed with which your link building activities happen that creates noticeable patterns, which can indicate that you’re manipulating search results.
  • Play in good neighborhoods: Focus on getting links from high-quality sites that have other high-quality sites linking to them. The links that lead to your site paint a picture of how credible and authoritative it is. If it appears that the overall profile of links pointing at a domain is unsavory, that can have a negative impact on where the site ranks in search results.

Outreach
Contacting and collaborating with other site owners to get links built to your own site is referred to as outreach.

Any good link building program has outreach as a centerpiece and this is one of the only ways to get some of the best links (i.e., those on the most authoritative websites).

Here are some common examples of link building tactics that either require or are well-suited for outreach.

Infographics
Infographics are great for building links because of their shareability and tendency to generate interest in an otherwise dry topic.

There are numerous sites that accept infographics on a variety of topics (including the legal vertical), making it an ideal tactic for both “low-hanging fruit” links, as well as higher-end placements.

Attorneys can also provide functionality for visitors to embed infographics on their own sites, effectively creating a link for the hosting domain.

Case Study: Stewart Guss Personal Injury Attorneys
In this example, Stewart Guss Personal Injury lawyers produced content that spoke to consumer’s pain point: looking for an attorney for the first time after being involved in some kind of accident.

Step 1: Find a Topic
You can use keyword research strategies to find keywords with search volume or you can also look at what your core audience of potential clients is experiencing as they look for an attorney.

For the Stewart Guss personal injury law firm, we chose the topic based on their desire to rank for the keywords “best personal injury lawyers” on a national level.

They also wanted to go after longer tail variations of the primary phrase like “how to choose the best personal injury lawyer” which is a very clear user intent keyword phrase.

Step 2: Find the Data
Next, you need to find data on the topic area chosen for the infographic. That data can come from a variety of places such as primary research, your own firm’s marketing data, surveys, and/or online data aggregators like Pew Internet Research.

In Guss’s case, we outsourced the research to an infographic design firm and they compiled the information.

Step 3: Create the Infographic
When creating an infographic, you have a few different options:

  1. Create it yourself
  2. Use an infographic generation website
  3. Hire a designer to build the infographic for you

For Guss’s case study, a professional designer was hired to organize and display the data in a compelling way. You can see the full infographic here.

Step 4: Add sharing functionality
You can, of course, simply add a sharing plugin to the page where you have your infographic displayed; however, there is a more creative way to get it shared and get a link built at the same time.

Using an embed code generator at the end of the post, you can make it easy for people to put the infographic on their blog or website.

Embed code for an infographic

Step 5: Measure your results
The main idea with this type of approach is to naturally earn links to your site. It’s essential to heavily promote a page like this in social and through email in order to get eyes on it, but the linking should happen all by itself.

You’re looking for number of inbound links and the page’s rank in search as the KPIs (key performance indicators). Here were the results for this post after it went live around July 2018.

Referring domains found leading to an infographic

It obtained 9 dofollow referring domains (95% of which were DR30+) and 25 backlinks.

Here’s where the page sits on page one of Google search for the phrase “how to choose the best personal injury lawyer”. Not too shabby for a few months and no active link building to the page.

How to choose rank

Scholarships
Scholarship campaigns are still a great tactic, but they are starting to get popular in the SEO space. Inevitably, this means a tactic starts to lose its value.

Google representatives have even said that their algorithm ignores a lot of .edu links65, as these sites are more likely to get spammed.

If done right though, scholarship campaigns can get you some very authoritative links on reputable educational institution websites.

Case Study: The Levin Firm Traffic Safety Scholarship
When The Levin Firm came to us, they had a domain that was in bad shape due to a history of sketchy SEO practices. In fact, it was so bad that we decided to start from scratch, rather than try and salvage the site.

That’s a double-edged sword when it comes to SEO: you get rid of the tumor that is a blacklisted domain, but you’re also starting from scratch in terms of referring domains pointing at the site.

Step one: Scholarship Development
Scholarship campaigns can be effective, but attorneys need to come up with an actual award system to which students can apply, with rules, guidelines, and a process for choosing the winner and distributing the funds.

For The Levin Firm, we helped them develop a bi-annual traffic safety, essay-based scholarship66 of $1,000.

The scholarship has deadlines, guidelines for application and essay submission, a review process, and even shares previous winners of the scholarship.

In developing your own scholarship program, you need to:

  • Have an essay topic (video or written) that people can submit
  • Have an award amount (usually $1,000 is adequate, although you can do more)
  • Have a deadline and process for reviewing submissions
  • Have a process for awarding the scholarship funds to the winner (side note: this is also great fodder for social media)

Step two: Outreach
Next, we went to work reaching out to colleges and other educational institutions that were notable and of high quality to get the scholarship link placed on their financial aid pages.

For attorneys just starting out in a process like this, a list must be curated and exhaustive. For example, the list we use consists of more than 400 schools around the country, with contact information for key personnel in financial aid or scholarship administration departments at their respective schools.

When building your own list, be sure to look for good contact information on financial aid or scholarship program administrators at schools near you.

Keep this information in a spreadsheet for later use.

Step three: Tracking your links
There are a few important things to point out about the link activity on your site with this campaign:

  1. Not all schools will convert (i.e., build a link to your scholarship page)
  2. It will take time for the ones that do agree to promote your scholarship to actually build a link to your site.
  3. You need to have a high-quality tool to track links

Ahrefs is a great tool for tracking the .edu links that will start appearing to your site; however, there are other paid tools that will work.

Using Ahrefs, plug your URL into the tool and on the overview page in the right column, you’ll see types of referring domains. Click on the number on the .edu row.

A link overview page of referring .edu domains

This report will show you all of the .edu domains pointing at your site. It’s a great way to see if the schools you/your team contacted actually placed a link, whether or not that link is dofollow (i.e., passes PageRank), and the location of the link.

Referring .edu domains

By hovering over the “show links” button in the “Links to target” column, you can see where the link is located on the educational institution’s site.

Referring edu location button

Checking this type of information daily, especially at the beginning of your campaign, is not necessary. A weekly cadence for seeing what links you’ve earned is more appropriate.

Publishing Books
Writing a book opens up linking opportunities on sites where you can submit your book as well as third party news recognition.

You should not write a book just to get a link, obviously; however, if it’s something you’re already doing or have done, you can leverage that content for links.

Case Study: The Hackard Law Firm
Michael Hackard of The Hackard Law Firm is an experienced elder law attorney. He wrote a book on the subject and featured it online and on Amazon.com.

The book itself and his purposes for writing it extend beyond SEO; however, it’s an example of how content and the process of distributing it can be repurposed for link building.

Submitting to Amazon
Amazon.com is a great place to get links after submitting your book. As a part of this process, you can create an author profile.

Here’s the one for Michael Hackard:
Michael Hackard Author Profile

Authors can submit Author Updates on the platform; these are direct links to their website, including blogs, practice pages, and other content.

Links from an author profile on amazon

These are high-quality, do-follow links from an extremely authoritative domain.

As a side effect, attorneys can also get natural links from media sites as a result of their notoriety. Check out the link earned below for Hackard’s site on Foxbusiness.com67.

A link to the amazon author profile on a news site

Local Strategies

Local link building consists of tactics used to rank a site well for location-based searches. You’re still building links here, but the focus is on promoting relevance and prominence for local searchers.


Location-based link strategies include:

  • Building citations
  • Claiming prominent local profiles
  • Getting links from local or location-based directories like bbb.org or chamber of commerce websites
  • Collaboration with other local business owners, such as getting links on resource pages, or local marketing efforts
  • Getting involved in local volunteer opportunities
  • Testimonials
  • Local job posting websites
  • Sites that offer discounts from local businesses

Any time you are thinking about a link building campaign, you have to be open minded and creative. The reality is that good links (and the opportunities to build them) can be found almost anywhere.

Podcasts

Producing a podcast is a great marketing strategy for lawyers and, in addition to that exposure, they can earn a link to their site.

There are a ton of podcast hosting companies68 on the internet and when you create an account with one, you’re typically allowed to make an author profile page of some kind where you can link to your website.

Here’s Lawyerist’s podcast page69 on iTunes:

A link to a website from a podcast page on iTunes

 

Ultimate Guides

An ultimate guide is just a piece of content that is all-encompassing on a subject. This post you’re reading is a form of an ultimate guide (although we call it a Power Post).

Ultimate guides are great for link building because of their versatility in a marketing space. In other words, they can be used in a variety of different scenarios and re-purposed over and over to promote a law firm.

They are also excellent for ranking web pages for highly competitive keyword phrases that often need something to set themselves apart from all the other pages ranking for those terms.

Case-in-point, Darras Law has an excellent ultimate guide70 on the ins and outs of hiring a disability lawyer.

Darras law ultimate guide example

An attorney’s ultimate guide should:

  • Focus on targeting a high-volume, competitive keyword phrase for which they need to rank.
  • Be greater than 1,000 words (ideally, it should be as long as it needs to be, but the author should take the approach of being as exhaustive as possible on covering the topic).
  • Contain the primary keyword phrase in the main heading (H1 tag).
  • Contain the primary keyword phrase in the title, meta description, page copy, image alt attribute (where applicable), image file names for the page, and permalink.
  • Contain secondary keyword phrases in subheadings within the article.
  • Contain external links to supporting sources that make the article better for the reader.
  • Contain internal links to practice area pages on your site.
  • Use best practices to format for easy reading such as liberal use of images, short paragraphs, headings, etc.
  • Use additional content like video, images, and graphs to help make the overall content better.

An ultimate guide needs to be just that: the ultimate, all-knowing, final say on a topic piece of content.

Legal Content Roundups

A roundup or blog roundup is a blog post that gathers input from professionals in a given field on a single topic. They are meant to provide varying viewpoints on a popular question that a consumer might have.

For lawyers, content roundups can help portray their firm as an authority in its space. Legal content roundups can be about virtually any topic, from when you should hire a DUI attorney to how assets are split during a divorce.

Case Study: The Dolman Law Group Content Roundup

The Dolman Law Group is a personal injury firm in Clearwater, Florida. Ranking for car accident-related terms has proven extremely competitive for law firms like theirs, so it can take a creative approach to SEO in order to get them ranking on the first page of Google.

So how do you do it?

Josh Fechter

From Josh Fechter, of BAMF Media
“A law firm should focus on collecting relevant emails of potential prospects using LinkedIn. Rather than scraping, they should connect with their prospects, then export their emails from their LinkedIn settings. They can then use these emails for remarketing purposes across Facebook, Quora, and Instagram to help generate brand awareness.”

Get 16 high-quality attorneys to give their best advice on what a person should do when thinking about hiring a car accident lawyer, put it in a blog post, then promote the heck out of it.

That’s exactly what we did with Dolman’s roundup post71.

We reached out to numerous attorneys asking them to participate in the roundup and answer this question:

“When do I need to hire a car accident lawyer?”

Here’s a sample of the email that we used to reach out to these attorneys (thanks to Shane Barker72 for the modified content).

Roundup email outreach template

The result?

Over 50 referring domains to the post page alone, tons of social interaction, first page rankings NATIONALLY for the term “car accident lawyer”, and an estimated 260K in traffic value according to Ahrefs!

Here’s the snapshot from Ahrefs:

Ahrefs Data on car accident lawyer blog

Legal roundups are a great link building tactic, because they promote trust with website visitors, create useful content that visitors actually want to read, and encourage links from contributors and other site owners.

Media & Press

Media sites are good candidates to get links because they are often authoritative and generate a lot of traffic.

This tactic is multi-faceted because you can build links by signing up for memberships on media sites that allow you to submit guest posts, such as Forbes Agency Council, or providing expert content to reporters looking for content on sites like HARO73.

Note that the HARO (Help a Reporter Out) tactic is not the same as distributing press releases. The press release approach is no longer effective and Google pretty much ignores those links.

Dynamic Data

People searching for legal information find a lot of value in widgets and other pieces of technology that give them real-time information.

The Houston Texas Interactive Accident Map74 )on the website of personal injury lawyer Stewart J. Guss) is a perfect example of content that people can use in their everyday lives.

Houston Texas accident map

Produced by data visualization company Pico75, the accident map falls in the link bait category because it’s exactly the sort of useful tool that people share on social media and link to from their websites. It also has the potential to earn secondary organic links from media outlets.

Check out the local DR90 link from news outlet Chron.com in Houston:

Accident Map Referring domains

And here’s the live link76 on Chron.com:

Link on Chron.com

One final thought as it relates to link building: don’t get hung up on acquiring a link directly to the page that you’re trying to promote. Link equity flows through navigational components (e.g., sitemap, internal links, navigation links, etc.) to pass authority throughout a website.

 

Chris Dreyer

Chapter ROI by Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io

Links are one of Google’s most important ranking factors. Imagine Google’s rankings are an election. If you want to win an election, you need more votes than your opponent. In SEO, links equal votes, so if you want to “win” the first page of Google, you need quality links.

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