In our latest eBook, we tackle the topic of Google penalties, as well as what to do if you ever find yourself facing one.

A penalty can be applied manually, or your law firm website can lose ranking as the result of an algorithmic update (which isn’t specifically a penalty but can feel like one if it hurts your rankings). But either way, nobody wants to be on the receiving end of Google’s wrath by employing black hat search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.

Still, facing a Google penalty is rarely a death knell for your law firm website. But the work associated with pulling your site up in the rankings after facing a penalty or an algorithm update can be tedious, time-consuming, and frustrating.

In the following excerpt, we discuss the process of “bootstrapping” your site after it receives a penalty from Google, plus a little detail about how to overcome two specific penalties.


A Chip and a Chair (or “Bootstrapping Your Site After a Penalty.”)

Jack “Treetop” Straus had only one World Series of Poker event win under his belt when he entered the 1982 World Championship Tournament. On the second day of play, in a hand that would become legend, Straus silently pushed all the chips in front of him into the pot before he was called by his opponent. Straus lost the hand and was preparing to leave the table when he discovered a single $500 chip hidden under a napkin.

Because he had not declared himself “all-in,” the tournament directors ruled that he could continue playing with the single remaining chip. Straus went on to win the World Title in that tournament, giving life to the common poker expression “a chip and a chair,” which suggests that any player can come back from seemingly insurmountable odds, so long as they’re still in the game and have a place at the table.

Even if your law firm website is hit with a Google search penalty, you’ll usually have the opportunity to repair the issue(s) with your site and to bring it back up in search engine rankings. But Google is not always clear about what specifically is causing a site to be deranked, nor does the search engine make employees available to webmasters to help them diagnose and rectify problems that may be affecting a website’s visibility on SERPs.

Generally speaking, Google issues two types of penalties that it can apply in two different ways. There are total penalties, in which entire domains are removed from the search index, and there are partial penalties, in which only a portion of a site is affected, or in which a site is only partially affected by a penalty (i.e., the site can still be found by a search engine but may not be ranking as well on SERPs as it once did).

Each type of penalty can be instituted automatically by an algorithmic change to the search engine’s software or can be applied manually by someone who works for the search engine. This section will look at penalties that are commonly applied by Google. It will then discuss how to know if a penalty has been applied to your law firm website, as well as how to deal with specific penalties once they have been applied to your site.

Manual Action Penalties

If you notice a sudden drop in search engine visibility for your law firm website on Google, you may want to set up your Google Search Console to see whether or not your site has been hit with a manual penalty. This is something LawLytics can help with. Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, the Search Console is a free service to help webmasters stay informed about issues related to the online visibility of their websites, particularly as it applies to Google’s indexing and search functions.

If your site has been hit with a manual action by Google, you will receive a message about it in the Console. But if you’ve been following LawLytics advice concerning SEO activities, unless you have since delegated your SEO to a third party, there is no reason to suspect your site has been penalized.

If a manual action has been applied to your website, Google will provide links to further resources detailing how you can clean up the issue that led to the penalty in the first place, and thus how to restore the visibility of your website on Google’s SERPs. LawLytics’ support team can also help facilitate this process.

Google issues manual penalties for the black hat SEO offenses outlined on their Manual Actions Report page. A brief synopsis of each potential penalty is included below for reference:

  1. Unnatural links to your siteIf you receive this message from Google, it means that the search engine has uncovered spammy-looking links that point to your site from elsewhere on the web. If the message includes an addendum that reads “impacts links,” then the penalty was only applied to the links themselves and will have no further impact on your website’s online visibility (aside from losing the SEO benefits previously attributable to those links).

    If the penalty does not say “impacts links,” this means that your site was additionally penalized and that you should take steps to remove the offending links. If you are unable to remove the links yourself (e.g., if you do not have access to the sites where those links are placed, or if the links were purchased by a competitor to serve as “negative SEO” for your website), Google has a process through which you can disavow them. Simply disavowing bad links, however, is usually not enough on its own to have a search penalty removed.
  2. Unnatural links from your siteShould you see this message in your inbox, it means that Google has found links on your website to external sites that appear to be in violation of the search engine’s webmaster guidelines concerning link schemes. Generally, this applies to links that were placed in exchange for something of value, including other external links to your site.

    The only recourse for such a penalty is to either completely remove the offending links from your site, or to apply “nofollow” tags to them such that they no longer pass PageRank to the site(s) they point to…



To read about the other eight reasons why your law firm website might one day face a manual penalty from Google, as well as how to recover from those penalties, plus some examples of high profile penalties Google has applied to companies in the past, download our latest eBook, “Playing the SEO Game to Win: All In on a Losing Hand.”