Lawyers: Learn From A Reformed Blackhat SEO Salesman
Jeff Deutsch used to be a blackhat SEO guy.
By his own account, he once made $50,000 in a single month and worked a maximum of 10 hours a week.
“And I am telling you from the bottom of my heart,” he writes, “never, never ever follow in my footsteps.”
You’re probably not planning on becoming a blackhat SEO salesperson. But, Deutsch’s story is a valuable lesson for attorneys who aren’t familiar with legitimate SEO practices.
It’s also an important lesson for lawyers who believe taking web shortcuts or engaging in risky web practices could yield long-term success when it comes to their law firm.
Deutsch is a reformed Google spammer (and now an inbound marketer).
However, his time trying to cheat the search engine system — combined with recent algorithm updates and Google’s ability to relegate websites that violate their guidelines — is a good example as to why blackhat SEO is risky.
The Success of Early Blackhat SEO
In 2009, Deutsch said he thought about spamming Google much differently than he does now.
“Google made me do it,” he writes.
Deutsch says most blackhat SEOs are able to justify their behavior in this way. Whether it’s the belief that they’re “helping” Google improve their algorithms, or the fear that “if we don’t spam, our competitors will,” Deutsch writes that there are a number of ways that blackhat SEO workers explain away their actions.
Deutsch says that he was responsible for “adding 45,000,000 new words of spam to [Google’s] index every day.”
At that time, spamming was not only incredibly profitable, but his work also gave clients a huge boost in their rankings. And while he raked in lots of money, Deutsch writes that he barely worked.
Here’s a screenshot of what he said his workday schedule looked like during that time:
This former Google spammer writes that it was mostly a boring existence, despite being quite comfortable. The times Deutsch felt most nervous were when, “the loophole you’re exploiting gets closed, and your life flips upside down while you scramble to adjust.”
Publicly, Deutsch took the stance that Google was the “evil empire,” and yet he says he knew at heart that spammers were engaging in shady practices: “We were hacking their algorithm and mucking up their search results for fun and profit.”
Despite how much money Deutsch was making, and despite his ability to rationalize his behavior, cognitive dissonance took its toll a few years later.
2012: Google Gets Smarter
In 2012, a couple things happened that changed things for Deutsch: Google de-indexed Authority Link Network, the platform he used to boost his clients’ rankings. It didn’t happen all at once.
At first, Deutsch swore he wasn’t concerned. After all, at that time, how in the world could Google find 25,000 blogs?
And in two months time, the search engine took down the entire network.
Not long after that, Deutsch attended a big marketing event in which he realized he was out of his depth.
“They were all talking about inbound marketing, quality content, engagement, and a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand or considered ‘BS’,” he writes.
Still defiant after the fall of his webspam business, Deutsch tried one link scheme after the next. But, as he noted, nothing worked for long.
Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms proved too much for his company. After 18 months, Deutsch started over with a different mindset:
“What could I have built with that $100,000 I had wasted chasing loopholes in Google’s algorithm? How much awesome content could I have gotten? How many email subscribers could I have gained?”
What Attorneys Can Learn From A Blackhat SEO Salesman
“Hear all that talk about content?” Deutsch writes. “[…] After five years of considering white hats and inbound marketers to be snobs, I’m finally drinking the Kool-Aid. You win, Google. Content is king.”
Deutsch got lucky to some degree. He able to recover from the failure of a business that got caught up in dishonest web practices. He also got lucky in that he had a revelation about the value in safe web practices that keep Google — and search engine users — happy.
It’s not 2009 anymore. Google’s intelligence is even greater than it was at that time.
Between the additions of search algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin, alongside artificial intelligence like RankBrain, Google App Indexing, and guidelines geared toward mobile users, those who are engaging in blackhat web practices may be facing an internet-related Red Queen dilemma:
They may have to come up with better ways to outsmart Google just to stay relevant — and as Google gets smarter, that may be harder and riskier to do.
While there are and probably will be websites that try to get ahead unfairly, Google is getting smarter about tracking them down, which may reward those whose have been playing by the rules.
Above all, attorneys should recognize that there are no “tricks” to getting more traffic or better rankings.
Attorneys should focus on writing educational, substantive content on a regular basis. Practices like these are consistently beneficial, and won’t have you “scrambling to adjust” like Deutsch did when a loophole gets closed.
Here’s a quick list of ways your law firm can create a website that engages readers and helps you build your business the safe way:
Adhere to Google’s Guidelines. Link schemes, sneaky redirects, automatically generated content: there are a number of ways that your website can get demoted by Google. Reading up on Google’s quality guidelines can help keep yourself up-to-date on search engine and user expectations about your web presence.
Think mobile. We live in an increasingly mobile world. That may not change anytime soon. It’s important for law firms to consider that potential clients will find their websites on both desktop computers and mobile devices.
As more people buy mobile devices and their technological expectations increase, so may their expectations about how they can engage with mobile websites. That means law firms need responsive websites as well as potentially taking a mobile-first approach.
Write substantive content. Writing blogs with useless content won’t help you get ahead. If you’re not sincerely contributing, or you’re just copying other things you’ve seen on the web, you’re unlikely to do much in the way of attracting potential clients.
Your potential clients want to be educated. You can establish yourself as an authority by writing new, interesting content that gives your readers more opportunities to engage with your law firm.
Keep at it. If you’re wondering why your SEO strategy isn’t working, one of the best answers to that problem is that you may not be publishing new content often enough.
You won’t see major changes in your fitness if you only go to the gym once a month, and you’re unlikely to see any changes in your ranking or traffic if you only publish new content once a month. Lawyers who put out meaningful, relevant content on a regular basis are the ones who are likely to see results in their law firm’s business…and sadly, that doesn’t mean publishing a few blog posts a year.