Since we released the first eBook in our three-part “Summer of SEO” series, we’ve shared quite a bit of insight from the first two books on our blog.

We started by explaining how, like poker, SEO is a winnable game, then went on to reveal the truth about page load speed as it concerns your law firm website.

We laid out why online law firm marketing isn’t a “set it and forget it” endeavor, informed you about the effect of user engagement metrics on your site’s SEO, and explained how thin content won’t help you to “bluff the house” (in this case, Google) when it comes to your law firm’s website content. We even went so far as to explain why attorneys should consider taking control of their law firm’s marketing themselves and how they can avoid going on ’tilt’ when engaging in SEO practices.

We offered a handful of previews of the content you can find in those guides in the form of excerpts (here and here, for instance) to give you a taste of what we’ve got to offer in the more-than 130 pages of free content provided in those resources, and we have been serving up regular tips and tricks on our social media accounts that you can take in at a glance.

The purpose of this three-part series is to outline the essential knowledge of law firm website SEO best practices (the first title), to warn attorneys about practices that could negatively affect their SEO as well as the “black hat” actors who engage in those practices (the second title), and finally, to lay out some of the high-profile penalties applied by Google over the years along with information about how to pull your site up in search engine rankings after receiving a penalty, should you ever need to (the third title, which will be released on August 16).

Since this week marks our approach to the final release in that series, we thought we would offer one more piece of advice in the form of a excerpt from our most recent release, “Playing the SEO Game to Win: Betting on a Long Shot.”

Beware of SEO Scam Artists Who Want Your Money More than They Want to See You Succeed

There is nothing wrong with hiring a ghostwriter to help your firm get ahead in its content marketing efforts. In fact, ghostwriting has been normalized in a number of places in the legal field, including attorneys who outsource the creation of briefs to other employees and judges who outsource the writing of their arguments to law clerks.

Still, because legal marketing comes with a set of guidelines that are not imposed on other industries, and because online law firm marketing is best instituted by those who are familiar with both the practice area(s) and geographic region(s) of the firm being marketed, we generally recommend that attorneys handle their law firm marketing efforts on their own, or else properly vet any third-party provider they choose to hire.

But vetting a third party to help you with content-based SEO requires at least some basic SEO knowledge, too. And since a marketing salesperson’s bottom line often depends more on closing sales than it does on helping their clients succeed, it can be hard to trust that all salespeople will be upfront with you about their knowledge of legal marketing ethics (or lack thereof), or about whether or not the practices they employ stay within search engine webmaster guidelines.

When beginning to institute SEO practices on your own or looking to hire a ghostwriter or third-party provider to help with your law firm’s marketing efforts, make sure you have some foundational knowledge in place so that you can be confident that the methods you choose to employ (or those employed on your behalf) will actually move the needle for your law firm in a positive direction as opposed to causing harm to your website’s visibility.

In the words of Mike McDermott (played by Matt Damon) in the 1998 film Rounders, which is a film centered around the game of poker:

“If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”

Don’t be the sucker when it comes to marketing your law firm online. Read on to see how we cover that concept in “Betting on a Long Shot.”

Identify the Sucker in the Room

“Choose your friends wisely.”

In season two of the short-lived television series, Big Game, Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth—one of the winningest players in poker history—learned something about bluffing from Lithuanian politician and fellow poker pro, Antanas “Tony G” Guoga.

Despite having two of the best possible cards in his hand during a game of Texas Hold ‘Em (a suited ace-king), Guoga managed to convince the other players at the table that he was playing the hand blind.

Hellmuth, who believed that Guoga had not yet looked at his cards, was feeling pretty confident about his off-suit ace-jack and made his bet accordingly, pushing all of his chips into the pot before the community cards had been dealt. Upon seeing Guoga’s superior hand, Hellmuth figured out what was going on: “Oh, you lied,” he exclaimed.

To which Guoga replied, “Of course I lied. It’s poker, Phil.” The odds heavily in his favor, Guoga continued to chide Hellmuth (who is well-known for running his own mouth at the tables), ultimately knocking the Poker Brat out of the game and claiming the $62,800 pot for himself.

Expert Is as Expert Does

Though Google and Microsoft have both differentiated between white hat and black hat SEO tactics (labeling the latter as “webspam”), attorneys still occasionally fall victim to so-called SEO “experts” who claim to have secret access to “shortcuts” that can get any business to the “top of Google.”

The truth of the matter, though, is that there are no “shortcuts” in white hat SEO, there are no “special partnerships” with search engines that can help influence your law firm website’s SEO, and there is no “top of Google” you can achieve through deceptive tactics.

Rather, the only way to find your law firm website on the first SERP for a particular query is to address the substance of that query with high-quality, relevant content that provides real value to search engine users and potential clients.   

It is possible to unintentionally associate yourself with bad SEO actors without even realizing you’re doing so. And, without a thorough understanding of search engine webmaster guidelines,  you may not be aware that participating in black hat practices, even by proxy, could have an adverse effect on your own ethical SEO activities.

But, once you’ve gone down the path into poor SEO territory, pleading ignorance is not going to make Google lift a penalty that they’ve applied to your site.

Leaning too heavily on paid online marketing efforts that aren’t related to SEO (including buying pay-per-click ads, or “PPC”) can also do serious damage to your marketing budget while doing relatively little for the sake of your website’s online visibility. And Google has explicitly stated that paying for ads via their Adwords service will have no direct effect whatsoever on the organic rankings of your website’s content.

In fact, trying to pay for online visibility outright (aside from paying a ghostwriter to create quality content that will benefit your website’s SEO, long-term) is a good way to find yourself in a marketing spiral that can ultimately end up costing your law firm more than it offers in terms of business or SEO benefits.

This section focuses on some of the ways that your interactions with black hat practitioners—online or in marketing partnerships—could land your law firm in hot water with search engines.

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To read on, download the complete eBook, “Playing the SEO Game to Win: Betting on a Long Shot.”

Watch for the third and final installment of our “Summer of SEO” eBook series, titled “Playing the SEO Game to Win: All In on a Losing Hand,” which is scheduled for release next Thursday, August 16.