As soon as your law firm website is published, so long as it can be found by search engines, you’re law firm is already on its way to better online visibility.

But simply having a website is not a guarantee that your site will begin ranking well for relevant searches about your practice area(s) performed by your potential clients. That part, as it turns out, requires a bit more time, energy, and strategy to accomplish.

In Book 1 of our “Summer of SEO” series of eBooks (released late last month), we provide attorneys with a look at how they can stack the SEO deck in their favor. By following that guide, attorneys can begin finding ways to “win” at the game of law firm SEO and thereby climb their way up search engine rankings pages (SERPs) by creating and publishing quality, targeted content on their sites.

The next title in that series, “Betting on a Long Shot” (which comes out this Thursday) takes a closer look at the sort of “black hat” SEO tactics that can cause law firm website content to be ignored or overlooked by search engines like Google, as well as the practices that could land attorney websites with a rankings penalty, or even cause them to be delisted by a search engine altogether. What follows here is a brief excerpt from that title that touches directly on this notion.

Having a website for your law firm is like holding a winning hand at a poker table before a round of betting. But failing to publish quality content on that site is essentially failing to bet on that hand.

Play to Win or Stay Home

The point of playing in a high-level poker tournament is to make money.

For this reason,  so-called “soft” play is actually against the rules on every casino floor. Not only will missing the chance to bet on a winning hand cost a player money during that hand, it can also land them a penalty from tournament supervisors, forcing the them to sit out for subsequent deals.

In Texas Hold ‘Em, each player is dealt two cards facedown. Five more cards, which are in play for all players, are then laid out on the table faceup over the course of three rounds of betting. The goal is to build the best five-card hand from the pool of seven cards available to each player.

Based on the five faceup cards in play at the center of the table, there is always a theoretical “best hand” that any single player could have. In poker parlance, this hand is referred to as the “nuts.”

If a player has the “nuts” for a particular hand, it is impossible for them to lose that hand. To avoid any potential collusion between players, if a player is holding the best possible hand, they must raise the stakes during the last round of betting.

In terms of strategy, it makes sense for a player who could not possibly lose to wager more money on a hand, thereby forcing their opponents to “pay to play.” Missing that opportunity, however, as Mikalai Pobal did during a 2012 European Poker Tour Event in Barcelona, can prove to be extremely costly.

Don’t Miss the Chance to Bet on Your Law Firm SEO Success

Setting up your law firm website, then neglecting to populate that site with quality content, is the SEO equivalent of failing to bet on a winning hand.

Publishing low-quality content on your site could result in a search engine penalty. Providing zero content will cost your law firm in terms of online visibility and, therefore, opportunities to connect with potential clients.

Since the primary function of a search engine is to direct users toward quality content in response to individual queries, returning low-quality results to users is bad for a search engine’s business.

Even if an attorney is able to rank well on SERPs in the short run by providing thin content, such “black hat” SEO tactics will eventually hurt a website’s visibility.

No matter how many marketing “experts” try to tell you otherwise, quality (“white hat”) SEO involves making content for people. Poor (“black hat”) SEO involves making content to influence search engine rankings. And, as soon as a search engine becomes aware of SEO activity that falls outside of its webmaster guidelines, it can lead to deranking of a site—and possibly even complete delisting—by that search engine.

Attorneys are held to a higher ethical standard online than the average SEO “expert.” That said, know that whatever you publish on the web on behalf of your firm will follow you into the real world.

The presence of low-quality content on a law firm website will reflect poorly on that law firm and any attorneys working under its banner, even if the content in question is not in direct violation of any professional codes of conduct. Content that is in violation of professional ethics, however, could affect your firm in much more serious ways.

Where the first installment in this series of SEO eBooks looked at bets that attorney webmasters should make in order to maximize returns on their SEO efforts, this title will discuss tactics that are outside of webmaster guidelines.

The black hat tactics covered in this guide should be avoided, as they will not help your law firm website’s placement on SERPs in the long-run and will likely undercut any “white hat” SEO activities your law firm is performing.

Stay on the good side of search engine guidelines and keep yourself in the SEO game. Step outside the lines, though, and risk landing your site a penalty that could result in a loss of access to real paying clients.

To read more, check back in with the LawLytics blog this Thursday, June 19, to download our free eBook, “Playing the SEO Game to Win, Book 2: Betting on a Long Shot”.