Did a Penguin Sit on Your Web Site?

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The Penguin was turned loose by Google. That's bad news for some lawyer websites - but also a golden opportunity for many others.

First the bad news. If you don't know what Penguin means then check your web site analytics and see (you do have analytics installed on your web site, don't you?). Analytics gives you all sorts of measurements on your web site activity. Sort of a stethoscope by which you can tell if your web site's heart is beating. A strong heartbeat means your phone is ringing and new potential client emails are coming in.

Some reports from lawyers are that their web sites are getting only 60% to 70% of the traffic they got the month before Penguin walked all over them. And one lawyer reported their analytics show they were only getting 12% of the web site traffic they were getting before Penguin - that is a very serious drop akin to falling off the mountain. They are in total website rebuild mode right now. Maybe you should be too.

Do you know what Penguin did to your web site ranking? Well, you better find out. Take half a dozen of your keywords and run a search and see where your web site is in the results. That can quickly give you an idea of how much work lays ahead of you or your SEO.

If you are getting fewer client calls than last month, if you are getting fewer web site visitors than last month, if you are getting fewer email inquiries from your contact page than last month, it very likely could be because Google's Penguin sat on your web site and flattened it with a search engine ranking penalty that knocked you backwards in the results ranking for your keywords.

Most lawyers and law firms don't have a search engine optimization web site techie full time. Most don't even have one part time. Most just had their web site built a year or two or more ago and are now just resting on their site, maybe adding some new content every few months. Maybe not. Well, Google's Penguin won't let you do that anymore.

Every once in a while search engines re-tune their engine. They call it their algorithm - that's their super-secret formula that their search engine uses to decide what order to put the search results in when someone runs a search on, say, "divorce lawyer" or "auto sales fraud" or "lemon lawyer near me" etc. Many lawyers put their keywords in their website long ago and their web site has been on autopilot ever since.

Well, on May 22 we all experienced what some SEO folks are calling a massive search result change in rankings - but it didn't happen to everyone. For some, they stayed in about the same place in the search rankings. For many though, there was a very serious drop.

Google's effort was apparently intended to discredit what is perceived to be "spammy" web sites which show little real and meaningful content or maybe lots of links out (what we called "link farms" back in the early days). It's not that links are bad, but paid links created just for the sake of making money from doing the linking has never been like by Google.

Now for the good news. There's an opportunity here for every lawyer that wants to show up on the first page of Google search engine results.

A lot of lawyers have no clue that Penguin is on the loose, pushing their website further and further down into the search results. For those who know and act on it, they have a chance to surpass long-established lawyers and law firms and leap ahead of them in their search results. For them, Penguin could bring a smile to their face.

Penguin now recognizes what Google calls "hilltops" - those are what the minds at Google have deemed to be valuable content-rich web sites of authority in their field. Typically, those web sites rose significantly higher in search results (thus, became a hilltop), while web sites that Google thinks are less authoritative fell into the "valleys" of the search results - more like being thrown out into the desert, we'd say.

 Fundamentally, it looks like Google's new Penguin search algorithm is putting a high emphasis high-value, entertaining and informative, authoritative content - and on what SEO whitehats call "earned links." Those are links that someone makes to your web site simply because you have great content on it.

Does that mean that outbound and inbound links to and from like-minded websites is worthless now? No, because Google (like all search engines) looks at both outbound and inbound links for your site to see if the linking is with relevant content and Google is smart enough to figure out the difference between a relevant link and a spammy link.

Will things change anytime soon? Not likely.

But can you really afford to sit by and do nothing for now? No.

What can you do? The SEO crowd seems to still be debating that one. But there is a growing consensus that there are a few things that can have a faster favorable impact on your search result ranking.

First, start building what Google calls "assets" into your web site pages. Those are things like downloadable ebooks, white papers, pdf documents, your self-authored studies, etc. Google likes to see them because they show thoughtful analysis and not just marketing. And they can start to earn you valuable inbound links from those hilltops. So start to work on driving mentions of your web site content by others who are not on your web site along with those valuable inbound links. Add new content that informs and entertains. That will earn links and Google is looking for them because it considers them to be evidence that your web site contains authoritative content that others value.


Second, work on your links. Make sure the outbound links on your website, and the inbound links coming to your website, are the right links. If you have links out to lawyers in other areas of the country who practice law in your field, that's okay because their content is relevant to your content. But if you have links going out to websites whose content is not relevant to your own web site content, now might be a very good time to prune them back or get rid of them altogether.

So if you don't have links on your site which go out to other relevant websites with valuable and useful content, now might be a good time to start building them.  For instance linking to this blog at your web site and also sending blog articles for NACA to post here  – that’s a tactic that would give you twice the benefit.

One idea for lawyers that serves both purposes, creating your on-site assets and creating inbound links at the same time, is to publish Legal Guides on Avvo which can be a source for your own on-site content. Combine that with active participation in the Q-A section at Avvo and you can build both links and traffic to your site. You can see examples of Avvo Legal Guides by clicking here.

There's a lot more you could do, sure, but you can start with going over your website in detail and fine-tuning every aspect of it.

There's a solid explanation of what Penguin can mean for you, posted by Chad Pollett, over at ContentMarketingInstitute.com, along with a copy of Google's pre-Penguin-launch video. If you care about being on Google's first page - and you should - then watch the video and read Pollett's explanation. It's sort of like, this is what they said before and now that they have done it, here is what it means to you.

Now, it's time for all of us to get to work so we can please the Gods of Google, who realize full well that they are the elephant in the search room that can not be ignored.

Ron Burdge
Helping Lawyers Helping Clients Every Day