Search engine penalties can be bad news for your legal website sending it plummeting down the list into no-man’s land—or worse, being removed entirely. It’s imperative that you check your law firm’s website frequently in order to ensure you are not violating any search engine rules. All the major search engines have their own list of “do’s and don’ts” which tend to change fairly rapidly in an effort to stop black hat SEO and other unethical practices. If your legal website has inadvertently violated one of these rules, don’t despair, as it is possible to dig yourself out from under these penalties–so long as you take immediate action.
What Causes Search Engine Penalties?
The majority of the causes of penalties by search engines are not ones you will ever have to deal with, as they are deliberate efforts to hustle and con the search engine. Code swapping, also known as cloaking occurs when one thing is submitted to a search engine, then when the user clicks they see something entirely different. This can occasionally be done legitimately in order to prevent others from imitating a successful page of to hide a text-only page for a more visually appealing one. Either way, it will get you a slap on the wrist from your search engine, so it’s important to delete this practice from your legal SEO arsenal.
Keyword and Meta Tag Stuffing
More commonly, websites will be penalized for repeating a word or phrase over and over in an attempt to increase relevancy and move up the search engine ladder. Remember to use keywords judiciously in your legal website and legal blog, and if you manage your own meta tags, never place your high traffic legal keywords in meta tags when they have no relation to the actual web page. Check your content and your meta tags thoroughly to make sure your keywords are used in a natural and acceptable manner in order to avoid penalties. Remember that a normal occurrence of keywords in high quality copy writing will be between 2% and 5%. If you repeat your legal keywords to the extent that they make up more than 10% of the words on your page, expect a negative consequence.
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Penalties for Other Practices
Tiny text, page stuffing or duplicate pages and page spoofing are usually done deliberately, rarely accidentally. Those who are attempting to “game” the system will hide keywords by putting them in at a 1pt font—beware, search engines are getting more and more sophisticated and able to spot such techniques. Page spoofing occurs when a page seems to be legitimately developed for a particular keyword, then when the user clicks on it, they are taken to a page with little relation to the original click.
Page stuffing occurs when the same web page is either directly duplicated, or modified only slightly, then submitted to the search engine. If your law firm has multiple legal websites as well as one or more legal blogs, make sure you take extra care not to duplicate content from one to another. This is also known as “mirroring” a site, meaning you have several domains and put the exact same content on each. Whatever the reason, it is considered spamming and can get you penalized.
If your Legal Pages Have Been Penalized
If your legal websites or blogs have been removed for what the search engine considers an infraction, you have two choices. You can get a new domain name and, essentially, begin from scratch, making sure you don’t employ the same tactics which garnered your original penalty. If you had a well-established legal site, however, this is somewhat akin to business suicide. You have likely built your brand name and spent extensive time and money marketing your legal website.
A better idea is to first find out what earned you the search engine’s wrath by contacting the individual help and support branch for each search engine. Once you know what went wrong, then the offending practices or page must be immediately removed. If you have linked to bad sites, get rid of the links. If you have hidden text, remove it, if you have engaged in keyword stuffing, have your content rewritten. You may be required to contact the search engine, admit your mistake, tell them how you have corrected it and beg forgiveness—in other words, fall on your sword. After that, the only thing you can do is wait—it can take as little as a month, or as much as a year for full absolution to occur and the search engine to allow you back into the fold.