FindLaw Clients Crushed by Google Update
FindLaw is an Internet marketing and SEO firm for legal websites. They employ legal experts to design and create websites that cater to the legal community. It wasn't long ago that they were considered one of the best SEO firms with a focus on law, but after May 2014, many have changed their minds about the firm and their SEO practices.
Panda 4.0 and How it Changed the Rankings
By now you have probably heard of Panda, the algorithm Google uses for its search results ranking. It was originally released in 2011, but Google keeps it updated consistently, so the Panda you experience today is more evolved than it was on release. The latest major update occurred on May 20, 2014 (or May 19, depending on which tech blog you consider scripture) and it had an enormous impact on websites across the Internet. What was the biggest issue with Panda 4.0? Black Hat techniques.
FindLaw was hit hard by the search engine giant's newest algorithm installment because of the way it shopped SEO websites to its clients. It was alleged that FindLaw created SEO website templates with pre-created content, then rented these sites to the highest bidders among its clients. When a client would or could no longer pay top dollar, the site was up for grabs to the next highest-paying company. The content they created was not specific to one company, so it was easy to slap on a new name and claim it for a new client. Google considers content like this to be thin and low quality. Google has taken strides to promote sites that present original, quality, and well-written content that is unique or site-specific.
So, when Panda 4.0 rolled out, many of the websites of FindLaw's clients plummeted in Google's rankings. Because so many legal websites were hosted by FindLaw, this latest major algorithm update had the biggest impact ever across the industry. And it wasn't just law firms who used pre-made websites that got hurt, either. Some websites were wholly original but used FindLaw to create blogs or additional content to fill out the site. These websites fell in the rankings as well because Panda looks at the entire site – not just one page – and penalizes accordingly. In Panda's purview, a website that included 20% of blog content from FindLaw may be just as culpable as a site entirely created by FindLaw.
Black Hat Techniques & FindLaw
Some may say that if FindLaw created the content, who cares how they sell it. Well, Google views this practice as a Black Hat technique. FindLaw did not disclose its practices to the companies, so they were not aware that their sites hosted content that was recycled, and perhaps worse, considered Black Hat. What are Black Hat techniques? Google views any marketing scheme or strategy that tries to trick search engines into returning better rankings for a site as Black Hat. This generally referred to keyword spamming, but a different Google algorithm update now watches and appropriately penalizes sites for overusing keywords, including invisible text on the site or for using keywords that are unrelated to the text.
Another best practice of FindLaw's is link spamming or selling links. The firm sold its clients links to blogs in order to build links on the client's websites. Link building in general can be a great way to boost traffic and rankings if it's done ethically. But link buying/selling is another Black Hat technique, and Google doesn't tolerate it.