A Neophyte Deals with Search Engine Optimization

by Jamison Koehler on December 19, 2009

Ever since I set up this website a couple of months ago, I have had many offers – for a fee, of course – to improve the site’s ranking on Google.  I have always been a neophyte when it comes to matters involving the Internet.  I also have to admit that, prior to launching the website, I had never even heard of the term “search engine optimization.”

laptop I was initially intrigued by the offers.  While there are many things I don’t understand about the Internet, I do know that the higher your site ranks on Google, the more hits you will receive.  More hits should lead to more contacts.  And more contacts should lead to more clients.

What could these Internet people do for me at a minimum of $140 per month? All of them mentioned revamping the website with the right phrases and so forth to make it more Google friendly, but I was uncomfortable with that.  My website guy, Tyler Suchman of Dennison+Wolfe, had already done a great job of setting up the site.  I didn’t want anyone tinkering with what Tyler had done.

Apparently there are also some other things that these companies can do to improve your website’s Google ranking.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a comment on one of my blog posts discussing DUI and DWI.  The commenter didn’t leave a name, but he/she did link back to the website of another D.C. attorney. I don’t know the lawyer personally but I know of him.  He is a very highly respected criminal and DUI defense attorney in D.C. computermonitor

The comment wasn’t particularly helpful but, out of professional courtesy, I went ahead and approved it.  Comments are, after all, a good thing.  They show that people are actually reading and thinking about your site. Or so I thought.

A day later, also posted in the early morning hours, there was another comment from the same law office.  I was flattered that this lawyer — or at least someone in his office — was apparently following my website.  I approved the comment but, again, it didn’t really offer anything new or original.  For example, my post was directed at the billboards recently put up by a colleague to advertise his new divorce practice in Texas.  The comment suggested, in effect, that you should put the billboards where people can see them.

I asked Tyler about it – we had gotten together for beers while he was in town – and he just laughed.  You have to understand:  Tyler is very relaxed.  He is also very patient with my ignorance.  He explained to me the concept of “Google juice.”  Each site has some Google juice – or authority — depending on a number of factors.  Google likes juice. If you go onto another site and link a comment back to your own site, that site has leaked a little Google juice – conferred authority, so to speak– to your site.

Was this bad?  Is it a zero-sum game?  No big deal, Tyler said.  But if you’re concerned about it, you can leave the comment.  Just delete the URL address that links the comment back to the other site.

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A day or two later, the same person commented again on yet another DUI/DWI entry.  Like the other comments, it was posted at 2:30 in the morning.  Unlike the other comments, however, this comment seemed to miss the point I was making in the original entry.  Instead of adding to my entry, it seemed to be correcting me.  It also misstated the law.

Now I was annoyed.  What lawyer likes to be challenged on an area of the law in which the lawyer considers him/herself to be knowledgeable?

The post also confirmed what I had already suspected:  It was not the D.C. lawyer who was making these comments. This particular lawyer has been practicing criminal law in D.C. for close to 20 years, and he would be far too knowledgeable to make this mistake.  Nor would the D.C. lawyer make general statements about “many states.”  The D.C. lawyer would talk about D.C law.

Instead, someone was clearly posting the comments on his behalf.  Maybe it was an associate or a law student working for his office.  More probably, it was one of those Internet companies that had contacted me, working to improve my colleague’s Google rankings by postings comments linked back to this site all over the Internet.

I guess I will not be using the services of any of these Google-ranking companies.  As always, comments are welcome.

3 Comments on “A Neophyte Deals with Search Engine Optimization

  1. I appreciate what you wrote here, and can relate. Reading this reminds me of one of the better SEO sales calls I’ve received where the caller repsonded to my comment that it sounded like his company was employing “black-hat” SEO techniques (e.g., link farms, spam sites, fake blogs, etc.). He response was pretty good: “you mean black-magic techniques.” I laughed but declined the offer.

    Another interesting event was when I noticed on Google analytics that spiking over a period of a day or two, my site had received an unusually high number of hits, from India. I am a Minnesota criminal lawyer. Why would someone in India be interested in what I have written on my website? I could think of only one. And I have seen content from my sites copied to other several lawyers’ sites.

    I assume, as you seem to, that the lawyers employing these black-hat SEO firms are unaware of the deceptive and ethically suspect practices they employ. They are sold on “results,” overcharged due to ignorance, and unaware of the means employed to desired end. I think that sooner or later these deceptive practices will come around to bite those that employ them.

    There are some methods to be learned and employed for SEO, inlcuding building inbound links. But it is essential for a good lawyer to avoid unethical shortcuts, and maintain integrity.

    I have told friends in my area: we lawyers are not competing with each other, we are competing with SEO and SEM firms. We can learn this stuff. It’s not that hard, nor that time consuming. And if we do, we can build quality and community together over time, to the benefit of all.

  2. SEO is primarily based on three things: (1) on-page optimization, (2) incoming links and (3) domain longevity.

    On-page optimization is what most people think of when they are discussing SEO in general. It’s the process of putting a page’s content in better context for the search engines. It may include modifying the meta title, meta description, image alt tags, proper header (i.e. H1, H2, etc…) usage and other page changes.

    Incoming links are also critically important to good search engine results. Most good SEO experts will stress the importance of focusing on the creation of great content. This is because having great content will naturally and organically create incoming links: people in your industry or niche will link to you because you have demonstrated authority on a topic. The more this happens, the more authority you build in an industry or niche. (Aside: Jamison is doing a really great job with this – his blog is frequent, filled with great information and demonstrates his expertise in his area of authority)

    What most likely has happened is that the DC attorney you mention realizes the importance and cost-effectiveness of online marketing in general. He hired a firm that promised to build incoming links to his site, which on cursory examination would build more authority in his site, and thus affect his search engine rankings positively. This reason this generally does NOT work is because most content management systems, in your case WordPress, greatly minimize the effect of this type of marketing by affixing a tag to outgoing links called “external nofollow,” meaning no “Google juice,” or authority, links from your site to the site being linked to.

    Note also that the name on the comment is “DC Criminal Lawyer” – when you use words like that to link to a website, it is what’s called a “contextual link” and adds a bit of weight to the site being linked to, assuming they are optimizing for terms such as this. This is a common link building strategy.

    There would be one other benefit to this type of marketing – he wants to be on the radar of the same people who are checking out your site and considering retention of your services.

    That said, its pretty obvious that in this case, the primary goal of leaving comments on your website is to build contextual incoming links that will boost search engine presence of one of your primary competitors. Killing the link and leaving the comment is probably the most appropriate way to address this, and allows you to continue to build a dialogue around your blog entries.

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