How the Google algorithm change “Penguin” could affect your law firm

By David Macaulay

It’s affectionately known as “Penguin” but Google’s new algorithm change has left some businesses wondering if they are going to be left in unfamiliar waters.

As a legal writer, blogger and marketer, the recent tweak has led me to ask some fundamental questions about whether the SEO techniques I have picked up over 18 intensive months no longer hold good or at least need to be amended.

There are no easy answers from the outset. Google doesn’t provide a list of do and don’ts but there are some pointers about how we should adapt our writing techniques to ensure we remain ahead of the curve.

Google’s tweak has had a dramatic effect on some businesses in a short period of time. The Wall Street Journal carried a recent article about the San Francisco-based company Oh My Dog Supplies, LLC.

Co-owner Andrew Strauss said more than two thirds of customers found his business on Google searches in the past. No longer.

Google’s algorithm change at the end of April 2012, led his Google traffic to plunge by 96 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

That’s a dramatic and atypical kind of change. Strauss said he believed his site’s rankings fell because he paid for hundreds of inbound links in the past in response to a 2011 algorithm change that also affected his business, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Google declines to divulge specifics of its search-ranking algorithm, but it discourages paid links and low-quality website links,” the Wall Street Journal article states.

The lack of specifics is problematic but Google has revealed guidelines. Penguin is intended to discourage sites that aim to get a higher ranking than they deserve by manipulating search engines.

Google dislikes the idea of “key word stuffing,” in which large numbers of key words are put in articles with an eye to fooling search engines.

Although it will take weeks to work out what works the best in terms of SEO, the latest change may well mean a movement away from blogs and articles that overload a lot of linked terms such as “New York family law attorney.”

Penguin is just the latest of changes that Google has brought in to its algorithm. And with more than 60 percent of searches going through Google they are not tweaks we can afford to ignore.

 In 2011 Google brought in a change that would allow the latest news to float to the top of searches.  This was significant for law firms because it made regular and topical blog postings more important, giving firms with regularly updated sites an edge over those with static websites.

There appears to be little in the new change that will fundamentally change the accepted wisdom of legal marketing. But the tweaks are likely to reward original and interesting writing even more than previously at the expense of unnecessary repetition for the sake of SEO.

The need for law firms to continue to develop multiple websites still holds good. While the main website may rank high on Google for some of the important search phrases, there always are gaps that specialist sites can exploit be they linked to a geographical area or a specific area of practice. 

A multifaceted website strategy that concentrates on keyword-rich domains to fill those gaps is still likely to prove effective.

And businesses should look at wider strategies to stay ranked.


  • Work on local directory listings: Listings with sites such as Google Places, Yelp, Insider Pages, City Search and the Better Business Bureau will show you are a reputable firm as well as allow clients to post reviews.



  • Work on content: Make sure content is interesting, topical and relevant to the wider community. Don’t pack your blog with insider material that will only be of interest to other attorneys.


  • Use Social Media : Links to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook will build following. And consider other up and coming sites, in particular Google+



  • Consider more press releases. News releases on a topical issue are effective tools in promoting what is new in your business. Sites such as PRWeb can provide rapid distribution.


  • Work on links to credible sites : Aim to work with charitable organizations and get links back to your business. Charitable organizations that use .org domains are good links as are educational sites (with .edu domains).



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