You decided you should blog. Maybe you also set up a static website and created several static pages of content. Perhaps you signed up for some sketchy law firm SEO. You started to get some “hits” from search engines. Maybe you even attracted some potential clients. Things seemed to be going swimmingly. Then something happened. Almost overnight, your traffic from Google tanked. What the heck happened?

Answer: Google got smarter.

As Allison touched upon back in March of 2011, Google search algorithm changes have had a significant impact on many lawyer websites & blogs. And since that time, the impact of these algorithm changes has grown significantly, at least for those who are chasing search engines.

The Updates

While Google changes its search algorithm (.pdf) up to 500 – 600 times per year, every now and again they release a major update that can have a larger impact on search results. Two recent updates, commonly known as Panda & Penguin, have been particularly significant.

Panda Update

We first heard about the update that would eventually be named ‘Panda’ (named after a Google engineer) back in Feb. 2011 when Google announced it had found a new way to find more high-quality sites in search.

Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible. This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content—both good and bad—comes online all the time.

Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

If you’re really interested in learning the gory details about Panda, I recommend you go here, here and here.

You should Also watch what Rand has to say about Panda:


In a nutshell, Panda was designed to reward sites that publish high-quality original content and penalize sites that publish “thin content” or lots of low-quality, keyword stuffed articles that offered little to no real value for the reader.

One of the interesting consequences of Panda is that sites that didn’t necessarily intentionally manipulate search results may still find that they lost traffic due to publishing content that just isn’t very good.

Penguin Update

Toward the end of April of this year, Google announced another significant update to reward high-quality sites:

In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.

The bottom-line is that if you violate Google’s quality guidelines, you’re at risk of losing positions and traffic as a result of Penguin. That’s not fear-mongering, that’s a fact.

One of the most common violations of the quality guidelines is paying for inclusion in various link schemes:

Examples of link schemes can include:

  • Links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
  • Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank

Site-wide links may be especially problematic. As Aaron Aders writes over at

Site-wide links are typically links found in a footer or header of a website that appears on every page on the website. These links are considered untrustworthy by Google since these are typically from company-owned domains (not a true third-party referral) or paid link relationships. Matt Cutts adds, “We’ve done a good job of ignoring boilerplate, site wide links. In the last few months, we’ve been trying to make the point that not only is link buying like that not doing any good, we’re turning the dial up to let people know that certain link spam techniques are a waste of money.”

What can I do now?

If you believe that your blog and/or website has been negatively impacted by an algorithm update, the first step is to calm down. Too many site owners are delirious with Panguinoia.

There are a variety of reasons why no one is reading your blog that have nothing to do with search engine updates.

As Jayson DeMers writes:

Before doing anything, you need to diagnose the reason for your site’s ranking and traffic drop. The easiest way to discover if your rankings fell as a result of Google Penguin is to analyze your website’s traffic data. If your rankings (and traffic) took a noticeable dive on or around April 24, 2012, there’s a good chance it’s got something to do with Google Penguin. To get started, be sure to isolate your traffic data solely for Google organic search traffic, since this is the traffic source that Penguin would have impacted.

If you’re confident that you’ve suffered from one of these updates, the next step is to stop doing what the updates are designed to filter: thin content & violations of quality guidelines.

So, what counts as a high-quality site according to Google? Here’s some guidance from Google:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

Developing effective legal web content that readers like, link to and share continues to be 90% of the equation.

Getting back into Google’s good graces can be tough. Sure, you can try to clean up your back link profile and submit a reconsideration request. But you’ll face several challenges. First, if you’ve hit the black hat linking pretty hard, you’ll find that getting responses from spam sites that are linking to yours is an act of futility. Second, even if you’re able to contact them and convince them to remove the links, you’ve lost the inflated authority you had prior to the update. Your new traffic is just the new normal for your site.

You should also work to diversify your sources of traffic. Relying solely on search engines for your traffic can lead to huge vulnerabilities when search engines make changes. You need to set realistic expectations about blogs, websites and the internet in general for business development.

All of this may cause you to conclude that any SEO could damage your site as a spam site. But even Google and Matt Cutts acknowledge that SEO can be advantageous.

Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site. Many SEOs and other agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners, including:

  • Review of your site content or structure
  • Technical advice on website development: for example, hosting, redirects, error pages, use of JavaScript
  • Content development
  • Management of online business development campaigns
  • Keyword research
  • SEO training
  • Expertise in specific markets and geographies.


Before beginning your search for an SEO, it’s a great idea to become an educated consumer and get familiar with how search engines work. We recommend starting here:


Have you noticed a large drop in search traffic overnight? Were you engaged in link schemes? Were you churning out (or outsourcing) short-form blog posts without any original information or analysis? What was the result?


Gyi Tsakalakis
Gyi Tsakalakis helps lawyers earn meaningful attention online because that's where clients are looking. He tends to write about legal marketing technology. He misses coaching football and is happy to discuss various strategies and techniques of defensive front seven play.


  1. Avatar Steve Cook says:

    This is likely of little comfort to firms that experienced drops as a result of Panda / Penguin and are currently experiencing “Panguinoia” (great term BTW), but those firms that follow and observe Google’s webmaster guidelines may have seen an uptick in traffic driven by Google.

    Once lawyers decide to “play by the guidelines”, they can take some solace in the reasonable belief that they will, hopefully, only receive more and more traffic from Google as Google develops its algorithm(s).

  2. Avatar Jason Rogers says:

    Great article! I find it very interesting that firms are scrambling to ‘fix’ traffic using the same methods that got them in trouble in the 1st place. SEO is a turtle’s race – slow and steady. There are no shortcuts. Several of our clients’ organic impressions more than tripled (according to WMT) in April 2012, and traffic has increased about 5-10% per month for 18 months straight. I am only mentioning this because we have done very little SEO beyond ‘technical’ stuff…and NO link building what-so-ever. Mainly data compilation and research. A testament to the spot-on accuracy of this article. Nice job.

  3. Avatar Mark Homer says:

    Nice post Gyi.

    Glad to hear others preaching to do it right from the beginning. One of the pushbacks I have heard is that it is ‘harder’ now. However, my response is that it shouldn’t be easy – there are only 10 slots or so on the first page so there is competition. And if you do it RIGHT it is easier to stay on top and it is then even Harder for others not willing to spend the time and energy to do it right. We talk about this very topic in the same way in some CLEs on tech tips we do and we still had the occasional person come up afterwards looking for the latest ‘trick’ to get to the first page fast. As Jason said above – Slow and Steady wins.

  4. The newest Google change surfaced a few days ago and has hit the keyword rich URL sites fairly hard. In effect, for while, Google preferred sites that had keywords in the URL and for that reason many incorporated that into their marketing strategy. With this recent change, newer sites with key word rich URLs have been substantially penalized and many don’t appear in the first few pages of Google. The more the story is that Google is constantly evolving trying to get the most relevant content in front of their viewers. The balance for Google will be the paid advertising which seems to be dominating more and more of their current pages. it is a fine line between the most relevant content and ad revenue for Google.

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