Links & Lawyers

Lawyers, Links and Money

Sometimes it can be a tough venture to come up with ideas for link building to a lawyer site. These aren’t exactly the types of sites that attract links on their own. As some might put it, lawyer sites are among the worst on the web. Often they are the most promotional and hard pressed to seek public affinity, even if they provide excellent free resources to potential clients.

Looking back on when I worked in-house for a large plaintiff’s firm, I built over 5,000 links in a year to their flagship site. It wasn’t easy, until I made it a point to educate stakeholders in the idea. Not just the attorneys, but everyone at the firm was a stakeholder, and one that could discover link opportunities. Once they understood the potential of what links they could glean, it became a competition – which lawyers love. We owned any and all markets in the state and in some national campaigns. In each of our core markets, we owned a piece of local top 3 SERPs and dominated organic results. Everyone had a cheese blog of valueless regurgitation of legal news and interests. What could we do that was different? What could get us links that our competitors couldn’t? How could we stand above the banality found in legal search results?

Mojo Nixon wanted to Destroy All Lawyers, and I am inclined to agree. All except the one who employed me at the time. I wanted to destroy them all in the SERPs. The main site was technically sound and had very little need for improvements. We were competitive in the SERPs, but this particular band of barristers wasn’t going to be satisfied with competing. They wanted to dominate, even referring to other firms as inferior.

So how did I get a group of stodgy, uptight individuals to become zealous link advocates? I played to their competitive nature and challenged them to create more link opportunities than the others. Here are some of the best resources I gave them to win in the court of public opinion and the currency of the search engine results realm.

Alumni Sites:

This seems like a slam dunk case, but before this campaign, we weren’t doing this. All of these guys have been to law school, right? Undergraduate at one of the major schools here in the area, and law school at one of the many schools offering such a program. Boo-yah! Each lawyer had instant access to two .edu links. Most of the law schools required an annual membership fee, so we “bought a few links” – so what. These links were placed in the public directory, and where possible we would submit that attorney’s profile page as the link on the alum site so it would be a deep link and because each attorney had their expertise in an area of practice.

College Sports Forums:

The CEO of this firm attended Duke University School of Law, and is an Iron Duke: a distinguished alumnus who pays a ton of money for first dibs on tickets and a convenient parking spot at the events is dedicated to enriching the lives of student-athletes. So there was an opportunity for another link on that site. There are a ton of Blue Devil basketball forums that are aged a decade or so. We looked into a few of them that are moderated locally and set up profiles on them. Because we advertised heavily on television in the area, we had a tagline that everyone here recognized. I would monitor conversations on these forums and where applicable, I would interject the boss’s thoughts on the men’s basketball team or our tagline, as it applied to basketball. We became a normal part of discussions in that forum; other guys went on to do their own similar campaigns with their already active profiles for the sports forums of their alma mater.


This project took a bit of help from my good friend Garrett French, who coined the term “Preciprocation” back in 2009. We already gave more than $250k in donations as an organization, so why not capitalize on the link currency left on the table from these transactions. The problem was how to organize the outreach and give each of these civic and philanthropic organizations a reason and a place to link to us. Garrett suggested making a page with a short blurb about each charity and what it meant to us. On each description, I placed a link to their volunteer or donation page (or both if possible). I then outreached to every org and never even asked for a link. I simply asked them to share with their friends. Some of those gleaned more than one link apiece; the highest one gained us 12 links. The interesting dynamic of this is how they may have been national associations, but each had a local chapter/site. Gangbusters!


Many of the lawyers attended church, how they didn’t burst into flames upon entry, I am not certain. Just kidding! A lot of the lawyers at the firm took active roles as youth ministers and community leaders within their congregations. As such, many of them had profiles on the church website. Instead of asking the church webmaster for a link, we instead offered free legal counsel to whatever local cause the church wanted to contribute. In doing so, we made an opportunity to link to the attorney profile on our site because it had their contact information, including their cell phone numbers, making it an ideal way for any patron to contact them. Some may look down on this tactic, and that’s okay. It is not for everyone. Some of the attorneys wanted to keep their religious beliefs out of their professional life, so we only used it in instances where the attorney was comfortable doing it. Some attorneys were heathens and their god was money, so we asked their bank for a link instead (again, just kidding).

Local Sports Team Sites:

This was something we would negotiate in the advertising package with the team. For the local AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, we shared the same building and they hadn’t considered giving us a link until we asked. Now every time we renewed our advertising contract, we’d get a text and display ad link on their site. We did the same for the AA baseball teams in other towns and even the NHL team site in a nearby town. None of these advertising packages came with links, nor were they an option… until we asked.

Local News Sites:

Another instance where we already purchased advertising, but didn’t really leverage a link out of the deal was with local television stations. We advertised heavily on TV over the past decade, so we had plenty of clout in terms of setting terms of contract. We never had any problem dropping serious coin on time slots, so we didn’t have a problem paying for do-follow links as advertisers. Some of the stations wanted to charge us extra for the links, and that was fine. To get our business, some of them would offer to cite us as legal experts when their journalists needed a reference or legal commentary. Building relationships with the television station beyond the ad sales staff proved to be beneficial.

Interesting Content:

Something helpful to your potential clients can go a long way in terms of building links. The best most lawyer sites can do is information. Here’s the rub, most of your potential clients don’t care to read it because it isn’t interesting. Subrogation liens, contingency fees, and contributory negligence aren’t riveting things to read about. Think about the pain points of your potential clients and think about the kind of boring content that your competitor cranks out on his ‘blawg’. Don’t do that to yourself, or the people you want to hire your firm. Present something so helpful that your competitors want to link to it (and then copy it, welcome to legal marketing). We sent out an overlay in direct mail pieces that you could use to decipher your police accident report. Why not have that online? Yes it cost a little in development, but the link returns were exponential. We had interactive graphics that helped people easily understand their workers comp rights and social security rules instead of the same old bullet list that every other firm had. We found ways to get clients to understand the case against them brought on by the insurance companies’ need to profit over policy holders with videos and interviews. Do it up right, lawyers. In the digital age, we can tell by your website if we want to hire you or not. Frankly, most of you aren’t worth hiring, much less being linked to.

Author’s note: Please for the sake of your job or company, become VERY familiar with bar regulations in your firm’s jurisdiction. Under no circumstances should you jeopardize the law license of any of your attorneys. You’ll find that most state bar associations have their marketing regulations clearly posted. If your firm doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of these regs, please seek counsel with a firm who does, or directly from the state bar for clarification. Lawyers should disclaim everything for a reason, you should CYA as well.

Don Rhoades is a not a lawyer, but he has worked with some in almost every area of practice. He is currently the SEO manager for a PR agency’s digital clients as well as an independent consultant. You can find his outlandish opening statements and cross-examinations on his blog Gonzo SEO and on twitter @TheGonzoSEO


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23 Responses

  1. Great article and the Breaking Bad references are more than welcoming. Love this tips are they are so useful. Thank you for posting this article!

  2. Points for the Breaking Bad reference! I love that guy, Saul Goodman. His website and ads are the funniest. Anyway, I see your point. Thanks for sharing these tips. We need to be reminded of these.

  3. Good article…the most interesting note that you made was that informing the client company of the potential of links and having them work on it as well (competition was a good idea)…will make the jobs so much easier while still producing the same rewards.

  4. Could be a good idea to built some social proof. This way your link(s) will be shared by your followers. Instead of worrying about links your followers will do all the hard work.

  5. I think link building is still required to rank higher in SERP during post Penguin update. Traffic is really important and those links can still give you traffic if people click on them. Social network sites can be very helpful in driving traffic to your site. Just post articles to them everyday. Don’t forget to place links to your sites. What if your business fan page has 1000 followers? How many clicks will your links get from them.

  6. Link building is still required to rank higher in SERP, in the time of Panda and Penguin as well, the thing is you have to build natural and quality links for better result. And you have to give time, it can’t give you result in short period of time but you have to work progressively for better result.

  7. Don,

    First of all this post is hilarious so I’m following you on Twitter. Love the Arrested Development shout out.

    These are some really good suggestions. I already realized I was missing out on free links from my college alumni association, which by the way has DA85. And you’re right about the content. Make it easy to read and you’re way ahead of other law firms. In fact, you’re way ahead of the competition in general because the lawyers have the technical understanding to have the potential for the most accurate and complete information. Pair that with something that’s accessible for the masses and the content will be incredibly valuable.



    1. Thanks Mike,

      Yeah, I have to say it is really not that hard to stand out with valuable content in the legal space. One thing I would note is how important it is for that content to be promoted. We already had a couple of awesome resources that were not well known until we started promoting them socially. Now, one of those resources has almost 200 links to it, 65% of which are DA70 or higher.

      1. Thanks, Don! Great success story – I would be interested to see the resources you’re talking about if you wouldn’t mind linking to it or sending me a DM.

        Also, what outlets do you use to promote professional service content socially? I’m new to building a following of people who are interested in such information.

        Thanks for the great info. – Mike

  8. Hey Don very eye opening post. Using sports teams, charities, and churches to get some solid links for the big boys. I love the alumni idea. Incredible stuff. Thanks a lot


  9. Link building demands fresh ideas..It is quite evident that thinking out of the box had helped you to build an admirable link profile with in a year..I often deal with clients who have sites which have little appeal in content..But most of them want top SERPs..So i educate them about the basics and ask their PR to discover link building opportunities for the site…Quite often a lot of such opportunities are discovered by the employees of the client themselves.

  10. That is a great article thanks Don, and I love the humour – refreshing! I recently had a meeting with a Practice that has a site with 1600 pages and they are not dominating search results. No amount of telling them to look at the content and to seriously cull their low value links, made any difference.

    If I had told them about this sort of linking that you mention, I’m sure I would have caught their attention more. It’s gold. An ‘aha’ moment for me!

    And suddenly all those ‘extra’ activities those lawyers do come under the microscope – another dimension on which to talk with them.

    Thank you.

    1. It is an uphill battle, Jedda. The easy ones are all the trade associations to which they belong: Million Dollar Advocates, Superlawyers, etc.. The more difficult ones are the things you have to excavate. Another good thing to remember is the civic organizations. Most trial lawyers hate the Chamber of Commerce, but there’s the Rotary Club, the VFW, ACLU, and so on. One last dagger here, They all do CLEs and those have to be posted somewhere online. This may or may not be public, depending on your jurisdiction.

  11. For the attorneys I work with, the local news has been the biggest linking opportunity. Whether it’s for doing something like a child safety seat event or donating helmets the news websites love those types of stories. I’ve found that finding stories that already exist but aren’t linking are easy low hanging fruit.

    1. Thanks for posting Chris,
      Yeah it seems like a no-brainer, but some attorneys/firms just aren’t capitalizing on the link currency when they make those kind of transactions. I find it necessary to remind them whenever possible.

  12. One of the first clients I built links for was a pretty big name website for attorneys… and it was really tough. I didn’t know enough about link building then to even consider tactics like this. I was basically walking through a field of rakes and stepping on every rake and getting hit in the face with every rake 10 hours a day then, haha.

    1. and if you don’t got Mojo Nixon then your site could use some fixin’! Thanks for reading, Dustin. I was just cutting my teeth in link building when this was going down. Its been a few years now, but I never wanted to write about this while I was there.

  13. Great stuff, Don – thinking outside the box is good, but you went one better and reshaped the box to fit!
    Love Garrett’s “preciprocation”, too.

    1. Thanks, Doc. The constraints of bar regulations and limited budgets made this difficult at times. Hopefully this will spark some ideas in the barrister’s guild, so we don’t have to choose between Lionel Hutz and Saul Goodman. We want more Matlocks, Perry Masons and Ally McBeals if possible.

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