The process for rehabilitating your website from spammy SEO practices can be a long and arduous journey. In many instances, attorneys are better served to simply start over.
In case you missed it, search engines are evolving. And while black hat and spam "still work" in many cases, there is no question that a lot of sites whose "webmasters" have pushed the SEO envelope have been stung.
Whether it be by panda, penguin, hummingbird, a manual webspam action or some other search engine update, once hit, the quest to fix the problem begins.
Typically, the first step is to diagnosis the problem(s).
Of course, the trouble is that search engines aren't completely transparent about the type of problem you might have. Sure, if you have a manual webspam action, you might get a notification. For example, Google sends notifications via Google Webmaster Tools. Unfortunately, even with this notification, the solution usually isn't completely straightforward.
And for algorithmic issues, the only "notice" you'll receive is tremendous and sudden drop in organic search engine traffic. And you'll be left trying to correlate your issues with known search engine updates.
Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of attorney SEO issues that our brought to us can be placed into two buckets:
- Content Issues
- Link Issues
The typical content SEO issue is usually fairly easy to spot. Sites that host pages with regurgitated news headlines, contain only a few paragraphs or exist merely to capture iterations of long-tail search traffic, are excellent candidates for getting hammered by search engines.
The typical SEO link issues are equally easy to spot. Excessive reciprocal linking, blog roll linking and overly optimized anchor text links strewn across "private networks" are a pretty reliable recipe for disaster.
No matter which bucket your issues falls into, the rehabilitation process is going to be painful.
For content issues, you're probably looking at either massive page-culling, or at least, rewriting. The challenge will be deciding which pages/posts are problematic. Again, search engines won't tell you which ones are at issue. One factor to consider in separating the good from the bad is identifying pages that fail to earn clicks. It's reasonable to conclude that organic click-through rate (CTR) is a ranking factor, even if it's just indirect. Removing pages that don't earn clicks is one way to improve your CTR.
Link issues are even more problematic. You see, at least with content on your site, you have some control. Links on other people's sites, not so much.
Per Google, to resolve link-based SEO issues, webmasters should contact the webmasters of the problematic linking sites and ask them to remove those links. Unfortunately, most of these spammy link networks aren't being actively administered by webmasters. And even if you can get a hold of a webmaster, they are likely to simply ignore you.
Even if you are able to resolve these problems and successfully navigate a reconsideration request, it's still unlikely that your traffic will "pop" back to its previous levels. That's because your pages' positions in search engines were artificially inflated. In other words, if you think of your site's rankings as a balloon, the air has been let out. Removing the issues might stop the bleeding, but now you have to fill the balloon back up.
Fixing these types of problems can take weeks and even months. People promising to "fix" these issues in days just aren't shooting you straight.
All of this leads us to why we frequently recommend starting over. In many instances, your time and money are better spent starting fresh, as opposed to, trying to rehabilitate a site with SEO problems. Obviously, this isn't always the best course of action. But I'd venture to guess that it's the best route more often than not.
Even if you don't completely abandon the problematic domain, since it takes so long to resolve these issues, you're well-advised to start something new while you're resolving the problems on your other site.
It's also worth noting that many sites we review don't clearly have algorithmic or manual webspam problems. They just aren't being optimized and marketed very well. Spending energy and money trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist is, well, frustrating to say the least.