How to Buy A Top 10 Attorney Award (and Link) from The American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys

Got another call from a client . . . a big client with lots of lawyers . . . asking me about one of his brand spanking new attorneys who has just been bestowed an award as a Top 10 Personal Injury Attorney in his state by The American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys.

My clients question?

“I’m not sure I really get this, he’s not even a top 10 attorney in our firm, let alone the entire state.”

The nomination came along with the request to send a check for $275 within the next month and information on where the AIPIA site should link to.

Top 10


American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys

So, I thought I’d do some digging on the esteemed American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys. According to their site, they have pretty stringent requirements for admittance, so it was odd that a wet-behind-the-ears, unpublished, unrated, unknown junior associate had made it past this evaluation gauntlet.

Very few Attorneys can display our “10 Best” Badge on their website or Plaque in their office. AIOPIA has a stringent and multi-phased Selection Process which begins with peer nomination and ends with final approval by our Board of Regents.

Having had some experience with manufactured awards during the early days of Avvo, this started to smell familiar. (No word on exactly who sits on this vaunted Board of Regents.)

The award list pages for attorneys who have made it through the AIPIA’s stringent process does include a few firms (along with some followed links).  Here’s New York for example (note that if there are still slots available, you too can be considered for Top 10 status, hurry and get those nominations and checks in . . . )

AIPIA New York

So exactly who/what is the American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys (and do you think they’d accept yours truly on their Board of Regents)?  The “About Us” page didn’t offer much beyond self congratulatory marketing copy:

Membership is an exclusive honor and extended only to those select few who have reached the top of their profession while doing so with the client’s satisfaction being of the most paramount importance.

Blah Blah Blah

Maybe their office location will be a little more insightful . . . so I fired up Google Street View and found the headquarters of the American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys located . . .


Great – you can presumably celebrate with a congratulatory  cheeseburger and coke next door if you pick up your plaque in person. And don’t worry if you aren’t a PI lawyer . . . located within that same UPS store, you can find the American Institute of DUI/DWI Attorneys as well.  Perhaps they’ll soon create The American Institute of Legal SEO Consultants and I too can have a Top 10 Badge.

The Link Ramifications

This might seem like an easy way to buy links(and a plaque), but . . . .

These types of sites are exactly what searches engines look for algorithmically – domains with no authority (both American Institute pages have  Page Rank of zero) containing pages with nothing but lists of businesses with followed links.  I can’t promise that these specific sites would trip a search engine red flag, but I’d steer all of my clients away from something like this.

I’ll let you guys ruminate on the ethical ramifications of these awards . . . .


UPDATE: The National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys

Oh this gets even better.  Someone just forwarded me a link to The National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys.  Are these two vicious competitors? I don’t think so – the NAPIA is  built on the exact same website platform, with the exact same award structure (Top 10 and Top 10 Under 40) and essentially the same nomination and vetting process as the AIPIA.   Are they located in the same UPS store as The American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys?  Nope – the NAPIA is housed in virtual office space on K Street, a short 5 minutes from the headquarters of the AIPIA Headquarters/UPS Store.

National Association of Personal Injury Attorneys

I’m off to take a very hot shower and gargle some bleach.

Shaming State Farm: A Social Media Experiment

Two weeks ago, my wife and I woke up at 2:30 in the morning to a loud crash.  Tow trucks and police cars followed and in the morning, we found this in the backyard (minus the 2013 Lexus the formerly filled said hole.):

photo 2

Unfortunately, the following day no one knocked on the door to offer either apologies or insurance information, a few days of my sleuthing through police reports finally brought me to . . . State Farm.  Now as far as I am concerned, the insurance as a whole lives at the very bottom of the ethical business barrel – and while there are some exceptions (I’m an ardent fan of Farmers), my experience with both Allstate and now State Farm suggests value to their shareholders is delivered through screwing their own customers.  Frankly this is one of the reasons I love working with lawyers – at Mockingbird we’ve codified this into the way we think.  The first of our 10 Commandments is “We Love Lawyers” – this is explained in greater detail in our new employee training manual:

We Love Lawyers – Attorneys who represent individuals are the primary counterbalance to corporate greed, the widespread abuse of police and political power and the abusive Insurance industry. We are honored to play a small role in this system.

Now, back to State Farm and our little fence problem . . .

Two weeks have gone by – I’ve called state farm once, twice, three times a day during the interim.  I’ve spent roughly four hours on hold and been transferred between departments and managers.  I’ve been hung up on.  I’ve left innumerable identical messages.  I’ve been polite.  I’ve been a jerk.  I’ve been patient and I’ve been irate.  And yet – the fence looks just like it that first day.  I’m still waiting on State Farm to take step 1A.

So, I decided to create a billboard for State Farm.  They do lots of advertising, so why not inject a little truth into their advertising . . .

photo 1


In all fairness, I “may” have casually arranged some Lexus parts carefully on top of the fence for dramatic effect.  Unfortunately the remaining fence wasn’t big enough for my new tagline:  “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is . . . .Where?

(And the “2” looks like a “1”, because it used to be a “1” – not sure what happens once we get to “3”.)

The Attorneys ATM – SPAMMY SEO Marketing

I was doing a backlink check on a law firm site today and ran into link SPAM at a level so rudimentary and flagrant that I was incredulous that it was still around. This SPAM is so basic, it might serve as a good lesson on how SEO’s manually diagnose toxic links . . . .

I found a a link to a DUI law firm’s site . . . on the domain  As the frim was neither in California nor in spinal injuries, this started to smell a little fishy – as did the Title Tag, which had nothing to do with California or Spinal Injuries:

DUI – DWI, Criminal, Personal Injury, Accident, Bankruptcy, Divorce, Workers Compensation (workers comp) Immigration Attorneys Lawyers

Hmmm – looks like a low end directory – linking out primarily to a small number of DUI lawyer websites. ATM CA Spine The Footer tells me this a directory from a company called The Attorneys ATM – who provides “law firm internet marketing” (nice anchor text), but apparently didn’t know how to remove the placeholder text for Example Website Article 1 and 2. ATM info

Let’s click through and discover more . . . Well, lookie here – some information on backlinks and how to rank in very high in the search engines: backlinks This isn’t going to blow you away, but the anchor text heavy links in the directory all pointed to clients of . . . .

wait for it . .  .

don’t tell me you guessed already . . .

The Attorneys ATM.   How do I know?  Because the footers say things like this:

Guaranteed Law Firm Internet Marketing by The Attorneys ATM

A little more sleuthing and I found another Lawyer Directory by our friends at The Attorneys ATM, and then another and another and another . . . I could go on:   The Lawyer ATM

Fake Backlinks and What This Means for “The Attorneys ATM” Clients

If you don’t understand the significance of what I’ve described above let me simplify:  Search Engines use links as an indicator of quality content and therefore rank sites with lots of links well.  Fake links (also called toxic links) like the ones above are used to artificially boost search engine rankings.  When the search engines discover these toxic links – they may chose to not only ignore them but actually demote the site – causing inbound traffic to crater and inbound phone calls from prospects to essentially disappear. Toxic links are the primary target of the search engine penalty called Penguin.  The example above is so egregious – a bunch of copied sites with instructions on the importance of backlinks all linking back to a single provider – that I’ll buy you a steak dinner if the clients of The Attorneys ATM haven’t seen a huge drop in traffic due to Penguin. Unfortunately, recovering from a Penguin penalty is expensive, uncertain and takes a very long time.

My industry has done a good job earning its place at the bottom of the ethical barrel. Unfortunately it is frequently our clients who suffer. Caveat Emptor.

FindLaw Websites Crushed by Panda 4

On Tuesday, I posted about Google’s roll-out of Panda 4 – an algorithm update targeting spammy, thin, duplicative content and postulated that this was going to really shake up the legal industry.  It turns out, that was an understatement. Early results are showing that this algo update has had the largest ever impact across the legal industry.

The algo changes start with my friends in Eagen, Minnesota at FindLaw (and unfortunately, probably many of their website clients). Decimated by Panda 4

I was curious to see what happened to FindLaw’s traffic after Panada 4 rolled out, as the legal SEO industry has been vocally critical of Google for seeming to turn a blind eye to FindLaw tactics that flagrantly flaunt search engine best practices.  To date, none of the algo updates or Penguin penalties seem to have had a massive or persistent impact on either the FindLaw site or their law firm clients’ websites.   The early data suggests that has changed drastically with Panda 4:

Findlaw Alexa

Check out the massive drop in the past few days – FindLaw plummeting to traffic levels lower than they’ve seen in many years. Why did this happen?  Attorney, Damon Chetson described it best (and foreshadowed this week’s impact of Panda) in a post from January:  FindLaw Getting Penalized for SEO Abuse.

“FindLaw was “good” at creating a lot of content, most of it junk, that it could repackage and sell across websites and markets.”

This type of pervasive, thin, low quality content across a network of sites is exactly what the Panda algo updated was designed to detect and push users away from.

What Happened to Avvo?

After I saw this massive hit FindLaw’s traffic, my next stop was to check out Avvo.  (Full disclosure – I’m still a shareholder in Avvo, so I’m hardly writing from a dis-interested perspective here.)  Turns out Avvo didn’t get hit.  At all.  The Alexa graph below shows business as usual for Avvo.

Alexa - Avvo

In fact, legal marketer Shelly Fagin is reporting on some impressive gains for Avvo.

I’m seeing Panda 4.0 bumped down lots of lawyers positions for Avvo which now has a top SERP in most all our major search terms.

And the data I’m tracking suggests Shelly is entirely accurate.  Below you’ll see a sampling of ranking data on 1,500 different highly competitive head terms (like “Seattle Divorce Lawyer”) and the changes in incidence in Top 3 ranking for both FindLaw and Avvo.  While FindLaw’s appearance in the top 3 results has dropped by 44%, Avvo exploded by 210% and they are now dominating FindLaw on these highly converting (i.e. prospects making phone calls to lawyers) terms.

FindLaw vs Avvo Rankings

These changes are a big deal for the legal industry as a whole.  In 2006, I was part of a small group of people trying to use the web to bring consumers closer to the legal profession. Just eight years later – it looks like Avvo not only joined the big leagues, but is now the only major player left standing – and have long been relegated to traffic irrelevance and now with Panda 4, FindLaw has joined them.

What to Expect If You are Advertising on Avvo or FindLaw

If the data above is indicative of FindLaw and Avvo’s performance overall, advertisers are going to start seeing a huge change in return on investment for their marketing spend.  As both Avvo and FindLaw essentially monetize their SEO performance as ads – I’d predict inbound traffic and call volume from FindLaw is going to crater. And if the data is correct (and the trend holds) I’d anticipate Avvo advertising rates to increase in about 3 months.

FindLaw Lawyer Websites Hit by Panda 4

My bigger concern is not really with the FindLaw domain overall, but their law firm clients who may have been negatively impacted by the tactics employed by their provider.  Did FindLaw website clients get hit too?  This is a little harder to diagnose, as most attorney sites are far too small to register on traffic reporting sites like Alexa.  BUT . . . anecdotally the answer seems to be yes.  Here are two data points:

1. FindLaw’s Pre-SEO’d Websites Hit

The day before the announcement of Panda 4, I wrote a post about FindLaw’s pre-built, pre-SEO’d sites . . . essentially websites being sold to Lawyers that were already ranking for highly competitive terms.  Seems like many FindLaw lawyer websites have disappeared entirely.  The examples I used –, and – which ranked on the first page for their respective key terms “geo _ dwi/dui lawyer” at the beginning of the week are no longer to be found in the search results.  Hand checking in on many other FindLaw sites shows the have disappeared too.  In a post today, A to Z Lawyer Marketing reports:

Well google just unveiled Panda 4.0 and it took FindLaw’s entire low quality network with it.    Hundreds of FindLaw sites have vanished from the SERP.   

2.  Forum Comments

Forum comments on the FindLaw’s Pre-SEO’d Websites Post anecdotally corroborate the data above:


If you suspect your FindLaw website has been hit by Panda . . . despair.  But just for a little while.  Then think about what makes Panda tick – that thin, recycled, low quality content.  Getting out of a Panda penalty is hard (and expensive) but is achievable. Check the stipulations of your FindLaw contract and thank your lucky stars this isn’t a Penguin issue where recovery is a much fuzzier, much harder, much more expensive.  If you are considering finding a new website or SEO provider, check out the FindLaw Jailbreak Guide.



Panda 4.0 Update – Lawyers Edition

Did your front desk phone stop ringing suddenly today?

Yesterday Google announced the launch of Panda 4.0 update – an update designed to further strengthen the quality of content they drive users to.  (Read that backwards:  Google is taking even more aggressive steps to filter out sites that deliver low quality garbage content.)

While this is an on-going roll-out, some results are already in and they are striking.

Alan Bleiweiss (as far as I’m concerned the web’s best Forensic SEO auditor) shared the Google Analytics data below showing just how massive an impact Panda can have on some sites.  What’s interesting in this case – its a client dealing with multiple algo penalties that has now cleaned up their act and under Alan’s guidance is played the game correctly and is seeing a massive upside from the Panda 4.0 roll-out.

Alan Bleiweiss

What Panda 4 Means For Lawyers

The legal industry is probably one of the worst offenders when it comes to low end content – driven heavily by the “content content content” call that was drummed by the SEO industry eager to sell lawyers blogging platforms and posts.  Given the extent of what we’ve seen from people like Alan and the incredibly heavy buzz this has generated among SEO geeks, I’d expect to see a very heavy impact to the legal industry.  Legal marketer, Shely Fagin has already reporting a heavy improvement in rankings for Avvo (this has NOT been confirmed by my old friends at Avvo, but frankly doesn’t surprise me as from my past experience I know they have a huge commitment to quality content.)

What to Do

Strap in and watch your Google Analytics account. If you’ve been outsourcing content abroad, spinning content, paying anyone less than $20 a post, or have content developed by one of the big box providers – I’d be very concerned.   Make sure you know how to generate a filter to look only at “non-paid search traffic” (image below) and look for big changes.  I generally recommend patience – but this is a big shift and unfortunately you might now being paying the price for a hiring a low quality vendor.

FindLaw Selling Pre-SEO’d Websites

Want to rank #1 for a highly competitive search term immediately?  FindLaw has your answer.

FindLaw is now offering pre-built Websites – essentially high ranking law firm websites with no owner – being sold to the highest bidder.  And by “high ranking” I mean high ranking in the search engines.

Here’s excerpts from a FindLaw email forwarded to me by a lawyer wondering how much he should pony up for a site that was already a ranking winner:

look at this link and let me know what you think once you open the first organic (under top PPC adds). This is just a sample of our pre-built DUI Sites that we recently released. We only sell 2 state wide for every state. Why not consider being # 1 organically. . .”

What the what?

What is a pre SEO’d Website?

Now its unclear from the email above exactly what “pre-built” websites actually means – but the explicit message here is that a firm can purchase a website from FindLaw that already ranks.  And ranks #1 for very competitive terms. The sales pitch is very compelling – we already rank #1 . . . see right here?

And lawyers bit.  Here’s one of those pre-built, pre-SEO’d websites live and kicking and rented by attorney Erik Zentz.  Yes – just <insert handsome attorney picture here>.  DUI in Vegas – I wonder how deep Erik’s pockets are?


And this approach seems to be working well for FindLaw and their clients.  Here’s Zentz winning the  competitive query “Las Vegas DUI Lawyer”.  (And I can’t tell you the rash it gives me that a FindLaw site is outranking Avvo’s results – which come in at #2.)


I wanted to know exactly what a pre-built website was, so I checked out on the wayback machine. Turns out, just last year there was an entirely different law firm on that domain:  Kajioka and Bloomfield.


So what happened to Kajioka and when?  Here’s the site on the wayback machine from January of this year – notice the firm name and contact information have been stripped.  I can’t possibly imagine a worse user experience for someone in desperate need of a lawyer stumbling across a placeholder website ranking #1 in a highly targeted search result.


And now Eric Zentz owns rents the domain that Kajioka and Bloomfield presumably paid to have FindLaw build and optimize for them – including all of the legacy blog content and . . .  links.  Yup – despite the fact that Zentz started on the domain just this year, “his” blog posts stretch back well into the first quarter of last year and have the exact same content from the Kajioka era. Explains how he’s been able to rank #1 for a super competitive term in less than 3 months.  And not to miss a black hat beat, FindLaw made sure to establish authorship for Eric . . . for pre-existing blog posts written long before he was their client.  Note the date below . . .


I’ll leave you lawyers and bar reps to chime in on the ethics of this.

So pre-built actually means “recycled” or “rented” or “sold to the highest bidder” or “author spam” or perhaps all of the above.

What absolutely floors me is that Koijaka and Bloomfield have kept their website with FindLaw – although they don’t appear anywhere in search results (at least for me) for that coveted term – “las vegas dui lawyer”.

I wonder who is paying more to the piper?

More Examples

Is Zentz an isolated incidence?  Not so fast – through a little backlink analysis I stumbled into a slew of sites –, etc, etc. The whois record for these domains comes up not as FindLaw, but rather as DNStination Inc. in San Francisco, which is, according to Domain Name Strategy, “a profile often used by corporate registrar MarkMonitor to ‘mask’ domain ownership on behalf of their clients.” But the anchor text heavy links on these sites point almost exclusively to lawyer websites that are — you guessed it — FindLaw clients. Of the links on Chicago Legal Authority’s Featured Personal Injury Attorneys (below), seven out of nine of them were to law firms paying FindLaw for their websites – and look at that anchor text whoooo!

Chicago PI List

And – to close the loop – the New York Legal Authority site included an anchor text heavy link to – which, although registered to Domains by Proxy (hidden), is built on the same exact template as our original example: Zentz.

FindLaw Prebuilt Website


Another ownerless site – the phone number I called on the contact page of these ownerless sites went to a nondescript voicemail – no name, no law firm name, nothing – how is that for quality results?  BUT – someone is still publishing content on the domain – at least 5 blog posts so far this month.

May Blog Posts

. . . . and yup, you guessed it . . . the Long Island DWI site returns on page one of Google search results for that money term . . . .”long island DWI Lawyer.”




So if you live in Long Island and practice DWI, give your FindLaw rep a call . . .

Just How Much Does Yelp Cost?

I got an urgent phone call from a client yesterday:

I have an advertising opportunity that I want to run by you, but I need to get back to them today or it is no longer available.


So I was contacted by Yelp and they are offering me 500 highly targeted ads – they can show up on competitor pages and highly targeted searches in my city.  Also, they’ll clear my profile of any ads and I get an account manager and reporting.

How much?

It’s only $350 – but I wasn’t sure if it was a good deal, so I wanted your input first.

Uggg – let me pour a fine glass of single malt scotch before I continue . . .

Key Metrics to Evaluate any Advertising Opportunity

When evaluating any advertising opportunity it is important to do some back of the napkin math and calculate some key metrics to establish an apples to apples comparison and estimate a likelihood that this investment will line your pockets instead of drain them.  I’ll work through this Yelp advertising opportunity to explain:

Most (non-PPC) advertising is  priced on a CPM basis – essentially the cost per thousand impressions. In this case, $350 for 500 impressions yields to a $700 CPM.  Now lets compare that to some other CPM rates: retargeting campaigns (which are highly targeted as they hit people who are already on my site) cost me roughly $2.40 CPMs.  That makes Yelp’s advertising more than 29,000% more expensive. You can also try to compare these rates to PPC campaigns.


Using the data above, we can back out a CPM from PPC data – there are 10,893 impressions costing $150.  Simply remember your 8th grade math and solve for Cost per Thousand (or if you’ve blocked out 8th grade use the CPM calculator at ClickZ . . .)

CPM Calculator

So no we are up to $13.77 CPMs – still a far cry from the $700 AND much more targeted.  (Granted my CPC rates here are relatively low, because I target a 5 to 10 times return on investment for PPC campaigns, but you understand the math and can compare with your own data.)

How to Estimate Expected Cost Per Client

Alternatively, we can try to back out expected cost per client.  At $350 for 500 impressions, let’s assume a very optimistic click through rate of 1% – which gives us 5 clicks (at $70 CPC).  Now assume those clicks turn into phone calls at a very optimistic rate of 5% – which gives us 0.25 phone calls (now at $1,400 per phone call).  Of those phone calls, 20% of them are prospects you actually want – thats now 0.05 qualified prospects ($7,000 per qualified prospect).  And of those prospects – you can close half of them – we’re now down to 0.025 clients for $350 – or stated in a slightly more understandable fashion – it will take 40 months at $350 a month (an overall spend of $14,000) to get one client.

Sign me up baby!

One last side note: if you hear the salesperson’s refrain “just one client will pay for itself”, hang up the phone and run screaming.  Your job is NOT to fund your advertiser’s stock price, but to pay yourself.  Target a minimum of 300% return on investment for your marketing activities.

WordPress Hacked: A case for a Managed WordPress Host

We push WordPress as the only acceptable platform for legal websites.  There is a downside: WordPress’s ease of use has led to widespread adoption.  And with popularity comes hacking.  WordPress is notorious as a target for hacks.  A hacked WordPress site is quickly rendered almost invisible (with the exception of highly branded queries) to search engines as they proactively steer users away from a sites that are out of the site owner’s control.

Here’s an example for the branded query “sostrin law office”:

Hacked WordPress warning

“This site may be hacked.”

This warning is the kiss of SEO death for a site.  In fact, searches for “criminal defense los angeles” didn’t return this site within the first 100 results, even after I had visited it.  Its a good looking site, with good content but I suspect is utterly invisible to search traffic.


We’ve had one client who came to us with a hacked WordPress site – their search traffic had essentially flatlined, the phone stopped ringing and their PPC spend had exploded by 300% as even branded search queries weren’t returning their site, so existing customers were clicking on their PPC campaign just to get the phone number.  Disaster.  For this firm, we were utterly unable remove the malicious code after three different attempts and were forced to rebuild their site entirely from scratch.  

The Answer: Managed WordPress Hosting

There are a few hosting companies that have sprung up to help site owners minimize the hacking risks of using WordPress – this is called Managed WordPress Hosting.  In short – this is the process of a)automating frequent backups b)automating updates to the most current WordPress version and c)eliminating WordPress plug-ins that are vulnerable to hacks. We use WP Engine and they also happen to offer stupendous customer service. While more mainstream hosting providers have started offering Managed WordPress hosting, I’d strongly recommend working with a company that focuses exclusively on the platform – Pressable (formerly ZippyKids) also has a strong reputation.

Managed WordPress is More Expensive

With basic plans coming in around $30 a month (at least 300% more than standard mass hosting solutions), Managed WordPress hosting is more expensive. But this is one situation where you get what you pay for – I’m pretty sure Sostrin Law Offices would be happy to increase their hosting budget right now.

1% for Good: Get Your Rear in Gear in Memory of Katie Tinnea

Last year, my son’s 1st grade teacher, Katie Tinnea died of colon cancer.  She was a young mom, a great teacher and made sharing her experience the final lesson plan for a classroom of kiddos (and parents).  Our family has been running in 5Ks supporting colon cancer research ever since we met Katie.  This year, I was flattered to have some of my co-workers join the race.


Katie’s support group was called Purple Power – and Purple Power was out in force this year and I was pleased to contribute 1% of our revenue last month to cancer research on behalf of Purple Power.  Ryan and Kennedy – all of us think of you on a regular basis.