Martindale-Hubbell Aggressively Marketing Their LinkSpam Network

Psssst…buddy…you…with the struggling website…yeah you. Want to buy a link? How about 5? I’ve got some nice, hot, untraceable links right here in my coat.

In the past 10 days, I’ve received questions from three different legal marketing agencies about Martindale’s new SEO product: The Martindale-Nolo legal marketing network which includes Nolo and Lawyers.com. It’s essentially a mass purchased linkbuilding scheme and people want to know: does this violate Google’s SEO guidelines against LinkSpam.

Short Answer: Yes it does.

But first, let’s hear from Martindale directly:

 

Hmmm…key messages are:

“providing stronger link value…helps increase links through our legal network of websites…help you gain higher search engine rankings”

Also…it’s “affordable” – meaning it’s paid. Isn’t this the flagrant buying and selling of links? Yes it is.

FindLaw Linkspam Provides Historical Context

Back in 2008 Findlaw got exposed for doing exactly this: mass emailing their clients with the offer of purchased links. This was called their: SEM-C product which enabled customers to purchase links and even specify the anchor text (remember anchor text?). You can find a copy of it here. This program got blown up quickly and received widespread backlash among the knowledgable (albeit small back then) legal online marketing community.

So, I didn’t think anyone would be so stupid as to replicate this experiment. Apparently I was wrong. Another variant of Martindale’s marketing materials states:

“This helps increase links through our legal network of websites and directories back to your firms website. Gaining stronger authority and helping you gain higher search engine rankings.”

Google Guidelines Violation

Does this really violate Google Guidelines?  Yup. Yup and Yup. Read excerpts of those guidelines below and ask yourself if there’s any possible way Martindale isn’t setting themselves and their clients up for failure:

  • This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank.
  • This includes exchanging money for links or using automated programs or services to create links to your site.

Note the key concern for law firms here is that these penalties impact not only the seller, but also the buyer of said links.

The Avvo Question

Now speaking of legal directory links, I’d be remiss in noting that AVVO recently sold to Internet Brands, who is also the owner of…Martindale. Back in July of this year, I reported that Avvo was removing contact information unless one purchased Avvo Premium. It was unclear if this included a link to the website. It’s also unclear if Martindale’s “network of legal websites” extends to Avvo as well, but it’s not too hard to connect these dots. I did reach out to the new Avvo people to discuss this further, but they demurred. On a personal level, I’d find it tragically ironic if Avvo is included within this scheme.

So…what’s going to happen?

If history repeats itself, all of these sites (both the sellers and buyers) may have a negative impact on their search traffic. According to the SEO rumor mill, the FindLaw link selling scandal generated a significant and protracted decline in traffic – although I frankly didn’t hear any rumblings of how this impacted the purchasers of said links. Granted that was way back in 2008, but I don’t suspect Google has gotten specifically dumber as it pertains to linkspam over the past decade. Further note that Google relies heavily on algorithmic learning and have been seeking out link networks for about 15 years now. Hiding this network from Google, especially with the large and prolific footprint of Martindale/Nolo/Lawyers.com (and hopefully not Avvo) would be extremely difficult. All Google needed was the linkbuilding smoking gun…an offer to sell links. And apparently, Martindale has just mass emailed that smoking gun to all of their customers (including agency owners who know better.)

Historical SEO Spam from FindLaw

For those of you interested in a history lesson of how flagrant spam was back in the early(ish) days of SEO…. I was cleaning out my desk the other day and found a relic of FindLaw’s link selling product, SEM-C.  It’s dated July, 2008 and a printed copy has been gathering dust in my SEO SPAM folder. For those of you who have less than 10 years in the search industry, you’ll be amazed at how flagrant link selling was, even by big box providers, back in the wild wild west days of search. Read it here: FindLaw for Legal Professionals: SEM-C Product Details.  I’ve excerpted some of the tastier morsels below:

SEM-C includes articles submitted by the advertiser and hard coded links to be placed on the FindLaw Legal Professional portal. As FindLaw has a favorable rank with the search engines and is THE legal authority, customers will benefit from having a link on the FindLaw portal.

The product was essentially a series of paid links (that lasted for a year and then needed to be renewed) leveraging FindLaw’s authority. Customers wrote articles, defined anchor text, specified target pages and submitted to FindLaw.

Link modules – to be placed on relevant content pages. The product includes 3 links.

Articles… This product includes up to 5 articles. Articles will contain a hard coded link to advertiser’s web site.

Customers will have increased rank and penetration within natural search results on major search engines.

It even includes a section on helping law firms come up with high value anchor text.

The backlash on this was pretty immediate and strong, with negative articles coming from both the Search and Legal Marketing communities. Word on the street among the SEO nerd community is that FindLaw was hit by a substantial and long standing manual penalty from Google. But don’t think that FindLaw learned their lesson – the’ve never really given up their linkspamming ways. Back in 2014 we posted a review of FindLaw’s use of spambots to generate profiles and links (read more: Even More FindLaw Link Spam).

Rumor Mill: FindLaw transitioning sites to WordPress????

UPDATE: A second, well placed and completely unrelated source has corroborated FindLaw’s intent to migrate to WordPress.

On the phone with another law firm prospect today who told me her FindLaw rep had told her that they were transitioning websites from the proprietary FindLaw platform to WordPress. Now, this would be a major change in the online marketing world for lawyers and something that would really shake up the industry. I received two competing perspectives on this after I posted on Facebook:

Not surprising. Everyone has been leaving for years for their own WordPress sites so strategically it’s probably their only move. Be interesting to see how it pans out for them. – Shelly Fagin

 

We’ll see. My guess is this is just an instance of the FindLaw rep not knowing anything. You could honestly put 20 of them in a room together and still not have the cumulative web knowledge to update a paragraph on their own proprietary system…   – James Eichenberger*

Now – the theoretical economist in my believes that Shelly is right. Having spoken to perhaps a hundred FindLaw clients in detail over the past decade, the long term, captive nature of the proprietary platform and contracts is something clients resent. No one wants to be beholden to a vendor, especially when cheaper, better alternatives exist. This has been, perhaps, the primary reason we’ve easily been able to score deals with FindLaw clients. (To be 100% fair, I did lose one client back to FindLaw about two years ago and that eats at me like maggots feasting on a forgotten hamburger.)

Alternatively, the pragmatist in me suspects James is right…I just can’t see the impetus to move with the market, while you can still squeeze a little more profit (and captive clients) out of your big box brand recognition.

So – in the comments…anyone from Minnesota care to weigh in and let us know?

* – and oh, hahahahahaha I went to link out to Shelly and James’ respective sites, only to find I couldn’t find anything for James, so I moseyed on to his Facebook profile looking for a website (and a lawyer in need of serious SEO?), but no…James’ Work and Education on FB…

Oh James – a beer on me should you ever find yourself in Seattle.

 

FindLaw’s Atrocious Social Media Product

File this one under another egregious example of tech salespeople peddling overpriced, ineffectual products at the legal community. I spoke with an attorney today who drops around $1,400 a month for a bundle of services including the FindLaw Digital Marketing Boost and FindLaw Engagement Builder, and the FindLaw Social Media Marketing Tool. Now, I’ve written ad nauseam about the idiocy of most social media marketing in legal, so I was curious exactly what FindLaw is pushing. And for $1,400 bucks every month. That’s like having twins attend an overpriced east coast prep school.

So what does the FindLaw Social Media Marketing Tool deliver?

  1. It lets you schedule blog posts to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google Plus (and let’s not get caught up on the fact that FindLaw is still referring to Google Plus as if it’s a relevant product.)

 

If you really want to get fancy, this seems like a cheaper alternative.

Seems to me, the free Hootsuite subscription and/or a well chosen WordPress plug-in is more than enough. To call this Social Media Marketing Platform out as a separate, value added line item is ludicrous. It’s like paying extra for a speedometer on a car or laces with a pair of shoes.

If you’d like to prove me wrong, please do so…here’s a link to the Quick Start Guide: FindLaw Social Media Product. I can just hear the commissioned salesman pushing the transformative promise of social media marketing.

Just the latest example of a big box company taking it to lawyers who don’t understand. And if you think I’m overstating the case here, this proposal included a rate hike for his monthly website hosting – increasing by about $175 a month to just over $800 monthly. Oh – and that rate? Locked in for another 12 months.

.Law Comes Clean About SEO

I was bemused to see a tradeshow booth from .law at the recent AAJ conference in Louisville (which was awesome btw).  And further bemused to know that Carl Jaeckel would be speaking to the conference about the TLD.  To be honest, I sat in the back of the room, huddled with fellow internet marketing shiny object curmudgeon, Gyi Tsakalakis as we plotted gotcha questions to fry Carl on stage.

To catch you up to speed if you know nothing of .law…. in 2015, this new Top Level Domain (TLD – think “.com” “.gov” and now “.law”) was introduced and aggressively advertised as an SEO silver bullet by the marketers behind .law.  (IMO $200 a year for domain registration seemed a beyond slightly excessive.)  This marketing included a bogus “case study” conducted by SEO veteran Bill Hartzer, vigorous PR outreach, a slick brochure (which seems to have been purged from the web), “sponsored” articles placed in legal and marketing blogs and a backlash from Google directly.  Regardless, the case study was touted widely among those selling the new TLD, including FindLaw and John Morgan of Morgan and Morgan, the chairman of the new domain selling service.

Over the past two years, our firm dealt with more than 10 .law domains that failed to generate anything in the way of Search Traffic – at great expense to the lawyers duped into purchasing the domains on the false pretext of SEO awesomeness.

But…. Carl (Morgan’s former CMO and COO of .law from the very beginning) gave us the straight honest truth, albeit two years late. At the AAJ conference, in response to a point blank question about the SEO benefits of the new .TLD, Carl replied:

I’d love to sit here and lie to tell you that you put on a .law and it will amazingly shoot you to the top of the search rankings. – Carl Jaeckel

So there you have it…. the .law marketers were lying all along (and they knew it… there’s a very good reason John didn’t move forthepeople.com to forthepeople.law.)  When I introduced myself and spoke with him later, thanking him for his candor, Carl blamed the “marketing people” for the false SEO promises.

But, when someone comes peddling these new domains (and they will), don’t fall for fuzzy vagaries of what Google may or may not do in the future to change their perspective on TLDs. The SEO silver bullet will NOT be based on “a new .law suffix that could set off a domain gold rush” (which was the 2015 title of an ABA Journal article that has also since been purged from the site, at whose bidding, I don’t know).

Review of the ABA Top 100 Blogs

I took the time to review the ABA’s Top 100 Blawgs Blogs for 2016…. and must commend the selection team on pulling together a great list.  My personal reflection is that there was a heavy focus on finding sites with interesting, well written timely and thoughtful content — exactly the stuff that can make a blog successful.

In doing so, I found a few very interesting patterns.

Less Than Half of the Blogs Were from Law Firms

By my rough count, less than half of the blogs cited were from actual law firms – leading me to believe there is still a lot of room for (extremely high quality) content development coming out of law firms.  Naturally, there were a lot of law professors and news writers with a legal bent as well as advocacy/reform type content, like Prison Law Blog.  (Which incidentally is written by a currently incarcerated, Christopher Zoukis, who plans on going to law school upon his release – inspirational story.)

BigLaw Dominates the List

Of the blogs that represented law firms – roughly two out of three were from large firms…. and down at the bottom end of the size market, just 4 solos made the list.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the marketing/PR departments lobbying for list inclusion, but there’s got to be more room for the little guys!

Solo Sarah Poriss’s Blog utilizes the simple WordPress default theme from 2011.

Some Law Firms Don’t Own Their Blog

One of the most surprising findings was that two of the domains were not registered to the law firm, but to their agency instead. Historically, FindLaw has been notorious for this practice – in which the firm doesn’t own the asset they are paying for. If the domain isn’t registered to your firm, you don’t control that domain and your agency holds all of the cards. Put another way: you rent your site; you don’t own it. Nervous? I wrote a post on How to Use Who.is to See if You Own Your Domain; you can see from the WhoIs listings below that the blogs for Constangy Brooks Smith and Prophete and Franczek Radelet are registered to their agency, LexBlog instead of the firm.

 

80% of Blogs are OFF Primary Domain

Of the law firm blogs – 4 out of 5 of them live on standalone domains.  This runs against foundational SEO theory – in which the consolidation of a blog’s natural linkbuilding prowess helps the firm rank in both local and organic search.  I suspect much of this is due to the internal politics of getting a subject specific blog launched amidst a wide reaching BigLaw environment.  Gyi Tsakalakis has argued that highly technical, subject specific, stand-alone blogs are very appropriate for law firms attracting referrals from b-to-b lawyers seeking specialists, instead of consumer-facing practices like car accidents or divorce.  BUT…. from a marketing perspective when SEO is concerned, there is widespread consensus that blogs belong on a firm’s primary domain.

FindLaw Abandons Another Law Firm

It’s Halloween so, a perfect time for a scary post about a ghoul in our midst….

You’ll remember about a year ago, we knocked out a website for Kendall Coffman in 24 hours after FindLaw pulled the plug on his site – leaving it looking like this:

404 Coffman

So yesterday, we got the same call – another law firm abandoned by FindLaw, leaving their site naked in the breeze.  This time, we turned around a new site same day.  Now that’s not easy – it involved pulling our fire alarm – getting all hands on deck and working with our Echo WordPress template to push something live really quickly.  And we didn’t engage in rounds and rounds of creative revisions or discussion on the shade of blue in the background.  BUT…. within 8 hours of getting his inquiry – the new site is up and running and 100% technically sound. Designed from our Echo template, it includes:

  • attorney bio pages complete with attorney specific testimonials
  • removed FindLaw’s toll-free “tracking” numbers.
  • contact forms
  • legacy GA code
  • on-site search
  • social media integration
  • contact us page complete with Google maps integration
  • mobile responsive design with sticky phone number header.

Oh – and while I’m ranting about FindLaw…. unfortunately the firm had been paying FindLaw to write blog posts for them – except the devious, self-serving, underhanded, fine print in their agreement meant that FindLaw retained ownership of that content. So while Echo can handle blog functionality, unfortunately the firm’s new site will be blog naked (for now.) Imagine that – here’s a law firm paying FindLaw to develop content for them – that they, in fact do not own.  Kind of like buying a house only to find out your mortgage is actually a lease.

And if you are a complete blockhead and still considering buying/renting your website from FindLaw – perhaps you should peruse my 9 Questions Your Website Developer Doesn’t Want you to Ask post.

Technical Roadmap for Leaving FindLaw

And for law firms, or other agencies facing a similar FindLaw induced marketing disaster, here’s a roadmap of the technical issues to handle:

Here is a summary of everything we did – taken from our instructions to our client, Justin:

  • Moved all content that we could find archived on the web except for the blog roll as well as leveraged the Word document you provided – please use your sitemap to go through the content. Please also review the disclaimer and Privacy Policy.
  • Updated all the phone numbers in content/meta descriptions/header/footers to your direct line and removed toll free “Findlaw” numbers.
  • Copied the Google Analytics code as it was on your previous site. We highly recommend verifying you have ownership over this Analytics account. If not, try to obtain.
  • Kept the Google Search Console verification tag. We highly recommend verifying you have ownership over this Search Console account. If not, try to obtain.
  • Created a Bing Webmaster Tools account and gave you ownership.
  • Updated ALL the internal links. Since your site is now on WordPress, all the URLs end with a slash (/) instead of a combination of slashes and “.shtml”. Since we were manually migrated the content we could get our hands on, it was easier to update these on the go.
  • Migrated all the page Titles and Descriptions. Again, easier to do on the fly.
  • Created 301 redirects for:
    • all URLs ending in .shtml to point them to the new URLs with “/”.
    • Duplicate legacy contact form we found during migration
    • Attorneys URL to force lower case “A”.
    • Blog roll and blog. Note: This redirect will need to be revised if you choose to utilize the blog feature on your new site.
  • Setup and configured Yoast SEO
  • Updated Robots.txt and included your XML sitemap location
  • Configured contact form with a ‘thank you’ destination page and Google Event Tracking. Tested and confirmed working.
  • Crawled post-launch site
    • No internal 404 errors (this means all the links on the new site work!)
    • No internal 301 redirects on pages (this means that all the links go to the final destination, which is how it should be!)
  • I’ve also added 3 more “properties” to your search console account. The one you want to use is XXXXXXX. We can cover this during the demo.
  • I was also afraid that FindLaw would see my updates so I have added us as owners to these tools and removed permissions for the email you provided to manage users. I would recommend giving us a gmail account (or you can register your current email, which is through Office 360, to be used with google products) so that we can add that as owner for everything. This prevents FindLaw from taking access away.
  • Finally, I submitted the new site to be indexed by Google through Search Console. This should help get those blog posts you don’t own out of the search results. It will also help Google understand what in the world just happened.
  • Allowed site to be indexed by google
  • Added you as a user to the new site – you should have received an email with a PW
  • Added you as a user to your new host (WP Engine) – you should receive an invitation email to create a PW
  • Added your website back to your Google My Business listing and it was immediately published

The .law TLD Sales Conspiracy

Lawyers – you’ve been duped into buying the new .lawyer, .attorney, and .law TLDs by a conspiracy of numerous “studies” all citing the same bogus example: Jacksonville.Attorney.  This newly launched domain, with the new .attorney TLD, was deliberately manipulated to suggest its success in SEO rankings was due to the new .attorney TLD.  This “case study” was  then shopped aggressively to the media and used as an erroneous example to sell more domains to unsuspecting attorneys.

I first became aware of the Jacksonville example when a lawyer forwarded me a glossy printed brochure from Rightside – a reseller of the new TLDs – touting the SEO benefits of the new TLDs. My client wanted to know if we should migrate his domain.rightsidew

This case study has been covered repeatedly by journalists regarding the efficacy of the TLDs as a magic bullet for search. Response magazine writes:

Due to the specificity of many TLDs, such as .lawyer, .mortgage, or .software, they often coincide with popular search terms and become valuable lead-generating tools while also boosting search engine rankings…

“Six months ago, it did not rank on any page at all for relevant searches,” Block said. “Without making any other design or content changes, we’re now starting to outrank our more established competition.

A Quick History

Recently, lawyers have been able to purchase new domains with .lawyer, attorney or .law replacing the traditional .com. (These are know as Top Level Domains – TLD). These new TLDs are available only to attorneys through a select number of resellers and are available at an extensive price premium from your typical domain.

Before we go any further, let’s be very clear that every experienced SEO should know where Google stands with regard to the SEO impact of these new  TLDs.   John Mueller has addressed this issue very specifically:

Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.
…understand there’s no magical SEO bonus…

So it is odd for so many case studies, by so many experienced experts, to be written with so many vociferous arguments pushing the SEO benefits of the new TLDs. All in direct contradiction with  fundamental search theory and Google’s crystal clear and specific remarks.

(My emphases in the quotes below)

Name.com.

Domain reseller, Name.com cites the Jacksonville example:

And while there is no definitive proof that it can give you a boost in SEO rankings, some websites that use New Domains are already beginning to rank on the first page of search results. Take, for example, jacksonville.attorney, which is the first non-paid result when you search for “jacksonville attorney”

FindLaw

Big Box legal player, FindLaw (one of the select few resellers of the new TLDs for attorneys) weighs in:

From both a consumer and an SEO perspective, a verified, restricted top-level domain provides a level of confidence that you know who you are dealing with online.

SEO for Lawyers

Luke Cicilliano (also a TLD reseller) at “SEO for Lawyers” penned an extensive, 6 post series outlining the virtues of the new .TLDs.  A few excerpts:

The new domain extensions are going to impact search in a big way.

Over the foreseeable future we see the use of the new TLD’s becoming a meaningful ranking factor in search.

Dot Law Inc

Yup – there’s a company set up whose entire business model is dedicated to selling vanity .law domains.

Search Engine Ranking – Since only lawyers can own .law domains, lawyers and law firms will be able to increase credibility in search results as compared to other top level domains.

RightSide

Rightside’s blog includes a deeper dive into the aforementioned Jacksonville example.  Excerpts:

At the same time, we’ve been more than happy to point to Jacksonville.Attorney—a site which has reached the top of Google’s search results—as a great success story for nTLDs….

The domain extension likely contributed to Jacksonville.Attorney’s high search ranking….

he made a move from EricBlockLaw.com, to his current Jacksonville.Attorney domain. Within months, Eric was seeing huge gains in traffic and search rankings.

But not all of the articles are directly from TLD resellers….

Search Engine Journal

A Search Engine Journal post touting the Jacksonville Attorney case study shows a screenshot of the site’s search traffic from Google Analytics before and after it launched. Pause and think about that for a second… you mean to say that the site has more traffic now that it did before it was launched?  This of course, is like comparing my 5 year-old’s height today to his height prior to conception.

SEJ 2

This article goes on to conclude:

We certainly have some proof that moving a site to a New gTLD domain or using a New gTLD domain for your brand new domain could help organic rankings, and it certainly won’t hurt rankings.

Which is a complete 180 about face from the author’s previous position regarding gTLDs.  From his blog post titled Will New Domain Name TLDs Carry Extra Weight in the Search Engine Rankings?…

So, with all of these new TLDs, will these new domain names carry any extra weight when it comes to search engine rankings? Absolutely Not.

You’ll also note in the GA graph above, the site is pulling in roughly 10 sessions a day.  Even assuming all of this is organic search traffic, its hardly a runaway SEO success by any measure and not fodder for an aureate case study.

American Bar Association

The ABA covered the new TLD’s touting their impact on search multiple times:

Search engine algorithms are notoriously byzantine, and the degree to which they weigh domain names, in balance with other factors, is clear only to the mathematicians writing the code. It is evident, though, that domain names are a factor.

Domain names alone don’t guarantee high ranking, but early data does suggest that new TLDs “are holding their own against, and in some cases outperforming, comparable addresses registered in legacy domains like .COM.”

Globerunner Case Study

Globerunner, an SEO agency out of Texas, was so enamored with the Jacksonville example, that they developed a slickly produced, 15 page case study that leads to the same carefully measured, data-driven conclusion:

Our research has led us to the conclusion that the uptick in organic search traffic on the firm’s rebranded website (www.jacksonville. attorney) was driven, at least in part, by Eric’s firm choosing to use a new, .ATTORNEY, domain name…  we believe that new gTLDs do offer multiple traffic generation benefits, especially because of the availability of exact match keyword domain names like Jacksonville.Attorney.

The Globerunner report does actually go deeper than all of the other “studies” and looks at the backlink profile for the new domain (which, would be my first obvious step in assessing success.)  It looks like the backlink snapshot was taken roughly just 6 weeks after the site went live and, it certainly doesn’t reflect the current reality of the site.  See the two different screenshots from Majestic below which show a more than threefold increase in the number of links.

So in this carefully researched case study – the obvious explanation for the site’s success (a bulletproof backlink profile) utilizes data that is, at best, grossly incomplete.

Globerunner’s Case Study Majestic Snapshot

Globerunner snapshot

Current Majestic Snapshot (taken 5/22/16)

Majestic

The backlink analysis brings up an entirely different question – how on earth does a solo practitioner’s brand new website generate over 200 backlinks across 70 domains in a scant six month period? I’ve been doing SEO for law for over a decade – the only way to develop this kind of backlink profile this fast is through an extremely aggressive campaign by experienced, SEO experts with deep contacts.

More pointedly –  why didn’t any of the ostensibly objective studies bother to take the 5 minutes it took me to review the backlink profile?  Didn’t anyone else notice or was this obvious point deliberately overlooked?

linkbuilding

 

The Legacy Site – Content, Platform and Design

Remember that comment about the site not being redesigned and no new content?  I started to wonder if this was true, so I reviewed the legacy site (ericblocklaw.com) on archive.org to see what it looked like prior to the migration to the .attorney domain. From a content perspective, is this a true apples to apples comparison?

Not only was the site completely redesigned and the platform updated, but the content was completely overhauled as well. The legacy site had a scant 14 pages and the new one…. 141. The legacy on-page was atrocious – not a single H1 and site-wide verbatim, generic title tags and meta descriptions.  Here’s the before and after for Personal Injury pages. Hmmmm… wonder why the early site wasn’t ranking for “personal injury lawyer”?

Content Comparison

 

 

 

 

 

Delving further into the content showed that many of the practice area pages were verbatim duplicated across 10-20 other law firm sites. Further, ericblocklaw.com was a carbon copy of itself on a domain that is still live today: http://thetriallawyer.org/. So we have a case of thin, copied, duplicated duplicate content.  Anyone still wondering why it didn’t rank?

block

A Wider Study

Making assertions that fly in the face of SEO theory with a single datapoint is dangerous at best…. and I would be similarly remiss in rejecting the premise of the top TLDs impacting SEO on that single example as well. So I enlisted the help of Dan Weeks to look at thousands of personal injury related queries across twenty large cities in the US and looked for instances of the new TLDs on page 1 results.  Just one .lawyer TLD.  No .law’s.  No .attorney’s. And that one domain was a redirect of a previously strong domain.

My OpinionGoogle Juice

Lawyers have been duped into buying things for their alleged magical SEO benefits for years. Press releases, social media consultants and virtual offices have all been sold to unsuspecting lawyers with the tease of a little Google Juice. This is just another example of lawyers being duped into ponying up money with empty promises of SEO success. Its a sophisticated, slickly produced, marketing and PR campaign supported by widespread “case studies” of a single erroneous example. And those case studies ignored the most foundational components of website success: content, platform and backlinks, in their analysis.

Jacksonville.attorney’s real success is due to a Pygmalian make-over of one of legal’s most sickly, pathetic sites with a comprehensive redesign, an upgraded infrastructure, a massive expansion of high quality content and a wickedly aggressive linkbuilding campaign.

But if you’d like some of that Google Juice, we have some available for purchase in our Legal SEO Store.

Best Free Legal Directories: 2016

There are thousands of legal directories out on the web and more popping up each day. Some are awesome and some are atrocious. In this post we’ll focus on what Mockingbird has deemed as the best free legal directories from 2015.  Why best?  Because they deliver … clients, or search authority that delivers clients.  But mostly… clients.

First, let’s review 4 compelling reasons every lawyer should be actively creating listings on these sites.

  1. Clients – As with any marketing effort, your end goal is to gain more clients at a lower cost. It doesn’t get easier or more cost-efficient than acquiring a new client through a free listing on a third party website.
  2. Citations – When Google sees citations for your business showing up consistently across the web (same name, address, and phone number), the more inclined Google will be to serve up your business in localized search results.
  3. Links – It’s all about the links baby! Linkbuilding is one of the most daunting tasks we face as SEOs. Directory listings are the lowest hanging fruit in terms of legitimate linkbuilding. (Be careful though, low quality links can do my harm than good.)
  4. Directory sites dominate – More often than not, legal directories command much of the real estate in SERPs (search engine results pages). The screenshot below shows results for the search query “Nashville Divorce Lawyer” – notice how 4 of the 7 results show are for directory sites rather than individual firms? If you don’t have a listing on the sites that are consistently dominating search results, then you are missing out on a lot of eyeballs and potential clients.  We’ve been saying for years that this is going to change… and we’ve been wrong year after year. So play the directory game, because they are already winning.

Nashville Lawyer Search Query

Best Free Legal Directories – Ranked by Mockingbird

Below are Mockingbird’s favorite free sites ranked by our (incredibly official) Birdie Rating that accounts for things like: ease of use, whether or not the link is followed, competitiveness, and search presence.

Avvo

Birdie Rating 5
Link: No follow
Why we like it: Industry leader; attorney endorsements; continually does well in the search results.  Unfortunately Avvo’s removed the follow link on your profile a few years ago; but you can still drive business with a robust profile and/or aggressive engagement in their Q&A section. (Oh – and Conrad used to run their marketing back in the day when it was just the speck of an idea.)

Justia

Birdie Rating 5
Link: Followed
Why we like it: ROT (return on time) is maximized – along with a link from Justia, you also get a listing in the Oyez directory and in Cornell directory.  We also love their founder, Tim Stanley, who is mad-scientist-smart about all things legal marketing and the original founder of ehmmmm… FindLaw.

Lawyer Legion

Birdie Rating 4
Link: Followed
Why we like it: Ties to NORML and NCDD so it’s especially great for DUI lawyers

Lawdeeda

Birdie Rating 4
Link: Followed
Why we like it: Strong link; non-competitive; we love the founder Brint Crockett who has done more than his share to expose legal marketing chicanery.

 

Lawyer Central

Birdie Rating 3
Link: No followed
Why we like it: User friendly

Findlaw

Birdie Rating 2
Link: Followed
Why we like it: High authority site offering a strong link (listing bonus includes free calls from commission-driven sales people in perpetuity)

Martindale Hubbell

Birdie Rating 2
Link: No link – citation only
Why we like it: Uses birth date as safeguard against manipulation and spammy tactics; strong domain that consistently performs well in legal search queries

Popular Membership-Based Legal Directories

Listed below are niche practice area sites that require paid memberships and/or an application for acceptance into the directory. 

Bankruptcy:
nacba.org

Consumer Advocates:
naca.net

Criminal/DUI:
ncdd.com
aapda.org
norml.org
nacdl.org

Elder Law:
nelf.org
naela.org

Employment:
nela.org

Family Law:
nacchildlaw.org
aaml.org

General:
nlg.org
bestlawyers.com
superlawyers.com

Immigration:
aila.org

Mediation:
attorney-mediators.org

Trial:
thenationaltriallawyers.org
nlg-npap.org

Trust & Estate:
actec.org
naepc.org

Looking Ahead

It’s a new year; do yourself a favor and take a few hours out of your weekend to create listings in the above directories.

If you would like to see the slide deck from Mockingbird’s webinar, view the recording, or just say hi, please feel free to email me directly.