Google Authorship is Dead (or is it . . . .)

Last week, John Mueller over at Google announced authorship would no longer be shown in search results. In case you forgot, authorship was the nifty gizmo that made your picture appear in the SERPs next to content you wrote. Or at least, it did until this past June when Google removed the photo and just left your name.

Here’s what Google Authorship looked like in its glory days:

authorship 2

And here’s what it looks like with the removal of authorship:

authorship gone

boo boo!  Sad Trombone . . .

Why did Google (say they) got rid of authorship?

In their analysis of authorship, Search Engine Land cites two reasons. First of all, a low adoption rate by authors. Not many authors were implementing authorship code, suggesting that many content providers weren’t interested in it or didn’t understand how to use it. Secondly, a low value to searchers. Although authorship was originally intended to provide users with another indication of the validity of your content, it turns out that seeing your pretty face wasn’t really helping decision making.

Why do (we think) Google got rid of authorship?

Generally at Mockingbird, we take most of what Google says at face value. BUT – – – let me uncharacteristically offer a contrarian view:  Google got rid of authorship because we (the scummy, spammy) SEO industry transformed it from a positive quality signal into a spammy marketing tactic.  Especially within legal – where social media marketing consultants and SEO hacks desperate to demonstrate some tangible benefit to their clients went overboard with authorship.  Remember how FindLaw spammed authorship by attributing blog posts from old clients to their new clients? Hardly a legitimate quality signal and FindLaw wasn’t the only one.  My take is that it is highly possible that Google has removed the tangible benefit of authorship (that ego-boost of your picture right within the results that made lawyers salivate and social media marketing something to do) but has quietly held on to the concept of author rank.  Getting rid of “authorship” is going to remove (some) of the low quality signals that SEOs foisted into the author rank concept.

What does this mean?

Thankfully for website owners, Mueller says, “removing authorship doesn’t seem to reduce traffic to sites,” so you shouldn’t be too concerned on that front. However, folks in the SEO community have been spending time and energy on this since 2011, when authorship was first introduced.

Authorship was always about much more than the silly little picture . . . and for our clients we’re staying the course – building the authority of individuals.

The Pigeon Mess . . .

Last Thursday, Google quietly released a new algo update targeting improved search results that had a local component (i.e. almost all legal related searches).  Note that Pigeon impacts both local and natural searches – so the reach for law firms is very significant.  The early results are in to Pigeon and they aren’t pretty.

Here’s why:

Pigeon Favors Directories Over Law Firms

Like the most recent Panda algo update, Pigeon seems to have favored directories over the actual businesses in these directories.  There is widespread agreement among local search geeks – Mihm, Blumenthal, Shotland and more that directories have indeed benefited.  Andrew Shotland noted a 5-10% traffic increase for some of the directories he works with following Pigeon. Counterpoint: I pinged the guys at Avvo who didn’t acknowledge anything dramatic.

I should note that this direction continues to surprise me.  Cutt’s has often made comments to the contrary so I see the possibility of a  large reversal in the horizon (although I’ve been envisioning it unsuccessfully it for a while.)  It is highly possible that Google’s focus on “brands” and the rewarding of brands in search results is to explain – i.e. the Avvo’s and FindLaw’s of the world have established brands while branding for law firms, especially small law firms is essentially impossible – especially as a computer would view a “brand.”

There’s also an argument (and I think a good one) that this update is a hastily rolled out response to Yelp’s recent sniveling about anti-trust . . . Pigeon, which rolled out just two weeks after the leaked TechCrunch article  has very directly benefited Yelp.

Shake-up of Local Results in a Bad Way

In many cases, mapped results have changed almost completely.  We’ve also seen the reduction of the frequency and sized of mapped results – i.e. some formerly mapped results don’t deliver at all and some seven packs have been replaced  by three packs.  I had one attorney call me insisting that his claimed Google profiles were no longer appearing and yet some unclaimed satellite offices had suddenly shown up in the mapped results.

Remergence of SPAM Results in Local Pack

Michael Ehline at the Circle of Legal Trust noted that Avvo was now showing up as a local personal injury law firm in Los Angeles.  I dug in and found what looks to be an old spam tactic – piggybacking a local company to the strength of a large, relevant domain to win in local results.  This is more widspread than this example – the travel site, Expedia is now a small hotel on Madison Avenue in New York  . . . . at least according to Google maps.

Circle of Legal Trust

I looked further into the los angeles PI example and found the following result.  Note that both Avvo and are listed as a mapped business for the “los angeles personal injury attorney” query.  Also note that neither of them have a physical address and both of them have the identical phone number (which incidentally, you may not be shocked to learn, does NOT in fact ring to my old friends in Seattle.)  Also note both of them (and Farar & Lewis) are keyword stacked with “Personal Injury Lawyer” in the name of the business . . . . another rudimentary local search no no.

Avvo and Lawyers Local

You’d think that Google local results, with the focus on things like NAP consistency might be able to algorithmically detect that two different business within the same result have the exact same phone number.  Apparently not. Ehline insists that this result didn’t exist before Pigeon – and I tend to believe him.  The only thing he fears more than the Government removing his AR-15 is the Google removing his rankings.  While clicks go through to the appropriate directory, the phone number doesn’t – a quick search on that number brought me to an instagram (yuk) account that was associated with  . . . . a los angeles motorcycle accident attorney:


Hope you are proud of yourself, Attorney Robert Brenner – but don’t expect this flood of new business to last, after which it may well dry up forever. This is an old spam technique (and I won’t encourage it by telling you how) that Google’s quality update (read: Pigeon) re-enabled. Good job MountainView. This is why I believe Pigeon to be a hastily launched response to Yelp’s whinings and I would expect more turmoil as they work to (hastily) improve upon it.



The Worst Legal Marketing I’ve Seen

What follows is the most abjectly stupid online marketing I’ve come across. From a company that really should know better.

I found a legal website proactively advertising the services of a direct and hated competitor.

Advertising simply does NOT belong on the website of any service provider.  You don’t want someone considering hiring you for their car accident to get distracted by a display ad for Nikes, the new Toyota Camry, a WonderBra . . . or worse . . . your competitor (more on that later.)  It seems pretty obvious . . . your site is there to sell your services and not generate some residual revenue as a publisher of display advertising.

Over the years, I’ve collected examples of law firm websites that contain third party display advertising . . . usually they are old, outdated or abandoned sites (frequently blogs). But sometimes they are a firm’s primary current site, hoping to generate a little extra income as a Google AdSense publisher. I’ve filed away a collection of screenshots with the intention of eventually writing this post; but just today I ran across something so spectacular that I dropped everything to write.

Check this out:

FindLaw Avvo
Ironically, the screenshot above is a “best marketing practices for small business” article from my good friends in Eagan, MN at FindLaw.  And there, perched brazenly on the right rail, is an advertisement for Avvo’s Ignite product. Avvo, the company that has dethroned FindLaw – advertising directly on the FindLaw site.  And as if it couldn’t get any better, the Avvo tagline reads:

“The antidote to clueless lawyer marketing.”

I can’t make this stuff up.

I know this is a mean-spirited post and generally I’m not so flagrantly cruel, but are you serious?

Now clearly, this is a remarketing campaign from Avvo and not a direct display ad buy.  But, at the very least, it is mindnumbingly easy to exclude competitors’ advertisements on your own website with even the most rudimentary ad vendor.  But really – this isn’t about appropriately configuring a website – its about recognizing that the primary objective of your site is to get people to engage with the services you provide – and ads on your site detract from that objective.  So if this is in any way unclear:  If you sell a service, third party advertisements do NOT belong on your website.  Doing so enables your competitors to directly target your audience.

As for FindLaw . . . think very carefully before placing your marketing investment in the hands of a company so spectacularly inept that they display competitor’s advertisements on their own website.  Clueless lawyer marketing indeed.

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.



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 . . .

Even More FindLaw Link Spam

It’s amazing this site is still alive and kicking.  Just how many link scandals can FindLaw live through?

There’s a post today from LawDeeDa exposing FindLaw’s bot spamming of their directory.  Now, I’ve never heard of LawDeeDa or founder Brint Crockett before, but I do have quite a history with legal directories and the spam game played by FindLaw.  Brint’s done some very good sleuthing  exposing just how brazen FindLaw’s linkbuilding program has become.

In Summary:  LawDeeDa found their attorney profiles were being hacked by a single IP address in India – according to Brint, “every single falsified attorney profile whose identity I could confirm had the same law firm marketing agency:  Findlaw.”   Brint goes on to detail an email correspondence between himself and FindLaw – most interesting the flagrant admission from FindLaw about their linkbuilding spam not only on LawDeeDa, but other sites as well:

“These directory profiles were added on behalf of FindLaw customers in accordance with the Terms and Conditions of Use, “17. User Posted Content & Other Interactive Services or Areas.” Based on your concerns we have removed from the list of directories we’ll send submissions to as of 5:00 PM on March 5.” – Mark Kalthoff of FindLaw

Welcome to the fray Brint.  I’ll buy buy you a beer.

If your law firm is listed below, know that at least according to LawDeeDa, FindLaw is working hard on your behalf spamming the search engines.  May I suggest a review of the FindLaw Jailbreak Guide?

Caught Up in FindLaw Spambot


  • Adam J Schwartz, Attorney at Law
  • Anderlini & McSweeney LLP
  • Angela Scarlato & Associates
  • Arthur David Malkin, Attorney at Law.
  • Assalone & Associates
  • Attorney Ronald Polan
  • Ayers, Whitlow & Dressler
  • Barbara L. Jouette, Attorney, P.C.
  • Barry Seidel & Associates, Attorneys at Law
  • Bills & Smith, LLP
  • Binder & Binder
  • Binder & Binder
  • Bohbot & Riles, LLP Attorneys at Law
  • Brian McCaffrey Attorney at Law
  • Bryan P. Keenan & Associates, PC
  • Bryant Whitten, LLP
  • Bull & Davies, P.C.
  • Butler Daniel & Associates, P.L.L.C.
  • Carolann Aschoff PC
  • Caroselli Beachler McTiernan & Conboy, L.L.C.
  • Christina A. Marino
  • Christopher A. Wellborn, P.A.
  • Ciancio Ciancio Brown, P.C.
  • Ciesla & Ciesla, P.C.
  • Clark, Love & Hutson
  • Dallas W. Hartman P.C. Attorneys at Law
  • David Coffin PLLC
  • David Holmes, Bankruptcy Law
  • David Low, P.A.
  • David Yeremian & Associates
  • Denlow & Henry
  • Disability Rights Law Center – Alex Boudov, Attorney at Law
  • Dorazio Law Office
  • Dozier Law Firm
  • Edgar Law Firm LLC
  • Edward R. La Rue
  • Eglet Wall Christiansen
  • Ellis Law, P.C.
  • Finkelstein & Goldman PC
  • Foglia & Associates, P.C.
  • Fox & Fox, S.C.
  • Gigliotti & Gigliotti
  • Ginsburg & Redmond, P.C.
  • Godoy Olivieri, Ltd
  • Goldstein & Sutor, PLLC
  • Gori Julian & Associates, P.C.
  • Graham & Associates Law Offices, LLC
  • Gregory C. Starkey & Associates
  • Hadas Law Group, LLC
  • Hallauer Law Firm
  • Harwell, Brown & Harwell, P.C.
  • Higgins, Roberts & Suprunowicz, P.C.
  • Hill Macdonald LLC
  • Horak & Boyd, PLLC
  • Irom, Wittels, Freund, Berne & Serra
  • J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA
  • Jacobs & Dodds
  • Jacobs & Jacobs LLC
  • Jameson Babbitt Stites & Lombard PLLC
  • John C. Jones, Attorney at Law
  • John D. Smith Co., L.P.A.
  • John E. Fitzgerald, Attorney at Law
  • Johnston Law Group, PC
  • Jonas Price, LLC
  • Jonathan Feldman, Attorney at Law
  • Judge John E. Turner (Ret.)
  • Kaplan & Seifter
  • Kathryn T. Joseph & Associates, Inc.
  • Kathryn Williams, P.A.
  • Kaufman, Payton & Chapa
  • Keis George LLP
  • Kelton & Teichner
  • Kenneth F. Bromet, Attorney at Law
  • Kevin Qualls Family Law
  • Knight Law Firm
  • Knight Law Firm
  • Laura Dale & Associates P.C.
  • Law Advocate Group, LLP
  • Law Office of Daniel W. Dunbar
  • Law Office of Esperanza Cervantes Anderson
  • Law Office of Henry B. LaTorraca
  • Law Office of Jennifer Zorrilla
  • Law Office of Michael D. Weinstock, P.A.
  • Law Office of Michael E. Pitts
  • Law Office of Nicholas M. Moccia, P.C.
  • Law Office of Rebecca Garren Parker
  • Law Office of Robert Braverman, LLC
  • Law Office of Robert L. Cullen, LLC
  • Law Office of Roberta L. Edwards, P.A.
  • Law Office of Sivertson and Barrette
  • Law Office of Thomas A. Johnson
  • Law Office of Thomas P. Sinton, P.A.
  • Law Offices of Clayton R Dickenson
  • Law Offices of Dan Allan & Associates
  • Law Offices of Dischell, Bartle & Dooley, PC.
  • Law Offices of Max Benkel, P.C.
  • Law Offices of Richard Koch
  • Law Offices of Roger Ghai
  • Law Offices of Steven I. Kastner
  • Law Offices of Wilson A. LaFaurie
  • Lawrence G. Townsend, Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Lawson & Reid, LLC
  • Leonard M. Caputo, P.C. Attorneys at Law
  • Lisette M. Spencer, Attorney At Law
  • Logan & Logan Attorneys at Law
  • Manfred Sternberg & Associates, PC
  • Marcus A. Rosin, P.C.
  • Marrone Law Firm LLC
  • Martin LLC
  • Mary V. Carrigan, Attorney at Law
  • Matt Karzen LLC
  • McKinney Law Office
  • Megan M. Collins, Attorney at Law
  • Melvin Law Firm
  • Michael P. Fleming & Associates, P.C.
  • Mission Law Group
  • Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard & Walker, P.C.
  • Neal Ashmore Family Law Group
  • Nickless, Phillips & O’Connor
  • Odom Law Firm
  • Oliva & Associates, ALC
  • Parvey & Frankel Attorneys, P.A.
  • Perrotta, Fraser & Forrester, LLC
  • Perry & Young, P.A.
  • Polidori Franklin & Monahan LLC.
  • Posey, Moye & Cartledge, LLP
  • Prater & Ridley Attorneys At Law
  • Pray Law Firm
  • Prestidge Law Firm, P.C.
  • QDRO Law Center
  • Rhine Martin Law Firm, P.C.
  • Richards & Richards Attorneys at Law
  • Robert D. DiDio & Associates
  • Robertson Law Firm
  • Rogers, Hofrichter & Karrh, LLC
  • Ronald W. Ramirez Attorney At Law
  • Rosenstein Law Group
  • Schwartz Law Firm
  • Shamy, Shipers & Lonski PC
  • Shelly Law Offices, LLC
  • Sherick & Bleier P.L.L.C.
  • Sherman
  • Shollenberger & Januzzi, LLP
  • Shuler Law Firm, LLC.
  • Sikov & Love P.A.
  • Skinner Law Firm L.L.C.
  • Spinella, Owings & Shaia, P.C.
  • Stolar & Associates, A Professional Law Corporation
  • The Cagle Law Firm
  • The Colleran Firm
  • The Epstein Law Firm, P.A.
  • The Gregory Law Firm
  • The Kehl Law Firm, P.C.
  • The Law Firm of Janice M. Greening, LLC
  • The Law Office of Bryan R. Snyder, APC
  • The Law Office of Bryce D Neier, PLLC
  • The Law Office of Corey I. Cohen
  • The Law Office of Troy Kiefer
  • The law offices of charles bonfante III & associates
  • The Law Offices of Heather J. Darling
  • The Law Offices of John S. Eliasik
  • The Law Offices of Judith A. Wayne & Associates
  • The Law Offices of Mark J. Werksman
  • The Law Offices of Mark Kelley Schwartz, P.C.
  • The law offices of Vincent J. Scotto III
  • The Oncale Firm
  • The Reyna Law Firm, P.C.
  • The Wilson Firm
  • The Wright Law Firm
  • Theresa Hofmeister, Attorney at Law
  • Thomas R. Lefly
  • Thompson & Evangelo, P.A.
  • Toppenberg & Burke, P.C.
  • Wade & Lowe, A Professional Corporation
  • Wallace & Wallace LLP
  • Warner Law Offices PLLC
  • Wesley, McGrail & Wesley
  • Whitlock Canter LLC
  • Wick & Trautwein, LLC
  • William E. Cassara, PC
  • William G. Yarborough Attorney at Law
  • Wilson-Goodman Law Group
  • Zimmerman, Lieberman, Tamulonis & Hobbs

(gasp) – still scrolling?  that was a long list wasn’t it?

Escape FindLaw

iStock_000028033600MediumConsidering leaving FindLaw for an effective SEO provider?  Check the fine print in your contract to see just how difficult they’ve made it for you.

Domain Ownership

If you relied on Findlaw to register your domain, most likely they still actually own it.  This means that your investment in SEO has been developing their business, not yours.  This is the real estate equivalent of building a house on land you don’t own.  Anticipate your “house” being sold to a competitor once you move out.


All that beautiful (and expensive) content on your site?  If you didn’t write it, its highly unlikely you own it.  And if you are trying to escape, you’re going to have to leave it behind or cough up a hefty fee to buy your content back from them.  If your content’s byline looks like the expert below, its probably not YOUR content.

Findlaw Content

FindLaw Contract

That long term contract you signed with FindLaw sentenced your firm to years of retainer fees.  Its hard to escape, no matter how badly Penguin and Panda Google penalties may have decimated your website. Hint: the louder you complain (not to them, but in public) the more amenable they are to an early release.


Don’t let FindLaw hold your Google Analytics data hostage as well.  This is your information, not theirs, and something that shouldn’t be left behind.  Insist on administrative access in Google Analytics – which enables your to add (and later delete) users. Failing to remove  their access to Google Analytics after you’ve escaped means they can still review your data at will.


How to Check if You Own Your Domain

Think your website is yours?  Think again.  If you weren’t the one to register it, you are just renting space on someone else’s domain.   And if you are paying for SEO services to build “your” website – you are really just building their business, not yours. This is the real estate equivalent of paying for a kitchen remodel on your rental apartment. And expect your landlord to up your rent.

Use to look up who controls your websites domain. Simply type your domain into the search box on WHOis and see what the results are. Here’s an example of a California law firm, whose blog domain is actually owned by Findlaw.

HRO Blog


You can see in the WHOis results – the domain is actually owned by West Group (Findlaw) out of Eagan Minnesota . . .

Findlaw domain



9 Questions your Legal Website Developer Doesn’t Want You To Ask

To the best of my knowledge, the legal industry is the only industry that pays for their websites on an ongoing subscription basis.  Most companies pay a one off project fee for their website, lawyers tend to lease them on an ongoing basis – often at exorbitant rates with little or any value add.

If you have a monthly website bill ask your provider the following pointed questions . . .

1. Who owns the domain?

If you don’t own your domain, you have no control over the primary destination of your online presence.   Website developers who maintain ownership of a domain are essentially renting you space on that domain instead of building something that you own.  Consider a primary factor in search marketing success is the overall strength of a domain – including links to that domain as well as the age of that domain (i.e. how long it has been registered) – and you understand that owning your domain is essential.  As a most insidious business practice – some website developers will have you pay SEO consulting services to build the strength of a domain they own and then turn around and either raise your price (given it’s increased effectiveness) or sell it to your competitor across the street.

Paying for SEO services on a domain that you don’t own is like installing granite counters, stainless appliances and custom cherry cabinetry in your rental apartment.

2. How long is my contract?

Best Answer

“We’ll send you the final bill once you’ve approved development on your site.”

Good Answer

“We offer month to month subscription that you can cancel at any time.”

Very Bad Answer

“We require a two+ year commitment from our clients.”

Offering discounts for upfront payment is reasonable; forcing clients to lock into multi year agreements grants your vendor all of the power in the fluid and competitive world of technical marketing.

3. On what platform is the website built?

Best Answer


WordPress is the dominant website platform, which means that there is a huge community of developers ensuring it keeps up with the constantly changing technical world.  It’s also mind numbingly easy to use for anyone who made it through law school.  I’m an admitted WordPress fanboy – but I’m not the only one. Avvo’s legal websites are built on WordPress and Kevin O’Keefe from Lexblog moved his entire platform from Moveable Type to WordPress many years ago.

Good Answer

Various other commercially available platforms with easy-to-use content management systems that can be hosted at a variety of different website hosts.

Worst Answer

“We have a proprietary custom developed system . . .”

Very simply, the development resources required to keep a platform up to date with the changing technology of search marketing are considerable.  Vendors with proprietary systems may or may not keep up with these innovations.  Additionally, proprietary systems make it extremely expensive and difficult to transition away from (see question 9 below) – locking attorneys in with a sub-ideal vendor.

4. How should I tell if my site is performing well?

Great vendors will focus on growth in non-branded (i.e. NOT your name or your law firm’s name) traffic.  Poor vendors will send you ranking reports with extremely long tail queries (i.e. “north staten island tow truck accident lawyer”) that may rank, but never will generate any traffic.  For more on the dangers on relying on ranking reports – check out my Ranking Report Rant on Search Engine Land.

5. How much does hosting cost?

Exorbitant hosting costs are the primary way website developers justify translating a one time project (building you a nice and effective website) into an ongoing profit stream.

LawyerEdge charges $114 monthly for hosting and email – Findlaw sites range well north of this.  But website hosting is cheap. Very cheap.  For simple hosting and great customer service, Bluehost will take care of you for $3.95 a month. That monthly website developer fee is the same product that Danica Patrick pitches during every Superbowl that costs less than a cup of coffee.  If you have more than one zero on your monthly hosting cost, you are being taken for a ride.

Hosting Costs

6.  Are you charging me for “email maintenance”?

The only appropriate answer is no.  (Look closely at the image above and send it to your provider if you have a separate line item for “email”.)

7. How do I modify content on a page or add a page?

Best Answer

“Here is the username and password for your content management system.”

Worst Answer

“We are happy to provide you with consulting services on an as-needed basis for an hourly rate of . . . .”

8. What is the username/password for my Google Analytics account?

Good Answer

“Our system emails you a set of reports on a regular basis; you can also log into Google Analytics with this username and password . . .”

Bad Answer

“You don’t need to worry about that confusing lexicon – we create a monthly report to tell you how you are doing.”

Run Screaming Answer

“Your site doesn’t have Google Analytics on it, you don’t need it and we won’t install it.”  Even worse:  “Your site does have Google Analytics on it, but we won’t give you access.”

Any web development shop that won’t provide you access to Google Analytics – a free, easy-to-install, easy-to-use, easy-to-understand tool, is either exceptionally lazy or more likely deliberately hiding their own performance.  Relying on a vendor to define AND calculate the metrics of your success puts the fox in the henhouse.

9. If I decide to leave, who owns the content, imagery and code?

This is the second most important question (after domain ownership).  Look closely at your contract to see how your developer approaches you from a prenuptial perspective.  Divorce lawyers know that breaking up is hard to do, but breaking up with someone who doesn’t want to break up can be abject misery. (And very expensive.) A proactive developer will specify what you own (most critically, content, domain, and imagery) and provide you with username and password to a hosting provider. In the event that you want to break up – a really good developer will assist you in transitioning instead of relying on contracts, limiting access or content, and creative ownership claims to make it painfully difficult to move on.


If you have a monthly website cost that is more than $50 – be certain to find out exactly what else you are getting for your money.