LawyerEdge Website Underperforming? A Cautionary Tale of Duplicate Content

Having trouble figuring out why your website isn’t getting more traffic?  Its possible the content on your site has simply been cut and pasted from another site – rending your SEO impotent.

Law Firm Website Almost Invisible

Initially, I couldn’t figure out why the law firm’s site was performing so badly – the technology was fine, the content seemed fairly well written and there was a reasonable link profile.  Despite this, the site was averaging less than 2 visitors a day from unbranded natural search –  and very few of those visitors were landing on the practice area pages.  Digging deeper, I found that the actual content on the practice area pages was cut and pasted across other LawyerEdge clients.

In the example below – we can see that Google has identified 58 other pages with the exact same content as this law firm’s page for pedestrian knock down accidents.

Duplicate content

When I looked across the website’s landing pages, I found that almost all of them had content that was duplicated across the web.  In the graph below, the vertical axis shows the number of pages found on the web containing the exact same content as the law firm’s topic pages.

Duplicate content on legal websites

Of the 40 pages I reviewed, just 13 had unique content.

Understanding Duplicate Content

Search engines hate duplicate content because it can generate a really bad user experience.  Here’s why:  Using the above example, imagine I do a Google search for “determining who is negligent in Pedestrian cases”.  The first result I click to doesn’t give me what I’m looking for, so I click back to the search engine and try the second result . . . . which leads me to the exact same content on another site.  Now I’m annoyed and instead of clicking back, I load up Bing to try to find something different.

The search engines minimize this poor user experience by identifying duplicate content across different pages and trying to identify the original version of the content (search geeks refer to this as the canonical).   Google and bing hide the other pages away from searchers in what is called “supplemental results” – which is of course, where I eventually found the law firm’s pages.  Supplemental results are shown here:

Supplemental Results

This is compounded when a large portion of a site’s content looks to be simply copied and pasted from other sites across the web.  Search engines reasonably deduce that the overall site is of pretty low quality wrt to unique, interesting content.  Google’s algorithm updated to try to identify (and weed out) these sites with the Panda update.  From the Google blog:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”

Note that Panda is a site-wide penalty – which means that duplicate content on many pages will impact performance of the entire site – even those deliciously well written unique and insightful pages.  The bar graph above, which shows the majority of the law firm’s pages having duplicate content indicates they have most likely been hit by the Panda update.

In the pedestrian knockdown practice area example, all of the firms listed below are competing directly with each other with the exact same content:

  • Rochelle McCullough, LLP
  • Inkelaar Law
  • Eshelman Legal Group
  • Joshua D. Earwood
  • Saladino Oakes & Schaaf
  • Levenbaum Trachtenberg
  • Ellis, Ged & Bodden
  • Law Office of Bruce D. Schupp
  • Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen
  • Law Office of Kenneth G. Miller
  • The Law Firm of Kevin A. Moore, P.A.
  • Buchanan & Buchanan
  • S. Perry Penland, JR.
  • Ardoin Law Firm
  • McWard Law Office
  • LeBell Dobroski Morgan Meylink LLP
  • Cox & Associates, P.A.
  • The Gefen Law Firm
  • Echemendia Law Firm PA
  • McKinney Braswell Butler LLC
  • Law Office of Charney & Roberts
  • Johnson & Associates
  • Pistotnik Law Offices
  • Bledsoe Law Office
  • Law Offices of George A. Malliaros
  • Roberts, Miceli & Boileau, LLP
  • William E. Hymes
  • Law Office of Donald P. Edwards
  • Ferderigos & Lambe Attorneys at Law
  • The Law Offices of Fuentes & Berrio, L.L.P.
  • Robert B. French, Jr., P.C.
  • The Law Offices of Peck and Peck
  • Cherry Law Firm, P.C.
  • Dexter & Kilcoyne
  • Philip R. Cockerille
  • Brotman Nusbaum Fox
  • Stephen J. Knox Attorney at Law
  • Littman & Babiarz
  • The Law Offices of Weinstein & Scharf, P.A.
  • Friedman & Friedman
  • The Law Firm of Robert S. Windholz
  • Fahrendorf, Viloria, Oliphant & Oster L.L.P.
  • Conway Law Firm, P.L.L.C.
  • Head Thomas Webb & Willis
  • Charles B. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
  • Pistotnik Law Offices
  • Nordloh Law Office, PLLC
  • The Law Offices of Rosenberg, Kirby, Cahill & Stankowitz
  • Kerner & Kerner
  • McAdory Borg Law Firm P.C.
  • For a funny one – check out this:  The Law Offices of This is Arizona – a template, presumably available for purchase with ghost Attorneys John and Joan Smith.

(To be fair, not all of these firms are LawyerEdge clients – there is a smattering of different agencies.  This does highlight the extent to which content gets cut and pasted around the web by website developers.)

How to Tell if You Have Duplicate Content Issues

The most obvious sign of duplicate content, of course is zero to low inbound search traffic to specific pages.  You can diagnose this in Google Analtyics using the “Landing Pages” tab under content (make sure you filter for ONLY “organic search traffic”).

Another more accurate approach is to take a unique looking, sentence from your page and doing a search for it with quotations around the phrase:

Duplicate Content IV

If your search returns a ton of results . . . its time to start writing.


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.