When the Top 10% Means Nothing

One of my clients was recently contacted by Lawyers of Distinction, an online legal directory claiming to only list the top 10% of lawyers. But what are they using to determine who qualifies as the top 10%?

“Lawyers of Distinction uses its own independent criteria, including both objective and subjective factors in determining if an attorney can be recognized as being within the top 10% of attorneys in the United States, in their respective field. This designation is based upon the proprietary analysis of the Lawyers of Distinction organization alone, and is not intended to be endorsed by any of the 50 United States Bar Associations.”

Doesn’t get much more vague than that.

Let’s say you ignore these first warning signs because you’re struck by flattery, and you start to poke around the site to see who is listed and what perks come with the exceptional honor of being in the top 10%. You may stumble upon the membership page and notice that your award will cost you $425 per year, at the least.

Lawyers of Distinction Membership Packages

What that $425 membership is really paying for is the link back to your site, and the plaque you can prominently display in your office. You also have the option to buy more plaques at $100 each, because who doesn’t need a plaque in the lobby and the restroom?

I was curious to know what the next steps would be for my client who had been nominated. Here’s the page I was taken to from the email he received:

Lawyers of Distinction Application from Email

Pretty basic information. But I wondered what would happen if I were to “Apply for Consideration” directly on their site…

Lawyers of Distinction Basic Application

Almost identical.

With a giant red flag waving in my face, I wondered how legitimate this company is. So I looked up their address using Google Street View:

Conrad wrote an eerily similar post two years ago about the American Institute of Personal Injury Lawyers whose corporate office was also located at a UPS store.

You’d think a company dealing with the top 10% of lawyers would have a physical location. Especially if they’re boasting their combined power with Avvo.

“Avvo has become an integral component of attorney marketing. Avvo provides comprehensive attorney profiles, client reviews and peer endorsements. The problem with Avvo membership alone is 97% of all U.S. Attorneys have Avvo profiles. With lawyers of distinction membership you can “distinguish yourself” and leverage your Avvo rating. The combination and synergy of these two memberships can make the difference in your push for top search engine optimization in your local geographic market and nationally, resulting in additional clients. Harness the power of this combination to fortify and solidify your strong legal reputation for excellence. We congratulate you!”

So in the spirit of the New Year, let’s cut out the shady directories and use our resources on more valuable marketing tactics.

But if you’re really just interested in the Costco discounts, they can hook you up.

Lawyers of Distinction Discounts

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)


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”


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’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.


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)


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?



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?


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.

6 Content Marketing Tactics for Lawyers that Actually Work

You may have heard that content is an essential element to driving traffic to your site. The problem is that most content out there just doesn’t cut it. You need to create unique and engaging content will make people want to share and/or link to it–the kind of content that Google notices and rewards websites for.

The question is, how do you get those links? As an attorney, it can seem like a struggle, especially when content from other “sexier” verticals are vying for attention, shares, and those ever elusive links. As an attorney, however, you have knowledge and expertise that, if presented properly and with the right timing, can be extremely successful.

Below are some tactics we’ve seen that could be the the ticket to driving more quality traffic to your website:

Write an Op-Ed piece About a Big News Story

As a lawyer, you have a unique opportunity to contribute your expertise to a specific issue or topic that people are talking about about on the news.

Here are some Op-Ed headlines that come to mind:

  • The big question about [New Law] that hasn’t been answered.
  • What the plaintiff in [Recent Controversial Lawsuit] needs to prove in order to win.
  • 5 Reasons Why [New Proposed Law] will be difficult to enforce.

While many attorneys write about the news, most of what I’ve seen is a rehash of the story, lightly peppered with a few comments and opinions.  Instead, write a piece that offers a real argument, and spends 750-1000 words supporting your argument with examples and evidence. Make it compelling, unique, and accessible. You can publish these op-ed posts on your own blog and share it on reddit, Facebook, or other social media channels. Also, in addition to writing about news stories on your own firm’s blog, you can reach out to local reporters and offer yourself up as a source to provide a legal perspective. This is usually easier to do if you have a few successful posts under your belt.

Use PR to Promote One of Your Own Big Cases

Are you working on a case that you believe has the potential to make the news? If so, you may want to consider doing some PR.

Let’s say you’re an employment lawyer working on a whistleblower case that you believe has some legs. Get in touch with a PR professional whom you trust to get an idea if journalists would want to pick up your story. If you don’t know anyone in PR, make sure you get a recommendation from a professional who will give you an honest opinion about your story (and not just bill you for their time).

If you want to make the most of your case’s publicity, be sure to create a webpage on your site dedicated to the case, with all formal complaints and official court documents available in one place so reporters don’t have to hunt for them. Also, post links to supplementary materials that relate to the area of law that the case is related to, preferably something from your own site is best but also be sure to include anything from an external website that could shine light on your topic. Essentially, you need to make a page so good, complete, and comprehensive that it would be silly for a reporter, blogger, or anyone talking about the case to NOT want to link to it.

When your story starts taking off, request that your PR person notifies you about every online publication that happens to pick up your story. If you manage to get on a high traffic site, see if you can’t find a way to participate in the discussion in the comments section–which can be a good way for you to drop a link to your resource page on the case if it already isn’t there in the body of the article.

Give a Legal Perspective About Your Favorite TV Show or Movie

You remember when Bane held the entire city of Gotham in The Dark Night Rising? Maybe you could write up a compelling reason for how that villain has a valid criminal insanity case, should it ever be brought up in court. Oh yeah, and when you’re done, see if you can post it to lawandthemultiverse.com and get a link back to your site!

Perhaps you’re a Harry Potter fanatic, and have read all of the books from front to back 5 times. How easy would it be to write down a list of all the laws that you can find in the non-muggle world and then submit that list to Reddit and promote that list through Facebook?

Are you an employment lawyer? You could spend a couple of weekends tallying down all the possible cases for harassment or wrongful termination in shows like AMC’s Mad Men or NBC’s The Office. Or, if you were really ambitious, you could create a chart comparing all shows that take place in an office made in the last 10 years. Do something like that, and you’ll probably never need to build another link again.

Chances are you have an interest or hobby that overlaps with your expertise in the law. This gives you an opportunity to tap into a much larger audience who will share and link to your content.

Provide a Comprehensive Resource Focusing on a Frequently Asked About Topic

While most Google searches will turn up an article or resource that provides the information you’re looking for, oftentimes it doesn’t provide content to the level of depth, detail or quality that you need. For example, while there are plenty of pages out there about how to file a workers compensation claim in a particular state, how many law firm websites provide a comprehensive resource with all the forms and special instructions for filing out certain form fields in one place? If you fill that content gap by creating such a resource on your website, that resource could eventually become the go-to page for anyone who needs to fill out a workers comp claim.

When creating an online resource, put yourself in the shoes of your clients.  A comprehensive resource that gives potential clients a good idea about their situation will not only help prospective clients gain confidence in your knowledge as an attorney but is also a good signal to the search engines that you’re providing great content and that your site is worthy of ranking and getting traffic.

Unfortunately, if your site doesn’t have many links to begin with, chances are a lower quality resource on a more established site is likely to rank higher than what you’ve created. This is why it’s important to reach out to owners of other websites who may want to link to your resource. While outreach is beyond the scope of this article, you should check out this great resource from Page One Power.

Create a Community Page

One of the easiest and most effective things a law firm can do to get links is through the relationships that you already have in your community. What organizations and non-profits does your firm support? Show them a little love!

Create a page giving testimonials for local organizations and vendors you do business with and link to them. These might include:

  • Community Theaters and Arts Organizations
  • Local expert witnesses you work with.
  • Charity Runs/Walks/Bike Rides
  • Trade organizations
  • Labor Unions
  • Legal Organizations (The National Lawyers Guild, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Local Bar Associations)
  • Small businesses (possibly former clients)
  • Local Chapters of National Charities (Toys for Tots, United Way, Special Olympics)
  • Pro-bono work for local businesses or non-profit organizations
  • Organizations or clubs (even a recreational club like a sailing club) where a firm member is a board member (You can link to the firm from the bio page. “Attorney smith is a partner at Smith & Smith PLLC”
  • Art purchased for the firm (Take a picture and send to artist and they may link back to the site).
  •  Local businesses your work with. This includes
    • Service Providers: Janitors, Electricians, Moving Companies, Painters, Plumbers, Carpenters.
    • Caterers
    • Delivered Goods
    • Leased equipment
    • Employee training
    • Local IT company
    • Car Dealership (for company vehicle)
    • Local Restaurants (Company Happy Hour)
    • Local Design Firms

Once you’ve created this page, shoot off some friendly emails saying that you mentioned each business or organization favorably on their site. If the website has a testimonials page, give them permission to copy the testimonial you’ve written and put it on that page–hopefully with a link back to the original testimonial on your site.

Create a Unique Scholarship Idea

One of the most successful link building campaigns that I’ve seen a lawyer do was based on a scholarship that a DUI lawyer did that required applicants to (confidentially) admit that they had driven while buzzed in the past. This scholarship offer caused quite a stir and the attorney received great links from high authority national news sites.

While most scholarships probably wont get the kind of publicity that the DUI one did, there’s still a lot you can do with them. For example, you could have each applicant write a short essay about some issue that people care about AND something that is relevant to your practice. If you’re an immigration attorney, for example, you may want to ask applicants to write an essay voicing their opinions on recent immigration reforms. The winning essay would then be posted on your website’s blog and then shared via social media. Perhaps you could even make social media traction (number of shares, etc) be a criterion for winning the scholarship. You get free content and content promotion, and a student gets a financial leg up. Win-win.

Creating Content is Only Half of The Picture

While it’s important to understand what quality content is and to be able to tailor your content with your audience, without links or authority on your site, you can’t expect that your content will just be picked up by Google and your traffic will roll in. If you’re writing about a story on the news, reach out to journalists in your area, take them out to lunch or coffee and volunteer yourself as a resource when it comes to certain stories. If you’re hiring a PR firm to publicize one of your cases, make sure you’re doing everything you can to promote your case on the social media/web side. If you’re creating a resource on your site, whether it be a guide, a video or a scholarship page, be sure to reach out the people who have the ability to amplify your content. When you combine quality content with targeted outreach, you’ll be surprised how far you can go.

Moz’s Local Ranking Factors Report

Every year, I get an email from Moz asking for input into their Local Ranking Factors survey.  The survey is conducted amongst a small group of SEO nerds. Due to the competitiveness of legal marketing, be glad to know our niche is especially well represented- I’m joined by legal marketing geeks, Mike Ramsey, Gyi Tsakalakis and Casey Meraz.  This year, the study came out shortly after Google launched the snack pack (catch up here), so the results are particularly interesting.

If you want to geek out, you can read the full Moz study here.

Overall Ranking Factors

Ranking Factors continue to diversify – meaning there are a wide array of things you need to get right.  Vendors who provide just one piece of the puzzle are rarely going to be enough to drive success (and yes – I fully acknowledge this is a self-serving comment.)  The factor consistently gaining in significance is behavioral performance (i.e. click through rates, time on site etc.) – this has been backed up by numerous studies.  In legal, this emphasizes issues like brand, meta descriptions, a site’s look and feel/user interface and accessibility of information.

And despite the ongoing assertions of social media pundits – Social is entirely immaterial to local performance – coming in dead last among all ranking categories.  Joy Hawkins (who is our secret go-to person when we get utterly stuck on a complex Google My Business issues) explains social and search:

I gave social signals 1% for organic impact because I do think it’s possible that they could impact ranking – I have just never seen a single case where they did. I always quote Matt Cutts where he indicated that when it comes to social signals it’s a correlation and not causation. Businesses that are active on Facebook also usually care about their ranking on Google and are actively trying to improve it. One doesn’t cause the other.

David Mihm, the author of the survey, offers his take on the waning (if not entirely dead) impact of Google+ in ranking:

At this point, I view Google My Business essentially as a UI for structured data* and a conduit to AdWords. While Google’s original “business builder” vision may still come to fruition, it clearly won’t be under the social umbrella of Google+.

Top 10 Ranking Factors for Local (now Snack Pack)

  1. Physical Address in City of Search
  2. NAP Consistency in Structured Citations
  3. Proper Google My Business Categories
  4. Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (i.e. physically where is the searcher)
  5. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  6. Domain Authority of Website
  7. Product/Service Keyword in Google My Business Business Title
  8. City, State in Google My Business Landing Page Title
  9. HTML NAP matching Google My Business Location NAP
  10. Click Through Rate from Search Results

Of particular note is the focus on quality including the prevalence of accuracy in Google My Business information (note David’s comment above).

Ranking Differentiators for Competitive Markets (i.e. legal)

My favorite facet of the survey is the focus on competitive markets – essentially almost all of the legal marketing space.  After getting the fundamentals right, this becomes the tactical focus of our engagements and frankly, these are often the hardest components of search – the stuff that can’t be automated, simplified or easily copied.

  1. Consistency of Structured Citations
  2. Domain Authority of Website
  3. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  4. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  5. Proper Google My Business Category Associations
  6. Physical Address in City of Search (in the past month, we have been consulted twice on helping law firms decide what building to move in to.)
  7. Quantity of Native Google Reviews
  8. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Google My Business Landing Page URL
  9. CTR from search results pages
  10. Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (i.e. Newspaper articles)

Note the heavy heavy focus on quality above.  You don’t achieve these tactics through $10 for 1,000 twitter followers or a paid citation campaign.

Non Local Local Results

Heh?  This is really localized natural search – i.e. results for local queries (even those without a geo-modifier) that return typical SEO results.  I don’t want dwell on this, as this is a post about Local (i.e. mapped) results, but for natural search with a local component (which represents at least 95% of legal searches – the focus is on providing accurate location signals through Google My Business and a heavy focus on site authority (i.e. high quality links).  In fact the top 2 signals according to the survey are link related.

Negative Ranking Factors

Of course, no SEO conversation would be complete without a discussion of penalties.

  1. Incorrect business category
  2. Listing at false business address
  3. Mis-Match NAP or Tracking Phone Numbers
  4. Presence of malware
  5. Reports of Violations in your Google My Business location
  6. Mis-matched NAP/tracking phone numbers on Google My Business page
  7. Mis-matched Address on Google My Business page
  8. Multiple Google My Business locations with Same Phone Number
  9. Absence of NAP on website
  10. Address includes suite number similar to UPS Mail Store or other false address.

The negative ranking factors center around incorrect NAP as well and inconsistent information in…. here it is again…. Google My Business.  Given the prevalence of geo spam among lawyers (i.e. “virtual offices” or fake offices shoehorned into your friends insurance office), I expect we will continue to see a greater focus on reporting of non-real offices.   Frankly, the only impact we saw among law firms with the Pigeon roll out was severe penalties on some significant local spammers; so none of this really surprises me.

Snack Pack

Acknowledging that the Snack Pack launched just prior to the survey (and so the following is probably more intuitive rather than based on any studies, Moz asked about change in tactical focus given the snack pack.  Across the board, the increased focus was on quality signals (NAP, Authority, Citations).  The only quantity factor was Google specific reviews (i.e. the more the better but note the focus on Google, NOT reviews across the web – Avvo, Yelp etc.).   Tactical losers focused on quantity (which I read to mean low cost, low value, low authority – easily replicable) links, citations and…. my favorite punching bag…. social shares.

Why Your Content Sends You Zero Traffic


“So I’ve been blogging for a few months now. Why am I not getting any traffic?”

One of the most persistent myths in online marketing is that creating content will always lead to more traffic. Content is essential, yes, but with over 2 million blog posts popping up every day, the answer is likely that Google thinks one of those other 1,999,999 posts is more worthy of directing traffic to.

I know it sounds harsh, but hear me out. It doesn’t mean that your content is poor. Nor does it mean that it doesn’t deserve to rank. It simply means that the criteria Google uses to evaluate whether your content is relevant or valuable are not met. If you’ve been producing content for a while now and you haven’t been seeing an improvement, your content may be suffering from one or more of the following problems:

No One is Searching for the Topics You’re Writing About

One of the first things that you need to do as a content writer is to determine the kind of search volume there might be around your chosen topic. Search volume is essentially how many people are searching for the kinds of answers, information, opinions, or edification that your content aims to provide.

Use Pay Per Click data for Topic Research

One common tool that SEOs like myself use to research a topic’s search volume is Google Keyword Planner. Google provides this tool free of charge to give search marketers an idea of how much they should pay for a particular keyword when doing PPC advertising.


Using the keyword tool gives you a good idea of the kind of traffic you can expect should you get a piece of content to rank. It’s important to note that while the average monthly searches for each keyword seems relatively low, I have often seen successful pieces of content bring in more traffic than the average monthly searches for any targeted keyword. This is because the same piece of content will often show up for several different search queries. Also, because the numbers provided by Google Ad Planner are not 100% accurate, it’s important not to take them at face value; they are often best used for seeing the relative difference in search volume between keywords rather than the actual search volume for each keyword.

Try to build content around the keywords that have higher search volume and that you don’t see your competition writing about. Oftentimes you can succeed in getting this content to rank quickly, and send traffic to your site faster than with the more competitive terms. This is why it’s good to explore the Adwords Planner and see if there are any “out of the box” keywords to focus your content around. A quick look at the ideas for the search term “speeding ticket” shows this little gem:


Wow, a keyword with over 4,440 searches a month and low competition! This looks like an opportunity to create a post like: “Paying a Traffic Ticket Online? 10 Reasons Why You Should Reconsider.” As you can see, Adwords Keyword Planner can be a very powerful tool for content idea generation. Use it for keywords in your practice area and see what you come up with!

Use Quora and Reddit for Topic Research

Another way to research what kind of content people are looking for is to go to sites like Quora or Reddit and do a quick search. The questions on these sites are user generated, so they often reflect what searchers are looking for that may not occur to you. For example: I looked up “speeding ticket” on Quora and the first question that came up was “Are traffic tickets public record?” Answering this question would be a perfect topic for a traffic attorney. Chances are that many more people out there want to know the answer to the question than just the person who asked it on Quora.

Search Volume isn’t Everything

Although it’s important to be conscious about keyword search volume, this may not always be important for your business. Information about how to get out of a speeding ticket (Keyword: “how to get out of a speeding ticket”), for example, is information many people will find interesting or useful at some point of their lives.  Information about how a particular law firm or attorney is good at getting people out of a speeding ticket (Keyword: “traffic attorneys in tacoma reviews,” on the other hand, will target a much smaller and more specific audience. A good rule of thumb here is that the more specific (or “long tail“) a search phrase is, the fewer people there will be searching for it.

Although it’s good to want more traffic, don’t neglect the long tail! The long tail search terms will bring in less traffic, but often the people using long tail search terms have much more specific intent. If you are a traffic lawyer, one website visit from someone interested in getting out of a speeding ticket in Tacoma will be much more valuable to your business than 100 visits from people who are just generally interested in how to get out of a speeding ticket.

Still no traffic?

So you’ve thoroughly researched a topic with high search volume, written about it, bravely pressed publish and…crickets. What went wrong? Well, it’s possible that…

You Don’t Have Enough Authority

If you have a brand new site, and happen to produce the most brilliant, engaging and informative page on on how to get out of a speeding ticket ever written, chances are that you still won’t rank very high for it. Even though a topic may have high traffic volume, and you write the perfect piece of content for the audience interested in that topic, you’re likely competing against many other high authority sites (Avvo, Nolo, etc) that have written similar content.

While Google uses many factors to rank content, authority is one of the most important. Google measures authority by the number of links pointing to a particular website. A brand new blog will have zero links pointing to it from other websites, and thus have little to no authority. The New York Times, however, has over  200,000,000 links from over 800,000 different websites. If the New York Times writes an article about getting out of a speeding ticket, chances are high that this article would rank in the top 10 results in Google within a day. Even though the Times article itself may have zero links to it, the authority of the site as a whole (or Domain Authority) helps boost this brand new page.

Since most web pages don’t get many links from other websites, domain authority is a very important factor when it comes to ranking content. A page with a lot of links (or Page Authority), however, even from an unknown blog with low domain authority, will tend to rank higher than pages from high authority websites with no links. A common strategy I’ve seen for many sites is to build a page with incredible content, promote that content through social media and direct outreach to webmasters, and once that content acquires a lot of links, it will start to rank and bring a lot of traffic. This organic search traffic will begin to attract links passively from people who visit the page from search and then link to it from their blog or resource page. These pages will not only have strong page authority, but will tend to increase the domain’s overall authority, which means your interesting content page will help your more “boring” link-less pages to start ranking.

How To Get Links to Your Content

In order to get people to share and link to your content, it has to provide some value to your target audience. Here are some reasons why people might share or link to your content:

  • It’s useful and informative
  • It mentions or talks about people (And the people you mention link to it)
  • It provides an unusual or unique perspective
  • It’s entertaining
  • It’s controversial
  • It’s timely
  • It’s funny
  • It has compelling data or data visualizations

When you have content that satisfies 1 or more of the above criteria, the next step is to make sure that this content gets in front of as many of the right people as possible. Ideally, you want to expose your content to as many people as possible within the first day of it being published. While discussing the tactics involved with content promotion could take up a whole book, here are my three favorites:

  • Research the names of social media influencers in your niche such as popular bloggers and create an outreach list. Email each influencer a personalized email, sharing your content and ask for their opinion or feedback on the content. Don’t ask for the share. If they like the content, they will share it. Ideally it’s best to establish rapport with these influencers by commenting on their blogs or sharing their posts on social media first.
  • Explore forums, Subreddits, Quora, and Google Plus Communities (yes, some people do use Google Plus very actively) and post your link if you feel the audience might appreciate what you have to share. Be careful not to just “leave” your link on a forum without thoroughly researching the forum and knowing the forum rules. Spamming forums will get you banned.
  • Advertise your content. Facebook advertising is one of the cheapest ways to get your content viewed by thousands of people in your niche. You may also want to experiment with advertising on Reddit and StumbleUpon.

While many of these tactics don’t lead to links directly. Oftentimes this will help your content get noticed by bloggers and webmasters who do have the ability to link to your content. Make sure that you concentrate all your outreach and promotion efforts in one day if you can. The more people that view and share your content within a limited window of time, the more likely that content is  going to gain momentum, leading to even more views and shares.

Having trouble getting links? It’s quite possible that…

Your Content is Thin or Lacks Originality

What if you have content for a topic you know has high search volume on a website that has high authority and you’re still not ranking? What’s missing?

Answer: Your content could be thin or unoriginal.

What is thin content?

Thin content barely qualifies as content. Many websites are stuffed with pages that only contain a short paragraph that reads like a summary of a topic rather than an in-depth exploration of the topic. In my experience, you’re better off having 10 pages of great content than thousands of pages of thin content.

What is unoriginal content?

I’ve seen sites with innumerable pages optimized for every conceivable keyword. Although the content itself may pass a plagiarism check, it’s often virtually indistinguishable from all the other content on the site. While churning out content for the sake of search engine traffic used to be an effective tactic, the increasingly sophisticated Google Panda Algorithm has learned to weed out this cookie cutter content. Indeed, while there are plenty of law blogs out there with hundreds of posts, these posts have zero comments, zero links, and little to no kind of social media engagement. On average, most of these blog posts only get 1 to 2 visits per year from organic search, often with a high bounce rate. Instead of paying a blogger to crank out posts every other day, you’re probably better off spending that money taking your team out to lunch.

What can you do to improve your content so that it gets noticed by humans and search engines alike? You can:

Personalize it: How might your personal experiences give the content some color and humanize it?

Localize it: Is there something peculiar or unique about your city or region which would be useful or interesting to local readers? The legal field in particular has plenty opportunities to talk about state and municipal laws.

Deepen it: Is there some background you could add to the content if you did just a little bit of research?

If you don’t do at least one of these three things, don’t expect your content to rank. But if you have and you’re still not ranking, my guess is that…

You Have Non-Content Related Issues

While search volume, authority, and content quality are the main elements for getting your content to rank, oftentimes there are non-content related issues that can throttle your traffic. If you have great content, you’re promoting it well and the content targets the right audience, you probably have these issues:

Technical SEO Issues

Do you have a misplaced line of code in your robots.txt file that is telling Google to ignore all your web pages? Perhaps your site’s download speed is so sluggish that Google is deciding to rank pages from faster websites over yours. Or maybe you have a lot of pages from an old website that are improperly redirecting to your new one.

Although Google is getting smarter about looking past technical issues, there are still many technical issues that can cause problems with SEO. A solid technical audit is essential to ensure that your website properly set up to be crawled and indexed. Before you start running the race, make sure your shoes are tied.

Black Hat SEO

Another non-content related issue is black hat SEO. It’s possible you’ve hired someone to work on your site who has used black hat SEO tactics to help improve your rankings. Google is constantly on the lookout for evidence of these tactics. Once caught, your site could be slapped with a penalty that can take a lot of work to recover from. While diagnosing whether or not your site has been penalized is out of the scope of this article, usually if you see a huge drop in traffic (especially after an unusual surge in traffic) the possibility is high that you’ve received some sort of penalty from Google.

Be sure you know what you’re getting into before hiring an SEO agency. If you can, get recommendations from colleagues and friends that have been happy working with the same agency for more than a year. If an agency is doing black hat work for you, a penalty will likely surface within a years time. Also, be sure that you are aware of some of the warning signs that you could be working with a less than legitimate agency.

Go Forth and Create Great Content!

If someone in the past has told you that they tried getting traffic through content creation and it didn’t work, they probably didn’t know about or follow the above guidelines. You need content with great quality, a site (or pages) with good authority, and content that is relevant to what people are actually looking for. Satisfying these three criteria isn’t easy, but if you do, you’ll start seeing more traffic than you know what to do with.

Linkwheel Spam, The Truth Network and Judith Swift

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate just how far the search engines have to go in combating spam.  (Alternatively, its a callout to force the issue for law firms to make a very careful decision about where you want to stand on the black hat vs. white hat tactical spectrum.)

Mockingbird sees a lot of legacy spam tactics; in fact a large portion of our engagements start with what we internally call Janitorial SEO – cleaning up the messes generated by previous agencies to regain lost business. Every now and then we see one of those ancient tactics that still seems to work. What follows is a Link Wheel case study – a tactic that could have generated manual penalties back in the 2010-2012 era and should have been obliterated during the multiple Penguin updates, starting in 2013.  (And no, I don’t have a Dallas bankruptcy lawyer looking to burn this firm.)

First, let’s start with what looks to be a rudimentary implementation of a linkwheel.  Check out the Copyright notice in Judith Swift’s footer:

CopyrightOr should I call it the C o p y r i g h t (complete with spaces)?   Roll over each of those letters individually and whoo hoo…. its links to some new content on Judith’s page.  [And let’s ignore the geo spam while we’re at it, although I have to call out the spectacular brazenness of the “SEO by TheTruthNetworks.com” sitting right next to this.]

Linkwheel 2

Wonder what happens when I click through….

Linkwheel 3

That, my friends, is an old school linkwheel – a series of sites literally linked together in order to drive search engine traffic. Enjoy the disclaimer which includes “the links are provided solely as a convenience to users of this web site.”  Right, because someone looking for a bankruptcy attorney in Texas, might simultaneously be looking for a new home in Toronto, or a photographer in Colorado, or an English bookshop in Tokyo, or “premium virgin hair extensions”, which makes me wonder what non-premium, non-virgin hair is.  But I digress.

Of course, none of this matters – perhaps we’re really just looking at a dated legacy site – if the site doesn’t perform.  But we find that not only does it perform, it performs really well….

.  Linkwheel

That’s a pretty strong showing for Judith Swift – 2nd ad, 2nd local result and 2nd natural result.  So… is this really an active, functional linkwheel?  Are there unrelated sites propping up judithswift.com?  Let’s see….

Here’s one from a Canadian bridal boutique…

Linkwheel 6

And a retirement home directory…

Linkwheel 5

A Floridian patio furniture retailer…

linkwheel 4

My favorite is the UK based eyeglass retailer who includes the following disclaimer on their page:

The following links are not recommended or approved by us.  They are simply members of the same programme to help encourage visitors to each others sites…

Linkwheel 7

All in all, hundreds and hundreds of domains with these links – and you could suggest that perhaps they’ve gone through a disavow process BUT – the linkwheel is still alive and kicking on judithswift.com.


I don’t know Judith and I don’t have any clients in Dallas – for all I know, she knows nothing of her marketing tactics. I’m simply trying to demonstrate a) how very far the search engines have to go and b) that black hat tactics really do work – even tactics that should have been burnt years ago. This is why by-the-book SEO can be extremely expensive.

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.

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 CaliforniaSpinalInjuryLawyer.com.  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 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 lasvegas-duilawyer.com 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 – ChicagoLegalAuthority.com, NewYorkLegalAuthority.com etc, PhiladelphiaLegalAuthority.com 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 LongIslandDwILawyer.org – 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 . . .