FindLaw’s take on the new .law domains….

We wrote last week about the sales hype being drummed up for the new .law domains. Afterall, these babies are being advertised between $200 and $350 a year – a bit of a premium from the $14.99 you’ll get from GoDaddy.   Afterwards the post, someone forwarded me an article from FindLaw’s Lawyer Marketing Blog “Understanding the New .law Domain.”  Here’s FindLaw’s Mark Jacobsen’s take on the .laws TLDs (my emphasis):

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. Which leads us to today and the .law domain.

Note that FindLaw claims about these restricted top level domains provide a level of confidence for SEO run 100% contrary to Google’s guidelines.  From John Mueller (of Google):

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

But if you are unconvinced and still think FindLaw might know more about Understanding the new .law domains than Google does, you can buy one from….. FindLaw.

Foolish Lawyers Lining up for .law domains

dot lawSo – this morning I’ve received emails from 3 smart(ish) people asking about an ABA Journal article titled the Latest Online Goldrush for Lawyers.  Starting October 12, you can now buy .lawyer Top Level Domains (TLDs).  Think or or  The new .law TLD can only be purchased by lawyers (although apparently it can be transferred to a non lawyer as long as its initially purchased by a lawyer.  Hmmmm.)  Oh – and its just a cool $210 bucks a year.  Per domain.  Delicious if you are selling these things.

“It’s incredible,” says John Morgan, chairman of the new domain. “It gives everybody the opportunity to have a one-time reset for the domain name of their dreams, and it will probably never happen again when you have a domain like this in a field like ours.”

TLDs and the Promise of SEO Success….

The article goes on to espouse the .law domains as a key to SEO rankings and clients.

A firm’s search engine strategy should also be taken into account when choosing a domain name, Corcoran adds

So the pitch here is that one of Google’s ranking factors is going to be the TLD.  From the site:

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.

Hmmmmm…. because presumably, notwithstanding structured markup identifying attorneys ( and Google My Business Categories defining businesses as “law firm”or even “divorce law firm” the engineers in Mountainview are having trouble identifying sites owned by…. lawyers.

A (Very) Brief History of Domains and SEO

Back in the day, a long long time ago, in an SEO galaxy far far away, exact match domains did carry the day.  Simply put – the site was presumably about Seattle DUI Lawyers and therefore would rank for that exact match term.  This was killed in October of 2012.  Some of the value of exact match domains  was anchor text (now dead) driven – so if your domain was, people would like to you with the anchor text Dui Lawyer Seattle, which in turn would help you rank for …. yeah, you get it.  But of course, anchor text got killed back in January of 2013.

Now, lawyers have been buying up vanity domains and exact match search domains for years.  Its rare that a kick off meeting with a new client doesn’t include something like: “and I also own and and and … and… and… and…”  So far we’ve never done anything with any of domains.  And the recent availability of .attorney and .lawyer TLDs has certainly NOT shaken up the online marketing world.

What Does Work (and why we don’t care about TLDs.)

I’ve yet to talk to any reputable search nerd espousing TLD tactics for success.  Even the luster over backlinks from .edu’s and .org’s and .gov’s (which was the rage back in 2008 era) has dissipated as we’ve discovered that these domains don’t intrinsically carry any extra authority or value due to their TLD. What works is the hard part of SEO – a solid platform with great content sitting on a highly authoritative site.  A new TLD isn’t going to solve any of those problems.

The only people who are going to make it rich here are those selling the domains – the registrar companies estimate lawyers will blow a cool $200 million on the new TLDs…. annually.

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.

How much should a legal website cost?

It’s hard to know how much you should be paying for web services, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the industry. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’d like to revisit one of the topics we’re most passionate about here at Mockingbird: lawyers being cheated by their SEO/digital marketing companies.

Below, I’ve listed the average costs for common web services. If your bill is significantly more expensive than what I’ve mentioned, make sure you fully understand what you’re paying for. Reread your invoice, or ask your provider for a list of exactly what you’re getting for your money. It’s possible multiple services are being lumped into one line item.

Otherwise, run screaming. You’re being cheated.

Web Design/Development

one time expense of $3k – $13k 

The cost to develop a website is highly variable depending on the volume/production of content, and the site complexity and customization. If this is your firms first website, you’ll probably be on the lower end of that spectrum. If you’re migrating thousands of pages of content into one site and want every attorney bio page to change color based on the readers mood, be prepared to hand over the big bucks.


monthly cost of $3.95 – $30

Your host is what keeps your website online. Your hosting bill should not be expensive. As a general rule, it should be cheaper (per month) than your cable bill. At the bottom end of the spectrum, you can host your website for less than $5 per month. GoDaddy hosting, for example, is currently running a whopping $4.99/month. We’re fans of WP Engine, the Cadillac of website hosting, which runs at $29/month.

Domain ownership

from $20/year to a $5m one time cost

Your domain is, in its simplest form, what your website is called. Ie. Domains are usually offered for a monthly, annual, or multi-year cost. At the cheapest, you could probably get your hands on a domain for ~$10/year. At the most expensive? Millions. Some domains are ridiculously expensive, but yours probably shouldn’t be. If you’re very particular and bought it off someone (think, it’s possible your domain is quite expensive. However, for something more run of the mill (think or, I’d estimate you should be less than $75/year.

SEO services

$1,000 – $10,000 per month

The costs associated with SEO services are also highly variable, but here are a few ways we determine monthly budgets:

  1. How competitive is your location? Anecdotally, we’ve found that Texas and NYC are two of the most ridiculously competitive places in the country. If you’re trying to make an impact in one of these places, brace yourself for a hefty bill. On the other hand, are you one of 3 attorneys in your small town in the Midwest? Your bill should be significantly lower, for the simple reason that it should take less work for your site to perform.
  2. How big is your site? Generally speaking, this goes hand in hand with the size of your law firm. The larger your site the more time it will take to optimize it, therefore the higher your bill.
  3. How competitive is your practice area? Personal injury is going to be pricy, while bankruptcy law shouldn’t be. Are you trying to perform for Personal Injury, Divorce AND DUI? Buckle up.

Site Updates/Content Additions/Typo Fixes

This should be cheap.

Consultants will generally run anywhere from $100-$300 an hour. However, it will take anyone who knows their stuff less than 5 minutes to upload a new page of content (assuming it’s already been written). Fixing a typo should take less than 1 minute. Updating plugins, testing contact forms, and checking for penalties should take less than an hour, once a month. If your provider is sending you a $500 bill every time you ask that the copyright year be updated, seriously question their validity.

Like anything, though, there are two sides to every story. For every 5 law firms getting over charged for quick fixes, there’s a marketing firm working on a limited scope project ($500 to run a PPC campaign, for example) who is also being asked to change the wording on a home page slider once a week. In a monthly retainer relationship, the costs for maintenance and quick fixes are often rolled into an “SEO services” charge, but not always.

Is LawDingo Rolling Over Dead?

I’ve watched the legal lead generation site LawDingo with a level of interest over the past year or so… the company matches prospective clients with an attorney in real time via phone or chat.  This is obviously the direction the industry is moving – as people expect expertise on demand.  Avvo’s foray into Avvo Advisor – which promises “a great attorney on the phone in minutes” is the other big example.   I personally believe the future of legal involves technology bringing lawyers increasingly close to new clients who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford counsel.

But LawDingo was in a tough spot – watching them early on they relied intensively on PPC arbitrage – i.e. buying leads through Adwords/Bing and then selling access to those leads to attorneys via a monthly subscription.  This business model is extremely difficult to maintain – especially in legal, where lawyers implement irrational (read: unprofitable) bidding tactics in their irrational desire to “win” SEM.  And for LawDingo, as a lead generation service, the upside value of those PPC clicks is much lower than for an attorney who can gain a new client. The other option – SEO driven traffic is an extremely expensive undertaking.  So – from a pure economics perspective, I thought it might be tough for LawDingo to make a go of it.

Because of these economics, I’ve never had a client on LawDingo (i.e. why pay a vendor to pay a advertiser, when you can go directly to the advertiser), but I’ve been curious to see how this direct access to attorneys model performs.

But it looks like this month, LawDingo may have pulled the plug on PPC:


Now the data above is from Spyfu – and for smaller sites, I’ve found their data is rarely accurate, but directionally relevant. I called LawDingo and they said that yes they had dropped their ad spend (although they didn’t specify how much), but that they were still up and running.   But if the Spyfu data is even moderately accurate, I’m not sure what their advertisers are actually getting.  I’d love to chat with any subscribers to hear your experience in inquiry volume in July…





8 Questions to Determine if your SEO Expert is… an SEO Expert

What follows is an admittedly arrogant post.  And I’m transgressing on a principle I teach my kids – you can’t build yourself up by knocking others down.  BUT… I keep talking to law firms, flummoxed by the lack of results from their SEO experts, only to find some really rudimentary mistakes.  What follows are a few questions to suss out just how expert your SEO talent really is.

1.  My site was hit by a Penguin Penalty – how do I get my traffic back?

Platitudes around the disavow process are often the answer to this question – and while disavow is important (and easy, if not tedious) – it is NOT sufficient.  A Penguin Penalty recovery involves not just removing the offending links, but replacing the value they had previously delivered to your site with new links. White hat linkbuilding is the hard, creative, uncertain, expensive and most valuable thing SEOs can do.  In fact, it is so difficult, that many “SEOs” don’t even try.

2.  How do you use Screaming Frog?

Screaming Frog is an extremely flexible tool used to scrape and analyze key elements of a domain at the page level.  It can identify everything from your duplicated title tags to broken links on competitors’ pages.  As analytics rock-star, Annie Cushing said,

“if you aren’t using Screaming Frog, you aren’t really doing SEO.”

Wait for the awkward silence when you ask this question…

3.  What are the last conferences your staff has been to?  Have you spoken at any?

Technology is ever changing – and agencies have a responsibility to keep up with those changes.  Reading Search Engine Land is a good starting point, but ultimately there is nothing to replace being in the middle of the action, interacting with the experts at geek-centric conferences such as SMX, Mozcon, and Pubcon.  Ideally your SEO expert has spoken at some of these conferences (and I don’t mean pay-for-shill talks, thinly veiled as legal marketing conferences.)

4.  We’re writing about 4 blog posts a week, should we keep it up?

SEO “experts” often quote the tired “Content is King” refrain to answer this question and perhaps delve into the vagaries of long-tail theory.  The reality is, vomiting out more low quality content does nothing more than convince the search engines that your site is full of… low quality content.  This problem was greatly exacerbated by web marketers between 2012 and 2014 who did little more than parrot “Content is King” at legal marketing conferences.

The, “should I keep spewing out more content?” question is best answered by using Google Analytics to review your posts for traffic and links.   If you find that 90% of those pages have no inbound traffic, very few pageviews and that no-one has linked to your rewrites of local car accidents thinly copied from the local newspaper, you might want to switch up your content strategy. Conversely, if you find all of your content is seeing action, then by all means, keep writing.  Read more here: SEO Regicide.

5.  We use Yext, so we don’t worry about NAP consistency.  Right?

Yext is just one tool in the NAP consistency fight (NAP – Name, Address and Phone Number) and while Yext handles roughly 50 major second tier directories, it does NOT manage the top 4 data aggregators; Moz’s Local product does.  Therefore, if you’re relying on tools to improve your NAP consistency, it’s important to utilize more than one — both Moz and Yext, for example.  Additionally, both tools need to be proactively monitored and managed to have a real impact – especially if you are dealing with a name change, address change, cleaning up geo-spam or eradicating poorly implemented tracking numbers.  Finally, neither Moz or Yext handles legal specific directories such as FindLaw or Avvo.  Solid legal SEOs have a list of legal specific directories that require manual management as well.

6.  Are heading tags built into my site’s template?

This is a question you can diagnose yourself.  Just because someone can (poorly) code a website, does not make them an SEO expert.  Review the heading tags across your site to see if a lazy or uninformed web developer has used them to style the template.  We had one site with the H1 tag copied across every single page of his site.  Oh – and it read “original text”.  This issue seems so simplistic, yet I see it repeatedly.  To do this, you can view source and search for H1, H2, etc., install SEO quake into Firefox and use the Diagnosis button for a page by page review, or if you are feeling ambitious (and have a site with fewer than 400 pages), use the aforementioned Screaming Frog.

7.  We want to launch a new website focused on <insert specific practice area>.

This is a favorite request for website developers who pretend to be SEOs.  They’ll churn out “SEO optimized” websites upon request and delivery of a nice fat check.  Of course, they are missing the aforementioned difficult part of SEO: linkbuilding (see question #1).  The reality is, from a linkbuilding, NAP and citations perspective, marketing two sites is more than twice as expensive as marketing one.  And if you go off the deep end with a full blown multi-domain strategy, you’d better have a very deep bank account.  Multiple domains can be appropriate for a firm with disparate practice areas – say DUI and Family law – but note that you’ll be investing extra marketing dollars to push both of them successfully.

And for my bonus question, we get #8 about social media…

8. Will you help us get more Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers to help our SEO?

This goes back to another SEO theory that has been dead for at least 3 years – that social media popularity drives search results.  Multiple spokespeople from The Google have been crystal clear that this is NOT the case.  Note that there can be a correlation between the two – with savvy content marketers using their wide and active social network to push great content to key influencers, which drives links, which drives traffic, but… ignore the social media marketers parading as SEOs who suggest the key to ranking for “Atlanta Divorce Lawyer” is a few thousand more twitter followers from Uzbekistan.

Except for Pinterest.  You totally should do that.  Really – it works.   Trust me, I’m an SEO Expert.

Google Mobile Penalty Study Week 1 – mobile friendly +8%, unfriendly -4%

So we are a full week into Google’s well publicized mobile friendly algo update (or penalty, depending on how you want to market it) and at this point I’m regretting my decision to publish day-to-day updates as frankly, there’s been very little to update.  So far, in aggregate across the 59 sites we’re tracking, we’re seeing average daily mobile search traffic up 8% on mobile optimized sites and down 4% on non-mobile friendly sites.

Hardly the search traffic apocalypse forecasted by SEO geeks and The Google.  And remember, mobile natural search traffic represents just a portion of overall legal webite traffic, so this blip doesn’t register meaningfully on anyone’s radar.  Representatives from The Google assured us that the roll-out could take, a week, perhaps a week and a half to fully roll out so perhaps there’s more to be seen, but so far it looks like the only thing the Google mobile update has done is push a little more work to website developers.

In the graph below, the blue bars represent mobile friendly sites, the red ones, not-so-mobile-friendly.

mobile day 7

Google Mobile Penalty Study Day 6 – Mobile sites up 5%

So we’re almost a full week into the hype of the Google Mobile Penalty Roll-Out and…. maybe, just maybe, we are seeing some logical results.   Aggregating data across the 59 sites in the study – we’re now seeing natural search traffic from devices for mobile optimized sites up by 5% while non mobile sites are showing an aggregate decline of 3%.  Kind of what you’d expect from the algo update, albeit at a much smaller scale.

Or maybe not…

Individual data across the sites in the study remains highly variable with significant swings both up and down.  The graph below shows a wide range of performance across the largest of both optimized (blue) and unoptimized (red) sites.

Mobile Day 6

Conclusions?  The only conclusion I can draw is that either a)we still have a very long way to go until the algo really rolls out completely OR b)the impact of this algo change was grossly overestimated by SEO geeks (including myself.)




Google Mobile Penalty Study Day 3: In Which we ask, “What Rollout?”

Across the board, SEOs are asking “what rollout?”  Its gotten so odd the Google’s clarified, that yes, there has been a roll-out and in fact it is complete in some data centers… which now begs the question:  was this overhyped?  SEO Clarity’s study on over 50,000 queries shows a 5% change yesterday – so far this looks like a snoozer.

Looking at our much more limited dataset of 59 law firm websites: all 12 of the non mobile optimized sites have seen mobile search traffic above the 8 week benchmark.  Aggregating data across those sites shows mobile search traffic 21% higher.  That’s right – traffic has increased for every one of these non-compliers post algo update.  This is starting to look like the mobile penalty was conjured up by Mountain View to feed business to starving web developers.

The graph below shows the sites from our study that had a minimum volume of traffic – blue are mobile optimized, red are not.  Things that make you go hmmmmm.

Day 3

Sit tight, lets see what the weekend has in store…