Can Google Overthrow Avvo, FindLaw, and Other Lawyer Referral Websites?
When Google was founded in 1998 in the garage of two Stanford Ph.D. students, the now-multinational internet company focused solely on search engine optimization. Though a slew of new products and offerings have been introduced in recent years, most of Google’s success has been based on its superior ability to connect users with relevant webpages using a special search and ranking algorithm.
Many lawyer referral websites such as Avvo, FindLaw, LegalMatch, and Divorce.net rely heavily on Google to bring in visitors. While these websites offer some informative content, the main focus lies on connecting visitors with attorneys. Law firms pay these websites, and in exchange, the websites will advertise their services or link them with visitors seeking assistance in the area(s) of law of which they focus. These visitors usually arrive at the lawyer referral websites through a Google search. For example, searching “Divorce Lawyers San Francisco” results in a variety of lawyer referral websites like Avvo, Thumbtack, Justia, and Findlaw appearing in the top 10 ranked results.
Avvo currently dominates the legal services field because it provides a unique service to visitors: real reviews written about attorneys.
Visitors can browse the reviews when evaluating which lawyer to hire. However, Avvo may not be top dog for long.
Dan Jaffe of LawLytics recently discovered that Google has begun venturing into the professional referral services field in San Francisco and surmises this may be only the beginning of Google’s foray into referrals.[i] A search of “San Francisco Plumbers” now shows a sponsored section at the top of the search results. This sponsored section showcases select plumbers, chosen by Google. Users can see a photo, company name, rating (if rated through Google Reviews), location, and phone numbers. If one clicks on a plumber, a more detailed page pops up with a short description, list of services provided, qualifications, business hours, website, phone number, office location, areas served, a map of the areas served, and reviews. In addition, the user can click “Send Request,” describe their plumbing issue, and request a quote. The plumber will then call the user. Google has also begun experimenting this exact system with “San Francisco Locksmiths.”
If Google expands its referral network to include lawyers, it may become the leading legal services network, effectively overthrowing other providers like Avvo. Why? Avvo, Findlaw, and other referral networks receive 60% or more of their leads from Google. Google will cease to be a stepping stone once it begins offering identical services. In fact, Dan Jaffe predicts Google is slowly but surely heading down this road. Google recently invested $100 million dollars in Avvo-rival Thumbtack for Lawyers.
So, what does this mean for law firms and law firm marketing?
Advertising via social media is one of the cheapest and most cost-effective ways of connecting with clients. Hundreds of thousands of lawyers advertise over the Internet by guest-writing articles, answering legal questions or paying for referral services. If Google’s referral services expand to include law firms, other websites like Avvo may slowly die out. It is important to constantly evaluate the cost-benefit ratio of your marketing expenses. If paying for referral services through one of these websites is not bringing in any money, scrap it from your budget. In addition, Google’s referral services are sponsored, meaning they are not dependent on relevance or ratings. If and when Google ventures into attorney referrals, your law firm should look into utilizing Google for advertising services. To go hand-in-hand with Google advertising, create a Google Plus page for your law firm and solicit reviews from colleagues and clients. This is entirely free and only helps your law firm’s image when a potential client is conducting Intern
[i] Dan Jaffe, Could Google Eat Avvo for Lunch?, Lawlytics (Aug. 3, 2015), https://www.lawlytics.com/blog/google-avvo/.