Is FindLaw Stealing Your SEO Efforts? (Revised: updated with new info and more)
FindLaw’s Digital Marketing Service is one of the most utilized by law firms. However, what many people don’t realize is they have set up their contract and SEO efforts to benefit them more than it benefits you or your firm.
Sure, it’s good to obtain and keep clients – that’s everyone’s goal – but we can attest that placing a client in a position where they may feel trapped isn’t beneficial for anyone. Many FindLaw clients feel just that.
Once someone signs a FindLaw contract whether it be renewal or as a new client, the ball starts rolling like it does with any agency. This could include creating a firm’s website and developing their client’s content through their proprietary platform. It may also include adding a firm’s information on multiple online directories and doing some other local SEO. This may all sound good, but let’s dive in further with how their core SEO directory “system” benefits them and not you.
Placing clients in their directory system allows FindLaw to increase traffic multiple ways by creating “tier” levels of service. So, what does that really mean?
Most of their SEO efforts are placed into the hands of their directory products like Superlawyers.com. It’s literally them pushing a button.
This still sounds good, but when you figure out how and why it’s done, you will realize it’s not a long-term benefit.
Let’s say you signed up with FindLaw. You’re overall pretty satisfied with the cost (though expensive) and initial results. Your rep was nice, you have access to their very basic metric reporting and off you go. Web marketing basis covered. Not so fast!
Now, as the weeks and months pass, you notice you’re receiving fewer calls. So, you call your rep, and they assure you all is well and that their “SEO engineers” will take a look at what is going on and make some improvements. Usually, they try and upsell you into additional services claiming it will make your existing program more effective, especially if you want to get more phone calls and leads. Based on your initial previous experience you think, “sure, sounds great!” and those new services are added to your monthly bill. If you take the 100% complaint route (pro tip), you may end up with some value added services for free.
You think: All FindLaw has to do is move your site’s exposure up a little and presto, you have a few more leads. But wait, how? We all know by now the SEO isn’t a switch you just turn on, or is it? (it’s not really) Lurking behind the scenes at Thompson Reuters is a great vast network of profiles with you and your firm’s information in them, and your competitions too. Most likely when you signed your MSA or contract, you were also signing up for profile listings on Superlawyers.com. It’s those profiles that generate the only real SEO value to your website. And when times are tough, they own countless other website directory products that they quickly put you into to generate additional traffic, or simply push your profile to the top of search. So, what’s the problem? The main problem is, there is only so many top positions on these directories to go around. So, once you have stopped bugging your rep or account manager, it’s easy for them to pull back out of those top positions and move someone else up. When contacting them, they may even tell you they are adding you to top spots or additional directories for free for a period of time.
The largest problem with this is, those directory listings will simply disappear into thin air, along with their links. You see, Google uses hundreds of factors to rank a website, but one of them is links from high value, high Domain Authority websites and directories. When those links disappear, google considers that to be an issue with YOUR website’s authority. Not to mention that all those links (from the same IP address to the same IP address) from these properties are also being fed to your competitors who have FindLaw websites. This actually benefits FindLaw in the long run, because guess what, websites then link BACK to these directories? You guessed it, yours, and your competitors. So, in essence, most of what you are doing by paying for SEO with FindLaw is supporting the domain authority of their properties, which in turn helps them come up on searches on the top results of google along with all your competition.
Unfortunately, what’s sad is that this example has played out several times with our clients. What’s even worse is that FindLaw has possibly preyed on their clients who don’t realize they are just trying to obtain and keep their business. By intent or accident, this method of doing business doesn’t benefit you or your law firm.
Go ahead and do a google search in your browser right now. You will see one or more FindLaw properties at the top like I did. Search your practice area too, you will see links to their practice area pages with all your competitors. Before getting too excited and think “how dare they”, go read your contract. They covered that! The biggest issue with Find Law’s MSA is that there is no non-compete clause in the agreement. What this means is that FindLaw may promote both of you AND your competition. Working with both you and your competitor doesn’t benefit you at all. FindLaw is only keeping their best interest in mind.
This isn’t all bad. Their network of directories can indeed bring traffic and valuable leads to your law firm, and that is why we almost always recommend keeping some of these listings active even after you leave their services.
What about their other SEO services they perform?
That’s a great question. SEO practices are constantly evolving and so is FindLaw’s offerings. But usually other than their directory inclusion (which is the real factor driving any real website rank on your behalf in our opinions), not much of any real value. They will publish blogs on your website, and you will probably want to heavily edit them (they are not written by lawyers) until you find you don’t have enough time. You will probably then slip into the “blogging coma” which means, they will post them, and you will ignore they exist to avoid a migraine. From what we have been able to gather in talking with other industry experts is most of their blog content is written over-seas or by very low paid scale writers. Take a real look at your websites content (that they own as their work product) and you will find regurgitated repeat sentences. I WILL brag a little here and say, all of our writers have JD’s. Avoiding the Queen’s English-speaking countries overseas doesn’t cut it for us, and it shouldn’t for you either.
They will also syndicate content onto your social media profiles for you a few times a month, depending on what over-priced package you buy. That by in large is a complete waste of time from an SEO perspective (and others). Now if you take that content and use it as a paid social media marketing strategy complete with audience targeting, LLA (lookalike audiences) targeting and more that is mostly Facebook driven, that is a different story and a blog for another day. To my knowledge, they do not offer something that sophisticated.
So are they really stealing your SEO efforts?
Absolutely. As we covered in our series, their contract literally states it word for word. The text, the code, the directory listings and all the rest are their property. You are merely a hostage paying every month with possibility of release. That’s where we can help. Need more proof? Call your account manager and ask them to include you in your Google Analytics, search console account and provide you with access to all your citations they have built, with usernames and passwords. They can’t. At one point, they were even willing to hold your URL hostage and not turn over the keys to your own URL. We will cover this and more in our next series of blogs.
If you considered or are utilizing FindLaw’s Marketing Services, give us a call. Even if it means you don’t utilize our services, we want to make sure your priorities come first. Contact us today at 877-602-7510.