Looks like May the fourth wasn’t with lawyers.com.
So you may have heard the news here in the last week: there was a major Google search engine algorithm update on or around May 5th. What else is new, I mean, we hear there is a google core update about once a week these days it seems. But this time, it was different. While google SEO experts out in the non-legal world have been chasing stats and traffic counts across the board, I have had a keen eye on two very specific properties. Lawyers.com and Avvo.com.
Now let me be clear, there has been some news surrounding the slow decline of AVVO in google search results for a few weeks. But, Lawyers.com is all news to my eyes. It sure looks to me like Lawyers.com is getting dumped for the summer in favor of the newer “hotter” Justia. Not to mention, the steady performance of Findlaw’s network of properties appears to also still be in season. Allow me to explain.
Let’s slow down a bit here and talk about exactly what these properties are, for those who aren’t acutely aware.
Knocking Findlaw out first, these folks own a network of legal listing sites like SuperLawyers.com and others. It’s a pay to play listing site where attorneys can pay to list their profiles on carious searches. Their Domain Authority (DA) is through the roof, and they have been a google favorite for years. They do a fabulous job of linking their 10,000+ website clients (they also build and host very expensive and ineffective law firm websites) back to these profiles, which certainly helps their SEO and DA. You can certainly follow our musings about Findlaw here, where we clearly don’t praise them. In any case, on the below screenshots you will see them at or near the top of google search.
Justia is a relative newcomer to the top of major keyword search rankings, though they have been hanging out with the winners here for a while. If you own a law firm in the US, chances are you have been cold called by their sales staff. Much like Findlaw, they sell a bevy of listings to have you and your law firm appear in their directory. Along with their listings on Justia.com comes the heavily vaulted .edu link from Cornell. We will talk about that in another blog. Let’s get to the stuff you came here to read.
Avvo.com launched as an alternative to Lawyers.com and SuperLawyers.com in 2006 claiming they had the secret sauce to solving legal consumers desires for for lawyer reviews and ratings, online forums and other educational content. Boasting more than 100 million annual website visits and 300,000 active lawyers involved in using the site, it was a hit among consumers. I suppose. I say this, because literally every attorney I have ever talked to about Avvo scowls in disgust. Complaints about their unfair rating system seemed to the top of the list, with state bars nationwide taking on their efficacy being top topic dejure. Internet Brands bought them in 2018 for a wad of cash and added it’s site to their stable of web properties like Nolo.com. Law firms across the nation failed to care. It’s seems as though google did though.
Lawyers.com was once the king of the mountain in online legal search. Like the aforementioned, they sell an array of listings by geography, area of practice and more in hopes of legal consumers. Law firms across the nation advertise on their platform (as with the others) due to their high search volume coming largely from Google. It didn’t take an SEO expert to see the value either, literally almost every search you did one way or another for an attorney, they and their band of brothers dominated the results.
Was it something they said? Have these websites indeed been wiped off the (Google) map?
Sure looks like it to us. We did a whole host of searches in Google from New York City, to Los Angeles and the results around the 6th of May were substantial. Interestingly, the results were more dramatic in major population centers than they were outside of them. As an example, in Riverside, CA they were ranked #4 having slipped one position on the 6th. Big Deal. But in Los Angeles searches, they had a more perceptive drop off in rank. This may be due to the reported Google May 2020 Core algorithm update being done in batches, which is certainly normal. But if you look at these screenshots from keywords in NYC, this is a huge problem. As I mentioned, AVVO has suffered a similar fate a few weeks ago, prompting lay offs of their sales staff and reductions of ad budget spend; accompanied with the Covid-19 update they appear to be dealt a losing hand. But the May search update continues to show them being hit hard and as you can see here, they aren’t even ranking in some of these search results.
Why is this important? Who really cares where Lawyers dotcom and AVVO rank?
Well, for one, hundreds of thousands of law firms across the US use them as a source of leads. Forget their value to users and folks looking for a lawyer, attorneys across the country depend on them as a source of business. With COVID-19 already hitting the nations law firms hard, this is another slap in the face. As an example, a client of ours runs ads (top city placements) on all of these sites. Of course, we track the results. Over the last year we have documented a 75% drop in conversions (phone calls, form fills and live chats) from AVVO alone. It appeared to us, their traffic counts dropped like a rock. Along those same lines, we are seeing a massive drop in traffic and conversion from lawyers.com. At first, we chalked this up to Covid, as everyone else did. But clearly this last week, we spotted something else at play while working on clients SEO ranking. Law firms depend on these sites maintaining their position in search. Conversely, these websites can be wiped out by a Google core update. Have these two sites been hit harder than others by a google core update?
Why has Google chosen to hit these websites so hard?
That is really anyone’s guess, which is what I am going to do here. Ready? Seriously, take this with a grain a salt.
Looking at AVVO first, they have a host of content that is out of date at https://stories.avvo.com/media-resources.html. If you look at the H-tag structure, or lack thereof, you will note there really is none. Not mention, some of this content appears to not be locked down on an SSL. How strange. The other thing I see is the sheer amount of non-relevant content throughout the sub-domain website. A Zombie Apocalypse and the Bill of Rights? Looks to be the work of an over zealous marketing department. We can’t all be @FLAbar can we? (seriously though, check out their banter). Could they literally have fallen victim to the lack of SEO basics? Other SEO experts other than myself can feel free to chime in down in the comment section. I don’t actually think this is the case, but it’s worth thinking about.
Lawyers.com always made more sense to me from a user perspective anyway. Their content is linked directly on their home page. The articles themselves, written and submitted by attorneys (or their marketing agency) were of proper length and structure. So it’s just not that simple.
What does this mean for SEO’s in the legal space?
It’s really too early to tell. But those of us responsible for ranking law firm websites at the top of search results are rejoicing. We might actually have a fighting chance to out rank these previous behemoths. One thing is certain: the Google May 2020 Core algorithm update was a seismic shift. If you handle a website for a law firm that you have on auto pilot (god, I hope not), now would be a great time to take a look at it’s rank on Google. The search engine rules all. Feed it what it wants. Your (our) job just got a little easier.
Conclusion: What do you need to know if you are an advertiser on one of these platforms?
A lot. For one, you need to rethink not only your overall investment in these websites, but how you have it distributed. As an example, you may find that you spend $1,400 a month on AVVO, but $125 at Lawyers.com. And you have chose not to advertise on Findlaw’s Super Lawyer network. Given the Covid pandemic, all of these companies are offering some sort of help too, so calling your sales rep is a MUST. I was able to secure a $7,000 credit from Findlaw and a months worth of credit on the other websites I have mentioned here. That added up to an excess of $20,000 for one well heeled client. The frustration lies with the fact that all of these companies sell their services on a contract; some of them 3 years in length. That’s a topic for another blog, but you need to at least find out what you have running on this websites, what you are paying for it, and when you contacts end. Also, a quick look at Google Analytics will tell you what websites are bringing in the most traffic of the bunch.