According to the video on their website:
FindLaw is the world’s leading provider of internet marketing solutions for law firms.
But are the world’s law firms generally benefiting from FindLaw’s SEO services? This review explores my experiences with the good, bad, and ugly of FindLaw’s SEO services.
According to FindLaw’s company history it was founded in 1996 as a list of Internet resources for law librarians in northern California. In 2001, it became part of West Group, a business unit of Thomson Corp.
According to Justia’s website, FindLaw was started by Stacy Stern, Tim Stanley (current CEO of Justia), and Martin Roscheisen.
I first encountered FindLaw back in 2008. A lawyer, who was a FindLaw client, asked me to audit the internet marketing services being performed by FindLaw. Since that time, I have been asked by numerous lawyers about whether or not FindLaw’s internet marketing services are “worth it.”
And of course, the answer is that it depends.
We have worked (and continue to work) with many firms that have had excellent experiences with FindLaw’s internet marketing services. On the other hand, we’ve also heard some horror stories.
I hope this review is received as it is intended: a constructive review and criticism. It is certainly not intended to be a bashfest.
As you will see, there are advantages to choosing FindLaw. Likewise, there are disadvantages. I hope this helps you make a more informed choice with regard to internet marketing services. Perhaps (not holding my breath here), it will motivate FindLaw to improve in areas in which I believe that it is weak.
Here’s my take on FindLaw’s internet marketing and SEO Advantage.
Spend a short time browsing FindLaw’s web design portfolio, and you will quickly see that many of their designs are top-notch. In fact, according to their site, many have won design awards.
Most of the websites in their design portfolio are completely custom and follow, what I would agree, are best practices in terms of design. They use custom imagery including actual images of their lawyer clients, as well as, their firms. They take an educational approach by delivering informational content in a variety forms including images, text, and video. Their custom content is actually very good.
The FindLaw informational videos are of top production quality. Their interview-style vignettes are particularly effective.
They are clearly experienced in conversion optimization as they deliver calls-to-action and a variety of ways for site visitors to interact with their websites including contact forms, informational downloads, call to call options, and live chat functionality.
Their sites, at least the handful that I reviewed, follow a logical site organization and, for the most part, follow general best practices in terms of on-page search engine optimization (i.e. optimized title tags, headers, etc).
Which shouldn’t come as any surprise. FindLaw’s advisory board has some REALLY smart and experienced SEOs on it.
When it comes to search engine visibility, many of their sites (more on this later) perform very well and enjoy high search positions for highly competitive keywords. For example, in the Chicago personal injury market, as many as 6 of the most visible injury law firms are FindLaw firmsites (most of the others using Justia).
FindLaw claims to offer:
- The legal marketing industry’s largest team of experts focused exclusively on effective online marketing for lawyers and law firms: Our staff already knows your business.
- Local consultants in every U.S. state who know the legal market and competitive landscape in your city or region, and can create a plan for you to succeed online.
- Account managers who stay focused on your website’s performance and answer your questions after your site launches.
- A dedicated focus on law firm marketing. We do not work in any other business category.
- Content expertise. As the owners of FindLaw.com, the industry’s largest resource of expert legal information, we can help you keep your law firm website fresh and relevant with custom or syndicated content.
Which, at face value, could all be beneficial in terms of selecting an internet marketing firm. However, as we’ll discuss below, at least some of these apparent “benefits” have a downside.
Admittedly, FindLaw has one of the oldest, most authoritative, and most trafficked legal websites in the world. There is a lot of value in that. And, for lawyers who are FindLaw internet marketing clients, they are big opportunities to be had in participating with FindLaw’s web properties (i.e. directories, publishing platforms, etc).
So, what’s so bad?
Well, most visibly was FindLaw’s link selling scheme, for which FindLaw was penalized by having its website PageRank dropped from a 7 to a 5 (at time of posting, they’re back to a 7). While there is much debate in the SEO community about “paid links”, Google expressly warns that:
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.
However, like many other aspects to SEO, exactly what constitutes a “paid link” that violates the webmaster guidelines is open to interpretation. For example, directories, like Yahoo!, that charge for editorial review of submissions, are generally deemed ok. On the other hand, explicitly link brokerages are generally viewed as extremely risky. Further, from my experience, while expensive, in some circumstances, paying for inclusion in major legal directories (including FindLaw’s) can add value in terms of search visibility.
Here are some of the other major complaints that we, as well as many others, hear about FindLaw:
- Ownership Issues – Many lawyers have complained that they have been held hostage by FindLaw with regard to who owns their website. In other words, FindLaw refuses (or at best makes it very difficult) to transfer the ownership of domains and other site content. In fact, some consultants have made a business of fixing FindLaw problems. We too have had experience in transferring attorneys off of FindLaw. It can be a headache, but when pushes turn into shoves, you usually can get your domain and site files to which you are entitled.
- “Hotel California” Issues – As the Sequoia Legal Marketing blog puts it: “…you can check in any time you’d like, but you can never leave…” The point here is that FindLaw will keep you linked to their high domain authority properties, so long as, you keep paying them. In fairness, FindLaw is certainly not the only internet marketing company taking the Hotel California approach. Further, I’m not per se opposed to paying for membership in relevant link “networks.” However, it’s important for lawyers to understand that their investments in this type of “quasi-seo” are only temporary. You stop paying, your links come down.
- The Template Issue – Call it template, call it commodity, call it one-size-fits-all. No matter what you call it, you need to recognize that if your internet marketing service is doing the same “stuff” for you as they are for your competition, you’re never going to get ahead. On the other hand, using FindLaw in conjunction with custom SEO, can have value. As we discussed above, several Chicago PI firms are using FindLaw for SEO. The result, they have had very similar work done, leading to very similar results. However, there are only 10 organic search spots on the first page of Google. Which of their clients do they prefer over the others? That’s a question I leave to them to answer.
- Stock Content – While FindLaw’s custom imagery, videos, and content are quite good, their stock content is not. What’s worse, they use very similar content versions across multiple sites. This can have a disastrous impact on your online visibility, as well as, just make you look crappy.
- Brutal Contracts – Probably one of the most ominous issues with FindLaw’s internet marketing services are their contracts. They have long terms. They lack transparency. They’re confusing. It’s not clear that their high costs are always justified. Make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for, what you’re getting, and when what you’re paying for will be delivered.
- Inefficient Site Administration – One other glaring issue that we’ve come across is that FindLaw sites are very difficult to admin and update. In some cases, we have had to submit site change requests to FindLaw. Turn around time for these requests is lethargic at best (I suppose it depends on who’s on your admin team). Further, sites that we’ve had admin access to, were very difficult to admin.
Let me start out by saying that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all internet marketing solution. Lawyers and marketing managers should consider the advantages and disadvantages of any program before locking-into a long-term contract. Like most other purchases, there’s simply no substitute for having some knowledge about the internet products and services you are purchasing.
We’ve worked with firms that have had great experiences with FindLaw’s internet marketing services. Most of the firms having a good experience, were either the only, or one of a very few, firms using FindLaw in their area. In more competitive environments, we have seen more dissatisfaction.
Certainly FindLaw’s custom websites and content are very good. However, you need to get an idea of how much you’re paying for each component. Which, considering their confusing contracts, can be difficult to figure out. I would suggest that a basic custom website design should not cost over $10,000. However, with video and a variety of other web bells and whistles, it might.
If your competitors are paying for inclusion in FindLaw’s directory (and receiving links back) you might consider paying for that service to level the playing field. However, you should not count on inclusion in their directory to boost you to the top of search engine results pages. Especially, if that’s all you’re doing.
My best advice is to ask a lot of questions, learn as much as you can about how effective internet marketing works, and research a variety of options. That’s the best way to decide whether FindLaw is the right internet marketing service for you.
UPDATED: Based on the number of complaints I have heard from lawyers about their FindLaw contracts, I have posted FindLaw Website SEO Agreement Reviewed.
FindLaw Website / SEO Services
Reviewed by Gyi Tsakalakis on .
Website design and search engine optimization for law firms.
FindLaw provides some very professional websites, but be cautious in choosing them as your primary search engine optimization provider.