Is Findlaw’s lawyer directory selling links in violation of Google’s guidelines?

Warning: I wrote this article in March 2012. I do not regularly check on the substance of this article to verify that it is still accurate.

I think an attorney that buys a listing in the FindLaw Lawyer Directory and has their listing link to the attorney’s website may cause their site to be negatively impacted in the search results. This is because Google’s guidelines do not allow a website to sell links that pass PageRank.  I do not recommend that, if an attorney pays to be listed in Findlaw’s lawyer directory, attorneys include a link to their site in the directory. Google says:

“Not all paid links violate Google’s guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

1) Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the <a> tag
2) Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file”

I believe that the only possible way to have a link, on the main page of a practice area in Findlaw’s lawyer directory, is to pay for the link or to have Findlaw design/host your website. Last time I checked (which was probably over 5 years ago) Findlaw charged attorneys several hundred dollars to be listed on one of the top spots in a particular practice area.  The source code for the main page of the Findlaw lawyer directory does not appear to designate a link (on an attorney’s profile) to an attorney’s site as advertising. According to Google:

“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. Google works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results, such excessive link exchanges and purchased links that pass PageRank.”

Attorneys with listings in the Findlaw lawyer directory directories may want to remove a link on these sites to their website because Google could negatively impact their website in Google’s search results.  I think that most of the attorneys in these directories are not familiar with the concept of buying links that pass page rank.

Apart from the main page in directory for a particular practice area, Findlaw allows an attorney (on their profile) to add a link(s) to the lawyer’s website(s) or blog(s) for no charge. It is ok that this link passes page rank because Findlaw is not selling this link. Although Findlaw (and “link buyers” on their site) may be negatively impacted in Google’s search results, Findlaw is more generous than lawyers.com, hg.org, and nolo.com. None of the latter  provide a free link (in their directory) to an attorney’s website.  So far it doesn’t appear that Google has penalized Findlaw or attorneys’ websites that have a paid link (in their profile on Findlaw’s main directory page for each practice area) to the attorney’s site on either directory. But Google wants the best user experience possible and Findlaw is a “big fish” and an easy target. I would be concerned if I was Findlaw or an attorney who has paid to be included in Findlaw’s directory.

Do you think that Google will negatively impact (in the search results) attorneys’ sites that have a paid link, on Findlaw?  Do you think Google will negatively impact Findlaw?

I will not become your attorney by you leaving a comment. There is a time limit to file a lawsuit. All comments are posted anonymously but will be public.   I only can represent you if your injury happened in Florida or on a cruise ship; or if the injured person lives in Florida or a family member (in the case of a death) lives in Florida. This is because I am only licensed in Florida.

Comments

  1. Reuben L. says:

    Pay to have a findlaw profile page and they will allow a link to your website. There is a hyperlink directly below your link that indicates “View additional websites” You can add all the websites there you want (blogs etc) but unless you ALSO have a webpage from findlaw/firmsite, only your one website link will appear. This has been confirmed in writing from findlaw’sales department.

    • Justin "JZ" Ziegler says:

      Rueben,

      I know of at least 2 attorneys that do not have their website (“webpage” as you refer to it) hosted with Findlaw/Firmsite, and both of these attorneys have multiple website links on their profile. Do you have a copy of the confirmation in writing from Findlaw’s sales department? As an aside, I am surprised that there are major directories that violate Google’s guidelines and may be penalized. The benefit doesn’t outweigh the risk.

  2. This is very concerning. All of these big attorney ad companies is selling big monthly fee packages primarily. SEO is a business which overall is very much misunderstood by the average person and there are so many companies out there waiting to take advantage of we uninformed attorneys. I think the best thing is to work with a small company that has a good track record with other websites. the smaller firm has more skin in the game rather than employees of a big company. Good luck to all.

    • Justin Ziegler, Miami Injury Lawyer says:

      Todd,

      I agree with you that SEO is misunderstood my many. I am constantly learning and even some of the Fortune 500 companies have different SEO techniques. Which is best? Only the data will tell. I think working with a large company is fine though. I think its a matter of preference. Your website is nice.

  3. Last month our law firm decided not to renew our FindLaw contract and started working with a local SEO/web design firm in Gainesville, Florida – DM Creative Studios, http://www.dmcreativestudios.com (DMCS). Expensive monthly fees and mediocre SEO efforts were the two main reasons why we did not extend the contract.

    DMCS was already working on our SEO anyway, so when the contract expired we hired DMCS to create a new website and continue with SEO. Our site ranks #1 in Gainesville, Florida for all practice areas we do, not just one! We are very happy we switched and worked with Magda from DMCS on this project. Ask yourself one question: “What am I getting from FindLaw for the monthly charges?”

    Most of the time the answer will be:

    1. Initial website design and website hosting
    2. Very basic SEO – not fully optimized
    3. Link to you website from FindLaw
    4. Maybe 3 new pages, once you renew the contract
    5. Minor changes/additions to the site for free
    6. Domain name (most of the time FindLaw buys the domain for you and owns it until the 4-year contract is up)

    What is the cost for all above services? A 3-year contract will probably cost you around $21,000.00 and up. For a similar amount of money you could get advanced SEO, entirely own your website, host your website on a server to which you have access to and much more. Most importantly, you own all content and SEO that have been implemented so far. When your contract expires, FindLaw will give you the website on a CD but you won’t be able to just upload it and get it up and running. FindLaw uses a proprietary content management system – or CMS – to manage your website. If you design your website in WordPress, you can switch companies anytime you want to without losing your rank.

    I recommend Magda from DM Creative Studios if you are interested in improving your website performance. I hear stories from other lawyers who used FindLaw that their site now does not come up on Google on the 1st or even 2nd page and they don’t know why. I know why. FindLaw does not do REAL SEO. Attorneys, there are great small SEO companies out there that take care of their clients and their businesses. Always ask for examples of SEO performance. Good luck.

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