FindLaw Getting Penalized for SEO Abuse?

Many lawyers have built their small office websites using FindLaw technology. The pricey, but push button technology, was attractive back in the mid-2000s, especially since FindLaw leveraged the power of its web network to generate immediate results for its clients.

But FindLaw also has a major problem. And it’s that it deploys 2005 technology in a 2014 world. Those SEO strategies, built on naked backlinks, graphics heavy websites that lack unique content, and repetitive, junk blog posts, are easily spotted by Google’s new algorithms.

FindLaw meet RapGenius

RapGenius. If you haven’t heard of it, consider yourself lucky.

RapGenius is a lyrics websites that, in typical Silicon Valley hyperbole, doesn’t just want to serve up lyrics. It wants to remake the world:

But that’s just the start. It turns out that Rap Genius has a much bigger idea and a much broader mission than that. Which is: Generalize out to many other categories of text… annotate the world… be the knowledge about the knowledge… create the Internet Talmud.

So Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, two of the top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley have dumped $15 million into the thing.

It turns out that RapGenius hasn’t created a community. It turns out that RapGenius is not somewhere the vast majority of people generally go for anything other than finding the lyrics to the song they are listening to at that moment. How do we know this?

Because RapGenius got caught violating the almighty Google’s policy of trying to trade backlinks (to boost its ranking) for traffic. ValleyWag has been following the story since around Christmas when Google basically banned RapGenius from the first several pages of the search engine.

RapGenius’ traffic dropped off dramatically – from roughly 800,000 visitors a day to something around 100,000 – until last week RapGenius was returned to the fold. How did this happen?

Google routinely modifies its algorithm, and the consequences can have devastating effects for businesses, especially ones that may have engaged in questionable SEO tactics or who had hired an SEO expert who used shady link trading and backlinking practices.

When regular business – say a law firm! – or a moderately sized company does this, there’s generally no love from Google. A call to Google’s offices will not lead to an instant modification restoring that company’s position on Google.

But in RapGenius’ case, the site went from high-flying, to banished, and then back in Google’s good graces again. Obviously, Google responded in some fashion to RapGenius’ apology and promise to disavow link baiting techniques.

Now, to be fair, RapGenius’ shady tactics only became known because of its high profile. And so arguably it would’ve gone unnoticed by Google but for news reports on Gawker that indicated it was engaged in bad SEO practices.

FindLaw’s SEO Practices. RapGenius?

Let’s look at a different company: FindLaw. Among other things, FindLaw makes websites for law firms. If you’ve seen one FindLaw website, you’ve seen them all. They are heavy on graphics, colorful. For years, FindLaw websites dominated search engine rankings. That’s because FindLaw was one of the first national web-marketing companies for law firms and so it was early to the game with thousands of clients, and thousands of websites.

These networks create obvious inter-linking opportunities that Google’s early algorithms rewarded (or at least were not sophisticated enough to penalize). In addition, FindLaw could boost its own directories to the top of Google in most markets because at the bottom of every page of a FindLaw website is a backlink to either or, an offshoot of FindLaw.

In addition, FindLaw was “good” at creating a lot of content, most of it junk, that it could repackage and sell across websites and markets. Instead of a lawyer sitting down to write a lengthy post on some issue, FindLaw could have its staffers do it and repackage it across websites in different cities.

FindLaw has on occasion approached me to offer web services, and each time I have declined. FindLaw is expensive for what you get, and opaque about how they do what they do. For instance, I’ve heard FindLaw salespeople talk about how FindLaw websites are “optimized” for “conversion” so that even if I can’t see them on the first page of Google, they are there, churning out “leads” that you can have for the privilege of paying $2,500 a month or, wait for it, $30,000 a year.

Since I know a good deal about the web and how Google works, I want to know how you’re doing your web marketing so that it won’t ruin my reputation with clients or with the gods at Google. If you can’t clearly explain it to me in a way that makes actual sense, I don’t want any part of it.

Some SEO experts – the good type! – have been onto FindLaw since at least 2008, sounding a warning about how FindLaw websites for lawyers were probably violating Google anti-spam policy.

This is probably the best article on SEO practices at FindLaw.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.