Are Legal Directories Finally Dying?

We’ve been waiting for the day when legal directories finally start to get buried in the rankings for legal-related searches. While we’ve been waiting for years, it seems that the day may finally be on the horizon: Traffic is falling, innovation is stagnant, popular directories are hemorrhaging customers, and there are indications that workers are being laid off.

It’s good news for attorneys who are actively marketing their law firms online and want to stand out from the crowd.

Yellow pages legal directory lawyer marketing

Photo Credit: Flickr

What are Legal Directories?

Legal directories are the for-profit websites where lawyers can create a profile of themselves and the firm they work for. In theory, this drives traffic to the law firm’s website or leads to warm leads from people calling the attorney directly from the listing in the directory. Examples of legal directories include:

  • Avvo
  • Justia
  • FindLaw
  • SuperLawyers

Most of these directories make money by selling “premium” profiles that are more prominent in the directory’s listings, for a hefty price and a long-term commitment.

We’ve Been Waiting for Directories to Fall in the Search Engine Rankings for Years, Now

In the legal marketing field, these directories are incredibly frustrating because they compete with real law firms for prominent spots in the search engine results page (SERP), placing especially well in vanity searches like “[name of city] personal injury lawyer.” These are high-value searches that can lead to lots of web traffic and paying clients, so seeing directories place at the top of the results page and siphoning off a good chunk of that traffic has been difficult to watch.

Why legal directories have continued to get ranked well in these searches has been a mystery for us. Legal directories are nothing more than a listing of lawyers. In a way, they’re doing exactly what Google does: They provide the names of a bunch of firms and lawyers who work in a particular locale and practice area. Why Google and other search engines would promote these directories to do exactly what their own SERPs are doing has confused us for years.

Nevertheless, our 2018 study on the prominence of legal blogs in top-rankings websites found that these directories were still dominating vanity keywords.

Directories Finally Seem to be Dying

That study was hard on the heels of Avvo’s acquisition by Internet Brands, a company notorious for taking successful websites, slashing costs, and milking them dry by capitalizing on the old site’s solid reputation for as long as possible. Internet Brands is, after all, owned by private equity firms. The company was already behind other popular legal sites and directories, including Martindale-Hubbell, Lawyers.com, and Nolo.

That process has taken longer than we would’ve expected it, but it does seem to be moving forward in earnest, now.

Avvo, in particular, has seen its rankings decline and its web traffic plummet, and seems to have laid off a substantial number of workers in the past few months. There are plenty of reports of attorneys complaining about deteriorating services from the site, including declines in both lead volume and quality. Many of them are looking at their marketing investments on the platforms and leaving.

We’re also seeing sales representatives from Avvo and other legal directories go to great – and we mean great – lengths to keep current clients on the rolls, offering free services and steep discounts… though never offering to waive the time commitment, which can sometimes tie a lawyer to a costly directory profile for up to a year.

What This Means for Your Firm: A Pivot to Content Marketing and SEO

If all goes well, legal directories will fall from their prominent positions in vanity searches and open up some valuable SERP real estate for lawyers and law firms. The difference, though, will be in how to capitalize on it. Rather than paying to play and forking the money over for a premium profile on a variety of platforms to a capture a share of its web traffic, lawyers and law firms will have to pivot into legal content marketing and optimizing their site for search engines in order to rise in the rankings and capture that web traffic on their own.

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