We recently conducted a study, which found that, out of the top three legal websites for a vanity keyword search in Google for criminal defense attorneys in the 50 largest cities in the U.S., 72% of the sites hosted a legal blog. While our study might not have been perfect, it did stress how legal blogging helps your online ranking, which leads to more website visitors and more potential clients.
However, we couldn’t help but notice how our study revealed another, collateral result: It showed that legal directories like Avvo, Justia, SuperLawyers, and FindLaw were still clinging to relevance and even dominance in these searches. As professional legal bloggers and online marketers, we’re surprised. Here’s why.
What Are Online Legal Directories?
An online legal directory is a website that lists attorneys, typically by location and practice area, allowing interested consumers to look through their options and make an educated decision on who to hire. Many of them include profiles for attorneys to fill out, advertisements for attorneys to buy to become more prevalent, awards for purportedly exceptional attorneys, and user ratings from prior clients.
Examples of these legal websites include:
Legal Marketers Have Been Expecting Directories to Fall
For years, legal marketers have been watching these directories in the expectation that they will slowly lose ground in the search rankings. As early as 2007, Larry Bodine was claiming that Google was the only law firm directory to bother with.
Because legal directories list attorneys by practice area and location so interested clients can find them. This might sound familiar: It’s exactly what a search engine does. People who get online to look for an attorney in a search engine, and who then click on a legal directory, are essentially going from one search engine to another one.
From the perspective of Google or Bing, then, a legal directory provides no value for their users. Instead, these directories are just another unnecessary step towards finding a lawyer that is relevant and important for the query the user first put into the search field.
By listing legal directories in their results page, a search engine is, essentially, letting someone else do their work for them.
That is why online legal marketers have been expecting legal directories to get buried in the search rankings: Search engines should realize that directories provide no value to their users and are, in fact, performing little more than another Google search.
Nevertheless, They Persist
However, one of the things that our study discovered was that legal directories still dominate the first results page for the vanity keyword search [location] criminal defense attorney in the 50 largest cities in the U.S. – in most cases, the majority of the top seven results were for a directory, rather than for a law firm. In one case, Arlington, Texas, each of the top eight listings was for a directory. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, legal directories were ranked one through seven.
We still think that search engines like Google will realize their mistake and that legal directories will experience a swift fall in the rankings as algorithms get changed. However, until then, legal directories play a strong hand in vanity keyword searches.
With that said, though, these directories will likely be far weaker in long tail keyword searches; something that you and your law firm can take advantage of, as you try pulling interested and potential clients down your online marketing funnel and turn them into paying clients.