At Myers Freelance, we ask a lot of questions about search engine marketing (SEM), in large part because, well, we’re skeptics. We like facts. We put statistical accuracy in high regard. We think that a potentially misleading figure is worse than no figure at all, because it can pull you down the wrong path, rather than leaving you where you stand. It’s why we read online marketing studies closely, and their methodologies even more intensely. Oftentimes, we find misinformation in these online marketing studies.
This attitude weighed heavily on us as we set out on our own study. We kept the question simple, our methodology as transparent and immune to bias or personal discretion as possible, closely monitored any necessary deviations to this methodology as our study collected data, and noted where our results could go wrong.
Here’s how it went.
Question: How Many Law Firm Websites at the Top of the Rankings Have Legal Blogs?
It’s a question based on the idea that having quality content on your webpage is the best way to perform well, online. Because legal blogs are possibly the best medium through which you can add this content, law firms at the top of the rankings should be more likely to have a legal blog on their site than those that do not, right?
To answer this question, we decided to look at the top three criminal defense law firm websites in the organic listings for each of the largest 50 cities in the United States, using the following vanity keyword formula in Google:
[Name of city] + [criminal defense] + [attorney]
This resulted in Google searches for:
- “Boston criminal defense attorney”,
- “El Paso criminal defense attorney”, and
- “Miami criminal defense attorney”.
And so on.
We clicked on the top three law firm sites, noting their position in the rankings, and looked for a legal blog. In some cases, it was easy, with the blog listed in the main menu. In more difficult cases, we utilized the site’s sitemap or a subsequent, site-specific Google search to find one. Where we found a blog page, we put a “yes” in the results spreadsheet, provided at the end of this post. Where we found no evidence of a blog page, we added a “no.” Where there was a blog listed on the website, but the blog turned out to be on a different website, we noted that it was on another domain.
There were also other important considerations and choices we made, to increase the accuracy of the study.
We used Google incognito because, as professional legal bloggers, we have Google search histories and browser cookies filled with lawyer websites that could manipulate the rankings. Using Google’s incognito setting put our searches on a blank slate, preventing Google’s adaptive search from influencing the results.
Google’s recent interest in giving local results makes these kinds of studies tricky: A law firm right next door is going to get boosted in the rankings, while one across the city is not. We wanted a level playing field for our study. However, while Google’s incognito mode masks your search from your browser’s history and cookies, it does not mask your IP address or location.
To avoid local results from skewing the rankings, we did this study from an IP address in Taiwan. Unfortunately, this decision led to two law firm websites refusing us access. In those cases, we ignored the sites and selected another website, further down in the rankings.
Legal Blogs on Other Domains
Some law firms continue to host their firm’s legal blog on a different domain from their main site. Where this was the case, we noted it as a third possible outcome to the question “Do they have a legal blog?”
Important Notes on What We Were Looking For
There are four important aspects to the scope of our study:
- We only looked at organic listings. Law firms at the top of the rankings because of a PPC ad were ignored, as were law firms that were in the local search box.
- We only looked at law firm websites. Legal directories like Avvo, Justia, Thumbtack, Attorneys.com, or FindLaw were ignored. Additionally, we only recognized a legal website’s main domain. Subdomains, like a personal injury attorney’s criminal law practice area page, that managed to be in the top results were ignored.
- We only looked at the largest 50 cities in the United States. We defined “largest” as having the most population, and used the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates for 2016. The results were surprisingly controversial. Washington, D.C. is smaller than Jacksonville? Miami is 42nd? Omaha is bigger than Oakland? St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Anaheim don’t make the cut? We tacked these strange outcomes up to some city “suburbs” being counted in the main city’s population (Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville included surrounding areas in their population count), while others weren’t (Berkeley City wasn’t included in Oakland, something that would’ve moved Oakland from 45th to 33rd). Importantly, this does not necessitate a competitive market, though it often goes hand-in-hand.
- We looked for legal blogs. We only cared about whether a legal blog existed on the site, or not. We refused to go down the slippery slope of what constituted a “regularly updated” or “recently updated” legal blog. Additionally, we quickly determined that some law firms called their “legal blogs” something else, like “articles” or “newsletters” or just “news.” Where these provided legal information, we included them as “legal blogs.” However, in cases where they didn’t – by, for example, merely trumpeting recent case results or attorney awards or acting as a seemingly internal newsletter – we refused to recognize them as a “legal blog” for the purposes of the study.
Results: 72% of the Top-Ranking Law Firm Websites Host Legal Blogs
Because we looked at the top three law firm websites in the 50 largest U.S. cities, there were 150 results. 108 of them had a legal blog. 7 others had a legal blog that was hosted on a different domain. Finally, 35 had no legal blog, at all.
Of course, we could trumpet these findings and proclaim that 72% of the top-ranked law firm websites host legal blogs. However, we prefer leave the potentially misleading proclamations of online marketing success to others, and instead exercise some scientific restraint, in the interest of accuracy and at the expense of excitement: Our study found that, out of the top three criminal defense websites from the 50 largest U.S. cities, 72% of them host a legal blog on their domain.
You can see the raw data, here:
We’ll be delving into the takeaways from this study in our next several blog posts, including:
- How this shows the power of legal blogging to improve your online rankings,
- The continued dominance of online law firm directories in Google searches, and
- Potential weak points in our study.