Legal Search Marketing – Why FindLaw and Martindale-Hubbell Miss the Mark

By Ian M. Bardorf

If you’re like many busy attorneys, you don’t have the time to stay up-to-date on the latest advances in Internet marketing. Your expertise is in helping your clients and providing high-quality legal services. You need a savvy partner that will design and implement a results-driven, cost-effective online marketing strategy.

Most attorneys sign up with a company they believe will take care of their Internet marketing needs and help them stay current. Some of the biggest providers include FindLaw (a part of Westlaw) and Martindale-Hubbell. These are established companies that were founded to produce legal research in the form of print directories and have since moved into the world of online publications and marketing. Many of you have paid to appear in their listings, both in print and online, and have hired these venerable firms to create and host your websites, and market your practice.

But Internet marketing is more than just a listing and a website, and over time, many clients of these big companies become dissatisfied by not only the level of service but more importantly, the results they get for what they pay. If you’re a FindLaw or Martindale-Hubbell client, you may be spending more than you need to for inferior results and missing out on other opportunities to help your business succeed. Read on to find out how FindLaw and Martindale-Hubbell miss the mark.

Local Always Beats National.

Did you know that 97 percent of people conduct research online before buying locally? Or that 64 percent of consumers expect the business within their search results to be within 15 miles of their location? Clearly it’s important to appear in the search results for clients looking for an attorney close by and to work with a marketing partner that understands your area.

Attorneys who have claimed their Google Places listing know how important “localization” is. Google developed this feature in response to the growing demands for local results. Google knows that when people search for a particular service – they’ve been in a car accident or slipped and fallen — they want local results so they can actually find a solution.

But while Google is striving for localization in their search results, FindLaw and Martindale-Hubbell serve a national clientele and produce products for the masses that are not tailored by geography. For example, the dynamic content FindLaw offers their clients at a premium price is written to accommodate thousands of clients in every state across America. These articles are syndicated content, so not only are they vague and general, but they are not targeted or customized to a particular local market. Their clients are missing a huge opportunity to connect with local prospects on issues relevant in their communities, such as the recent Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act.

More Isn’t Better.

The true value of a FindLaw or Martindale-Hubbell account is actually a simple listing in their legal directory, but not for the reason you may think. The pitch from the sales team is that their directory attracts millions of visitors every month and is a viable source of qualified traffic. While millions of visitors sounds impressive, you’re really only concerned with attracting prospects that are quite literally within a 25 mile radius of your office. Those are your clients.

The real benefit of being listed in their directory is actually the backlinks from their directory to your website. Backlinks are a critical component of SEO (search engine optimization) and help your website obtain more authority with the search engines and higher rankings. You want to get your website higher organic rankings and backlinks are key.

Typically FindLaw and Martindale-Hubbell’s directories appear high in the search engine results while individual attorney profiles within do not. The reality is that if a prospect searches for a term like “Metrowest divorce attorneys” and both the FindLaw directory and a local law firm’s website appear in Google’s results, more people will choose to visit the law firm’s actual website than get trapped in a massive legal directory. If they do choose to click on the directory they may have to drill down three or four pages to find the listings they’re looking for, wade through multiple other results from sponsored listings, and they may never see your profile.

Dollars Don’t Equal Results.

The bottom line is that these services are expensive. Many FindLaw and Martindale-Hubbell clients spend between $1,000 to $2,000 per month. If you don’t like the results you may have to pay more to upgrade your site. What most don’t realize is that you can easily get locked in to depending on their services for years to come, which of course is exactly what they want. If you spend $15K a year to get your Internet marketing underway, the question is how long do you plan to spend that each year? Is it 10 years, 20 years, until you retire? That expense quickly adds up. You could spend a quarter of a million dollars with one company and on just their products and services.

You need to consider the return on your investment over time. With the bigger firms there is definitely a case of diminishing returns. While it may be worth $15K the first year to get your website going, it’s definitely not worth this much in the third year, never mind year four, five, six, and beyond. Thinking about ROI long-term will save you from making an unworthy investment.

Service or Sales.

When’s the last time you heard from your account rep at FindLaw or Martindale-Hubbell? Were they calling with a great new idea for improving your site or reaching new clients? Most likely it was because they had something new to sell you or they were trying to collect their most recent invoice. Although these large firms are staffed with dozens of sales reps in Massachusetts, chances are when you need something done it may not happen as quickly as you’d like. The Internet is a dynamic marketplace. In order to harness its power and obtain the results you desire you need the flexibility and the nimbleness to make changes quickly.

We all know how great it feels when the barista at the local coffee shop remembers our order from week to week. Think how much more important it is for your agency to understand your clients. A good agency will take the time to learn your market and design a specific campaign to reach and engage them, and not fit your business model into a “one-size-fits-all” approach that may simply be, “how we do it”.

Who Owns Your Site?

Once you’ve decided that you’re not happy with the results, expense, or service you’re getting from one of the big firms it’s time to consider your options. Making a change may not be easy. Findlaw for example, hosts your site, often manages your domain, and controls your content. If you decide to terminate with them, the company will give you your site and most of it’s design elements on a CD. What they don’t tell you is that in doing so they strip out all of the SEO (search engine optimization) of your site, which quite frankly is its true value. You would never notice this from the appearance of the website, but all of its SEO mechanics have been removed. It’s like taking a formula engine out of your fancy sports car and replacing it with a tiny 2 cylinder engine made for a lawn mower.

At the same time, once your FindLaw site is shuttered there is often at least a two-week time lag before you receive your site on CD, which sends up a red flag to Google since you site has been down for that long. Once your site loses its authority, it essentially becomes a new site in Google’s eyes and you have to begin the slow process of optimizing your site and regaining its rankings from square one. Some sites never have the good rankings they had before canceling with FindLaw and they’ve essentially lost their investment. To avoid this, you need to figure out the logistics of transitioning your site to an equally effective and much more affordable solution.

One Channel or Many.

To make the most of Internet marketing, a savvy attorney will take advantage of all the opportunities online, creating a “’digital arsenal” that they can use to attract prospects and engage clients. This can include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Places, Google AdWords,  monthly videos, and listings in local directories and other effective and affordable legal directories like Justia and Avvo. Findlaw and Martindale-Hubbell do not offer these services and having just a website and a directory listing with just one company won’t cut in in the competitive world of Internet marketing. Unfortunately, even after spending $15K or more a year with FindLaw for just one channel, many attorneys find they don’t have the online presence they need to build their businesses. Ironically, being in more places will help attorneys save money, spend more wisely, and get obtain better results.

Now it’s up to you.

You want to outsource Internet marketing to a trusted provider to save time and get the best results. A good agency will help you help yourself by educating you on the pros and cons of various approaches. Choose a service-oriented agency that will become a true business partner. In this economy, that will make all the difference. To find out more about local Internet marketing for attorneys contact Ian Bardorf at www.bardorfmarketing.com.

Ian M. Bardorf is an Internet marketing and social media advisor to attorneys and law firms seeking to grow and advance their business via the web. This article is copyrighted as original content by Ian M. Bardorf and Bardorf Legal Marketing. This article may be reproduced or republished with appropriate attribution and credit.