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Finding Out More About FindLaw's Link Sales

Two weeks ago, I posted on an emerging story reported on various blogs that FindLaw was using paid links to game Google and earn better search engine placement for customers, some of whom paid as much as $1,000 for a FindLaw listing.  Now, the story is receiving national coverage, with Dow Jones reporting that Google slapped FindLaw, by reducing its page rank from a 7 to a 5, to penalize its efforts to manipulate rankings through "link juice," and to deter other companies from doing the same.

According to Steve Matthews of Stem, a two point downgrade in page rank is "the equivalent of two notches on the Richter scale."  FindLaw has since ceased its abusive practices and its ranking has been restored.  Still, Kevin O'Keefe, who covers the story at Lexblog wonders how FindLaw customers will react when they discover the impact of the changes on their page ranks.  Never a good idea to have a bunch of unhappy lawyers on your hands, suggests O'Keefe.  Larry Bodine also offers additional coverage at Law Marketing Blog.

It remains to be seen what type of impact this debacle will have on FindLaw moving forward, and whether lawyers will actually start suing for refunds.  However, there are also larger lessons from the FindLaw stories that go beyond the individual company and its customers.

First, for those who still didn't realize it, the FindLaw story proves that lawyers are operating in an Internet age, and Internet advertising matters more than Yellow Pages, Martindale listings or newspaper ads.  The significance of Internet advertising explains why FindLaw was willing to risk penalty to offer top search engine optimization (SEO) to customers:  so that it could increase its market share in Web advertising.

Second, and most importantly for lawyers, the FindLaw incident teaches that lawyers need to educate themselves when buying Internet ads or paying for SEO, so that they know what they're getting.  Any lawyer who knows just a little bit about SEO and rankings would have realized that there's no way that a company could promise a first page rank without doing something shady.  Sure, directories and listings can improve ranking, but there's simply not enough known about the Google search algorithms (outside of Google Inc.) for companies to be able to guarantee proven results. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on September 5, 2008 at 04:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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