By Michael Ehline – As part of our series on “flip sites”, we have covered some of the tactics that per per play legal marketing websites sites like Findlaw and Lawyers.com have used in the past, such as converting trusted client’s links to “rel=nofollow” without so much as a warning. Flip sites are sites that people buy, build, sell or convert to paid after you help them populate the site. Typically, they start out as a “free” site for users that want to add their business info, or they scrape it from free sources like the various state bar websites. For example, back in the day, people could log into Findlaw with free accounts and add law firm and other info. At some point, that service was no longer free, or it was reduced in value, such as links being stripped away, or content being no indexed.
The advantage to flippers is that ordinary lawyers like you and me, for example, help these companies/flippers populate data on their site’s database with legitimate, trustworthy info, and in turn, their sites become excellent and trusted data hubs for search engine providers like Google and Yahoo! As such, these companies soon realized they could sell additional advertizing for featured, or sponsored “gold” listings, and ultimately, even the “free” services were ended, limited or curtailed once the sensation of a little revenue started to come in (sound like any famous search engine companies you know of?) The very people who helped these companies build their presence online actually had to start paying for the data they added to your site, instead of getting a dividend check. Is this making sense so far? In this piece, we are going to talk about one of these so called “free listing” legal websites that started sending invoices, or demanding payment.
Free legal websites that allow you to place your info typically give you a footer graphic, or a “badge”, with a link embedded into it, that links back to their, the Flipper’s website. Some more savvy lawyers are starting to link back to their own free profiles. AVVO is an example of this. This has a barnacle affect, where the “free site”, actually gets your unique NAP data, and a link back from your site, which now makes it a repository for legal website link juice. Even if you no follow the link back, the metrics for their site are better, because the receiving site, AVVO, for example gets the click throughs and traffic. In turn, you get a link back from your free listing’s profile (or wherever else you post an article, or press release on that free site), and that sends the link juice back to your site (Ex. All the attorneys who link back to AVVO are passing some of their authority back to you. (But see Panda and Penguin where the wrong lawyer could be sending the wrong kind of “juice” into the pool.)
Not to beat a dead horse, but at some point many of these sites have turned off the link juice to your site, de-indexed your articles, or mischievously converted your links to no follow, even though they should “trust” you, as a real live attorney, and member of the bar. But rather than vouch for you like a real lawyer organization such as the Circle of Legal Trust would, without warning, the link juice back to your site is turned off. So think about this, you build a valuable house on someone else’s real estate after they implicitly promised you that you could share in the wealth.
Your work in creating content, building backlinks to yours and their sites, helped them make their town a better place to live for the two of you. Your work increased their property value, and now they want to throw you out into the street, or pay them rents. Is it legal? Perhaps? Is it totally uncool? Yes it is totally uncool.
A few weeks ago, I got at email from the owner of NAPIL, a national injury lawyer’s directory. When I first signed up with NAPIL, the practice was that in order to get a NAPIL listing, one would link back to NAPIL from a designated resources page on one’s own website, for example. If I am am not mistaken, there was a page where you would upload their anchor text and logo and put that on your site, and once you proved that, they would let you post on their site. Can anyone confirm this? This is based upon my memory, which is usually pretty good about things like this. Anyways, over time, NAPIL advertised that they were the number one keyword for a particular term, and continually encouraged other lawyers to add their data. The below e mail from NAPIL details the official company evolution, and hits me up for money for “servers,” “maintaining membership,” and “creating more leads.” Go ahead and read it, and I will pick this up after that.
On Sep 22, 2014, at 2:08 PM, <email@example.com> <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Dear Michael Ehline,
> I am David Sheehan, President and founder of www.napil.com. I started the organization in 2004. My goal was to create the largest directory of PI lawyers in the nation, and keep it free of charge. I have reached that goal. www.NAPIL.com is now the largest directory of PI lawyers in the nation. Our standard membership is free.
> In the past year, the cost of maintaining our servers has gone thru the roof. We are unable to maintain the servers unless we have a capital infusion.
> For this reason, after much thought and deliberation, we need to abandon our free membership model and impose a very small fee for membership. The fee is a onetime fee of $280 for 2 years. We will use the fee to pay for our servers and whatever remains will be spent on creating more leads for our remaining members. Once you pay this fee, you will receive leads we generate on our website.
> You will receive an invoice shortly. The invoice is for $280 and it covers your membership at www.NAPIL.COM for 2 years from the date of payment.
> We remain the most competitive venue for a personal injury practice. We work hard to create leads for our members and make your practice flourish.
> David Sheehan, President
> To pay the fee of $280 with a credit card, please click www.napil.com/login.aspx and login with your username: ********** and Password: *****. Once inside your account, please click the Pay Fee tab and enter 280.00 (no need for the $ sign) and proceed to secured payment.
> Or you can pay with a check. Please mail a check for $280 to:
> FDP Inc
> 23945 Calabasas Road Suite 106
> Calabasas, CA 91302
> Please include a phone number and email with the check please. [Emphasis.]
Addressing the Costs Argument
Many of these companies take the approach that hey, you have a listing on my powerful site so you should pay. The justification here given is server costs, membership fees, anything, just like in the above email. Let’s examine all of the arguments a little more closely, and see if even a single one passes judicial muster.
Of this sounds fair right? A server, especially a dedicated server, is very expensive right? I mean why would a directory like NAPIL with an Alexa global traffic score of around 1,500,000, and tanking rankings since the last iterations of Panda and Penguin need more than a dedicated server?
I mean, my tiny personal injury website scores about 400,000 on Alexa, which means I get a LOT more traffic than NAPIL does.
My server costs are like $100.00 a year I think. A top end dedicated server runs around a hundred bucks a month. You do the math.
Ok, so how hard is it to set up an automated form so members can add their own data? That is what I do with my NAPIL account. Any other data costs added by the owner, can be offset by selling paid listings, so I am not buying it.
I do not recall ever receiving a single actionable lead from NAPIL. Have you? This is because NAPIL emails standard members a fact pattern of alleged leads, but does not give the member the lead’s contact info, unless the standard member is a paid “gold member.” In other words, NAPIL already charges money for this lead gen. Can someone from NAPIL get back to us on this? Will all members be standard “paid” members, diamonds, silvers, or gold members? Why is this “creating leads” used as a basis to charge the free members, when we do not get actionable leads to begin with? Why is this included as a reason in the above email, when it is already being paid for and enjoyed only by gold members?
Google Gods Are Not Shining on Pure Directories
We have seen that Google is favoring sites like Yelp! and Avvo that allow user interactions, NAP data, and that offer things of value to people in either B2B, or Business to Consumer (B2C.) Sites like NAPIL appear to be static directories that at this time, do not offer the kind of value to users and the consuming public.
Don’t Build Your House on Someone Else’s Real Estate Unless You Can Get Some Adequate Assurances of Ground Floor Loyalty in Advance
Stop adding your data to sites that appear to be using the models above. Remember, you are helping them create a data base, link juice and traffic to their own site. There is a major advantage to co-branding and networking that comes with some of the larger legal websites. I would recommend that you try and offer the site owner’s something more valuable than money that can help you. I would offer to be an expert writer, or editor. If the site is serious, they will see the obvious benefit under Google’s new Hummingbird, and Felsch-Kincaid style of rating content. Help with sites that promise to keep your free listings cost free. Try and get yourself grandfathered in. Offer to contribute time, money or something else of value so you can all benefit from the site. There are many newer legal sites that are true attorney organizations that actually offer real value to the community at large. One such site, offers a questions and answer section for consumers, and a marketing section for lawyers, so they can stay on top of the ever changing Google Quality Guidelines.
In exchange for you being interactive and helping make those sites better places for others, everyone gets a benefit at the ground floor level. Sure, at some point sites may need to charge for ancillary paid services, but the point is, getting in at the ground floor and offering your expertise, should always mean that your helpful contributions be maintained cost free.
Attorneys, for example, should join real organizations that follow these honest principles, that actually do public outreach, such as:
These three above organizations have made a commitment to their members that so long as the quality guidelines and their trusted status remains (attorneys participate and congregate) in effect, their “free” listings will never be charged a fee, and their link juice will not be turned off into no follow. They, in essence agree to be a kinder gentler Putin sitting on top of Europe’s gas supply. In all seriousness, the advantages of barnacling to sending and receiving sites offers real value to local businesses, and is a tremendous way to get two listings for the same business on page 1, for example. After Pigeon we have seen individual Yelp! listings outrank many local businesses. We have seen certain attorneys crushed by Panda build one or two links to their Yelp! page blast to page one of Google, vastly increasing the advertising revenue of Yelp! we presume.
But as Google tweeks the algo, and goes more semantic, we foresee a day when these large, general directories like Yelp!, will no longer be as valuable as a targeted interactive organization that provides more that just listings and user reviews. Consumers are seeking a data hub that can answer questions beyond how many of his friends and family, or reputation management company wrote great things about on Yelp! The natural progression is to rely more heavily on ranking signals from attorney organizations and vetting organization that police themselves. Personal Injury Warriors is offering the first 25 new members referred by a Circle of Legal Trust member a free lifetime listing for one location only. I think that is pretty cool, considering the fact that PI warriors has an elected board, a president, real meetings and actually adds valuable, cutting edge content on their site dealing with lobbying congress, tort reform and more. They also offer law student and legal employee memberships at a discounted rate.
But the value is there due to the interactive nature of these sites, like user reviews, results, helpful tips and legal articles. Of course, Yelp! is really only a generic directory that allows reviews, but a site like Personal Injury Warriors offers this, as well as a vetting process, membership status, warm marketing, networking, referrals, news stories on how the latest laws will effect the public, and educational HOA’s, HIRLS and seminars, such as those they conduct yearly in Las Vegas.
Don’t just mindlessly add your business info and links anywhere you can. It has already been proven that a few great listings or even mentions on a few great sites can do a lot more to improve your business’ standing in the SERPS than the old shotgun approach that worked so well back in 2007. Consider joining real organizations that are also live in the www, not just at hotel seminars. Especially don’t waste your time with static directories that are looked upon by Google as not offering any real value.
In any event, I reached out to NAPIL the same day I received this email, and I await a response. I invite NAPIL to come on our weekly Google HOA and address these issues. The door is open.
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