Do You Think You Were Lied to or Deceived by FindLaw?

To begin with, arguing contracts, or fraud in the inducement with a FindLaw attorney marketing, or “ads” supervisor is not what I signed up for. For example, when someone EXPRESSLY promises me to do something in order to get the sale, I EXPECT it to get done. Simple. You can also look into Freshlinks newspaper backlinks to uncover amazing marketing opportunity and expand your business.

Conversely, it appears as if the entire staff at FindLaw thinks that no duty of good faith and fair dealings exists when the time comes to honor their promises. Why is that?

It appears FL employees are trained to rely on their so-called “Master Services Agreement” to shield them from honoring promises and inducements you relied upon in making your decision to contract.

I will explain more as we progress.

But first I will prove that even FindLaw’s own corporate “trust” policies militate in favor of them keeping their EXPRESS and EASY to HONOR promises to their customers.

Can a Written Disclaimer VOID a Promise Relied Upon?

Not usually. Of special interest here, even under contract law, disclaimer language in a Master Services agreement cannot void FindLaw’s (or anyone’s) written, verbal or oral promises. This is called LAW SCHOOL 101.

So imagine dealing with a non-attorney salesperson over at FindLaw after you saw the facts showed you had been lied to and deceived by ad reps. Rather than FindLaw apologize, you hear them basically say nothing. You can read at Ozeri Law Firm Injury & Accident Lawyers blog more info on the topic.

Visualize yourself having been instructed by a FindLaw supervisor that her “Master Services Agreement” shields her from honoring her agent’s solemn EXPRESS promises. And then think about that for a minute. You can hire wrongful death lawyers to get help with any case.

FindLaw’s CEO agrees with me that not keeping promises is unfair and that it fosters distrust. Based upon his statements to the public and stockholders, you’d think FindLaw ads would honor any reasonable commitment they made their clients as a matter of public TRUST.

For example:

“can you please switch out my website link on a product I pay for? It is no longer accurate, as the web address has changed.”

Example 2:

“FindLaw hosts and manages my Firmsite’s SSL certificate, yet you disabled my https Certification and the site is now insecure. My site has now lost ranking because Google tells people who land on it that it is NOT A SECURE site. When are you going to fix it?”

What if your rep said?:

  • Yes, no problem, Mike, we’ll fix it when you renew. (What if it was not fixed?)
  • What if your rep and his supervisor swore up and down in emails that your web URL in Example o1 was fixed?
  • But it wasn’t fixed, so you complained? Now what?
  • What if the new supervisor assigned to your account says: “No, we can’t make your listing accurate anymore because this was a ‘side deal.'” 
  • What if you went over the supervisor’s head to her boss? What if he simply ignored you and relied upon her position that FL doesn’t have to do sh*t? What if he failed to return your calls or respond to your emails?

Remember, you were promised orally, by acts in furtherance, and in emails! Afterward, your rep and the supervisor told you it had been fixed.

Now imagine having your FL ads Firm name being changed from “Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC, ” to “Mike Ehline.” Then imagine the FL supervisor blame you and tell you that you have to fill out some special form, when prior to renewing your name was accurate.

So you are now paying someone thousands of dollars a month to destroy your brand, making your information inaccurate.

Now you are forced to blog about it, so others can see what you are dealing with. Just imagine, your URL is still wrong on your listing, your firm name was changed without your permission. Your rep’s supervisor treats you with contempt.

And to top it off, she makes snide, patronizing comments. So basically, she just declared war on you. And her boss is so spineless he won’t even reply to calls or emails.

So What if FindLaw Made Your Accurate Data Inaccurate and Blamed it on You?

Discussed above, not only did FindLaw not fix the inaccurate URL or update my SSL cert, they actually made my data inaccurate and tried to blame me!

I paid to add a Long Beach truck accident ad to my profile. And true to form, FindLaw changed my once accurate Long Beach listing from our firm name “Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC,” to my short FindLaw account billing name, “Mike Ehline.”

FindLaw implied this is my fault. “Read the ‘Master Services Agreement.'” Plus, its agents refuse to CHANGE IT BACK TO WHAT IT WAS BEFORE renewing. And this is something you have always been able to do before complaining.

Would you say these people have zero integrity? Could you trust anyone like that? Would you want to speak to a higher-up?

Here’s what Jim Smith, CEO of FindLaw, Says about trust:

“Our business depends on transparency and our determination to do the right thing. Our customers count on the accuracy of our information, the reliability of our systems, and the:

  • “integrity with which we operate.”
  • “Trust is our currency.” [Emphasis.]

One thing I do agree on is that FindLaw is transparent and determined not to honor the many promises it has made me over the years. And I think this shows an utter lack of integrity and contempt.

Over the years, I have spent hundreds of hours trying to defend my business and brand from FindLaw representative edits. I have to educate each new account rep as to my account history, since there are different circumstances where you can need a lawyer like criminal persecution and DUI, and still using resources as a dui lawyer can help dealing with this situations.

They make their usual promises. And when I complain, they turn it over to someone less intelligent than them. These are usually people who are hostile and argumentative. I believe reps make false promises because their supervisors are trained to tell clients the Master Services Agreement means any promise they don’t keep is YOUR FAULT.

For years, almost without fail, a new FL hire will try to alter or delete my accurate information, making it inaccurate. Also, when confronted, the reps would gaslight me. So I have to go all the way to the president, spend thousands of dollars of my attorney time to keep FL from changing the deal.

Why Not Just Cancel and Move On?

So why not just cancel and leave FindLaw? Why do you ask? Because the products are amazing. But alas, I can see how any educated, self-motivated, or ambitious employees would potentially be a threat to a supervisor there.

My experience with most of their supervisors has demonstrated that they know very little about BUSINESS, let alone their products, or the internet. Also, most of the leadership I have dealt with have zero commitment to the client’s needs.

Based upon my conversations with my MANY MANY MANY past sales reps, this appears to be the sole reason for the high turnover rate. BAD LEADERSHIP. Sadly, it appears that FindLaw promotes based upon other factors than consumer happiness, heavy product and industry knowledge.

If I made a FindLaw Comedy Play, here would be a famous line from the Supervisor character:

“I don’t care what deal you have in place now, or what promises the last ten sales reps and corporate officers made you! Our Master Services Agreement Insulates Us From Honoring them.” – A scene from the future FindLaw Comedy Play

We hear and have formed the same opinions. We think that FindLaw attorney advertising has excellent products. But we believe they have equally horrific leadership. Last, I am of the strong belief that many of its reps lack accountability when dealing with their attorney clients.

Their reputation with many of our friends who have also challenged them is the same as ours. It seems like anything they do wrong immediately gets blamed on the client. But more often than not, it gets nonchalantly breezed over.

Next, it seems everyone in their corporate chain of command toes the line against the complaining customer.

Do FindLaw Marketing Services Reps Also Double as Defense Attorneys for FindLaw?

I am not sure, but it appears that FindLaw hires a lot of law school grads who like to play lawyer and argue the law with people who practice law for a living.

My last conversation with a fictional supervisor. Ms. “Haaas” was telling in my matter. So she tried to argue contract law with me. Here she is refusing to listen to statements from my previous FindLaw sales rep. Yes, that would easily verify my account status and the promises that were actually in place until she, or her cohorts interfered and voided them unilaterally.

Here is a hypothetical example in our play of what a FindLaw Marketing attorney-client might experience with a supervisor.

The comedy play we write about FindLaw would include lines like this:

FindLaw:

“Clearly, that client is crazy, our Master Services Agreement means we don’t have to honor any of our promises or exercise common sense.”

Client:

“But you and your rep said …..”

FindLaw:

“Sorry you FEEL that way.” (While evading culpability, the supervisor may blame you for their failure to follow their own company policies on Page 55, for example. Thomson Reuters Code of Conduct.)

FindLaw Supervisors could say, “hey those were”:

  • Unauthorized “side” letters. “Unauthorized side letters are undisclosed, unapproved letters, emails, notes or verbal agreements that vary standard contract terms. They may bind us to something we cannot deliver or expose us to unwanted liability.

They can include:

  • Early outs, or the ability for the customer to terminate before the contract expires

  • Guarantees that the customer will achieve certain milestones

  • Statements that directly contradict parts of the contract, notably payment terms

  • Commitments for products or services Thomson Reuters is unable or unwilling to provide or perform

  • Offers of free or discounted products or services

In other words, FindLaw admits that these varying verbal, emailed, or letters are, in many cases, valid and binding terms. Yet their marketing department supervisors seem to AUTOMATICALLY VOID, ignore, or obfuscate THEM.

And they seem to be highly trained and skilled at using the Master Services Agreement as an excuse or ploy to allow them to ignore this internal FindLaw policy of honoring many of them. And my so called side deal had been in place for years until I asked them to correct inaccurate data. (See below)

Are they not violating their internal policies acknowledging that in many cases, these are valid promises, or “side letters”?

BLAME THE CUSTOMER. Enter FINDLAW FIRMSITES.

One typical example of a different term than their form contract spells out has to do with the website URL that FindLaw displays in your marketing ads. It has long been the case that FindLaw has required an attorney to buy a FL Firmsite if they want to advertise their Non FindLaw website on FindLaw’s paid search products. So this would include products such as an Attorney Spotlite listing.

Many lawyers wished to keep their websites for advertising purposes, primarily because WordPress is much easier to use. But others have faster, pure HTML sites and don’t want people less educated at FindLaw controlling their firm’s main marketing tool, their website.

And either type of platform (WordPress or HTML) is FAR more user-friendly than FindLaw’s clunky Firmsites. In my case they even let my Firmsite SSL Cert expire and NO ONE HAS even apologized.

It’s STILL EXPIRED!!!!

In fact, Ms. Haas asked me: “did you know your SSL cert is expired?”

And I was like, duh, “it’s a Firmsite, you need to fix it!!” She didn’t even know it was HER company’s product. This is what you are forced to deal with at FindLaw.

So to this day, many existing attorney advertisers own a Firmsite. But they use them as a static blog. In exchange, FindLaw places the attorney’s privately served websites in the link on those specific advertising sections like Top Spots or Spotlite Listings.

But What if FindLaw Made Your Firmsite Insecure by Voiding The SSL?

Discussed above, it happened to me. And my account supervisor infers it’s my fault. Mind you; this is a website hosted by FindLaw. http://www.militarymotorcycleattorneys.com/

The High Turnover Problem?

Unfortunately, FindLaw has such an extremely high turnover rate, that no one seems to know the true status of client accounts. Nor are accurate notes kept explaining to the next employee your account status.

  • So a new hire rep or tech would try and later strip out your firm’s web site’s link, and replace it with the Firmsite you were forced to buy so you could advertise your real website on your ads. (NO JOKE)

They would argue that your real site is not a Firmsite built by FindLaw.

  • They assume the link to your true website was placed in the Firmsite link area on the ads by “mistake.”
  • And when you clarify that FindLaw does this with many clients, “why are you singling me out?”, they say “it’s a side deal, do you “want to cancel?”

So imagine that this would happen every few years. And many of us had to hunt down our old reps so they could explain FindLaw’s addendum and arrangements to the new FL supervisors.

  • In response, their PRESIDENT told many of us that our non Firmsite Ad accounts were “grandfathered.”

Despite emails and history of these so-called “Side Letters,” being active and HONORED with certain users, the entire thing is arbitrary and appears to be based upon the ego of the newest FindLaw supervisor.

The Old Improper Side Deal Argument?

The problem is even the higher-ups, seem to be car salesman material with little knowledge of legal or internet marketing. Even though you tell your rep, and you have an existing agreement in place, rather than upgrade your current account, your rep may sneakily try and get you to sign a new contract. Maybe he tells you it’s an upgrade.

What they are likely doing, in my opinion, is getting you to invalidate (in their mind) your existing agreement by making you agree to a new master services agreement. After all, FindLaw reps are always encouraged to reach out to FindLaw’s corporate attorneys whenever they have an issue where, for example, a client expects FindLaw to keep promises made by its agents.

Why?

So in effect, they are securing a new contract. Basically, they just got you to agree to a new Master Services Agreement. Now later, as with me, your rep or supervisor may say your old arrangement is an “improper side deal.” But now, they will not let you make changes to update your website link, etc.

They may not even let you edit your ads or locations from your user profile. And they may even demand you fill out papers before they will change it themselves. It’s all very petty.

But then she might try and patronize you, waving her freshly signed new Master Services agreement around. She may do so gleefully as if it was a presidential pardon to engage in unfair and PETTY tactics.

Do a Lot of Current FindLaw Advertisers Keep Their “Side Letter” Agreements in Place While Others Arbitrarily Lose Theirs?

Interestingly, if you search FindLaw’s current attorney advertisers and run their landing page websites through who.is, you will rapidly see that many lawyers are using non-FindLaw site links when they advertise on FindLaw ads. That means they do not display a FIRMSITE in their ads. And some lawyers have done so for many years.

This pattern, practice, and custom by the FindLaw of honoring these so-called “Side Letters” is based upon common sense. But this intangible quality seems not to be instilled in their sales staff. And this opinion is based upon ad reps and supervisors arguing their case on behalf of FindLaw and not defending you or upholding their end.

These “Side Letters” are Binding Contractual Terms and in No Way Subsumed By the “Master Services Agreement”

Applying contracts in a way that harms some FindLaw attorney advertisers, and unfairly helps others is wrong. It also goes against FindLaw’s own Trust Rules above. Someone is being unjustly enriched, and it’s not me!

After all, these side letters [especially once they have been in effect for years] are a binding term to honor for these FindLaw and other advertisers. And this can be based upon implication, spoken word, conduct, habit, express terms, and custom, and more. Most of all, it remains a matter of honor. So it remains a matter of “trust.”

And this is not just what they teach you in law school; it is also according to FindLaw’s own employee trust rules. It may be a side letter. But it is NOT improper. Also, it is not SUBSUMED by a Master Services Agreement.

Unfair Tactics

This kind of tactic in using this Master Services Agreement disclaimer as a tool to invalidate an agent’s promises, if provable, is unlawful. Also, it remains violative of FindLaw’s own internal published employee policies. And to me, it is cowardly and despicable.

Did FindLaw Promise You Something and Later Say They Don’t Have to Anymore?

We are taking comments now. Has FindLaw promised to do or not do certain things to get your business or renewal? Did your rep or a higher up then renege and try to gaslight you? Maybe they told you to show them where it is in the written contract?

It appears that the standard approach used by FindLaw when reps get confronted by a client pointing out a broken promises to a gas-lit client.

Also, this approach, if proven, appears designed to obstruct and prevent the attorney-client from getting what FindLaw’s agents promised him or her. But at the same FindLaw gets paid its advertising money.

Here is a Great Line for Our FindLaw Ads Comedy Skit.

“tell them anything, get the contract, and then later when they are upset, explain it doesn’t matter what you told them. The Master Services agreement says we don’t have to honor anything you or our management told them,”

One could substitute this scene movie scene in the famous Tom Clancy Blockbuster, Clear and Present Danger. But imagine its a client chat with a FindLaw ads Supervisor and not the assistant Deputy Director of the CIA.

Below:

  • Harrison Ford Plays the FindLaw Attorney Advertising Client. 
  • The CIA Guy in the Suit is the Shifty, Sneaky FindLaw Supervisor.

Notice the FindLaw agent whipping out a copy of the Master Services Agreement. “We don’t have to worry about anything; we are covered!” Muahahahahahahah!

It appears its parent company, Thomson Reuters, has a forum selection clause in its contract with you, the lawyer. Hence, you become forced to sue them for any breaches, misrepresentation, or fraud in Minnesota federal or state court.

Alas, this remains a state that offers far fewer consumer protections for victims of unfair business practices than say, California. So you may have given up, thinking the case isn’t big enough.

Check out the Draconian Terms in The Master Services Agreement.

“General Disclaimer. All warranties, conditions and other terms implied by statute or common law including, without limitation . . . are excluded to the maximum extent permitted by applicable laws. (such as a promise by a rep or a supervisor?), the Services are delivered “as is” without warranty of any kind. Thomson Reuters does not warrant or represent that the Services or that all Faults will be corrected. (What about when your rep promises you as an inducement to deal?). [Emphasis.]

  • Thomson Reuters shall not be liable for any Damages …

  • Client assumes sole responsibility and entire risk …

  • Client is solely responsible for the preparation, content, accuracy, and review of any documents, data, or output prepared or resulting from the use of the Service. (Yet FindLaw may not let you update your user info?) (Read More here.) [Emphasis.]

But recent changes to consumer law in Minnesota could invalidate parts of the Master Services Agreement. Of particular concern, they can’t use a contractual term such as this as a subterfuge to ignore promises.

Usually, the more stringent Minnesota consumer protection laws don’t apply. So contracts between a consumer with advertising agencies, such as FindLaw, are generally not strictly scrutinized. But it looks like a great state to nestle your business if the owner wants to have the most sound insulation from honoring contracts. Or is it?

Are there Exceptions to Advertising Agency Exemptions from Consumer Protection?

YES! “….. if the owner, publisher, agent, or employee has either knowledge of the false, misleading or deceptive character of the advertisement or financial interest in the sale or distribution of the advertised merchandise.” (Subd. 3 of Section 325F.69 of Minnesota UNLAWFUL PRACTICES statute.)

  • Does your FindLaw ads rep or supervisor know that FindLaw ads reps regularly make false promises to its attorney clients that it never intended to keep?
  • Did your FindLaw ads supervisor attempt to retaliate against you in order obfuscate, delay or to take away services from you, or your job, but not take away services from similarly situated people or companies?
  • Was a former FindLaw employee feel pressured to say whatever they had to to get the sale. But then you got fired? Or were you forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement when it didn’t work out for FindLaw?
  • Are you aware of instances where FindLaw ads arbitrarily and capriciously discriminate against one attorney-client over another with the same type of contractual arrangement?
  • Does your FindLaw Supervisor or Rep Call a Variance Between you and FindLaw an “Unauthorized” “Side Deal.” Does she claim their “Master Services Agreement subsumes it?”
  • Does your FindLaw supervisor try and argue consumer law with you?
  • Does she gloat over the superior position their “Master Services Agreement” has placed her in?

Also, forcing a California client to sue for things like deception and fraud in the inducement, in Minnesota is unfair. Hence, you may be able to void the FindLaw forum selection clause.

California’s Interest in Voiding Unfair Portions of Contracts

And this is because California has a vested interest in protecting its citizens. MOST IMPORTANT HERE, that interest lies in safeguarding residents from shady offshore businesses, assuming that is your case.

So yes, California can void parts of your contract and uphold amendments and inducements, as a matter of law. Perhaps it falls under California Business and Professions Code Sec 17200 et. seq? Maybe the company used some unfair tactics? Also, maybe their agents engaged in a pattern and practice of unfair business tactics.

Can Other Countries Hurt Us and Get Away With It?

Each state is a sovereign country. If another state allows a scheme that hurts us, our courts don’t like it. Foreign, out of state business cannot insult Californians.

Especially this is not allowed to secure contracts. And they are not excused from using bait and switch style techniques to lure residents of CA into unfair and dishonest arrangements.

Do You believe that FindLaw Ads Reps Consistently Engage in Any other Conduct Which Similarly Creates a Likelihood of Confusion or Misunderstanding?

So let’s see if this is widespread in the Golden State. Or maybe it’s just a few “bad apple,” “squeaky wheel,” FindLaw Firmsite or Knowledge-base customers complaining. Are you an attorney FindLaw client?

We want to hear from you. So let’s see if this is just a few people. But then again, maybe this is a severe problem in the way they run their attorney facing operations.

Other examples:

  • As an inducement, your account rep promised to fix problems with your current ads if you would renew.
  • Did they say the inaccurate information was fixed when it was not?
  • Did FindLaw cancel a program like “Knowledge Base” and not tell you.
  • Did they strip out all the articles and links you built to your website and valuable posts?
  • Does your account rep even know what your account history or status is?
  • Is your account rep familiar with basic internet advertising terminology? For example, what is SEO, HTML, SCHEMA, JAVA? Or what is a “301 redirect, or subdomain”?
  • Are you arbitrarily denied services that other attorneys are still receiving? Did this happen after you complained to a supervisor at FindLaw about an offense against you?

    (“Our Master Services Agreement means it doesn’t matter what you ‘feel’ we promised you. [patronizing statements in emails to you, for example] You want to cancel?”)

  • Does the FindLaw supervisor assigned to “help” seem to be trying to act like a defense lawyer for FindLaw? Do you feel like they are not trying to honor FindLaw’s promises to you?
  • Do they change their story the more you prove to the company that they are in the wrong by their action or inaction, or being unfair?
  • Can your old account rep(s) verify under penalty of perjury as to any misrepresentations or unfair business dealings?
  • For example, any past and present sales tactics or administrative refusals to honor promises?
  • Were these false promises used to entice to procure sales/advertising contracts?
  • Did FindLaw change or alter your accurate business name as listed on your current ads with them? Did they then try and blame you for switching out your accurate data?
  • Are they refusing to allow you to make the profile listing changes yourself as you once did?

Why all the Red Tape?

Why all the red tape, and seeming environment of fear uncertainty and doubt within corporate? And why is it so hard to respect clients and not patronize them? Are you a past or present attorney advertiser or employee of FindLaw? Have you sued FindLaw ads and been successful?

Send us your story. That way, we can do a video-cast with screenshots of emails and statements made by the company reps. If you are with the news media or press, you can email us directly on our online contact us form.

Look for us in future editions of the Los Angeles Daily Journal. So let’s try and figure out what’s up. Again, great product, ineffective leadership. Let’s hear your opinions and comments.

I was promised a new ads rep to assist me with his case. It’s been weeks, and no one has responded to my many calls and emails to FindLaw corporate.

NOTE: To Date, my data is still inaccurate and I am paying for it! Total disrespect!

What are the Benefits of Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer?

Injury and big rig accident lawyers usually offer clients free consultations. This means you can schedule an initial appointment to discuss your case with an attorney for free. In addition, accident attorneys usually operate on a contingency fee basis they only get paid if you receive a settlement. Negotiate fair compensation: Injury lawyers offer clients free consultations. This means you can schedule an initial appointment to discuss your case with an attorney for free. In addition, accident attorneys usually operate on a contingency fee basis they only get paid if you receive a settlement.

This is because your car accident attorney can negotiate with insurance companies to provide a lower price on a collision claims payment than what they would normally give you. It is important that you inform your attorney of your insurance policy before you see him, so he can compare it with his premium. He can also negotiate a lower rate for you to use. You can save money by having your medical bills directly paid by your car accident lawyer, without the presence of a medical malpractice lawyer. For this reason, you should be sure to save all correspondence concerning your car accident with your attorney, just in case there are problems. After all, when your lawyer works with your car accident case, he has the ability to look at any and all relevant evidence and he has access to extensive data that can support his decision. Many auto accidents and law firm owners recommend checking out the law firms or law firm staff that are able to take care of medical bills. The fact is, when you work with a car accident lawyer, your insurance company will pay all medical bills directly, without going to a medical malpractice lawyer. You should visit Hale Law, P.A. now to hire a lawyer for yourself.

The reality is, sometimes you will not win your car accident case. Many accident lawyers will tell you that you will not win your car accident case. Sometimes it is not even that your attorney thinks you will not win. The truth is, your attorney may think you will win, but your attorney may not be able to explain why you may not win your car accident case. The truck accident lawyers from Green, Waters Ogle and McCarter can help with the legalities of an accident case. This is when your attorney can help you, either through further investigation, or through the use of evidence. The downside to this is that it can delay your car accident case or even cause your case to go to trial and end up in a mistrial. So, even though your attorney can try to get you a fair settlement, it may not happen, or he may not be able to convince the judge that you will not have an unfair trial. Many car accident lawyers may tell you to take your chances with a jury trial and your attorney may suggest that you file a civil suit, so you will not have to go to trial. Even though these civil cases may not guarantee you a victory, they can delay your car accident case. Some car accident lawyers may say that you can file a car accident lawsuit directly in the United States District Court for the District of California. However, this will likely cause delay. One can get into an accident while riding in an Uber or Lyft and here is what you can do in case that happens.

If you are thinking about contacting a car accident lawyers and are dissatisfied with our response, please use the above contact form to contact us. Thank you for your interest and cooperation in seeking the services of a qualified car accident lawyer. As always, you are our business and we respect your privacy and the confidentiality of your relationship. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. At Lawyers.Com, we respond to all email inquiries within 24 hours. Please note that when your story case is important enough to be posted online, we’ll notify you by email that we have received the story or case and ask that you forward us a copy of the story or case. All emails will be handled as confidential business information.

Using Yelp! As a Form of Alternative Dispute Resolution?

legal marketing, social mediaYelp! Yelp! Yelp! What a nightmare. I seriously doubt the company can last with what many users believe is its unfair system that forces consumers and businesses to be regular Yelpers or likely have their reviews buried.
What we do see is that business owners are seeing their Google Local and Yahoo! Local results fall in favor of businesses that figured out how to seemingly manipulate the Yelp! algo.

Get Clients from Yelp!?

The only viable way to do that we have found is to try and only get clients from Yelp! And that is the whole idea, right? Spend tons of money advertising on Yelp! and you get Yelpers who are already active users. Some of these people are called “Elite” Yelpers. But business owners and their spouses are not allowed to be Elite Yelpers, so don’t even waste your time if that is the case. But that is a discussion for another time.  So with that intro out of the way, what about Joe Public?

Can You Use Yelp! To Your Advantage as a Consumer and Avoid Lawsuits?

  • The Set Up

First, you need to understand the basic set up in using Yelp!, or you are really wasting your time. Even lawyers like me want to avoid Court. It is a terrible waste of time in many many cases. It also uses public resources we simply do not have, at least in California. Of course, as discussed above, using Yelp! to avoid lawsuits comes at a cost. You must have a Yelp! account, you also probably can’t share the same IP address and computer as a business owner (Do you Yelp! from work, a Starbucks Coffee where an owner has also logged in to claim their business on Yelp!, etc.?)

If you don’t have a “clean” IP and account history, so to speak, it is highly unlikely your reviews will even stay live based upon the reports I have heard. Almost all the reviews for the law firm I work for are filtered even though they are legit (see here.) . But wait, you say, “when I am logged in, I can see all my reviews.” Ok fine, now copy and paste the URL of the page you are on and log out and then paste it into your browser. 9 times out of 10 this is what I see, or a reasonable facsimile:

22 other reviews that are not currently Recommended

the above example, you see the reviews from my clients that are not recommended. As you can see, presently, Ehline Law Firm PC has 7 live reviews and 22 reviews that are NOT RECOMMENDED. Not recommended by Yelp! that’s who. So I called a Yelp! rep and the rep said:

“those reviews are too close in time, so they must be fake according to our algo,” or words to that effect. Seriously? So I explained that we recently had done some charities, outreach and email campaigns to: “check us out on Yelp!,” just like we thought Yelp! wanted. The response, classic.

“Just add our badge to your site and don’t ask people to check you out anymore.”

Seriously? Of course, an advertising rep will “contact you shortly.” In other words, drive traffic and PageRank to Yelp! and maybe a few of your reviews will go live if all the other secret sauce factors are present. OR just spend a ton of money on Yelp! ads, and we will send you Elite Yelpers as clients, and their reviews will go and stay live?

If not, we have a deal with Yahoo!, and good luck seeing your results for local search display there anytime soon since they are now driven by Yelp!

Well, at least I have another reason not to use Yahoo! anymore. Ok ok, have you made it through the minefield of factors above as a CONSUMER? Or do you want justice on Yelp!?  Well, if you are an active Yelper you know hat I mean.

And no, don’t think you can get elite Yelper status and make tons of money. If you get caught selling reviews, you are toast, and so are your reviews. I personally suspect that many of the elite Yelpers do profit handsomely.

I would too if I had an algorithm that basically made it impossible to rank on my site unless everyone was paying me, or increasing my click through rates. I mean, its no wonder that brick and mortar locations have been blown out in favor of Yelp! Google and Yahoo! favor sites that get a lot of traffic, right?

If You Can’t Beat Em Join Em?

Many law firms are using Yelp! paid search now. But the stories I am hearing are that when the ads stop running, reviews start to disappear. Am I sure it is just a coincidence, right? I mean, Yelp! has been sued many times, and courts have thrown out the cases, right? So if you are bold enough and rich enough to advertise on Yelp! maybe? Maybe then you will be at an advantage, maybe not. Some say you lose it all unless you keep paying for advertising.

What About Consumers – How Can they Benefit from Yelp! and Avoid Court?

Ok, now that you see the roadblocks preventing success for a business owner not willing to pay Yelp! money, you can see that it may not be worth it for you to bother with Yelp! as a business. Espresso Translations provide legal transcriptions for fast-growing businesses and they can be a better option if you want to avoid any major legal problems for your business.

But I am going to include a personal consumer experience I had with South Bay BMW, who our law firm had leased a car from, in order to show you how we were able to recover $1,000.00 instead of going to small claims court. The screenshot below has the history of our interactions with BMW Financial and the Dealership itself.

The Negative One Star Yelp! Review of South Bay BMW

Consumer Review on Yelp!

Lucky for me, my negative review went live long enough for the South Bay BMW reputation management person to reach out to me. Unfortunately for South Bay BMW, the review was not buried by Yelp! until after the problem was resolved. Here is the link to the actual page to South Bay BMW on Yelp!

As you can see, my review is now buried. So because of Yelp! deciding it was either fake or offered no value, it was sent to cyberspace. Obviously, whatever the reason, my suspicion is if BMW had seen the review was buried under the NOT Recommended Reviews section, I would not have resolved this.

Why do I say that?

Simple, I have left many messages with BMW and had many phone calls and basically was BLOWN OFF. It was not until I publicly stated my concerns that the following events took place.

You can read Brodkin’s response on Yelp! Oh wait, the review was buried by Yelp! so maybe not.

But go ahead and see if you can find it here:

643 other reviews that are not currently recommended

Of course Yelp! says that something like 75% of reviews are recommended right? Let’s see if that is true for BMW. Do the math.  403 reviews are recommended and 643 reviews are not.

Maybe Yelp! meant that 25% to 35% are recommended. And maybe 75% or so are not? I can’t figure it out. Can you?

Does your head hurt yet? Mine does.

Anyways, you can see the frustration that has prevented MANY other lawyers and me I know from sending Yelp! one dime as a business owner. Even as a consumer, it appears that Yelp! is biased against business owners who are ALSO consumers.

Noteworthy here is they say there is a potential conflict of interest in letting the business class with a Yelp listing becoming “Elite Yelpers.” I have had shouting matches with Yelp! salespeople over this. And they promptly point out that back in 2008, I tried to review my own business.

The first problem is, it is not my OWN business. It is a law corporation that I MANAGE, and that has also represented me in the past. But ok, fine, the review is buried.

Now what? Mostly, the second tactic they are using is assuming facts that are simply not true. So they will say the algo assumes it could actually be our firm that did the reviews. Back then, our business, just like many other online and even offline businesses were clueless about Yelp!

In fact, many companies had clients create Yelp! accounts on the spot, such as with Yahoo or Google email. So in our case, as clients with no email accounts picked up their settlement checks, we helped set them up. And they reviewed us right there from our PC and IP address.

And I believe this was a pretty normal practice in years past. Of course, most of our clients have jobs, and barely have time for Facebook, let alone time enough to act as professional Yelpers.

In any event, it is now safe to say that Yelp! has a say in what your business model must be if you want to rank online. Basically, you now must make sure that your clients Yelp! a lot. Otherwise, their review of your business will be buried.

Of course, Yelp! says your clients cannot be your friends or even peers? Well, what they say is basically a vague and ambiguous, subjective test. After all, other Yelp articles suggest you should follow and add people who have or may review you in the future.

So it appears that this gives Yelp! a lot of leeway.

And that can easily lead to them strong-arming consumers. So perhaps you buy advertising in order to make sure Yelp! won’t hurt you. And this could be when a manual reviewer at Yelp! decides that you are in violation.

In fact, Yelp! has even gone so far as suing a lawyer, for inter alia, having friends with other businesses review his law firm. And which Yelp! apparently assumes is a “fake review.”

Was I Able to Use Yelp! To Get Money and Avoid Court – Yes and Here is a Screenshot of the $1,0000.00 Check

Yelp! says you cannot pay to have negative reviews removed. I guess they’re right, since Yelp! went ahead and UN-recommended by a negative review of BMW on their own.

But before that happened, Mark Brodkin and I had come to a resolution. And I first wanted to thank him for seeing what went down here and fixing my problem. So yes, Yelp!, along with some lawyering, got me what I feel is a fair resolution. And no, at no time did Brodkin ever ask me to remove the review, and I have not done so.

  • Legal Disclaimer

With that disclaimer out of the way, here is another one. Don’t think you can just write a negative review and face no consequences. Don’t consider anything I have said as being legal advice, either. IT IS NOT!

You can be sued for defamation, and Yelp! in particular. And probably even BMW would not hesitate to sue you unless what you say is truthful. Heck, even if it is truthful, they could always sue anyways. Why not, maybe they can force you into a lot of legal fees and troubles.

For some, going to Court may be a better option. After all statements made in pleadings are generally not considered defamatory for purposes of litigation. Is this making sense for far? In any event, I have now provided you with a consumer experience.

And this was about a legal issue I had with a company. And technically you could check me out here on Yelp! where you will see 22 reviews buried, and seven are live. Interesting to note, every-time I speak with a Yelp! rep and decide not to buy ads; another positive review seems to disappear. But I am sure that is just a coincidence.

Oh wait, let’s get back on track here. Here is a copy of the check from South Bay BMW.

  • Copy of the $1,000 Check from BMW

Here it is.

Success Using Yelp!

I personally think I got lucky here because I doubt after the review was buried by Yelp! I would have had any negotiating power with BMW, or at least it would have been seriously diminished.

Was it worth my time? Probably not. Did I learn enough about Yelp! To know that Yelp! is skewed towards what helps Yelp! and only Yelp!? I think so.

Could someone come along with a fairer algorithm and take out Yelp! I certainly think so. And if you are a programmer and or developer, I want you to reach out to me asap!

  • Other Closing Thoughts

First of all, this is just my opinion, and it has not been tested in court as far as I know.  But Yelp! decides what reviews, both negative and positive, to recommend. So I believe it may be opening itself to a lawsuit on many levels.

Here, t
he internet law shields a site like Rip Off Report when it republishes something from a third party about you. But when a third party advertiser decides when and if that review is “Recommended,” could a Yelp! type company loses the shield?

Could Yelp! Be a Party to the Review and Have Liability?

Well, could it be a party to the review? So what about if Yelp edited the bad review about you, or skewed it one way or another? Are there any lawyers who agree that recommending something false or defamatory could be a bad act?

I am going to reach out to Yelp! and I invite Yelp! to respond to my invitation and will gladly print their point of view.

The bottom line, many consumers and business owners are fed up with Yelp! and believe it is unfair.

You, as the consumer, must ultimately decide if you think the system is fair. One thing is certain, a single-use account, will often see reviews go “poof.”

So as a reviewer it really even worth the time?

Please comment and chime in. I want to hear about your Yelp! successes or failures. Let’s attempt to unravel the positives and negatives of Yelp!

Rest assured, Circle of Legal Trust does not sell advertising and is a noncommercial, informational organization of attorneys who help each other and consumers. The goal is a safer, fairer playing field for all comers.

How Voice Search May Change Local Attorney SEO

 

Chris Dreyer, President and Founder of Rankings.ioThe author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of Cirlce of Legal Trust.

Speech recognition technology on machines has always left something to be desired. Leading-edge platforms like Siri still had bugs to be worked out as recently as 2013[1]. Today a new breed of software and digital assistants are telling a different story.  In 2016 there has been an explosion of voice searches that are accounting for a huge portion of all online searches made by consumers. Does this mean lawyers need to have a voice optimized search strategy?

The Explosion in Voice Searches

Search Engine Land noted earlier this year[2] that a disruption in search was coming with increased accuracy of voice recognition software and the rise of virtual assistants. So this would be things like Amazon’s Echo, Microsoft’s Cortana and the anticipated Google Home[3].  The 2016 Internet Trends report[4] also hints at the impacts that voice search is having on the industry. (many of the slides were devoted to data points on voice search).

Since around 2010, queries that are related to voice commands for search have been steadily increasing[5] with a spike over the past couple of years.  Google Trends is a good way to see how queries that imply a voice command have been increasing.  For example check out the explosion in the activation phrase “ok Google” since 2010.

Reasons for the Increase?

Google was already making waves with conversational search back in 2013[6].  So they were able to achieve a level of interaction with their search engine. And it was a level no one had ever achieved before. Most interesting, people could carry on a conversation without constantly reminding the algorithm of what they were referencing.

For example, you could ask Google, “where is Madrid?” And then you follow up with “what are some things to do there?” You can do this now without having to remind the machine you meant Madrid.

And this is just one example of why voice search has exploded in recent years.  The accuracy with which software captures what we say and respond accordingly has improved to around the 95% mark.

Where voice recognition software was once clunky and hard to use, it can now easily understand full sentences. And it returns relevant information quickly, all within the context of an ongoing conversation.

Also, these popular and high-quality digital personal assistants account for an increased volume of voice search traffic. Echo, Cortana, Siri, and Google Home are all able to search the web-based on spoken user questions.

What are the Top Reasons People Use Hands-Free?

Among the top reasons people use hands-free and home-based digital assistant software are that they can get faster results. And they are helpful when their hands are full.

Should Lawyers Be Changing their SEO Strategy?

According to companies like Victorious, people use voice search differently than they do a traditional search box.  When a query is spoken instead of typed, it tends to be longer, less literal and more conversational .  The more that users discover, the more a device accurately captures speech. And that means it becomes a more conversational query.

There could be a natural progression toward action-based queries in local search. Right now, people interact with a search box to look up lawyers. And Google’s algorithms show them local providers based on location. Also, it learns as consumers sift through websites. So when you look at reviews and other information to formulate your decision.  With voice search, much of that may be cut out of the picture.

Instead of saying “find lawyers near me” a consumer might say “schedule an appointment with the highest rated attorney in [city name]”.  In other words, the current mainstay of choosing from many choices in a SERP may get thrown out the window with voice searches.

An important consideration is where these virtual assistants (whether mobile or in-home) get their data.  This could be one area where attorneys can focus their optimization efforts related to voice search.  For example Echo and Apple Maps (which is integrated with Siri)[7]. Both get their data from Yelp.  So Google will most likely draw from its own massive search database and Microsoft’s Cortana from Bing[8].

Not only will these personal assistants draw data from the internet but also apps on consumer’s devices.  This re-emphasizes the importance of reviews and optimizing sites with profile scores such as AVVO.

Dispersing Content:

Attorneys should also continue dispersing consistent information into citation-based websites[9] and directories all over the internet (as long as they are reputable). This data is what is used for location centroid calculations.

In Conclusion

The rapid increase in voice search volume is a natural progression with all things tech that we use.  Humans love productivity and convenience, and even though typing into a phone is not that hard, speaking makes it that much easier.  Google and other search providers are moving toward a more personalized and useful experience for their users.

[1] http://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-talk-to-siri-the-right-way/

[2] http://searchengineland.com/search-disruption-coming-9-expert-insights-lsa16-245682

[3] http://www.techradar.com/us/news/digital-home/google-home-release-date-news-and-features-1321794

[4] http://www.slideshare.net/kleinerperkins/2016-internet-trends-report/125-KPCB_INTERNET_TRENDS_2016_PAGE125Voice

[5] http://www.slideshare.net/kleinerperkins/2016-internet-trends-report/122-KPCB_INTERNET_TRENDS_2016_PAGE122Google

[6] https://plus.google.com/+google/posts/6SaV4yeefoH

[7] https://rankings.io/lawyer-ranking-signals-for-apples-siri/

[8] http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10/cortana-privacy-faq

[9] https://rankings.io/local-citations-for-lawyers-what-they-are-2-citation-finding-tools/

Yelp! Can Legally Alter Reviews If You Won’t Pay Them?

To Yelp! or not to Yelp! that is the question. And it reverberates with which many struggling law firms. We fear if we stop the paid ads, Yelp! will screw up our reviews and make us look bad. Courts appear to believe Yelp! can do what would amount to extortion if the internet wasn’t the forum used.

When we speak to Yelp! reps, they say that Yelp! never favors advertisers over non-advertisers, and there is nothing to fear. Then we hear other stories of lawyers upset at Yelp! being revenge sued by Yelp! for expressing their feelings about Yelp! So let’s go with what we do know.

Let’s see what green light courts have given Yelp! Can they basically do whatever they want with your reviews given by you to others? Can they ethically bury the legitimate reviews of others about your business or law firm?


Did the 9th Circuit Just Give Yelp! a Green Light To “Hard Bargain” Extort Businesses?

Yelp! has had challenges in the idea with small businesses they can imply a pay-to-play structure with positive and negative reviews and how they are displayed on their site. The 9th Circuit Court’s three-judge panel has agreed with Yelp by ruling that even if the plaintiffs would be able to provide adequate proof of Yelp removing or replacing positive reviews and manipulating star ratings for paid ads. The panel in the ruling said Yelp would not have been doing anything illegal.

This ruling may help to show what Yelp has as a business platform and what rights businesses have involving user reviews. The ruling according to the SFgate newspaper had the ruling at 3-0, with Judge Marsha Berzzon stating in the ruling

“As Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the (alleged) threat of economic harm … is, at most, hard bargaining.”

Judge Berzon went on to say that threatening economic harm by extortion is “exceedingly narrow concept.” This isn’t the first court ruling, one earlier was in a lower court that dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought by business owners claiming in the suit Yelp penalized them.

The lawsuit alleged the penalty was for not purchasing advertising on the site. And the suit listed evidence such as watching nine 5 star reviews for their business disappear, but once they agreed to buy ads, the reviews reappeared. One business in the class action lawsuit the Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital of Santa Barbara claimed a sales rep offered to hide negative reviews if they paid.

With the court ruling, it is difficult to say what is legal and what isn’t by going on the class action dismissal and then the higher court three-panel ruling. But certainly, some businesses that have used Yelp feel they have been wronged.

So Yelp!, for its part in the legal actions, issued a statement on their blog that was self-righteous looking at it from some user’s views. Also, the statement says how happy they are the court reached the right decision. Yelp! claims the plaintiffs and their attorneys attempted to disparage Yelp! to detract from their negative reviews.

Yelp!’s Shareholders Have Sued Yelp!?

But Yelp! hasn’t seen the last of their problems. With another lawsuit recently filed, maybe some fairness will be granted. Alarmingly, this is a shareholder’s lawsuit. And this suit claims the company misled shareholders. The lawsuit says they were dishonest as to the true nature of their algorithm, manipulative reviews and ratings. Of particular interest, the lawsuit cites the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as a source of consumer complaints about Yelp!

Remarkably, the FTC has received over 2,000 complaints involving Yelp! And some allege extortion. Another lawsuit against Yelp for false advertising over claiming it has “the most trusted reviews.” The bottom line is that many people with businesses are scared of Yelp!, and rightly so.

So far, the arguments I have had with their reps make me scared. And the court opinions shed light on the fact that judges must not be getting many bad reviews on Yelp! Also, no matter what, a few negative reviews, especially if they are being featured, is cause for business concern.

Most of all, whether Yelp! is manipulating its algorithm to harm non paying customers is not the issue presented today for our discussion. The issue is that this behavior has now greenlit by some courts. So I, for one, am praying that some other medium will replace Google and Yelp! Noteworthy here, they have too much power over local ranking signals.

Also, we need something more neutral like a trustworthy Net Promoter Score (NPS) system. Last, sites like Yelp! should not be the gold standard. Most of all, the Yelp! model allows too much room to harm and promote based upon money.

The New “Yelp!” Law

Personal Injury, Online MagazinesAs a California attorney and even as a layperson, I know that the Golden State sets the trend. After all, when it comes to draconian regulations, many other states, or even the feds will soon follow in lockstep. Despite federal laws making it easy to defame people online, California has said: “hold on a minute.”

But a little background is in order here. We all know the influence and prevalence of social media in our modern lives. Every day, people who use the internet a lot, are even more influenced by social media. And the internet is directly  our lifestyles, buying patterns, fashions, and choices, etc.

At the same time, we feel freer than ever on the internet when it comes to expressing ourselves and trash-talking. We can talk about people, companies and things the way we want on the internet. Social networking platforms, blogs, forums, reviewing websites, etc. Most of all, these all remain places where we can easily share our thoughts.

Plus we interact with people. We can tell people that lawyers are scumbags. And they can even make up stuff from a false account and put us attorneys out of practice if they really trash us well. However, not every law firm or attorney has this reputation. Some like the DUI lawyers in Los Angeles area, have great word for their work and the expertise they hold.

How Powerful Have Online Reviews Become?

As discussed with this drowsy driving accident lawyer, while posting our thoughts on various things we have reached a point as consumers. Yes, it is true, we can make a business popular or bankrupt with our reviews. Many online reviews left by consumers on reviewing websites have turned into legal trials.

What consumers said about a particular product or service of a company sounded so offending to reviewed companies they sought legal help. Next, they went ahead and sued the consumers. After all, it seemed the only way for them to get justice.

A Recent Example Of Litigation Due To Online Review

A homeowner in Fairfax County, Virginia, was sued by her contractor, who was supposed to make improvements to her newly purchased home. The consumer had posted a negative review of the contractor’s work.

So the consumer gave only 1 star to express her dissatisfaction with the services she had received. Also, the homeowner, named Jane Perez, claimed that some expensive jewelry items showed up missing after the contractor left the house.

Christopher Dietz, the contractor, filed the case against her. And it was an unnecessary defamation lawsuit for defaming his business. Noteworthy here, he sued for the amount of $750,000.

The case finally went to court. But the court’s decision was split. So here, no party was granted any compensation. However, the contractor had to pay for the litigation costs. Plus, he had to pay several attorneys to fight his case. In addition to that, he lost a lot of money because of the alleged consumer defamation.

According to the contractor and the details provided by work injury attorney in San Antonio Law Offices of Ronald A. Ramos, P.C., he had lost nearly $500,000 in business. And all of this was because of the consumer’s defamatory review. The consumer, Jane Perez, was lucky in this particular scenario. Noteworthy here, an attorney represented her on a pro bono basis.

Companies Trying To Fight Back

After many scenarios that emerged similar to the one mentioned above, companies thought of an ingenious method of fighting back. Many online companies and contractors that provide certain services and products started to throw in a non-disparagement clause in their policies and customer contracts.

This particular clause prohibited consumers from defaming the companies in their online reviews and through other methods. In short, this clause prevented consumers from expressing their feelings about a particular service or product. A case happened where a couple violated such a clause.

A famous online retail store troubled a couple because they had posted an online review that was defaming for the business. The retailer had the non-disparagement clause added to its policies. And after the couple had posted the negative online review, the retailer demanded $3,500 from the couple.

The retailer went so far as to report the non-payment of this money as debt. And he caused a big dent on the credit score of the consumers.But this caused trouble for the couple. So they sued the retailer and won. And they received compensation of $300,000 for the damages.

The First Amendment Rights

The first amendment in the constitution of the United States prohibits the making of any law that bars the people of the US from having the right of free speech. In simple words, the public is free to speak its mind. And creating a law or condition that represses the people from having the freedom of speech is not allowed.

Actions Taken By The State Of California

Based on the above events, and learning of the frequency of such cases, California passed a new consumer protection law. Noteworthy here, this law protects your existing First Amendment Rights from shady merchants and companies.

And this is because rights were being trampled upon by online businesses. These unsavory people did this by adding a non-disparagement clause into their online policies and contracts.

According to this law, companies cannot force their consumers to sign any contracts that deprive consumers of their first amendment rights. And this law was signed by the governor. And it’s already in effect as of January 01, 2015. Currently, the law is Yelp! Law.

Merchants, service providers, contractors, retailers, etc. who’d violate this law will have to pay $2500 for the first violation. For the next violations, they have to pay $5000. The fines can be as big as $10,000 if the violation is deemed deliberate or reckless.

What To Learn From This?

Mostly, online retail stores and other businesses must make sure to stay in compliance with the latest changes in the laws. So that way, they don’t have policies in conflict with existing law.

As for consumers, two important things present themselves from which to learn.

  • Make sure you review in detail your homeowners’ policy. Also, look at any other type of insurance. Many insurance providers cover insured people for cases where a company sues the consumer for libel and defamation.
  • Make sure you write your reviews honestly. Don’t add in details or occurrences that haven’t happened. Honestly, this could get you in trouble if the company sues you for defamation.

With the right insurance policy, you can rest assured you can face such a situation. So now perhaps you won’t have to pay the legal fees from your pocket. When it comes to business owners, they should stay updated with the latest laws. After all, they say, “care is better than cure.”

Lawyers.com Goes No Follow?

Lawyers.com goes no follow

Lawyers.com really goes no follow?

Love or hate Big law, sites like Findlaw and Lawyers.com likely would not exist or have grown into what they are today, under the current algorithms and systems. But Findlaw, for example, was a really cool site. However, they became ultra corporate and used their leverage to carve out exceptions with Google. In my opinion they would probably not honor these types of exceptions for their own clients.

Other non-www companies found ways to use their real-life presence to grow online. One such company is the parent of lawyers.com. Now, Lawyers.com is an example of a site that lists attorneys from an established Directory, Martindale-Hubbell. With the help of the Lawyers.com site, the company has profited handsomely.

Who Built That?

And this is mainly capital from lawyers who link to their websites from the site. For example, they write articles and will add “contact us” citation and social profiles. And these are then approved by the editors/. After that, they go live on the site.

So in the wake of Panda and Penguin, many web site owners who host content and are irresponsibly converting vouch-able links into rel=” no follow” links, under the mistaken presumption that Google will penalize them if they leave them as do-follow links. Or, as some would say, more insidiously, they are Page Rank sculpting. (What is PR sculpting?) Well, this by using articles and work from others as a method to manipulate Page Rank within their sites.

Discovery

So when I was recently editing some of my old posts on the lawyers.com blog and noticed when I saved my changes, that lawyers.com went ahead and automatically added the “rel=no follow” attribute, destroying much of the value of my indexed and socially shared article. So, in essence, I wrote the article on the lawyers.com blog. Next, I helped the page grow in value. I did so by sending traffic to the page with my social indexing and social signals. But now all that “link juice” was being hoarded by lawyers.com. Because they turned off the trust flow to my web properties and sources of authority, it hurt my traffic. Before I go further, let me give you some background of this” rel=no follow” attribute, and distinguish when a no-follow link is and is not appropriate.

Here is a snippet I found of one of my blogs. Right-click “view source” and see the naked code and look for no follow:

The experienced personal
injury bicycle attorney Matthew S. Norris about auto accident cases has dealt with this type of situation and knows that building a strong case
and dealing with them aggressively means getting the injured victim the amount of compensation they
deserve. Contact <a  rel="nofollow" href="http://losangeles.ehlinelaw.com" title="LA Law">Ehline</a>
to speak with an injury lawyer now.<br />#160;
						<div style="clear:both">&nbsp;</div>

Above is the code from this article here:

Michael Ehline Automobile Accidents Law Blog on Lawyers.com

Bicycle Accidents Can Cause Lifelong Changes

Photo of Michael Ehline

Riding a bicycle on the road can be a dangerous challenge and bike wrecks can have lifelong changes. These changes can include ongoing medical care that will be needed, the can cause the type of employment to need to be changed and can have a devastating effect on the family.

…..

EXAMPLE:

Bicycle accidents that can cause lifelong changes also mean ongoing medical care, loss of income and other changes, after a negligent driver causes a bicycle crash in Los Angeles, or Sacramento cities.  Getting paid is not easy. When this happens insurance companies will often try and settle quickly or try and blame the cyclist for the accident rather than pay the amount of compensation the rider deserves. The experienced firm has dealt with this type of situation and knows that building a strong case and dealing with them aggressively means getting the injured victim the amount of compensation they deserve. Contact Ehline <<<<<< to speak with an injury lawyer now.

As seen above, the anchor text is “Ehline”.  Clearly, we are not trying to manipulate for any particular key search.  We let Google decide how to treat the juice.

History of Rel=” No Follow” From an Injury Lawyer’s Perspective

In the early days of the web, it was effortless to rank a website. An intelligent SEO person could simply find a high PR blog with open commenting, and add exact match anchor text into the comments.

So for example, one could find a dry cleaner blog, and post a comment like “great article, and by the way, if you ever need a car accident attorney [<<< that would be the link], we are here to help.” That exact match anchor would typically cause your website to rank higher for that search term “car accident attorney”. Get it so far? So Google, along with Yahoo! and Bing decided to come up with a solution to try and cut down on this “comment spam” and devised an attribute that a webmaster could add to links that he or she could not vouch for, or did not trust.

No follow also was supposed to be for non-Google PPC links that you paid for from other sites, such as “sponsored links,” paid footer and sidebar links that were sitewide, etc. This attribute, called rel=”no follow” (A history of no follow here), was designed to help control spam by preventing the trust and authority of PageRank, or, in essence, the vote, from counting.

Th effect of this feature prevented the links  from garnering the trust and authority that a normal “vote” would have. You see, links to your website from another site are treated as votes.  It used to be that the more votes you had, the higher your site would rank in the SERPS, or if you prefer, the search results position on the Google results page.

High-Quality Links

Presently, Google changed the way it handles links, and instead, Google is looking for quality links as opposed to massive quantities from unrelated, or irrelevant themes. Thus, a do-follow link from that same dry-cleaning site today could act like a boat anchor and sink your rankings for that exact match term. But that same unrelated link could also harm the sending site, not just the receiving site.

In fact, Panda looks for this on pages themselves. Also, it seeks out over-optimization and thin content. And Penguin analyzes whether there are “too many” exact matches coming to your site from many other sites, assuming that most webmasters who cast a vote, will typically not use the same match anchor. For example, site A may only use a link text anchor to your site like: “personal injury attorney,” and the webmaster from site B would probably use: “awesome personal injury lawyer,” etc.

Logic

It is logical to assume that both webmaster A and B would use the brand the most, in any event. So normally, links containing the anchor text “Ehline Law Firm” would probably appear to your site the most from most sites.  But many exact match links that contain “personal injury attorney” could kill your rankings for that term under the current algo. Of course, sites linking out to with too many exact match links also can become suspect as ghost sites, or content farms by Google.

Back On Track

This gets a little away from no follow, but now I will explain the relationship.  Many lawyer sites, like lawyers.com, HG.org, etc., lost a lot of traffic and search engine placement. All this happened post Panda and Penguin. And it started converting the links pointing to their customers’ websites to rel=” no follow,” under the mistaken impression that their rankings would come back.

And this is because their in house SEO people had no idea how to deal with these new algorithms. So they assumed that linking out made them look like they were selling links, etc. And because of this, they went ahead and threw out the baby with the bathwater. All this, rather than analyzing what Google has said, and what Google, Bing, and Yahoo! This step was taken in some cases. But it was not true with all or every business. And this was due to the mixed signals about “guest blogging” from Matt Cutts.

Who Cares?

Some webmasters assumed no matter whether you can vouch for your clients, in this case, practicing attorneys who pay a lot of money to use lawyers.com blog and their listing services don’t matter. So for them, it is better to make everything rel=” no-follow.” So this caused many law firm sites that were getting great link value in the form of PR authority to lose overnight. Their hard built and earned trust was gone.

People getting cut loose and the ensuing panic became so bad, that Cutts actually re-stated his position on Guest posts. (read here) Basically, the rule is that is the author posts something that is of value and highly relevant. But it must not be submitted for the “sole” purpose of getting a link. Because that would be an effort to manipulate rankings and Page Rank. (What is PageRank?) So it is good to remain a do follow in that case.

Matt Cutts Says Guest Posts/Blogs Cannot be For “Sole Purpose” of Ranking Manipulation See the Video

Clearly, Cutts Said:

It seems like most people are getting the spirit of what I was trying to say, but I’ll add a bit more context. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google, and they’ll continue. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.

I’m also not talking about multi-author blogs. High-quality multi-author blogs like Boing Boing have been around since the beginning of the web, and they can be compelling, wonderful, and useful.

Hi Lites

I want to highlight that a bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to “guest blogging” as their link-building strategy, and we see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging. Because of that, I’d recommend skepticism (or at least caution) when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article. (Source.)

So What Next?

As shown in the video above, Cutts is sick of the press release, or purely promotional type posts passing value. So if your “sole” reason is to get juice, then no follow must be added.

One way to show you are not seeking a mere backlink for ranking is to make it a naked or a branded link.  You rightly should get authority from an HQ post, and that is what Cutts wants. What he does not want, are thousands of exact match anchors in spammy, thin, promotional snippets about your firm that are constantly flying off of the lawyers.com blog

And this should be a no brainer for lawyers.com to implement. But then again, that requires having a vetting process and editorial procedure, similar to what Findlaw employs. I note that Findlaw does not place content on their site that would ever need a no-follow tag.  They only allow great content.

So assuming you contribute something of value to lawyers.com, are a vetted client, and not posting a link filled and a purely promotional press release, there are ZERO viable reasons for disavowing a client who paid you to edit his materials and list him on your site. Also, n this case, the site itself is an attorney rating and listing site.

Martindale is the Gold Standard?

They think they are. And Martindale prides itself on providing the best lawyer database in the world. So for many years, before attorney rating sites like AVVO and Findlaw, Martindale Hubbell was the gold standard. And it remains so with the old-timers (Learn more about the decline here.)

And it would be false advertising for them to promote a non-attorney as an attorney in any event. So there is no way Martindale or lawyers.com can’t vouch for you if you are an admitted, active attorney in your State Bar.

So What is the Probable Reason Behind Lawyers.com Silently Adding the No Follow Tags to Attorney Blog Posts on Their Site?:

  • Link Juice Hoarding: One potential theory being tossed out by a few COLT members is that Martindale was just bought out. And that within days they went no follow to hard link juice. I note that zero warning was given in advance.
  • Fear of Google:

    And this is probably the greatest reason. After Matt Cutts’ video, they may have thought that their attorney blog is a “guest blog,” as discussed in the Cutts Video. As also discussed, if that was the reason, it was a wrong reason.  These are REAL attorneys who are contributing valuable materials. If there are purely promotional posts, it is up to lawyers.com to police the site and institute quality guidelines, as does Findlaw.com.

What Are My Legal Rights Against Lawyers.com?

We are all lawyers, so we understand fraud, false advertising, etc. But we also understand how to vote with our feet. Lawyers.com needs to change with the times if they expect to compete with Findlaw and other sites. Cutting off-link juice without even telling us savvy and sophisticated attorneys were rude and a change of the material terms of my contract with them. Here, I was induced into the contract. And I contracted because of the trust and authority that posting right to their blog gave me.

Changing You Into Someone Not Vouchable

It was later changed to no-follow and concealed from me. Forum selection clauses can be challenged when fraud is a factor in the case.  Whether this is a case of fraud or clear breach of contract depends upon what a court or jury might say. It could just be the case that this was all an unfortunate mistake or misinterpretation of the latest Matt Cutts edict. I elected to give LDC notice of the breach and time to cure before I take any drastic action.

Notice of Breach and Time To Cure

A note to the reader. Above all, generally, the written contract covers the four corners of the writing. And if it says that LDC can change their site when they want, that still does not change their duties to you. These duties can arise from a written, oral, or acts in furtherance of altering or amending the agreement. Or there could be a change in service you were never informed.

As a matter of the fact that when you buy a service that contains A and A then later changed to B under cover of darkness, you no longer are receiving the benefit of your bargain. Evidence like keeping the change secret certainly is convincing to a jury. It could help them in determining the state of mind of the breaching party.

Also, some companies like Findlaw are headquartered in states where false advertising laws favor the dishonest party when compared to the consumer protection laws in California. So this is when you have to get creative. And you probably will use the argument that fraud in the contract makes it an “illegal contract.”

After that, if you prevail, it’s unenforceable as to the forum selection clause or Findlaw Master Services Agreement. Lucky for me, California often overlooks unfair clauses in cases similar to the one at issue here.

That being said, these are great sites if they are sending juice to your site. So at the end of the day, it would be better to try and cure the breach. And you also want to mitigate any damage they are doing to your rankings by turning off your juice.

My Conversations With Lawyers.com

The above is a synopsis of my conversation with Andre Franklin of lawyers.com a few weeks ago. He listened intently and was nice. He had no idea about any of the changes.

The Promise

And he promised he would get back to me the following Monday. That same Friday, I instructed our members as to the silent changes. So I told them about the shady, at lawyers.com and we all assumed the worst, that lawyers.com would go the way of other human edited sites like hg.org and others that once provided such a valuable signal of trust.

I also discussed the fact that even directories like yahoo! and DMOZ were do follow as they are human edited and the links are thus, “vouched” links.  I expressed my fear that lawyers.com has turned off its trust for us lawyers, but still trusts the checks we write then every month. How ironic.

Heard Back!

In any event, I heard back from Andre Franklin last week, and he explained that I would be one of the first members to have the rel=” no follow” restrictions lifted, and the due to my call and complaints, that they were advising a new editorial policy and expecting a call back.  Today, Wednesday, I still have heard nothing, so I sent Kathy, an employee there, an email seeking advisement.

She responded that:

Hi Mr. Ehline – I just followed up with my manager, Andre Franklin.  He advised that he is speaking to the appropriate parties and awaiting the updated blog policy. He will reach out to you as soon as he has more information.”

So although it is not a done deal, my efforts in mitigation seem to have moved the ball. And the benefits of me being able to argue not just for me helped. But on behalf of all of you, it makes a difference. So I would rather have lawyers.com as a friend than an enemy.

And perhaps, we lawyers finally can speak as a unified voice when it comes to us vouching for sites that take our money and cut off our benefits.

This is an evergreen article. So expect updates soon. This story has legs.

Attorney Marketing | How and Why Link Schemes Don’t Work Unless Your Findlaw?

I wanted to start with just an opinion here. It is my opinion that Findlaw is unfairly gaming Google by taking advantage of Google’s new policy of discounting links from sites that are unrelated in content to the target site.

For example, Findlaw sells lawyers “Firmsites,” and blogs, and hosts for them. All are related, as they are legal sites. Following this so far? First, many bloggers have long complained about Findlaw’s alleged sordid history. We hear stories of them of gaming Google by selling links, calling it anything but that! Now we are talking about a very advanced automated blog network (no true authorship signals, etc.)

Do Paid Attorney Blog Networks Get a Google Pass

Google has explicitly stated that it hates blog networks that are paid and not real votes (discussed below). And this is because a huge SEO company like Findlaw, or Scorpion Web Design, can easily create a huge network of sites. (customers pay lots of money for Firmsites, for example) And then they spin LSI content with in house content spinners. And this is how they blast them across this huge network of interlinked sites.

The Network

In other words, you pay them to make you a site, and they add other law firm’s content (actually content written by Findlaw writers) to your site and blog roll. So they can get even more money by making you pay extra to be part of the “network.”

You pay them to help them use your blog to help them make more sales. My opinion is that this is simply selling links. And this is a big no-no. But let’s look this some more: My research has shown that “non-legacy” legal sites are ranking number one on the first page of Google, for terms like “Los Angeles, personal injury attorney.”

The problem is, if you or I tried to do this (get people to pay us to build their blogs and then link them all back and forth to each other), we would be blasted into cyberspace. Where is Matt Cutts on this? How can a company not gaming the system, survive in a Panda/Penguin environment?

This raises several questions: Does Google give large SEO companies like FL a pass? I mean, all the sites are usually on the same server, and it is clear from my perspective these links are not legitimate votes. Most people in the early stages of learning how search engine algorithms work are tempted to test what they have learned. This can include buying fifty or one hundred domains to link all to the main website. Some people come up with a complex plan that does work for an amount of time but does not last. But here, the Findlaw Blog Network seems unaffected.

One company, Dejan SEO, analyzed a large amount of link data from between 2005 and 2011 to see what the results were with this type of domain owner. What was found is, it did not work, attempting to influence Google’s algorithm. When this tactic manipulates the Google algorithm of link graphs and its signals, the result will be a waste of time. Plus, it ends up in the loss of funds and results in Google penalties.

Opting for a link scheme to bolster traffic is one of the shortcuts that can easily get discovered. This shortcut can be found by an algorithm or through human review. But here, it has been working for months, and the internet is so far silent.

These sites rose quite high from obscurity post Panda and Penguin. So this is a bad result, not a “real” vote. And it’s just as crazy as having a Wikipedia show up as the first result in almost every organic search, in my opinion.

Here are other methods used by gamers that don’t work like they used to.

Simple Content Networks

Content networks consume a large portion of the web and are growing fast; Panda also consumes them. The cost is moderately low when implementing the following basic steps.

  • Register Domains (coupons for cheaper pricing can often be found).
  • Purchase cheap hosting with WHM
  • Batch install CMS (one of the most popular is Word Press).

Content is the next step, content can be from:

  • Cheap article writing
  • RSS Feeds
  • Scraping
  • Spinning

Linking the sites is the next step in the plan.

  • Flow Page Rank
  • Collect Ad Sense money, sell links and link your main site

Due to the low setup cost and uncomplicated level is why there have been many low-quality websites show up in Google’s results over the past five years. When the person then starts to diversify IP addresses and to use quality content, along with designs, the cost will be more to operate the domains.

The cost will be much more expensive, and there is still no way to know that your plan will be successful long term.

Sophisticated Content Networks

I believe that Findlaw SEO tactics are just more or less, a sophisticated content network. Panda rooted out most of the artificial low-quality content sites in 2011. But there still can be some found that are ranking decently. One has to question if the unsophisticated level of schemes has gotten more advanced.

And I think the evidence proved that the Findlaw blog network is just that, and VERY very sophisticated content linking scheme. What is happening is that some of the content setups have reached an in-between stage, which causes them to be more real and even have some useful information. And this makes them more difficult to be killed off, but not impossible.

Google is resolute on ridding the web of these content farming sites and has enlarged the range of elements they use to determine if a network of websites is a real or simulated link scheme designed to influence rankings.

But Google makes a lot of money off of Findlaw. Will this influence the spam team’s decision? Website owners that still attempt to try link schemes will find it almost a guarantee that at least one of the elements used will be found by the tactics Google is using to ferret out these sites.

Link Buying Invitations

There are many invitations from networks that invite people to buy links, sell links, link exchanges, and paid to blog. One of the things that will be seen within their pages is information about Page Rank increases. These are red flags for the spam that Google is weeding out in low-quality content website networks.

Domain Information and Google

Google, as a domain registrar, can access information data about any domain they choose. The considerable amount of data they can access means they can compare ownership, contact details, domain naming patterns and TDL consistency.
The thought of using expired domains for your site will not help. So this is because Google can determine ownership. They can tell whether it is new ownership or if it is the previous owner restoring or re-registering a domain.

Private registration for all of a person’s domains is not a solution to avoiding Google since it shows a pattern, and including other parts of the scheme can result in red flags.

Hosting Information and Google

There is a similarity in hosting characteristics in content networks that Google can compare server information and C-blocks, which includes the hosting company, geo locations, and server type. What this will mean to the person with a large number of sites and a link scheme is expanding name server information and rotating IP addresses to a higher level. This is both time-consuming and expensive.

Content and Google

Websites are observed by Google for historical content changes and the frequency of updates, due to Google’s capacity to track changes over time. Google’s index is very refined in its approach to websites.

The Panda updates have been consistent in sorting out content duplications, spun articles, and article automation. Google knows that natural websites will grow gradually over time, where the low-quality content website usually will generate content fast. But then it will slow down unless you use an automated content scheme.

There are simple things that are a giveaway to Google. After all, they have a large database of addresses, organization business. Next, contact information in Google Places, Google Maps, and other services can compare this data with information that is on sites they suspect of scheming. One of the other things that Google knows is that blog networks do not usually have “About us” pages that have staff profiles, contact information, telephone numbers, or local maps.

Other signals alert Google to fake sites, like watching the topical regularity and mixture of content. Google can determine the reading level of content, the presence or absence of citations, references, so qualitative analysis is a matter of how Google looks at a site.

The content types allow it to determine if it is commercial content, a blog, forums, news, academic, or social networking sites. Identifying information can be included in the content, but it can also be in the images and media on the sites, including file naming conventions. When the content is not consistent, the site can be flagged by Google as fake. Google gives a clear flag to sites that do not have any buy, connect, signup, rates, subscribe, or anything of that nature.

Google Link Signals

The algorithm Google remains based on links, and for this reason, it is clear that Google understands links completely. Internal links are analyzed 301 redirects hidden links, and outbound links. Sending the wrong link signal can be a bad choice.

utbound Links and Google

Outbound links leave a footprint when people attempt to manipulate rankings. All this starts from the anchor text that is used and consistently using the “exact match phrase” links, without using non-anchor text links, like click here and read more; your site can be flagged. The location of the links and the ratio of follow and no follow links on a page can be responsible for another flag.
Breaking the pattern of normal link patterns can cause unnatural links and cause a flag to be triggered.

Google’s Thoughts on Inbound Links

It is becoming more common to see inbound link signals; Google will look at how trustworthy the inbound links are, the topic of the pages, and websites that are linking to the site. When the inbound links are forums spam, blog comment spamming, or hacked sites, Google will know, and there is no chance of a long term linking scheme. The other things that Google will look for are placement velocity, link placement removal spikes, the quantity and diversity of the inbound links.

Using Related Websites

So this is how I believe Findlaw is benefiting. So look at it like this, the available link metrics assist Google in forming a picture of your website. That way, it can understand the relation of your domains using cross-site interlinking patterns, cascading Page Rank low, and Page Rank sources that have common elements. Google wants to see your content on related sites. But Google is interested in how you got that content.

But merely paying to be part of a content network is bad. But look to see if it is trying to manipulate your link weight with a certain percent of no follows, do follows anchor, etc. Many do it, but this is a dangerous shortcut, in my opinion. So be careful.

The Technical Elements and the Site Architecture

Without using manually created websites in various ways and using several technologies, they leave a footprint. When Google looks for low-quality content farms Elements, Google is used and includes consistency in the CMS platforms used, consistent themes, plug-ins, the page extensions, such as HTM, HTML, PHP, or aspx, URL structures and URL rewriting rules.

Even when the site is manually set, there still can be an amount of recycling and this is common in the navigational level, the file naming conventions, and the CSS classes. Looking at the footer is often a way to tell if a website is a part of a network since this is regularly duplicated or overlooked during the coding.

Google Focusing on Social Media

And although this is part of the matrix, one of my blogger buddies, smokes every site on the FL blog network. He does so with his social profile, has over 140,000 backlinks from mostly related sites. (unfortunately, mostly anchor text though) And he is getting ruined by these Firmsites that rose to the top as soon as the new Panda/Penguin updates went live. He came to me and said he thinks that Google is paying off sites like FL with this new algo update, because of the revenue Google gets from selling ads to FL.

Could that be true? Well, I looked at the social profiles of many of the FL sites that rank, and I could not find any who even had a Google+ profile, so I will say: “seems fishy.”

In 2011, Google has focused on social media and uses it as a way to verify people and businesses. They use it to determine the influence of the business or person, and with Google + flagging potential spam and validating valuable resources will expand. But with the new algo that only wants a 1-3% anchored text profile. Otherwise, it is not natural. So now the new site with a better profile weight. (since now everything Google said you were supposed to do, like use anchor text is suspect as an SEO effort instead of a vote) This will easily beat a legacy site. The FL Penguin and Panda defeating backlinks make this happen rapidly.

Data Google Has at its Disposal

Google has a tremendous amount of browsing and behavior data at its disposal of internet users and websites. This makes it easy for Google to determine the manipulated or low-quality content site, the high search result bounce data, and other flags that are generated with their link graph analysis algorithm.

Who Your Competitors Are

The content farms will find their competitors. The farmers are people trying to manipulate the system. And they want to be above you in the results. So there is a chance, even with the most sophisticated setup of your scheme being picked up by a competitor and reported to Google.

If you think Findlaw has created a sophisticated interlinking blog network, you can report here.
Google might penalize your website when they do a quality review. So the Google spam people keep the information, and you will be required to explain in detail what you did to fix the problem. But prior to a reconsideration request to have a successful website you have to work at it. There are only two choices: 1. do things the right way this time or 2. find a new scheme and risk being penalized by Google again.

Wrapping Up

It is getting harder every day to play against Google’s algorithm, unless, apparently, your Findlaw, even though Google has made their intentions clear. G will improve upon the evaluation of content through authorship signals. Let’s hope so, since the only authorship signal I see here, is that FL is authoring content, sharing it across sites of attorneys who probably don’t even know each other, and making a killing off parasitic sites. Google plans a more intense assessment of the social graph. And it plans the improvement of understanding the semantic qualities of content on the internet. Let’s see if they nail FL, or give them a pass.

Having a successful link matrix, you will need to invest time. Also, energy and money must be spent on a white-hat SEO campaign. How to do this? Ensure that you or your SEO people like me recognize fake sites. And use sustainable practices. But make sure to expand content development power. Most of all, when these are followed you’re golden. After all, when SEO is done in the right way, your links are safe. If you want to learn more, you can visit me at G+.

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