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.
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"> </div>
Above is the code from this article here:
Michael Ehline Automobile Accidents Law Blog on Lawyers.com
Thursday, March 18, 2010 by 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.