TL;DR: Million Dollar Advocates is probably a bad way to spend $1500+ (but keep reading to find out why).
Million Dollar Advocates
I’ve always kind of had this hate/hate relationship with Million Dollar Advocates. Hate is probably a bit strong to describe my relationship with a website I have no connection with, so moving forward I’ll just use ‘dislike’.
The first dislike is more of a jealous dislike. For decades now, they have been ego baiting the “most prestigious” attorneys in the US into paying to be listed on their website and to obtain the right to use their badges on the attorney’s site.
I’m mostly jealous because it’s working like gangbusters.
They currently boast of a members list of over 5000 members, “fewer than 1% of US Lawyers are members.” Sidenote: This is a deceiving statement for two reasons: 1. many lawyers don’t work on contingency or are limited settlement caps and 2. they are only commenting on how many attorneys are wasting forking over the money to be members. This statement could easily be, fewer than 1% of US Lawyers have decided to pay us money.
Currently, they only offer Lifetime Memberships, which means attorneys pay $1500 to be listed on their website and to receive the right to use the Million Dollar Advocates Badge on their website. This doesn't include their “Expanded Directory Listing” which includes a link to the attorneys firm and a short firm description.
In 2000, when the site was first launched a Lifetime membership cost $300. That’s a 328% increase in fees. Another sidenote: some of my clients are members. Some may have even asked me if it was a good opportunity and in my early years as an SEO I may have said yes. I’ve learned a lot since then.
OK, so let’s do some napkin math here. According to the website, when it launched it already boasted of 2,000 members. If those members paid the lifetime fee of $300 that would already be $600,000 of fees for the Forum.
In 2014, they had 4000 members and the fees had jumped to $1200 for the Million Dollars Advocates and $1000 for the Multimillion dollar advocates membership (or $1700 for both). Let’s say the 2000 new members split 50-50 on membership types. That’s another $2.2 Million in fees for the Forum.
Pretty solid income for a website offering a simple badge, right? Well, that doesn’t include the (current) $500 fee the attorneys pay annually for the expanded profile. I recently crawled the site and counted around 1200 external links to law firm websites. This would equate to another $600,000 per year in fees just for creating a badge.
Like I said, jealous hate dislike.
The second reason I dislike Million Dollar Advocates forum is all related to the link offering.
As mentioned before, attorneys can pay an extra $500 annually for an “Expanded” profile that includes your firm's name, an “active” link, and a brief description of the firm practice areas.
Many attorneys pay for this expanded profile thinking that the link will offer an SEO benefit. Granted, the website makes no claims that their expanded profile will provide any benefit, SEO or otherwise. The link does come from a relevant website with a great backlink profile (many due to the badge’s embed code). Normally, if a client came to me and said they were going to get a link that checked those two boxes I’d be all for it.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.
Up until their recent web redesign (more on this in a second), when your firm purchased a Lifetime membership from the Million Dollar Advocates you were added to their directory. This directory is a single page that lists all the other members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum (or the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, depending on which the attorney joined). If you purchased an Expanded Profile your link and description were added to this page as well.
This means your name will be buried among some 5,000 other attorneys and your link among some 1,200 different links!
Google doesn’t give much value to links on a page with hundreds of other links. A decade ago, former head of Google’s webspam team Matt Cutt’s suggested that the max number of links on a page should be around 100.
SEO and smart dude, Dr. Pete, goes into more detail here about how “more links equals less [Pagerank] for each link.”
So what's the value of a link on a page with 1,200 links? I’m not a mathematician but I’m gonna say not much.
You would think this issue would be driving force for the redevelopment of a site. Break the directory into smaller, better-organized pages to offer some additional SEO benefit to your members and provide a better user experience.
Cut to November 2018-ish! Million Dollar Advocates launches a new website. A full site redesign and redevelopment. Though they’ve kept the dated frame's design (gross), they have created a new directory for members.
The new directory has a better layout, it’s broken down by the state so it’s much more user-friendly and there are fewer links on a page!
This is great, RIGHT!?!?!
No? Why not?
Let me show you.
Unfortunately this isn’t the case here.
We can get a good idea of what Google is able to see/crawl by checking Google’s cached version of a website. Check out this side-by-side of how a user sees the directory and how Google sees the directory.
According to Google, this directory is empty. Therefore, providing no value to Million Dollar Advocate Members.
So as a last-ditch effort to identify any value of being listed in the MDA Directory I chose a random name from the directory to see if I could find any evidence that Google was indeed finding and indexing this attorneys information.
As a born and raised Hoosier (Go Boilers), I navigated to the Indiana directory and scrolled to find the first attorney listed with a website. Turns out to be Thomas Blackburn of Blackburn & Green (I’ve seen this firm’s commercials my whole life).
Using Google’s “Site:” search operator you can search Google’s index for any references of a keyword or phrase. If Mr. Blackburn shows up in a “Site:” search we will know that Google has found a way to navigate the website and crawl the attorney's information.
Uh oh, there it is in the search results. Maybe I was wrong about the directory.
I did the same site search for a number of random attorney names and websites. All either results in the same result as above with the name still appearing in Google's index but the page not existing or no evidence of the attorney's name in Google’s index at all.
Eventually, Google will remove the pages that do not exist (404) from their index and there will be no references to any attorneys or links to attorney websites in Google’s index.
Any value that once existed with having your firm’s link on a page with 1200 other links is now completely gone. The only thing that remains are the firms that continue to pay $500 annually for their “expanded profile” and a badge that says an attorney once settled a case worth more than $1 million dollars. I add that information to my clients' site’s all the time and they didn’t have to pay $1500 for a badge.
If you believe your firm is paying for Million Dollar Advocates links or other SEO services that aren’t benefiting your site’s online visibility shoot me an email, I’d be happy to take a look.