If part of your firm's marketing plan includes earning new clients from organic search, you probably track things like your sites' traffic, rankings and inquiries. You might also track your online competitors. After all, competitive analysis can be a very effective way to identify what other people are doing that is working. But, if you're like many lawyers and legal marketers, you probably focus on other law firms. But here's the thing, your greatest competition online is probably not other law firms. No, your biggest online competition probably comes from online legal directories.
Here's a snapshot of sites that have the most coverage for a group of 32 personal injury related terms across both desktops and smartphones in four major markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
For this group of 32 personal injury terms, in these markets, for the 320 SERPs that were analyzed, Avvo.com has a top-ten ranking in Google 7.19% of the time. This is the highest for any site. In aggregate these sites, none of them law firm sites, have a top-ten ranking in Google 32.51% of the time.
Obviously, this is a limited data set and your results may be much different for your target keywords and locations. However, my guess is that these sites dominate your SERPs too. And this trend is likely to continue until Google fixes Pigeon and dials back the impact of domain authority.
So, what can be done. Can you compete with these sites in organic search? Generally, at a very high-level, probably not. The resources invested into getting these sites to appear prominently in search results easily eclipses those of the overwhelming majority of law firms. However, on a hyper-local level, you can even the playing field.
The first advantage law firms have over these sites is Google My Business. This is why it should be on your firm's short SEO Checklist. Major legal directory sites can't create Google My Business pages. And notice that google.com is one of the domains listed above. This is largely attributable to Google Maps visibility on smartphones:
The second advantage that law firms have is that they're local. While legal directory sites want to appear "everywhere," most law firms only really need to be visible to their local target audience. So, they can target more local terms on their most authoritative pages (like their home pages). Notice that in the above example three of the top-ten results belong to actual law firms and the page that ranks is the firm's home page. In contrast, the directory sites are ranking internal location + practice area pages. In other words, the firms only need to "beat" the relevant directory pages which are likely to have less authority.
Finally, if you can't beat them, join them. Get your profile listed prominently on the specific legal directory pages that appear prominently for your target terms. This might mean optimizing your profiles within these sites. It might also mean advertising on the sites. While many law firms complain that legal directory advertising is largely ineffective, it's usually because they haven't been strategic about their advertising and aren't closely tracking results (i.e return on ad spend, etc). If Yelp.com ranks prominently for your target keywords, you should probably investigate whether a highly-visible ad on that page would convert for your firm.
The next time you perform a competitive analysis of your target SERPs, make sure you include all of the sites that appear prominently for your target terms, not just other law firms.
Great Post GYI! It seems like common sense to have your profile on these properties but i often still get push back! Crazy.
Thanks for stopping in Susan. I feel your pain. I think a lot of the negative sentiment has been earned from lawyers' historical experiences with directories. And there are plenty of instances where paying for a directory listings / advertisement is a complete waste. But there's little doubt, especially post-pigeon, that directories attract eyeballs from search. And in at least some cases, for some firms, they can generate ROAS.
The gray font on a white background is hard to read Gyi.
But good article.
Thanks @josephdang:disqus. Appreciate the feedback too! CSS updated.
On a side note, I tried to like your comment. Facebook'itis!