Today I have a guest blogger that shows you how to save thousands of dollars a year. Those savings take place if you made the mistake of hiring FindLaw as your law firm’s marketing company (or are contemplating doing so).
The company hit my radar big time, of course, when FindLaw decided it would be fun to rip-off my blog name. A deeper look discussed how FindLaw‘s “Blogs” were tainting not only its clients, but its professor-commentators and the profession of law as a whole.
Today’s guest is a former sales rep that left on less than amicable terms because he couldn’t make an absurd sales quota selling a product that was so heavily over-priced. Today he has his own company. The financial analysis of FindLaw‘s offerings now follows:
By James Eichenberger
(co-owner of Swell Sites, a small, Minnesota web design company)
There’s been a lot of chatter, mostly disgust, around the ethics and quality of FindLaw‘s blogs as well as what I’ll considerately call a lack of creativity in naming them. I’m sure that this, like the linking scandal of 2008*, will evoke a variety of reactions from people involved in the legal marketing community. The great majority of lawyers will read these posts and feel self-assured in the fact that they don’t do business with FindLaw.
However, I’m afraid that current FindLaw customers will have one of two reactions. Some will look at it as an issue that is isolated to the blogosphere, and therefore doesn’t effect them and their products with FindLaw. The second group will realize that, whether or not they have their names posted on these blogs, this is yet another incarnation of FindLaw‘s questionable ethics, and it’s time to move.
So the question for current FindLaw customers (the group that is willing to acknowledge that their reputations are at stake) becomes how do you transition out of your current site and retain some of what you’ve already paid for? To that end, I’ve put together a group of questions that can jump-start the idea that you can indeed rescue your website from being held hostage and save thousands of dollars a year.
1. What am I really getting from the FindLaw Directory?
In reviewing traffic reports with your sales rep or account manager, it’s common to see the traffic delivered by FindLaw rolled into one big number. To be clear, there are two distinct elements that bring traffic to your website from FindLaw. First, your FindLaw profile, (which will typically include “pview” in the URL on your traffic report) and then any directory placements, which can run from $30 to upwards of $1,000 per month. [Ed. note, FindLaw links coded as “nofollow” to avoid giving link juice.]
It’s important to understand the average price per click that you are paying for traffic from FindLaw‘s top listings. In many cases, those coveted clicks from FindLaw cost well beyond $100 each. Tracking how many of these clicks actually convert to contacts by following the pages they access on your site is a very easy task with many common (and free) traffic programs. It’s troubling that FindLaw‘s traffic reporting is unable to follow these users and show conversion for this extremely expensive traffic.
2. Why am I paying monthly for my website?
There are really two answers to this question, depending on where you are in the life of your website with FindLaw. FindLaw websites are billed monthly, so the idea is that they take the cost of a website and prorate it over 12 monthly payments. So if you are in the first 12 months of your contract, it can be argued that you are still paying for the creation of your website.
Outside of those 12 months is where the math gets blurry. The monthly rates don’t change (significantly, anyway) based on the length of the contract, and what you get in terms of content or SEO doesn’t really either. Unless you are engaged with your website to the point of calling to ask what you are eligible for on a quarterly basis, your website just gets more and more expensive the longer you keep it with FindLaw. A former FindLaw General Manager said on his way out (before having moved back over to West) that the best way to get real value from a FindLaw website is to buy one and then cancel it as soon as possible.
3. What do you get beyond the initial development of your site?
That’s a question that FindLaw was trying to answer the entire 5 years that I worked there, and to my knowledge, they still haven’t figured it out. If anyone reading this can tell me of an experience where they received real value outside of the initial development of a new project I’d be interested in hearing about it. My guess is that most FindLaw customers will struggle to recall ever being proactively helped with their sites. They will tell you about “refreshes” which are additional content opportunities, but they are not easy to set up or completely clear on who is eligible.
The service is supposed to include additional search engine optimization (SEO) work, but at the time I left, they could also just have someone from the SEO team “audit” the site, and then determine whether or not they wanted to work on it. Same thing with content; unless you ask about the schedule, and then give specific direction on what content you’d like written, you likely will not get any. I’d liken the whole situation to trying to write step by step instructions on how to tie a shoe. Tying a shoe is easy, but when you try to tell someone else how to do it, it becomes infinitely more difficult than if you had done it yourself.
4. What elements of my FindLaw website do I actually own?
Here’s where there is actually some good news for FindLaw clients. There are three basic elements to your site:
This is the the name that brings up your site. Regardless of whether you owned that domain name before you purchased your site, it IS yours. At any time, for any reason, you can request that the ownership of your domain name be transferred to an account under your name. That gives you the ability to keep a site up and running should you decide to move away from FindLaw in the future. It also protects you from them holding on to it should you get into any type of a dispute over your contract term, cancellation date or total amount owed to the company. Your domain name is the online version of the front door to your law firm…your law firm should be the sole owner and controller of that domain name.
The content on your site that was “custom written” is yours to keep. Because you directed the writing of this content, and it was written about your firm, it is yours. The content includes the meta data which is a large part of their search engine placement strategy. Transferring your content, as well as the 3 or 4 lines of coding aimed at search engine placement, onto a new server space will typically yield the same, if not better, results on Google.
Not ALL of the content belongs to you. If you have any FAQs, eNewsletters, Practice pages or practice centers, those are actually leased from FindLaw. Re-publishing that content on to a new hosting space is a violation of the contract and licensing of the content.
The design is owned by FindLaw, but can be purchased for a fee defined as 4% of the annual value of the website. So if you were paying $12,000 a year for your site, buying the design and all images used would typically cost about $500. For that cost, you get a disc or a link to download all of the HTML files and graphics that made up your site. What you get isn’t going to be easily rebuilt by a novice, but someone with a general knowledge of websites could reconstruct it in 2 to 6 hours, depending on the complexity of the design and number of pages.
5. How much should I expect to pay for a website from FindLaw?
There are hundreds of variations, but a template, 8 page site tends to run about $500 a month on a 12 month contract. So at a minimum, the site is about $6,000.* The second year monthly fees typically drop to about $350, so a 24 month stint with FindLaw with an 8 page website will cost right around $10,000.
This price increasing over time with the relatively low service level in the second year and beyond, is really where the opportunity to save some real money comes in to play. If you already have a FindLaw website, there are several ways to get it set up on your own hosting space. Attorneys who are very web savvy may be able to handle the migration themselves. If you are not very comfortable with web development it may be far more efficient to hire someone to do it for you.
6. How much does it cost to get my FindLaw site rebuilt on another platform?
There is no perfect answer for this, but you should expect to pay somewhere in the range between $1,000 and $4,000 depending on the size and complexity of your website. Whether you are setting up a new website or working to get your FindLaw site migrated, here are a few things you’re going to want to make sure have been taken care of (in no particular order):
a. XML Sitemap Submission
b. Traffic Reporting that shows where people are coming from (a counter is not enough)
c. Domain validation through Google (available in their Webmaster Tools)
d. Meta Data on each page of your site that you would like included on Google
e. Keyword rich content that reflects the approach and feel, not just the practice area, of your law firm.
I hope this information is helpful to people who are looking to gain a better understanding of exactly what they purchased from FindLaw, or looking to start up or advance their web marketing. I hope none of this came across as “axe-grinding” but at the same time, the reason that FindLaw can continue to get away with these other questionable projects is because there are thousands of lawyers who are paying thousands of dollars for what’s basically a trumped up web hosting plan.
1. For more info on the prior scandal with FindLaw selling links, see FindLaw gaming Google, and possibly scamming lawyer customers? Also see: Is the FindLaw Story Getting Distorted? where former FindLaw reps out the company’s disreputable policies in the comments.
2. This blog and my firm’s website were built by a small provider for a fraction of the cost of FindLaw’s services. The idea that lawyers would pay such ridiculously high rates to build a website, and then pay hundreds of dollars more per month to host it, is bizarre.
All the content on my two sites (for better or worse) comes off my keyboard.