As more firms begin to invest in online marketing as a way to generate clients, you see more and more “legal seo” companies coming out of the woodwork claiming their mouse trap is better than the other guys.
It’s my experience that most attorneys fall into 2 categories. Either they spend a ton of time learning about SEO rather than practicing law or they spend so much time practicing law that they know very little about SEO.
Being that I see a lot more of the latter than the former it’s important for me to always educate my client and potential clients so they can make an informed decision about their online marketing. With that in mind I did a case study of 864 personal injury web sites as well as the Google Rankings (Commonly referred to as SERPs (Search Engine Result Placement) by people in the SEO World) of 19 of the biggest markets (Atlanta, Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orange County, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle and St. Louis) in the US for the term “[City Name] Personal Injury Lawyer”. The goal was to benchmark key metrics based on SEO companies and online marketing providers in order to determine things like ‘who’s doing the best job of getting results for their clients?’. I chose to evaluate personal injury firms because PI tends to be the most competitive area of practice online. Note: All of this data comes from Google SERPs from Feb 13-25 that was collected via oDesk contractors. The data was spot checked for accuracy and a small amount (10 or less) minor edits were made in the event that data given was not confirmed. If you would like to see the data from which this study was conducted, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you can imagine there was a lot of data to decipher so to make this really simple, here’s two terms you need to understand to fully grasp these findings.
Domain Authority (DA): A logarithmic number created by Moz on a scale of 1-100 that predicts the likelihood of new content on your site ranking for it’s desired term. For example, if your domain authority is 50 and most of your competition has a DA in the 30’s and 40’s, you most likely will rank really well for your keywords. I’ve written a lot about DA in the past and how to increase it but essentially, you increase your DA by getting backlinks from other high DA sites.
Page Authority (PA): Same as your domain authority but for a specific page while DA applies to your entire site.
To illustrate in very real terms the importance of domain authority and page authority and the fact that they are great predictors of organic success on Google, look no further than the average DA/PA for pages 1-5 all of the cities the study encompassed:
This chart illustrates what a good predictor of SEO success both Domain and Page Authority are. Notice the how the closer you get to page 1, the higher the DA/PA. While SEO has very many complex aspects to it, as a rule of thumb, if you increase your domain/page authority, you will increase your position on Google.
So looking at this article, this basically means that you need to have a domain authority in the 40s to have a shot at ranking on the first page for Chicago Personal Injury Layer. That is some very stiff competition. From afar I would have thought that either Los Angeles or New York would be here but when you examine those cities and the related searches for each one, it appears that people in both LA and NY are more likely to search by neighborhood/suburb/borough/town etc. than they are to search by “New York” or “Los Angeles”.
This is a bit random but I found it Interesting that San Antonio made the top 5 here. I’ve lived in Texas my whole life and I always thought of San Antonio as being smaller than Houston and Dallas but nope, it’s bigger than Dallas and the 7th largest city by population in the US.
Legal SEO Vendors
One of the things we kept track of in this study is the SEO/Legal Marketing vendor of every web site that appeared in the SERPs I analyzed. This was done by looking for a link or logo in the footer of each site. In my experience, the company whose logo or link in the footer of a lawyer’s web site is more often than not, the lawyers SEO vendor however it should be noted that just because a vendors logo or link appears at the bottom of a web site, it technically does not mean that.
Here’s a look at what I found:
42% of the sites I looked at listed no vendor anywhere on their site.
There’s 5 “Big” Legal SEO firms in this report that I mention by name and then everyone else is put into ‘Independent’ Group. I arrived at 5 because the drop off from the 5th SEO vendor, iLawyerMarketing, which had 19 clients in the SERPs I analyzed, and 6th vendor had 8, more than a 50% drop off and a sample size that was too small to draw any sort of conclusion with confidence.
Of the ‘Big 5′, Findlaw had more than twice as many clients (13% Market Share) as the next closest vendor, Justia (6% Market Share).
Despite any of the companies not having more than 8 clients, independent SEO still accounted for 27% of the web sites I analyzed.
My first thought looking at this chart is, it’s difficult to get a personal injury lawyer to page one on Google. On average, no single SEO Vendor had all their clients on page on page 1 or even page.
That being said, iLawyerMarketing is head and shoulders above the other ‘Big 5’ SEO Vendors with Justia finishing a distant 2nd in both average domain authority and average Google ranking.
Findlaw & Lawyers.com both perform poorly which was very surprising to me because of their size and resources as a company (Findlaw is owned by Thomson Reuters Corporation and Lawyers.com by Martindale Hubbell). I’m speculating here but I can’t help but wonder if perhaps they are too big to adapt to Google and it’s ever changing algorithm.
If the last comment is true of Findlaw and Lawyers.com, the opposite is true of Justia. It’s impressive to that the 2nd largest legal SEO company in this study was 2nd in both average ranking and average domain authority. That is impressive in of itself and shows some nimble-ness (sp?) on their part to keep up with industry changes and keep their clients competitive.
While I can’t overemphasize sample size enough here, these rankings the data shows, in my personal opinion, are an accurate reflection of what I see as I do SEO for attorneys day after day. I have a great deal of respect for the work that iLawyerMarketing does and if you think I’m saying as any sort of benefit to myself, just know that I don’t know anyone there and I’ve never even had a conversation with anyone affiliated with iLawyerMarketing in any way. Put simply my company is competitors with them. But being that over half of the attorneys I speak to complain about getting screwed over by their SEO company, I have to give credit where credit is due and iLawyerMarketing does it right.
tl;dr: What You Should Take Away From All This
This was a lot of techno babble right? So what action items can you actually take away from this that will actually help your firm? In closing here’s my four big takeaways from this study:
iLawyerMarketing, based on this sample size of 19 cities and 864 web site results, is without question the best Legal SEO company out of all the major lawyer marketing companies, in terms of results. Justia is pretty good. Findlaw, Lawyers.com, and to a slightly lesser degree, Scorpion Web Design are all lacking in results based on the data from this study.
No matter who you hire, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your 1st page rankings. Look no further than the average rankings of all the various vendors to see that.
If you want to measure the work your SEO firm by 2 simple metrics, choose domain authority & page authority (you can always go to opensiteexplorer.org to check this). As you can see from all the charts above, these two numbers above all else, are the best great predictors of organic SEO success.
Based on these findings, I would be very careful about signing a long term agreement with an SEO firm that could not demonstrate expertise in increasing my domain and page authority. If your sales rep, account manager etc. doesn’t have a solid strategy to increase these numbers for you or worse yet, doesn’t know what these metrics are, I personally would not hire them.
If you have any questions regarding this study or the findings in it or would like to see an analysis of a particular city that was part of this study, email me at email@example.com.