I hope you’re off to a good start in 2020 and you’re ready this because you have any of the following kinds of questions or concerns:
- “Is my website still going to be competitive in 2020 and beyond?”
- “Are the legal directories I’m currently on still working?”
- “Are there any other directories out there that I should be allocating marketing dollars to?”
These results are contingent on both Google’s infamous algorithm updates and the perseverance, resilience, and marketing dollars of individuals and companies vying for front page results. Directories in 2018 like Yellowpages, Attorneys.com, and Lawyers.com that lost traction in 2019 aren’t even mentioned any longer in this 2020 update. It’s interesting to see what happened, and what we’ll be referencing, once we put this topic under the scope the beginning of 2018 — Who is Dominating Legal Organic Search Results?
We were already acknowledging the long-standing fact that the 3-pack was now solidified, away from its glory days of being as pronounced as the 7-pack. One key feature is the fact that Divorce and Family directories still, 2 years later, do very well. These are the only times we still see lawyers.com’s directory anymore most of the time. HG.com also slipped In once for “Phoenix Personal Injury Lawyer.”
But with our ability to look year over year, we see patterns and we’re able to take advantage of them. As mentioned in this original articles, the searches we do are as follows:
We coupled the following cities:
- Fort Lauderdale
- Kansas City
With these practice areas:
- Criminal Defense
- Personal Injury
- Car Accident
In 2021, this update along with its keywords will likely have to be completely overhauled since search behavior is changing so drastically – people aren’t using as many geo-modifiers like the aforementioned cities. People are including more “by me” and “near me” appendices to searches. People anticipate using voice search more and more. Lastly, less is more on mobile. That aside, we still glean plenty of information from these analyses, so let’s get started.
We will provide the breakdown of the entire homepage with this (1-10) but being that between 4 Google Ads, the Map Pack, and then 3 organic, it’s safe to say (and is confirmed) that about 90%+ of clicks will already have occurred by the time someone gets to the fourth position organically, especially on mobile.
The following are the percentage of times the following source came up for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd result in Google organically for our keywords. Since we did 54 unique keyword searches like “Houston Car Accident Lawyer” and “Phoenix Divorce Lawyer”, that would mean that 25.93% of the time, Justia came up absolutely 1st in organic after Ads and before/after map pack, and quantifiably had exactly 14 1st spot positions.
As another note, you’ll see that “Website” is nearly half for each top 3 position, since those are the websites maintained by individual law firms. Most times, directories like Avvo, Justia, FindLaw will only have the opportunity to be positioned once per front page. But you’d be surprised (or not) sometimes how many different pages they will dedicate to each major market in order to attempt more positioning opportunities.
These results are, for me, a complete confirmation of the dozens of conversations I had with lawyers in 2019 about the trends in their directory marketing. Many were surprised by the ascent of SuperLawyers viability, which appears to be completely transparent now, the near-complete withdrawal of faith in Avvo, the steady success of Justia, and the swap of Thumbtack with Expertise as the only real general business directory that can have results for lawyers.
Other initial takeaways (keep in mind, for the 54 legal searches we did, we found this to be a good sample size but there are still plenty of unique markets):
- Avvo had 21 top 3 spots in 2019. It now has ZERO.
- Justia had 34 top 3 spots in 2019. It now has 24.
- Expertise had 3 top 3 spots in 2019. It now has 17.
- SuperLawyers had 11 top 3 spots in 2019. It now has 26.
One benefit Expertise has is its ability to garner authority from serving practically every industry in existence and participating in very interesting high-level SEO tactics you could even apply to your own website. We went in-depth there with our article last year with our article “Why Does Google Constantly Favor Directories Over Our Websites?” which makes a case for why such a general directory can perform well, and why other directories are doing well with SEO and having success in the form of higher visibility.
Last year, we attributed the huge strides in Justia’s positioning with an aggressive link building campaign.
What I would predict, before I even look, is that this campaign for Justia has plateaued and SuperLawyers has one that has taken off. The following is Justia’s backlinking analysis:
I was amused a bit with the prediction here because you can see that when we did the analysis last year, sure enough, the link building initiative they had was at its peak. The amount being performed certainly is much more than the majority of most websites, but there’s a clear decline in aggression that it started with. As for SuperLawyers:
SuperLawyers picked it up around the same time as Justia, but definitely sustained that momentum for longer and seems to be paying off more for them.
I wanted to make sure I illuminated some of the “Why” these things happen. I want to also mention that SEO isn’t solely backlinks. if you refer to our blog, Why Does Google Favor Directories Over Our Websites in 2020?, you’ll see many other interesting concepts for on-page SEO and content for why these pages also may outrank one another. Structured data, meta information, alt text, load times, site structure all come into play. But there’s no doubt we see the rise and fall of website positioning correlate very smoothly with their backlinking trends. And I’ll say it now, your website will be buried if you’re wrapped up in strategy that doesn’t include backlinks at any point.
Let’s look at the average percentages our sources changed in being found front page between 2018 and 2019.
And between 2019 and 2020:
You may be wondering about Justia on this one – this is because Justia didn’t necessarily secure better positions 4-10, but secured MUCH better positioning between 1-3. This is exactly the same scenario of SuperLawyers – they are 4th 11.1% of the time at 4th. 5.56% at 5th. And never above 4% after that. But they are 16.67%, 16.67%, 14.81% 1-3 respectively.
Frankly, it’s a huge relief to know websites aren’t being disrespected as much as I anticipated (so far) in 2020, gaining more of a foothold for 1-3. But we could also attribute that at more marketing dollars being spent on SEO, and better SEOs performing the work on law firm websites.
For a more in-depth analysis, refer to our datasheet here.
So, what does this all boil down to?
- Directories should be a part of your marketing mix, but it’s important to not only know where they are but also where they’ve come from and where they’re going. No one wants to be locked into a 1-2-year contract with a directory on its way out. No one wants to miss an opportunity to lock in a great rate with a directory on the rise.
- Reverse-engineering the SEO strategy of a directory on the ascent is very interesting and insightful (to SEOs at least).
- Directories are without a doubt a “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” sort of consideration, since there is evidence that Google doesn’t seem to be favoring them less organically any time soon. They are normally inexpensive relative to other potential legal campaigns and should be considered another place for you to come up, as well as a way to leverage your branding.
- Nothing in the legal industry lasts forever – it is evident in our research the past few years that algorithm updates significantly change the landscape of the front page of Google’s organic, separate from the changes they make to presenting results via structured data, snippets, and the positions they continually monetize.
- Link building is tremendously important as always. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are incorrect. Having a meaningful way of approaching it is important, but that’s a whole other series of blogs I’d have to scourge up. Maybe you can learn a bit about it here if you’re interested: