The web is a funny thing. Ten (10) years after the formation of Google, and it still reminds me of the Wild West, with hucksters and shysters selling snake oil and magic liniment. A recent example being Findlaw, the 1000-pound gorilla among legal website developers. Recently, blogger and SEO expert Todd Friesen reported on how Findlaw sent him a few unsolicited (i. e. spam) emails to see if he was interested in buying links on Findlaw’s site. It seems that Findlaw was offering a service to “help” vendors in the legal community generate higher search engine rankings by selling links on Findlaw’s websites. Read the original blog (Shame, Shame, Shame, Findlaw) here and scan down and check out the comments. As you would suspect, Google and the other search engines don’t much care for this practice as it falsely influences search rankings. The goal of the search engines’ algorithms is to promote those sites that are viewed by other sites as being relevant to the specific search term. Naturally, paid-for links – especially ones from sites that generate a lot of traffic (like Findlaw) – can inappropriately influence these rankings. Anyhow, Google found out about this, and slapped Findlaw with a penalty that temporarily reduced Findlaw’s priority rating – i.e. its search performance. Findlaw has quietly stopped selling the service, and Google has since restored Findlaw’s rating. So, what’s the moral of the story? I guess there are several you could focus on – such as the ethics of Findlaw who should know better than to sell this type of service, or the fact that if Google catches you in this type of behavior, they can and will punish you. Unfortunately, a lot of people may not care about the ethics issue as long as their phones are ringing, right? But, if I was a law firm client of Findlaw’s, there are two things that would bother me:

  1. I am paying Findlaw (or overpaying as the case may be) good money to host my website, and in many cases to “optimize” my website. If I found out that, on top of overcharging me, they were leveraging their relationship with me to make money with vendors who are trying to sell to me, I’d be more than a little upset.
  2. I’d be more than a little concerned with how Findlaw’s misconduct may cost me and my website ranking – now or in the future.

Listen, we are all in business to make money – Findlaw is no different. Before using them – or any vendor, do your due diligence, and work with vendors you trust. Caveat Emptor.