Dow Jones' Nat Worden reported this afternoon that FindLaw has been slapped by Google for shady SEO tactics and that lawyers are now questioning the SEO marketing product FindLaw sold them.
Worden explained that FindLaw came up with a 'SEM Advantage' product which cost some lawyers $2,000 per month.
Billed as a "high-octane" way to double or even triple traffic on his site, Newell [FindLaw lawyer customer] and others like him understood FindLaw's SEM Advantage product to be a package of well-placed links designed to lift a Web site's standing in a Google search. But now they're wondering if they're still getting their money's worth.
Worden reports FindLaw may have pulled the wool out from under these lawyers. Late last month, FindLaw quietly made changes to a link on one of its Web sites leading to Newell's site, which he had received as part of SEM Advantage. It also changed at least 99 other links to the Web sites of law-firm clients after it ran afoul of Google Inc. (GOOG) in the search giant's ongoing efforts to crack down on a practice known as selling "link juice," or Web links designed to boost a Web site's page rankings in a search engine. With the link juice trade springing up as a cottage industry across the entire spectrum of online marketing, Google views it as threatening the quality of its search engine, an asset that has made Google a dominant force in media.
Read on in Worden's article and you'll see that FindLaw made the changes adversely effecting lawyers like Newell because FindLaw had been caught by Google for selling links in violation of Google's guidelines. Something in my opinion, FindLaw knew or should have known it was going to get caught doing.
Worden concludes with what is most alarming, and perhaps why FindLaw is not owning up to its misconduct.
The controversy comes at a difficult time for FindLaw's parent company, Thomson-Reuters, which publishes a news service that competes directly with Dow Jones Newswires and is delivered on the same terminals. Its stock price is down about 20% over the last year amid concerns that the U.S. financial crisis will quash growth in its financial markets division. Investors are counting on its professional division to pick up the slack, and its legal services business, for which Findlaw is a small but important growth engine, made up 66% of that division's revenue in the first half.
Imagine if FindLaw confessed to duping lawyers for millions of dollars (not saying they did, just looks to me like they did). Imagine having to refund millions of dollars. Imagine having to refund these monies after paying millions of dollars in sales commissions on the sale of this 'high-octane SEM Advantage Product.' Imagine how investors would view Thomson Reuter's stock then. Scary stuff for FindLaw and their parent Thomson Reuters. Scary stuff for lawyers relying on FindLaw going forward.