Multiple Websites for a Single Firm: Smart Marketing or SEO Spam?

I happened to notice a flood of press releases over the last couple days announcing a flood of new law firm websites. The press releases all have two things in common. They all announce a single law firm’s launch of multiple websites. And they all come from the same source, Scorpion Design, a web-design company whose tagline is, “Effective & Aggressive Internet Marketing.”

As an example, one press release issued yesterday proclaims, “Law Firm M. Stephen Cho Attorney at Law Launches Four New Websites Targeting Corona.” I must have missed the same press release for Rancho Cucamonga, because the Cho firm actually has a total of nine websites — one umbrella site and then four separate sites (criminal defense, divorce, bankruptcy and civil litigation) for each of Corona, Calif., and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Here’s how they break down:

The same design firm did something similar for Ned Barnett, a Houston criminal defense attorney. In addition to his general law firm site, he has a DWI attorney site, a sex crime lawyer site, and others not listed in the press release, which touts, “Attorney Ned Barnett Launches 5 New Websites Reaching Out to Houston Area Residents.” And it goes on, with Scorpion creating three new websites for Martin & Wallentine in Olathe, Kansas; five new websites for Okabe & Haushalter in Las Vegas; four new websites for Joseph M. Tosti, a bankruptcy lawyer in Irvine, Calif.

Is this Just SEO Spam?

No question, this tactic — producing separate websites for different practice areas and different geographic targets — is probably quite effective from the standpoint of SEO. But is SEO-optimization the most important characteristic of a law firm website? I sure don’t think so.

One concern I have about this approach is that it is not transparent to the consumer. In fact, it could be downright confusing to a consumer. Not to pick on the Cho firm mentioned above, but if you go to its Corona bankruptcy site, the site describes the firm as a “Corona bankruptcy attorney” and lists the firm’s practice areas as a variety of bankruptcy-related practices (Chapter 7, Chapter 13, etc.).

Nowhere does the site indicate that the firm also has practices focused on criminal defense, divorce and litigation. In this sense, the site paints an incomplete picture of the firm. In my opinion, the consumer has the right to get the complete picture. Maybe, for example, the consumer specifically wants a firm that concentrates exclusively in bankruptcy. The only indication I found on the bankruptcy site of the firm’s other practices was in Mr. Cho’s biography, which states, “M. Stephen Cho practices in all areas of civil, family and criminal litigation at the firm’s San Bernardino County office.”

There may be nothing inherently wrong about this approach of putting up separate websites. Even so, it strikes me as bad marketing. As I said, the multiple sites could be confusing or misleading to consumers. And this approach leaves each of these sites with a strong aftertaste of spam.

If any of you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

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19 Responses to “Multiple Websites for a Single Firm: Smart Marketing or SEO Spam?”

  1. Cookie-cutter websites as “Effective & Aggressive Internet Marketing.” I don’t know about that. Aggressive, certainly. Effective? I’d want to see some “before and after” stats.

    I agree with you that it is not transparent to the consumer, and the cookie-cutter nature makes it all the more confusing to the consumer. Wonder if this is just the beginning, now that ICANN has opened up top-level domains.

  2. Joe says:

    This strikes me as a very bad idea from an SEO standpoint. Even doing this with two websites would dilute the incoming links that are important for ranking well in search engines. A better idea would be to point each of the registered domains to a topic specific page on one single website. Then, if any of those pages become very strong in the search engines, and can stand on their own, they can be split off using the domain that was redirecting to them all along. In the meantime, some of the authority from links to any of the pages on the single website would help the ranking of all the pages. Splitting things up defeats that. Also, Google is moving to emphasis on authoritative brands, so using a generic domain, instead of the actual name of the firm, may work against the strategy in the end.

  3. While Scorpion is a competitor, I have to jump in and defend this strategy. There is a great benefit — SEO aside — of having practice-specific websites for the same law firm. For starters, it allows the firm to treat a practice area in a longer format than would be appropriate on the main law firm’s website. Also, without the extraneous material about other practices, a practice-specific site allows the consumer to hone in on the subject at hand and receive a more focused message.

    Consider this site: http://www.falseclaimsact.com/ that we did for Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti. If the main firm’s website tried to present this much information on the qui tam practice, it would look very much out of place and be confusing. On the other hand, this site is effective for those looking for whistleblower lawyer resources, whereas the main site is not.

    So, there is a marketing case to be made for these sites outside of search optimization (but they’re quite effective for that too). The idea is good one, but there’s certainly room for debate over individual executions of it.

    • These are good points Jason. I am not opposed to a law firm spinning off a separate site to highlight a practice. In fact, in presentations I give, I often show the site PackagingLaw.com, which the law firm Keller and Heckman uses to emphasize its unique emphasis in this relatively esoteric area of practice. But that strikes me as different than what’s being done with these sites above, where a solo or small firm will have multiple sites that do not tie into each other.

  4. Joseph Dang says:

    This is called vertical marketing and there is nothing “wrong” about it. Actually it’s great … as long as the website operator is providing, good, useful content. If I want Bankruptcy information I want to go to a bankruptcy website.

    And are we assuming our consumers are that lazy or incompetent? They found the lawyer through google I’m assuming or another search engine. So we expect them to do that, but we don’t expect them to google that attorney’s name after they found them? I think consumers are smarter than we think they are. My fiance who doesn’t know the first thing about anything tech, knows to google a dentist after finding the dentist’s name through the initial google search.

    How about an advertisement that only mentions one practice area, is that misleading to the consumer? Should all ads now have to list all the practice areas of the attorney?

    Joe, vertical marketing is very strong for SEO. If google sees a website that is just about bankruptcy law, it’ll rank that website higher for … bankruptcy law. If the site is about bankruptcy law, family law, personal injury law, business law, etc. etc. google doesn’t know who to send there. Google “Corporate Lawyer” and tell me if the international huge law firms show up.

  5. John Coffey says:

    My guess is that this will be an effective tactic in the short term. I believe google has already publicly stated that they are going to reduce/remove the ranking power of having keywords in your domain and move towards brand, as previously mentioned.

    I also think it cheapens-the-look-of-the-site.com

    Then there’s the ranking power issue. Links to your site matter more than most other ranking factors. With multiple domains you need to obtain quality links and maintain the technology platform or CMS both of which are costly.

    My advice is to focus on the medium term and ignore short term SEO tricks. Build brand, reputation, reviews, trust and word of mouth.

    Robert – This is a great article. Would be great to have a series of articles (sorry if it already exists) on other issues relating to online marketing: eg. gamed reviews in google places, widespread use of specifically prohibited link building tactics employed by SEOs very often without the knowledge of the Lawyer. And finally what happens legally when a Lawyer website is removed from the google index because of the tactics used by the SEO company – who is liable and are contracts created with this in mind.

    Cheers everyone!

  6. Solo Blog Owner says:

    I agree that the failure to accurately describe the rest of the practice areas in the niche sites is deceptive. Why should a potential client have to conduct a thorough web search in order to obtain such relevant information?

    The sites are propped up by cross-linking and one decent independent link. (I don’t count the web designer’s link, however powerful, as having any relevancy but assume Google will eventually get around to further devaluing such links.)

    This earns the law firm top placement in the organic results for the keywords in their URL. More importantly, they bid for the No. 1 slot on Adwords. Given the “thin” content on the niche site, it might obtain a decent click through rate. (Alexa data is not available yet.)

    My $ .02

    P.S. Very nice blog. Going to add it to my RSS…

  7. Brian Blades says:

    Hi all, this appears to have been a hot topic and our team is always interested in hearing the feedback of others, whether it’s about our design work or marketing strategies.

    To clarify a few points, “niche marketing” isn’t at all new, for the legal industry or any other. With respect to creating separate websites for individual practice areas and/or geographic locations, all parties involved are better served. Each of those websites utilizes unique content, custom written by our staff writers. The designs, while similar to one another are done specifically to emphasis a branding effect so that folks visiting one website aren’t confused when linked over to another. Also, we believe transparency is achieved with this process and the end user is aware of the firm’s other practice areas.

    Everything starts with the “hub” website (http://www.stephenchoattorneyatlaw.com) which is published in just about every representation of the firm’s advertising. The niche websites only come into play when specific keywords are used in a search query or are navigated to by user intent. From an organic SEO standpoint, we are able to achieve results that would not normally be possible within a saturated market and targeting multiple practice areas. From the end user’s point of view, they are finding and navigating more efficiently to the content they’re most interested in, based on their query. And because the job of a search engine is to find the most relevant and popular result for the visitor, they are offered a better, more specific website to provide.

    To address Gwynne’s question about the effects of this strategy, it is unequivocally the most effective available. Demonstrated by Mr. Cho himself who has recently developed his 9th website under his second Elite Marketing package with us.

    Good luck to everyone on their marketing endeavors in 2012!

  8. Greetings Robert – I’ve been using Scorpion now for about 3 years. I do ALL the SEO and content writing for my sites (five in total). Only two of the sites cover the same themes and geographic area; two are mediation sites for Palm Springs and L.A., respectively, and another is for Collaborative Law. Apparently like you, I also write content and do SEO for other lawfirms, including some national mediation sites and am launching my own SEO divorce lawyer specialty firm (www.familylawseospecialists.com).

    I have found this to be an exceptional marketing tool, but more important I speak in my blogs (in particular) to self-represented parties, lawyers and judges. My traffic exceeds 16,000 visitors a month on a combined basis.

    I am amazed at how few people understand SEO – and most especially the big marketeers like Findlaw and so on. That is a cookie cutter syndrome, with no public benefit. Websites are an outstanding platform to change the way people view lawyers, and the government sponsored legal system.

    So, at the end of the day, lawyers who launch a series of websites with zero heart and no real information other than the self-serving fare, may be acting deceptively. Ultimately, however, the legal consumer makes that call. Evolution and basic rules of competition will decide their fate.

    In any event, thanks for the thoughtful ruminations! It is a very fair issue to discuss.

    Thurman

  9. BTW, here’s the link for my philosophies re effective lawyer marketing, http://www.familylawseospecialists.com. It will be my 6th site with Scorpion, every additional inch I will write myself (including every Blog).

    Cheers!

    Thurman

  10. [...] through smoke and mirrors.I’ve criticized this style of confusing marketing in the past, writing in one instance about a number of lawyer websites, all created by the same marketing firm, that created misleading [...]

  11. Brian says:

    This is bad bad internet marketing by Scorpion Designs, why do agencies think they can do the same thing for all of their clients. Scorpion Design is getting their clients stung by algorithm updates. I have spoken with multiple clients of theirs that have been ranking well and then dropped off the map do to shady article writing practices, bad back links, unapproved client content.

    A lot of their clients are now filing for re-inclsuion. Scorpion Design does not even let their clients own their own websites, they let them own their domain names and put them under contract for multiple years in order to “earn their domain ownership” by the time they earn their domains most of them have been sited by google as shady sites.

    I would highly recommend avoiding the “sting” of Scorpion Designs and their template based Lawyer solutions.

  12. Blake says:

    Short-term gain, long-term loss in my opinion.

  13. [...] Robert Ambrogi wrote an article on this topic back in 2011, and he does a good job of conveying why having multiple websites at a single firm isn’t really smart marketing: Read here [...]

  14. Jerry Copp says:

    http://www.spamhaus.org/rokso/evidence/ROK9601/marketingesquire-llc – 19k – Similar pages
    Main Info – The Spamhaus Project
    The Register of Known Spam Operations … Noreen Daley —- The CEO Sales
    Solution 1060 First Avenue King of Prussia PA 19406 —- Addresses used by this

    Domains & DNS – The Spamhaus Project
    Using the name “Noreen Daley” this professional spammer is known as “The
    CEO Sales Solution”. Spams from throwaway accounts to spamvertise
    throwaway …
    http://www.spamhaus.org/rokso/evidence/ROK9601/marketingesquire-llc – 19k – Similar pages
    Main Info – The Spamhaus Project
    Using the name “Noreen Daley” this professional spammer is known as “The
    CEO Sales Solution”. Spams from throwaway accounts to spamvertise
    throwaway …
    http://www.spamhaus.org/rokso/evidence/ROK9598/marketingesquire-llc – 15k – Similar pages

  15. Michael says:

    My thought on this is use subdomains. This way you can offer the same thing you are offering without having (to manage) multiple websites. It gives you the opportunity to keep building the brand awareness, while giving you the opportunity to have a website for each location or if required service.

    I don’t think any client should have more than 1 website unless you are a franchise and have a site through corp (that you cant easily modify or give a local feel) and you create your own local site.

    Than again, looking through some of these comments it looks like that is how scorpion design gets their rankings (which will slowly start to dwindle away since Google doesn’t favor a domain rich name as it once did). If any company says you don’t own your website, or content without a multi year deal RUN! RUN FAST AND FAR!

  16. Cassie says:

    This seems to me as both a scam for SEO and a way for this Website firm to grab more money from it’s clients. Like previously said by others here this is not a long term solution. Web browsers have put a lot of emphasis on advising websites to be tuned to the customer and not striving for best SEO. In fact they now rank repetitive sites and content poorly. So all these multiple sites that these firms have for one company is most likely devastating any SEO positives they had in 2011. I hope for their sake they have seen the error in their Website firm’s ways and found a better solution that focus’s on the end user, not the search engines.

  17. A competitor of mine http://www.decktech.org/ just had Scorpion do their website.

    It looks very similar to another site Scorpion did for another waterproofing contractor in San Diego’s http://www.wicr.net Lazy work in my opinion…

    I’m using WordPress blog that I pay $100 a year on for custom fonts/template and domain name…do all my own blogging, wrote the pages and posted the pics.

    Do a search on Google for ” deck waterproofing san luis obispo” and see where Decktech comes up…my research shows them on page 3 of the results.

    Don’t know much about meta tags and seo and all that but I do know that my little crappy site is on the first page and is one of the first results.

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on these sites…

    Thanks!

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