The Disturbingly Distorted, Market-Disfiguring, Demented Reality Of Directory Sites In The Legal Services Industry
“It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.” -Trinity, The Matrix
Welcome To The Real World
Online directory/portal/lead generation companies build websites to attract visitor traffic using consumer information or reviews. They then sell inclusion in the directories; ads on the site; leads generated on the pages; or other marketing services to business professionals/owners. Business directories can be valuable assets for your marketing. But be sure to do your due diligence–research the directories/portals and read the fine print.
The most well-known and general of these kinds of websites is Yelp. However there are many vertically-focused directories/portals in industries ranging from hotels, contractors, dentistry, plastic surgery, vehicle-maintenance, etc. But no industry has more directory/portal sites than the legal services market. And perhaps no other industry has been more disfigured by them.
For years I have been wondering why attorneys are blindly supporting the very directory/portal sites that are deliberately undermining the ability of lawyers to market their practices on the Internet.
Ten or so years ago I would frequently voice my concerns when I was speaking at legal marketing conferences. Having worked in the high-tech industry for years during the infancy of the internet portal sites, I was familiar with the business model. But naïve attorneys would tell me that I was being unnecessarily paranoid.
Now, years later, an attorney can search his own name or firm name on Google only to find that his directory site profiles rank higher in search results than his own website. When he searches the keywords that once brought traffic to his website again he sees that portals rank higher and his own webpage has been pushed back to page two or three–or even further back.
And forget trying to buy Google AdWords–the ads for directory/portal sites have driven up the cost of pay-per-click advertising to astronomical heights. So attorneys may end up buying into lead-buying programs that fail to deliver ROI.
“The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” -Morpheus, The Matrix
But the harsh reality is that attorneys have willingly volunteered to be exploited during the creation of the current market situation. Lawyers have literally lined up like mindless drones to support an often corrupt system that terrorizes the legal services marketing landscape and holds them hostage.
Ignorance Is Bliss
“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”
-Morpheus, The Matrix
Most lawyers seem blissfully ignorant of the fact that they have bought into an illusion that is the legal marketing equivalent of The Matrix.
I am not exaggerating or being over-dramatic. Nor did I choose this analogy because I am a Matrix-fanatic. Attorneys are literally being enslaved by what amounts to The Legal Marketing Matrix.
In case you have forgotten, the film The Matrix depicts a dystopian future in which what is perceived by most people as ‘reality’ is actually a simulated virtual-reality known as, ‘The Matrix’.
This simulated consciousness was created by self-aware machines in order to completely subdue humans and use their bodies as an energy source. A computer hacker named Neo learns the truth, is freed from the ‘dream world’ by a man called Morpheus, and recruited to join a rebellion against the machines.
Morpheus is offering you the truth about legal marketing reality. The question is, will you take the red pill or the blue pill?
Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
“Buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.”
-Cypher, The Matrix
Although each of the legal directory/portal sites takes a slightly different spin, they all use some combination of the business strategies which I am going to spell out for you in the clearest way I can.
“What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer generated dream world, built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this. [holds up a copper-top D cell battery]…I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.”
-Morpheus, The Matrix
Special Editorial Note: I am writing the following descriptions from the point of view of the directory/portal product managers (The Architects) because I think it will be a more effective way to illustrate how gullible attorneys have been. There have likely been many site design and business strategy discussions between product managers and company leadership and/or salespeople (The Agents) that sounded something like this…
Content – Being a legal infomediary (information intermediary) will be the basic foundation of our website–a place where people go in search of information about their legal problems and legal rights. Because content is king!! Tons of law content (Blogs, Videos, Q&A) that will help us increase the SEO-value/searchability of our directory/portal site.
But writers are expensive. And paying lawyers to write for us would be outrageously expensive!
Let’s get lawyers to voluntarily contribute all the content. We’ll tell them that contributing to our site makes them look like an authority and will help them get clients. They’ll line up to post free articles on our sites. If they are dumb enough to buy into it, let’s get them to PAY us for the privilege of doing all the content creation work.
Lawyers don’t understand websites and Internet search algorithms. Lawyers will believe whatever we tell them about technology. Because we are ‘internet experts’. We’ll tell the lawyers that we can drive a highly targeted audience to the content they created—because they don’t understand how search engines really work. The attorneys won’t even realize that it’s their content that is driving visitors to our site.
“… as we started thinking for you it really became our civilization, which is of course what this is all about.”
-Agent Smith, The Matrix
Profile Customization – Hey, we can get free lists of licensed attorneys from bar associations and put a minimal amount of information about the attorneys on a directory page. Then we can charge lawyers fees for increasing levels of profile customization. Their vanity will drive them to want to customize their profile with their photo, resume, etc. We’ll tell them that having a great profile on our site and contributing content is their best hope of attracting new clients.
“Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.”
-Architect, The Matrix Reloaded
Position – Lawyers will pay for a higher rank (top position) in the directory. Again, their vanity and competitive nature at work. And they will have pay more because our site is a source of valuable traffic to their own websites. If the attorney wants to appear more often (greater frequency) then we’ll charge them more for that too. Let’s also charge for stars next to their name and other eye-catching graphics. And let’s also charge them for putting links to their website in their profile, in their posts on our website, etc.
“You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability… It is the sound of your death… Goodbye, Mr. Anderson…”
-Agent Smith, The Matrix
Backlink Badges – The kid in everybody loves getting stickers on their notebooks or patches on their scouting uniform. Lawyers will love it if we give them official-looking badges that they can put on their website that link back to their profile on our directory/portal. But the joke is on them. Every attorney website that links to our site will boost us higher in the search rankings. Again, Lawyers don’t understand Internet search so they won’t have a clue what we are really up to.
If enough lawyers link to us we’ll be practically unstoppable. Our directory/portal will appear high in search engines; the attorney sites will get pushed down; and then the attorneys will need us even more.
“I can see the chain reaction: the chemical precursors that signal the onset of an emotion, designed specifically to overwhelm logic and reason. An emotion that is already blinding you to the simple and obvious truth…”
–Architect, The Matrix Reloaded
Backlink Awards – Let’s take the backlink badge scam to the next level. We can give out a bunch of meaningless awards to lawyers every year. Official-looking, link-laden awards will be GREAT!
More badges and more award mean more links back to our site!! Evil laugh.
“A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.”
-Trinity, The Matrix
Sell Leads – Since our directory/portal site gets more legal consumer web traffic than attorney sites we can sell leads to lawyers. This is one of the basic methods to monetize directory website traffic.
It’s not like the leads need to really convert and turn into clients. We will sell them leads, not clients. We will put it in our contract that we will not “make any representation, guarantee, or warranty about the quality of contacts or that a particular number of clients will result from the service.”
And they’ll pay us upfront for the leads. If they want more “qualified leads” then we’ll charge them more for that. In fact, we can sell varied levels of qualification. We’ll make them think they have a choice.
- Qualified – A qualified lead means we screened (phone or chat) the lead for a few minimal predetermined criteria (name, phone, have attorney?, injured?, not your fault?) and will then send the lead via email or transfer the call.
- Non-qualified – A non-qualified lead means that when someone fills out a website form (name, phone number), their contact information is immediately forwarded to the participating attorney.
- Rotation/Shared Leads – A rotation system is used to distribute the leads among lawyers. We can either limit the number of participating attorneys or send the same lead to multiple lawyers who must compete for the client.
- Cherry Pick – We’ll keep the best leads for ourselves or for our ‘investor’ law firms.
We’ll tell the attorney that “one good case will pay for the cost of the lead buying program.” Attorneys have always been gullible enough to buy that rationale when it comes to any marketing program.
“Choice is an illusion, created between those with power, and those without.”
-The Merovingian, The Matrix Reloaded
And to get even more traffic to our site and even more leads, we’ll use pay-per-click campaigns; TV advertising, and anything else we can think of.
Sell Ad-Space – We might as well sell banner ads on all our directory/portal pages too. Even though website banner ads don’t work, the Internet Advertising Bureau openly admits it now, attorneys are clueless. They don’t know that click through rates are less than .1% (0.08% is the industry average). They don’t know that 75 to 85% of ad impressions are fraudulent. They don’t know that 50% of mobile ad clicks are accidental. Some attorneys will be stupid enough to pay for them.
“…nearly ninety-nine percent of the test subjects accepted the program provided they were given a choice – even if they were only aware of it at a near-unconscious level.”
-Architect, The Matrix Reloaded
Websites – Attorneys need websites. Let’s offer website design, creation, hosting, and SEO services. If we are managing their websites for them then we’ll have access to all their Google Analytics data—which will tell us what drives visitors and engagement. We can use that data to help us push our directory/portal up in searches.
Evil laugh. It will be just like having the enemy’s troop movements, secret codes, and battle plans on a silver platter.
“Do you understand?! I need the codes, I have to get inside Zion and you have to tell me how. You’re going to tell me, or you’re going to die!”
-Agent Smith, The Matrix
Marketing Management – Hey, we can create a “marketing management tool” for attorneys that don’t let us build their websites for them. It can be something that basically uses free data from Google Analytics, social media, etc. We can add a few little features that make it seem like is lawyer-focused. We can maybe make a little bit of money selling the tool but, more importantly, it will give us access to all their valuable data.
“Have you ever stood and stared at it, marveled at its beauty, its genius? Billions of people just living out their lives, oblivious.”
–Agent Smith, The Matrix
Pay-Per-Click Advertising – Since we are already employing teams of people to create and manage PPC campaigns to drive traffic to our portal/directory and to help us get leads that we sell to attorneys, why not kick it up a notch and sell PPC services to lawyers too? It’s another thing we can over-price and make a huge profit on. It’s a way to get money from lawyers who don’t buy into one of our other methods for squeeze money out of them. And it’s another way to get access to valuable Google Analytics data from attorneys that don’t already let use our ‘marketing management tools’ or don’t hire us to build their websites.
“Oh, you haven’t you figured that out? still using all the muscles except the one that matters. I want exactly what you want, I want everything.”
–Agent Smith, The Matrix Reloaded
Social Media – Oh, let’s not forget social media too!! Let’s offer them meaningless social media consulting and management services. Social media is a big scary mystery to lawyers. As long as their pages and posts get a few likes now and then they’ll think it’s working.
“What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
-Morpheous, The Matrix
No attorney will be free from our grasp. We will dominate and control the legal marketing universe!
Free Your Mind
In case the above wasn’t clear enough for you, in a nutshell lawyers are paying to write the content (blog posts, Q&A, videos) that increases the search-ability of the directory/portal sites. And they are placing Backlink badges and awards on their websites thus boosting the directories’ search rankings even more. Then they pay the directory sites for sponsored listings, leads, and display ads. But not satisfied with being cheated and taken for fools attorneys started allowing the directory sites to charge them for building their websites and/or managing their leads for them—giving the directory access to all the valuable data (Google Analytics) that explains the who, what, where, why, when and how potential clients find attorneys in the Internet. The directories use the attorney’s own data against them—to improve the search rankings of the directory site making the lawyers even more dependent on it.
The Fight For The Future Begins
Why haven’t the gurus and consultants told you about The Legal Marketing Matrix? Because they have been assimilated into it as well. Haven’t you noticed that the directory/portal sites are often sponsors or exhibitors at legal marketing conferences, seminars, marketing-focused CLEs, etc.? Think about it!!
So what are you going to do now?
Are you going to unplug?
Or will you go back to sleep and continue to fuel a system that is exploiting you?
Read Insanely Stupid Ways Attorneys Are Damaging Their Ability To Be Found On The Internet to learn a little bit about how you can begin to release yourself from bondage.
“I don’t expect you to do anything. I expect what I’ve always expected, for you to make up your own damn mind. Believe me or don’t.”
-The Oracle, The Matrix
Personal Note: I wrote the majority of this article on my iPhone apris ski while sitting in a hot tub during a spring ski vacation to Whistler, BC. I’m sure it has a few typos and formatting problems. I promise to address those issues when I get back to Seattle. 😉 –Mischelle