Digital Marketing, SEO, Web Design

By Postali

Often we start a new relationship with a lawyer who already has an existing website. They’ve been with multiple web design / SEO companies in the years past, sometimes with an online presence dating back more than a decade. The reason they choose us varies, but almost unanimously the reason they are switching companies — again — is because the services they bought just aren’t making the phone ring.

The first thing we do is to perform a link and site audit to determine how valuable your existing domain is and what damage has been done by previous failed SEO efforts. For the purposes of this article, I am assuming there are few to no ranking results and the value in your domain is only perceived.

If a law firm has been with one or more agencies, we often see a pile of bad link building, where the domain backlink reports read like a criminal rap sheet against these agencies and their work. They’ve used these ineffective link-building strategies to try and rank the site in the search engines to achieve immediate results for their client, and often without the client’s knowledge. If this was pre-2013, I refrain from chastising anyone here as this was a common practice. However, we still see bad link-building strategies from agencies today.

What is a bad link-building strategy?
Bad links are:

  • Paid / unpaid links in bulk directories
  • Resource links from other law firm pages
  • Participation in link wheels
  • Links from expired and repurposed domains
  • Multi-site blog and link strategies
  • Press release links
  • Links from bloggers who sell paid promotional articles
  • Off-topic or excessive guest blog posting
  • Paid links of any kind, added for the purpose of passing PageRank
  • Any other link specifically designed to ‘game’ the system to achieve a ranking advantage

What always astounds me is how easy these are to see when we are researching the links present for a particular domain. It is very easy to spot bad links. If we can see them with our naked eye in a list of links in a report, then doesn’t it make sense that Google detects it with its army of engineers and its matured algorithms? – I think yes.

The Domain Discussion

When we see one or more of the link schemes, I mean strategies, above, this will be at the top of our list for discussion as your marketing agency. But sometimes we feel like this is the start of a battle, fraught with emotion by lawyers and their loyal staff. They have invested over and over again into content, design, links and brand recognition. Quite frankly, if we arrive at recommending a domain change as part of the marketing strategy, one would think we are asking them to part unnecessarily with a spouse. But I want to explain why law firms should not feel married to their domains, no matter what capital has been invested in years past.

Look Forward

The value of a domain should be looked at like valuing a financial stock. What matters is where the domain can go from where it is right now. Also consider whether there are better stocks out there that will be more valuable to the firm long term.

“But, I’ve invested in all this over the years. I want to believe it had some value and can be salvaged and reused.” This type of thinking is known as sunk cost fallacy, and it is a tough hurdle for us to overcome as marketers. There’s no getting this money back from the years gone by, and while we desperately want to tell you there is value in the domain you’ve invested your hard-earned money into, sometimes that’s just not reality. It is best to look at the money you spent in the past as the foundation that brought you to where you are now, but not what is going to carry you going forward.

Changing Domains – The Excuses:

Changing domains is never as bad as it sounds, and you will lose nothing in the process. Let me say again, you will lose nothing in the process. Here are a few scenarios we hear:

  1. All of our email addresses are known; we’ve had them a long time.
  2. We run television / billboard / radio ads and people come directly to the site.
  3. The site is known in the community.
  4. We used to have rankings or the site has been around a long time.
  5. Insert your reason here

The Solution:

We aren’t suggesting you leave people out in the cold. But due to the bad links you’ve amassed over the years, we can’t simply forward your old domain to your new one either without causing damage to your new domain from the outset. The answer is to create a “We Have Moved” page on your old site, like a “we have moved” sign that you’d put on your old business location because you’ve grown into a new space down the street.

It may not be possible to do this right away either; it will depend on the marketing campaign for your specific business. If you are running traditional campaigns that still advertise the old domain, you probably don’t want to push all that traffic to a “We Have Moved” page right away. In this case, we would maintain the old site simultaneously with the new site for the time it takes to transition the media to your new domain.

It is only in the cases where you are worried about direct traffic or prior search traffic where this “We Have Moved” page is needed. Otherwise, a law firm should feel confident in walking away from the old domain and move forward with a new one. In many cases, your new domain can be a much stronger foundation for your marketing strategy moving forward.

Now, I know you may be thinking, “What about disavowing the bad links and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater?” We have numerous relationships with SEO companies and follow all the latest news and opinion about SEO. I think if you ask an agency whether, given unlimited time and the goal of achieving future results for your law firm, they’d prefer to work with what they have already — a wealth of bad links and thin / duplicate content— or start over, the answer will always be “start over.” This is because the reality of cleaning up the past and making it perfect doesn’t lead to the same results as doing it right all along.

So with that said, can you put the past behind you and make a decision that is just about the future? This very well could be continuing on what you’ve built. If you’ve been with great agencies or perhaps have done the work yourself, you could have great assets and a history worth building on. But don’t let an affinity for your domain name unnecessarily get in the way of how great your firm can be if moved to a new domain.