With the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO) being used widely, lots of self-titled “SEO Experts” have come out of the woodwork, giving fake promises and offering ranking guarantees. Today, you can’t go more than a few hours without receiving some spam email about Search Engine Optimization, or a cold call from someone promising results they can’t necessarily deliver.

Lawyers especially should realize that success in the past doesn’t mean results in the future. Anyone who tries to promise this is most likely trying to get you to part with your hard-earned cash.

Since law firm SEO is both costly and highly competitive, it seems to attract some of the shadiest business practices outside of SEO for adult websites, online poker or porn. As the owner of an inbound marketing agency that is proud to “practice what we preach”, we commonly see a couple of these SEO scams from companies that don’t always put their clients’ needs first.

We routinely hear about some common law firm SEO scams, and we will some of them in this article.  Avoiding these scams will help you avoid a major headache for both you and your law firm.

You Don’t Own Your Website’s Design

One of the most common law firm marketing scams to watch out for is not owning the design of your firm’s website.

Investing in a law firm website design can be a significant expense. Law firms that need a full-blown customized design, with several page templates or unique tools and features, can easily see costs exceeding $12,000.

Surely you own your website for that price?

Not always. Oftentimes, agencies keep the rights to the design of your website. Now, if you try and switch to another agency later, you are stuck with the extra cost of rebuilding your website using the non-proprietary software.

When it comes to your website, don’t ever lease. You should also avoid any contract that does not leave you full ownership of the web design and content after the agreement runs the full course.

Blogs on Domains You Do Not Own

Let me start by saying that 99% of the time your blog shouldn’t be separate from your law firm’s website. Hosting your blog on a separate domain not only creates more work for yourself and increases your costs, but you’ll essentially be competing with yourself because you‘ll basically have two separate websites and with two separate sites, you’ll actually be hurting your keyword focus.

To make matters worse I’ve lost count of SEO companies selling blogs where the domain is registered by the agency rather than the lawyer or company.

This is an even worse position than not owning the rights to your web design since now whoever owns your domain is running the show, and you could lose any equity you ever build in that URL for any reason. All of your content will be generating authority and links for a website that could disappear the second you stop paying the company who sold it to you.

If you encounter a law firm marketing scam similar to this, or if someone tries to sell you on all your content living on a domain owned and managed by them, run like hell.

No Access to Your Own Traffic Metrics

Understanding cost per inquiry and cost per client is paramount to managing your own marketing. By calculating these two figures, you can accurately assess the ROI from all of your campaigns. If you do not have direct access to your PPC data, Google Analytics, or conversion tracking, you’re basically flying blind and could only guess about what is working.

Without being completely transparent with campaign data, how could an SEO company do more than pretend about their customers? Depending on the contract, you might be stuck with a proprietary admin panel that only shows you limited data, or worse yet, prevents you from seeing anything at all.

If a law firm intends to make educated decisions, there are no upsides to limiting the data at their disposal.

Sending PPC Traffic to 3rd Party Landing Pages

The reasons why some agencies run PPC campaigns to sites outside of a law firm’s primary domain are varied. I’m not going to get into the pros and cons, but instead focus on what this will typically mean in terms of campaign tracking.

Let us assume your PPC traffic gets sent to a website out of your control. Now you’ll find yourself without Google Analytics data that can help you calculate if the campaign is successful.

You might know how many inquiries you received and how much your agency gets paid, but you’ll be left without the means to examine the finer details and determine your campaign’s ROI. You can avoid SEO scams for attorneys like this one by making sure you have access to and understanding of the metrics in your campaigns.

Unethical Fee Splitting

Sometimes an agency might offer to run ads for “free” with an agreement for compensation if a specific type of client retains a lawyer. Most of the time this is related to personal injury law, where competition is cutthroat and lucrative cases routinely reach six figures.

Fee sharing is sold as a risk-free option where the lawyer has nothing to lose if it does not work, and instead promises to pay hefty fees if they sign a case that results from the ads.

Lawyers have lots more to lose than (in this case a non-existent) ad spend. Depending on the details of the agreement, you might be grossly overpaying for your cases or may even be disbarred.

Inflated Hosting Costs

The traffic any given law firm gets will rarely call for a hosting charge higher than $100.

But I talk to clients all the time that get a monthly “hosting” invoice of $500 or more from their agency just inflating their hosting charges because it’s an easy grab for cash. I’ve even heard of one lawyer who got charged recurring costs for “mobile optimization” along with their ludicrous web hosting bills.

If your ad-spends and agency retainers are high enough, sometimes, recurring costs like inflated web hosting fly under the radar. Examine your invoices to ensure you’re not getting hosed for a relatively inexpensive expense.

We have a partner at Google

There is one thing you will always want to remember: Google or any other search engine does not partner with the third party SEO companies. The search engines provide unbiased results based on the keywords and no special treatment is given to any particular company (unless you have opted for Google AdWords). Since there is no such partnership, if any SEO expert is making such a claim, stay clear of them. Also, no Google employee will be willing to risk their job and allow any third party an unfair advantage over the others.

I hope these tips to avoid law firm SEO scams help your firm prevent unneeded losses. So, avoid getting search engine optimization services from a company selling these scams and don’t let an an agency make a fool of you!