Barnacle SEO: What is it? & Why Law Firms Need It

It’s no secret that Google has been continuing to reward bigger law firms and bigger brands with more search visibility. The competition in all search mediums for attorney’s is very stiff and a great example of this is just looking at the costs per click if you do PPC. For personal injury attorney’s these clicks can range from costing $20 – $100+  just to get one click. This also trickles into the organic and local side of the search algorithm that causes some attorney’s and unrepeatable SEO companies to participate in shady tactics. The good news is that Google is getting better every day at catching these goons and is rewarding the legitimately powerful websites.

To be successful in today’s organic search results you need to consider Barnacle SEO. But what is Barnacle SEO?

Simply put, Barnacle SEO is leveraging other websites rankings for your benefit. You can read more about that on Moz here. Now lets take a look at a real world example to help clarify what I’m talking about.

Barnacle SEO for Law Firms

Above you will see a screenshot I took when I searched for “Personal Injury Attorney”. You will see two types of results that come up:

1) Pay Per Click Ad’s (The expensive $50+ per click)

2) Organic Results

Notice how below the ad’s (The organic results), you will see the top three results are not individual firm websites but instead major online brands such as Wikipedia, Lawyers.com, and Avvo.com. While there are plenty of searches where firm websites do show up above the fold, this example illustrates how important it is to not only put effort into your firms website. You must also consider optimizing your presence on other and more powerful websites. Now let’s look at some of the benefits of taking this approach.

 

The Benefits of Barnacle SEO:

It Act’s as an Insurance Policy

Time and time again I see law firms who participated in shady link building tactics or other manipulative behavior get penalized for trying to game the search engines. If your company website is your main source of case leads, what would happen if it were to disappear off the search engines tomorrow? Barnacle SEO acts as an insurance policy.

It will Increase Your Visibility

Tracking leads by source is essential to help measure any marketing campaign. If your firm is setup to collect details on exactly where the lead came from you can help justify any investment in these areas. By having strong visibility on these other properties you will get more calls and click throughs to your firms website.

It Acts as Another Touch Point

Sometimes potential clients “shop” around for the right attorney. While doing this they typically visit multiple websites to do their research. If they see you on Avvo.com when they click on that result and then notice your firm’s website next on the list they are going to be more likely to click on your website since your name seems familiar.

They Act As Trust Signals & Reputation Signals

Websites likes Lawyers.com and Avvo.com give a place for clients to leave review for you. If you have a high rating on these sites you will be more likely to get a call. This is especially helpful when potential clients are researching your name. They will look for customer reviews and ratings across the web. You can learn more about how to get a 10 AVVO rating here.

 

So How Do You Get Started with Barnacle SEO?

This question is a bit complicated since it can involve so many aspects of search. That being said there are some things you can do right away to help increase your presence. There are two ways you can go about this. They are:

1. Traditional Barnacle SEO

You can optimize your attorney or law firm profile on the third party websites like Avvo.com and Lawyers.com. The higher you rank the more visibility you will get when potential clients click through to that page.

2. Advanced Barnacle SEO

You can play off of their domain authority and build up your profile page to rank for your desired keywords.

Each of these methods require two very different approaches which I will cover below.

How To Optimize for Traditional Barnacle SEO

Most searches performed in the attorney landscape will come up with one to three websites that are heavily prevalent in almost all searches. These websites are Avvo.com, Lawyers.com, and Yelp.com. This means that if you were to conduct almost any commercial keyword search for an attorney you would find one to five of these websites listed in the search results. Now since each of these properties are each independently owned and operated they each have their own algorithm which will dictate who shows up where. To make this simple I have broken down these sites with the most common things you should do on each of them to reach your desired position. If you want more details please feel free to message me directly.

An example of Barnacle SEO in action

Avvo.com

Avvo.com has been a growing player in the legal marketplace for quite some time. AVVO.com typically shows attorneys by geographic area and then rating. Avvo provides a 1-10 rating score you can gain and increase. If you’re not a 10.0 you likely won’t show up on the first page of results. Even if you reach the coveted 10.0 Superb rating you will also have to continue to be active to stay on top of your competitors. In a nutshell this is what you should do to reach that 10.0 rating on Avvo.com.

  1. Fill out Your Profile – Your profile NEEDS to be 100% Complete
  2. Get actual clients to review you publicly on Avvo.com (Having 10 client reviews is a great start)
  3. Get other attorney endorsements. Seek out 10 fellow attorneys who are willing to endorse you. It will give you credit.
  4. Participate in the Q&A. Avvo has a Q&A and the more your participate in a helpful manner, the more points you will get. You can’t cheat this system and don’t half @ss it either. Contribute often and contribute quality content.
  5. Seek out awards that you can be nominated for and earn them
  6. Seek out speaking presentations where you can help prove your a subject matter expert.
  7. Link to your Avvo Profile from other profiles. The more profile views and interaction you get the better. Plus it will allow potential clients to see your reviews.

Doing these things along with being active in the Avvo community can increase your score. Once you reach the 10.0 position you will be getting more click throughs and traffic from searches that rank above the fold like the example above. If you want a more in depth guide on what to do you can also read my full guide and learn how to get a 10 AVVO rating here.

Lawyers.com

Lawyers.com and Martindale.com commonly appear in the search results pages. Martindale has a strong search engine that I speculate uses a variety of factors to rank your position. These are the things you can do to stand out on Lawyers.com

  1. Fill out your profile 100%. Not only is this best practice, it can help you.
  2. Get client reviews. Like Avvo.com, Lawyers.com allows for client reviews. Get your clients to leave you a positive review. Just like any other review service be sure not to just add 100 overnight. That would be unnatural in their eyes even if they were legitimate.
  3. Search for and click on your profile. The more visibility you have the more they measure it. Not only can you click on your profile after searching from it, you should link to it from your website and other places your listed across the web. Build the authority of this page and the more visits it has the better it will look. Not only will you appease the search engine, you will also make potential clients happy since they can easily read your reviews.

Yelp.com

It’s no secret that Yelp.com has been growing in popularity. Just because most of their users use it for restaurant reviews does not mean it should be overlooked one bit. Consumers already have confidence in Yelp and with their strong review filtering, their reviews can go a long way in the consumers eyes. Yelp is also a bit tricky. Their review algorithm is very strong and filters a lot of reviews including legitimate ones. In addition to this you’re not allowed to ask for Yelp Reviews per their terms of service. That being said there are some work arounds you can do to get reviews including logging into your Yelp Business Dashboard and getting the provided Yelp code. If this is visible on your website it’s fine. You just can’t solicit clients directly and ask them to review you. You also can’t provide any incentive for a review. With Yelp.com there are only three things I look at.

  1. Fill out your profile 100% (Are you starting to see a trend here?)
  2. Get legitimate client reviews. Typically if clients have never heard of yelp and don’t care about using it in the future they will not be too helpful as their reviews will be filtered over time. However active Yelp users can be a goldmine.
  3. Add your Yelp badge to every website you can. The more places it’s visible the more reviews you will get from clients. If you’re scared too because of bad feedback you will need to address your business practices as a whole. You can’t hide from what people think about you and tech savvy clients will uncover your skeletons. Make sure to be honest, open, and use feedback to improve your business processes.

So what is Advanced Barnacle SEO and How Can You Use it?

Typically I am hesitant to share this with SEO’s because I have seen some SEO’s using it for evil. The good news is that with Google’s advanced algorithms I feel more and more comfortable everyday that people who try to manipulate this will get caught. That being said, lets roll right in. Advanced Barnacle SEO in my eyes weighs much more heavily on traditional organic SEO ranking factors including strong quality link earning. Let’s look at a quick example.

If we know that Google already rewards high quality domains and your law firm already has a profile on that domain, then it should be easier to increase it’s visibility given the domains trust. What you need to do is first identify the websites that are appearing for the search terms you’re most interested in (1 or 2) and optimize your profile page using standard organic SEO best practices around it. Although you won’t have full control you usually have some control over the elements that appear on your page. Once this is complete you can then build and earn links to your specific profile page. Usually I ask my clients to link to their attorney profile pages from their website and all other attorney pages that allow them to have outgoing links. This will increase your page’s authority and in time will allow your profile on a site like Avvo.com to rank for your desired keyword.

While some people are afraid of this because your visitors will likely also see your competitors you have to realize this can be a good thing. If all your reviews and trust signals across the web are positive towards your firm, then your potential can do their research and they will still pick you. Some of the attorney clients I advise also purchase ad’s on these 3rd party sites to get more visibility. While we have not had luck with lead generation through typical 3rd party Pay Per Click ad services, the impressions will count towards a client selecting your firm.

Now lets answer some common questions

Is barnacle SEO hard?
Right now surprisingly there is still not a ton of competition in this field. If you take the basic steps I mentioned above you will be ahead of 90% of your competitors. If you want to get more serious about it, talk to an experienced SEO or have your in house team research it in more detail.

How Long Will This Take?
Barnacle SEO is like organic SEO. It’s not a sprint but rather a marathon. If you’re not trying to manipulate the search engines it will take time, but the investment is well worth it.

It’s my opinion that barnacle SEO needs to be a part of every successful law firm internet marketing campaign. Overlooking this now will shoot you in the foot later. Also, given the chances of penalties and other shady tactics out there it’s wise to diversify your investment. Also consider that in this article I only touched on the very basics. An advanced Barnacle SEO plan can involve creating additional websites with great content that serve a purpose and help users in need. If you can think of a resource that will be of value to people and actually help them the possibilities and ideas to dominate in this space are endless. Remember to focus on training and preparing for the marathon and not just a sprint or you’ll end up back where you started.

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Casey Meraz

Casey is the founder and president of Ethical SEO Consulting and Juris Digital based in Denver, CO. Casey's specialties are in organic and local SEO. He is a regular contributor to the Moz Blog and the author of How To Perform The Ultimate Local SEO Audit. If you have an SEO question or need advice please feel free to reach out by email: cmeraz@jurisdigital.com. Follow Casey on Twitter @CaseyMeraz.