I feel like Kevin Nealon’s SNL character Mr. Subliminal with that title. There is relatively little being written about what is going to happen now that the Internet Brands merger with Lexis, Martindale, and Lawyers.com seems to be being put into practice (as of last week).
Last summer, Internet Brands (formerly CarsDirect.com) and Lexis Nexis joined forces to merge assets belonging to Lexis Nexis, Martindale-Hubbell, and Lawyers.com. While IB may be cutting the proverbial ribbon, for attorneys and law firms who are clients of any of those properties, the merger may be less than cause for celebration.
Internet Brands owns Nolo (along with a whole network of legal sites — more on that later), a site whose model recently moved in the lead-generation-for-lawyers direction. I know this because they openly promote it and I get a call from one of their sales reps every time I create or claim a Nolo directory profile for one of our new clients. They outright pitch a pay-to-play lead generation model and the price to play is often stated as “sky is the limit.”
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that model. In fact, in other industries, we have built profitable lead gen websites. Consumer plaintiff and mass-tort attorneys have been doing this for decades (although slightly differently – think middle-of-the-day television commercials), most recently via very successful regional and national websites. I’m sure these websites generate leads for their clients because they are still around. However, there are some problems that need to be considered by any of Nolo’s newly acquired clients.
Many of the lawyers who were clients of Lexis, Martindale, and Lawyers.com didn’t sign up for that.
These attorneys paid for services like SEO for lawyers, content generation, and web development. Now that Martindale-Hubbell and Lawyers.com have been merged with IB — and in turn, by Nolo — these clients have been shuffled into Nolo’s deck. Are they going to be forced to pay to stay within the network and keep their websites? Is Nolo in the website hosting and building business? It doesn’t appears so, as Lexis’ website design page is currently 404’ing. Are they in the content generation and promotion business? This remains to be seen, but I can tell you that the volume of staff necessary to do all of these things well is large, and IB laid off (gutted) large portions of both Lexis’ and Martindale’s web and content production staff.
So what happens to those clients who were counting on Lexis, Martindale, and Lawyers.com for their websites, SEO, directory profile backlinks, and in-network article promotion? Internet Brands might have staff that can accommodate those offerings, but are they attorneys, designers, and writers experienced in the legal industry? You can probably assume that they aren’t since they let so many of those types of employees go from Lexis.
There are a lot of questions about what services are going to be offered — and what the quality will be.
Nolo is essentially running a transparent pay-to-play link network- the type that has been slapped by Google in the past.
For casual browsers, Nolo is a sort of handy SparkNotes for learning about American laws and legal procedures. There is a tremendous amount of useful information available on the site. However, Nolo makes most of its money by being a paid lead generation and backlink network. This means that Nolo clients are charged money to join the Nolo lead referral network, at which point they can be featured (given) dofollow backlinks in the Nolo directory in the tertiary interest of boosting their rank. In order to get your backlinks into this network, you have to sign up to receive a base level leads for a geography and practice area. There is no way to do so without becoming a Nolo client.
Unfortunately, Nolo may become a posterchild for the adage, “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it,” because Nolo employs the same SEO tactics that got the FindLaw network slapped (deindexed) five years ago. You read that right — five years ago. This means Nolo is using a tactic (revenue model) that was outed in 2008.
While FindLaw.com has since mended its ways and been restored to visibility, their clients who paid them (in some instances as much as $2k/month) for SEO and visibility were out in the cold for quite some time after that Google penalty. The fallout was very widely publicized.
The crazy thing is that Nolo is more transparent about their network and business model than FindLaw ever was. I don’t even have to explain it — you can read about it on one of their sister sites. You can also read a full list of the websites in their network (called the “Nolo Network” — screenshot below). Meanwhile, Nolo’s sales reps actively push pricing, explanations, and even worse, the names of participants in the model on Twitter and Linkedin (screenshot above). If you visit sites in their network and click on “directory,” it will redirect you back to the Nolo directory. However, their articles on those sites all link from sites within the network back to attorneys that have profiles in the Nolo directory, and as such, can be assumed to be Nolo clients.
So What’s Going to Happen?
As far as Google is probably concerned, one problem with Nolo’s M.O. is that the site is openly, “pay-to-play.” This means that anyone could theoretically dish out a cover charge and be accepted into the Nolo network. We’re not sure how Nolo is going to use the other sites. This whole situation has been developing slowly. Still, one thing that’s certain is that slashing Lexis’ content and web dev departments is not a good sign that they plan on providing those services going forward. Heck, they could scrap the services they used to offer and use those sites and lead generation sites for Nolo.com. They seem to like that model.
I’m sure Google is aware of or at least keeping an eye on this. Is Internet Brands big enough to get around a Google penalty? Definately not. In the past, Google has slapped brands far bigger than IB just to make a point. Will Google slap Nolo? I wouldn’t call that question unreasonable.
Is it a waiting game until links from the entire network get devalued? Does that remove all of the benefit that current clients of the acquired websites already paid for? Could be both of the above.
One thing is sure — uncertainty isn’t good.
If You are a Current Lexis or Lawyers.com Client for SEO, Web Design, Hosting, or Content Marketing
If you have concerns about how your digital marketing is going to handled during and after this transition, I invite you to give us a call. We can help make sure that everything stays pointed in the right direction. Call (215) 309-1631 or click here to contact us online. I will speak to you personally.