Just Asking: Is This Natural Linking?

In recent weeks we started noticing some low quality sites showing up for “car accident” and “DUI” searches in major metros. See the table below for a short list. These sites have many things in common:

  1. They often rank well, despite generic content;
  2. They all use the same basic design / feature set;
  3. They all utilize keyword stuffed domains;
  4. They feature attorneys who use FindLaw for their firm’s website;
  5. They all use the same wordpress plugin: “/wp-content/plugins/all-in-one-firmtarget/”

Table 1: Some Low-Quality Sites

Low-Quality Site Firm Name FindLaw Firmsite
http://philadelphia-caraccidentlawyer.net/ Caroselli Beachler McTiernan & Conboy http://www.cbmclaw.com/
http://clevelandcaraccidentlawyer.org/ Bashein & Bashein Company, L.P.A. http://www.basheinlaw.com/
http://pittsburghcaraccidentlawyer.org/ Berger and Green http://www.bergerandgreen.com/
http://phoenix-caraccidentattorney.com/ Harris, Powers & Cunningham http://www.hpc-lawyers.com/
http://atlanta-caraccidentlawyer.net William C. Gentry Attorney at Law http://www.gentrylawfirmgeorgia.com/
http://augustacaraccidentlawyer.net Burnside Law Firm http://www.burnsidefirm.com/
http://www.phoenixduilaw.net Rosenstein Law Group http://www.scottsdale-duilawyer.com/
http://monmouthcountydwilawyer.net/ Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza PC http://www.rudnicklaw.com/

 

It’s Hard to Get on Page One. Why are These Sites Ranking?

Let’s look at the link profile of clevelandcaraccidentlawyer.org. A relationship with FindLaw starts to become apparent. In this instance there are only 16 links pointed to the Cleveland Accident site. Most of the important links are from FindLaw properties or sites that they control (like SuperLawyers).

You might say “lots of sites have links from these sites.” But it the type of link that is unusual. For example, this website gets a link from a highly ranked page on Findlaw.com: http://injury.findlaw.com/accident-injury-law/attorney-injury-intake-questionnaire.html. Now: while you are on that FindLaw intake questionnaire page, look down the right column, under “Injury Law Lawyers.” 8 of the 10 links are to the same “family” as clevelandcaraccidentlawyer.org.

Table 2: Links from Attorney Injury Intake Questionnaire (FindLaw)

St Louis Auto Accident Attorney http://caraccidentlawyer-stlouis.com/
Boston Auto Accident Attorney http://boston-caraccidentlawyer.net/
Chicago Auto Accident Attorney http://chicago-caraccidentattorney.com/
Atlanta Car Accident Lawyer http://atlanta-caraccidentlawyer.net/
Cleveland Car Accident Lawyer http://clevelandcaraccidentlawyer.org/
New York Car Accident Lawyer http://caraccidentlawyer-newyork.net/
San Diego Auto Accident Attorney http://sandiego-caraccidentlawyer.net/
Phoenix Arizona Car Accident Attorney http://phoenix-caraccidentattorney.com/
Chico Personal Injury Attorney http://www.rooneylawfirm.com/
New Haven Personal Injury Attorney http://www.kennedyjohnson.com/

Those sites are ranking well.

Dude. You Got a Link from Super Lawyers.

Here’s the link to our Cleveland site from Super Lawyers: http://legalpad.superlawyers.com/car-accidents/1-dead-3-injured-fatal-ohio-car-crash/ Now Super Lawyers became trusted by Google because for years they have offered users a great search experience. Using an attorney evaluation system that is beyond reproach, Super Lawyers has developed the premier brand in ranking attorneys. Now it looks like that brand is being used to help rank low-quality websites.

Go ahead and look at other posts on this superlawyers site. Scroll down and click on a link to learn more. You will land on one of this same family of sites, like orangecounty-divorcelawyer.net. Name servers for this domain: ns1.westgroup.net. (that’s a FindLaw name server).

But there is more to this emerging link pattern than links from these two authoritative sites. The Cleveland car accident site gets several links from http://aftercaraccident.net/. These links are spammy. Almost every post features a keyword anchor text link back to a FindLaw site or one of the hundred other “car accident sites.” For example, http://aftercaraccident.net/category/injuries/feed/ posts link to:

  • http://kansascitycaraccidentlawyer.net
  • http://denver-caraccidentlawyer.com
  • http://harrisburgcaraccidentlawyer.com (and so on, and on)

The domain aftercaraccident.net is on FindLaw name servers. Links to aftercaraccident.net are from sites owned or controlled by FindLaw, including chicagolegalauthority.com, duiwise.com (yes they have a network of DUI sites too), and SuperLawyers.com.

This pattern is consistent on each of these low quality sites that we looked at. Each site has few links pointed to it, but at least 4 of those links are highly authoritative links from FindLaw’s own network. For example the Los Angeles Car accident site ( www.losangeles-caraccidentlawyer.net) has these FindLaw links pointing to it: www.lawbrain.com, www.findlaw.com, www.losangeleslegalauthority.com, and of course www.aftercaraccident.net. It also has hundreds of links from a website called www.caraccidentsinla.com.

Car Accidents in LA Dot Com

www.caraccidentsinla.com: on IP address 173.203.62.204 – the same IP as all the low quality sites in Table 1 .

www.caraccidentsinla.com: Full of legal marketing content, yet there is no attorney name on it, no phone number, no contact number. The site offers zero value to the internet, yet FindLaw thinks enough of it to give it an anchor text link from their highly regarded page on Tort Journals. http://stu.findlaw.com/journals/injury.html

It also gets plenty of links from other FindLaw networked sites including: www.losangelescriminallegalblog.com and http://vehicleaccidentlawyer.org. I wonder if the only reason caraccidentsinlaw.com exists is to pass “link juice” from authoritative sites to these low quality car accident sites. This is starting to look like topology, not natural linking.

The Bigger Picture

A complete picture of every such car accident site can be found on http://vehicleaccidentlawyer.org. This site maps out the location of each one. When you look at the referral domains that are linking to almost any of these URLs, you see the now-familiar list of FindLaw sites:

  1. newyorklegalauthority.com
  2. losangeleslegalauthority.com
  3. philadelphialegalauthority.com
  4. aftercaraccident.net
  5. caraccidentsinla.com
  6. losangelescaraccident-attorney.com
  7. caraccidentlawyer-newyork.com
  8. lawyerbits.com
  9. chicagolegalauthority.com
  10. pittsburghcaraccidentlawyer.org
  11. superlawyers.com (and so on)

So What?

Should a FindLaw client do better in search rankings because FindLaw has a powerful link network? Google wants to rank exceptional sites that provide a great user experience. If a site has exceptional content, people will naturally link to it. What we have here doesn’t look at all natural, to me.

Complete, Empty Sites: All Linked up and Ready to Rent?

These are sites in the same “family” as those in Table 1. They are empty, but strangely … complete.

  1. http://phoenix-caraccidentlawyer.com/. No law firm on this site. But this site has profiles on Elocal, Yellowise, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Yelp, and the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. It has 7 local links to transit, library, charity, museums and sports teams. It has an active blog. It has backlinks from findlaw.com, superlawyers.com, lawbrain.com, etc. The only thing it lacks is a law firm.There are many more of these (see below). You can find them by searching on the plugin name “all-in-one-firmtarget.”

 

  1. http://columbusdivorcelawyer.org
  2. http://detroitcaraccidentlawyer.org
  3. http://duiattorneyfortlauderdale.net
  4. http://manhattandivorcelawyer.org/manhattan-law-office/
  5. http://tulsadivorcelawyers.net/
  6. http://bronxdivorcelawyer.net
  7. http://neworleansdivorcelawyer.org/

What is Going On Here?

I come away from this scratching my head. If my clients’ sites had this pattern of interlinking, I would be sleepless. I tell them “Google hires the best and brightest PhDs from Stanford every year. Google can easily detect, and punish, link topologies that violate their Guidelines. You can’t get away with it.”

Or do I only say that because I’m too small to get away with it?

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