This is the next post in my series on which website options attorneys should consider in 2015. I’ve already discussed whether Scorpion Web Design is a good option for law firms and whether lawyers should use Justia to build their website. In this article I’ll look at whether AVVO website offering is a good choice for your firm. AVVO wasn’t included in the list of companies I reviewed last year. They’re being included in 2015 at the request of our readers. After conducting some research, and dealing with the company, I would have to suggest that law firms go another route.
I’ve previously discussed whether lawyers should use AVVO’s directory service. While I believe strongly that law firms should claim their AVVO profile, build it out, and use it as a review management tool, I’m adamant that attorneys not participate in AVVO forums etc. for the reasons I discussed in that article. After taking a look at the company’s website service I have to say that there are far better options for the type of product AVVO is offering. As with all the options reviewed in this series, I’ll be reviewing AVVO based on cost, organic search/SEO potential, whether the company is adapting to the changing web environment, as well as other considerations.
My experience in reviewing AVVO’s attorney website service
My experience in reviewing AVVO’s website offering has been a tad aggravating. On December 11th, 2014 I called and spoke with a sales manager. I explained who I was and my purpose in writing this review. The sales manager stated that he would give me no information, that they don’t give even basic information “out to just anyone,” and that I could look for information online (more on that below). I continued my efforts to speak with someone by filling out the “contact me” form on their website that same day.
On December 15th (four days later) I received a return phone on the contact form I submitted. The gentleman I spoke to stated that he would 1) find out if he had permission to talk to me and 2) send out an email to see if someone else could discuss AVVO’s services for this review. This gentleman was nice enough to give me his direct line. On January 14th of this year I called him back and informed that no one had contacted me. He stated that he would reach out again. To date I have received no return phone calls or input.
My basis for reviewing this website offering is going to be based on reviews I’ve done of AVVO websites, information offered on the company’s website (which is somewhat misleading in my opinion), as well as other information I’ve been able to gather online.
Evaluating the cost of AVVO’s website service
AVVO’s attorney website service starts at $99 per month. While this is the cheapest of any of the services I’m reviewing, I have a problem with their price structure. That problem is in the fact that these websites are really just Managed WordPress sites (I’ll explain what this means below). Managed WordPress is available through a variety of other companies, such as GoDaddy, for lower prices than this. In my opinion this is just an AVVO sticker slapped on a product that can be purchased for cheaper. When you add what I believe to be a lack of value then I have to say, while $99 a month sounds cheap, these websites are overpriced.
Evaluating the organic search and SEO potential of AVVO’s websites
The fact that AVVO’s sites are based on WordPress means that they should have good potential for search engine optimization. Unfortunately they fall flat in this regard. The two websites I reviewed each had several problems which are going to hinder them in search.
The websites I looked at did not satisfy Google’s requirements regarding the loading time of a page. Page speed is a key factor in organic search1. I conducted these tests using Google’s “Page Speed Insights” tool. In other words, this is Google’s own opinion of whether the sites load in a satisfactory amount of time. The interesting thing here is that it is relatively easy to have a WordPress site running at an appropriate speed. Also, one of the big benefits of a Managed WordPress system is that most of this necessary work is typically done by default. AVVO website users, therefore, are not getting one of the big benefits of being on the WordPress platform.
There were several other errors I found from an SEO perspective. Each of the sites had pages missing the <h2> and <h3> elements but included <h4>. Such is like asking Google read a legal brief that is outlined like this:
A(1) – The evidence should be supressed
A(4) sub-point of why the evidence should be supressed
Wait a minute? What happened to points two and three? They’re missing!
This poor structure of the <h> elements goes against Google’s recommended practices2. Tips on how to properly write a law firm’s pages, so that they’ll fare better in search, are offered in our SEO Starter Guide For Attorneys. Additional problems I found on the websites reviewed were that they contained poorly formatted meta descriptions and site titles (both important in search). There was also a lack of links between pages in my opinion (another no no).
The content of the websites I reviewed were also problematic. Content is crucial to search. One of the sites I reviewed had very thin content while another was substantially devoted to block-quoting statutes (which should be avoided). My opinion of these sites is that the attorneys wrote the content themselves but, importantly, likely received little or no input from AVVO. Other companies I’ll be reviewing offer extensive coaching of attorneys and provide feedback to attorneys who generate their own content. The apparent lack of this feedback is a strike against AVVO.
Interestingly, AVVO’s website states that its sites are “properly indexed on search engines.” While this sounds like a great selling point, all it means is that they included an XML sitemap with each website. This takes all of about two minutes to set up in WordPress. Also, every option I’m reviewing in this series includes the XML file and, to be frank, any web developer who fails to do so is completely unqualified. Putting this out there as a selling point is a bit of a stretch in my opinion.
Another big potential problem with the sites I reviewed was that they both had a substantial number of backlinks going to them. Given the nature of AVVO’s linking system I’m assuming that these are mostly from AVVO itself. There was recently an article on Lawyerist which did a good job of laying out the tactics AVVO engages in to build links to its own site (I won’t repeat that discussion here). To put it simply, I would be concerned that these AVVO sites are a Google algorithm update away from being penalized in search.
Given the above discussion, I can’t suggest AVVO as a good product for attorneys worried about organic search or SEO.
Evaluating whether AVVO’s websites are a good choice for the changing web environment
The sites I reviewed included a responsive design. Score one for AVVO here.
Other considerations when using AVVO to build your law firm’s website
One of my big issues with the sites I reviewed was the extent that were heavily integrated into AVVO itself through various widgets and embeds. I’ve previously discussed how such badges amount to an attorney’s own website helping their competition. In setting up these sites on behalf of clients, AVVO’s use of these badges amounts to a promotion of AVVO and hurts the attorneys ability to convert leads in my opinion.
My opinions on whether attorneys should use AVVO to build and host their website
I simply can’t suggest AVVO as an option for your law firm. While the $99 price point will be appealing to many small firms and start ups, the fact is that there is more value which can be had through other companies for not much more. The issues I found in regards to site speed just shouldn’t be present on a WordPress platform. The fact that attorneys don’t appear to be receiving adequate feedback is also a red flag. Add to this the deep integration I saw into AVVO itself and I would suggest attorneys avoid this product.
1 Google Webmaster Guidelines accessed at: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769?hl=en#design_and_content_guidelines
2 Google SEO Starter Guide at page 20. Accessed at: http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en/us/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf