web design puzzle

In this AVVO review, I’ll look at whether hiring AVVO is a good choice for your law firm. 

This is the next post in my series on which website options attorneys should consider. I’ve previously reviewed whether Scorpion Web Design and Justia are good web marketing options for law firms.

Here’s the short answer regarding my recommendation: After conducting some research, and dealing with the company, I suggest that law firms go another route. There are far better-value 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 potential, the company’s adaptability to the changing web environment, and other considerations.

My experience in reviewing AVVO’s attorney website service

frustrated man sitting behind deskBefore I discuss AVVO’s website services, let me say that I’ve already discussed whether lawyers should use AVVO’s directory service. So if you’re wondering about their directory service, check this article out. Or, if you want to learn more about legal directories, click here to view our updated list of best legal directories.

Now let’s get into my experience reviewing AVVO’s website service.

Years ago, for my first review of AVVO, 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, they don’t provide 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.

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. However, after some time and more hassle, I never heard from them again.

My basis for reviewing this website offering is based on the analysis I’ve done of AVVO websites, the information offered on the company’s website (which is somewhat misleading in my opinion), and other information I’ve been able to gather online.

Let’s begin the discussion by evaluating the cost of AVVO websites.

Evaluating the cost of AVVO’s website service

AVVO’s attorney website service starts at $99 per month. While this is the cheapest web service provider that I’ve reviewed, there’s a problem with their price structure. The problem is that these websites are 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. 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, I have to say, while $99 a month sounds cheap, these websites are overpriced for what you get.

AVVO website review

Also, keep in mind that they require you to get locked down in a 12-month contract.

Evaluating the organic search and SEO potential of AVVO

Man in a suit holding an seo button

The fact that AVVO’s sites are based on WordPress means that they should have decent potential for doing well in search. Unfortunately, they fall flat in this regard. The two websites I reviewed each had several problems that are going to hinder them in search.

Slowly Loading Pages

The first issue I noticed was the websites I looked at didn’t satisfy Google’s requirements regarding the loading time of a page. 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. 

Below is an example of an AVVO site with low page speed.

 

AVVO SEO

The thing that makes this issue so intriguing is that it’s relatively easy to make a WordPress site run at a reasonable speed. And since their sites are essentially just Managed WordPress sites, it’s not a good sign that their clients’ websites aren’t loading faster. Therefore, AVVO website users aren’t getting one of the big benefits of being on the WordPress platform.

Poorly Structured Pages

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 to read a legal brief that is outlined like this:

A(1) – The evidence should be suppressed

A(4) sub-point of why the evidence should be suppressed

See how points two and three are missing?

This poor structure of the <h> elements goes against Google’s recommended practices. Tips on how to correctly write a law firm’s pages, so that they’ll fare better in search, are offered in our SEO 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 internal links between pages, which makes it harder for Google’s crawlers.

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.

Poor Content Quality

Content is crucial to search, and the content of the websites I reviewed was problematic. 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 reviewed offer extensive coaching and feedback to attorneys who generate their own content. The apparent lack of this feedback is a strike against AVVO.

Potentially Spammy Backlinks

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 an excellent 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’d be concerned that these AVVO sites are a Google algorithm update away from being penalized in search.

Given the issues just discussed, I can’t suggest AVVO as a good product for attorneys concerned with doing well in organic search.

Evaluating whether AVVO’s websites are a good choice for the changing web environment

The sites I reviewed all had 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 AVVO badges were heavily integrated into their clients’ sites through various widgets.

 

AVVO badge

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 could hurt the attorney’s ability to convert leads (in my opinion).

SHOULD ATTORNEYS USE AVVO TO BUILD AND HOST THEIR WEBSITE

I simply can’t suggest AVVO as an option for your law firm. While AVVO does have their place in the legal world as a directory, they do not offer a high-value website and hosting service.

The $99 price point will be appealing to many small firms and startups, but the fact is there’s more value that can be had through other companies for not much more. 

Also, 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.