woman holding web design signThis is the next post in my series on website options for attorneys in 2015. My last discussion looked at whether Scorpion Web Design is a good option for law firms. I’ve also looked at things attorneys should look for in a web developer. In this post I’m going to look at whether Justia is a good option for managing a lawyer’s web presence during this year. After trying to deal with Justia, and evaluating some of their websites, I have to say that you may wish to look elsewhere.

I offered my first review of Justia’s website services in January of 2014. I concluded that the service was not a good option for law firms because of feedback I had received from attorneys as well as several SEO “red flags” I found in examining various Justia built websites. In conducting my 2015 review it appears that these same issues still exist as well as a few other things I found in examining examples of Justia’s work. These issues built upon my opinion that this may not be the best option for your firm.

I’ll be reviewing Justia under the same criteria that I’m using for all options in this series – Cost, the potential do well in organic search through SEO, how well the service is adapting to the quickly changing web environment, as well as other considerations. First, let’s dive into my experience in trying to review Justia.

My experience in reviewing the website options offered by Justia

I’ve been frustrated in trying to review this service. When I first reviewed Justia last year I found the company’s lack of responsiveness to be alarming. For this year’s review I first contacted Justia on December 11th of 2014. I spoke with a woman named Christine who took my information and said she would have the appropriate people return my phone call. On her suggestion, I also sent an email to Justia’s press department requesting a telephone conference to discuss the company’s services. I received no response or return call. On January 14th, 2015 I called Justia again and spoke with Christine a second time. She re-forwarded my request to the press department. To date I have received no return phone call from Justia even though I have been requesting their participation in this process for over a year.

Over the past year I’ve had quite a few conversations with attorneys who have utilized Justia’s services. I’ll be basing my review on an analysis I performed of multiple currently existing Justia sites as well as feedback I have received on the company.

Evaluating the cost of Justia’s website services

The cost of Justia’s services appears to be variable. Again, the company will not participate in this process to discuss their pricing structure. The variance in prices is based on the level of desired service. If for example, the attorney wants Justia to write their content as opposed to the attorney writing it then there will be an extra charge. Considering reviews I have read online, calling the service “pricey,” as well as feedback I have received, the company does appear to have a more expensive price structure than some of their competitors. In looking at the products offered I have to say that I don’t see a Justia site as providing a better financial value then some of the other options out there.

Analyzing the organic search & SEO potential of Justia’s website options

blue SEO or search engine optimization word on keyboardI looked at several factors on three Justia websites. I’m basing this opinion off of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as well as other factors relevant to SEO. I found several problems across these sites which leave me with the conclusion that an attorney wishing to do well in organic search should probably look elsewhere.

The first issue I found with Justia’s websites is the issue of loading speed. Google considers speed an important ranking factor in search1. To assist webmasters with making sure that a site loads properly, I tested the Justia sites using Google’s “Page Speed Insights” tool. This is a free tool from Google which assists webmasters in knowing 1) whether a site loads quickly enough and 2) what steps should be taken to speed up a website. In other words – this tool is Google telling webmasters whether a site is meeting Google’s criteria and what needs to be done to fix any issues. Two of the three Justia sites I looked at did not receive passing scores.

Another red flag is the site title and meta descriptions were improperly formatted on all three of the sites I looked at. The site title and meta description is what Google displays when showing a site in search. Below is an example:

screenshot of search results

The title is the top portion and the meta description is what appears underneath. Google uses this information in two ways. First, it helps the search engine to understand what a particular page is about (which is important in search). Second, it’s what Google displays to users. The search engine frowns on using a description that is too long (because it can’t be displayed in search) and simply stuffing the description with keywords2. Again, this was a problem on all three sites I reviewed.

There was also an issues with the formatting of header elements. These are the big bold headings you may see inside of webpages – the words “Analyzing the organic search & SEO potential of Justia’s website options” that you see above is a header element in this webpage. These assist search engines in understanding the structure of a page and the meaning of various sections. Header elements are divided into classes. Element <1> would be the main topic. <2> would be a subtopic of <1>. <3> would be a sub-point under <2> and so on. An issue I saw with Justia is that sites had the <1> element, were missing <2> and <3> and used several <4> elements. In attorney terms, think of this as writing a legal brief which is outlined like this:

A. The Case should be dismissed.

A(4) sub-point of why this case should be dismissed

See the point? It’s missing A(1)-(3). This is a problem with the search engines3. Tips on how to properly write your site’s pages, so they’ll do better in search, is offered in our SEO Starter Guide for Attorneys.

Two of the sites I looked at had underscores in their URL’s. This is also frowned upon by the search engines4.

The content I saw on the sites was problematic. I saw multiple instances where a large part of the content was devoted to block quoting statutes. This is a very big mistake as such is simply generating content for the sake of generating it. I talked about this more at length when I mentioned how attorneys can tell Google will view their website as spam. The extent to which I saw this practice on these sites was alarming.

Another big problem I had, as with Scorpion, is the high number of backlinks reported for these sites. While I couldn’t discuss the issue with anyone at Justia, the high number of backlinks appear to be unnatural and, in my opinion, if I had a Justia site I would always be concerned over the possibility of being an algorithm update away from losing my search ranking. Without input from Justia I would be concerned on this point.

There were some other issues I noticed since my review of Justia since last year which raised concern. So you don’t have to read War and Peace, I’ll omit them for now. Given the issues with Justia’s sites, I can’t suggest them as being good for SEO and doing well in organic search.

Analyzing whether Justia’s websites are good for the changing web environment

All three of the site’s I reviewed were using a responsive design. This means that these websites are using the correct approach towards the shift to mobile devices5. One of the websites I reviewed, however, was still using flash. This is not good for search and represents and outdated approach.  I would say there are pros and cons regarding Justia on this front.

Other considerations on whether law firms should use Justia for their websites

Given the lack of feedback I’ve received from the company I really don’t have much to add in the “other considerations” part of this review. I’m basing my review, therefore, on the factors above.

My conclusions on Justia as a website option for attorneys in 2015

Frustrated manI’m not suggesting Justia as a website option for law firms in 2015. The bottom line is that Google makes quite a bit of information available to webmasters in regards to what it takes to do well in search. Justia is violating quite a few of those guidelines. I have heard of instances where Justia finds ways to justify the way in which they do things. The bottom line is that one should listen to Google as, after all, they are the Judge in this matter. Given the fact that I think there is better value in other services in terms of price, the fact that Justia sites aren’t good for SEO in my opinion, and the mixed bag in regards to the evolving web, I would suggest that attorneys seek another option.

1Google Webmaster Guidelines accessed at: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769?hl=en#design_and_content_guidelines
2Google SEO Starter Guide at pages 4-7. Accessed at: http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en/us/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf
3Google 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
4Google Webmaster Content Guidelines accessed at: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/76329?hl=en
5Google Developer’s Mobile Guide accessed at: https://developers.google.com/webmasters/mobile-sites/mobile-seo/overview/select-config