Law Firm Sues the Rainmaker Institute for Failed SEO [UPDATED]

seikaly-stewart-rainmaker-institute-rico

Michigan law firm Seikaly & Stewart says it paid $49,000 to the Rainmaker Institute to improve its ranking in search results. But, it claims in its RICO lawsuit, the Rainmaker Institute’s SEO “secrets” were worthless, in part because they violated Google’s guidelines and “contaminated” Seikaly & Stewart’s website (this sounds like a reference to Google’s Panda and Penguin updates).

This is shaping up to be an epic battle between the forces of cluelessness and ignorance.

It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Seikaly & Stewart. Regardless whether the Rainmaker Institute actually has anything valuable to sell, it’s pitch reminds me of those late-night infomercials that promise to teach you to get rich from flipping houses or selling gold if you will just attend a very expensive seminar at a hotel near the airport. It’s all selling, no substance. The fact that Seikaly & Stewart bought into it suggests the decision-makers at the firm might also be available to help obscure princes get their hands on their inheritances.

Scott Greenfield puts it well:

Not to be unsympathetic, but did you seriously think that Fairley, or any of the other marketeers promising magic bullet solutions to turn you from internet zero to hero overnight had a chance?

The firm’s plight should also be a reminder that SEO is not a strategy. The Google algorithm does not speak English. It speaks SEO. Basically, what you can do with SEO is help Google understand what is on your web pages. It’s not a bad idea to do this, but it’s not an online marketing strategy, either. Even if you have the best SEO in the world, there is no guarantee your web pages will be at the top of Google’s search results.

Online marketing in general is no panacea, either. Even if you manage to get to the top of Google’s search results (setting aside the meaninglessness of that term for a moment), there is no guarantee you will get any business. Many online marketing consultants sell the fiction that hordes of deep-pocketed clients are madly Googling for their next lawyer (or Twittering or whatever). But it is just that: a fiction. It may be true for some firms’ clients, but absolutely not for all of them.

Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you a magic hat.

Update: Carolyn Elefant went and found the complaint.

Update 2: Alec Borenstein, Esq., just sent me a connection request on LinkedIn. He’s a “Business Development Consultant” and “Award-Winning Speaker” at The Rainmaker Institute. Shortly after I approved the connection, I got the following message:

Hi Sam,

Thanks for connecting! If you have the time, I’d love to network with you for 15 minutes to learn what you are up to. One of your best referral sources is probably other attorneys (in various practice areas, even in MN) and I’m someone who knows a lot of attorneys. I’d love to connect you with some of them to help create referral partnerships. Hopefully you might know other attorneys who would be interested in getting more clients and growing their practices and would be interested in my consulting services.

Let me know if you have any time to talk on the phone for 15 minutes this week or next week.

Have a great night!

All the best,
Alec

First, putting “Esq.” after your name makes you look desperate to be recognized as a lawyer. Especially when you aren’t practicing anymore. Second, if you wanted to see a textbook example of the online version of showing up to a Networking event with a stack of business cards, here it is. Yuck.

(h/ts Brian Tannebaum, Scott Greenfield, and Venkat Balasubramani)

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hckyso/1864763334/)

, ,

  • static

    So you’re saying those advertisements you run from Alexis Neely are totally legit, right?

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      The only conclusion you should draw from the fact that an advertiser appears on our site is that I don’t think it is a scam. If you have evidence that one of our advertisers is running a scam, please send it to me.

      • static

        You’re getting the cashola but have no responsibility unless someone sends you evidence? Too bad you don’t have a way to check on someone, like, oh, the internet maybe:
        http://www.sequenceinc.com/fraudfiles/2012/12/internet-marketing-and-multi-level-marketing-same-scam-different-name/
        The problem is that you can’t make fun of Fairley while taking cash from Neely. And much as you may want to shift the burden elsewhere, you’re getting the cash. You’re right to throw stones, but you need to be very careful when you’re throwing them from a glass house.

        • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

          I’ve seen that link, and I don’t see any evidence there beyond a bare accusation.

          I don’t really want to be in the position of defending Alexis. She can do that herself, if she wants to. I will say that, because of the nature of her marketing, I have on several occasions looked to see whether she is actually selling something.

          She is. She may hang out with known scammers and market her business in the scammiest way possible, but she is actually selling something of arguable value. For example, the last promotion she ran was an offer to train paralegals to plan seminars for the lawyer to teach, handle intake. and manage data entry. (I signed up for the free webinar to hear the information and the pitch.)

          Unless she was lying about what she proposed to sell, I don’t see a scam. At worst, it’s a bad deal, and lawyers can make their own decisions to pay good money for a bad deal.

          • static

            I sat through one of her free webinars on a dare. It was brutal. Aside from her sounding like a fumbling fool, stringing meaningless words together as if she actually said something, she failed to offer a single bit of useful advice, but instead used the hour as an informercial to buy her very expensive but definitely worth it private services, which she guaranteed would make any lawyer fabulously rich without working more than 4 hours a week.
            But then, she doesn’t put money in my pocket, so I’m disinclined to pretend this isn’t like every other late night “buy real estate for no money down” pitch. That’s just me. On the other hand, have you signed up yet to make your practice not suck?

            • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

              I did attend one of her classes (or whatever you’d call it) years ago (it was a trade for advertising, I think). There was actual substance, and while she mentioned some products for which she undoubtedly has affiliate deals, I did not feel like she was selling. She was teaching. Or coaching, I guess.

              I decided it wasn’t worth my time and ended the arrangement. But again, it wasn’t a scam.

    • aflusche

      I think AMN’s a joke, and I’m not a total fan of everything Sam’s done with Lawyerist. BUT if you’re going to criticize someone, at least show the courage and respect to do it using your real identity.

      • static

        Sam knows who I am, as do must folks around here. Sorry if you don’t, but I can’t personally account for everyone on the internet and what they do or don’t know.

        • static

          That is so weird. When I responded to the comment above, the name attached was that of Andrew Flusche, linking to this website: http://www.andrewflusche.com/ Which made sense, since he was calling me out for being anon, so it’s only right that he include his name.
          And now, I check back and the name is gone and instead it says “Guest.” Guest? What happened to Andrew Flusche? How weird is that?

          • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

            I noticed the same thing. But, for the record, I didn’t have anything to do with it.

            • static

              Of course you had nothing to do with it, Sam. Why would you?
              Lest I be unclear, while I wouldn’t say Andrew’s issue applied in this case, I very much agree with his point that anon criticism is cowardly and disrespectful, and when I note that the comment was his, I do so with appreciation for his position. He is absolutely right.

  • http://www.cochranfirmdc.com/ CochranFirmDC

    Seikaly & Stewart’s website looks respectable at least. I think a lot of people will be watching to see how this lawsuit goes. I think a lot of SEO firms take advantage of law firms, but don’t be surprised when they bite back. It’s not a big deal for a law firm to file a lawsuit after being taken advantage of in a business deal.

    • http://www.lawolfe.com/ Lahle Wolfe

      I am glad to see this lawsuit. I hope the lawyer marketing industry
      cleans up its act.

      Google has always been pretty transparent about what it considers
      blackhat optimization. There is no excuse when a professional marketing
      company deliberately sells services to anyone that violates these
      practices. Artificial link building, for as long as I can recall, has
      been considered a violation of Google webmaster terms so why are
      marketing companies still trying game Google with keyword stuffing, fake
      links, etc.?

      Lawyers are clients just like any other business. If you do right by them, they won’t sue you for bad business practices.

      • http://www.redlandsattorney.com/ Harvard Barnett

        How about a little accountability on the law firms part instead of being such a victim? How about a law firm, like any other client doing their *due diligence when investigating the SEO firm. It doesn’t take much to learn just a little about SEO first, then you know the questions to ask.

        According to Google almost anything that is done purposefully to gain better rankings violates their TOS, but the fact is a lot of people still do it and enjoy high rankings, that’s the problem. As far as Google is concerned they would like to tell you just to create great content, and keep doing it, get people to link to your site. [Wow, what a creative way to plant links! (Spammy, self-serving links removed.) — Ed.]

        • http://www.redlandsattorney.com/ Harvard Barnett

          Well, that’s what I get, haha.

  • leekellerking

    You mean these magic beans won’t grow a beanstalk to the sky??? Damn! ;)

  • Gus M

    I went to a Rainmaker Institute meet and greet once. It was completely useless. The topic was Facebook and one of his tips was to get a custom URL for your Facebook site. Something like Facebook.com/familylaw.

    That’s advice straight out of the 1990s and goes completely against how people use Facebook. People don’t type in random Facebook URLs, hoping to find a family lawyer–they use the search button or they ask for recommendations.

  • Dustin

    Ironically, this mess is the best possible SEO for S&S (and Rainmaker Institute) because they’re now “naturally” getting links, mentions, etc. on a ton of legal and marketing blogs. So in a way, Rainmaker might’ve done its job after all.

    Also, I’d have to disagree with you on SEO not being a strategy, especially if you consider a definition like: “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or
    overall aim.” It’s definitely not a comprehensive marketing plan in itself, but even with the ups and downs of Google, SEO is structured enough to be called a strategy in the right hands.

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      I don’t really think “SEO” should be used loosely, but I guess it’s come to mean essentially the same thing as “online marketing.” I don’t like that, but I suppose it’s not up to me.

      Maybe I’m nitpicking, but it seems to me that optimizing a website for search is much more like working with an API than employing a strategy. Of course, there is certainly plenty of strategy in online marketing, of which SEO is just one tool in the toolbox.

      • thegothtable

        As a marketing strategist, I can tell you, I don’t think anybody is confusing SEO for “online marketing.” It’s a component of online marketing. And optimizing a website isn’t a one time thing, or a plug in and leave thing like an API.

        SEO is not a “tool.” It’s essentially an understanding of how web development and digital marketing relate to one channel: search. It entails copywriting, usability, information architecture, proper coding practices, design, email marketing, and so on and so forth. The key is that it is all tied to search. All of those things are pieces you look at with SEO.

        Many websites cannot afford to ignore search, or do everything they can to drive visits from search, hence SEO is a major, major part of the strategy.

        Ecommerce websites live and die by search. SEO for online retailers has a lot to do with information architecture, which is pretty far from being similar to an API. In those cases, it has as much to do with how you talk about the product as with how you present it/organize it. It’s deeply tied to how bots navigate and index websites at that point, well beyond just keyword placement.

        Again, based on how you wrote about it, it sounds like you have a very clumsy understanding of what SEO is, and online marketing in general. You’re not a full time marketing strategist, so no big deal if you don’t get it, but you shouldn’t write about it as if you do, when you clearly don’t.

  • Larry Bodine

    Sam — interesting post, but it would be better if you reported both
    sides of the story. Isn’t that what a responsible journalist is
    supposed to do? I would think at the very least you would contact
    Stephen Fairley before reporting a one-sided story like this. The
    lawsuit sounds like total BS and will probably be dismissed soon.

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      Curious. Which side of what story do you think I told? I made no comment whatsoever about the value of whatever TRI sold to Seikaly & Stewart, which is, as I understand it, the subject of the lawsuit.

      What I did comment on was the way TRI markets itself. It makes door-to-door magazine-subscription salespeople look respectable. I’m not sure what other side there is to that story, unless Fairley were going to tell me that I am looking at the wrong website or that “Alec Borenstein, Esq.” is a fake person or he is lying about his association with TRI.

      I also criticized the law firm for buying the bill of goods it alleges TRI was selling (whether or not that’s what TRI was actually selling). Whether or not that is what TRI was actually selling, Seikaly & Stewart looks silly for paying for what it thought it was buying.

      For the record, I have no idea what, specifically, TRI marketed to Seikaly & Stewart. That is why I did not try to comment on it.

  • thegothtable

    I don’t think you fully understand what SEO is

  • http://www.apricotlaw.com Nick Kringas

    Has anyone taken the time to look at the backlink profile of seikalystewart dot com? They have a few hundred links.
    If RM did anything wrong it was taking 49k and not building enough links. One press release would have generated about the same.
    Congrats to Seikaly Stewart, though. They did manage to get their most rank-improving backlinks from this lawsuit.
    On the other hand, raising the thought of negative seo may end up costing them more than it’s worth.

  • Karen Katz, Burns and Levinson

    The Rainmaker Institute – Wow. Talk about a group that falls flat with its own sales process. The cold call set up saying that the big kahuna wants to connect with you is OK. Cold call set up is OK. But then the bait and switch is old school. The B team gets you on the phone and doesn’t know who you are or the firm you are at. Can anyone spell INTERNET? The call starts with “So tell me who you are and about your firm?” Doesn’t surprise me that this group has been sued. Seems to be building business (or trying) based on hoping that the folks on the receiving end don’t know any better.