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,

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/)