How the Avvo Badge Promotes Your Competition

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Several websites are always at or near the top of Google’s search results for law firms in different cities and practice areas, and one of those is Avvo. Avvo is a sprawling and comprehensive site that, until recently, I assumed was so well-ranked because it is an established and trusted platform with thousands of pages of useful content. Avvo is one of the legal industry’s most highly trafficked sites.

Avvo search engine traffic chart

Overall, Avvo’s search engine traffic has increased significantly in the last year.

It makes sense that Avvo would have a strong search presence, but the more I looked at its rankings, the more I was puzzled by how well each of their city directory pages ranked.

Here are a couple of examples:

Avvo Chicago criminal defense SERPs

Avvo Houston criminal defense SERPs

Breaking Down Avvo’s Search Engine Success

When it comes to SEO performance, links that point to a web page are one of the most influential factors in how well that page ranks in search results. Each link is a “vote” that search engines use to rank web pages. Avvo excels at generating links to its local practice-area pages.

It turns out that Avvo’s local practice-area pages have lots of links coming from the websites of law firms in that city and practice area. So the Avvo page for criminal defense lawyers in Chicago, for example, has links from a bunch of criminal defense lawyers in Chicago. This doesn’t make much sense. Why would a law firm link to a list of direct competitors in its area?

If you look at the law-firm websites that link to Avvo’s local practice-area pages, however, they all have one thing in common: a bright blue-and-white Avvo rating badge.

The Avvo Badge

If you have claimed your Avvo profile, you have probably seen links to claim your badge, which you can add to your website in order to show visitors your Avvo rating. To do this, Avvo gives you a code you can copy and paste into your website to display your badge:

Avvo rating badge code

Avvo says the badge will send visitors “to your Avvo profile where they can review information about you and likely contact you for help to solve their legal needs.”

Easy enough.

What Avvo doesn’t tell you is that the badge also includes a link to an Avvo directory page specific to your city and practice area. That’s right: the badge includes a link to a list of your competitors.

Avvo city link

They also fail to mention that should your website visitor click the badge, he or she could end up on the directory page instead of your profile page. It depends on where they click the badge.

Avvo rating badge links

That means someone who started out as your potential client could land on a directory full of other lawyers. And if your Avvo profile isn’t on page one of that directory page, the visitor won’t see you at all, which could further discourage them from hitting the back button to get back to your website.

This definitely does not help lawyers who use Avvo badges. So why would Avvo include this extra link? There is a one-word answer: Google.

The Quickest Way to the Top of Google

Success in search engine results is largely about acquiring links from quality, relevant websites. And if you run a legal site like Avvo, there are no better websites to target than sites that belong to lawyers.

There are over one million attorney profiles on Avvo; if even a fraction of those lawyers embed the badge on their sites, Avvo will receive thousands of links to its city pages, which are directly competing with individual law firms for search engine visibility.

And that’s exactly what’s happened. Over the last year or so, Avvo’s search engine presence has skyrocketed. A search marketer for the site even said so, in a legal marketing discussion group:

“I moved some mountains …  I can’t get in to specifics, but if you noticed that Avvo’s visibility increased over the past couple years, now you know one of the contributing factors.”

That is great for Avvo, but not great for individual law-firm websites.

This type of manipulative linking is also against Google’s webmaster guidelines, which outline the SEO industry’s best practices. Examples of links that violate these rules include:

“Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites …”

This is basically the definition of the city page links included in Avvo badges. The link provides no value to the website owner, and it is keyword-focused (the well-optimized “top lawyer” text on the badge links to the city page, not to the profile of the lawyer on whose website the badge appears).

In 2013, Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, addressed the topic directly.

In short, it’s an SEO no-no, but apparently it works. The badge links have given Avvo a huge leg up on every law firm trying to attract local search engine traffic.

If your practice relies on organic search traffic for potential leads, the Avvo badge is only helping Avvo, and making it more difficult for you — and your colleagues — to claim the top spots in Google.

What You Can Do Instead

The Avvo badge is a useful tool for building trust with online visitors, and the good news is you can use the badge without having to copy Avvo’s questionable website code.

All you need is an image of your badge and the URL of your Avvo profile. To get this, take a screenshot of your badge preview in your Avvo dashboard and put that on your website, linked to your profile. The only downside to this method is that you will have to update your image if your rating changes.

The Smart Way to Use Badges and Widgets

Badges can help you build trust and authority with your website visitors. But like the embedded Avvo badge, they may provide more benefit to the provider of the badge. When you add badges and widgets to your website, it helps to double-check what you’re really getting.

Avvo is a useful site that allows the public to easily find, compare and contact lawyers in practice areas and cities around the country. It serves a clear purpose and it’s a great platform for lawyers looking to share information and content.

But for law firms that focus on search engine traffic to generate leads, removing the embedded Avvo badge from your website is a good idea.

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  • zkent

    Another solution would be to remove the entire offending <a> tag and leave the rest of the embed code intact.

    • You could also replace the <a> tag with the link to your own profile, instead of the directory.

    • Hey zkent,

      This was the first thing I tried when I was messing around with the badge code, but I think there’s something in the script that populates the city page even when the city URL is manually removed. Might just have been the site/badge I was working with, but I’m pretty sure it shows up even when you try to take that chunk out.

    • David

      That you can just remove the key word spam tag and the text completely from the raw html, and everything, the text and the link, still shows up through the iframe of your rating badge indicates that the only purpose of the link and text in the raw html is for Google SEO.

      Also Avvo does not tell you that you are adding this link when you are getting the code to add a badge to your site. And Avvo indicates that adding a badge to your site is one of the steps of what makes your profile complete. I am not sure how adding a badge to an external web site helps complete your Avvo profile, although now I do see how this helps Avvo’s Google rankings.

    • Mary Jeannette

      I’ve tried taking the link out, pushing a new link back to my attorney’s profile, even changing the badge itself (did you know that changing the data specialty number will change the practice area on the badge?) and giving it another image source but it continues to go back to the directory. Where ever it is in there, they’ve hidden it well.

  • Andrew Cabasso

    One other thing worth noting is that the Avvo badge on your website takes visitors away from your website (where you want them) and to the directory site. Visitors may go to your site, click an Avvo badge link, and never come back to your site. Including the link to Avvo hurts your Internet presence aside from giving Avvo link juice.

  • Sneaky bastards. Great investigation Dustin. Also good solutions presented. I hope Google penalizes the crap out of them.

  • sachinb_avvo

    Sachin from Avvo here.

    Thanks for the feedback and discussion here on the benefits of Avvo badges. Quite simply, we offer Avvo badges and lawyers place them on their websites because they work. They help great lawyers get more business by, as the author noted, building trust and authority with visitors to your website – and by helping you stand out from your competition. Consumers want to know how you stack up vs. the universe of attorneys. This is why the badges point back to the directory. Showing how you – a top Avvo attorney – rank highly vs. others in the directory is very effective at swaying the decision of a consumer who is shopping for an attorney. Regarding the questions about the badges and Google policies, SEO linking practices evolve frequently and we evolve with them, to that end it was already on our roadmap to make a change to the badges to be consistent with the latest standards

    • If the goal is to help consumers find out how a lawyer hosting the badge stacks up against the competition, then the badge does a poor job because (1) Avvo’s website is not up front with lawyers about that goal for the badge, and (2) there’s nothing obvious on the badge that shows a consumer where to click to accomplish this.

      I don’t see it as inherently problematic that the badge does this (apart from whatever SEO problems it may cause). I think it’s a problem that Avvo isn’t up front about the fact that the badge does this. If there is a good reason for having the badge link to the competition, then why conceal it from lawyers and consumers?

      • sachinb_avvo

        Hi Sam –

        We’re not hiding the link – the badge has 2 clickable link elements and we’ve tried to make this as clear as possible in a very small space. There’s no intention to hide the links / click targets.

        That said, you’re right that we can always do better at communication and we’ll work on that in the next revision.

        • I’m going to go ahead and disagree strenuously. There’s no hover state to indicate which link one is about to click, and not a single pixel of space between the two links. The URL (assuming one knows where to look for it when hovering over links) doesn’t help much, either. With all the UTM codes, I barely noticed it was changing even though I was looking for it.

          Moreover, this is the text on the Avvo Badge page:

          Use these badges to show off your Avvo profile on your own blog or web page. Potential clients will be directed to your Avvo profile where they can review information about you and likely contact you for help to solve their legal needs.

          It says “Potential clients will be directed to your Avvo profile,” not “the Avvo profiles of similar lawyers in your city or state.”

          • sachinb_avvo

            Point taken. We’ll look into our messaging around all of this to make sure we’re crystal clear here going forward. We have no intention to mislead anyone.

            Sam – as always, thanks for your insights.

            • Just to clarify, I’m not even arguing there’s anything necessarily wrong with linking to the directory (although I can understand why lawyers who focus on SEO might not be happy about it). I just think it comes across as sneaky the way Avvo is doing it.

              It also (re-)raises the bigger question of whether Avvo is on the side of lawyers or consumers. As-is, the badge doesn’t take either side very well.

              • c

                Um, isn’t the answer that Avvo is on Avvo’s side?

          • I wonder if this discussion would be happening any place other than with a lawyer based service where lawyers seem to feel there is something sinister going on. Add to to this lawyers who are afraid that if someone saw the profile of other lawyers at the same as they saw their profile they may not use them as their lawyer.

            Avvo is a good service which lawyers who pay nothing for get a heck of a lot of value from. It’s based on the premise of empowering consumers to make an informed choice of a lawyer. I’d hope lawyers would hold consumers and small business people in as a high a regard. It’s about service to clients, not us as lawyers first.

            Martindale-Hubbell had AV plaques we hung in the lobby and in our offices. MH not only made money from the plaques, it was a great way of marketing themselves — reminding all lawyers to stay a subscriber. Never begrudged them for it, nor did anyone else.

            Like with blogs, people follow links to other lawyers’ blogs. If there’s a risk the person following a link forgets about you when they read another blog, then you have bigger problems. Seems the same here.

            Let people look around, it’s okay. Let Avvo benefit from a link so that there is a free legal directory for the public and lawyers, it’s okay. After all, it’s a directory which empowers the people we all serve after all.

            • These conversations happen all the time in the SEO industry.

              People pay a ton of money to get the top of Google results, and web companies often live and die by the traffic being on top brings in.

        • Mary Jeannette

          You’re completely hiding the link and you still are. I was just on the phone with my Avvo rep declaring my crankiness with this and the exact words out of her mouth were “Out of all the clients I have, you are the first person that’s every brought this up to me. I had no idea it linked back to the directory as well as your attorney’s profile.” How can you not be hiding it when even your reps aren’t aware?

      • Paul Spitz

        More to the point, doesn’t the rating on the badge indicate how the attorney compares to his or her competition, by itself? There’s no need to redirect the visitor back to the Avvo site for that.

    • There’s a lot of value in comparing attorneys, but the process doesn’t work when it’s backwards. If someone comes to an attorney’s website, they got there from some source – they expressed some interest in going there – whether it was from an ad, a search engine result, legal profile, etc.

      When a visitor is sent back to a directory, it’s not in that lawyer’s best interest. Leads aren’t captured by sending them away, it’s by keeping them around.

    • David

      Sachin’s statement is disingenuous regarding SEO. First, as Sam noted, Avvo has not been upfront with lawyers who have added these badges regarding the listing page link. Most have no idea they are adding a link to a listing page, either for SEO or even in the javascript. If Avvo was upfront about this, most law firms would not add these links.

      As for the SEO link itself, it is only there for SEO. There are two separate listing page link issues in the badge, (1) the display of a link that goes back to the listing pages, and (2) the link in the html code itself. The display link will show up regardless of whether the link in the html text and link code is taken out or changed to something different. That is because the display of the badge is entirely coming in by way of the javascript. The link in the html code itself is only there for SEO purposes.

      Basically Avvo has gotten local-subject matter websites to add key word links to Avvo’s listing pages. This is why Avvo ranks so well for these key word terms. But Avvo did this by tricking law firms to add these links from their web sites to Avvo’s listing pages. Tricking people to adding links like this has been against Google’s policies for years.

    • zkent

      That’s great IF you are a top taking Avvo attorney

  • Elissa

    Very helpful thank you

  • Pedro Oliva

    Surely you do not think that the rating itself is on the level, do you?

  • William Rosenfelt

    I’m a solo attorney who has been on AVVO for more than 3 years. I also have a website but it’s in desperate need of an overhaul. It is not optimized and has no landing page. I’m considering many options including: An AVVO website, AVVO ignite, optimizing my website and using several social media platforms. I’ll be posting this “comment” in other forums—-as I’d like some feedback and don’t know how active this site (or any other forum) is. I’ll post my questions at the end of this post.

    Any firm’s marking plan has to be done to scale. I’m not an SEO expert by any means. But I’ve consulted with many companies marketing SEO services to law firms. I’ve also got a good friend who does SEO for the medical industry. In my experience, with some SEO services, the conversation usually goes like this: “What is your marketing budget?” Then, I’m often told that SEO for a solo firm like mine could range from $1,500 to $3,000 a month. And there’s no guarantee, obviously. Importantly, I had not sought out an SEO professional who focused on legal marketing. Not very smart!

    One argument “against” AVVO from an SEO perspective is that when attorneys provide free content to it—they marginalize the efficacy of their own websites. This is because AVVO dominates in many searches. It makes perfect sense. Although it would seem to be in an SEO/law firm consultant’s interest to advance the narrative that AVVO cannibalizes attorney’s websites, I believe it. .

    One has to wonder how much money and effort would be needed to “compete” with AVVO given it’s ubiquity and exponential growth. Again—I’m no expert. But we’re seeing a huge change in our profession. People are very likely to look you up on AVVO—even if they trip across your expensive, optimized website. Martindale Hubbell must be getting squeezed HARD. Everyone wants to be an informed consumer whether their staying at a resort or retaining counsel. Is it advisable to be website presence “heavy?” to compete with AVVO and others or take some other approach?

    I’m interested in feedback regarding how an AVVO website could be “optimized” in concert with an attorney’s website and other social media platforms. I’ve spoken with AVVO at length about an AVVO website. I’m told that I can dictate the content as well as make changes. Here is where I’ll really show my ignorance. I’m not sure what type of “code” or other SEO magic that an AVVO website allows. I know that you can customize the URL and am told that AVVO will make a landing page—but I’m skeptical about that. And they certainly cannot provide (they told me) SEO for the AVVO site. Not at such a low price point.

    I think that AVVO creates some unique challenges for attorneys and legal SEO folks. Is there a way to embrace AVVO as well as your own website and social media? I think that’s the challenge for legal SEO consultants.

    I’ve done a significant amount of research regarding AVVO and it’s competitors (Findlaw, lawyers.com, Rocketlawyer, etc.) From what I’ve read—they are either expensive, ineffective at generating leads or both. AVVO is the gorilla that isn’t going anywhere. Attorneys are historically late adopters of technology. We have to evolve with technology as well as deal with a diminishing market for many of our services. I’ve been practicing for 18 years and feel like I’m the “youngest” of the old school attorneys.

    I’ve seen a lot of legitimate criticism of AVVO—the ranking system is the biggest issue in my view. However, after reading this blog and the comments—-AVVO has been disingenuous, at best regarding the “badge” issue. Lawyers are not known for being particularly “tech-savvy.” I’m not certain how long the AVVO badge has had the “functions” discussed here. The fact that this was not disclosed while thousands of attorneys used the badge—and then it’s discovered—not through AVVO’s disclosure but through folks like you all—–it’s a fundamental failure that I can’t fathom (as an SEO layperson). I don’t know how rampant this is in the industry overall. But very discouraging.

    Regardless, the internet is the great “equalizer.” AVVO arguably makes it even easier for Solos/small firms to compete with larger firms.

    I am certainly not trying to sell anyone on AVVO. I’m sure that there are many other approaches that work well for many in the legal profession.

    • I’m not sure, but it sounds like you might be confusing the Avvo profile with Avvo Websites. Avvo Websites is where you just pay Avvo to build you a law firm website like. I think they just use WordPress, in fact, which is what you’d get from any competent website builder these days. The only real difference is that Avvo makes it easier to plug an Avvo Websites website into Avvo Ignite, if you use that.

      So should you get a website? Absolutely. Should you hire Avvo to build it for you? I think that depends on your marketing strategy, budget, and needs. If you want help figuring out a good fit, you can take our website needs assessment and Aaron will get back to you with a recommendation.

      If you have more questions, consider posting them in our Q&A forum, where people are more likely to see them and respond.

      • William Rosenfelt

        Hey Sam: Thanks so much for responding. No..not confused. I have AVVO pro—-but am considering an AVVO website along with AVVO Ignite. I have an existing website (that needs optimization). I’m leaning towards getting the AVVO website as well as improving my “old” site. So I would have 2 websites and various social media platforms. Trying to determine if there is wisdom in having 2 websites—-the old one—-while in need of improvement—-has whatever benefit google confers upon sites that have been up for years, etc. I’m trying to find legal SEO that will not just assess my website but rather my entire online marketing campaign—-and with legal SEO that is intimately familiar with AVVO as well. I’m not looking for free services. But I’ve heard countless horror stories about attorneys who have been sold a bill of goods–just want to find the right folks

  • Great Article! I am the lead marketer for a metro Atlanta law firm and we use Avvo as a portion of our marketing strategy. I am finding that instead of fighting Avvo, I am using the Avvo to compliment our marketing strategy. However, I will have to investigate the badge solution you presented. Thanks for the knowledge!

  • Emme

    Good analysis…

  • springbok612

    The internet promotes your competition too.

  • derek

    Thumbtack was penalized by Google for a similar tactic. Google generally doesn’t punish large directories (especially ones they invest in) but if a large enough contingent speaks out they’re forced to look into the matter.

  • Jimmy Conway

    Excellent information!!