You can read part one of this review here.
The TLD Gold Rush
Back in 2015, there was a flurry of activity among legal marketers pushing the SEO potential of the soon-to-be launched top level domains (TLDs) (.attorney, .law and .lawyer). The sales pitch was simple: changing a law firm’s domain from mylawfirm.com to mylawfirm.lawyer was a magic SEO bullet that would bring a wealth of new clients. A small consortium of companies who secured rights to resell these TLDs engaged in an aggressive sales and marketing campaign—these things go for a whopping $500 or more per year!
Except of course, TLDs have no impact on SEO performance and Google is 100% clear about this. I wrote about my skepticism of the SEO claims of TLDs back in September of 2015—”Foolish Lawyers Lining up to Buy .Law Domains.”
New TLD’s Launch (And So Does a Phony Case Study)
In the first half of 2016, a “case study” citing the success of a Jacksonville, FL PI attorney was published that showcased the amazing results achieved by their firm simply by moving from a .com to a .attorney TLD.
“Six months ago, it did not rank on any page at all for relevant searches,” Block said. “Without making any other design or content changes, we’re now starting to outrank our more established competition.”
This case study was covered aggressively by SEO veteran, Bill Hartzer, in Search Engine Journal and also through a sponsored post at SearchEngine Land that elicited a huge backlash from Google directly, as well as the established SEO community.
“Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.” – Google’s John Mueller
Of course, a little digging showed that not only did the site from the case study get a massive look-and-feel overhaul, it also vastly increased its content and someone engaged in an amazingly aggressive link-building campaign. I covered this in detail here: “the .Law TLD Sales Conspiracy.”
What Really Happens?
So now, we are about 18 months out of the new TLD “gold rush.” Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on the Google Analytics data from various lawyer websites utilizing one of these new TLDs. I’m happy to share just how much these TLDs don’t impact search performance (so you don’t blow your own budget on empty promises). I’m going to share data from five different legal sites that met the following criteria:
- Not in large, hyper-competitive markets (like Personal Injury New York City), so they should be able to demonstrate some level of performance.
- High quality content; while I didn’t review all 400 pages, a cursory review of the sites and conversations with the lawyers make me believe the content is unique and written (or at least edited) by an attorney. In some cases, the sites continued to publish content regularly, in others they served as brochureware.
- Have at least six months of track record of data from Google Analytics. Some sites were launched at the beginning of the TLD gold rush, others launched during 2016.
- Cover an array of practice areas.
- Sites were fundamentally sound from an SEO technology perspective and included both WordPress and proprietary platforms.
- Final note: I haven’t cherry-picked exclusively from a bunch of poor performers ignoring data from something that really was successful just to make my point.
Let’s see what really happened outside of carefully rigged “case studies.”
Across the five different sites, they averaged just 20 sessions per month. And while the PI site generated about twice that average, at 52 sessions/month that would still be dead last among my agency’s PI clients.
Low Sessions Per Page
Simply pushing more content on .attorney domains did little to generate traffic. Across the sites, you can see an average of just two sessions per page per year. Digging further, I found that less than one in four pages generated any traffic at all over an entire 12 month period. That’s more than 75% of your website (an effort) generating absolutely nothing.
Estimated Cost Per Session Comparison
To try to compare this to something meaningful, let’s compare roughly estimated cost per session numbers to what it would take to generate traffic from Adwords PPC campaigns. (Rough calculations: assuming we amortize a $7K website cost over 36 months, add in hosting you’re looking at a rough per month cost of $250; then add in the annual domain registration cost of $500 plus a per page of content cost of roughly $150.) The end result: three of the five sites have a cost per session of over $150. The divorce and PI sites were in a more reasonable range of $30-$60. Regardless, these are significant numbers—especially given the extremely low absolute volume. A recipe for marketing disaster.
Estimated Inquiry Volume
Based on a study I did for the ABA earlier which shows roughly 3.3 inquiries per 100 sessions, I’ve estimated that volume of injuries for each of the sites per year. The results range from 1-22, and average just one inquiry every other month per site.
So, I hate to say, “I told you so” but…”I told you so.” There’s no magic SEO bullet from the TLDs. There’s also nothing inherently wrong with them, but lawyers who have purchased these new domains for the promise of instant SEO benefits should get in line behind me for the magic hair restorer lotion.