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The Rainmaker Institute. With a name like that, and a homepage that reads like a late-night infomercial (we won't even mention the god-awful color scheme or hideous 90s-era drop-down menus), how could things go wrong?
And who would've predicted that a law firm, which was billed $49,000 for services that allegedly harmed their Internet marketing campaign, would sue?
We blame Google. And the mysterious nature of Search Engine Optimization.
Search Google for "pink helicopter octopus law." Only two results show up, including a story about a large bird that wants to make sweet love to a helicopter. Great! Now your Pink Helicopter Octopus Law Firm, when it launches a website, will probably be the top result.
What happens when you practice DUI law in Los Angeles? Suddenly, there is a lot more competition for those top Google results. Google's robots scan every page on the Internet, including your fabulous firm's website, and ranks them according to their relevance to the search terms. That ranking is based on a mysterious formula, or algorithm, the specifics of which are continuously tweaked and which are never revealed.
SEO experts, therefore, are left guessing. Occasionally, Google will issue guidelines that help, but specific questions, such as "how many links are too many?" or "should I douse my post in keywords like 'DUI Lawyer Los Angeles?'" are constantly morphing. The experts simply try different strategies to see what happens.
SEO is the perfect example of "throw [expletive] to the wall and see what sticks." And as soon as something does stick, Google changes their algorithm to compensate.
Black Hat Tactics
The most shady SEO snake-oil salesman are the people responsible for the most annoying habits of the Internet. Ever visit a page and read a description that sounds like this?
A Los Angeles DUI lawyer can help you with Los Angeles DUI defense. John Doe is a Los Angeles DUI lawyer and has practiced Los Angeles DUI defense successfully for many years.
Yeah. It makes your brain hurt. That's what we call keyword stuffing. In the old days, writing text like that would allegedly help your search ranking (per SEOmoz, keyword density is a myth). Inbound links did (and still do) help as well, though spam links from comment boxes and paid links can result in Google crushing your site's ranking and pushing you to oblivion, a.k.a. the fifty-third page of search results.
Rainmakers or Racketeers?
We'll start by saying that we know nothing about Rainmaker's SEO tactics.
The lawsuit filed against them, however, alleges that they used practices banned by Google, knowing that doing so would eventually mean that their clients' sites would plummet in the search rankings, reports Courthouse News Service. When Google did act, the company allegedly remained silent, continued selling their allegedly defective services, and kept billing existing clients.
Seikaly & Stewart, the law firm and plaintiff, is seeking a refund, as well as punitive damages via a civil RICO action. According to the firm's complaint, RICO is appropriate because fraud was committed using wires (the Internet) over an extended period of time (almost two years).
The alleged fraud included using tactics that were known to be disfavored by Google (the link farming), selling the same blog content to multiple firms (Google hates duplicate content), and providing fewer inbound links than the contract provided for, as well as continuing the alleged black hat practices, and billing clients, even after Google cracked down.
As for you, dear reader/lawyer, just remember: no one truly knows how to game Google. The best SEO tactic, as always, is simply writing quality content that will be relevant to your clients' interests. And if you do contract with an outside company for content or design, do your research in advance to ensure that the company, and their web design and SEO tactics, are reputable.
Disclosure: We obviously have no direct stake in this lawsuit, but it bears mentioning that FindLaw also provides lawyer marketing and SEO services to client firms.