This week we’re going to teach you to be a savvy scam hawk! Clients often ask us to review unsolicited offers they receive, usually by email, that raise alarm bells about some aspect of their online presence. The topic this week was inspired by our client Diane Kaer, an Apple Valley, MN divorce attorney who’s online at www.kaerlaw.com. Diane did the right thing when her suspicions were raised; she asked us for help. Now we can teach you how to spot bad business.
First off, don’t feel bad if you’ve taken the bite on the scammy things we’re about to point out. The whole topic of online marketing, search engine optimization and local marketing — and the quadrillion acronyms that go along with it — is highly confusing. You may recall that we did two previous posts on this: “What is SEO?” and “How Does Google Advertising Work?” that are worth a read if you missed them.
We’re going to cover four common scams.
A note about how we’re using the word “scam” in this post. We’re using it kind of loosely. Some are outright scams but most are overly expensive solutions in search of a problem. It’s bad business.
There are some recurring themes to these emails, phone calls and letters. So if you spot these, especially in communications that contain three or more, get your guard up.
Urgency — You must take action now, or else!
Surprise — We’re telling you about something you didn’t even know was happening!
Terror — If you don’t fix this you’ll go out of business and your pets will stop loving you.
Only Us — They are the only ones that can fix this, they’re sure of it.
Trust Us — They profess expertise and that they are doing you a huge favor.
Here's how four big scams all work.
Perhaps the most prolific scam is with domain name renewals. When you have a domain (.com/.net/.org) name for your website, you pay an annual fee to retain ownership of it. Typically you pay a company like GoDaddy, Network Solutions, or even us at The Modern Firm. Registration is an annual charge that usually processes automatically, so it’s very easy to forget about. Domain ownership records are public so a few months before your name expires, you’ll start getting very official looking correspondences, most commonly from Domain Registry of America, urging you to renew, or else!
While the company sending you the domain renewal alerts look like they're doing you a favor, that is not the case. What they are really doing is attempting to transfer the registration responsibilities away from your current company to them, at a higher annual fee. There is no need to do a transfer when you can simply renew your domain with your current registrar. Further, the act of transferring registration companies is somewhat technical, lawyers who do it themselves often inadvertently take down their email and website.
Verify Ownership: Now is a great time to make sure that your name ownership records are correct. We’ve set up a free tool at https://www.themodernfirm.com/whois/whois.php so that you can make sure the right person, address and email are on file. This will also tell you what company you’re using for registration. (If you use us, you’ll see the name ENOM or Tucows as the registrar.) If there are problems, contact or log into your registrar and fix them. Our clients can also email email@example.com for help.
Automatic Renewal: Make sure that your payment information with your registrar is up-to-date and that automatic renewal is turned on.
Domain Lock: You can turn on a locking feature that makes it impossible for your domain to be transferred to another registrar.
Privacy: Depending on your registrar, you can turn on privacy controls that use a proxy in the public records. You can turn this on/off at your discretion. It may reduce the influx of scams but it can also make it more difficult to recover access to your account if you lose your login.
This scam revolves around whether or not your firm’s street location and contact information are accurate on business listing websites like Google Maps, Yelp, YellowPages, 411 as well as mobile apps like Apple Maps. This one is tricky because often there is a problem, but the companies that are pushing emails and phone calls with aggressive sales pitches charge way too much, do not adequately understand what a law firm needs, or are making overblown claims.
Local search results refers to the information people see when trying to find you online, often when they already have your name in hand. Google displays this on a map on the first page of results. Other programs and sites like Apple Maps, Yelp, YellowPages, Bing and Yahoo aggregate data from multiple sources. If a law firm has moved within 5 years, has multiple attorneys, or has changed names, then often there are some inconsistencies.
The thing to figure out with location data inconsistencies is whether or not they need to be addressed. If an ampersand is missing from the firm name, that’s not a big deal. But if old addresses, phone numbers or former partners are still showing up, that needs to be dealt with. The last thing you want is a client putting your firm name into their iPhone and being taken to your office from 4 years ago. Also, if you’re engaged in any type of online marketing, keeping this information consistent and accurate is quite important.
Search for your firm name and city in Google. This should result in a special search results page that features photos of your firm, a map and contact info. Make sure it’s accurate.
You can also use our free business scan tool to analyze your firm's information across over 60 of the largest business data websites. If you see problems that need to be fixed, we can help.
This scam proclaims that your website’s Google rankings are dropping because there are bad links pointing to your website. When another website links to your website, Google sees that like a vote of confidence in your website — which is good for rankings. There’s a wide spectrum of link quality. For instance, a link from a State Bar website will have more impact than a link from a local bar association. Sometimes people try to cheat the system and buy links to their sites from brokers. Google frowns on this and is working perpetually to eliminate the impact of these link farms and brokers.
The bad link scam claims that there are bad links pointing to your site, hurting its rankings. For a fee they can fix this. While it may be true that there are some bad links pointing to your site, Google is extremely careful about applying penalties because, if they weren't, then businesses could buy bad links for their competitors and harm them. When Google identifies a bad link source it’s our observation that they update their algorithms to make that link simply not count towards ranking authority, so it’s not helping or hurting your rankings.
So the bad link scam is an attempt to fix a problem that usually isn’t having any negative impact. Worse, some of these companies actually create the bad links themselves then try to swoop in as the hero to save you. Terrible.
If you’d like to see what is linking to your site you can use the free tool at https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/. Once you have the results click on “Linking Domains” to see what’s there. Often there are some weird sites, but unless it’s dozens and dozens of suspicious looking links then there’s nothing to worry about. If you have concerns, just ask us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This scam takes many forms. Companies will run an automated scanning tool over your website code to look for “errors” and then send you an extremely graphic report showing how all of these “mistakes” are costing you dearly. The pitch is usually for a service that will perpetually monitor your website or an overly expensive fix.
The problem with this scam is that the vast majority of the time the errors being identified are simply stylistic differences in coding or have no meaningful bearing on the website performance. Sometimes the latest or most ideal programming technique can't be used in order to maintain compatibility with older browsers or different web server setups. What we're trying to say is that there are many ways to program a high performing website and continually tweaking the programming has diminishing returns. These days, search engines overwhelmingly care about content, so that’s really where extra effort should be placed when it comes to improving rankings.
We hope you’ve found the summaries of these scams and shady business practices to be informative. The internet has been around for a while now, but in many ways it’s still like the wild west — you’ve got to keep your wits about you. If you have a question you'd like to submit to us about the business end of practicing law you can do that here.