“Bite Me, Asshole”: Reflections on SEO and Blogging
by Jamison Koehler on November 7, 2015
Search engine optimization (SEO) can be a powerful tool when it comes to marketing your firm’s legal services. It can also be helpful when it comes to settling grudges.
When I was setting up my law firm in 2009, my website guy Tyler Suchman encouraged me to incorporate a free-standing blog I had set up through blogspot into my website. This way, he told me, Google will consider traffic to the blog as traffic to your website and vice versa, thereby improving SEO for both the website and the blog. Wikapedia defines SEO as the “process of affecting the visibility of a website or a webpage in a search engine’s unpaid results – often referred to as ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘earned’ results.”
I was clueless to both SEO and the ways of the criminal defense lawyer (CDL) blogosphere, and I agreed. This was a fateful decision – for both good and bad. On the one hand, my blog became instantly suspect within the CDL blogosphere as nothing more than a marketing platform for my firm. Scott Greenfield, the undisputed king of the CDL blogosphere, was especially harsh.
On the other hand, Tyler was right about the SEO. Although some of my colleagues in the D.C. criminal defense community – my competitors — spend thousands of dollars every month on their SEO efforts, much of the traffic to my site is organic. Google is always improving its ability to differentiate legitimate, authoritative websites from people trying to game the system, and it loves this.
I now have great SEO. Google has rewarded me for the people who read my blog. It has also rewarded me for the information I post on my website about statutes and case law and the happenings around D.C. Superior Court. People often stop me in the halls of Moultrie to comment or complain about something I have posted on the blog. Or they thank me for the offense code number or penalty they found on my website while doing a quick reference check on the Internet.
Lest anyone question the power of a well-read blog, all you need to do is to ask some guy going by the moniker of Kid Chronic who threatened Scott Greenfield with a bar complaint. I won’t go into the specifics of this; it has been adequately covered here and here and here. I will say this: Representing himself as someone who could help people clean up their reputation on the Internet, Kid Chronic was doing some work on behalf of a lawyer who was seeking to remove some old blog posts that portrayed him in less than a flattering light and that kept coming up high when you googled his name. One of those blog posts was on Greenfield’s Simple Justice.
Kid Chronic did not approach Greenfield quietly, respectfully asking that Greenfield omit the name of the guy’s client from the old blog post. Instead, guns blazing, he left Greenfield an extremely unfortunate voice message in which he threatened Greenfield with a 45-page bar complaint. And he prefaced all this with a long recitation of all the important people he knew.
It is unclear whether Greenfield would ever have complied with this request, however politely made. A couple of months ago, Matt Brown of Tempe Criminal Defense encountered a similar situation – another lawyer asking him to remove the other lawyer’s name from an old blog post – and posited this question on his blog: Should he comply with this request?
Since Brown asked, I offered my opinion. Why not? We shouldn’t flatter ourselves or take ourselves too seriously. There is no real social value to anything we post on our blogs. We can make the same point without naming names. Why gratuitously shame someone other than to show off our SEO pull or to punish him/her for crossing us?
A couple of years ago, I posted about a guy who took on a murder case in D.C. two years out of law school without so much as a traffic trial under his belt. This was extraordinarily irresponsible of the young, inexperienced lawyer to do this, and I posted about it a number of times based on an article I had read in the Washington Post. I did name the guy in my blog but only so that I wouldn’t have to keep referring to him as the “lawyer.”
The guy subsequently sued me and over 70 other parties for $1 million each. Although we eventually beat the case, it was a big inconvenience. Even in that case, however, if the lawyer ever contacted me and asked me to take down the posts, I would do so. In fact, I should probably take down the posts even without a request. What purpose do they serve now other than to potentially shame him and prevent him from securing future employment? I don’t want to have any part in that.
In this case, Kid Chronic’s approach backfired completely. Greenfield doesn’t take kindly to posturing and threats. He has more than a passing interest in First Amendment issues. His response? “Bite me, asshole.” And with Simple Justice enjoying an SEO that would be the envy of any hardcore marketer (people read Simple Justice because of its content, and Google knows this), Greenfield’s post with Kid Chronic’s real name in the title now comes up #2 on a Google search using the guy’s name.
It is not at all ironic that Greenfield disdains SEO while at the same time enjoying such a great SEO. In fact, this is the whole point: Greenfield has SEO because he doesn’t care about SEO. He writes to challenge us, to make us think. He is opinionated and pig-headed as any criminal defense lawyer should be. That is why so many people read him. And that is why Google loves him.
As for myself, I do not regret the decision to incorporate my blog into my website. It would have been nice to have been more accepted within the CDL blogosphere, particularly when I was just starting up and had more time on my hands. But my reputation as a marketer was only one part of my failure there. I am a contrarian and also a bit of a nudge, and I do not have the interests or intellectual heft of many people in the small, clubby, and unforgiving group of CDL bloggers. As Lloyd Bentsen might have said, I know Scott Greenfield and I am no Scott Greenfield. In fact, it was liberating for me when I stopped worrying about what the CDL blogosphere thought of me and just started writing what I felt like.
Moreover, as a still relatively new member of the criminal defense bar in D.C., I need to earn a living. You may not pick up clients with white collar cases from the Internet, but the chances are good that you aren’t going to get those people anyway. At least in D.C., most of them are going to go with a big, established firm, not a solo practitioner. I don’t have the resources, ability, or interest to effectively represent them in complicated, multi-year prosecutions anyway. I know what I am good at. I also know my limitations. This may change after I have gotten more experience under my belt. In the meantime, I prefer the rough-and-tumble of D.C. Superior Court, with one trial coming after another.
What you do get from the Internet are lots of clients charged with DUIs, bar fights, domestic violence, and other more minor offenses. They do call. And they do hire you. I am proud of the percentage of calls I turn into clients. This is how I make my money while developing my trial skills through the often more serious and challenging cases I get through court appointments. If people don’t like this, well, they can bite me.
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