Google’s Latest Algorithm Update

On March 12th of this year Google released a new algorithm update and in decidedly creative form have named it the “March 2019 Core Update”. Incredible. The usual flurry of speculation is still in full force as SEOs attempt to piece together who is going to be impacted by this update and why, while help from Google towards putting the pieces together has remained minimal. Following is a quick update on what people are saying about the update, some history to help put it in context, and what you should be doing to make sure you aren’t hit.

Medic update (Early August 2018):

To help put this latest update in perspective, let’s step back and visit Google’s last major algorithm change, the “Medic” update. This core update got its name by having the most noticeable effect on websites relating to health, wellness, fitness, and medicine. In addition to sites featuring info on medical/health topics, many e-commerce sites were also impacted, largely those within the health and wellness sector.

What Are People Saying About the March 2019 Update?

A central theme of much of the chatter in the SEO community about what the March 2019 update is geared towards comes back to the user. Most theories are based on Google removing an emphasis on showing pages that are actually valuable to a user (e.g. a heavily research, lengthy, and hard to digest article on cholesterol) towards showing pages that the user will perceive as valuable (e.g. “Buzzfeed’s 10 Quirkiest Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol”). Whether or not this is true is up for debate.

Other theories put forth the idea that the update has deemphasized the power of links, in favor of brand recognition. In other words, Google is now serving people websites that they recognize rather than serving them websites that have received the highest quality of links from other websites, as has been done in the past. This theory however has been largely discredited.

Alternatively, some thinking is around click metrics, specifically bounce rate, though these have also been dismissed.

What to do:

Google’s take: have great content. For both the Medic update and the March 2019 update, Google asserts that they aren’t penalizing websites for doing anything wrong, but they are rewarding well-made content that hasn’t been fairly represented in search results in the past, which explains the dip in previously high performing pages (more competition).

To hear it from Google, don’t worry, just keep making great content and you will be rewarded in search results.

Mockingbird’s take: have great content. At the end of the day, the best SEO strategy does boil down to content. You can spend months focussing on optimizing a site to show up in search but if the content isn’t there, there’s nothing to prop up. After looking at myriad law firm websites, without fail the sites that have the most traffic (and typically the most leads) have a foundation of great content.

Battle of the Sexes: Online Reviews

We all know online reviews are important. Most of us nowadays, before buying something online or booking an appointment, will scan reviews to find the business with the most favor among peers. But what groups of people pay the most attention to these reviews? Does everyone care equally? If the answer to that question is no, this could have implications for businesses targeting specific demographics. To answer one facet of this question, Jamie Pitman of BrightLocal published an article in Search Engine Land addressing the divergence in online review behavior between men and women, and the results are surprising. Jamie and his team conduct their annual “Local Consumer Review Survey“, in which they poll a representative sample of 1,000 people and published the results. Here are some of Brightlocal’s notable findings from 2018:

1. A Much Higher Percentage of Men “Always” Read Reviews

While 37% of the men within the sample reported “always” reading reviews before interacting with a business, only 15% of women reported doing so. Meanwhile, 29% of men polled reported only “occasionally” reading reviews, while 45% of women did so. As Jamie noted, this implies that businesses with a male customer base need to be thinking about their review profile online.

In thinking about what might account for this difference between men and women, my mind goes to a few possibilities:

  • Too small a sample: it could be the case that the women being polled just happened to place less importance on reviews, or visa versa for the men, and this doesn’t reflect reality. I’m looking forward to next year’s survey to see if these results are replicated.
  • Women rely on other avenues of research: To really bury myself in stereotyping here, beauty products come to mind as an example. It could be the case that with something like makeup, women trust friends or social media influencers more than they do reviews.
  • The men polled inflated their answers due to some societal/psychological stuff I won’t pretend to understand: Perhaps men feel more pressure to play the role of a responsible shopper than do women and this was reflected in how they answered survey questions.

Regardless, let’s explore the implications assuming this sample accurately reflects consumer’s review behavior.

2. Fewer Women Have Been Asked to Leave A Review

Another finding of note within BrightLocal’s study is that more men reported having been asked to leave a than women. When asked “Have you ever been asked to leave a review for a business?”, 54% of men selected, “Yes, and I did leave a review”, while 37% of women responded the same. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 25% of men selected, “No, I’ve never been asked”, while 44% of women responded the same. Meanwhile, 21% of men and 20% of women responded with, “Yes, but I didn’t leave a review”, respectively.

So what can we take away from this? Assuming this sample of the 1,000 people surveyed is an accurate representation of people more generally, this tells us a few things:

  • Ask women for reviews: The biggest takeaway for me from this finding is that ONLY 37% OF WOMEN HAVE EVER BEEN ASKED TO WRITE A REVIEW. From an online marketing perspective, this is astonishing. I urge each of my clients to make a policy out of asking for Google reviews from every one of their clients (assuming the relationship is good). To hear that 44% of women have never been asked to write a review is astounding. Additionally, assuming your customer base is an even spread between men and women, it’s a good idea to have a representation of your female clientele online for potential customers that are also female. My intuition tells me that women relate better to the testimonials of other women when shopping around, and vice versa for men. Given that a smaller percentage of the women that were asked to leave a review did so, this is something to take into account when assessing your review profile to make sure women are represented. It should be noted that as with most things SEO, there’s debate around just how valuable online reviews are, and if you’re getting them, which platforms glean the most value per review. That being said, not one of these voices is suggesting that reviews have no value or aren’t worth having and asking for.
  • Ask everyone for reviews: Looking at the last bullet, the same applies to men. 44% of women responded as never having been asked to write a review, while 25% of men responded in kind. That’s still a lot of men, and a lot of missed opportunities for reviews.

People Are Reading Businesses’ Responses to Reviews

The most surprising finding from BrightLocal’s survey is how often potential clients read businesses’ responses to reviews. According to the survey, when asked, “When searching for a local business, do you read businesses’ responses to their reviews?” men responded with the following: “Yes, always” (37%), “Yes, regularly” (27%), “Yes, occasionally” (27%), “No, never” (9%). Women responding with the following: “Yes, always” (20%), “Yes, regularly” (24%), “Yes, occasionally” (43%), “No, never” (13%). What this tells me, above all else, is that people are interested in businesses’ responses to reviews. In the likelihood that an irate customer leaves a scathing review with less than the full story, don’t let that be the full narrative potential customers see. If you respond with the full picture (e.g.

So What?

If you remember one thing from today, let it be this: reviews are important, ask ALL your clients to write them. If you can remember two things, also remember to respond to exceptional (in the good or bad way) reviews.

5 Reasons You Should Use Password Management Software

Mockingbird, a company with a long list of clients each with at least a few dozen logins, has recently decided to enlist the help of password management software. After doing our due diligence, we decided to go with LastPass. Here are 5 reasons we won’t be giving up LastPass any time soon.

1. Password Sharing Across Teams

Easily the biggest selling point for us was how easy LastPass makes sharing passwords across a team. Before LastPass, Mockingbird had a big sheet with logins to every tool we use (Google Analytics, AdWords, Ahrefs, Majestic, Yext, etc.), and a file for each client’s individual login info. Whenever a password needed to be changed or updated, the person responsible had to go in and make sure the change was recorded in our records, which was a hassle and inevitably opened the door to human error.

Now LastPass does all this for us. Whenever a new account is created and username/password are submitted, LastPass asks “Add to LastPass?”.

You then hover over the right-hand side of this menu. This gives you the option to “edit”, and choose where within LastPass you want to save your new logins:

Clicking edit will present a dropdown containing each folder you and your team have made. For us, these folders are organized by client (shared across team), tools (shared across team), and personal login info.

Once all of your passwords are in one place, the LastPass browser extension autofills username/password wherever you need it, eliminating the need for your own messy password files.

2. Increased Security

Convenience aside, LastPass encourages secure online practices. With major security breaches making headlines more and more, the importance of online security is more urgent than ever. LastPass works from the premise that having one username/password combination for each of your many accounts across the web is common, and dangerous. LastPass facilitates the process of individualizing your passwords for each of your accounts. Yes, you do need to log in to each of your accounts (for now) and change your password. Change your password to what, you may ask? LastPass provides a secure password generator in its dashboard for your use. Once you’ve saved your new, unique password to LastPass, that’s it. LastPass removes the immeasurable hassle of managing your new, unique, and very secure passwords on your own. Once your new password is in LastPass, LastPass will autofill as you go to log in to any one of your accounts.

3. Password Audit

Not sure how strong your passwords are? LastPass provides a password strength audit to measure the strength of each password you’ve submitted to LastPass. This tool is a good reminder not to use LastPass only for convenience, rather than security. If you get LastPass, download the browser extension, and add each of your existing username/passwords to LastPass, odds are you’ll stumble across this tool and realize your security is still abysmal. LastPass manages your passwords, but it’s still up to you to make sure that it’s managing good passwords.

4. $24 a Year for Entire Team

See above.

5. Personal Account Integration

This last one is more just icing on the cake than anything. LastPass offers a limited (but entirely sufficient) version to individuals for free. If you take advantage of this for personal use, you’ll notice that your personal and company accounts can be synced with the click of a button. This means that once you’re logged in to your master LastPass Account, you can log in to every account you’re concerned with easily.

To summarize, LastPass has made our lives at Mockingbird just a little bit easier. If you take the time to lay down the groundwork and use LastPass right, it ends up saving you a lot of time and headache.

 

Directory Management Is Important: Here’s Why

There’s been talk lately about the diminishing importance of keeping firm control over each and every directory listing, large or small, in your firm’s name. This talk is rooted in truth, for tools such as Yext and Moz Local do a pretty good job of cleaning up directories in your name across the web. In addition to this, search engines have a good idea of what directories/websites matter, and pay more attention to those. It’s VERY important to note, however, that some manual directory cleanup can go a long way. At a bare minimum, you must be aware of what’s out there.

Take for example, Peel Funeral Home’s placelookup.net listing. You’ll quickly notice the images of thick slabs of uncooked meat, a cheery butcher, and tags that list Peel Funeral Home as a place for “Eating & Drinking” showing up for… a funeral home:

Butcher Funeral Home

Based on the funeral home’s website, they don’t seem like the type to do this as a some sort of backwards publicity stunt. My best guess is that, when pressed to choose a business category whilst creating a listing, whoever made this chose “butcher”, perhaps not understanding that this tongue-in-cheek choice would not only show up on the listing, but decide the particularly graphic imagery as well.

Either way, THIS IS IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO HAPPEN.

Now, as a lawyer, you aren’t at risk of appearing to be a funeral home proudly selling human meat. The takeaway for a lawyer wondering how best to manage their directory presence is this: if you don’t have, at the very least, an awareness of what’s happening with your directory listings, you could be in for a surprise when you find out.

Email Marketing with Mailchimp: 3 Steps to Success

MailChimp is pretty intuitive, but can still be intimidating for the uninitiated. If you’re considering using MailChimp for your own email marketing, here are 3 steps you’ll need to be familiar with as you get started, as well as a random assortment of helpful information to help guide you along the way.

1. Choosing Your Plan

Before you start blasting out tantalizing email campaigns, you need to choose a plan. Here are your choices:

  • Free plan: up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. This is a good way to dip your toes in. The idea here is that you’ll start using Mailchimp, like it, and eventually accrue more  than the 2,000 subscribers allowed under the free plan, and start paying.
  • Growing Business: Once you’ve outgrown the free plan, Mailchimp charges based on number of subscribers (these are people receiving your emails). These plans start at $10 a month and each allows an unlimited amount of emails to be sent. If you come to rely on MailChimp, you’ll end up using some version of this plan. These plans come with increased capabilities such as automation, integration (Salesforce, Sugar, Google Analytics), and targeting.

Mailchimp plan pricing

  • Pro Marketer: At an additional $199 per month, you’ll really need to be leaning in to Mailchimp for this to make sense businesswise. This enables e-commerce functionality, A/B Testing, comparative reports and more robust automation.

2. Lists

Once you’ve chosen an account type, it’s time to import your email lists into Mailchimp. Assuming you have a preexisting list of email addresses you want to market to, it’s time to add these emails to Mailchimp in segmented lists that makes sense for marketing purposes.

  • Within Mailchimp, navigate to “Lists” and then “create new list”. From here you’ll be able to set a name, “from” email address, the contact information that will appear at the bottom of the email you send out, as well as notification preferences. Once you’ve completed this step, it’s time to import your email list.

Mailchimp you have no contacts page

  • You can do this by creating an excel workbook that includes the information you want (email, first and last name, generally). If you have trouble, Mailchimp provides some helpful resources.

When building your lists, you want to keep targeting in mind. It’s your goal to give each recipient the experience that most closely matches their interests. For example, if you’re a law firm that practices personal injury and medical malpractice, you’ll want to break your emails up into groups that correspond to each of these interest groups. One list for personal injury, one list for medical malpractice. If a potential client contacts a firm because they’re interested in a certain topic, a quick way to frustrate that person is to send them a bunch of emails about something completely unrelated to what they originally inquired about. The more specific you email lists, the better.

3. Campaigns

Here’s where we get into the bread and butter of getting your email marketing started. Mailchimp will have you customize the following fields: recipients, setup, template, design, and confirm.

  • Recipients: this is where you choose the specific list you made earlier. Your lists and campaigns should align nicely.
  • Setup: This is where you lay down the backbone of your campaign. Here you’ll add your campaign name, email subject, “from” name and email address, and perhaps most importantly, Google Analytics tracking. Assuming you have Google Analytics on your site, integrating Mailchimp with GA is easy. From the “settings” menu, title your campaigns under “Google Analytics link tracking” how you want them to show up in Analytics. Mailchimp will automatically tag each email with a utm code that uses the name you input here.
  • Template: Here you choose the template you want for your campaign. Mailchimp gives you plenty to choose from. These range from templates geared towards selling products, making an announcement, or telling a story. In addition to these categorized templates, there are also more general templates to choose from:Mailchimp template screenshotsIf none of these templates work, Mailchimp gives you the option to code your own templates.  It’s a good idea to have a consistent template built out for regular newsletters. This will quickly prove worth your while the next time you send out your newsletter and have a prebuilt framework to go off of.
  • Design: Once you’ve chosen a template, it’s time to make it your own. In “design” you are able to add text, links, images, buttons, videos, color, and more. You can spend as much (or as little) time in this section as you want.
  • Confirm: This is where you review your campaign, and schedule its send date and time. I generally try to send emails earlier in the week, and around 10 AM Pacific time.

If you have any questions about how to do this yourself or want us to handle your marketing for you, give us a call.

Picking a Winning Title Tag: No Easy Way Out

As we know, title tags are a key element of on-page SEO (Ahrefs has a comprehensive analysis of just how important they are). And as Ahrefs determined, the use of exact match keywords in title tags has the second strongest correlation to higher rankings, right after the domain name:

So, What Should My Title Tags be?

To answer this question, some SEOs end up relying on PPC ads to see test keywords. They do this by plugging a potential title tag into a PPC ad, and based on the success (or failure) of that ad, decide whether or not to apply their trial title tag to a page on their site.

According to a recent study done by the Wayfair SEO team, this tactic is dangerous.

In this test, paid ads did not consistently predict winning organic titles:

“In our testing, paid ads did not consistently identify winning organic title tags. While trying to improve your title tags is definitely a very smart SEO play, relying on PPC might end up steering you wrong. PPC was able to identify some winners, but also mislabeled losers as winners, particularly when it came to promotional language.”

The Wayfair SEO team believes the reasoning for this to be that the success of a paid ad is different in nature to the success of an organic page in a key way: those clicking on PPC ads are not a random sample of people, they are the type of searchers who click on ads. These people tend to respond positively (by clicking) to promotional language (“sale”, “50% off”, “free shipping”). When the rest of us (those that don’t click on ads) see the words “50% off” in an organic search result, we think we’re being scammed, and keep scrolling.

Takeaway

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to find optimal title tags, it looks like you have to keep looking beyond the success of PPC ads. Unfortunately, finding the perfect title tags may take a lot of time and data.

Title Tags, Meta Descriptions – the What and the Why

Title tags and meta descriptions. One of the first additions to any new SEO’s on-page optimization arsenal. Although simple, it’s important to have a strong understanding of what titles and descriptions are, why you should use them, and how to optimize them in order to get the most cost-effective means of SEO improvement.

What Are Title Tags and Meta Descriptions?

Title Tags

A title tag is an HTML element included in the <head> section of a page on a website. To read a page’s title tag, right click anywhere on a page and click “view page source”. The title tag is the text between “<title>” and “</title>” (believe it or not):

Go ahead and give it a try on this page!

The title tag never actually appears on the page itself. It gives search engines a boiled down description of what a page is about. According Moz’s 2015 search engine ranking factors survey, title tags are still one of the most important on-page ranking factors. Title tags are helpful for search engines, and they’re helpful for users. When a user performs a search for “Mockingbird Marketing”, this is what shows up:

Mockingbird Marketing SERP

The title tag added to a page (in this case, home page) is the first thing a user sees when they come across a website in the search results. For obvious reasons, you want this text to be inviting, informative, and accurate.

But search results aren’t the only place users encounter your title tag. Title tags show up in the text displayed on your browser tab:

Title tag shown in browser tab

and in social media:

Blog post in social media screenshot

Meta Descriptions

A meta description, similar to a title tag, is an HTML element that tells the users what a page is about. It too, can be found in the <head> section of a page:

.

Meta descriptions, although not as big and bold as title tags in search results, provide users with a more detailed description of what a page is about. This text is found directly below the title in search results.

Why Should I Use Title Tags and Meta Descriptions?

There are two reasons to make sure that each page on your site has optimized title tags and descriptions:

  1. For search engines
  2. For users

Of (1), it’s unclear the extent to which this helps. In the good old days, Google would take a page’s title tag and use that as a primary ranking factor. Since then, search engines have added a multitude of ranking factors to consider alongside meta tags, reducing their clout. Currently, the exact influence of a title tag on page ranking is unclear.

Google has been more clear on meta descriptions. Matt Cutts of Google said in 2009 that meta descriptions are not used as ranking factors.

Of (2), this is where the definitive value of optimizing title tags and meta descriptions lies. Giving your pages clear titles and descriptions draws in the user.  If a user comes across the title of your page in search and it does a good job of describing exactly what the content within the page is about, the user will click, and stay, on your page.

How Do You Optimize Title Tags and Meta Descriptions?

There are a couple things to keep in mind as you optimize your title tags and descriptions.

  1. Length: Google will display the first 50-60 characters of your title tag. Keep your title within this length to ensure nothing gets cut off. Meta descriptions should fall between 150 and 160 characters.
  2. Keep Users in Mind: Spamming meta tags with keywords looks suspicious to search engines and users. When writing meta tags for a page, first go through the page and make sure you have a strong understanding of what the page is about. Boil this down to title tag and meta description length.
  3. Important Keywords First: As users scan a page filled with search results, their eye starts on the left side of the page. Place the most relevant words early in your title tag.
  4. Never repeat: duplicate titles and descriptions confuse everybody, search engines and users alike.

There You Have it

To see how all of this fits in to the bigger picture, check out ahrefs’ guide to on-page SEO. This study does a good job of showing how much of an impact meta tags have on your on-page SEO.

 

 

 

 

What Google’s New Deal Means for Anti-Piracy Attorneys

As readers search for information on the web, counterfeit sites attempt to redirect their results. In a new deal with the UK, Google says ‘not today’.

Described by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) as a “landmark agreement”, the deal serves to reduce the visibility of infringing content by June 2017. This will result in many pirated sites disappearing from the first page of search results for Google and Bing when people look for content.

Initially there was question whether the deal between IPO and Google would involve any algorithm changes. In a conversation with SearchEngineLand.com, Google confirmed no algorithm changes are necessary. Google is confident that their current algorithms (namely their “Pirate” algorithm) will continue working to prevent bad content from showing up in search results.

Google voiced that their main goal is to provide high-quality content to readers that is relevant to their needs. It is important for readers to be referred to legitimate and helpful websites. The existing algorithm serves to prevent pirated content and spam from interfering with that process.

Although Google seemed to downplay the significance of this agreement, the deal is monumental for the British Phonography Industry (BPI). To them, it was a much-needed move to reduce the visibility of pirated content and reduce copyright theft.

Without major algorithm changes, this means that websites that serve the needs of their customers and readers will not be negatively impacted. Instead, we will see a reduction in sites that may redirect their readers to pirated content and spam sites.

In the US there has been additional pressure to reduce the visibility of pirated content. Google and Bing aim to provide the best information for readers, as well as ensure that content creators see their valuable content appear in the results.

Civil and white-collar anti-counterfeiting attorneys can work alongside Google’s attempts at getting pirated content off the web. Anti-piracy law is invaluable when it comes to securing the sanctity of original content, sources, and businesses. We encourage attorneys to focus on what your clients care about and help protect their original and unique content online.

How to Find (And Fix) Orphan Pages

What is an Orphan Page?

An orphan page is a page on a website that is not linked to by any other page on the site. Think of the internet like a perfectly built spider web, each strand connected to another. Now imagine, a couple feet away from the web, a strand of silk hanging mid-air, all by itself. It’s still a piece of web, and would be helpful to a spider if the spider could reach it, but this spider can’t jump, and the strand of silk is useless. This strand of silk is an orphan page.

Orphan pages are rarely stumbled upon by users. This is because a user would have to access the page directly (via URL search) or via sitemap, which doesn’t tend to happen.

Some orphan pages are orphaned intentionally. These are private pages used by webmasters that aren’t intended for users to stumble upon. But we won’t worry about these pages in this post.

Why Should I Care?

At Mockingbird, checking for orphan pages is part of our technical audit. It’s one of the many indicators we use at the very beginning of an engagement to asses a client’s website health. Lots of orphan pages = website health could be improved. Why is this the case?

  1. You might have valuable pages orphaned. Sometimes this happens accidentally. This could mean that you have great content on your site, but, as it isn’t linked to, a user will never find it naturally. This is bad for the user, but not only this, you’re missing out on the potential online credibility coming from your valuable content. People don’t link to pages that they can’t find. Search engines wont have the opportunity to recognize you as an online authority on any subject if your best pages aren’t getting seen, linked to externally, or talked about.
  2. Orphan pages might bring penalties. This is a debated point among SEOs. Some speculate that, upon discovering orphan pages on a site, search engines will treat these pages as doorway pages (unnatural pages intended to rank artificially high for certain search terms to bring in users), and penalize the site. Most disagree, but in this case it’s worthwhile to error on the side of caution.

How Do I Identify Orphan Pages?

There are plenty of ways to identify orphan pages on your site, but no matter how you get the it, all you need is:

  1. A complete list of every page on your site
  2. A complete list of every crawlable page on your site.

For (1.) I use the xml sitemap*. If this sitemap is working correctly, it should be updating automatically each time a page is added to your site, regardless of whether or not it’s orphaned.

For (2.) I use Screaming Frog. Screaming Frog crawls the site as a Googlebot/Bingbot would. This means it starts at the homepage and works down, exploring each link it encounters on its way. Because Screaming Frog works in this way, it excludes pages that are not linked to on any other page. You called it, orphan pages.

Now that you have both a list of every page on your site, and a list of every crawlable page on your site, it’s time to compare. Bring both lists into an excel spreadsheet and run a duplicate check. All pages that don’t appear in your spreadsheet twice (these should be the pages that appear in your sitemap, but not Screaming Frog) are orphan pages.

What Do I Do Once I find Them?

This is the easy part. If you’ve found unintentionally orphaned pages on your site, assess their value. If an orphaned page has thin content, duplicate content, or is outdated, you’re better off without it. Noindex these pages. For valuable, relevant orphaned pages that you find, link to them from a natural page. Put yourself in the user’s shoes and imagine where your orphaned page would be the most helpful. If you discover an orphan page on your auto website called “Everything You Need to Know About Pistons”, your “Engine Parts” page would be a great candidate as a page to link from.

 

*In order to access this, just tack “/sitemap_index.xml/” on to the end of your homepage URL.