Historical SEO Spam from FindLaw

For those of you interested in a history lesson of how flagrant spam was back in the early(ish) days of SEO…. I was cleaning out my desk the other day and found a relic of FindLaw’s link selling product, SEM-C.  It’s dated July, 2008 and a printed copy has been gathering dust in my SEO SPAM folder. For those of you who have less than 10 years in the search industry, you’ll be amazed at how flagrant link selling was, even by big box providers, back in the wild wild west days of search. Read it here: FindLaw for Legal Professionals: SEM-C Product Details.  I’ve excerpted some of the tastier morsels below:

SEM-C includes articles submitted by the advertiser and hard coded links to be placed on the FindLaw Legal Professional portal. As FindLaw has a favorable rank with the search engines and is THE legal authority, customers will benefit from having a link on the FindLaw portal.

The product was essentially a series of paid links (that lasted for a year and then needed to be renewed) leveraging FindLaw’s authority. Customers wrote articles, defined anchor text, specified target pages and submitted to FindLaw.

Link modules – to be placed on relevant content pages. The product includes 3 links.

Articles… This product includes up to 5 articles. Articles will contain a hard coded link to advertiser’s web site.

Customers will have increased rank and penetration within natural search results on major search engines.

It even includes a section on helping law firms come up with high value anchor text.

The backlash on this was pretty immediate and strong, with negative articles coming from both the Search and Legal Marketing communities. Word on the street among the SEO nerd community is that FindLaw was hit by a substantial and long standing manual penalty from Google. But don’t think that FindLaw learned their lesson – the’ve never really given up their linkspamming ways. Back in 2014 we posted a review of FindLaw’s use of spambots to generate profiles and links (read more: Even More FindLaw Link Spam).

Leaving WordPress Drops Traffic by 44% (and Tangentially, Why Mockingbird is Awesome)

Sometimes our clients leave us. And it always makes me sad…especially when they move to a different provider, who insists on them paying for an “updated” website and locking them in for a multi year contract. Especially, when they were already on a very good, well built WordPress site. But it’s even worse, when this website redesign underperforms.  Immediately and drastically. Our ex client, experienced this as a 44% decrease in website traffic that rolled out immediately after her new site launched. No new content, no changes in backlink profile, no changes to her local tactics or platform. Just a new website on a vendor’s proprietary platform, that frankly can’t compete with her, ahem, “old” (and in this case, the site was about 4 years old) WordPress site.

In the off chance that this was a random change in tracking infrastructure, we further validated the data above in Google Search Console – the results mirror the significant drop in search traffic – 44% in fact – once the law firm migrated away from WordPress.

Take this as yet another example of the value of a well coded WordPress website, which intrinsically outperforms proprietary platforms.

Now, not all WordPress sites are created equal – in fact many of the widely available and utilized templates are extremely poorly coded from an SEO perspective. (This is the part where I tangentially brag about our developers’ collective coding prowess.) And not all WordPress sites are fast – great hosting (in our case, WPEngine) is important – efficient code is important – expertly compressed imagery is important. In our case, we tend to obsess over those things. Now our ex client is seeing a 44% drop in her website traffic.  And because she is heavily dependent on the web for client development, presumably a 44% decrease in business. And it’s a real shame if she’s locked in for a multi-year commitment. I’m not saying you have to work with us – just be aware that platform matters. I apologize if this comes across as bitter…and yes, there’s a little bitter taste in my mouth…but I hope you can avoid the same mistakes she made, even if it’s not with Mockingbird.

Beware of Your Chat Vendor

I have a love/hate relationship with chat. Mostly I hate chat. Or at least the ham handed implementations that are either a)horrendously intrusive or b)intentionally horrendously intrusive.

Look at this particularly obnoxious chat window that completely covers up the primary navigation. I can no longer learn anything about what the firm does, or who works there. Not to mention the poor metaphorical visual of cutting off Ms. Justice’s head and obscuring half of the firm’s logo.

Use chat. It works. But use it like Sriracha…carefully and sparingly so it compliments your overall marketing instead of forcing itself into the experience and ruining the meal for everyone.

(On the few cases in which I love chat…it is with chat vendors that allow you to customize the implementation to suit your best interest, instead of rigidly configuring it to maximize the financial gain of the chat vendor.)

Another Indicator That Your “SEO Content” Is Awful

I’ve been railing against the conventional wisdom that more content is the magic SEO bullet for years now. In fact, for many of our clients, we’ve been proactively working on decreasing pagecount, instead of increasing it. There’s a great framework for assessing the value of investing more money on more content in a Searchengine Land article I wrote that essentially shows how to evaluate the efficacy of content in actually generating traffic. Simple stuff, but often overlooked – which is crazy given the vast investment many lawyers make in vomiting out more content at a regular clip.

There’s an even easier way to review this through a very simple report in Google Search Console. This simple report shows the number of pages in your sitemap compared to the number of pages in your sitemap that are actually indexed. In the extreme example below, less than 12% of their sitemap is actually indexed. This means while Google knows about the content, they don’t actually care and those pages will NEVER surface in search results.

Note that this could be for a variety of reasons:

  1. The sitemap is dated and/or broken and showing pages that don’t exist (this happens more frequently than you can imagine)
  2. The site has a tone of content, yet lacks the authority (backlinks) to support the volume of content.
  3. The content on the site is extremely poor and/or copied.

Assuming the sitemap is correctly configured…if the vast majority of your blog isn’t being indexed…why would one continue generating content?

Google My Business Q&A Becomes a Negative Review

When is that negative client review not technically a negative client review…yet your most public negative client review ever?

When your disgruntled ex-client chooses to use Google My Business’ recently launched Q&A functionality to bash your business IN ALL CAPS, instead of using the typical review stars. I ran across the example below while researching the firm as the winning plaintiff in the example of name bidding for my last post. Now, Kurgis has 44 reviews – with an average star rating of just 2.3 – that’s hard to do. But, even worse, there’s a scathing Q&A (which is frankly neither a Q nor an A) showing up prominently in the Knowledge Graph when searching for the lawyer by name.

Sidenote: there’s something hinky going on here – the A: for the Q&A points prospects to Scott Shiff…who was coincidentally Kurgis’ co-plaintiff in the lawsuit I was covering.

Q&A rolled out within the past 6 months or so…very few lawyers are using it for their marketing efforts (one obvious easy example would be asking a simple question like, “What is the initial consultation fee?”) BUT…Q&A holds a very prominent spot in the SERPS – well above editorial review content. So, bad or good, Q&A can have a significant impact on click through and conversion rates.

“Exclusive Legal Marketing” Loses Suit For Bidding on Attorney Names in AdWords

Another legal marketing firm found itself in hot ethical water today… “Exclusive Legal Marketing,” headed by Coety Bryant utilized Google AdWords to purchase names of personal injury attorneys to drive prospects to his site www.personalinjurycare.net. Aggressive – and many attorneys bristle at this – especially ads coming from a non-law firms – but not necessarily unethical. Note, there are numerous directories and vendors already capitalizing on lawyer name search via SEO – Yelp, Lawyers.com, and Avvo (I spent a good 3 years of my life studying name search there). Even Google’s Google My Business service is essentially nothing more than name search – especially for practitioner listings.

But herein lies the rub. The two attorneys filing suit, Schiff and Kurgis specifically noted that it was the fact that the marketing company wouldn’t tell the prospective client that they weren’t the lawyer in question. From Biz Journals:

“Schiff or Kurgis alleged that in many cases, those people thought they were speaking with Schiff and Kurgis associates.”

According to Avvo, there aren’t any lawyers named Coety Bryant. I’ll also note that Bryant’s website specifically calls out the opportunity to speak to an attorney.

As do his ads…

I dug a bit deeper and found some of his ads archived. Here’s an example of his ad biding against another personal injury lawyer’s name: Jim Adler in Houston.

Now it seems Bryant was banking some serious money with this approach – bidding on lawyer names, not disclosing who he actually was, and then reselling these leads to other lawyers. A little research shows his budgets exceeding $75K per month back in May of 2017.

My Take on Competitive Name Bidding:

Let me be upfront – Mockingbird raises the competitive name bidding opportunity for all of our clients. It’s aggressive yes, but NOT unethical (nor against Google’s guidelines, as long as the name isn’t in the ad…i.e. Coke can bid on “Pepsi” but can’t pretend the click goes through to a Pepsi site.) Not all of our attorneys are comfortable with this approach. But…if you are fully transparent about who a prospect is speaking with, competitive name bidding is an effective, albeit aggressive tactic. Additionally, you should bid on your own name (as Adler does above) as a cost-effective defensive posture.

HT: Gerry O’Ginsky

How ONE Link drove an 11% Traffic Increase

Far too few agencies talk about link building and, in my humble (or not so humble) opinion, most that do, do an absolute garbage job.  Blake Denman posted this shot on Twitter the other day, of the backlink profile for “link building” work done by an agency. This stuff is pure garbage (yet most firms don’t know it).

Blake then postulated (IMO, correctly) how these garbage links (paid for by a client to an agency) actually had the end result of decreasing, not increase organic traffic:

This type of activity is NOT only paid for by the client, but then requires a client to a) notice the negative impact and b) hire someone else to clean up the mess. We call this Janitorial SEO. This is Blake’s joy to deal with for the next few months, and the client’s headache to pay him for it.

So…

What should a firm be doing about link building?

I want to showcase one example of a significant, permanent increase in organic traffic due to just a single link on a site we’ve been working on for years. Now the graph below doesn’t scream amazing, but the difference in average weekly organic traffic between the weeks January 22nd and 29th is a persistent increase of 11%.

The link in question was from a very high ranking site – ahrefs puts it at DR, 82; Moz’s OpenSiteEplorer at 83 and Majestic Citation Flow at 61. The content in question took weeks to develop and the outreach, was frankly hit or miss. In fact, it wasn’t our outreach that drove the link, but instead, the tweet from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (this is the way social really works). And just one link. And yet…boom. A 12% increase that will benefit the site for years to come.

So…how do you know if your agency is engaged in useful (I’ll call it advanced) link building, or link building so bad that it’s not just a waste of money, but it’s going to cause you to spend more money to clean their work up in the future? The first answer is easy: a good link building campaign is both long term and effective. This means, that over time, your inbound search traffic shows an up and to the right improvement. In the case of this site, that’s exactly what we’ve seen…below is the long term graph of their search traffic, in which we’ve done nothing more than generate strong content married to a proactive link building effort.

However, the quality of your agency’s link building efforts can be more immediately assessed based on the tenor of your relationship. Are you deeply engaged with your agency? Do they know what you are working on (amazing – specific matters can be link building gold). Have they pushed you on outreach and relationship building?

One final note: this level of engagement, expertise, relationships, content development, care and effort isn’t cheap. And it’s not always successful (which also makes it not cheap). But it’s the primary thing that drives success in organic and local search. If your agency is doing link building and you have NO idea what they are doing, most likely it’s not high level and you are simply torching your kids’ college fund. (Although, watch your traffic, if its growing, I’m more than happy to be wrong here).

If you’d like to read more about link building try:

 

Lawyers of Distinction SPAM (Plus a Lesson on Useless Traffic)

I thought my expose on the Lawyers of Distinction Scam (in which my kid’s pet chicken, Zippy made it through the LOD’s vetting process) may have pushed them to quiet down. Apparently NOT. Yesterday, Lawyers of Distinction mass spammed thousands of Lawyers (and a handful of non-lawyers), falsely suggesting someone had nominated them for this bogus, unvetted, bullshit and otherwise misleading “award”.

How do I know?

Yesterday, Mockingbird’s site got pummeled with SEO based traffic to the Lawyers of Distinction articles we’ve posted.

Looks like an email was spammed out around 10:00 am PST yesterday, and many of those email recipients decided to undertake a modicum of research before plunking down the equivalent of a (very) nice car payment for a piece of lacquered wood and some self supplication for a fragile ego.

There was a smattering of web chatter about these faux “nominations.” Here’s Helen Bukulmez:

And not all “lawyer” nominations were even for lawyers…here’s a comment from Abby Peretz:

I received notification that I, too, am eligible for this distinguished “award!” Here’s the catch: I’m a law student. I don’t hold a license anywhere. My law review Note hasn’t been published yet (but will be soon!). The extent of my legal experience derives from a few very meaningful, wonderful externships in various practice areas, including consumer protection. Jesse’s email to me is a big fat UDAP. I’m tempted to pass it along to some folks I know.

I don’t know where all of these email addresses were sourced from, and I don’t care. So – if you ego is blinding your ability to connect the dots…no one nominated you. You are being played. You are being pitched an overpriced plaque that you have to pay for EACH YEAR! Still don’t believe me…come talk to Zippy, she can set you straight.

Part II: The Marketing Lesson

If you want more than a rant out of this post, here’s your opportunity:

I’m going to use this example to show how NOT all traffic is equal. In general, I get annoyed with lawyers focused on ranking reports (a useless metric for determining how well your site is performing). Instead we prefer to look at actual traffic. BUT…and this is a big BUT…not all traffic is created equal. You can see here that despite the massive influx of traffic to our site, we received just one single inquiry from the article – meaning just 0.035% of readers were interested in inquiring about hiring us.

It’s going to take a lot of readers to build a business on that performance. In contrast, our typical contact rate is 0.5%. So clearly not all traffic is created equal. BUT – and here’s the counterpoint to my argument – some high volume pages do eventually generate an inquiry. Note #3 in the matrix above: our typically most read article is a post about setting up a google email account. The vast vast majority of readers who read this aren’t lawyers; they aren’t looking for marketing assistance; and almost none of them are lawyers looking for marketing assistance. BUT…we did get one inquiry from that post yesterday. So…in summary, not all traffic is created equal; however, enough volume can eventually generate business.

Thank You Gifts – Rescue.org

I occasionally send a personalized thank you gift to vendors or clients… in fact would much rather do that then send out a package to get lost among all of the typical holiday corporate packages.  (Although, Seth, keep those cookies coming in December, they are to die for.)

Today we sent out one of our favorites: Women’s Small Business Training through Rescue.org. If you want to make a difference in the world, considering browsing through the micro donations you can make at this amazing site.