Your Legal Blog Content Isn’t As Good As You Think It Is

I made an error in Atticus’ initial approach to identifying (and reporting on) a very simple success metric for our clients: traffic.  Turns out, all traffic is not created equal – specifically traffic to blog content is (usually) much less valuable than other traffic.

How have the SEO’s been steering us wrong all this time?  Let me use me use Google Analytics to review Atticus’ own traffic to demonstrate my point:

First, I’m going to filter my traffic in Google Analytics by selecting only non-paid search traffic.

Blog 1

Now I’m going to look at my site’s most effective landing pages in the Landing Pages report.

Blog 2

Now look at the content that draws in traffic – outside of my homepage (which is essentially branded traffic – people who already know me and are actively looking for me), its all blog posts I’ve written about online marketing which contain instructions, news items and  search theory pontifications.  A full 20% of my inbound traffic goes to a blog post I wrote on “how to check your access level in the new google analytics interface.”  The likelihood that one of those users is an attorney actively looking to hire an SEO Agency is exactly zero.

I have to scroll and scroll through different landing pages before I finally find a page that generates high converting traffic (the legal equivalent of a Practice Area description page.)

Blog 3

This represents a whopping 0.4% of my search traffic and 0.1% of my total traffic.  Now, in my situation, this is not a concern as the objective of my blog is to reinforce my credibility with industry leaders not generate new business. However, if I was an attorney who relied on the web for my business’ growth, this is a very concerning statistic.  And unfortunately, many SEO consultants and website vendors mask poor business performance with pretty reports of overall traffic growth. Want to see a nice growth graph that hides the fact my traffic isn’t making my phone ring? – below is the graph that shows my site’s performance looks like overall.  Note this is driven heavily by inbound traffic to pages that do NOT generate any business.

Blog 4

The notion that vomiting out barely tangentially related content on a blog (and the associated traffic bump) to generate traffic is the panacea of legal marketing is utterly misleading.  Beware SEO consultants who push clients to write in order to overshadow poor website performance. Instead, take the time to look into those high converting pages of your site – and see how much traffic they are generating. Those are the pages that make your phone ring.

Introducing: Atticus 1% for Good

One of the reasons that I love working for lawyers is the good that many attorneys do for people in less fortunate situations.  In my role as an SEO – my work product is simply shifting a zero sum game – my clients get new clients who would have otherwise found a different law firm.  It is important to me that Atticus has a greater impact on the world.

Inspired by equal parts – Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia and author of Let My People Go Surfing), the environmental organization 1% For the Planet, and some of the attorneys I’ve had the privilege of getting to know, I’ve decided to contribute 1% of Atticus revenues to a charitable cause every month.  Every month I’ll bring you the story of a different charity and how they are going about changing the world in a small way.

Challenged Athletes Foundation

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Challenged Athletes Foundation is an organization that helps people with physical disabilities so they can pursue an active lifestyle. Every year CAF hosts a major fundraiser in San Deigo – the San Diego Triathlon Challenge where 200 challenged athletes mix with roughly 600 able bodied triathletes to complete a one mile swim a 44 mile bike and a 10 mile run.  This year is the 20th anniversary of the event, which will be held in just 4 days.  My brother, Paul, is among the participants – over the past few years he and I have traded triathlon training tips and results. Suffice to say over this distance, Paul would utterly crush me. Last year, through fundraising efforts Paul raised enough money to completely fund grants for the following:

  • An Ossur Flex Run Jr. running leg for Daniel Pimental, who was born without a left leg.  The prosthetic will allow Daniel to play competitive tee ball with his able bodied friends.
  • A basketball wheelchair for ten year old Luke Acuna, who lost a leg when he was hit by a dumptruck while skateboarding.
  • A rugby wheelchair for James Sa, who broke his neck in his junior year of college.  James has set his sights on competing with the Team USA Wheelchair Rugby team at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Take a step back, and consider the world around us.  For those of you reading this who I count among my clients, know a portion of what you spend with Atticus is going back into the community to help enrich the lives of some very amazing people.  Thank you for making this possible.

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Does My Site Look Fat in this WordPress?

If your site runs on WordPress, it is highly possible – even likely – that your site needs a diet.  WordPress makes it mind-numbingly easy to create lots of different pages by recycling your content, or snippets of your content, into various related pages.  This has been grossly exacerbated by uninformed SEO consultants  pushing their clients to aggressively “tag” blog posts.

Tagging

WordPress Often Generates Too Many Pages

First, understand that search engines don’t necessarily review all of the pages on a site, but instead use the site’s authority (from links etc.) to determine just how many pages they will both crawl (find) and index (add to the consideration set for search results).  Therefore, sites with low authority and lots of pages may find that most of their pages receive zero traffic and aren’t ever seen by search engines.

Let’s use Atticus Marketing as an example to showcase why all of these extra pages are problematic.  Yesterday, I published a great post on the differences between three mainstream CMS systems. Not only have the search engines failed to send any traffic to my lovely content, they haven’t even indexed or even crawled it at all!  They don’t know it exists. This despite the fact that I’m doing all of the social media marketing: posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, Tweets and Retweets.

Here’s why:  Atticus is a very young site, with just 34 different sites linking to it AND I’ve built out lots of extra pages through WordPress’s Categories and Tagging functionality. Every time you create a category or a tag, WordPress generates a page to organize content with that category or tag.  These pages are optimized for the category/tag.  This functionality has the capacity to generate lots of pages with content that already has a home on your site – duplicate content that search engines eschew. (Note that tags are worse because the interface is very freeform, encouraging writers to generate multiple versions of similar tags).  You can see how this gets out of control:  on AtticusMarketing.com I have a paltry 10 pages and 25 blog posts – yet Google indexes 186 different pages for the site.  The reality is, the vast majority of these pages just contain content that exists elsewhere on the site.

The reason the search engines haven’t deigned to even look at my lovely new content is because my site’s authority and multiple duplicate content pages combine to convince them that much of my content just isn’t worth their time.

Tagging and SPAM

Look at this from a search engine perspective, to understand why a combination of page volume and site authority determines how many pages are reviewed.  Let’s review a more extreme example, from the Carter Law Firm, where a site utilizes WordPress tagging functionality to generate a litany of spammy pages.

The blog is well written, has some beautiful imagery, appropriately utilizes external and internal links and embraces edgy topics including Topless Day and revenge porn.  Unfortunately at the end of every single post is a long list of entries for both “Filed Under” i.e. categories and “Tagged With” i.e. tags.  Here’s the entry for the post on “Ask the Hard Questions Before Starting a Business”:

tag spam

This one piece of (very good) content is now going to be replicated on 15 different pages across her domain – most of which will have nothing but a verbatim copy of this content.  And many of these pages are “optimized” (I use the term very loosely here – but optimized with on-page elements like Title Tags, H1s, URL etc.) for very similar content:

  • “How to start a business” vs. “How to start LLC” vs. “start LLC”.
  • “Arizona business attorney” vs. “Arizona small business attorney” vs. “Phoenix business attorney” vs. “Phoenix small business attorney”.
  • “Business operating agreement” vs. “Limited Liability Company operating agreement” vs. “Operating agreement for LLC” vs. “what is an operating agreement”.

This is a content spam tactic intended to capture variants of long tail search queries.  In reality, search engines figured this out years ago and the site owner is doing nothing other than artificially inflating her page count – most likely to the detriment of her search performance.

How to Avoid These Problems

Personally, I enjoy the tag clouds that are generated by tagging my posts and there is definitely a user benefit of being able to see articles grouped along common threads.  To use tags and avoid an inflated page count, simply Noindex your Tags. (Be careful about noindexing your categories, to make sure your URL structure for your posts doesn’t include the category folder.)   The Yoast SEO plug in has simple check boxes for this, as does the All-In-One SEO pack (below):

Tag Spam 2

However, when implemented carefully, tags can be effective in generating inbound search traffic, but follow these best practices:

  • Limit your site to 5-8 general, broad categories.
  • Tags should have multiple posts of a similar topic associated with them.
  • Tags should be genuinely different, not replicated spamming for verbal nuance i.e. Not: “divorce laws” and “divorce law”.
  • The posts should be displayed as snippets (not the entire article).
  • The tag page should contain its own unique content – you can do this with the SEO Ultimate plugin.

If all of this sounds overly technical and confusing, buy a WordPress book or invest some time with someone experienced in both SEO and WordPress – leaving the tagging to the graffiti artists .

 

WordPress vs. Drupal vs. Joomla

I recently had one of my clients ask me for some guidance in migrating a massive website (with pages numbering in the tens of thousands) from their hand coded bespoke platform to a professional CMS.  Josh Farkas, from Cubicle Ninjas, is my go to person for any and all advanced, highly technical or customization issues.  To help the client weed through CMS options, Cubicle Ninjas put together the following documentation outlining the differences across the three primary platforms (WordPress, Drupal & Joomla).

Cubicle Ninjas is pleased to help make the decision-making process easier by offering researched benefits and perceived weaknesses of the top three content management system (CMS) platforms. It is our mandate to present only facts about Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla to help enable you to make the most educated and informed decision about your content management system.

“Conventional wisdom has it that WordPress is the fast and easy way to go, while Drupal works best for large, complex, enterprise-class websites. Joomla fits somewhere in the middle — it has some of the power of Drupal but with greater ease of use. That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. All three CMSs have evolved beyond their roots: Drupal is getting easier, WordPress more sophisticated and Joomla offers both a CMS and a related Web development platform on which it can run.”

(Computerworld, “Choosing an open-source CMS, part I: Why we Use Drupal”, by Robert L. Mitchell, Feb.13, 2013)

Drupal Joomla and WordPress

After reading the above article excerpt, deciding which content management system (CMS) to power your new website is probably more puzzling than ever. Yet selecting the most appropriate CMS to create, maintain, and sustain your website may be the most critically important decision made regarding the creation of a site. For instance, if your short-term goals are perfectly aligned with one CMS, but that same platform is seemingly unable to meet your future requirements, you’re considering the wrong CMS.

This is why there are two key factors to consider when searching for the perfect platform for your needs.

  1. First, when selecting a CMS, it’s imperative to thoroughly understand what strengths and weakness each platform brings to the table today, as well as their planned, future technological trajectories.
  2. Secondly, to make the right decision relies a great deal on you having a thorough understanding of the scope, complexity, depth, features, and functionalities of your site, both in the short- and long-term. Once you’ve done your due diligence researching CMSs and have cemented your website’s intentions, requirements, and goals, the confusion surrounding the CMS decision will begin to dissipate and the choice will become much more clear.

The Benefits & Perceived Weaknesses of Drupal, WordPress & Joomla

When combined, Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla content management systems (CMS) control approximately 75% of the total CMS market share. These three CMS giants are all open source systems, meaning they are free of charge and downloadable from the Internet. In addition all are built on PHP + MySQL and manage content with databases.

Their differences, however, far outweigh their abovementioned similarities. Though there are obviously many shared attributes amongst two out of the three CMSs, each one has its unique strengths and weaknesses. The synopses that follow are intended to be informative overviews of Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla. Prior to selecting a CMS, Cubicle Ninjas strongly recommends further investigation into the one or two that pique your interest and appear to meet your website’s requirements both today and far into the future.

DRUPAL

Benefits: Often referred to as the ‘granddaddy’ of CMSs for its powerful backend that can support hundreds of thousands of pages and millions of users a month, Drupal has also been around the longest having been first released in 2001. With its unparalleled power, it can support the creation of multiple content types, each with hundreds of fields, and it presents unlimited ways to capture, organize, and present data for a wide range of applications. With its flexibility, power, and scalability Drupal is ideal for developing complex, big-budget, large-scale websites. In addition to being the most secure CMS on the market today, experiencing the least number of exploits and hacks, this CMS also provides granular control over who can access and edit every aspect of the site. One of the newer features of this CMS is that it automatically creates responsive sites (Drupal 7). Drupal administrators and users are also fortunate to have strong, well-maintained support communities and forums for problem-shooting and solving issues.

  • One of the most flexible and powerful CMSs available for developing complex, big-budget, large-scale projects.
  • Supports creation of multiple content types, each with hundreds of fields.
  • Powerful backend that can support hundreds of thousands of pages and millions of users a month.
  • Automatically creates responsive sites (Drupal 7).
  • Most secure and experiences the least number of exploits and hacks.
  • Granular control over who can access and edit every aspect of the site.
  • Technical excellence.
  • Scales effortlessly and is stable.
  • Unlimited ways to capture, organize, and present data for a wide range of applications.
  • Strong well maintained support communities and forums.

Perceived Weaknesses: With all Drupal has to offer it may come as a surprise to learn it is only used by 5.7% of all websites created using content management systems. Why such a low percentage when the benefits are so many? Because Drupal is also, without contention, the most difficult and technical of the three CMSs.

More often than not, creating and launching a website with Drupal requires IT professionals as this program lacks editor tools such as WYSIWYG and uses code instead. With its foundation in code, Drupal is difficult to use for those without technological backgrounds or knowledge and the learning curve is so steep it may as well be vertical. Posting requires setting options for URL Alias, Menus, Revision Logs, Comments, and Author Meta data, most of which are completely foreign to the average layman. In addition, Drupal lacks themes that mean great designers are necessary to make the site visually captivating. It also has the smallest number of plugins, modules, and extensions. Drupal also lacks strong support communities and forums, making developers rely on the company’s main documentation. All of these factors make Drupal the most costly to develop and maintain.

  • Steep learning curve.
  • Requires code (lacks editor tools such as WYSIWG)
  • Difficult to use for those without technical backgrounds/knowledge.
  • Developers forced to create their own solutions.
  • Lack of free plugins.
  • Lack of themes (great designers necessary).
  • Posting requires setting options for URL Alias, Menus, Revision Logs, Comments, and Author Meta data.
  • Lacks in terms of unofficial support beyond the main documentation.

Organizations that use Drupal as their CMS include: the White House, The Economist, MTV, Optima Bank, PInterest, London.gov.uk, NYU College of Nursing, the Onion, and the US Dept. of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

WORDPRESS

Benefits: What started as a blogging platform in 2003, WordPress has evolved to be used as a full content management system and so much more through the use of the thousands of plugins and widgets and themes. The biggest selling points of WordPress are that it’s easy to install, administer, and to add popular and common features. It is also the ideal CMS for those with little to no technical know-how and learning this CMS couldn’t be easier. Utilizing a WYSIWYG editor (as opposed to code), makes changing, deleting, modifying, adding, and editing content and images simple to learn and simple to execute. Websites using WordPress can be customized through the use of nearly 15,000 (yes, 15,000!) widgets, plug-ins, and modules, and with its stable plug-in API architecture it’s easy to develop your own plug-ins.

Factors definitely not to be overlooked are WordPress’ strong SEO capabilities and extensive support via Google searches. The ease and flexibility to create mobile, tablet, and desktop themes of high customization is also a unique benefit (though they must be built-in by the developer). Last, but certainly not least, WordPress is a highly flexible CMS, enabling people of all technological backgrounds the ability to create blogs, eCommmerce sites, websites, and more. Though impossible to pinpoint exactly why 58.8% of all websites created with content management systems, or 20.2% of all websites, use WordPress, ease of use would most likely be at or near the top of the list. In total, a WordPress site is filled with the latest technology at an affordable price.

  • Easy to install.
  • Easy to administer.
  • Easy to add popular and common features.
  • Easiest learning curve; ideal for those with little to no technical background.
  • Strong SEO capabilities.
  • Highly flexible (blog, eCommerce, website, etc.)
  • Does not require coding to edit.
  • Easy posting using WYSIWG interface.
  • Stable plug-in API architecture (i.e. easy to develop plugins)
  • Websites can be completely customized through the use of widgets and plug-ins.
  • Most extensive number of extension vendors and themes.
  • Extensive support via Google searches.

Perceived Weaknesses: Being based on blog platform architecture poses some hardships, such as limited content management capabilities. Plugins are often required to add or enhance built-in features. An example is that while WordPress was created to be a discussion forum it still requires a third-party plugin to have granular control over who can access and edit every aspect of the site. Because of this reliance on plugins (and the systems popularity) there remains the possibility of insecurity, requiring updating of the platform and its plugins on a regular basis.

And in a time when optimized websites are a must, WordPress does not automatically create responsive sites. The theme developer must currently create responsive themes.  Solutions for problems can usually be found doing a simple Google search, but unlike Drupal and Joomla, WordPress has significantly higher online support. Finding solutions is usually more streamlined than with other platforms.

  • Requires a third-party plugin to have granular controls.
  • Must be updated with latest plugins and WordPress versions for security purposes.
  • Blog platform architecture poses difficulties unless planned.
  • Limited content management capabilities without plugins (due to blog platform architecture).
  • Doesn’t automatically create responsive sites.

Organizations that use WordPress as their CMS include MSNBC TV, Tribune Media Group, Best Buy, Forbes Blogs, Xerox, Brazilian Culture Ministry, Wheaton College, and NY Times Blogs.

JOOMLA

Benefits: First released in 2005 after forking from Mambo, Joomla is one of the newer kids on the CMS block but it’s quickly established itself as a major player. Today 3.3% of all websites, or 9.5% of all websites built on a content management system use Joomla. It is considered a wise choice for those who fall between tech-pros and tech-newbies, as it’s easy to install and automatically creates responsive sites. With its strong content management capabilities, thousands of features and designs, and an extensive plugin (‘extensions’ in Joomla-talk) library, this CMS offers a great deal to people across a broad spectrum of technological knowledge. And if questions or problems arise, Joomla has strong, well-maintained support communities and forums. Google Analytics also comes included free of charge.

  • Easy to install.
  • Ideal for those who fall between tech-pros and tech-newbies.
  • Strong content management capabilities.
  • Automatically creates responsive sites.
  • Thousands of features and designs.
  • Extensive plugin (‘extensions’) library.
  • Strong well maintained support communities and forums 

Perceived Weaknesses: There is a rather steep learning curve, particularly regarding our new site’s functions and general usage. This combines with the fact that posting requires HTML/code, the inability to allocate different web pages to different CSS, and the lowest number of plugins, modules, and extensions of the three CMSs, makes Joomla somewhat difficult for the average layman to use. From a technical viewpoint, Joomla lacks elements critical for on-site optimization, it’s not search engine friendly particularly with regards to URLs, and an SEO plugin must be purchased for SEO optimization. Customization of sites is limited, as is the Access Control List (ACL), which refers to a list of permissions that can be granted to specific users for specific pages.

  • Steep learning curve, particularly the functions and general usage.
  • Lacking elements important for on-site optimization.
  • Not ideal for large-scale websites.
  • Posting requires HTML/code.
  • Commercial presence of mods & themes not the most extensive.
  • Not search engine friendly particularly with regards to URLs.
  • Must purchase SEO plug-ins for SEO optimization.
  • Limited customization.
  • Limited Access Control List (ACL) refers to a list of permissions that can be granted to specific users for specific pages.
  • Unable to allocate different web pages to different CSS.

Organizations that use Joomla as their CMS include: Heathrow Airport, Barnes & Noble, eBay, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Holiday Inn, Porsche, Guaranty Trust Bank, and Exact Software.

 

Google’s Penguin 5 SPAM Update Launches Today

Strap in lawyers.  About an hour ago, Matt Cutts announced the launch of Penguin 2.1 (referred to in the SEO industry as Penguin 5 – don’t ask why).

Penguin 5

Today’s algo update is relatively minor (thus the “.1” instead of 3) but should impact 1% of searches.  Those negatively impacted will most likely have to-date gotten away with a dodgy, purchased backlink profile.  Beneficiaries may include sites that have been working on Penguin cleanup from past penalties.

Penguin Traffic Hit
Image from Hungry Piranah

How to Diagnose if You’ve Been Penguined

Penguin updates are immediate and severe.  Review your Google Analytics data for sudden and otherwise unexplained changes in (search) traffic associated with the dates of Penguin roll-outs (see below).  Additionally, you may receive notice in your Google Webmaster Tools account.  Past Penguin updates include:

  • April 24th, 2012
  • May 25, 2012
  • October 9, 2012
  • May 22, 2013

So, tomorrow morning, wake up, pour some coffe and compare today’s traffic to last Friday.  Then breath a sigh of relief if you’ve been doing all the right things, or panic and start reading Demystifying Link Disavowals, Penalties and More by Jenny Halasaz.

Atticus Clients Doubling Traffic

This is the first marketing post I’ve written – granted it is in the guise of an analytical review – but let’s be honest, I’m showing off results here.

Every four weeks I report traffic growth numbers to my clients and I use those numbers to extrapolate an annualized growth rate.  (I use a straight line forecasting – in simple math terms, if you averaged 5% growth during a quarter, your annualized growth rate is 4×5% = 20%.)  Depending on the client, Atticus’ job is to exceed a 25-33% growth over pre-engagement traffic.

Through the end of September, Atticus clients are on track to more than double their traffic with a 103% annualized growth rate. Individual site performance ranged from -7% to 241%.

Q3 Growth Rate

How?

There are a few factors that contribute to this.  First and foremost, I carefully select clients that I’m confident I can make a solid impact for.  Ideal clients have either ignored their website or have worked with large legal focused SEO vendors who have been hammered by Google SPAM penalties.  I flat out refuse to work with clients who have previously worked with one of the few good SEO vendors in the legal industry – as frankly, my improvements on a site that is already well maintained will be small.  Secondly, I work first on those tactics that will deliver the biggest bang for the investment – ideally, this is a technical tweak that has an immediate, large and persistent impact on traffic.   (See an technical fix example here.)

If you are still reading my marketing puff piece, thank you – as David Lobdell  said:

“He who tooteth not his own horn, same shall remain in a state of untootethness.”

Sometimes the Technology (really) Matters

Want an immediate 56% increase in your natural search traffic?

In most of my SEO 101 talks I invariably gloss over the technology aspect of SEO on the grounds that the platforms have evolved to  adhere to technical best practices for search.   However, identifying and fixing major technical issues is the one search tactic (outside of enormous Adwords budgets) that delivers massive and immediate performance improvements.  As an agency, this has the added benefit of delighting clients by associating confusing technical lexicon with increased phone calls from prospective clients.  SEO Agency Nirvana.  That’s what happened two months ago; and while I won’t share the client or the problem or the solution – I’m happy to share the end result:

Technical Fixes

That’s an immediate and persistent 56% increase in traffic – and if I squint really hard, it looks to me like a trend line that is continuing to grow.  Note also that we implemented the fixes at 2 am on a Saturday morning – futzing around with major technical changes is fraught with peril and best done well outside of regular traffic hours.

Was this cheap and easy?  No.  A full audit to weed out technical issues is time consuming, technical and requires access and working knowledge of advanced tools.

How to Tell if you Might Have a Major Technical Problems

This is by no means an exhaustive list . . .

  • Search engines can’t find most of your pages.  (When you do a google search for site:mywebsite.com, more than a third of the pages on are not included.)
  • Search engines find more than all of your pages.  What?  (When you do a google search for site:mywebsite.com, the number of pages returned are 2-10 times as many pages as you think you actually have – make sure you include “supplemental results” found by clicking the “see omitted results” link after the last result in your site: search.)
  • You change something and your site traffic plummets.
  • Your site isn’t built on WordPress
  • Your site was built more than 4 years ago and hasn’t been updated.
  • Your Google Webmaster Tools interface has anything under “Site Messages”.  (You do have GWT access don’t you?)

Lots of lawyers are looking for the easy SEO solution.  This may be it.

Are You Qualified to Hire an SEO Agency? A Simple Test

Think you have the experience to hire a good SEO Agency?  Read the next two bullets before you go any further:

  • Search engines have difficulty distinguishing URLs in paginated results.  CMSs address pagination in different ways – from parameterized URLs to completely unique pages.  You  can solve this problem by using rel=canonical in the <head> or HTTP header of paginated pages that have a “view all” page.  If you don’t have a “view all” content page, use rel=next/prev to specify a paginated series.
  • NAP (name, address, phone number) consistency across  trusted directory sites is a key ranking factor in local search.  To address problems caused by tracking phone numbers, specify NAP values using the GREP command in your XML sitemap.  Alternatively use a 301 permanent redirect to proxy your canonical number.  Note:  The GREP command only works for single location businesses.

One of the paragraphs above explains a fairly simple concept in confusing technical terms.  The other is utter gibberish.  In English it makes as much sense as:  “helicopters use pancakes to shingle doghouses moonbeam excellent.”

This morning I’m doing some research in preparation for a kick off call with a new client.  These guys have gone through 4 agencies in the past three years (in general a huge red flag) – but as I look at their site it seems that it was created by the 12 year old nephew 5 years ago and never touched.  The technology is problematic, the link profile is anemic, the content stale, basic fundamentals have not been addressed.

Selling SEO services to lawyers is drop dead easy; its easy to confuse and intimidate with technical lexicon to make the sale.  Delivering on results is entirely different.  As my new client today has demonstrated, the web is full of search charlatans eager to hook law firms on lucrative monthly contracts.

If you can’t identify the balderdash in the examples above, you shouldn’t hire an SEO agency without input from someone who can.

LawyerEdge Website Underperforming? A Cautionary Tale of Duplicate Content

Having trouble figuring out why your website isn’t getting more traffic?  Its possible the content on your site has simply been cut and pasted from another site – rending your SEO impotent.

Law Firm Website Almost Invisible

Initially, I couldn’t figure out why the law firm’s site was performing so badly – the technology was fine, the content seemed fairly well written and there was a reasonable link profile.  Despite this, the site was averaging less than 2 visitors a day from unbranded natural search –  and very few of those visitors were landing on the practice area pages.  Digging deeper, I found that the actual content on the practice area pages was cut and pasted across other LawyerEdge clients.

In the example below – we can see that Google has identified 58 other pages with the exact same content as this law firm’s page for pedestrian knock down accidents.

Duplicate content

When I looked across the website’s landing pages, I found that almost all of them had content that was duplicated across the web.  In the graph below, the vertical axis shows the number of pages found on the web containing the exact same content as the law firm’s topic pages.

Duplicate content on legal websites

Of the 40 pages I reviewed, just 13 had unique content.

Understanding Duplicate Content

Search engines hate duplicate content because it can generate a really bad user experience.  Here’s why:  Using the above example, imagine I do a Google search for “determining who is negligent in Pedestrian cases”.  The first result I click to doesn’t give me what I’m looking for, so I click back to the search engine and try the second result . . . . which leads me to the exact same content on another site.  Now I’m annoyed and instead of clicking back, I load up Bing to try to find something different.

The search engines minimize this poor user experience by identifying duplicate content across different pages and trying to identify the original version of the content (search geeks refer to this as the canonical).   Google and bing hide the other pages away from searchers in what is called “supplemental results” – which is of course, where I eventually found the law firm’s pages.  Supplemental results are shown here:

Supplemental Results

This is compounded when a large portion of a site’s content looks to be simply copied and pasted from other sites across the web.  Search engines reasonably deduce that the overall site is of pretty low quality wrt to unique, interesting content.  Google’s algorithm updated to try to identify (and weed out) these sites with the Panda update.  From the Google blog:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”

Note that Panda is a site-wide penalty – which means that duplicate content on many pages will impact performance of the entire site – even those deliciously well written unique and insightful pages.  The bar graph above, which shows the majority of the law firm’s pages having duplicate content indicates they have most likely been hit by the Panda update.

In the pedestrian knockdown practice area example, all of the firms listed below are competing directly with each other with the exact same content:

  • Rochelle McCullough, LLP
  • Inkelaar Law
  • Eshelman Legal Group
  • Joshua D. Earwood
  • Saladino Oakes & Schaaf
  • Levenbaum Trachtenberg
  • Ellis, Ged & Bodden
  • Law Office of Bruce D. Schupp
  • Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen
  • Law Office of Kenneth G. Miller
  • The Law Firm of Kevin A. Moore, P.A.
  • Buchanan & Buchanan
  • S. Perry Penland, JR.
  • Ardoin Law Firm
  • McWard Law Office
  • LeBell Dobroski Morgan Meylink LLP
  • Cox & Associates, P.A.
  • The Gefen Law Firm
  • Echemendia Law Firm PA
  • McKinney Braswell Butler LLC
  • Law Office of Charney & Roberts
  • Johnson & Associates
  • Pistotnik Law Offices
  • Bledsoe Law Office
  • Law Offices of George A. Malliaros
  • Roberts, Miceli & Boileau, LLP
  • William E. Hymes
  • Law Office of Donald P. Edwards
  • Ferderigos & Lambe Attorneys at Law
  • The Law Offices of Fuentes & Berrio, L.L.P.
  • Robert B. French, Jr., P.C.
  • The Law Offices of Peck and Peck
  • Cherry Law Firm, P.C.
  • Dexter & Kilcoyne
  • Philip R. Cockerille
  • Brotman Nusbaum Fox
  • Stephen J. Knox Attorney at Law
  • Littman & Babiarz
  • The Law Offices of Weinstein & Scharf, P.A.
  • Friedman & Friedman
  • The Law Firm of Robert S. Windholz
  • Fahrendorf, Viloria, Oliphant & Oster L.L.P.
  • Conway Law Firm, P.L.L.C.
  • Head Thomas Webb & Willis
  • Charles B. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
  • Pistotnik Law Offices
  • Nordloh Law Office, PLLC
  • The Law Offices of Rosenberg, Kirby, Cahill & Stankowitz
  • Kerner & Kerner
  • McAdory Borg Law Firm P.C.
  • For a funny one – check out this:  The Law Offices of This is Arizona – a template, presumably available for purchase with ghost Attorneys John and Joan Smith.

(To be fair, not all of these firms are LawyerEdge clients – there is a smattering of different agencies.  This does highlight the extent to which content gets cut and pasted around the web by website developers.)

How to Tell if You Have Duplicate Content Issues

The most obvious sign of duplicate content, of course is zero to low inbound search traffic to specific pages.  You can diagnose this in Google Analtyics using the “Landing Pages” tab under content (make sure you filter for ONLY “organic search traffic”).

Another more accurate approach is to take a unique looking, sentence from your page and doing a search for it with quotations around the phrase:

Duplicate Content IV

If your search returns a ton of results . . . its time to start writing.