Why (most) Americans Hate the Legal Profession

Let me start by saying, as someone whose company works exclusively with lawyers, I thought long and hard about posting this. . .

Today the legal industry suffered another self-inflicted wound to an already tarnished image in the way of an editorial on CNN’s homepage by attorney, Danny Cevallos.  In his post, Cervallos questions the brave actions of Matthew Cordle – the young Ohio man who posted his heartbreaking story about killing someone because he was driving while intoxicated.

First Some Background

Over the past 7 years, I’ve had the privileged and unique opportunity to view the legal industry from within.  I sat at a PILMMA event and saw a demonstration of how the legal industry has pushed automative safety.  I’ve met lawyers like Jonathan Stein who has dedicated his career to battling the bottom of the corporate ethical barrel – Collection and Insurance companies.   I met Anthony Colleluori who fights tooth and nail on behalf of individuals who have no where left to turn.  I met Bruce Johnson who has done more to protect the first amendment than anyone alive.

Big picture – I’ve learned that the legal profession offers the largest counterweight for individuals when dealing with injustice from large entities – be it the police, corporations or the government.  Few non-lawyers ever get exposed to this perspective and part of my professional mission is to help improve the perspective of the legal industry among the general populace.

Cervallos Paints Lawyers as Morally Bankrupt

So it was very disheartening to read an editorial on CNN today damning the actions of Matthew Cordle.  Matthew’s powerful video has gone viral because he fully accepts responsibility for his action. Even while Cervallos recognizes the moral bravery in Matthew’s actions, he writes:

“Bravo right?  Wrong.”

And goes on to pick apart the legal ramifications of the video.

“In making this video, it clearly appeared he was not coerced. He was not being interrogated or even interviewed by police. In fact, he volunteered this admission, stating that he was fully aware of the consequences.”

“Cordle’s voluntary mea culpa actually eliminated his strongest bargaining chip.”

Cervallos is unfortunately speaking for the entire legal industry when he prioritizes legal tactics with, in his own words, “doing the right thing.”  This is the root of why lawyers have such a persistently tarnished reputation.  The fact that Cervallos is most certainly correct from a legal perspective is irrelevant to almost everyone outside of the legal profession.  Step outside of the legal world for a minute and think about how non-lawyers would respond to this statement from Cervallos:

“While this may have appeared a morally correct thing for Cordle to do, our justice system can actually penalize those who “do the right thing” and volunteer admissions.”

Fighting drunk driving while recognizing the legal ramifications of sharing a gutwrenching story “may have appeared a morally correct thing”!  The editorial unfortunately doesn’t offer any suggestion for what would have been a more moral action and completely misses the point that Cordel clearly was placing his priorities above the legal system.  And this is where Cervallos misses the forest for the trees.  Cordel’s video will educate and certainly save lives from drunk driving accidents.  Suggesting that the legal industry as a whole views this as a mistake sends a very wrong message: that lawyers are always available to supplant morality and courage.

Unfortunately the actions of the Stein’s, Colleluori’s and Johnson’s of the legal world rarely get this kind of coverage.  But they should.

Yelp Sues Law Firm, McMillan Group, for Bogus Reviews

Not long ago I wrote a Search Engine Land post about a law firm suing their SEO for bad results . . . today bring us Yelp going after a law firm for posting fake reviews.  Having run marketing Avvo for about 5 years, I’ve seen all sorts of fake reviews (Avvo had, and I assume still has) a very strong algorithmic and human review spam process.  Yelp clearly has dealt with bogus reviews in the past without reaching for their lawyers.  I thought I’d dig in to see why they changed course this time . . .

Yelp goes after McMillan Group

San Diego based, McMillan Group  previously won a small claims suit against Yelp for a whopping total of $2,700.  The charge?  That  Yelp required an advertising contract in order for positive reviews to show up prominently on the company’s Yelp page.  Yelp is now coming back after the McMillan Group – citing a massive astroturfing (self-authored flattering reviews) campaign.  Essentially, Yelp claims the firm’s employees created new Yelp accounts for the sole purpose of writing one-off gushing 5 star reviews.  Many of the reviews track back to the same IP address, which coincidentally was also the firm’s IP address, (hmmmmm – not so smart McMillan Marketing staff).  In some  cases “unique” reviews were posted one after another and included exactly the same text.

Yelp has clearly dealt with bogus reviews in the past – there a few possible interpretations about why this review spat has been taken to this level:

  1. Yelp is bullying McMillan for the original lawsuit.
  2. Yelp is taking aggressive steps to protect the quality of their reviews.
  3. Yelp is seeking a PR counterpoint story to the “advertise with us or else. . . . ” news story that can’t seem to go away.
  4. The Yelp marketing department hates that McMillan has put the Yelp logo linking to a “Learn how we beat Yelp for their advertising practices” page on the Mcmillan.com homepage.

McMillan Homepage

 

Oh yes, and there’s Yelp again on a McMillan microsite (although it seems they haven’t been able to entirely figure out WordPress):

McM BK

 

Interestingly, I saw nothing but glowing 5 stars from 23 people on Google (although there was only 1 review on Avvo).

McMillan Google

 

Have some time and want to dig into the legal ramifications?  Here’s the complaint.

If I had to guess, I’d say this is a marketing tit for tat gone legal. All of this begs a very interesting question . . . other than the negative publicity, does this matter?  Do people  turn to Yelp when hiring an attorney?

Update:  Backlink Review

What would the backlink profile look like for a firm willing to astroturf reviews?  I took a cursory review at McMillan’s backlink profile.  Consider this a cautionary tale about how NOT to engage in linkspam.  According to open site explorer there are a 3,000 links from a whopping 2,000 different domains pointing to McMillan’s site.  Of those, the vast majority are evenly spread across anchor text with some variation of “san diego” + “bankruptcy attorney”  . . . 240 links with “san diego bankruptcy lawyers”, 240 links with “san diego bankruptcy attorneys”,   278 with “san diego bankruptcy lawyer” etc.

Now lets look at some of those links.

Spammy link tactic #1

Building single page “websites” on free website domains.  I counted 13 subdomains with links for McMillan on Weebly.  There are more linking subdomains on .beep, .webnode and others.

Spammy link tactic #2

Low quality directory submissions.  Here’s one of my favorites – a German website Webkatalog Firmen Anzeigenmarkt with this description of McMillan:

“It is required to have a lawyer Unless you have the time, patients, and understanding of the law to do it yourself. Here is why you need a Bankruptcy Law Firm San Diego. Better-quality San Diego bankruptcy law firm will advise you full fiscal session Facilitate and you build up a plan whichwill Certainly get the creditors off your back once and for ave McMillan Law Group will therefore take attention for all the paperwork and legal procedures Which are Merely too much to manage on your own.”

Spammy link tactic #3

Comment spam on subject-matter irrelevant blogs that don’t have no-follow attributes on comments.  According to OSE, somewhere hidden among the 7,137 other comments on this page on Dr.Dyslexia.com  is a link to McMillan.

Spammy link tactic #4

For a localized business, a reasonable proportion of links should be local – very few should be international on foreign language sites.  This is a very obvious and easy red flag to ID.  For McMillan, I found links on sites in Spanish, Chinese, German and more.

The Lesson Here

This post might sound a little mean spirited, but consider it a great example to NOT emulate with regards to link acquisition.  The real reason:  despite all that keyword rich anchor text, a Google search for “san diego bankruptcy attorney” didn’t return McMillan until deep into page 2 and they were nowhere to be found in the local (mapped) results either.

The irony, of course, is with all of this Yelp publicity, McMillan is going to build a slew of genuinely high quality links; unfortunately they’ll all be going to a domain that is probably unsalvageable.

Are You Sending the Wrong Signals to Search Engines?

Looking at the screenshot below, it is very clear to any human that this is a blog post covering Drug Sniffing Dogs and Search Warrants.  Unfortunately, the underlying code does a very poor job of telling computers what the article is about – leading to this page (and all the other pages on this site) performing extremely poorly in search.  Here’s why . . .

At a very high level, search engines scan web page code for indicators to deduce the subject matter of content on a page (reminds me of the old California Achievement Tests in 5th grade.) We’ll review three of the primary indicators:  Title Tags, URL, and Headers (H1s etc.).  Why are these so important?  Content contained within these indicators are intended to describe what the page is about – i.e. if a page is titled “Fuzzy Bunny Slippers” and has a similar heading – it is most likely a page about fuzzy bunny slippers.”

Justice Florida

Key On-Page Elements

Title Tag

The title tag defines the title of the page, shows up at the top of a browser and also is the link that appears in search result pages.  In this case, the page is done correctly.  “Drug-Sniffing Dogs and Search Warrants : West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer Blog”

URL

Unfortunately, when this page was created, the URL ends with “drugsniffing-dogs-and-search-warrants”. The failure to separate “drug” and “sniffing” in the URL optimizes the page for the never searched for word “drugsniffing”.

Heading

Heading tags define the heading of the page.  The primary heading is the H1, with subheadings H2, H3 etc. To a human, the heading of this page is pretty clear “Drug-Sniffing Dogs and Search Warrants”, but when we look into the code, we find that that heading is not identified with an H1 tag:

Justice Florida Code

In fact, the primary heading, H1, tells search engines that this page is about:  “Palm Beach County Criminal & DUI Lawyer : Criminal & DUI Defense Attorney in West Palm Beach & Palm Beach | Criminal Attorney: DUI, Assault & Battery, Felonies”.  What a mouthful – that’s some ugly keyword stuffing and is only very tangentially related to drug sniffing dogs and search warrants.  Note above that the H2 and H3 above contain generic, templated content as well..  Predictably, we find that every single page on this website uses the exact same, keyword stuffed, H1 – sending a strong signal to the search engines that every page on the site is about the exact same subject matter.

Why This All Matters

Not surprisingly, even with an exact search for the page title including the misspelling, the attorney’s content fails to surface.  I’ll bet dinner that his analytics also show zero inbound search traffic to this page.

Justice Florida Results

Why This Happens

Generally, modern website and blogging platforms have most of these technical problems ironed out.  You should never have to get your hands dirty in the code.  But this example highlights the importance of having a modern, up to date platform.  The justiceflorida.com site in this example is built on an outdated version of Movable Type.  The simple obvious solution:  a recent version of WordPress.

How to Diagnose your Own Pages

You know where to look for the URL and the Title Tag – heading tags are a little more hidden, but not too hard to find in the source code.  You can access the source code on a website by using the “view source” function in your web browser (usually under “view” or simply by right clicking on the page).  Then search the page for “H1” and see if you have a unique description of the content of the page.  These tags show up in pairs – so you should only have two H1s (as there should really only be one primary heading for a page); multiple H2s, H3s etc. are fine.

Google Adwords Launches Offline Conversion Tracking

 (But it doesn’t really matter for lawyers . . . yet)

In an attempt to provide increased analytical information about an Adwords spend, today Google launched AdWords Conversion Import – which tracks offline conversion (like phone calls) back to the original PPC spend.  (Thus presumably increasing the perceived ROI on Google Adwords and therefore encouraging advertisers to continue to adjust their budgets towards PPC spend. . . but I digress.)

Offline Conversion Tracking from Google

As you can see from the cute Google graphic above, the process is pretty simple but it is really designed much more for an online retail experience than a law firm.  Note that this requires a)the user to fill out a form to store the original click information (known as the GCLID) and b)the advertiser to have a customer tracking database that they record the GCLID in and then reupload that GCLID back to Google once the user converts.  Booo.

Why This Doesn’t Work For Lawyers

  1. Online intake form completion for legal websites anecdotally represents roughly 2-3% of inbound leads.  What lawyers really want is the phone to ring (and Google is clear that this doesn’t work for those inbound phone calls.)
  2. This also requires a back end tracking database.  While there are a few solutions (including, ahem, Avvo’s Ignite Suite) that do provide sophisticated CRM for lawyers, very few law firms have actually adopted them.

But Wait . . .

One of my favorite pastimes is reading the Google tealeaves and prognosticating changes in direction and new product features.  Between tracking phone numbers in Adwords and the huge push into the small business realm (think restaurants, plumbers, auto repair, lawyers etc.) things are changing.  Better conversion tracking for small businesses that rely on phone calls for the vast majority of their conversions is coming soon.

 

 

How to Check your Access Level in the New Google Analytics Interface

I’ve recently been on a series of rants about the importance of controlling exclusive access to key high level log in credentials to control you web presence.  This post started as a step by step email instructions to a law firm whose agency either couldn’t figure out the new Google Analytics Interface or was too lazy to bother.  I decided to post it as a blog instead so anyone could read it.

Working with the new Analytics interface to add users or change their permissions is different, but mindnumbingly simple if you know where to look.  (In fact there are now 4 tiers of permissions instead of 3.)  Below I’ll show you a)how to check to see if you have “add user” level access – which as a site owner you MUST have and b)add/modify user permissions once you’ve cleared the previous hurdle.

NOTE:  If you don’t have “add user” level access to your own Google Analytics account – immediately go and scream at your agency/consultant/self-professed search expert until they make that change.  Then remove that level of access to everyone except yourself.  (And hide that password away very securely and carefully.)

Step 1:  Log in to Google Analytics.

Step 2:  Click “Admin” in the top left hand corner.

admin

Step 3:  If “User Management” is grayed out and you can’t click on it you don’t have the high level access to your own Analytics account that you should.  Talk to your agency.

Step 4:  Once you can click on “User Management”, you’ll find a very easy interface to add accounts (or change permissions to existing accounts).

Simple.  All done.

Your Website – Three Things You Absolutely Must Control

I continue to run into attorneys who don’t really have control over their website – due to vendors who have set up certain systems, but retained high-level log in credentials (and failed to supply their clients with similar credentials.)  In common English please – Lawyers should have exclusive control and access at the highest administrative level to log ins for their Domain, their Host and this Analytics account.  In priority (and technical complexity) order:

Domain

As I’ve written before, if you don’t own your domain, you are essentially leasing someone else’s website.  As a most insidious practice, some legally focused online marketers are getting their clients to pay for search consulting services and eventually upping the price or reselling the domain to the competitor across the street.  This is the real estate equivalent of a landlord forcing a tenant to paying for upgrades to an apartment and then turning around and charging extra for the upgraded space.  Not sure if you “own” your domain?  Find out at Who Is.

Hosting

You need high level access to your websites hosting provider in order to do a variety of back end things – like changing an email provider, moving hosting solutions and exporting your site’s content database.  While you may want technical assistance in performing these tasks, you must have access in order to do so.  Calling up your old SEO begging for passwords can be a drawn out, frustrating process.

Analytics Log In

For the most part, when I say “Analytics” I mean Google Analytics. Your Google password can then be used across the entire Google ecosystem –Analtyics, Adwords, Email, Webmaster Tools etc.  Having admin level access here enables you to invite others to view (or work on) any of these accounts. Thoughtlessly gifting this level of access to a vendor enables them to read your mail or create new accounts to access your performance after you fire them (recent occurrence with a client and vendor both of whom will remain unnamed).  You should have exclusive high level access.  Note that Google Analytics has recently changed their interface (confusing every non-regular user).  Carefully select access for your vendors among the following options (and never include “add users”):

 

Control

Entrust your vendors with the performance of your website, but never abdicate control of it to them.

 

UPDATE:  Check out Steve’s comment below for an approach your agency should be using.

Lawyers: Your Email Marketing Channel (Might) be Dead

In May, Google started rolling out a new interface for gmail  that organized email into five different buckets, accessed via tabs  – including one marked “promotional”.   The promotional category includes all email focused on deals, offers and almost everything sent en masse from email service providers.  This new interface is being rolled out to Gmail’s 126 million US subscribers.

Gmail Tabs

Make now doubt about it – email – the super low cost, high ROI channel, is now less effective.  (The cynic in me suggests that Google’s move is part user experience and part an attempt to shift yet more ad dollars to different channels, like . . . . PPC.)

So far, email marketing companies have predictably downplayed the impact of the changes to email campaigns.  Constant Contact SEO Gail Goodman acknowledged “small decreases in open rates among Gmail users.”  MailChimp published an early study indicating a drop in click through rates of 7-8%.  Note that this was conducted at the end of July – at that point it is unclear (I think) how widespread the rollout of the new interface was – so these numbers may be extremely optimistic.

It will be interesting to see how users adapt to the new interface over time – will they forgo the “promotions” tab altogether, or flock there when in a “purchasey” mood – as some email marketers have suggested.  Hard to say – my personal suspicion is that we are seeing the beginning of a huge decline in the volume of marketing emails and a very heavy push towards high quality.  I simply can’t imagine ever opening a second mailbox at the end of the driveway that was stuffed with nothing but the weekly circulars from the local grocery stores.

What to Do?

If your firm has an active email list here are some ways you may be able to earn yourself into the primary tab – or at least minimize the impact of being shunted into a bucket with  Hawaiian timeshares, housecleaning services and adult dating sites.

  1. Focus on engaging subject lines.
  2. Abandon the canned, mass email content from legal email marketers that is recycled among all of their other clients.
  3. Segment your users (and your email content, subject lines) so you are speaking as closely to each customer’s interests as possible.
  4. Abandon the volume perspective – because email is so cheap to send, it encourages quantity instead of quality.  Reverse that mindset and don’t send anything if you don’t have anything interesting to send.
  5. If all else fails – ask users directly to be moved into their “primary” tab.

 

 

Hot off the Press: Local Ranking Factors – Lawyer Edition

Local Ranking Factors

Every year, I’m honored to be among a handful of SEOs surveyed by local search expert, David Mihm to ID ranking factors that contribute to Local Rankings.  David’s survey has just come out on Moz and is worth a detailed look by any attorneys competing for business at a local level attorneys.

This year, the survey was broken into two components – foundational Local Optimization and Local for competitive markets. Some highlights below:

  • Local is as complex and multifaceted (if not more so) as natural search.
  • The foundations of local optimization have stayed essentially the same – there was no game changer this year, despite the heavy push around Google Plus.
  • Ranking factors for mobile devices were not that divergent from those of traditional local searches.
  • There was a very heavy focus on the quality of both citations and links (i.e. NOT quantity).  This doesn’t surprise me, but I’ve seen the legal market being very very slow to adapt to this.
  • Along the quality lines – the quality of reviewers was very important.  I saw this in my restaurant days at Urbanspoon where a single review from a Yelp elite could push a restaurant into the local results.  I’m not sure exactly how actionable this is for attorneys (i.e. soliciting business from elite reviewers seems a huge stretch) – but it does serve to focus the importance on the cringe inducing subject of online reviews.
  • One thing that surprised me (and perhaps because I’m desensitized o it after years in legal) was the negative impact of keyword stuffing in the business name.  The perception that overly descriptive business names results in all sorts of Google Juice (insert snarky tone) persists among many lawyers and legal-industry SEO “experts.”

So read David’s report – it is very hot off the press, having been published just this morning.

 

Avvo Partners with Atticus

I’m excited to announce today that I’ve formed a partnership with the very company that got me introduced to both Search and Lawyers – Avvo. I spent a lot of my time while at Avvo educating lawyers on the technical vagaries of search, so its no surprise that they continue to get asked questions, especially given their year over year 50% traffic growth.

What this means for Atticus?  I’ll be incorporating Avvo’s Ignite product into more of my clients’ marketing efforts.  Built specifically for the legal marketplace, Ignite brings a level of business efficiency to measuring and managing marketing efforts that attorneys haven’t had access to before.