[Mockingbird Survey Results] – Online Reviews for Law Firms

About Our Law Firm Review Study

It’s widely accepted that reviews account for a significant portion of Google’s local search ranking factors (Moz Local Search Ranking Factors). Google My Business reviews are, and have been a vital piece of Local SEO. Once you’ve acquired at least 5 Google reviews for your business, you may start seeing the star indication in the coveted “local pack” of the search results page.

We recently sent out a simple 8 question survey to various law firms around the country with two goals in mind: 1) Gather insight on the review process for law firms and 2) Determine which outreach methods are most common and effective.

Here are the results…

Does your law firm actively request client reviews or testimonials?

Do You Request Reviews?
Note: links to review on the website, in email footers, etc. do not count as actively requesting.

How do you request reviews?

How Do You Request Reviews?

Who solicits reviews for your firm?

Who Solicits Reviews?

On average, how many times do you ask for a review before giving up?

How Many Requests For Review?

Which platform(s) do you ask clients to review you on?

Which Platforms Do You Request Reviews?

Do you use review management software?

Review Management Software?

How many reviews do you currently have on Google?

How Many Reviews On Google?

Note: for primary location only (if multiple offices). 

How many reviews do you currently have on Yelp?

Reviews On Yelp?

Note: for primary location only (if multiple offices).

Mockingbird’s Takeaways From Our Law Firm Review Survey Research

  • 9/10 law firms actively request reviews from past clients, but only 4/10 will reach out more than once. Persistence is key in obtaining online reviews — we suggest you send at least 2 review requests before giving up on that lead.
  • 6/10 law firms will request reviews on Avvo, Yelp, and Google. We recommend this approach as well to give the client options, however, we emphasize Google reviews as they have the most direct impact on local SEO results. (Don’t sleep on Facebook either!)
  • 5/10 law firms surveyed have 6+ Google reviews. In the hyper-competitive legal market, it’s increasingly important to obtain a high number of quality reviews.
  • 9/10 law firms do not use review outreach software. We’ve tried our hand with automated software before (shout out to Get Five Stars), but have had better luck doing it the old fashioned way. Requesting reviews manually requires much more leg work, but yields a better conversion rate in the end. Here’s a cool free tool from Whitespark that will actually create a print out template for you: whitespark.ca/review-handout-generator/
  • 5/10 law firms have the primary attorney who handled the case make the review request. We advise our clients to adopt this strategy as well since the personal relationship is already established and the client is more likely to take action.

A good bonus from our survey’s comment section…

“…I’d be interested in hearing about the fake reviews it looks like a few firms are getting (60+ five star reviews)” – Anonymous Attorney

My two cents: Google is not perfect. Unfortunately we still see an egregious amount of spam in Google Maps and the local 3-pack. However, I believe the big G will catch up with spammy reviews in the same way they eventually caught up with spammy backlinks (thank you Penguin). Keep your white hat on and don’t give up the good fight yet my friend.

If you are interested in the specifics of the study, want help generating reviews for your firm, or just want to say hi please feel free to drop me an email: dustin[at]mockingbirdmarketing.com


A/B Testing: How To Improve Contact Page Conversions Using Google Analytics

What Is A/B Testing?

In our context, an A/B test is an experiment that tests two different variants of a webpage against each other to determine which one will deliver better results (more form-fill submissions, more phone calls, longer session time, etc.) The two different versions of the page will be randomly served to users on the website to determine the winner based on statistically accurate data.

How Can I Use A/B Testing On Your Website?

One of the best, most impactful ways to use A/B testing is on your website’s contact page. Currently, we’re running A/B tests across all of our client’s contact pages to see which page format is delivering the highest conversion rate. We’re testing the placement of the contact form — middle of the content versus before all other contact info and content.

How Do I Set Up A/B Testing?

There is a multitude of companies that offer A/B testing software (one of Mockingbird’s preferred: Optimizely), but in this post, we’re going to explain how to use Google Analytics “Experiments” feature to test your contact page.

Important note: the following process is for any website that is set up on WordPress and has Google Analytics installed on the site.

Step 1: Create an alternate page to test in WordPress and make sure the following Yoast SEO settings are set:

  1. Index
  2. Follow
  3. Set canonical to original page you’re testing

Yoast Seo Settings

Pro tip: I also like to make the URL the same as the page you’re testing but with “alt” at the end (ie: example.com/contact-alt/) but feel free to make the URL whatever you please.

Step 2: Install and activate WordPress plugin “Simple Google Content Experiments”

Step 3: Open Google Analytics and navigate to > Behavior > Experiments

Step 4: Create a new experiment and use the following settings:

  1. Name your experiment appropriately (ie: Contact Page AB)
  2. Assign 100% of traffic to experiment (assuming it’s not something extremely drastic)
  3. Email notifications to yourself
  4. Set 2 week minimum time to run
  5. Set a confidence threshold of 95%

Contact Page Google Analytics Experiment

Step 5: Configure the experiment



Step 6: Set up your experiment code

  1. Select “Manually insert the code”
  2. Edit the WP page and create a new custom field labeled “google_content_experiment_code” and insert copied code as value

AB Test Experiment Code

Step 7: Validate your experiment code and launch experiment.

Step 8: Sit back and wait for the results to roll in.

For more information on Google Analytics Experiments, view this help article: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1745216?hl=en.

4 Google AdWords Tips You Should Implement Right Now

Mockingbird is one of the newest members in the Google’s Partner Acceleration Program (humble bragging found here). With this exciting new partnership comes exclusive training from Google’s AdWords specialists themselves. During our recent training at Google’s offices, one thing was stressed over and over: MOBILE IS IMPORTANT.

I could tell you that people check their phone over 100 times a day, or that 66% of people turn to their smartphone to look up something they saw on TV, but really all you need to know is that more people are using their phones to research and make purchase decisions than ever before.

Below are some tangible, actionable tips that you can apply in your AdWords campaigns today to help capture that growing number of mobile searchers.

1) Take advantage of new expanded text ads for mobile

Why you should use them:

  1. Longer ad titles. You now get two headline fields (up to 30 characters each) instead of one headline with a 25 character limit.
  2. Longer, more readable ad descriptions. You now get one field (up to 80 characters) instead of two fields with 35 character limits.
  3. A display URL that uses your final URL’s domain
  4. Two optional ”Path” fields in the ad’s display URL (up to 15 characters each). This means you can now change your ugly URLs to something more targeted.

Most importantly, you should begin using expanded text ads because starting October 26th, 2016, AdWords will no longer give you the option to create/edit standard ads. You might as well embrace the change and get used to the new format now.

More info from the Big G here.

2) Use locations extensions

There are many boons to showing your location directly in your ad:

  1. Potential clients generally want to hire legal counsel close to them; you can show users your physical address to help with the decision process.
  2. Location extensions help your ad take up more real estate in the SERP (search engine results page)
  3. Push down bad reviews in the SERP. If you can’t seem to get rid of those pesky Yelp reviews, one strategy may be to run a branded advertising campaign with a location extension. With the bigger ad, users are less likely to ever see the negative reviews since that result will be further down the page.
  4. Location extensions make you eligible for the newly launched promoted pins. Although Local SEO’s will loathe seeing ads in Google Maps results, it’s inevitable. As a local business, it’s important to jump on board now while the competition is low.

3) Utilize “near me” keywords

These keywords have become increasingly important with the (not so recent) surge in mobile searches. There has been a 2X increase in “near me” search interest in the past year and 82% of smartphone users use a search engine when looking for a local business. If you are not bidding on “near me” related keywords, you are missing out on a large number of potential clients. Also, these keywords that show the searches obvious intent on finding a local business, are the same keywords that are most likely to produce the new local search ads referenced above.

4) Change conversion setting for calls down from 60 seconds

If you feel like you’re getting more calls from your call extensions or call-only ads than what Google shows you in the conversion column, there may be an explanation. Google’s default setting for phone call conversions is set to 60 seconds. If you want to measure every call received from your advertising rather than just the calls over a minute, you need to adjust your conversion setting accordingly. Here is a help article on how to change your conversion settings.

Wrapping up

If you would like to know more about Google AdWords, mobile advertising, or just want to tell us how awesome our blog posts are, feel free to give us a ring: 206-209-2125

Evaluating Best Biz Local Lawyers (A case study in backlink analysis)

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

If the average person supposedly sees ~5,000 advertising messages a day, I’m positive lawyers see 20,000. There is always a new legal directory that “drives more clients than any other legal directory” or SEO’s promising #1 ranking for the search term, “attorney” in your respective geographical market.

What follows is the backlink analysis methodology we employ to evaluate the benefit (or harm) resulting from listing our clients on a specific directory.  It’s pretty simple and uses free tools…. so you can emulate our approach the next time tomorrow when you get hit with an email from a new legal directory.

The Value of Legal Directories

High end legal directories are great sources of prospective clients, citations (a critical factor in local SEO) and occasionally links (a critical factor in local and organic SEO).  Avvo, Justia, HG and (ahem) even FindLaw are the most obvious; but there are plenty of smaller effective ones as well.  We happen to like the guys over at LawDeeDa and practice area specific sites like DUI.com.

But not all directories are created equal – and a backlink profile relying heavily on low end, low quality, spammy directories is Penguin Penalty fodder.  But how do you separate the directory wheat from the chaff pending Google penalty.

But there are so many directories, it’s overwhelming. I know it’s overwhelming because my clients are constantly consulting me on whether this opportunity is legitimate or not. Here’s one of the more recent legal directories to hit my inbox for review:

Best Biz Local Lawyers

I’ll now walk you through my evaluation of Best Biz Local as a potential citation/link opportunity. You can follow these steps in the future when promising directories and link opportunities come across your inbox.

Step 1: How do I get listed? Ooh ooh I see a “Submit Link” tab in the main navigation. That looks promising, let’s go there… And any interest I had in this directory is gone. In order to submit a link you have to link back to bestbizlocal.com or you’ll “be declined automatically.”

Best Biz Local Link Exchange
Source: http://www.marketing.bestbizlocal.com/submit-link/

They only want me for my links? Ouch. Luckily I don’t want theirs either. This sort of “excessive link exchange” is frowned up by Google and could land your website in some hot water for participating. Number 5 on the Mockingbird 10 Commandments tells us to be white hat to a fault. We don’t want to engage in anything that could harm our clients long-term, even if does give them a short-term boost. For the sake of a learning experience, let’s pretend I didn’t see that red-flag and continue on with my normal evaluation process. On to step 2…

Step 2: Is this site authoritative in the eyes of the search engines? Google uses a site’s authority as a trust signal, for example if you get a link from the New York Times, your site must have something good to offer. The go-to tool to determine a website’s domain authority is Moz’s Open Site Explorer. While far from perfect, it scores a site based on a domains backlink profile. Let’s check out the results…

Moz Open Site Explorer For Best Biz Local

20/100 actually isn’t as bad; a 20 is on par with what we see for the average law firm website. It’s low for a directory, but not terrible. This would not turn me away from using this directory. Again, this is assuming I didn’t see their link scheme right off the bat.

Step 3: Does Google trust this site? If this website asked to borrow your phone on the street would you let them, or would you pull the “sorry it’s dead…” card?  The go-to tool to determine a website’s trust flow is called Majestic. You can use Majestic’s Site Explorer feature with no SEO expertise. If you are have a link or are considering obtaining a link from a website like Best Biz Local, you want the trust flow number to be as far from 0 as possible.

Best Biz Local Majestic Score

Bestbizlocal.com’s score is 3. For reference, the average we generally see on law firm websites is in the teens. A major directory with such a low score is very concerning to me. If you look more closely at the picture you’ll see why the trust flow is so low — this site has nearly 150,000 external backlinks from only 6 referring domains. Those 6 sites are linking to bestbizlocal.com A LOT. There is no way to “naturally” link to another site thousands of times like that, so that was red flag number 2 for me.  And its safe to assume that a)this site doesn’t get any natural traffic and b)given their own spammy backlink profile, any links or citations on the site are, at best not going to help.  Sites relying heavily on these types of directories are heavily at risk of a Penguin penalty.

Now, this is not the perfect evaluation method for a potential directory/link opportunity. Sometimes you know right off the bat the linkexchangeforfree.com (disclaimer: made up website) is not a good website to obtain links from. Smaller directories, especially local directories, rarely have a plethora of links themselves, but (done well) they also won’t have either the reciprocal link requirement or a litany of links from a tiny subset of domains.


If you are presented with a new legal directory, or any sort of link opportunity, first take a deep breath and then take 10 minutes to follow these 3 steps to evaluate if it’s worth it or going to hurt you.

  1. Check out the process for a listing submission. Are you required to link back to their site? Are you required to pay a monthly fee for the link? If you see anything that directly violates these guidelines, take heed.
  2. Determine the website’s domain authority with Moz’s Open Site Explorer. Higher is better, but low is not always bad.
  3. Find out the trust flow score with Majestic. Be careful with anything under a 5/100. If Majestic doesn’t trust the site, you probably shouldn’t either.

If you are curious about any particular legal directory you’ve seen lately, or would like my help evaluating a site before you submit a listing, shoot me an email (dustin at mockingbirdmarketing dot com) and we can chat!

Google Playing with Click-to-Call Phone Numbers in Mobile Organic Results

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

In his blog post yesterday, local SEO guru Mike Blumenthal reported on click-to-call phone numbers now showing in mobile organic searches. What does this mean? Essentially, along with the normal website link and description, Google is now testing out clickable phone numbers directly in the search results for mobile searches. Let’s look at some examples from Mike’s blog post

Mobile Organic Click To Call AC Repair
In this example, the user was searching for AC repair businesses in Corpus Christi, Texas.


Mobile Organic Click Call Jewelers
The user was searching for local jewelers in Buffalo in this screenshot.

So what happened when I tried to replicate the click to call numbers for legal related search queries? (I’ll give you a hint: it worked.)

Mobile Organic Results Attorneys Buffalo
My search for “criminal defense attorney buffalo, ny” produced the click-to-call feature on page 3 of the results.


Mobile Organic Results Attorneys Spokane
In this example, you can see the click-to-call results on page 2 of the results for the query “dui attorney spokane wa”

Here’s what we know:

  1. The change was first noticed on February 29, 2016.
  2. Google is likely testing this feature – clickable phone numbers are not yet showing on the first results page (usually a solid sign this is a Google test).
  3. This is likely to be a mobile-only update.
  4. They are testing the new click-to-call feature in most service business searches, including legal search queries.

Why is this change significant?

It might not be. Most likely, this is just another test by Google to see how they can improve their user’s experience. We’ve seen mobile organic tests (remember colored separators on mobile?) like this before that never made it to the big stage. However, if this clickable phone number as part of the snippet is ultimately implemented across the SERPs (search engine results page) and not just sitting quietly on page 2, 3, or 4, there could be some major implications, both negative and positive.

Potential implications:

As an SEO, it’s not only fun, but also my job to speculate on the potential impact of Google’s tests. So what could this click-to-call change mean?

  1. Increased conversion rates. By removing one step for the user, they should be more likely to call your business.
  2. More holes in lead tracking. Much like in the local pack results, businesses probably won’t be able to use call tracking for the click-to-call number, thus creating a hole in lead reporting.
  3. NAP consistency will be key (with an emphasis on the P). If you have multiple conflicting phone numbers on your website – a common blunder in the legal industry – Google will be more likely to either display the incorrect number or not show your phone # at all for the click to call option.

Check back for updates – we’ll keep an eye on this for you.

Best Free Legal Directories: 2016

There are thousands of legal directories out on the web and more popping up each day. Some are awesome and some are atrocious. In this post we’ll focus on what Mockingbird has deemed as the best free legal directories from 2015.  Why best?  Because they deliver … clients, or search authority that delivers clients.  But mostly… clients.

First, let’s review 4 compelling reasons every lawyer should be actively creating listings on these sites.

  1. Clients – As with any marketing effort, your end goal is to gain more clients at a lower cost. It doesn’t get easier or more cost-efficient than acquiring a new client through a free listing on a third party website.
  2. Citations – When Google sees citations for your business showing up consistently across the web (same name, address, and phone number), the more inclined Google will be to serve up your business in localized search results.
  3. Links – It’s all about the links baby! Linkbuilding is one of the most daunting tasks we face as SEOs. Directory listings are the lowest hanging fruit in terms of legitimate linkbuilding. (Be careful though, low quality links can do my harm than good.)
  4. Directory sites dominate – More often than not, legal directories command much of the real estate in SERPs (search engine results pages). The screenshot below shows results for the search query “Nashville Divorce Lawyer” – notice how 4 of the 7 results show are for directory sites rather than individual firms? If you don’t have a listing on the sites that are consistently dominating search results, then you are missing out on a lot of eyeballs and potential clients.  We’ve been saying for years that this is going to change… and we’ve been wrong year after year. So play the directory game, because they are already winning.

Nashville Lawyer Search Query

Best Free Legal Directories – Ranked by Mockingbird

Below are Mockingbird’s favorite free sites ranked by our (incredibly official) Birdie Rating that accounts for things like: ease of use, whether or not the link is followed, competitiveness, and search presence.


Birdie Rating 5
Link: No follow
Why we like it: Industry leader; attorney endorsements; continually does well in the search results.  Unfortunately Avvo’s removed the follow link on your profile a few years ago; but you can still drive business with a robust profile and/or aggressive engagement in their Q&A section. (Oh – and Conrad used to run their marketing back in the day when it was just the speck of an idea.)


Birdie Rating 5
Link: Followed
Why we like it: ROT (return on time) is maximized – along with a link from Justia, you also get a listing in the Oyez directory and in Cornell directory.  We also love their founder, Tim Stanley, who is mad-scientist-smart about all things legal marketing and the original founder of ehmmmm… FindLaw.

Lawyer Legion

Birdie Rating 4
Link: Followed
Why we like it: Ties to NORML and NCDD so it’s especially great for DUI lawyers


Birdie Rating 4
Link: Followed
Why we like it: Strong link; non-competitive; we love the founder Brint Crockett who has done more than his share to expose legal marketing chicanery.


Lawyer Central

Birdie Rating 3
Link: No followed
Why we like it: User friendly


Birdie Rating 2
Link: Followed
Why we like it: High authority site offering a strong link (listing bonus includes free calls from commission-driven sales people in perpetuity)

Martindale Hubbell

Birdie Rating 2
Link: No link – citation only
Why we like it: Uses birth date as safeguard against manipulation and spammy tactics; strong domain that consistently performs well in legal search queries

Popular Membership-Based Legal Directories

Listed below are niche practice area sites that require paid memberships and/or an application for acceptance into the directory. 


Consumer Advocates:


Elder Law:


Family Law:





Trust & Estate:

Looking Ahead

It’s a new year; do yourself a favor and take a few hours out of your weekend to create listings in the above directories.

If you would like to see the slide deck from Mockingbird’s webinar, view the recording, or just say hi, please feel free to email me directly.

YP Advertising’s Efficacy: Case Study

At Mockingbird we pride ourselves on the ability to push aside bias and focus on what works. Our hubris lies solely in being successful for our clients no matter which channel we use to find that success. This sort of flexibility along with our ability to track the efficacy of marketing spends requires us to constantly experiment with new channels. Our most recent marketing channel adventure is as follows…

A few months ago we were approached by Yellow Pages to try their new(ish) advertising platform called ypSearch Marketplace. We figured, why not? The economical theory makes sense – buy PPC traffic cheaper than you can in the ultra-competitive Google AdWords marketplace. After some sales pitches and onboarding calls we were off and running with our first 4 clients. We started with small investments to test the waters – a couple hundred dollars a month per client. I was told these budgets would not be enough to last an entire month, to which I replied, “Great I’m always happy to be wrong!” (Stole that line from my boss.)

However, I was not wrong. We started with a $300/month spend for one of my clients. It’s now been almost 3 months and we’ve spent a total of $335.21. There are many different reasons for this: infrastructure issues, credit card application mishaps, and lengthy on-boardings. Even after these infrastructure issues were solved, they didn’t seem to have the volume we needed to spend the money we had put aside for this test.

We’ll get back to that discussion a bit later, for now let’s look solely at the math. This is my favorite part because although it’s pre-algebra, not many people take the time to break it down.

(Numbers at time of report)

Client 1: Family Law, NY

  • Total spend: $331.66
  • Total clicks: 69 clicks
  • Cost per Click: $4.81
  • Total calls: 23 (4 of which were over 2 min)
  • Avg. duration – 264 seconds or 4.4 min (remove the outliers and you get an average of only 37 seconds!)
  • Total prospects: 0
  • Total clients: 0

Client 2: Personal Injury, FL

  • Total spend: $92.60
  • Total clicks: 11 clicks
  • Cost per Click: $8.42
  • Total calls: 9
  • Avg. duration – 42.61 seconds
  • Total prospects: 0
  • Total clients: 0

The math tells us the click-to-call ratio was 43% — or 4 of 10 people that clicked on the advertisement actually called the firm. That’s an absurdly high number (usually we see closer to 10-15%).

Now if you listen to the majority of the PPC experts and Online Advertising Guru’s out there you’ll be saying TAAAAKE MY MONEY! The KPI’s are through the roof; the click-thru-rate is insane, the cost-per-click couldn’t be lower, and the conversion rate is, well, unheard of. Seriously I’ve never heard of a 43% conversion rate. Let’s dig deeper because this is too good to be true.

How many of these leads turned into a prospect or client?

A total of 32 people called our 2 law firms and of these leads not a single one turned into a client or even a prospect. If you’re curious, we typically qualify a lead as a “prospect” once an appointment is made. I tend to avoid speculation, but if I had to guess, I would say the majority of these 32 calls came from PPC sales people trolling the directories for leads.

Final conclusion to the YP efficacy discussion…

Zero Prospects

Zero Clients

Zero Energy left to keep trying.

If your goal is to purchase traffic to your site, then maybe you should include YP’s advertising platform into your marketing mix. The cost-per-click numbers are comparable to Facebook and other cheap channels. However, if your objective is to drive leads, then maybe this isn’t the best channel for you.

Now, it’s important to note that we spent 20+ hours setting up a total of 4 small budget campaigns. This is atypical – but YP’s entire process was a disaster. Their billing was arduous, the user interface was a mess and the report was downright inane. There were problems at every step of the way. So if we now incorporate the overhead costs into our YP experiment, this was a huge financial quagmire. Again, let’s do that math on that. In order to get a 6x return for my family law client, we would need the cost-per-client to be roughly $500. Insert the classic advertising line, “If you get just one client it will be worth it!” but even that cliché marketing BS isn’t true in this case. We would need at least 5 clients at $500 cost-per-client to cover our labor costs alone (I wish I could tell you I’ve seen 5 solid leads…). When we brought up this issue with the reps from YP, their solution was to try more of a shotgun approach to keyword bidding. This may have solved our lack in volume and spend issue, but may very well lead to the same number of prospects and clients (0).

Simply put, the work isn’t worth the potential return.

We track all of our clients’ marketing spend pedantically, but our sample size was admittedly small. If you’ve had a different experience with ypSearch Marketplace, please let us know.

We’re always happy to be wrong 😉

A Lesson on Understanding Your Website Data

Switching from one marketing agency to another probably feels a lot like trying to cancel your Comcast contract. However, it’s not only hard on the business looking for a new agency, it’s hard on us too. Taking over a client means taking over all of their baggage (good and bad). Don’t be mistaken; we love bringing on new clients regardless of the situation or agency they are leaving, but some situations are certainly more challenging than others.

Some of the common “joys” we experience during this transition include: tracking down login information, cleaning up dirty links, and struggling to get tracking and cost data. The latest joy I experienced was completely out of the ordinary…

The Odd Situation

Let’s take a step back. A couple months ago we took on a new client for a website redesign project moving in to a SEO/advertising monthly retainer (a typical type of engagement for us). We completed the redesign and launched the new site. We did very minimal “SEO” work prior to launching the new site; but we were careful to migrate all the existing content exactly as it was on the old site. Essentially the new website was the old site with a really, really nice facelift. However, something a little strange happened…

In the first period after launching the new site (Mockingbird reports on 28 day periods) we took a 37% drop in organic traffic. Hmmm. I expected traffic to be relatively flat since we hadn’t made any real improvements to the site, aside from adding a few plugins. I certainly didn’t expect a colossal drop in traffic.

Digging Into The Data Like Any SEO Nerd Would

Before conferring with the client, I took an initial dive into the Google Analytics data. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), I found no glaring issues or reasons as to why the site was seeing such a drastic drop. As always, I then called my client and proactively delivered the bad news over a screen-share. I delivered the bad news about their drop in natural search traffic and was ready for questions. Some theories we discussed:

  1. We did site-wide redirects to remove the “.aspx” from the end of every URL. This may have confused Google and the search giant just needed time to adjust.
  2. It was a holiday weekend and we’re dealing with small(ish) traffic numbers so that could have a large impact.
  3. Lastly, we’re dealing with small numbers so a 37% drop seems more drastic then it really is.

After informing my client of the possible reasons for the drop, I had to tell them honestly, “I’m not sure.” That’s not a good feeling. I’m the expert and should know the answer.

On a side note, I will say that all the other data points looked to be going in a positive direction. Local traffic and number of leads generated was up, and the cost per lead was down. Other site metrics looked good too: the site speed had drastically increased, the number of indexed pages took a huge positive spike, our number of impressions grew since the last period, and the average rankings moved up by 5 spots.

Picture proof…

(Increase in website speed)

Time Spent Downloading Page

(Increase in # of indexed pages)

Total Indexed Pages

Feeling unsatisfied with our lack of answers, I dredged through the data again with the goal of finding exactly which pages lost organic traffic. If I could identify a trend in those pages, I could do my best to reverse that trend. This time I found something I missed before.

To find which pages were losing traffic, I looked at organic landing page sessions. If you want to look at your own organic landing page data follow these steps: navigate to acquisition > channels > organic search > change your primary dimension from keywords to landing page. (Full disclosure – there are many ways to parse this same data out of analytics. I outlined my steps.) Upon looking at the landing page URL’s I noticed something really wonky. There were a lot, and I mean A LOT, of URL’s ending in parameters that I had never before seen. Here is an example (very edited to keep anonymity for both my client and the past agency):


Allow me to explain why this is so disconcerting (hopefully without losing you in technical jargon). We typically see organic sessions to normal website pages that look similar to this: sampledomain.com/criminal-law/ but instead we were seeing these crazy long and complicated URL endings. In the example URL you’ll see a bolded section “PPC=Google” which tells me this particular URL is used to track advertising (PPC=Google means pay-per-click advertising with Google). Now, it’s not weird to see a tracking parameter like this, but it is weird to see it in the Organic traffic bucket of Google Analytics. The website sessions to this URL should be counted in the paid channel and not an organic channel. Now I knew the data I had reported to my client was inaccurate.

The Results:

Organic Traffic increased by 28% and did not decrease  37%

We actually increased the number of organic sessions in the first period but initially failed to see it because of these “PPC” parameters messing with the data.

The Important Lesson

Dig deeper into the data and always investigate traffic drops and other anomalies to find causation. It’s imperative to report data accurately, don’t give up and settle for a theoretical answer (SEO lends itself to this) when you have an immense amount of data at your fingertips. This point becomes especially important when taking over a client from a different agency. Although Google Analytics is already completely free and built by some of the smartest people in the world, there are companies out there that elect to use their own data tracking software. Be mindful of this when delving into your own data.

Communication is Imperative to SEO and Life

Meeting with your SEO agency shouldn’t feel like a conversation with your mechanic, and calling your client shouldn’t be met with the same degree of dread as a Thanksgiving dinner with extended family. (Aunt Jody never stops bugging me about “finding a nice girl.”)

Instrument Of Communication Or Torture

What Happened to Honest Communication?

Unfortunately, SEO’s and online marketers work in an industry that enables us to easily fill our conversations with technical nonsense and acronyms that only others in our niche can understand. In this way, we’re able to avoid the tough conversations. If a less than scrupulous agency is failing to bring you clients, no problem, they can spin the metrics so that they still look favorable. (It helps having so many metrics to work with).

It’s likely when your agency should be telling you, “Google AdWords isn’t working for you as a marketing channel – it’s just not making your phone ring. We should kill our spend with Google and try investing in a different channel.”

They’ll instead offer up some technobabble bull like this, “Well the conversion rates were low last period, but we’re optimistic. The ad’s quality scores are all above 6, our CTR is at about 2%, and the average CPC is over $40.00 for your vertical.”

This might as well be Cantonese for a client who uses the Internet solely to share pictures of their grandchildren on Facebook. *Cough* my parents *cough*

If the client can’t even understand the answer to their question, what value are they receiving? Are they learning anything about the efficacy of their advertising spend? What return they are seeing from their investment?

If I’m starting to sound passionate, it’s because I am.

Important side note: I don’t speak for everyone in our industry – there are a lot of people doing really great work and an even better job communicating it.

Calling your Client Shouldn’t be Dreadful

Communication can be hard — especially for those of us who spend our life on the Internet. It’s twice as hard for those of us with an inexplicable phone phobia.

As someone who falls into both of the previous buckets, I would be lying if I told you I’m always excited and eager to deliver reports to clients. Proactively delivering bad news sucks. It just really sucks. But, in the end, my clients are important to me. When I don’t perform for them – yes it happens – I want my clients to know they can (and should) hold my feet to the fire. I want my clients to know they at least deserve an explanation, and one they can understand.

If you’re going to pour 15 hours of your life into broken link building, why not spend 15 minutes on the phone explaining what the hell link building is? I use SEO-related examples as the vehicle to drive my message, but really this holds true for any industry.

The fact is this: none of my clients care that I spent 15 hours compiling a list of over 1,000 sites we found with broken links to similar resources so we can perform email outreach. Why would they care? They care about the phone ringing. Communicating how building this list will lead to the phone ringing is a must.

Content Communication is King

Often times in SEO we hear all sorts of experts talk about how to be successful: “content is king” or “you need local links” or “mobile friendliness is top priority.” Yes all of these things hold some truth, but unfortunately, none of these things matter if you fail to explain their importance.

I’m far from an expert in communication. However, I know the value of doing it well. Communication is imperative to a client’s success and both parties need to care in order to be successful. Client won’t pick up the phone? Hound them. A few polite, “I’m following up on the follow-up to my initial follow-up” emails should get your point across. Clients: You hired an agency to do the work for you, but you’re investing in yourself here. You know your business and the ‘feel’ of the impact of the work being done. Be involved in the marketing of your business. Be available when your agency needs you.

The Conclusion

Our Director, and overall awesome communicator, always reminds the team to follow this simple principle. It can pay considerable dividends in client loyalty:

“If you’re thinking about your client, shoot them an email. If you’re getting ready to send an email, pick up the phone instead.”