Google Will Now Use Mobile-Friendliness as a Ranking Factor

Over the last few months Google has alluded to the importance of a mobile friendly (responsive) design. Now we know why. In Google’s own words, “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.” Google will also “begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed.” That’s right — Google will once again shake up the Internet world with an algorithmic ranking update, and this time they’re giving us a warning.

What does mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal mean?

Google considers a multitude of different signals to determine the quality of your website. For instance, they look at your backlinks (or other sites on the web that link to yours). They use your content as a signal – is it fresh, unique, and high quality? They consider the technological soundness of your site – how easily can their bot and users can find and navigate your site? The list could go on, but the important thing to remember is that in addition to the factors mentioned above, Google will now be using mobile-friendly factors to help rank your site in mobile search results.

This means that if you want to show up well in Google’s mobile search results, and we know you do, it’s critical that you update your site to be mobile-friendly.

The particulars of the update

At Mockingbird we try our best to keep technical jargon to a minimum (which is admittedly difficult), but it’s important to explain how this update will impact search results. Here are the specifics:

  • Algorithm runs in real-time – we suspect this means that if your site is updated to be mobile-responsive, you could see an immediate bump in the search results.
  • Page by page basis – if your home page is mobile friendly and the rest of your pages are not then only your home page will benefit.
  • Site will be labeled as mobile-friendly – if Google views your site as mobile-friendly, they will mark it as such in the search results that they produce to users. In theory this will increase your click-through rate. This is already happening – you can see an example from this screenshot I took this morning:

Mobile Friendly Google Results

Why does Google care about mobile-friendly (responsive) design?

Quite simply, Google cares about user experience (and you should too). Let me pontificate on the importance of this point. You should care how your customers (and, even more importantly, potential customers) interact with your site. If the user has to pinch, zoom, and drag your site all over their phone or tablet, they will not be satisfied with their experience. It may not be something you actively think about (I do because I’m an Internet nerd), but we’re all familiar on some level with the annoyance of a non-responsive site.

According to a Local Search Association study released today (March 11th, 2015), “60% of US adults now typically choose smartphones or tablets over PCs to find information before buying products and services offline.” Creating a great mobile experience for the user can no longer be a second thought, but instead an integral part of design and development.

What will this update mean for legal?

There are two important considerations when thinking about the impact on the legal industry:

  1. Lawyers often fall behind the times on Internet and SEO best practices (possibly why we see such obvious spam in the industry).
  2. Legal is extremely competitive compared to most other markets (also possibly why spam is so prevalent in this industry).

You can view this update as an opportunity to surpass your abhorred competitors, or you can view it as another Google-induced headache. Either way, it’s coming on April 21st and you can’t move out of the way.

What can and should you do?

If you’re not sure whether your site is mobile-friendly, don’t worry; Google makes it extremely simple to test whether or not your site passes their test. You can check out your site in real time via Google’s “Mobile-Friendly Test”. You can see our actual result below.

Mockingbird Google Mobile Test

If you passed, congratulations! You need not fear April 21st.

If you were greeted with a handful of red error messages, it’s time to seriously consider updating your site to be responsive to any device. Don’t get left behind in the extremely competitive legal landscape. If you need help avoiding the pain Google’s unmerciful hand, give us a call: 206-209-2125.

Citations – Overlooked Boon for Legal Industry

What is a citation?

Citations are a key determinate of your firm’s success in local search engine optimization.

Definition – mention of your business name, address, and (ideally) your phone number on webpages across the Internet. The distinguishing factor of a citation: a link to your website is not required.

Citations come in different forms. It could be a mention of your business name all by itself; a mention of your name and phone number; name, phone number and physical address; or name, phone number, physical address and website link.

The two main types of citations are structured and unstructured.

Unstructured citations are exactly how they sound – they are less formal and may only mention one of the NAP (name, address, phone number) components for your business. You will see this type of citation on blogs, in job descriptions, online news articles, etc.

Structured citations are what you see most commonly on the web. These are listings found in directories like Yelp, Citysearch, Manta, etc. We spend a lot of time at Mockingbird ensuring structured citations are listed consistently. They are the most complete representation of your business and, for the most part, the easiest to update (with some noted headaches).

Why citations are vital to your firm’s local SEO

The legal industry is arguably one of the most competitive verticals on the web. Lawyers need to utilize every tactic available, and acquiring citations is seldom done correctly if at all.

Citations are a critical component to major search engine ranking algorithms. Moz explains the different ranking components in their 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors study. Screen shot from this study below.

Local Search Ranking Factors Pie

In English: search engines pull basic business information from your website and a multitude of directories across the web in order to integrate that information into a single listing to show users. Google and Bing only want to present results that they trust are accurate. Why? Their success depends on it – sending a user to an incorrect address is the easiest way for a search engine to lose trust with that user.

So how can you build trust that your physical location is actually where you say it is? Consistent citations.

Google will trust that you are in fact a local business if your basic information, also known as NAP (name, address, phone number), is exactly the same across multiple authoritative sites and directories (think Yelp, Yellowpages, Avvo…). This helps separate the real businesses from the fake, spammy ones trying to game the system.

Let’s talk about something we all know; lawyers long for the coveted number one spot in the local pack. We can’t blame them. If you’re unfamiliar with the term local pack, it’s the group of local business listings that appears directly above the actual search results.

For example the local pack for the search term “Seattle marketing firm” looks like this:

Google Search Seattle Marketing Firm

Moz explains in their local search ranking report that external location signals (or citations) are the third most important factor used to rank businesses. If you’re wondering, the first two are on-page and link signals. Your name, address, and phone number should show up exactly the same across the web if you hope to show in local searches.

It’s an important task and something that every law firm must do.

Where to start

Starting is hard. It’s long, tedious, and frustrating work. Trust me I deal with this dirt every day.

Your first step is to choose a name, an address, and a single phone number that represents your business. Then find and edit every inaccurate listing out on the web. Tip: Keep an excel file that documents all of this information as you go. You can use this simple template we’ve created. Here are the top-tier directories and data aggregators you need to get right:

  • Acxiom
  • Factual – can’t edit
  • Infogroup
  • Localeze (Neustar)

Google trusts these sources because they are not easily polluted. Learn more about updating these main data aggregators, and the level of difficulty for each.

Top tier directories/citation opportunities

  • D&B
  • Bing Places for Business
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Google+ Local
  • LinkedIn
  • Yelp for Business

Google and people alike trust these sources and actually use them.

Low-hanging fruit (not included in Moz Local or Yext subscriptions)

  • Thumbtack
  • Yellow Pages
  • Manta
  • Angies List
  • Yellowbook
  • Kudzu
  • InsiderPages

Not the SEO savior you are searching for…

4 Citations Local Pack

Citations are not the be-all and end-all SEO solution that everyone is searching for (in case your hopes were rising). However, they could be your demise. Solid NAP consistency may be taken for granted if you have it, but if you don’t have it, you may never find yourself in that local pack.

Obligatory lawyer example

You are a personal injury attorney in NYC. Competition is cutthroat because of your practice area and geographic location.

Here’s the case. While crossing the street, an unfortunate New Yorker is struck by a taxi. Upon release from the hospital, the victim takes the obvious next step and searches for an experienced PI lawyer. He searches for “New York Personal Injury Attorney” and lands on your law firm’s listing in Google’s local pack. BOOM. All your hard work to improve your local visibility has paid off. All you have to do is pick up the phone and turn that lead into a lucrative client.

Local Pack Show Me Money

But that doesn’t happen. Instead of getting your firm’s front desk, the disgruntled New Yorker has called your old number, which is now the local UPS office. I highly doubt the victim wants legal representation from the men in brown. This is annoying, but only a slight inconvenience for him because he calls another listing from the local pack. Now your qualified lead is a client for your most loathed competitor, Joe-from-down-the-block. Don’t send clients to your competitors. That’s not good business.

The Facts

  1. Citations help your local SEO.
  2. You need proactively monitor citations for consistency.
  3. There’s a partial citation, and a complete citation – aim for the complete.
  4. It’s not easy work but it pays off.

Parting notes:

  • Evaluate the situation – is a great place to start.
  • Start with your Google+ profile – fixing this is easy and will have the maximum ROI (or really ROTI).
  • Consistency over quantity – get it right before you run wild with building citations.

Go forth and take citations into your own hands. Or call us for help… that works too.

Why You are Your Firm’s Best (and Worst) Content Writer

Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. I picked up this cliché in business school, but it’s a cliché for a reason.

So here’s what I’m going to tell you: you are your firm’s best content writer.

Inevitably, some of you will fail to read past the first few paragraphs of this post, but there are a few things I don’t want you to miss this. Here is the 21-word summary for why you are your best content writer:

  • You know your industry.
  • You know your audience.
  • You know your company.
  • You care.

You are your firm’s best content writer for these 4 simple reasons.

You know your industry

Yes, some content writers can probably pump out 5 or 6 pages by the time you’ve read through a single motion (or whatever painstaking task is a must-do in your industry). However, content writers likely don’t know the industry like you do. If you’ve been doing something hands on for 30 years it’s a safe bet that you have a wider breadth of knowledge than a 25-year-old writer.

Use your wealth of industry knowledge, experience, and familiarity to create content that’s relevant and helpful. Use your writing to convey not only your expertise, but also your personality and brand. Your audience already knows that you are a lawyer – time to let them know who you are as a person.

You know your audience

Who knows your market better than you? Nobody.

An English major sitting in a swanky office space in Portland, while intelligent and well written, does not play in the dirt. Unlike you, they aren’t dealing with clients face to face. They don’t share that direct connection with your audience and they never will. You are in the dirt everyday, you know exactly what your clients are up against, and you know the questions they will ask. You provide guidance, reason, and confidence to your clients everyday in a face-to-face setting. Why not establish that same presence and voice through your website?

Not sure what this looks like? Check out this excerpt from Daniel Gershburg’s “Our Firm” page:

“The lawyer you pick shouldn’t just be a bunch of smiley faces and ratings on a bunch of different websites whose main job it is to make money off of ratings and advertising.  The lawyer you pick should be someone your confident will get the job done efficiently, and whom you trust (and who will earn that trust every day).  He/She should be responsive and not short in their responses to you, no matter the question you ask or the way you ask it.  He/She should be someone who will value what you say and guide you through the process, rather than someone who thinks you’re a number.” – Daniel Gershburg, New York Bankruptcy and Real Estate Attorney

Gershburg’s prose is a shining counterexample to the typical vapid law firm About Us drivel. He inspires confidence and trustworthiness through his unique, personal and humorous writing –

You can do this too!

You know your company

Who is the first to know if you win a big case? You are. Who is the first to know that you hired a new attorney? You are. Who is the first to know that you’re expanding your offices to a new city? You are.

Updating content writers on such developments creates an unavoidable cycle of back and forth emails, sometimes taking weeks to get the point across. Why not attack the opportunity immediately? As the business owner or employee, you can jump on these content-worthy events and experiences right now. Someone from the outside looking in cannot.

Also, every business has a distinct company culture or collective personality. You work in the office with your employees everyday. You know what makes your business tick and you know why clients love to work with you. Write about that. Let your writing reflect your brand, your positioning and yourself instead of droning on about “Boston Speeding Ticket, Attorney, blah blah blah blah blah . . .”

You care more

This is your life; this is what you do. Some of you put 70+ hours a week into work. Many lawyers still get the same joy out of fighting for your thousandth client as you did your first. Why let someone else explain that for you?

Why you are your WORST content writer

While they have the potential to be the best, lawyers (and small business owners in general) are often the worst content writers. I am not bashing or bad-mouthing lawyers – we love lawyers! (Seriously, it’s number 1 on Mockingbird’s 10 commandments). However, as an owner or employee, you are often the absolute worst content writers for one simple reason: you don’t do it.

Whatever the reason (too busy, too much of a perfectionist, writer’s block) here are a few strategies to overcome your content standstill.

Get something up!

“Done is better than perfect.” That’s our mantra here at Mockingbird.

The words that go on your site do not need to sound like Hemingway; they just have to be there!

If your site has thin content, or lacks content all together, focus on getting something live on the site. Start by rewriting the boilerplate practice areas pages that could be interchangeable with the 5 competitors across the street. It’s imperative to have something – even if it’s just to let potential clients know what you practice.

Google is not a fan of empty sites and it’s important to remember websites are not concrete. They are fluid projects that you can and should work on continuously. If you know you are missing content then try and take 30 minutes out of your day to write something. Remember, done is better than perfect.

Outsource the work

Let me be clear: I am not saying you should completely avoid outsourcing. Although much of my life revolves around the Internet, I know your life does not. It would be ignorant to suggest that everyone, and especially attorneys, have extra time to pour into writing for their website. Additionally, some attorneys have had all the flair and creativity beaten out of them through three years studying the fine art of legal writing at law school.

For example, there’s a lawyer in Seattle we know who also happens to be an FAA certified pilot, former African safari guide, and world record holding fisherman. Okay, we get it, you might not have time to write your own website content.

If you don’t have the time, the first step is to admit it. Then, find someone who can create it for you. If you find yourself in the market for some content, we suggest WDWC (We Do Web Content).


  • You are your firm’s best content writer
  • Focus on getting content live; done is better than perfect
  • If you don’t have time, outsource it

Congratulations! You made it to the end of the longest blog post I’ve ever written. Hopefully you walk away with a sense of understanding, and more importantly, inspiration.

Now, stop reading and start writing.

Pending Penguin Update – Is Your Site Ready?

A new Penguin update could rollout as early as this week. This is a huge – you need to make sure your site is ready.

What is Penguin?

Let’s start with the basics… Google uses a number of factors to decide where (if at all) to rank websites in the search results. Site authority is one of the most important of these factors. Google determines site authority by counting backlinks (or links from other websites that link back to your website). In order for your site to show up well, it is very important to have quality backlinks rather than hundreds of spammy links. Unfortunately, many attorneys have found this out the hard way.

Penguin is code name for an update Google made to their algorithm. The intention of the update is to punish sites that use dirty techniques to obtain links (ie: buy them or trade links with other sites).

How the System Has Been Gamed

SEO’s in the legal arena are especially notorious for using spammy backlinks to try and game the system and boost their ranking in search results. Unfortunately, working with attorneys, we have seen far too many clients hit by Penguin penalties because of these shady techniques. It can be a painstaking process to clean up and remove the (sometimes hundreds) of dirty backlinks, but this is one of our most important jobs and is not taken lightly.

What Does This Mean for Lawyers?

Although the percentage of sites that will be affected is still unknown, we expect an immense re-shuffling of rankings, and soon. Many businesses are hoping to finally be relinquished from the pain of the last punitive Penguin update.

We have been waiting for a refresh for 364 days now. Every time there is a Penguin refresh, Google chooses to forgive sites that have committed to cleaning up their backlink profile. Disavowing bad links (or telling Google that you want certain links to your website to be completely ignored).

Unfortunately, according to Google’s Gary Illyes, it may be too late to disavow before the new update hits. However don’t fret, assuming this update isn’t delayed during testing, the new algorithm will allow for more periodic refreshes.  It’s never a bad time to run a backlink audit and prepare for the next impending refresh. If you’re currently benefitting from spammy links (which is the case for many attorneys) disavowing backlinks may feel like amputating a leg. However, if you don’t, it is only a matter of time before you suffer a Penguin penalty.

Summary For Those Who Hate Words:

The latest algorithm update for back-links (penguin) is coming soon and should help those who have worked diligently to clean up their backlink profile. For those who haven’t, now is the time to start.