Top Announcements From Google Ads & Analytics Innovations Keynote

This morning, we tuned into the Google Ads and Analytics Innovations Keynote at the Google Performance Summit. The theme, overwhelmingly, was a focus on mobile;  “mobile is everything” and we’re living in a “mobile-first world.” Here’s what we learned:

Upcoming Changes to Google AdWords

  1. 50% more ad text. Ads will soon be made up of two 30 character headlines and an expanded description (up to 80 characters).
  2. Display ads. Where as currently you (or your designer) must create different ads in different sizes for each device, the process will soon be made much easier. In the future, you will only need to submit an ad headline, description, and image, and site URL and Google will create responsive ads for you.
  3. Individual bid adjustments for each device type. Instead of desktop being the default, you’ll be able to choose a base keyword bid for whatever device matters most to you, and then adjust for the others accordingly.

Location-Based Advertising Changes

  1. Location Extensions Expansion. Location extensions will be richer and more expanded, and will be shown on google.com, the maps app, and Google Maps.
  2. Promoted Pins in Google Maps. Promoted pins will display to users as they’re navigating. For example, on your walk to the bus stop, you may see a promoted pin for a nearby Starbucks.
  3. Enhanced Accuracy. Using Beacon signals, accuracy will be improved allowing advertisers to better track in store conversions after a user clicks a mobile ad.

New Features for Display Advertising

  1. Similar Audiences for Search. Remarketing Lists for Search Ads currently allow advertisers to target users who have already been to your website. Using Similar Audiences for Search, you’ll be able to create a list of Google users who have not yet been to your site, but have similar demographics and interests to users who have visited your site.
  2. Demographics for Search Ads. This update will allow advertisers to adjust text ad bids based on age, as well as other user demographics.
  3. Extending reach of Google Display Network. The GDN will be expanded by giving advertisers access to Cross Exchange Inventory.

Finally, in the more distant future, advertisers can expect a complete overhaul to the AdWords user experience. There will be a new homepage dashboard, and a new campaign creation flow, among other updates. For a complete list of all changes announced, check out Search Engine Land’s coverage.

What do these changes mean for law firms?

The announcements, while exciting, have ambiguous release dates ranging from “in the next few months” to “2017”. So while you can’t implement these new features now, it’s a good time to make sure your advertiser is on top of these changes. If you run your own advertising, make sure you’re staying on top of release dates. If that sounds unrealistic, think about if now might be the right time to bring someone else in to help you out.

Top 5 Most Important Sections in Google Search Console

Previously known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console is a free tool that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s organic presence in Google search results. It is Google’s primary method of communication with webmasters, and is how you would be informed of serious site issues, such as manual penalties and potential hacks. The top 5 most important areas to pay attention to are as follows:

5. Crawl Errors

crawl-errors-google-search-consoleCrawl Errors give you valuable information on what is happening when Googlebot attempts to crawl your website. Errors show up when Googlebot attempted to crawl and was unsuccessful for one reason or another. For each error type, you can hover over the question mark to get more information.

Generally, crawl errors shouldn’t be too alarming – Google has said they are a natural part of the web ecosystem. However, if you’re seeing an increasing number of errors or an overall large number, it could mean users are having a poor experience when using your site. You can resolve crawl errors by manually correcting an incorrect link, or setting up 301 redirects.

4. Sitemaps

sitemaps-google-search-console

A site map is, quite literally, a map of your site that you can use to tell Google about the organization of your site’s content. Using this tool you can see all of the sitemaps that have been submitted for your site, the date they were processed, and any issues that have come up with them.

In a perfect world, the blue bar showing the number of pages you’ve submitted via sitemap would exactly match the red bar, showing the number of pages Google has indexed. This doesn’t need to be perfect, but if there’s a big disparity, it’s something worth checking out. It could mean your sitemap lists old/broken URLs, or Google is not indexing all of your pages.

3. Index Status

index-status-google-search-console

Similar to the sitemap tool, this section shows how many pages on your website Google has indexed (recognized). This tool can be very useful for identifying trends over time. Namely, if there’s a sudden drop in the number of pages Google has indexed for your site, there’s probably a problem.

2. Manual Actions

manual-actions-google-search-console

In this section, Google will notify you if you’re received a manual penalty. Here, no news is good news. However, if you do receive a manual penalty, it’s crucial you find out as soon as possible.

1. Security Issues

security-issues-google-search-console

Finally, in the security issues section Google will let you know if your site has been suspected to have hacking or phishing issues. Again, no news is good news. If you were to have a hacking issue, you can also find troubleshooting resources here.

Squarespace vs WordPress for your Law Firm Website

Although it’s been around for a while, we’ve been hearing more and more about Squarespace lately. While it could be a great option for a portfolio or personal website, the real question is: can you use Squarespace for a law firm website?

Pros of Using Squarespace

  • Low cost – Squarespace websites run between $8 and $18 a month. For comparisons sake, using WordPress and hosting on WPEngine (which we recommend), runs $29/month. Although that extra $10 provides daily automatic backups and increased security measures, it’s still more expensive.
squarespace-pricing
Squarespace Pricing
  • Ease of use – For some one with minimal tech experience, Squarespace is very user-friendly. It’s designed well and uses a drag and drop page builder, which allows you to see your changes in real time. WordPress, while still fairly intuitive, comes with a lot more bells and whistles.
  • Mobile responsive – While it’s not uncommon for site builders to be mobile friendly, it’s important. All Squarespace sites work on computer monitors, phones, and all devices in between. WordPress is also mobile friendly, but it’s theme/developer depenedent.

Cons of Using Squarespace

  • Lack of customizability – Squarespace pales in comparison to WordPress in terms of customizability, in both functionality and design. Do you need a multilingual site? Want randomized blog posts in your footer? Have a vision in mind of exactly how you want your site to look? Squarespace won’t work for you.
  • SEO limitations – Squarespace makes SEO basics possible, but certainly not easy. Titles and meta descriptions indicated as “optional.” URL redirects, absolutely vital if you ever do any site restructuring, are hidden in Advanced settings. In WordPress, using a plugin like SEO Yoast makes SEO basics easy.

squarespace-seo-settings-optional

  • Proprietary – Unlike WordPress, which is open source, Squarespace is a proprietary system. While this might not cause problems short-term, it could mean trouble down the road. For example, only Squarespace developers can create tools for their websites or help you if something goes wrong.
  • Image focused – While for some this may be a plus (think wedding photographers and chefs), this can be a limitation for the legal industry. Many law firms lack high quality images that represent their firm.

Should You Use Squarespace for Your Law Firm Website?

My final verdict? Squarespace isn’t a bad option, especially if you’re on a shoestring budget and have a couple free hours on a Tuesday night to build it yourself. You could do worse. But you could also do much, much better.

Assuming time and money negligible, a custom WordPress site will always be your best bet. It will allow you to do everything you want to do and differentiate you from your competitors. For more information, you can read up on our website build process here.

If a custom WordPress site isn’t in the cards for you this year, you may be a good fit for Echo. Echo is our alternative to Squarespace and other website builders. It’s a legal-specific templated site that gives you the SEO benefits of a custom WordPress site and the low cost simplicity of Squarespace. If you want to learn more about Echo, you can do so here.

If you are going to use Squarespace, here are a few parting nuggets of wisdom:

  • Utilize their 14 day free trial without changing anything on your current site to see how it works for you. Make sure you no index your site during this time so it can’t be found by search engines.
  • Purchase a new domain or link your existing firm domain (use lawfirm.com vs lawfirm.squarespace.com).
  • Utilize the Google Analytics integration. Squarespace provides their own proprietary analytics in your site dashboard, but should you ever move away from Squarespace, you would no longer have access to it. You are nothing without data

Have more questions? Need advice? Give us a call.

Should Your Law Firm’s Website Have a Privacy Policy?

Short answer: Yes.

Medium answer: It’s best practice for you to do so, but not required by law unless you do business in the state of California and/or target children under the age of 13.

Long answer: Read on.

What is a Privacy Policy?

A privacy policy is generally a page on your website letting your users know how you collect and handle their information. It serves two main purposes. On one hand, it informs users on what is happening with their information so they can protect themselves. On the other hand, it allows webmasters to avoid potential legal issues.

Privacy policies serve a different purpose than a disclaimer, which are also good to have on your website. A disclaimer denies responsibility. For law firms, this usually means informing users that the content on your website is not and is not intended to be legal advice (and other statements along the same lines.)

Best Practices

  • Let users know what information you collect, whether or not that information is personally identifiable, and explain how that information is collected.
  • If you share user information, state who the information is shared with and how it is shared with them.
  • State that if you are compelled by law to disclose information, you will comply with such orders.
  • Give readers the option to correct, change or remove any personal information about themselves.
  • Include a last updated or effective by date.
  • Communicate if/when you’ll update it and how you’ll communicate changes.
  • If you’re not a lawyer or you outsource the writing of your policy, get it reviewed by a lawyer.

3 Tips for Writing Your Website’s Privacy Policy

  1. Don’t say you’ll never share user information with a third-party, because there’s a 90% chance you will. Do you have a web developer/marketing company working on your site? Third party. If you were legally required to share that information with law enforcement, would you? Third party.
  2. Write in plain English. Test this by having your non-lawyer non-internet marketer friend read it and see if they understand. If they have questions, answer them in your privacy policy.
  3. Put this bad boy on your website somewhere where users can see it. Add the page somewhere navigable, like your footer. Hiding your privacy policy in size 4 font or only making it accessible via sitemap doesn’t do anyone any good.

A Special Note for Lawyers

You should really probably have a privacy policy, because:

  1. You are collecting information about your users; you should tell them about it.
  2. You have the know-how to create a privacy policy without needing to consult someone else (other than perhaps your web developer to get it put online), so just do it.

Call Only Campaigns

Nearly a year ago, AdWords announced Call Only Campaigns. In case you missed it, Call Only Ads are similar to traditional paid search ads – but they don’t link to your website. Instead, when searches click on the ad, they will be prompted to call your business.

call-only-ad-example

 

If you are advertising with Google AdWords and are interested in people calling your business, you’re a candidate for Call Only Ads. The success of Call Only Campaigns is widely variable, like any advertising campaign. However, in some cases the results can be dramatic.

For example, we have one client who implemented Call Only Ads on November 1st, 2015.

 

Traditional PPC Campaign, From August 1st, 2015 to October 31st, 2o15

3 conversions

8.11% conversion rate

Call Only Campaign, From November 1st, 2015 to January 31st, 2016

15 conversions

31% conversion rate

 

By no means is this a perfect study, but an additional 12 conversions is nothing to scoff at. For more information on how to set up a Call Only Campaign, check out AdWords Help.

Should You be Advertising On Yahoo Gemini?

So you’re running PPC campaigns on Google AdWords and Bing Ads… what about Yahoo Gemini?

Yahoo launched its advertising platform, Gemini, in February 2014, but it’s been slow to gain traction. In the spirit of trying new things (we also recently checked out Yellow Pages advertising), we decided to give it a try.

Overview of Yahoo Gemini

Gemini is composed of two parts, much like Google AdWords Bing Ads:

  1. Search – Ads in Yahoo search results.
  2. Native Advertising – similar to display advertising, ads are placed on sites throughout Yahoo’s partner network.

Yahoo Gemini ads are served up to 49% of the time on desktop searches performed on yahoo.com, inherently limiting the volume of searches substantially. Our Gemini Account Executive also warned us that the Search side of Gemini gets significantly less volume (in terms of impressions and clicks) than the Native advertising. However, given the majority of our clients are interested in PPC advertising, we decided to forgo Native for the time being.

We’ve been running our test campaign for two weeks with a budget of $500. So far, we’ve received a whopping 14 impressions and 1 click… To it’s credit, the click only cost us $0.06.

Analysis of Gemini’s Search PPC

Upsides:

  • In my opinion, this is the most attractive feature of Gemini – cheap clicks. If you were to ever get a client from Gemini, the ROI would be insane.
  • Account Executive. When you sign up for Gemini, you get matched with an Account Executive who holds your hand through the set up process. None of the three I talked to had any knowledge or experience with other PPC platforms, but were nice enough.
  • AdWords Import. As of 12/9/15, you can now import Google AdWords campaigns into Yahoo Gemini. As of now you can’t import Bing Ads campaigns, but our rep said this was on the list for future improvements.

Downsides:

  • Low volume. We were instructed “not to bother” with branded campaigns, as the expected search volume would be too low. Even using very broad keywords in our initial test, 14 impressions isn’t worth the effort required to set up the campaign, in our opinion.
  • Confusing. We had to go a lot of places to learn about and use Gemini. There’s this Tumblr, their “intuitive” bulk edits schema objects and fields guide, the actual Gemini advertiser platform, billing done through Yahoo Wallet (which is now Aabaco Small Business’ Yahoo Wallet?)… You get the idea.
  • The first three times we tried to sign up, Gemini gave us incredibly helpful “Server Error.” After some troubleshooting, we’ve gathered that if you don’t use Google Chrome and turn your ad block off, you should be okay.
  • Bulk Edits Are a Nightmare. Common features in AdWords and Bing Ads, such as ad extensions, are only available in Gemini via their Bulk Edits process. Unfortunately, this process requires downloading a 51 column CSV and manipulating it referencing the protocol outlined in their bulk edits schema objects and field guide.

The Verdict

I’d suggest holding off on Gemini for now, unless you’ve got lots of time to kill. New features claiming to make your life easier will continue to roll out in the coming months, but right now, Gemini is a little too difficult and doesn’t produce results. Clicks may be cheap, but the time spent setting up campaigns doesn’t seem to be worth the effort.

Is Your Advertising Too Expensive?

Recently, we’ve had numerous clients raise complaints about various advertising vendors – all citing similar stories. Usually it goes something like this:

“I’m just not getting the return I used to”

and

“when I talk to my sales rep, they just tell me to spend more.”

Sound familiar? Chances are, it’s not just in your head.

First of all, online advertising options are getting more expensive. Over time, there will be more and more businesses on the web, making it a more a more competitive environment. More competition will lead to an increase in advertising, and the more businesses advertising will raise the prices of that advertising.

What you should be really looking at, then, is how one channel compares to the rest of the places you’re advertising.

Take, for example, this graph of a client’s Cost Per Lead over the past three quarters.

cost per lead graph

Over time, the 3rd party advertising (light blue column farthest to the right) is getting more and more expensive. This last quarter it nearly tripled it’s next closest competitors Cost Per Lead.

As their VP of Marketing, it’s our job to analyze the cost per lead and client of their various advertising channels, and advise them on how to make the most cost effective decisions. This trend in lead costs isn’t atypical – traffic to sites, competitiveness of a market, Google algorithm changes and more all can have large impacts on the ability of an online channel to succeed. Stay on top of your advertising investments with a detailed analysis no less than once a quarter. In this case, the data seems to paint a pretty clear picture to discontinue advertising with that channel. However, this won’t always be the case – even if one advertising channel is more expensive than the rest.

To decide whether to continue advertising, focus on what matters.

  1. Are you still getting an acceptable ROI? (And unless you like working hard for free, run screaming from that salesperson who validates their spend with “just one client and it will pay for itself.”)  
  2. If you were to put that money somewhere else, would you get a better return on your investment?

A final note: focusing on cost per lead (especially for law firms) can be a misleading metric for measuring the efficacy of a specific marketing channel. Some advertising channels are notoriously used as a lead list for ad sales people. Without digging deeper into the quality of each call, you can erroneously see a low cost per lead for a specific advertising channel caused by lots of phone calls… from advertising channel sales people. Cost per lead can be a good starting point, but it’s absolutely essential to take the next step and calculate the actual cost per client by marketing channel.

How much should a legal website cost?

It’s hard to know how much you should be paying for web services, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the industry. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’d like to revisit one of the topics we’re most passionate about here at Mockingbird: lawyers being cheated by their SEO/digital marketing companies.

Below, I’ve listed the average costs for common web services. If your bill is significantly more expensive than what I’ve mentioned, make sure you fully understand what you’re paying for. Reread your invoice, or ask your provider for a list of exactly what you’re getting for your money. It’s possible multiple services are being lumped into one line item.

Otherwise, run screaming. You’re being cheated.

Web Design/Development

one time expense of $3k – $13k 

The cost to develop a website is highly variable depending on the volume/production of content, and the site complexity and customization. If this is your firms first website, you’ll probably be on the lower end of that spectrum. If you’re migrating thousands of pages of content into one site and want every attorney bio page to change color based on the readers mood, be prepared to hand over the big bucks. (Check out our Legal Marketing Question video for more on this.)

Hosting

monthly cost of $3.95 – $30

Your host is what keeps your website online. Your hosting bill should not be expensive. As a general rule, it should be cheaper (per month) than your cable bill. At the bottom end of the spectrum, you can host your website for less than $5 per month. GoDaddy hosting, for example, is currently running a whopping $4.99/month. We’re fans of WP Engine, the Cadillac of website hosting, which runs at $29/month.

Domain ownership

from $20/year to a $5m one time cost

Your domain is, in its simplest form, what your website is called. Ie. Example.com. Domains are usually offered for a monthly, annual, or multi-year cost. At the cheapest, you could probably get your hands on a domain for ~$10/year. At the most expensive? Millions. Some domains are ridiculously expensive, but yours probably shouldn’t be. If you’re very particular and bought it off someone (think lawyer.com), it’s possible your domain is quite expensive. However, for something more run of the mill (think yourlawfirm.com or yourcityyourpracticeareaattorney.com), I’d estimate you should be less than $75/year.

SEO services

$1,000 – $10,000 per month

The costs associated with SEO services are also highly variable, but here are a few ways we determine monthly budgets:

  1. How competitive is your location? Anecdotally, we’ve found that Texas and NYC are two of the most ridiculously competitive places in the country. If you’re trying to make an impact in one of these places, brace yourself for a hefty bill. On the other hand, are you one of 3 attorneys in your small town in the Midwest? Your bill should be significantly lower, for the simple reason that it should take less work for your site to perform.
  2. How big is your site? Generally speaking, this goes hand in hand with the size of your law firm. The larger your site the more time it will take to optimize it, therefore the higher your bill.
  3. How competitive is your practice area? Personal injury is going to be pricy, while bankruptcy law shouldn’t be. Are you trying to perform for Personal Injury, Divorce AND DUI? Buckle up.

Site Updates/Content Additions/Typo Fixes

This should be cheap.

Consultants will generally run anywhere from $100-$300 an hour. However, it will take anyone who knows their stuff less than 5 minutes to upload a new page of content (assuming it’s already been written). Fixing a typo should take less than 1 minute. Updating plugins, testing contact forms, and checking for penalties should take less than an hour, once a month. If your provider is sending you a $500 bill every time you ask that the copyright year be updated, seriously question their validity.

Like anything, though, there are two sides to every story. For every 5 law firms getting over charged for quick fixes, there’s a marketing firm working on a limited scope project ($500 to run a PPC campaign, for example) who is also being asked to change the wording on a home page slider once a week. In a monthly retainer relationship, the costs for maintenance and quick fixes are often rolled into an “SEO services” charge, but not always.

Think you’re being cheated? Need more information? We’ve got a super swell guide on how to Escape Findlaw, we’ve asked (and answered) 9 of the most important questions you should be asking your website developer, listed out 7 signs your SEO agency might be less than legit, listed the 3 most important parts of your website you should control, and given you 8 questions to determine if your SEO expert is an SEO expert.

The Snack Pack – A Follow Up

Earlier this month, Google shook up search results by creating what is now being referred to as the local “snack pack” (you can read the Mockingbird coverage of the changes here). And no, for those of you reading this before lunch, unfortunately this is not Google’s way of announcing they will now be delivering pudding.

snack-pack

As shown in the image below from Casey Meraz, local business listings, previously shown in a local pack of 7 listings, have now been limited to a 3-business “snack pack.”

 

snack-pack-old-new

Like most changes to search results, many in the SEO industry are seconds away from declaring a state of emergency. Now you must be top 3, otherwise you will never get another visitor to your website ever again.

Is this really the case? Should you be panicking? Calling your SEO agency in a rage questioning why you aren’t in the top 3?

Like any good business school graduate, my answer is: it depends.

Let’s start by recapping a few things most of us can agree on:

  • PPC ads (marked in yellow at the top and right hand of the SERP) are not being changed as they are manipulated via AdWords efforts, not SEO.
  • Ranking #1 in any type of search result for any phrase is generally going to be better than ranking 10th or 79th. In general, more traffic to your website -> more client inquiries -> more money in your pocket.
  • The legal industry is notorious for web spam – from fake reviews to fake satellite offices. This is an unfortunate but very real reality; one that actively affects how your law firm performs in search.

At first glance, it would appear this update would be particularly harmful to those who were previously showing up in the local 7-pack in spots 4-7, and are now no where to be found. While many local businesses fall into this boat, the negative consequences are hard to quantify. As pointed out by Jennifer Slegg in her initial coverage in Moz, presumably, Google removed listings 4-7 in the local pack because they weren’t getting nearly as many clicks as the top 3. So, hypothetically, the update could not have much of an effect at all.

Along the same lines, in his heat map analysis, Casey Meraz demonstrated that ranking in the snack pack is not the end all be all of local search. Whether there are organic results above or below the snack pack, significant portions of users choose traditional organic listings over localized results.

Like nearly every update in Internet land, it’s impossible to predict how the snack pack will impact your site with 100% accuracy. Regardless of your situation, remember to focus on what actually matters: inbound requests for your business. Ranking #1 for “personal injury lawyer” is not always indicative of success – that’s why Mockingbird doesn’t provide ranking reports. More often than not, a large portion of your search traffic is coming from branded or long-tailed searches.

When determining what to do in response to the snack pack, ask yourself a few questions…

Has your local traffic decreased since the local pack update? Is that translating into a lack of calls and form fills?

1. Does your web presence suck? Does your “office” conveniently share an address with USPS? Is the phone number on your Google+ listing actually your phone number?

–> It’s not rocket science – fix this. Your contact information should be how people can actually contact you. Your business address should be the place that you actually work. Your phone number should be your actual phone number.\

2. Are you following best practices? Is your information up to date and regularly updated? Are you in a particularly competitive location/industry?

–> It might be time to consider the traditional suggestions – consider upping your investment in SEO efforts, place an increased emphasis on NAP consistency, and if you aren’t already, try PPC advertising for lead generation.

If you didn’t notice a change from the snack pack update, keep on keepin’ on. Continue to make improvements to your web presence and keep your business information up to date. If you experienced a positive impact, congratulations, you win the Internet! You are officially #1. Your job here is done. Also, consider sending your SEO agency cookies to celebrate; chocolate chip is always a fan favorite.