The End of Google Authorship as We Know It

Last week, Google’s John Mueller announced a huge shift in how Google Authorship will be displayed in search results going forward. If you’re familiar with Google Authorship you’ll know it as the fancy mug  shot that get’s featured next to your search results, like so:

Authorship

There’s more to authorship than having your face plastered next to search results. But, since it’s inception in 2011, SEO experts have mainly toted Authorship as a way to increase the click-through rate on your results. This is based on eye tracking studies that suggest images attract people’s attention, and lead them to more often click. Following the clicks, lawyers rushed to implement authorship across their sites. And, as usual – as more people took advantage of Authorship, Google decided to flip the switch on those abusing the feature. In December, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed that they were rolling back author images by around 15%. And now they’ve announced that author images will be removed from search results entirely… no longer will your faces grace the SERPS.

Is this the Absolute End of Authorship?

In my opinion, author images are a very small part of Google’s underlying goal for creating authorship  – and more specifically, Author Rank (which spent them all of .25 second to name).  While Google’s never explicitly said this, I believe the original creation of Authorship was to do two things:

  1. To recognize thought leaders and factor their authority into Google search algorithms.
  2. Promote the Use of Google +

Since search engines were created people have been gaming them to increase their own visibility. The tactics have changed, but the game remains. First people stuffed their website footers with lists of keywords. Then people started purchasing links and participating in link exchanges from unrelated websites. When that didn’t work they started spinning content and publishing it across multiples websites with links back to their own. All of these things Google hates. Why? Because anyone can do this. Anyone can stuff keywords. Anyone can buy links. Anyone can get their image in the SERPS. But none of these things indicate quality. None of these things indicate that you are a good lawyer, or that you are knowledgable in your practice areas. None of these things suggest you have credibility. In order to build credibility you need to first share your knowledge and expertise. For many lawyers this first means simply writing content for your site, and answering the common questions you hear on a daily basis in your practice. But maybe you also teach classes on your legal practice areas. Maybe you submit articles to legal journals. Maybe you engage with local media to give insight regarding local laws. All of these things suggest that you are an authority in your legal field. If you are building a reputation within your community, Google wants to take that into account in the search results. And, that’s what Google’s Author Rank is really about. The inclusion of author images on the SERPS caused a lot of people to sign up for Google+, and authorship. Now that author images cease to exist, don’t forget about Google’s Author Rank, which still remains. This will most likely continue to develop and play a role in Google’s search algorithm. So, what can you do to stay ahead of the curve?

  1. Serve your audience/potential clients by creating and contributing QUALITY, content.
  2. Setup a Google+ account and make sure you have Authorship setup for any site you contribute articles or content to.

It’s worth mentioning that #2 is almost worthless if you ignore number one and continue to engage in “old school SEO”, like buying links. And, if you’re still doing that (we know many of you are), stop now.

The Holy Grail of SEO Tools

In the world of SEO, and online marketing, we use a lot of tools. In fact, I could create an entire blog dedicated to the top 100 SEO tools and bore you out of your mind. It’s the kind of material we geek out on here at Mockingbird HQ. And typically, I’d advise most attorneys to not worry about SEO tools, and to steer clear – but there is one tool that every attorney needs on their website. And it’s not just attorneys – every business needs this tool on their website.

The One Tool to Rule Them All

Okay, so there’s actually three different must have tools I’d advise having on your website. And, they’re all free. For now, we’ll focus on numero uno. But, for the sake of keeping you well informed, here are all three.

  1. Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Google Analytics
  3. Bing Webmaster Tools

Every website should have each of these installed, and when we have new clients who don’t have them installed – it’s the first thing we do. However, if you’re running a law office we know that you’re busy with other things. So, if there’s one thing you’re going to do for your website this week, you can start with Google Webmaster Tools. And, if you ignore the other two, you’ll still be 100% better off than you were before.

Why is Google Webmaster Tools SO Important?

Google Webmaster tools is a free tool provided by Google, and it’s one of the best ways to keep tabs on the health of your website. For an advanced marketer, there are numerous insights and pieces of data they can gather to help diagnose website issues and improve search engine performance. However, you don’t need to be trained in SEO to get the most value out of webmaster tools. The best thing about webmaster tools is that it will alert you to any HUGE SEO ISSUES on your site. So, if you have some big time problems, you won’t need to sort through the data to recognize that you have a problem. Google will actually send you an email and say, “Hey, I think you have an issue here. You should check this out.” The following are a just a couple of examples of issues that Google webmaster tools will alert you to.

Are You Unknowingly Promoting Viagra?
(A.K.A. The You’ve Been Hacked Alert)

site-hacked-wmt

One of the worst things that can happen to your site is having it hacked. In some cases you’ll actually notice obvious issues on your site if it’s hacked. Maybe overnight you’ll see links appear on your homepage pointing to online casinos and viagra websites. That’s an obvious sign. But, the most mischievous hackers are clever, and you might not even notice if you’ve been hacked.

The example above is from a website that had been hacked and showed no signs of it when you looked at it. However, shortly after setting up Google Webmaster Tools, the above message was received. It turns out that the site had been previously hacked, and the culprit had created hundreds of hidden pages on the site for viagra and cialis. All of the pages were linking out to other websites. This is a VERY bad thing.

Google is all about providing a good “user experience”. Directing people toward a hacked site is not generally considered a good user experience. This would be the equivalent of you asking me where to buy a flat screen, and then I point you down a dark city alley. Even if your hacked site poses no real threat to a visitor, Google has no reason to point people to your hacked site when there are 10 other attorneys in your area whose sites haven’t been hacked. All that to say – if you’re site has been hacked, you’ll most likely see a correlating drop in search traffic to your site as well. But the best way to know if you’re site is hacked? Simply install webmaster tools. That’s ALL YOU NEED TO DO! Then you just watch for emails with messages like the one above.

Um, Sir… Please Quit Spamming the Internet
(A.K.A. The Unnatural Inbound Links Alert)

unnatural-links-wmt

Above is a message you never want to receive from Google Webmaster Tools. This typically happens to people who have paid someone to create links to their site which generally results in thousands of overly optimized links pointing to your site, from pages that have no credibility or relation to law. This automatically flags Google to the fact that you’re spamming the internet to try to game their search algorithm. And in particularly atrocious instances Google will actually place a manual penalty on your site, thus crippling any web traffic you have.

The moral of this example is:

  1. Don’t buy links.
  2. If you do though, at least install webmaster tools so you know when google slaps a manual spam penalty on you.
  3. But seriously, DON’t BUY LINKS!

You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh, well we’ve never purchased links to our site. I don’t need to worry about this.” On multiple occasions we’ve had attorneys tell us they’ve never purchased links. But when we setup webmaster tools we see thousands of purchased links. It’s not that these guys are lying to us about purchasing those links. Unfortunately they’re just not aware of the tactics past SEO agencies have used on their website. Unfortunately, it’s actually quite common because a lot of SEO agencies used to heavily use this tactic to boost their clients search rankings. So, if you’ve ever hired an SEO agency, you could indeed have “unnatural inbound links” that are hurting your site.

Fortunately, if you install Google Webmaster Tools they’ll send you an alert like the one above if they find unnatural links on your site. Cleaning up those links can be a nightmare, but step one is simply knowing you have the problem.

Setting up Google Webmaster Tools

Setting up Google webmaster tools is incredibly easy. Here’s what you need to do.

1) Got to Google Webmaster Tools and login using your Google account. If you don’t have a google account or email address, you’ll need to set one up.

2) Click the bright orange “Add a Site” button. wmt-add-site

3) Enter Your website domain in the following window.  wmt-add-site2

4) Then verify that you own the website. This can be done several ways, but the easiest and Google recommended way is to verify by logging into your domain host. You’ll simply find your domain name provider from the drop down list, and then follow the instructions given to verify your account.

 

wmt-verify-site

Done? Congratulations, you’ve just setup one of the most important SEO tools you could ever have on your site. There’s a lot of information in Google Webmaster tools which I’m not going to go into detail on here. By simply installing this on your site though, you’ll already receive some of the most important updates via email. If Google thinks your site is down, you’ll receive an email. If they give you a penalty for buying links, you’ll be notified. There are a number of technical issues which Google will alert you to – and many of these issues have cause a profound impact on your business if you receive new clients through your website. You don’t need to know how to fix any of the issues you may encounter. You just need  need to know about them, so you can get assistance.

The Last 30 Days in Search – A March 2014 Recap

Each month there’s a ton of new articles published on the web regarding the latest news and trends in search marketing. Sometimes that news has to do with a Google algorithm update that can have huge ramifications for your business, and how you go about marketing on the Internet. Sometimes that news is about the latest tools, or best practices in search. And sometimes that news can be a simple statement from a well-known bigwig like Matt Cutts, but it can hint toward future updates, and give insight into Google’s perspective on search.

As marketers who serve the legal industry, we know that SEO can be a huge source of new business for attorneys. But it also can be difficult to stay abreast of the latest updates, and keep a pulse on the ones that are most applicable to the legal industry. So, to help you out, we’ve sorted through the last 30 days in search to identify some of the news we feel is most important for attorneys.

With that said, I give you the last 30 days in search.

Google Speaks Up on Disavowing Links

In a Google Webmaster forum at the beginning of the month Google’s John Mueller went on record to answer a user question regarding disavowing links to a website. With Google cracking down on paid and low quality links, many site owners are rushing to remove their links, or disavow them via webaster tools.  In this case the user was working on a website that was previously focused on gardening, and had a profile of links from other gardening related sites. However, the site had recently switched subjects, and he was worried that the gardening related links would now hurt the site beings they were unrelated to the new topic.

Here’s what Google’s John Mueller said:

Just to be completely clear on this: you do not need to disavow links that are from sites on other topics. This tool is really only meant for situations where there are problematic, unnatural, PageRank-passing links that you can’t have removed.

Then a few days later, Google’s Matt Cutts suggested in some cases that you should disavow bad links even if you haven’t been penalized, adding that if it’s only a couple bad links, it “may not be a big deal” though.

So, what does this mean to you? First off, I want to say that I don’t advise disavowing links to your site, unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. So please don’t run off and start disavowing links to your site. If you do this incorrectly you can actually hurt search traffic to your site. With that said, we’ve seen a number of attorney’s with bad link profiles, and two of which I’ve recently submitted link disavows for, after not getting a response from the sites hosting the bad links.

Here’s the question to ask yourself to assess if you’re a good candidate for link cleanup. Have you ever purchased links, or participated in a link exchange? If the answer is no, good work. Keep it that way. It will make your marketing much easier in the future. If you’re answer was yes, then it’s probably a good idea to have an SEO expert take a look into your backlink profile, and do some link cleanup.

Moz Local is Released for Managing Local Search Listings

Local search can be one of the most important, and difficult things to do for attorneys. If you do it right, you’ll show up in Google’s results with a map pinpointing your location, and any Google+ reviews placed neatly next to them like a beacon to potential clients. So, when you see one of the biggest names in local search release a tool and service to help you manage your directory listings, it makes you… happy. Or, perhaps relieved is a better word. Anything that can make managing directory listings for local search easier is a good thing. You can read more about the Moz Local release here.

Will Google’s Panda Attack Small Business?

At 2014’s Search Marketing Expo in San Jose, Matt Cutts announced that his team was working on the next Panda update that would have a direct impact on small businesses. For those familiar with the Google Panda update that was first introduced in February 2011, this may sound like reason for concern. After all, the original Panda was responsible for tossing many lawyers from the search results, deeming their sites as having “low quality content”. However, Matt Cutts and his team have explained that this algorithm update is meant to help small businesses do better in Google’s search results. There are no confirmed dates for when this update will take place, but it’s speculated that we could likely start seeing some changes within the next two to three months.

In related news, Google was also granted the patent for the Panda algorithm, ensuring Panda won’t be going anywhere.

Google is Reviewing Stance on “Not Provided” Keywords

In SMX West’s keynote, Google’s search chief Amit Singhal suggested that Google is reviewing their stance on “not provided” keywords in Google Analytics. If you’re not familiar with the “not provided” saga, here’s a quick recap.

In October 2011, Google started moving to “secure search”, which began limiting the amount of search query data website owners were able to access and view from within Google Analytics. Prior to this change you were able to view all of the different phrases that people used to arrive on your site, something very beneficial for improving user experience. For instance, if you handle DUI cases, you’d be able to analyze your search query data to see if you’re actually getting traffic on people searching for DUI, and see the exact phrases they’re using to find you. Since 2011 Google has continually reduced the amount of query data to the point now where 70-80% of query data is “not provided”. Meanwhile, Google’s been criticized for passing along the data to advertisers using Adwords PPC campaigns.

Our hope is that Google will return to it’s old system of passing along all search queries to website owners. However, it sounds somewhat unlikely, as Matt Cutts and Amit Singal have both said they’re happy with how secure search has worked on the organic side. So, does that mean Google will start withholding search query data for paid search clicks? We hope not. There’s no official statement on what they’re planning yet, but Amit has said:

In the coming weeks and months as [we] find the right solution, expect something to come out.

Is Local Search Optimization About to Get Easier with Moz Local?

One of the most important things that attorneys can do to drive business and generate new clients is local search optimization. If you do it correctly you’ll get priority placement in the search results with a map listing and the onebox local listing which features your business phone number, address, and any reviews you have, like this:

google-maps

google-local-listings

Showing up in the local search listings isn’t necessarily a complicated task, but it’s not necessarily straightforward either. Before Google decides to place you in their local listings they want to confirm that your location and contact info is legitimate. After all they don’t want to go directing people to abandoned buildings, or bogus phone numbers. Such a thing would be a bad user experience.

The Trials and Tribulations of Local Search Citations

So, in order to confirm your address and phone number, Google fact checks that information by looking at other sites and directories to see if your information is cited consistently. It essentially does a scans different directories like Yellow Pages, Citysearch, and Yelp to find the name of your firm, address and phone number.  If your name, address, and phone number are found to be consistent across multiple sites, that information is deemed to be more reliable. Therefore Google’s more likely to list you in the local search results for your location.  On the other hand, if you have multiple listings with different firm names, or old addresses and phone numbers, Google’s not sure which data is accurate.  Therefore they’re not going to list your business in the local search results.

Sounds simple right? Just make sure that your business information is consistent across multiple directories. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever gone down the path of claiming or updating directory listings for your business you might have found a tangled mess.  If your law firm has ever changed names, or moved locations, the chances are high that you have multiple duplicate listings with inconsistent information. We see this on a daily basis at Mockingbird, and we’ve spent weeks in some cases cleaning up “bad listings”. The problem is that these listings tend to propagate and spread across sites, and there’s no central place to update them. In short, it can be a nightmare to clean up. And it’s not something your average attorney has time to worry about, or should even have to worry about. That’s why I’m ecstatic to see a tool created under the guidance of one of the most prevalent names in local search marketing, David Mihm.

Managing Local Search with Moz Local

Yesterday, in David’s Moz blog post, announcing the release, he described the initial goal of Moz Local as being to “solve the fundamental pain points of local search “ensuring accurate, consistent business listing information on the important sites on the web”.

While Moz Local will most likely evolve in future releases to help manage listings on more sites, right now the paid version allows you to easily manage listings across eight of the most important data aggregators and local directories:

  • Infogroup
  • Neustar Localeze
  • Acxiom
  • Factual
  • Foursquare
  • Superpages
  • eLocal
  • Best of the Web Local

If you’re using Moz Local or any other similar service, like Yext, it’s important to realize that these aren’t a one stop solution for your local search marketing efforts. But, it will help you manage some of the most important listings and get a good start, which is probably more than much of your competition is doing.

Check Your Local Search Health with Moz Local’s Free Tools

While Moz Local’s paid search tools will help you easily manage and update your directory listings from one place, some of its most useful tools are actually free.  If you’re curious how your firm is doing in local search, they have an easy tool to check your listings. All you have to do is enter your business name, and zip code.

check-listings

After you enter your business info, you’ll receive a report to show you how your business is doing in local search, and highlight listings which are incomplete, inconsistent or duplicate. So, even if you don’t pay to manage your directory listings you can get a health check to identify discrepancies that may be holding you back in local search. If you’ve never paid attention or examined your firm’s local listings you might be surprised.

moz-local-dash