What is a Manual Action and How Do I Fix It?

Google tries to be vigilant about spam. It really does. Link building schemes, black hat tactics, and malicious software are some of the main things Google looks for. When it finds them, it might respond with a Manual Action.


So What is a Manual Action?

A manual action is when an actual, real-life member of Google’s team checks in on your websites and penalizes it for going against best practices. Manual actions can take a variety of forms and can be consequences of a variety of things.


Types of Manual Actions


  • Partial Matches (partial de-indexing)

If Google finds pages in violation of best practices it might de-index those specific URLs. This means that they will no longer show up in search results. This can be done to a page, sub-domain, forum, or any section of a domain. A partial match action is generally the best possible scenario for webmasters who are facing spam attacks, as the domain is still functioning and traffic can still find your site. It is still important to try and fix the issue and lift the action as soon as possible.

  • Whole Site Matches (total de-index)

If the problem is found to be larger than a few key URLs, Google may de-index the entire domain. This is a harsh penalty, but it can be reversed once the site complies with webmaster guidelines. Whole site matches are generally implemented when a site flagrantly ignores guidelines by cloaking content, redirecting users, and exposing users to malicious content. If your site is facing a whole site match, you need to consider what brought you there and if you need to change course.


What Might Cause a Manual Action


Google has a long list of reasons for invoking manual actions. Most of them involve spam links, as link building schemes are about the most forms of breaking best practices that webmasters do. The complete list includes:


  • User-generated spam

User-generated spam is spam that comes not from the webmaster, but the users of the website. This happens in forums and comments sections of websites.

  • Unnatural links to and from your site

This refers to link building schemes and spam attacks. If your site is suddenly sending thousands of links to a single, low authority site or is showing signs of spammy link exchanges, or has thousands of links from one low-authority site, Google might reprimand the URL or domain.

  • Thin or duplicate content

This is more subjective, as some sites do not need large amounts of content. That being said, many sites have unnecessary numbers of pages with practically duplicate content, which often sees penalties.

  • Cloaked content/images

This is a pretty old-school black hat technique, and Google is pretty good at finding when people try to implement it. Cloaking refers to showing different content to humans than to the GoogleBot. They can do this by having one image cover another, writing paragraphs of keywords in the same color as the background of the page, or stuffing keywords into gibberish text. Google really doesn’t appreciate these techniques and comes down pretty hard on those that do it.

  • Redirects

Redirects, whether desktop or mobile, refers to when a user clicks on a link to one website then gets redirected to another, completely unrelated, URL. The penalties are usually applied when the redirect goes to a site that is harmful or the redirect is malicious in it’s intent (i.e. sending a user looking for cartoons to a porn site).


How to Fix a Manual Action

Fixing a manual action starts by fixing the problem you were originally penalized for. If you were hit for displaying spam comments you might want to delete those comments and block the IPs they were sent from. If you were hit with a spam link attack, go through the disavow process and clean up your referrals. Google has recommendations on how to fix your website after all types of manual actions. 

Once you have made the changes you need to make, you can make a reconsideration request. This is a request for Google to re-review your website and lift the manual action. 

Sometimes you do the work, write the request, and get a denial. This means you didn’t do the fullest work you needed to do. Get back to work and draft a new reconsideration request. 


Final Thoughts

Don’t mess with Google. Even if they wrongly put a manual action against you, you apologize and follow the recommendations they give you. Google holds all the power.

Who’s Answering Your Phone?

We’ve had “the phone conversation” a few times with our clients: they’re getting leads, but they aren’t becoming conversions. What’s going on if the phones are ringing off the hook but there’s no new business? Is there a way that this could be the marketer’s fault?


To answer the second question, yes. It could be the marketer’s fault. If the advertising is sending the wrong kind of clients, then those phone calls are useless. But that isn’t usually what’s going on.


How to Diagnose What’s Going on

A Problem With Your Answering Service

We’ve strongly pushed the services of CallRail before on this very blog, and this is the reason why. CallRail records incoming client calls, which you can listen to and better understand where things might be going wrong. Go through the checklist:

  • Did the person answering the phone give relevant information regarding your firm?
  • Was the client’s problem clear and relevant to your practice area?
  • Were the next steps for the client made clear?
  • Was the person answering the phone politely?

If the answer to any of these was “no,” you need to fix something with your answering service.  Whether it’s the office receptionist or a professional team of phone answerers, you need to make sure no clients are being lost through misunderstandings or excessive curtness.


A Problem With Your Hours

Sometimes phone calls go unnoticed. If they are coming in during your business hours, they really shouldn’t. We’ve reviewed client call logs and it can be surprising how many calls went unanswered during business hours, often around lunch. We get it, your people are working hard and need to take a break. The problem is, a lot of people are on that same schedule and are only free to call during their lunch break. By being unavailable during these times, you are forfeiting clients.


A Problem With Your Intake Capacity

Some small firms just don’t have the infrastructure in place to take in a large number of clients at once, and have a relatively low cap on the number of calls they can handle in one day. In these situations, we recommend investing in intake services. These businesses are ready with trained operators on standby, prepared to answer calls and sign up clients for you. This relieves pressure from your front desk and helps you get the best clients available.


A Problem With the Marketing

We’ll admit this happens. It’s not often, but sometimes something goes wrong and the wrong types of clients start calling. The best solution for this is to communicate with the person in charge of your marketing and doing some course correction. 


3 Ways to Update Your Intake System

The first and highest recommended way is with CallRail. We’ve already touched on this, so we won’t dwell on it.

The second way is regular mystery shopping. Call your own firm and check in on the intake process. See if your intake crew is professional and productive. If they aren’t, get a new team or invest in some training.

The third way to improve your intake system is through an answering service. This will improve the bandwidth of your intake system and allow you to increase your client numbers drastically.


Final Thoughts

Calls are some of the best ways to land a client. You know they are interested in your services to the point that they picked up a phone. Don’t throw that away. Make sure you’re giving them the service they deserve.

In Defense of Location-Based Hero Images

We’ve all been there: you want to build your website, you have a homepage, and you don’t know what to put as the hero image. Should you go for your team, arms crossed and determined, all standing in front of your office? Maybe a picture of you chatting with a client? What about a photo of your infinite bookshelf full of leatherbound, embossed texts? Or maybe even a custom-shot video that includes all of these things and more?

I’m here to argue for the simple location image. If you really want it, a location image with the firm partners in it. Here’re four reasons why:


1. Easy to Acquire

A professional photographer should have no problem taking stunning photos of your local scenery, all without the time commitment of a full in-house photo or video shoot. 


2. Improves Local Credentials

Local is everything in digital marketing. Consumers make decisions based on what is close and what benefits their communities. A reminder that you are a part of that community as soon as they get to the homepage doesn’t hurt. Local landmarks, scenic views, and sunrises rarely go wrong. 


3. Adaptable

So let’s go through some of the other options. That picture of your team? Inspirational now, a weird reminder in a few years after one or more of your team members have moved away. Isolating if someone new joins the team. 

Chatting with a client? Looks good now, kind of confusing if you ever look any different than you did when you took the photo. None can escape the hands of time, holding onto a photo won’t save you.

That custom-shot video? The same issues as the other options arise here: changing team members, changing images. You might even change offices. Not to mention how much an embedded video can slow your site down.

You know what’s reliably beautiful and consistent? A gosh dang sunrise behind a local landmark. 


4. Send a Message Without Overthinking It or Underthinking It

You’re here to look like a lawyer and lawyer things are your priority, not spending hours deciding which image should grace your homepage. That being said, a simple stock image won’t cut it. We’ve all seen law firm websites that look like they were tossed together; out of proportion stock images, outdated fonts, just plain weird color schemes. Be different. Be better. Show the world that you’re willing to make an effort, but won’t spend all of your time making an effort on things that aren’t your clients.


Obtaining Your Hero Image

So now you know what you want. How do you get it? Through a stock photo site like how we got the hero image for this blog post? Probably not. The homepage to your website is a bit more important than the top of one of our blog posts. 

Hire a photographer. They can help provide you with options while ensuring no one else has the exact photos you’re using. It also gives you the option of having photos of you and your team alongside your scenic locale. You will have more control and will likely get better results.

Find a photographer with good reviews or through someone you trust and schedule your shoot.

The Role of Privacy in Digital Marketing in 2020

Privacy is an increasingly relevant issue in the marketing industry as technology gets more advanced and workarounds for data compliance get smarter by the day. So where are we and how did we get here? Are we at the point where corporations know more about us than we do? Is Mockingbird one of those corporations?


The short answer to that last question is no, we don’t have data on millions of individuals. While we can see details about the people who visit our site, we can’t actually determine much about them from their location and device type. That is, unless there’s only one person in Billings, Montana with a Samsung Galaxy S8, in which case, hi to that one person. 


Of course, privacy is a lot more complicated than that. Mockingbird specifically might not have data on individuals, but a lot of companies do. It’s easier to do targeted advertising when you know exactly who you’re targeting. 


How to Know Who You Are Targeting

What Are Cookies

The most common way to figure out who to target is by cookies. Cookies are pieces of software that get downloaded onto the user’s browser or hard drive (depending on the type of cookie) and can provide information on the user’s habits. This means that cookies are used to keep things in your shopping cart when you’re browsing an online store, but it also means that Google knows a lot about you just through the websites you have visited. Google then uses that information to assist advertisers in targeting you specifically. 


You might have noticed that more and more websites are giving notice to their users that they use cookies, and to continue on the site you need to accept cookies into your life. This is largely a state by state legislative change, where some states are now requiring sites to inform their users of the use of cookies, so sites often find it easier to notify all users despite their location. 


Privacy protection legislation is attempting to crackdown on Cambridge Analytica level data sharing, but legislators are hardly up to the task of keeping up with developers. Sidestepping privacy legislation is almost its own branch of black hat marketing at this point, and should be avoided. Following the rules and respecting privacy is the best way to go for legal and ethical reasons.


How Do Cookies Track Users

When a user visits a site, a cookie is placed on their browser or hard drive. After they leave the site, the cookie is still there. If they return to the site, the cookie can tell the website that it’s the same user as before. If you want to see the type of information Google will provide about a single user, here’s a screenshot from Google Analytics:

As you can see the user isn’t identified, only the pages they visited and where they decided to convert. While Google will provide general information about demographics (percentage users male and female, number of users from specific locations, etc), they do not include this in user-specific info. We can see specific user paths, see which paths work best for conversions, but we can’t see how these paths relate to where the user is from or what their interests are. 


Will Marketers Jump On Any Opportunity to Invade Privacy?

I mean, probably. Wherever there’s the opportunity to better sell to people, marketers will utilize it. Users are the commodity, and it forces marketers into an ethical pickle to think of their commodity as people. I would like to add a disclaimer here that Mockingbird is not interested in selling user’s data and are committed to privacy for both users and our clients. While there will always be those willing to do whatever it takes to profit, there are also those who will stand their ground for what they believe in.


This is where Google can be considered relatively…good? It’s no doubt that Google knows more about who we are as individuals than we probably do; their data runs deep. But they also try to limit the access their advertising customers have to user data. They limit how many times advertisers can market to a single person in a day, and they limit how targeted those ad campaigns can be. They have restrictions for what can be in ads, and prohibit false information. Compared to a site like Facebook, Google is amazing, but that really isn’t a very high bar.


So What Do I Tell My Paranoid Relative Who Thinks Their Microwave is Recording Them?

Well, tell them not to have private discussions in front of their microwave if they’re so worried about that. There’s plenty to be worried about when it comes to internet privacy, but the ads for shoes probably shouldn’t be top of mind.

Responsive Ads Might Be Your Best Option

Google Ads offers a variety of ad options, but none might be better for small businesses than Responsive Ads, both search and display. We might be shooting ourselves in the foot here, but the reason I’m recommending these ads is because of their lack of a need for a marketing agency. Business owners can run them without needing in-depth knowledge of marketing, advertising, graphic design, or copywriting. 


How They Work

Responsive Ads work by taking pre-written headlines, body texts, and the URL of the page. For display ads, you will need a few high-quality photos as well. It then mixes and matches them to find which work best across their wide network. This means it only needs as much skill as it takes to come up with ten pieces of short text. 


Where Display Ads are Displayed

Google Display Ads are displayed on the Google Display Network (GDN). The GDN is made up of sites that run Google Ads in a variety of forms, and you can control targeting based on audience and website. The ads can show up as banners that show up in the lower third of videos, banners at the tops of pages, and any other way Google sees fit. 


Where Search Ads are Shown

Responsive Search Ads appear alongside all other search ads at the top and bottom of search results. Similar to display ads, you can target based on audience interests, location, and certain demographics (age, gender). 


How the Bidding Works

Google Ads’ bidding system works by giving the spot to the highest bidder, but for only $0.01 more than the second-highest bidder’s bid. This generally awards risk-takers, or those willing to invest high amounts in ad spend. This also tends to work in favor of larger competitors in the area who have more to spend, so it can sometimes be difficult to get your first choice keywords. In a market as competitive as legal, experience with the Google Ads bidding experience is definitely an asset. This is why marketing agencies are still relevant, even if you can make your own ads.


Other Things to Consider When Managing Your Ads

If you really do want to run your own ad campaigns there are a number of things you will have to think about and decide on. These include ad extensions, call tracking numbers, time restrictions, and further targeting. While marketing agencies such as Mockingbird have experience with this, you too will gain experience. If you truly believe you are ready to take your advertising in your own hands, all the power to you. Go, be free.

When Snippets Don’t Help

It’s general knowledge that ranking highly on Google is a good thing. It drives traffic, improves authority by making it more accessible, and increases brand awareness. But what happens when ranking doesn’t improve the business?


One of our domains has six featured snippets in their top eight pages, as ranked by Ahrefs.com. Featured snippets are the gold standard of rankings. They get high volumes of traffic, are valuable, and mean the page is pretty well optimized. If you look at the data, the first page is valued at over $2,000.

Snippets and Bouncing

One of the struggles related to featured snippets is the high bounce rate. People look for answers, find them, and then move on. Of the six snippets, only one has a bounce rate lower than 80%. This is pretty terrible, considering the site as a whole has an average bounce rate of 15%. While bouncing users may be a sign of increased brand visibility, they are also not paying the bills.


Snippets and Conversions

So we’re currently looking at a sample size of six snippets. Only two of them resulted in more than one conversion in the past three months, and those two didn’t exactly blow anything out of the water. This isn’t boding well for the fiscal benefits of featured snippets.


Expand the Sample

So we were looking at one domain. Let’s expand that. I glanced at a few of the other domains under our watchful eye and found results that weren’t all too surprising. This is all anecdotal, and further study would be good, but let’s start with what we’ve got. 



When looking at the correlation between snippets and conversions, there didn’t actually seem to be much of one. Pages with featured snippets converted similar if not fewer users than pages that performed at a similar level. This makes sense, as the users who utilize featured snippets are often looking for a quick answer and don’t necessarily want to hire a lawyer. Just because you’re looking for the penalties of a second offense DUI doesn’t mean you were arrested for a second offense DUI. 


New Users

Ok, conversions aren’t the best metric to look at. What about new users? If the theory tracks, pages with featured snippets should be head and shoulders above the rest of the pages as far as new users go. 


But that isn’t always the case either. Look at this domain’s Google Analytics sorted by new users (pages with snippets are green):

Of the top 25 pages for new users, only six of them were snippet-ized. Beyond that, the average bounce rate for those six pages is 74.62%, not exactly to die for. Again, these numbers remain relatively consistent across domains. 


Final Thoughts

Here’s the question: are snippets worthy of being the golden goose of SEO? To be fair, our domains are all legal, which don’t exactly serve well for converting for snippets. This is one of the reasons why we don’t aim for snippets as an official business goal. While we generally consider them beneficial, we don’t see them as an instant success. Leads should always be the defining metric of the success of a campaign.

High Funnel vs Low Funnel Marketing: Knowing Your Jargon

The language of marketing has always been designed to isolate clients. Marketers use technical jargon to upsell and confuse prospective clients; an unethical power play. Well, here at Mockingbird we’re trying to tear down those walls. By providing definitions, we’re opening doors to the tough questions. We’ll start by talking about the Marketing Funnel.


The labels on the left refer to the stages of the funnel; the labels on the right are the page a consumer might be on at that stage in their journey


What is the Marketing Funnel?

The marketing funnel is the funnel being referred to when marketers talk about “high funnel” or “low funnel” tactics. The term was coined long before the internet and covers the broad stages of converting a consumer to a client. The stages are:

  • Awareness
  • Opinion 
  • Consideration
  • Preference
  • Purchase


In layman’s terms, these might be:

  • Becoming aware of the brand/problem
  • Doing research about the brand/problem, finding the solution (the product)
  • Doing research on other solutions, or products
  • Deciding which product they prefer
  • Buying (converting)


What is High Funnel Marketing?

High funnel marketing is in reference to strategies that target brand awareness over direct conversions. This might mean promoting blog posts, coordinating scholarships, or sponsoring events. It’s about getting your name out there, meeting your clients where they live.


What is Mid Funnel Marketing?

Mid funnel marketing is catching consumers who you know are aware of your business but might not have become clients yet. This is often in the form of remarketing, or advertising to people you know have visited your website. This reminds them of your brand and of the problem they’re looking to solve. Mid funnel isn’t as common of a term, but it has its place.


What is Low Funnel Marketing?

Low funnel marketing is targeting people you know are about to become clients. It’s the people who might have something in their cart but haven’t proceeded to check-out in the past week. It can also be advertising to people directly searching for the problems you cover. If you’re an LGBTQ+ friendly family lawyer specializing in child custody in the North Platte, Nebraska area and someone types “same-sex child custody lawyer Lincoln, NE,” you should target them specifically. 


Is High Funnel or Low Funnel Better?

It depends on your goals. If you are trying to increase traffic to your site and broaden your market then high funnel is probably good for you. If you are just trying to get clients, low funnel is preferable. Of course, the best option is a balance of both. You can’t have a business without brand awareness, but you also can’t have a business if no one is buying anything.


How Do I Keep People Moving Down the Funnel?

Remarketing is a good way to keep people moving and in the funnel. Previously mentioned about mid-funnel marketing, remarketing mainly just reminds consumers that if they haven’t found a solution for their problem yet, there’s a brand that has solutions. You’ve seen remarketing in action when you look at a product then see ads for that exact product everywhere for the next three days. It’s considered a highly effective strategy.


Where Does this Blog Post Fit in the Funnel?

This blog post would be considered high funnel, as it’s targeted at a more general audience than our specific market. Since it’s informational rather than opinion-based it’s designed to be picked up by search engines and answer people’s general questions on marketing funnels. If you start seeing ads for Mockingbird or decide to look at what services we offer, you’ll have entered the middle of the funnel. If you eventually become a client, congrats on two accounts! First for making it all the way through the funnel, second for getting a great marketing team for your law firm.

Recent Google Update Winding Down

The still as-of-yet unannounced Google update seems to be coming to a slow close for the legal industry. 


The update has been largely affecting search engine results page (SERP) positioning, leading to general unrest among the SEO community. Based on metrics from SEMrush, the instability caused by the recent update has been greater than that of the past two official updates, peaking at a 9.4/10 in SEMrush’s SERP volatility metric. 


The volatility has lasted longer than expected and is largely recognized as having begun on February 7th and continuing through the present moment (February 13th). As far as the legal industry goes, SERP volatility has since dropped to 6.8/10; still high, but trending downwards. 


From SEMrush.com; Legal industry-specific data


What does this update mean for my site?

Google ranks SERPs on a variety of factors, from domain authority to site organization to links and affect organic traffic. It is unclear whether this update has been a net positive or negative for the legal industry. Either way, expect changes. Adding an annotation to your Google Analytics account is probably a good idea to keep track of which trends might be due to this update.


How can I protect my SERPs?

There is no way to prepare for Google updates other than by following Google’s best practices and ensuring your content is high quality and up to par with your competitors. If it’s any consolation, your competitors are probably getting hit just as hard.

The Ultimate Citation/Directory Listing Checklist

Running a business online can feel like trying to cook with multiple burners. There’s a lot to keep track of and if you forget about one aspect you might burn the house down. This stress is understandable, but not necessary. 


Get ready for a metaphor that, quite literally, sucks. A well kept online presence is more like having an army of Roombas (not sponsored): you can keep an eye on them doing their own thing, help out when one gets stuck under the couch, and end up with a clean house. But the first step is making sure the Roombas are set up correctly. In this metaphor, the Roombas are your various directory listings. Now you just need to know how to set them up.


Step 1: Claim Your Listing

Many directories offer free listings, you just need to claim your business. Many directories also offer paid options for free listings. This would allow you to make sure that your competitors aren’t advertising on your listing. Depending on how competitive your market is, you might not need to pay extra for this.


Step 2: Enter Your Business Information

We’ve talked about NAP consistency before, but for the newcomers, NAP stands for “Name, Address, Phone number.” NAP consistency refers to the practice of making sure your business details stay the same across all of your listings. You don’t want a client finding one address on Yelp and another on Google. There are plenty of services that offer consistency checks; reviewing all listings and citations to ensure everything is up to par. Having inconsistent NAP can be damaging to a business, but is remediable


Step 3: Add a Description

Your business description is the place for you to stand out and employ keywords. If you are locally owned, LGBTQ+ friendly, women-led, Spanish speaking, or anything else that makes you stand out in your field, use it. Make sure your description outlines what your firm does, its practice areas, and what sets it apart.


Step 4: Add Photos

Adding photos to a listing helps to prove legitimacy. Adding high-quality photos helps to prove professionalism. This is one reason why it’s always worth it to get a professional photographer to get high-quality photos of the firm, location, and lawyers for both the website and the listings. 


Step 5: Set Up Reviews

Reviews are vital for your online reputation. Bad reviews can tank leads, and good reviews can get them flowing. This is why it’s important to keep them active and keep them monitored. 


Step 6 (optional): Find a Monitoring Company

Why waste your time micromanaging your listings when you can pay professionals to manage them for you? There are a number of agencies that provide this service, but if I might be biased in suggesting Mockingbird’s Nest service for local SEO.


Keeping up with all of your listings can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. When you set up your online presence correctly, managing it is less of a chore. If you want to learn more about local SEO, contact Mockingbird.