Review of Google’s Possum Algo Update with Joy Hawkins

Local SEO rockstar, Joy Hawkins and I discuss Possum – the unfortunately named Google algo update impacting local SERP results.  While we have seen Possum as a win for most of our clients – Possum seems to impact businesses in shared locations with multiple providers in the same categories.  This includes practitioner listings.  Listen along for more details and get a surprise opportunity to hear me defending FindLaw!

UPDATE: “the unfortunately named…..” – turns out this was coined by…… wait for it….. Joy and Darren (among others).  Nothing like insulting your guest.  My coworkers are enjoying my foot in mouth a little too much.

This is the biggest change in local since Pigeon back in 2014

Google Maps Update

Estimated Read Time: 2 minutes

Recently, Google released an update to Google Maps on Android, IOS and desktop machines. The de-cluttering aims to help users discover your law firm and make it easier to navigate.

What Google Updated:

  • A cleaner look: removed information from the map that isn’t “absolutely required”. Example: Road outlines. This makes it easier to see important things like traffic and transit info.
  • Improved typography of street names, points of interest and transit stations.
  • New Exploration features: Cleaner means new ways to explore information.
    • Areas of interest are highlighted in orange. In dense areas like NYC, Google uses a “human touch” to make sure they are showing the most active areas.*
  • Updated design for viewing business photos and street view imagery. This includes a quicker carousel-like layout so you can interact with various images.
    • New tabs to quickly view the “Overview” or “360 degree View” of businesses.

*My best interpretation of this is that they use search data. Cause why wouldn’t they?

Examples of Google Maps Updates:

Here’s an example of the new and improved street view on Google Maps:

San Diego Lawyers HRO Google Maps

Here’s a before update and after update snapshot:

Here’s a color key for reference on what the new Google Maps colors represent:

In short, if you or your law firm hasn’t spent much time optimizing how your business information is displayed on Google Maps now would be a really good time to clean the dust off of your listing. We’re here to help.

Get Ready for $300 CpCs in Legal

I spent today at SMX Advanced Local – a Workshop hosted by the inimitable Greg Sterling in conjunction with the greater SMX Advanced Conference.  I talked about advanced linkbuilding, but was mostly interested in the talk preceding mine from Google’s Ali Turhan who shed some light on upcoming changes in local advertising.  As far as Greg knew (and he would know) – this was the first time Google has really talked publicly in any level of depth about the upcoming sponsored (read: ads) maps listings.

What are ‘promoted pins”?

Very simply, the promoted pins are a way to buy yourself onto mapped local results – to hell with reviews, links, NAP etc – these are a color coded (i.e. visually delineating between sponsored vs. natural) pins that show up on the Google map interface in local results.

Why this is (another) game changer (again).

Ali mentioned many times they are still experimenting with exactly how these would function.  However, he kept coming back to what seems to be a default plan: one promoted pin within the map interface.  When pressed – my read was that maps would continue to have just 3 results – with 1 of them being “promoted”.  So the local pack looks like it has just shrunk again – from 3 down to 2 organically listed results (ahhh- remember those wonder years of the 7 pack.)

While it has yet to be seen exactly how these sponsored pins perform, I can only imagine the extremely high click through rates commanded within the legal industry. Especially on mobile devices, primed for that first initial inquiry from a potential client.

Seattle DUI Lawyers stripping for $1.99 a minute?

OK… admittedly a clickbaity title, but wait for the punchline….

So….. spam is prevalent in the local results. We’ve known this for ages and its been a problem the search engines have been trying (with some level of success) to crack down on. Frequently its an out-of-town competitor pretending to have a larger geographic footprint than they actually do.  Sometimes, its an attorney trying to double dip with multiple “offices” within a single city.  We’ve also seen directory domains hijacked and used

Now…. we’ve turned to porn.

Looking for a Seattle DUI lawyer?  Try the third result here, just a few blocks from Mockingbird HQ up on 4th Ave.

(oh… and make sure your kids/spouse/coworkers aren’t around)

dui porn II

Yup… thats right… while you are contemplating your DUI defense strategy, you can drop $1.99 a minute with some very friendly ladies.  Or gentleman.  Or both.

unintended porn

 

Frankly, I’m surprised the site targeted a hyper competitive market like DUI lawyer in Seattle.  Or perhaps, there’s just a lot of money in porn.

 

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

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Here’s what we know:

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

Why is this change significant?

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

Potential implications:

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

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

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

Yext Integrates Google Into PowerListings

From an outsider’s perspective, business location management is hardly considered a problem. For the unfortunate marketers and SEO’s doing the leg work, location data management is often a major issue. The most straight forward solution to fixing your business listing’s consistency across the web is to outsource to a third party provider, such as Yext. Tools like this have the capacity to simultaneously manage thousands of online business locations at once.

Google’s recent partnership with Yext grants all businesses the power to manage virtually every aspect of their location data. Yext mentioned that instead of having to worry about simply finding and correcting problems, the Google My Business API allows businesses to think about their data not only as data, but as a marketing tool. In other words, they can start utilizing and interacting with data rather than just reacting to what their data is representing.

The Google integration permits immediate data changes, such as special holiday business hours or unplanned closures. However, it’s important to note that while you can implement these changes immediately, Google has the final say over when your changes are actually published.

Google explained in a blog post last December that through the new Google My Business API, developers can:

  • Create business locations with information such as name, address, phone number, category, business hours, and more
  • Manage special hours
  • Mark a business location as permanently closed
  • Manage business photos
  • List, invite and remove managers on locations and business accounts
  • Read listing state to identify Google updated, duplicate and suspended locations
  • Search/Filter locations by name, category and label
  • Set the service area for a business either by specifying a point and radius or Place IDs

In part six of Mockingbird’s “Toolbox Webinars” series, we’ll walk you through the two most popular local business management tools: Moz Local and Yext. Learn why just buying these tools isn’t enough, why you need both of them, and more about Yext’s newly forged partnership with Google – a service previously only available to agencies and large buyers.

If you want to learn more about utilizing Yext for optimizing your local web presence, sign up for our webinar today!

Moz’s Local Ranking Factors Report

Every year, I get an email from Moz asking for input into their Local Ranking Factors survey.  The survey is conducted amongst a small group of SEO nerds. Due to the competitiveness of legal marketing, be glad to know our niche is especially well represented- I’m joined by legal marketing geeks, Mike Ramsey, Gyi Tsakalakis and Casey Meraz.  This year, the study came out shortly after Google launched the snack pack (catch up here), so the results are particularly interesting.

If you want to geek out, you can read the full Moz study here.

Overall Ranking Factors

Ranking Factors continue to diversify – meaning there are a wide array of things you need to get right.  Vendors who provide just one piece of the puzzle are rarely going to be enough to drive success (and yes – I fully acknowledge this is a self-serving comment.)  The factor consistently gaining in significance is behavioral performance (i.e. click through rates, time on site etc.) – this has been backed up by numerous studies.  In legal, this emphasizes issues like brand, meta descriptions, a site’s look and feel/user interface and accessibility of information.

And despite the ongoing assertions of social media pundits – Social is entirely immaterial to local performance – coming in dead last among all ranking categories.  Joy Hawkins (who is our secret go-to person when we get utterly stuck on a complex Google My Business issues) explains social and search:

I gave social signals 1% for organic impact because I do think it’s possible that they could impact ranking – I have just never seen a single case where they did. I always quote Matt Cutts where he indicated that when it comes to social signals it’s a correlation and not causation. Businesses that are active on Facebook also usually care about their ranking on Google and are actively trying to improve it. One doesn’t cause the other.

David Mihm, the author of the survey, offers his take on the waning (if not entirely dead) impact of Google+ in ranking:

At this point, I view Google My Business essentially as a UI for structured data* and a conduit to AdWords. While Google’s original “business builder” vision may still come to fruition, it clearly won’t be under the social umbrella of Google+.

Top 10 Ranking Factors for Local (now Snack Pack)

  1. Physical Address in City of Search
  2. NAP Consistency in Structured Citations
  3. Proper Google My Business Categories
  4. Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (i.e. physically where is the searcher)
  5. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  6. Domain Authority of Website
  7. Product/Service Keyword in Google My Business Business Title
  8. City, State in Google My Business Landing Page Title
  9. HTML NAP matching Google My Business Location NAP
  10. Click Through Rate from Search Results

Of particular note is the focus on quality including the prevalence of accuracy in Google My Business information (note David’s comment above).

Ranking Differentiators for Competitive Markets (i.e. legal)

My favorite facet of the survey is the focus on competitive markets – essentially almost all of the legal marketing space.  After getting the fundamentals right, this becomes the tactical focus of our engagements and frankly, these are often the hardest components of search – the stuff that can’t be automated, simplified or easily copied.

  1. Consistency of Structured Citations
  2. Domain Authority of Website
  3. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  4. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  5. Proper Google My Business Category Associations
  6. Physical Address in City of Search (in the past month, we have been consulted twice on helping law firms decide what building to move in to.)
  7. Quantity of Native Google Reviews
  8. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Google My Business Landing Page URL
  9. CTR from search results pages
  10. Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (i.e. Newspaper articles)

Note the heavy heavy focus on quality above.  You don’t achieve these tactics through $10 for 1,000 twitter followers or a paid citation campaign.

Non Local Local Results

Heh?  This is really localized natural search – i.e. results for local queries (even those without a geo-modifier) that return typical SEO results.  I don’t want dwell on this, as this is a post about Local (i.e. mapped) results, but for natural search with a local component (which represents at least 95% of legal searches – the focus is on providing accurate location signals through Google My Business and a heavy focus on site authority (i.e. high quality links).  In fact the top 2 signals according to the survey are link related.

Negative Ranking Factors

Of course, no SEO conversation would be complete without a discussion of penalties.

  1. Incorrect business category
  2. Listing at false business address
  3. Mis-Match NAP or Tracking Phone Numbers
  4. Presence of malware
  5. Reports of Violations in your Google My Business location
  6. Mis-matched NAP/tracking phone numbers on Google My Business page
  7. Mis-matched Address on Google My Business page
  8. Multiple Google My Business locations with Same Phone Number
  9. Absence of NAP on website
  10. Address includes suite number similar to UPS Mail Store or other false address.

The negative ranking factors center around incorrect NAP as well and inconsistent information in…. here it is again…. Google My Business.  Given the prevalence of geo spam among lawyers (i.e. “virtual offices” or fake offices shoehorned into your friends insurance office), I expect we will continue to see a greater focus on reporting of non-real offices.   Frankly, the only impact we saw among law firms with the Pigeon roll out was severe penalties on some significant local spammers; so none of this really surprises me.

Snack Pack

Acknowledging that the Snack Pack launched just prior to the survey (and so the following is probably more intuitive rather than based on any studies, Moz asked about change in tactical focus given the snack pack.  Across the board, the increased focus was on quality signals (NAP, Authority, Citations).  The only quantity factor was Google specific reviews (i.e. the more the better but note the focus on Google, NOT reviews across the web – Avvo, Yelp etc.).   Tactical losers focused on quantity (which I read to mean low cost, low value, low authority – easily replicable) links, citations and…. my favorite punching bag…. social shares.

HOT: Google Updates Local Results

Fresh from the web comes this update about Google’s recent changes to the local pack.

The local 3-pack

Google’s local results, AKA the “Local” or “Map” pack, just got streamlined from seven results to three.

What is it?

The “Local Pack” is the list that appears on the left of your screen when you search Google for a local service or business. As an example, here’s an image from a post last year:

What’s Changed?

As you’ll note below, the local pack just slimmed down. It lost four listings, doesn’t feature a phone number and no longer shows the Google+ page. The number can be found by clicking the listing: More on that in a bit. Businesses still show star rankings where applicable. Street names are now used in lieu of full addresses. Hours of operation will show either opening or closing times, depending on the time of day.

Attack of the 3 Pack
LA Area Search for “Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney” – 2:30 PM, 8/7/2015

Previously, clicking a link in the local pack would have the listing’s knowledge graph page fly-out to the right, as detailed here. In this new iteration, clicking the the listing (and not the website or direction links) brings up an entirely new pageLocal Pack Click-Through

This new page now features the business knowledge graph card. Users can now find the full address and phone number here. This page also features a total of 20 business listings, and links to more at the bottom.

So what does it mean?

The obvious first thought is that it just got harder for folks that were ranking 4-7. Does this mean it’s time to up your Adwords advertising spend? Perhaps. It could also be a boon to companies that rank #1 or #2 organically but don’t show up in the local pack. That the local list is now shorter means less scrolling to get to them.

Time will tell if users adjust to this new “local pack lite” and click through to the 20 listing page.

We’ll keep an eye on this for you. In the meantime, redouble your local SEO efforts: The bar just got higher.

Online Reputation Management: How to do Reviews

Reputation management is yet another candidate in a long list of considerations you need to take into account when managing your online presence. In addition to proactively keeping your citations correct, building links, posting fresh content, structuring your site, and on and on, it can be tiring to know there’s one more thing that threatens to undermine your hard work and past successes. But anyone who tells you marketing is easy is a liar. There’s a reason this is our job.

 

What is reputation management? Why is it important?

The concept of reputation management is as simple as it sounds. If you want to be found (and subsequently hired), you need to put your information out on the internet. Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factor survey listed review signals as having 10% of total influence on search rankings. In addition, online reviews are trusted more than ads in almost every medium, and 35% of clients say they use online reviews to research new attorneys (thanks to the legal technology team at Software Advice for going out of their way to provide the raw info from that study). Having profile pages on sites like Avvo, Yelp, Google+, etc., makes you more likely to be found when someone searches for your practice. But getting clients isn’t just about whether your online presence is big or small, it’s also about whether that presence is good or bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re the top of the local pack for “personal injury lawyer New York” – if you show a 1-star average from 10 reviews, people will skip over you and go to the next attorney in line.

Managing your reputation means getting high-quality reviews from clients across multiple platforms, making sure those ratings are glowing and natural (no spam!), and dealing with bad reviews as they occur. It also means ranking well for search results directly related to your business, so that your results stand above any bad PR pieces that show up in the SERPs. But that’s a lot of moving pieces, so this post is just going to focus on one of the most obvious parts: getting good reviews. Let’s look into what you can do to have a great online reputation.

 

Getting clients to review you

The most important step towards getting good reviews is providing excellent service. You will find it very hard to get praise if you don’t deserve it. But once you’ve jumped over that minor hurdle, the next the best catalyst for reviews is asking. If you don’t ask for reviews, the only people who will give you any are the ones who seek out opportunities to do so. This usually lends to you looking worse online than in real life because angry clients are far more likely to go out of their way to review than happy ones.

At Mockingbird, we find that the best way to ask for reviews is in person after the case is over, then letting clients fill out the review in their own time afterwards. Strike up a conversation when the client comes by to fill out paperwork or make a payment, and tell them how much a review means to your business. Getting a verbal agreement from your client is one of the most effective means of guaranteeing they will review you afterwards. Look them in the eye, and gain their approval with a handshake. After that meeting, make the process is easy as possible by following up with an email linking them to your relevant profile(s) – except for Yelp, more on that in a bit. Another benefit of asking for reviews individually is that you can pick and choose who you want to represent you online. If you won a case but you don’t think the client will be receptive, consider not reaching out for a review.

Some people just don’t have the time to watch all their review sites and check in with each individual client, so they turn to automated review management tools like GetFiveStars or other automatic review solicitors. The usual trick with these is to send an initial email asking for feedback. If the reviewer gives a low score, they are thanked for their opinion and nothing else is done. If the review gives a high score, they are instead prompted to voice their opinions on one of several sites. We’ve tried this before, but our conversion rates were almost non-existent. The major problem is that this tactic is used for business with large client volumes, like restaurants or hair salons. Law firms and attorneys don’t deal with nearly as many clients, so you end up with a pretty bad return on investment. If you’re still interested in watching for reviews, consider a tracking software like ReviewTrackers so you don’t have to constantly visit your Justia and Avvo profiles.

 

Optimizing your impact

The strength of reviews is dependent on a lot of factors beyond your average ranking. Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors survey emphasizes the following:

  • Quantity of reviews
  • Authority of sites hosting those reviews
  • Diversity of sites hosting those reviews
  • Freshness of reviews, and the rate those reviews were added
  • Whether your rating shows up next to your search result (need 5 or more Google+ reviews)

The first on that list is quantity, which has become more important over the past year. Only about 8% of potential customers consider a business trustworthy if there is 1 review. For 85% of potential clients to consider you trustworthy, it’s good to have at least 10 reviews. Now these should be quality reviews so you can’t expect this to be done in a few days or even a few months. Like everything in SEO, good reputation management takes time.

In addition, you should be aware of what sites your reviews show up on, because there are a lot of options. A surprisingly large amount of users go through Yelp, along with Super Lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell, and Avvo. You can get reviews on Google+, Avvo, Justia, Yelp, and other directories, but ask your clients where they found your business so you what to focus on.

Yelp is a unique beast in that they don’t want you to ask your clients for reviews, something we’ve discussed in one of our LMQ videos. However, Yelp’s suggested ways to “remind customers”, such as profile links in your e-mail signature or stickers on your business door, aren’t effective for attorneys (and can be very tacky). We firmly believe that you should still proactively ask your clients for reviews, but avoid invoking Yelp’s ire by not explicitly stating where to go. A softer approach is more appropriate: “We really appreciate reviews because it helps our web presence, several places you can go are: [your top 3 targeted directories]”. In a follow-up email, don’t send them a direct link to your Yelp page, but ask them to search for your name.

Important Note: Even though you won’t be regarded as trustworthy if you have no reviews, potential clients will find you even less trustworthy if you have mostly bad reviews. Do not ask for a review unless you’re confident it will be a positive one.

 

The evils of astroturfing

It’s common to want an easy way out of this problem. Despite your best efforts, clients may not be likely to review you and not every review will be a raving 5 stars. At these times it may be tempting to look for another way to get your ratings up. But fight the urge. In addition to be less than fair to potential clients, it’s also dangerous for you.

Yelp is big on keeping reviews legitimate. They’ve sued attorneys for faking reviews before (we blogged about that incident), and they go over reviews to make sure nothing looks spammy or forced. Avvo will investigate reviews by hand multiple times, even to the point of asking reviewers to provide evidence that they worked with given attorneys. Remember that these sites make their livelihood off of consumers’ trust, so they are just as willing to crack down on scummy review practices as potential clients are. Even state governments have taken action against fake reviewing companies.

There are other tactics out there from attorneys and firms trying to slip under the radar. But this is the same story with so much of SEO – people try to game the system, and sometimes succeed for a short time, then get smacked once the system improves. Remember that if you want a good reputation, the best thing you can do is provide excellent service. Once people are willing to talk about how great you are, just nudge them in the right direction.

 

We’d love to hear your feedback in the field of review management. Have you used review management software? What do you think is the best way to get reviews? What do you think of Yelp’s opinion on review solicitation? Let us know in the comments.

You can find the sequel to this post here: Dealing With Bad reviews