Google Screened for Lawyers: What You Need to Know

We sat down with Mockingbird’s Matthew Moore to go over Google’s brand new product, Google Screened.  Matt’s run millions and millions of dollars of Local Service Ads (like Screened) as the lead for Sears home services and brings his experience to the legal world in a 60 minute breakdown of Google Screened. Matt shares his experience here, going over the economics of the model, how it impacts SPAM in local, and what Sears learned in order to be successful.

Spotting The Hallmarks of SEO Balderdash

If you can bring yourself to sit through the entire video here, it’s going to come across as pretty haughty and dismissive. But that was my honest assessment of the crap I was listening to. The micropoint to this post is, “taking selfies in front of local landmarks won’t expand your Local Search results,” but the main point of my post is larger.  Watch (if you can) the entire thing as Jason Brown and I defrock tactics used to make someone look more experienced than they are:

  • Sliver bullet to SEO success
  • Modicum of plausibility
  • Lack of specific examples and data
  • Trappings of authority

And if you start to smell some of that from an “SEO expert”, try doing a little research. Searching for “selfie” on Search Engine Land turns up…well…not much, and nothing in the way of Local Search magic bullets; although there is this interesting 2014 post about a Goolebot selfie at the beach:

Source: SearchEngineLand: https://searchengineland.com/search-pics-google-cardboard-googlebot-beach-matt-cutts-selfie-195404

And if you are a law firm staffer who was sent around the city to take pics of yourself at various local landmarks, overtip your local restaurant and head back to the office. You are wasting your time. Sorry.

Spoiler Alert: this video is just as cringey as public selfies.

 

Attorney Kate Furek’s DIY Website- A Rare Success Story

Mockingbird recently hosted a webinar in which Agency Founder, Conrad Saam, interviewed attorney Kate Furek, who created her own badass law firm website.

Kate offered such great advice to attorneys looking to build their own websites, it felt selfish to keep the footage in the vault.

This video covers:

  • Choosing a CMS
  • Color selection and branding
  • The importance of great photography and what you need to keep in mind when taking photos
  • How to manage contact forms
  • Developing with SEO in mind

And much more…

Enjoy and good luck on your own website building endeavor!

 

Is Avvo (coming) Back?

Back in early May, I wrote a post: Avvo in SEO Traffic Free Fall. One of the many questions fielded about this was, may the come back?  The answer was “probably” – from everything I could tell (including Avvo’s pointed “no comment” to the question around what was going on with their traffic), this looked like a one-off SEO penalty, with a sudden and otherwise inexplicable drop in traffic.  Note from that previous article that this was for a select set of high value, head terms; the fall-off in volume was also anecdotally corroborated by numerous attorneys.

I’ve been able to get my mitts on an Avvo email that suggests not only was I correct in the original assessment, but that (possibly) they are at the beginning of a rebound. This is (somewhat) corroborated by a variety of third party reporting systems that sync with the timing from this Avvo data – which shows a hitting the bottom mark sometime in the middle of June.

So here are the data points:

From Avvo

This is the graph circulating Avvo that shows a pretty impressive traffic growth – again, if this is accurate it would support my supposition that this was an SEO penalty (or a major major stupid technical whoopsie, which I doubt would go unsolved for this long).  Note that this graph does not show at all these rankings are for – for all we know its “fuzzy bunny slipper lawyer” or just focused on Lincoln, Nebraska.  Also note that the overall number of terms for which they rank top 3 is still minuscule.  Finally, this graph starts at the beginning of May, which is exactly when I first published my study, which means it conveniently leaves out the cratering that occurred during February and March (read: its built to paint them in a very positive light.).

SEMRush & ahrefs

SEMRush and ahrefs (both spectacularly inaccurate albeit directionally helpful third-party tools) show a traffic turnaround coinciding with the data above from Avvo. Of note, these tools give us a chance to look much further back for historical context and suggest the directory is still a ways off from its former zenith.

But… Ranking Reports

I hate ranking reports, but it was Gyi Tsakalakis’ ranking report of 250 head terms that first tipped me off on the Avvo decline.  So I circled back and the results still aren’t pretty.  While this is a very very very slim sampling of head terms, there seems to have been no movement within this set:

My advice?  Watch closely and as always, monitor success through your own reporting metrics, not your vendors’.

 

Google Introduces Core Web Vitals

In early May, Google announced they would be tracking user experience by the creation of three new web vitals or as they say, “essential metrics for a healthy site.” In the beginning of July, google had its annual web dev live conference where the first day was majority focused on explaining these new vitals and how to optimize these vitals. Measuring user experience will always be a moving target and Google has stated that they will be reviewing web vitals annually during their I/O conference. I will cover what these web vitals are and some overview learning of watching videos form the conference.

Overview of the New Core Web Vitals

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP measures loading and speed by marking when the largest (usually primary content) is loaded into the viewport. A great example of this would be a hero image often found on websites. Your target goal of LCP should be 2.5seconds or less when the page first starts loading. Google explains LCP more in depth.

Common Issues Affecting LCP

  • Slow server response times
    • Cheap hosting
    • Terrible server side coding
    • Unoptimized database queries
  • Render blocking JS/CSS – Before website loads content, it has to parse HTML page. CSS and JS files by default block the rending of this page till they are loaded.
  • Slow resource times
    • Unoptimized images – usually the main culprit
    • Loading videos
  • Client-side rendering – using JavaScript to dynamically load content like API calls and not optimizing or caching the calls.

You can learn to optimize for LCP from Google.

First Input Delay (FID)

FPD measures your sites interactivity and responsiveness by measuring how long it takes for a user to interact with your page as it loads. It measures the delay of your web page being unresponsive to the user. Goal is to have a FPD of 100 milliseconds or less. Google explains FID more in depth.

JavaScript Biggest Offender

The greatest impact of FID come from JavaScript. Javascript blocks the webpage from loading until it’s executed, it’s known as “render blocking.” For internal JavaScript files, it’s best to optimize and chunk your Javascript code. Third party scripts affect your site’s loading speed too.

You can learn more in depth ways to optimize FID from Google.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

CLS measures visual stability by quantifying any unexpected layout shifts of visible web content. Think of when a page loads and you start reading an article, then an image loads in and pushes the paragraph down or a website banner load sin late and shows the entire web page lower, both of these are examples of CLS. CLS is calculated by impact fraction * distance fraction.

Common Issues Affecting CLS

  • Images without dimensions – always include width and height attribute on media elements such as images or videos
  • Ads, embeds, iframes, etc, without dimensions
  • Dynamically loaded content (often from APIs) – don’t forget to save some allotted space for any content being loaded dynamically. Avoid loading new content above existing content, unless triggered by a user interaction like a load more button.
  • Web fonts causing FOIT(Flash of Invisible Text)/FOUT(Flash of unsettled text)

You can learn more in depth ways to optimize CLS from Google.

Measuring Web Vitals

Along with the announcement of these new core web vitals came some new tooling and updated to existing tools. Google measures these three metrics with two types of data. Lab data is artificial interactions used to track down errors and bugs. Field Data is real world users and how they are interacting with your site. If 75% of the page views meet the good threshold for each measurement, then the website is classified as having a good performance for that metric. First let’s explain Lighthouse, the main technology powering these tools.

Lighthouse: the Underlying Technology

Google uses Lighthouse, a website auditing tool that powers different tools to measure these vitals. Lighthouse 6.0 has been released with reporting on the three new core web vital metrics. The web core vitals: Largest Contentful Paint, Cumlative Layoutshift, and Total Blocking Time (Lab data to simulate First Input Delay) are now added into the scoring system. The performance scoring system is broken down below.

Weight % Audit
15 First Contentful Paint (FCP)
15 Speed Index
25 Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
15 Time to Interactive (TTI)
25 Total Blocking Time (TbT)
5 Cumlative Layout Shift (CLS)

Tools Provided to Measure your Website

  • Pagespeed Insights – a tool that has been around for a long time and shouldn’t be new to anyone working with websites. What is new is leverages Lighthouse to measure core vitals. Great for finding and diagnosing easily replicable errors.
  • Chrome UX Report (CrUX) – uses real users for data and be setup using Data Studio or BigQuery to create reports. Developers can also leverage the CrUX API to pull in JSON data and visualize it how they’d like.
  • Search Console – has a new web vitals report built in based on real user data. Awesome for a constant monitoring tool your live website and uses real world data.
  • Chrome Dev Tools – had some new features implemented into the performance tab to measure core web vitals. You can also perform lighthouse audits direct int he Chrome dev tools as well. You can learn more from the web dev live video. Very useful for local debugging.
  • Web vital extension – you know Google had to create a Chrome extension.
  • Site Kit from Google – a WordPress Plugin from Google that connects to Google services and displays an overview in your WP dashboard.

Google Screened Badge and Local Service Ads rolling out for Lawyers

Earlier this week, screenshots of a new Google offering began to make its way around the SEO world.  The Google Guaranteed (or Google Screened for the legal industry) has been getting tested in select locations. Google is promoting this shiny new badge as an upgrade to your Google my business profile and a way to to “stand out”.

But you guessed it, there’s a catch. The badge is going to cost $50 a month* for eligible businesses. I know, I know I can hear you throw my computer. “This is just another money grab by Google”. That’s how the entire SEO industry feels about it too. Just take a look at twitter.

 


Here’s a spin zone for you (I promise I’m not a Google lackey). This is going to help clean up the map of spam. I have written about the spam problem in the past, and how your leads may be getting stolen. Spam has been a constant battle of whack a mole. Isn’t $50 a month a great investment to make sure your leads don’t get stolen?

Also, take a look at your competitors. How many of them break the Google guidelines and throw keywords into their GMB business name. “Smith & Smith DUI Lawyers Denver”. The good news is, they won’t qualify for the badge until they remove the added keywords.

I am also quite optimistic that now that Google has a way to profit off of this tool, they are going to allocate more resources to improving and expanding Local search.

 

*As of writing this the program is still not officially announced by Google. Pricing is based on screenshots of Google testing the feature. Pricing may be different for the legal industry.

What is Google Screened exactly?

In Google’s own words:

“Google Screened helps professional service firms build a trusted reputation online.

Businesses with this badge go through extensive background and license checks and must have at least a 3.0 rating.

On Local Service listings, you will see the Google Screened icon next to these businesses.”

 

What Practice Areas Qualify?

As of now, the practice area’s that are included on the requirements page are:

  • Bankruptcy lawyer
  • Business lawyer
  • Contract lawyer
  • Criminal lawyer
  • Disability lawyer
  • DUI lawyer
  • Estate lawyer
  • Family lawyer
  • Immigration law
  • IP lawyer
  • Labor lawyer
  • Litigation lawyer
  • Malpractice lawyer
  • Personal injury lawyer
  • Real estate lawyer
  • Tax lawyer
  • Traffic lawyer

You can read about the individual requirements for each practice area here.

Why this matters

Google Screened is the first step that a law firm must take before qualifying for the new ads variation that Google is slowly begging to roll out: Local Service Ads (LSA). This ad type is very atypical in comparison to the more traditional version of the ad approach that Google has typically adopted. Instead of a Pay per Click model (PPC) these ads will be a pay per lead, and you will only be charged when a client actually calls you directly through the ad.

 

What now?

To learn more about what the “Google Screened” badge and how to apply for Local Service Ads, reach out to our team. We will happily walk you through the process and get your firm on your way to getting “screened” and eligible for LSA’s.

 

 

Yoast Search Appearance Settings: Best Practice Set Up for Law Firms

Yoast is an SEO plugin that can help your website meet the “highest technical SEO standards.”

One important feature is its ability to control how your site appears in search results. The search appearance settings include: general, content types, media, taxonomies, archives, breadcrumbs, and RSS. In this article we will review the best practices set up of each tab. Many of the settings you choose will be dependent on your preference, and we will cover how to make the best choice for your firm.

 

General

General Yoast settings include your default meta title separator, schema setting, and organization title and logo information.

Title Separator

The title separator is used in your default meta title settings. At Mockingbird, we use the pipe separator in all meta titles. We do this because this separator uses few pixels appears professional in search results.

Example

Schema Settings

It is recommended that you select “organization” for your schema settings regardless of whether you are a multi-attorney or solo practice.

Organization Information

Make sure that your firm name is entered as it appears in your Google My Business listing for NAP consistency. This information will be embedded in the back end code of your site for search engines to crawl. It may also appear in search results.

Content Types

In this section you will specify what the default search appearance should be for any type of content you have. You can decide which types of content should appear in search results and what the default meta title will be (SEO settings). You can also decide a default meta description, but we do not recommend using this field. Each page should have a unique meta description specific to the content on the page. You should either manually write one for each page (recommended), or allow search engines to determine which content to grab from the page for the meta description.

Pages & Posts

Your pages and posts should be shown in search results. We do not recommend showing the date of publication in search results for pages. The publication date of say the homepage is not relevant, and showing that a page was published multiple years ago may detract users. However, you may choose to show the publication date for a post; this is entirely up to you.

Other Content Types

Your settings for additional content types (based on your website development) is dependent on your SEO strategy. On Mockingbird’s website we also have FAQ and Event content types, which we have chosen to set up identically to our page settings.

Media Settings

Make sure that your media and attachment URLs redirect to the attachment itself. If this setting is set to “no” a page will be created for each file, inflating your website with unnecessary pages. These pages will detract search engine attention from your important content, such as practice area pages.

Taxonomies & Archives

In the context of content marketing, taxonomy is simply the organization of content. Most commonly, this includes categories and tags that are applied to posts. In the taxonomies sections of Yoast, you can decide whether your categories and tags will appear in search results and how they will appear. Should your category and tag pages be indexed? To answer this, ask yourself if the pages add value to users. If the answer is no, then these pages should be no-indexed, or removed entirely. Before making this decision it is best to check traffic to these pages using Google Analytics and ensure that there are no links being pointed to these pages using Ahrefs. The same advice applies to archive pages, such as post author and date archives.

Breadcrumbs

According to the Online Marketing Institute, “Breadcrumbs add another form of navigation for visitors to find their way around your Web site. They build out a logical path of what pages have been visited and where they are in relation to the site flow.”

Below is an example of bread crumbs appearing in search results and a post through the Yoast plugin.

Breadcrumb Pathway with Parent Category and Subcategory

To implement Yoast’s SEO breadcrumbs you will need to edit the theme of your website. Yoast has created an in-depth guide to enabling breadcrumbs. It is not critical that you have bread crumbs enabled on your website, but you may wish to enable them for usability purposes.

RSS

The RSS feed settings prevent web scrapers from republishing your content without credit. The default settings here should be sufficient, adding a piece of text to the bottom of a scraped piece of content with a link to your original blog post.

Should My Blog be Separate from My Site?

Here at Mockingbird, we are constantly getting asked about how law firms should run their blogs. Is it better to have a separate site? Should it be on the main site? If it’s on the firm’s main site, should it be on a subdomain (blog.xyzfirm.com) or a subfolder (xyzfirm.com/blog/)?  This is my attempt to answer these questions and dispel any misconceptions that may be floating around. Let’s dive right in.

Should my legal blog live on my firm’s site?

I’ll get right to it. For a law firm, the blog should live in a subfolder (xyzfirm.com/blog/) on the main site. How was that for short and sweet?

From an SEO perspective, this is critical. By merging the two sites, you are allowing both entities to benefit from the same backlinks. When one gets a new valuable backlink, they both benefit. Combining sites also allows for a seamless user experience and a shorter conversion journey for potential clients. If you have a blog that discusses the intricacies of employment law in Texas and you handle employment law in Texas, why would you want to send clients to a separate site?

I’d suggest checking out this case study that highlights the value of merging an off-site blog onto the firm’s main site.

Should my blog be on a subdomain (blog.xyzfirm.com) or a subfolder (xyzfirm.com/blog/)?

If you want to fully capitalize on the joint SEO value, it is extremely important to use a subfolder. Google looks at subdomains as separate websites and the value of the backlinks will not be shared between the main site and blog.

Did I mention the case study yet?

When does a separate blog make sense?

I know my answer to the first question was pretty definitive, but that is because we are discussing specifically legal sites. Outside the legal industry, there are plenty of situations that a separate blog makes sense. If you run a nature photography blog, there is no reason to connect that to your business site (well unless you own an outdoor recreation company). Or maybe you want to eventually sell the business, but keep running the blog (or vice versa). Then you should keep them separate.

In my experience, I have yet to run into a time where a legal

What do I do If my firm has an offsite blog?

Call Us! Our team has the experience and knowledge it takes to handle this migration seamlessly.  Let us help your firm fully capitalizes on your situation and turn two sites into one much stronger asset.

Third times the charm, read this case study. I promise you won’t regret it.

The Case for Cloudflare

At Mockingbird we are always searching for and adopting tools that provide our clients with the best service possible. One of the tools that we use as a standard in addition to WPEngine for all of our website hosting and maintenance clients is Cloudflare. More than just a Content Delivery Network (CDN), Cloudflare provides enhanced security, performance, and reliability for our client’s websites.

Security

Cloudflare stops malicious traffic before it reaches your website by analyzing potential threats in visitor requests. Some of the characteristics that are analyzed are a visitor’s IP address, the resource requested, request payload and frequency, and defined firewall rules.

When specific DNS records are Proxied a Cloudflare IP address is returned when a DNS look is executed. This masks your origin IP address so attackers aren’t able to bypass Cloudflare and directly attack your origin web server using DNS records.

One security feature that we use frequently for clients is firewall rules. This allows us to block traffic to the website from a specific country, IP address, or bot. Helping prevent spammy form fills, potential attacks, and eliminate website traffic we know won’t convert into a client.

Performance

Cloudflare optimizes the delivery of website resources for visitors by using its robust network of data centers. These data centers serve your website’s static resources and ask your origin web server for dynamic content. Their global network of data centers provides a faster route from your website to a website visitor that would just be directly requesting the site. Helping to improve website load speed for clients across the united states and globally.

Reliability

Cloudflare’s globally distributed anycast network routes visitor requests to the nearest Cloudflare data center. Dynamically responding to website visitor requests providing predictability and reliability when bandwidth fluctuates. Cloudflare does not have bandwidth limits for domains to be able to provide reliable billing for CDN and DDoS expenses.

Why Not?

These features and benefits all help provide a faster and safer experience for your potential clients. A free service that runs silently in the background keeping the website your firm up and running. Let us know if you have any questions or would like information on our website maintenance package so you have more time to focus on your firm.