Slow Site? Speed it Up with PHP 7.3

There are many factors that affect the speed of your website. But one that is often overlooked is PHP. PHP is a scripting language used to develop WordPress themes and plugins.

This language is regularly being updated and improved upon, but without regular back end updates, many sites get left in the dust.

The newest version of PHP, PHP 7.3, has just been released. Upgrading from PHP 7.2 to PHP 7.3 can result in a 15% decrease in request processing time (WP Engine).

Speed is a major ranking factor for search engines. Users expect sites to load near instantly, and when they don’t, they move on to the next search result. Knowing this, search engines favor sites with short load times. If your site is too slow, users will be less likely to find your business online.

Even if users do find your business, a long load time may reduce the likelihood that they stay on your site. According to WP Engine, “Slow-loading sites are the number one cause of page abandonment across all audiences.”

Bottom line, a slow website means lost traffic, lost leads, and fewer clients. 

Security

Additionally, PHP 7.3 improves website security. WordPress requires regular software updates in order to ensure security. No major security issues have been detected in PHP 7.2, but it is best practice to keep all components of your website up to date, including PHP. Unlike older versions, PHP 7.3 is actively supported by WP Engine. This means that if vulnerabilities are found, the host will resolve them before a security breach can occur.

Upgrading to PHP 7.3

Updating your website’s PHP is relatively simple, but like any technical change, making this switch does have the potential to cause issues on your site. If you would like your PHP upgrade to be handled by professionals, contact Mockingbird for help.

How to Not F$%k Up Your Site Launch

Your website is ready to launch! Congrats! Now I know you’re excited to get your shiny new site in front of your users, but there are a few critical steps to take before pressing the (figurative) go button.

It may seem like a simple task, but properly launching a website takes technical knowledge and experience. Missing one step can lead to lost domain authority, lost traffic, and bottom line…fewer leads and clients.

Recently a law firm came to us baffled by the fact that their beautiful new website was performing so poorly. Minutes after digging into the site, our team knew that some crucial errors were made during launch. Pages weren’t added and/or redirected properly, 17 backlinks from high domain authority sites were lost, odd pages were being indexed in search results. They spent tens of thousands of dollars on a site that was sinking.

Though these missteps are reversible, it is, of course, better to avoid the traffic drop in the first place.

Here are a few steps you can take to avoid tanking your site traffic:

1) Ensure URLs Match (or Are Handled Properly)

Make sure your new website URLs exactly match your old website URLs. If your old Traumatic Brain Injury practice area page was domain.com/tbi-injury/ make sure it is the same on the new site. If you would like to change it to domain.com/practice-areas/tbi-injury/ make sure that you have a redirect in place. These redirects should ideally be made at the domain level.

2) Uncheck Discourage Search Engines

This may seem like a no-brainer, but this little checkbox can easily go unnoticed. Make sure that you are not asking search engines to ignore your site. Uncheck the box!

3) Update Robots.txt

Make sure that you aren’t asking search engines to not crawl your site through your robots.txt either. The “/” below signifies that you want to block search engines from crawling your entire site. Remove this. Also, not as detrimental, but add your XML sitemap here to show search engines where to find all of your pages.

4) Run a Screaming Frog Crawl

Run another crawl of your site. Make sure that there are no internal 404s or unnecessary 301s within your site. If there are any, fix them!

And much much more…

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to properly executing a site launch. If you truly want to ensure your site launch goes off without a hitch, call a marketing company that knows what they’re doing.

Google “Refreshes” Mobile Search Results Page

In May 2019, Google announced a visual refresh of the mobile search results page. The new design is meant to help push a brand’s image front and center, while allowing users to scan the SERPs more easily. This change affects both organic and paid search results on mobile.

New Google Ads Labels and Organic Favicons

The labels for Google Ads are now simple, bold and black. The green border around green text has been replaced. The URL has been switched from green to black as well, and both have been moved to the top of the “results card.” They have even gotten rid of the thin grey divider line between the headline and the description.

Organic results have undergone similar changes. Rather than an “Ad” label, Google is now displaying favicons. Your favicon, website name (NOT your domain name), and the page structure (breadcrumbs) are now above the page title exactly like the ads.

Why This is Important

This update might seem like a simple design change, but it has potentially massive impact for both SEO and PPC. Using identical design layouts further blurs the line between paid and organic results. Personally, I think it’s still pretty obvious when something says “Ad” but it’s not hard to see how the public could miss the difference between a label and a favicon. I expect this change to help click-through-rates for advertising campaigns (especially within Google Maps).

The update to organic results is interesting, and something you need to speak with your SEO agency about. Please don’t buy a “favicon optimization” package, unless of course you find it listed in our Legal SEO Store. It’s not something you need to optimize, but it is something you need to set up correctly.

If you’re not already, pay attention to your website name and your site structure. Some think Google is slowing killing the URL, and when I see search results without URLs like these examples above, I have to agree.

What to Do About the Mobile SERP Refresh

First, start advertising. Whether you like it or not, ads are taking up more and more real estate on SERPs. They are also getting harder to spot, which means fewer people will be ignoring the ads.

Second, optimize your headlines. For both paid and organic results, Headlines have taken center stage of these results cards. It’s more important than ever to make sure you have a clear, catchy, click baity optimized headline that captures attention and generates clicks.

Third, update your favicon. You don’t want your website to show your host’s favicon instead of your brand’s logo.

Lastly, stay tuned for even more updates. These changes are live on mobile, and we can only assume the desktop results will soon follow. Google’s announcement said “this new design allows us to add more action buttons and helpful previews to search results cards” so pay attention to when those features become available.

Hiring: NON COLLEGE GRAD For High Tech Marketing Apprenticeship

Mockingbird is opening up our Marketing Manger job to someone who hasn’t spent 4 years and a small fortune attending College. The Marketing Manger is an entry-level role designed to transform recently minted College graduates into highly effective tactical online marketers over a 12-36 month period.

I’ve become increasingly convinced that key to success for our clients and therefore my agency, is hiring the right people and providing them with a heavy focus on ongoing training and support combined with the real world, trial by fire reality that is impossible to experience among the vaunted ivory tower of higher education. It has nothing to do with my employee’s alma mater or even their degree. This perspective has been strengthened when I interview business school undergrads – 90% of which can’t calculate a simple ROI.

The reality is that a College degree is simply a marker, albeit a poor one, of the potential in a candidate. And that potential (at least for us) is much more determined by an individual’s analytical curiosity, innate professionalism, genuine nerdiness, and a proactive out-of-the box thinking.

At Mockingbird, our Mission is to “vastly improve the lives of our employees and clients (in that order) through exceptional marketing.” There is no reason that Mission shouldn’t embrace those without the luxury of a College degree. Special consideration for military veterans trying to enter the civilian workforce.

Taking a Content First Approach to Website Design

The main goal of a law firm’s website is to create a solution that meets their target audience’s needs and encourages conversions by getting visitors to contact the firm. Understanding your target audience and your firm’s business goals is the driving factor behind website content. We want to convey your firm’s narrative in a way that’s clear, concise, and emotionally appealing to potential clients. Below are key reasons why your firm should start every website project with a content first approach.

Tackling content first helps shape design and saves time.

Agreeing on content structure helps eliminate two major obstacles: creating new content to fit the design AND needing to edit old content to fit an updated design. Both of those events are avoidable if you create a design with content in mind. This can cut down on rounds of revisions where you may end up making small content changes and allows the designer to present your content visually in a way that appeals to the user’s emotions and conveys your firm’s story.

A solid content plan speeds up the workflow of the project.

Frequently, the biggest road block when creating a new website for a client is waiting for content. Establishing the structure and content needed before the design eliminates this obstacle so you don’t end up waiting on content decisions when the site is almost ready for launch. Developing a plan for content at the start of the project will help clarify who will be creating new content, when it needs to be created, and how that content is going to be structured before anything is designed. Instead of waiting in the middle of a project, we establish this up front for an optimal workflow.

A content first approach makes for a better user experience.

When the design is built around the content, the user has a consistent experience across the website. All practice areas look uniform and aren’t structured differently, location pages have all the necessary content for Google My Business and are displayed the same. We want the user to know they are on a location page or a contact page, not guess because one office’s content is displayed differently than another. Uniformity not only helps speed up the website because there’s less code, but when users navigate the site everything reinforces one uniform message about your firm. With a content first approach, we know what to display from mobile to desktop and how the content will scale in different views and sizes.

Content planning provides scalability and structure moving forward.

Often, content will be managed post launch by someone in your firm. Having the content structured and following an outline helps scale the website in consistency and design. Someone who wasn’t present during the design process can manage the content afterwards without missing a beat.

In short, a lot of the difficulties that pop up during the design and development process can be mitigated if you spend some time planning out what you want to convey with your website, and more specifically, what type of content you’re going to use to communicate that message.

Jeffrey Zeldman Quote on Content in web design

Quote from Jeffrey Zeldman, a legend in the web design world.

Tips to Make Sure Your Website Is Accessible

What is Web Accessibility?

What does the word accessibility mean? A quick Google search on “Accessibility” yields a result from Wikipedia stating, “Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities.”

Google search result for Accessibility

 

Why Does It Matter?

The overall goal of web accessibility is to ensure that a website’s content and functionality is visible and can be operated by anyone. As a business owner you want to make sure that your website can be used by all of your potential clients. In order for you to reach the widest audience possible, your website has to be accessible.

What kinds of disabilities are we talking about?
  • Auditory
  • Cognitive
  • Neurological
  • Physical
  • Speech
  • Visual

Accessibility doesn’t always pertain to individuals who have disabilities. Web accessibility also includes:

  • Mobile devices, smart watches, smart TV’s, etc
  • Aging individuals
  • Individuals who are experiencing temporary disabilities like a broken arm
  • Individuals with situational limitations such as being outdoors where there is bright light or in a library where they cannot listen to audio

How to Ensure Your Website is Accessible:

Listed below are some simple steps you can check to see if your website is accessible on a basic level.

Page Titles:

Page titles are a short description of a webpage. They appear at the top of the browser as well as in the SERPs. They are used by screen readers as well as bookmarks and favorites. Make sure that you have a title that sufficiently describes the content on your webpage.

 

Title tag for Mockingbird website

Alternative (alt) tags:

Alt tags are used to describe an image when an image fails to load. They are also used by screen readers for users who may not be able to see the image. You can check to see if an image has alt tags within your content management system. Make sure that all alt tags are descriptive and specific.

Headings:

Headings are important for the overall structure of the page. Headings are ranked from H1 to H6 with H1 being the most important. Headings are also crucial for people who cannot use a mouse. Headings provide structure for people to navigate through the webpage with a keyboard or a screen reader. Make sure all pages within your website has an <h1> level heading for the title of the page. For more information regarding headings and how to correctly use them, check out Yoast’s outline on how to use headings properly.

Contrast:

It is easy to overlook something as simple as color when it comes to accessibility. Color contrast is important to keep in mind when designing a website. People who have impaired vision may not be able to read content on your website if the colors don’t comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). To check whether your website follows the WCAG guidelines, you can use a contrast checker.

Check Your Site

The simple steps above are just the tip of the iceberg when in comes to web accessibility. Use this outline to quickly check if your website meets some of the basic requirements for digital accessibility and be certain that your website can reach the widest audience possible.

 

To read more into web accessibility, check out any of the websites below.

https://www.w3.org/WAI/

https://webaim.org/

https://www.washington.edu/accessibility/web/

 

Don’t Gather Reviews on Only One Platform

A lot of people mistakenly believe that Google values its own reviews more than those left on other platforms. An online business review is a written sentiment left directly by a client on any website or platform. Reviews represent an ongoing conversation your customers are having about your business online and they can contribute to building the type of positive reputation every firm strives to achieve. The top three platforms clients can leave reviews on are Google, Facebook, and Yelp. There are also legal-specific platforms clients can leave reviews on such as Avvo and Lawyers.com.

According to Moz, it is important to not put all of your reviews in one basket. Not only for algorithmic reasons, but because Google and other search engines sometimes filter, mistakenly loose reviews, or pull reviews from different platforms. While it is nice to have client reviews across different platforms, be careful because not all carry an equal amount of value. To identify which industry-specific platforms carry value, simply search a specific keyword phrase in search. When I searched, “criminal defense lawyer reviews”, I found that the top search results were dominated by yelp and top legal directories. This shows that Google values reviews from these top directories within the legal industry.

additional review platforms displayed in Google My Business

By using Google My Business I was able to identify other review platforms of value. In the example above, data is being pulled from Facebook and Lawyers.com. After looking at a few different Google My Business Pages I found this space to be dominated by legal directories, social platforms, yelp, and even client testimonials from the firm’s own website.

When prioritizing review efforts it is important to remember these key factors:

  • Reviews across multiple platforms can help build client’s trust. Focus on not having clients leave reviews only on one platform because search engines may filter, lose, or pull reviews from different platforms. Additionally, these platforms feed each other, for example, Yelp pushes reviews to Bing, Yahoo, and Apple Maps.
  • Acquire reviews at a natural rate for your firm. It can be viewed as spammy for a firm to acquire a large number of reviews in a short time period. Tipping off search engines and potential clients that the reviews may not be legitimate.
  • Rankings may have an impact on your reputation. It is important to actively respond to the platforms that are most prominently displayed in search results; responding to feedback that clients leave and helping implement changes if needed.

Reviews are beneficial to a firm regardless of whether they’re positive or negative. These platforms provide a space where clients can have a discussion while providing owners an opportunity to respond to, and implement, changes. It is important to have reviews be a part of your local search engine optimization strategy. Focus on determining which platforms have value and perform the best in your firm’s search results.

The Value of Google My Business Posts

One question we always ask ourselves here at Mockingbird is not only what moves the needle for our client’s marketing, but what moves the needle with the greatest impact, at the lowest cost to our clients. This leads us to constantly debate and discuss tactics on how best to grow our clients business and market share.

One internal debate we have is, “What is the value of Google My Business Posts?” This debate, up until recently, has been largely focused around theory and gut feelings on Google’s intention for the future of GMB posts. But now, after posting weekly for a few clients we have data to back our opinions.

Local SEO Context

Before diving into the results from our tests, I should probably explain some information for those who are new to Local Search, GMB and other key topics highlighted in this post.

If you are well versed in Local SEO, skip down to the next section.

Local Search: The facet of Search Engine Marketing that focuses on targeting the geography of a user. The GPS proximity of the searcher to the business and location keywords in the search query are key examples.

SERPs: Search Engine Results Pages

Google My Business: Also referred to as GMB, this is the knowledge panel that accompanies the search results on the right-hand side of the SERPs. This is where you can create and update your business’s name, address, phone number, website, hours of operation, and many other business details.

GMB Posts: The focus of this post. These are social media-esque posts on the GMB account. They “expire” after 7 days but still show in “View previous posts” section.

The Data on GMB Posts

Below we have compiled 6 months of data coming from one of our clients, Tiftickjian Law Firm. The data is broken into four graphs representing Search Exposure, Costumer Actions, GMB Listing Views and Post Views.

Beginning on November 19th, we started posting on a weekly basis. As the data clearly shows, there has been a massive upward growth across all four of the tracked metrics.

These results are not limited to just one client. We ran the exact same test for Ross Scalise Law Group, and the results are almost identical.

Posts in the Map Pack

Additionally, back in February, an interesting discussion took place on the Local Search Forum after Dave DiGregorio noticed that GMB posts are showing up in the Local Finder and Joy Hawkins found them in the 3-pack as well. This looks to have been an initial test by Google, but my assumption is that we will continue to see GMB posts influencing and showing up in the search results.

Summary

To wrap everything up into one final conclusion, I believe that making weekly GMB posts is valuable. They require minimal effort, and as the data shows, they have had a substantial impact on search exposure and engagement.

Google Fully Replaces Google Search Console

Over the last year, Google has been perfecting their latest generation of Google Search Console with the main goal of making it easier for site owners to focus on important tasks. Google has already dropped several reports and replaced them in the new console over the past month. They have just released more details about final changes to come before they officially discontinue the current generation in March.

What Is Google Search Console Used for Anyway?

The main reason that search marketers use this tool is to improve the performance of a site on Google Search. Search Console tools and reports help measure a site’s Search traffic and performance, fix issues, and make a website shine in Google Search results.

Why Is Search Console Important?

As someone focused on marketing, Search Console will help monitor website traffic, optimize ranking, and make informed decisions about the appearance of a site’s search results. The information in Search Console can be used to help make informed strategic decisions on an account and spot critical issues that have a direct impact on search results.

What’s New?

A new layout with a focus on reports that will allow users more ease of access. Some features and reports have been relocated while others have been let go. The crawl errors report and sitemap data are now located in the new index coverage report.

When Is the Switch?

The Switch happened Friday, March 28th. We will no longer be able to toggle between the previous version of the Google Search Console. Making it all the more important that we learn where the new reports are located and become familiar with the new search console.