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.

Page Indexing Issues being fixed by Google

UPDATE 4/10/19: Google has announced this issue has been fully resolved.

Last Thursday, webmasters started noticing issues with Google’s indexation of pages throughout the web. Google had been removing pages from their search results for no apparent reason.

Google acknowledged the issue on Saturday, while also incorrectly reporting that the issues had been fixed. They haven’t provided any specific information around what caused the problem in the first place.

google search liaison indexing issue tweets

On Sunday, Danny Sullivan tweeted from the Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) that they are actively working on completely resolving the issue and that it was mostly fixed.

In his tweet, Danny also stated that the problem is solely on Google’s end, however, if there are high-importance pages that you noticed have been de-indexed you can request re-indexing through Google Search Console’s URL Inspection Tool.

request (re)indexing url inspection tool

John Mueller pointed out that even once the issue has been fixed, webmasters shouldn’t expect that all their website’s pages be added back to Google’s index. Additionally, he stated that “Awesome sites with minimal duplication help us recognize the value of indexing more of your pages.”

john mueller google indexing issues

Google’s Latest Algorithm Update

On March 12th of this year Google released a new algorithm update and in decidedly creative form have named it the “March 2019 Core Update”. Incredible. The usual flurry of speculation is still in full force as SEOs attempt to piece together who is going to be impacted by this update and why, while help from Google towards putting the pieces together has remained minimal. Following is a quick update on what people are saying about the update, some history to help put it in context, and what you should be doing to make sure you aren’t hit.

Medic update (Early August 2018):

To help put this latest update in perspective, let’s step back and visit Google’s last major algorithm change, the “Medic” update. This core update got its name by having the most noticeable effect on websites relating to health, wellness, fitness, and medicine. In addition to sites featuring info on medical/health topics, many e-commerce sites were also impacted, largely those within the health and wellness sector.

What Are People Saying About the March 2019 Update?

A central theme of much of the chatter in the SEO community about what the March 2019 update is geared towards comes back to the user. Most theories are based on Google removing an emphasis on showing pages that are actually valuable to a user (e.g. a heavily research, lengthy, and hard to digest article on cholesterol) towards showing pages that the user will perceive as valuable (e.g. “Buzzfeed’s 10 Quirkiest Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol”). Whether or not this is true is up for debate.

Other theories put forth the idea that the update has deemphasized the power of links, in favor of brand recognition. In other words, Google is now serving people websites that they recognize rather than serving them websites that have received the highest quality of links from other websites, as has been done in the past. This theory however has been largely discredited.

Alternatively, some thinking is around click metrics, specifically bounce rate, though these have also been dismissed.

What to do:

Google’s take: have great content. For both the Medic update and the March 2019 update, Google asserts that they aren’t penalizing websites for doing anything wrong, but they are rewarding well-made content that hasn’t been fairly represented in search results in the past, which explains the dip in previously high performing pages (more competition).

To hear it from Google, don’t worry, just keep making great content and you will be rewarded in search results.

Mockingbird’s take: have great content. At the end of the day, the best SEO strategy does boil down to content. You can spend months focussing on optimizing a site to show up in search but if the content isn’t there, there’s nothing to prop up. After looking at myriad law firm websites, without fail the sites that have the most traffic (and typically the most leads) have a foundation of great content.

Are Your Leads Getting Stolen?

Is your law firm getting overwhelmed with emails and cold calls from lead generation companies trying to sell you local leads? Next time they call, take a moment and ask them where and how they are generating these leads. It is very likely that they are stealing the leads right from under you and selling them back to you at a premium (shady af).

I know this comes as no surprise for all of you, but legal marketing is cut throat. When there is a large amount of money to be made, there are bound to be black hat companies that exploit the system to make a quick buck. That’s exactly what many of these lead generation companies are doing. In a few hours, a company can set up 30+ keyword stuffed Google My Business listings, that without any reviews or even a website, will rank higher than your firm’s listing.

Is It Happening to You?

Take a few minutes and google your practice area and location. You may be shocked to find how many “personal injury law firms” your city has.

Below is a search for a car accident lawyer in Bakersfield CA. As you can clearly see, the entire outskirts of Bakersfield are overrun with these keyword stuffed listings. Google’s algorithm overvalues exact match keywords between the search queries and the name of a listing. This, unfortunately, boosts any listing that keyword stuffs its business name.

The other “secret to success” for these fake listings is that they are located in the neighborhoods and suburbs near the potential clients. Proximity to the searcher is another huge ranking factor and these lead generators are taking full advantage of it.

Keyword stuffed titles and proximity to the searcher allowed these fake listings to take over the entire map. Of the 14 Listings that are visible, 11 of them are fake offices.

What Can Be Done?

Without GMB having a strong vetting process, search marketers are forced into a game of whack a mole, trying to report listings to Google and get them taken down before more pop back up. One issue is that it takes quite a bit of time to escalate these spam offices to Google, validate that it is fake, and then have it removed. The other issue is that in the same amount of time that it takes to burn one listing, one person could create 2 or 3 new listings. This seems to be an endless war. Clearly, Google’s local search algorithm is broken. I hope for my client’s sake (and my sanity) that they come up with a solution soon.

If you would like to take on the task of fighting your local spam, Google has recently made it easier for anyone to report a location. Fill out the “Business Redressal Complaint Form” and work with a Google representative to clean up the map.

If you find your firm surrounded by fake listings and the problem seems too daunting to handle, Mockingbird is happy to help. Give us a call or fill out our contact form and we will do our best to help solve any of your digital marketing problems.

If you’re interested in this topic and wish to learn more there are plenty of awesome resources.

The Art of Historic Backlink Development

Recently, while scouring the web for mentions of a client, I found a killer article he was featured in on a prestigious website with a high domain rating. The article had no link to the client’s website. Thus, he was missing out on a great opportunity to be associated with an authoritative publication. So, I reached out to the web admin and asked for credit, and boom, our client got a well-deserved high-quality backlink that many would pay big bucks for.

The Power of Lookback Link-building

Lookback Link-building (coined by Mockingbird’s Kelsey Butchcoe) is one method of creative link-building (and you don’t even have to be that creative to do it). Mockingbird is known for telling people to stop Googling themselves, but I’m here to tell you to Google yourself! Not to see how you rank (see Stop Googling Yourself) but to find lost opportunities for backlinks.

Another client of ours has had numerous speaking engagements with high-quality publications and news sources, but the majority of online mentions he has received lack links to his website. We are now in the process of reaching out to these websites and artfully (without sounding like marketers) asking for credit (AKA backlinks) for the information. Not every webmaster will readily respond to the request, but some will…perhaps with a bit of pestering.

Researching opportunities for historic backlinking can uncover a treasure trove of potential link building. So, search for your name, your firm, anything you may be associated with. Did you get mentioned online for sponsoring a marathon or doing a news interview? Were you featured in your alma mater’s monthly alumni blog? Reach out to the web admin, you might just get a great natural link, for free!