Voice Search Popularity Slowing Down

The past 10 years have seen constant chatter about voice search in the SEO world and beyond. What impact, if any, will the near ubiquitous access to voice command have on how people find information online? If someone is, say, looking to hire a lawyer, we can imagine that the query they’re using to find said lawyer is different when they’re typing, vs. when they’re talking to their Google Assistant. Initially, a surge of panic gripped SEOs to ensure that all content across websites was “long-tail” optimized. This was meant to ensure that queries that were a bit more rambling and long-winded due to the ease of speaking directly to search engines were captured.

Initial Growth

Introduced in 2011, voice search started off as more of a fun feature than something relied upon by users. I even remember using early siri with friends as a joke, anticipating, and often receiving, an answer miles off from the question asked. But over the years technology has improved and users have started to adapt voice search technology, no small part as a result of smart home assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Assistant. Now, in 2020, studies indicate that more than 50% of phone users take part in voice search on their device. eMarketer predicted that one third or more of phone users in the US use voice search on a monthly basis by 2019, and increases in the search for “Hey Google” paints a telling picture:

Plateau

Despite all the initial interest, things seem to have hit a wall. Survey data from Perficient Digital, which involves annual surveys of 1,000 US adults, is showing a pause in the increasing enthusiasm for voice search. They’ve been asking users, among other questions: “How are you most likely to ask questions on your smartphone?”. In prior years, search ranked as the second most popular answer to this question, only behind “mobile browser”. The most recent study done in 2020 however, tells a different story:

Voice search shows up as the fourth most popular option, after 3 other typed alternatives.

 

What does this mean for search? It’s hard to say. My two cents says that this is just a hiccup in a larger movement towards voice search coming into the forefront of online searching. If your benchmark is all the hype you’ve been hearing over the past five years, you may be disappointed. But common sense points towards voice search taking over type search in popularity at some point down the road, if for no other reason than shear convenience, it’s just a question of when.

Laws of UX Series: Hick’s Law, Jakob’s Law and the Law of Common Region.

Laws of UX are a collection of design heuristics created by Jon Yablonski to help designers leverage psychology to create more human-centered experiences. You can find explanations for each law on the website lawsofux.com, as well as an in-depth case study regarding his thought process on his website, jonyablonski.com

This will be a series of blog posts briefly covering the many laws and how they can help designers create better experiences for law firms.

 

UX Law Poster1) Hick’s Law

“Users often perceive aesthetically pleasing design as design that’s more usable.”

Users tend to assume that things that look better will work better, even if they aren’t actually more productive. Users who visit your website may have a positive emotional response to the visual design of your website, making them more tolerant of minor usability issues while using your site. When I say “minor usability issues” I mean text with low contrast, spelling errors, or typography that isn’t consistent. The Aesthetic Usability Effect does have its limits and when the design puts aesthetics over usability, users will lose patience and leave your site.

For example, I have seen law firm websites that include huge hero images on practice area pages that cover the entire screen without including any information until moving down the page. The page may look appealing at first with a large, beautiful image at the top, however, the image that is taking up the entire screen may be seen as an annoyance once they are trying to complete specific tasks.

 

 

2) Jakob’s Law

“Productivity soars when a computer and its users interact at a pace (<400ms) that ensures that neither has to wait on the other.”

Fast websites are fun to use. Laggy, slow response websites suck. The longer it takes for your website to respond to a request, the longer your user is taking to think of what they want to do next. If you keep your users waiting, they will find what they are looking for on another law firm’s site. As a general rule, you want to provide feedback to a user’s request within 400ms in order to keep their attention.

If your website has any loading screens that aren’t imperative to the functionality of the site, fancy page transitions, or anything else that may slow down their experience with your site, you are doing more harm than good with those “cool” features.

 

 

3) Law of Common Region

“The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.”

A touch target is an area that responds to user input. Make sure that all touch targets are large enough for users to understand their functionality and easily accessible for users to interact with.

Many law firm websites (and websites in general) have touch targets that aren’t clearly visible or are located in hard to reach places from where a users finger can reach(looking at you hamburger menus located at the top left or right on mobile screens). Make sure any touch target on your website is easily recognizable and accessible to avoid confusing your users.

 

 

Stay tuned for the next post in this series where I go over Law of Proximity, Law of Similarity, and the Law of Uniform Connectedness.

Smith.ai, CallRail and Mockingbird sit down to talk legal conversion….

Yesterday, I got together with two long term Mockingbird partners, Smith.ai and CallRail to discuss the practice of maximizing conversions, the reporting infrastructure required to evaluate marketing mix like an MBA would and the importance of monitoring the quality of your intake approach. Intake conversion epitomizes the need for a perfect mix of agency, technology and humanity required to optimize the delicate balance of the art and science of conversion.  Have a listen…

 

Google Ads Policy Change has Legal Squarely in Mind?

Hot off the Google notifications press…Google is updating their Ads Policies policies specifically to move against Clickbait. This seems consistent with their overall messaging around quality content and user experience. Google describes the policy:

The ‘Clickbait Ads Policy’ will cover advertisements which demonstrate clickbait tactics or use sensationalist text or imagery to drive traffic. Additionally, this policy will prohibit ads which use negative life events or strong negative emotions to pressure the viewer to take immediate action.

Now – a lot of legal issues do involve strong negative emotions and do require immediate action.

Further, the specific language Google uses to describe these upcoming changes seems to be directly targeting the legal industry:

Ads that use negative life events such as death, accidents, illness, arrests or bankruptcy to induce fear, guilt or other strong negative emotions to pressure the viewer to take immediate action.

I’m not quite sure how a bankruptcy, injury, or criminal defense lawyer can not run afoul of these specifications.  This holds true for other facets of law as well…divorce, immigration, etc.

The gray area here is around the end user’s personal mindset…but the reality remains that if we really can’t advertise around these issues a lot of the legal marketplace goes back to…organic!  (Ok – perhaps that’s some wishful thinking on my part, but…).

Stay tuned, I’ve invited Google to join us to talk through these questions as part of our Google Premier Partnership. If you’d like notification of when that talk will be (literally – I’m getting this info out to you before I can set up a date)… sign up for our newsletter.

Mockingbird’s Approach to Building Websites

We are going to go over the tools and techniques used to make Mockingbird custom websites and how it helps us achieve our technical metrics and goals. We are constantly researching and trying to improve our build process. As more techniques and tools come out, we start learning how to incorporate them into our process.

What are our goals?

  1. Site Speed – we aim for all websites to load 3s or below (without third party scripts)
  2. Accessibility – We clear the AA Level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
  3. Sexy and clean – sometimes, clients decide to leave us. When they do, we want to make sure whoever takes a look under the hood of the theme can easily do what they need to do.

What theme are we using?

  1. Sage 9 Theme – The sage theme comes with a lot of tools baked in for advanced WordPress development.
    • Blade Templating Engine – stay DRY (don’t repeat yourself) by using Blade templates which makes it easy to organize code so developers can quickly find what they need and prevent unneeded code bloat.
    • Webpack – we can write JavaScript and SASS that can be easily compiled, minified, and concatenated to reduce the size of the theme.
    • JavaScript Routing – combined with Webpack, we can dynamically load JS files on different pages to reduce load size on each page.
    • Automatically optimize theme images – all image files within the theme get compressed and minified for production.
  2. Tailwind CSS – the never ending debate of CSS structure and conventions can be tiresome. After some long consideration, we landed on tailwind, which is a utility first approach to writing CSS.
    • We don’t have to think of clever names for classes
    • Easier to scale vs other methodologies where you can easily repeat yourself such as adding borders or shadows to elements.
  3. Blade SVG – a way to easily incorporate SVG files into the website.
  4. Purge CSS – we configure a script to run throughout the site to purge all the extra CSS classes that aren’t being used, therefor reducing the file size.
  5. Lazyloading – we have created a custom implementation to enable lazy loading so pictures only load when they are needed.
  6. WP-CLI – installed on our local environments and hosting to easily manage things or run scripts on our projects.

What plugins do we use?

  1. Soil – cleans up all the extra junk WP likes to add to websites when rendering.
  2. Advanced Custom Fields – this is the only way to easily extend your WordPress customization.
  3. Query Monitor – used during development only so we can watch our calls to the database and see anything that is being resource intensive.

What tools are used in QA?

We want to measure how we are doing with everything above so we use a few different tools to measure.

  1. Wave – an accessibility website or extension that scans your pages and displays any accessibility issues.
  2. GTMetrix – a website speed analysts tool
  3. Google Lighthouse/Devtools – another tool that rates your website on site, speed, and accessibility.

Cockroach is now Mockingbird (again)

We will get through this crisis stronger than we ever were, but first we have to get through it.

I’m glad to say that Cockroach has returned to Mockingbird.

It’s time to look towards our new normal of life after COVID-19. By now, most law firms have settled in to their new normal, with limited insight into how long this normal will last.  As the country prepares to “reopen” through a regional patchwork of varying approaches its important for Cockroach Mockingbird to help our clients emerge from this as well – ideally stronger than before.  I’ll leave the political squabbles about the wisdom of the reopening timing of reopening to the unqualified social media trolls. Now it’s time for us to focus on law firms not just surviving, but thriving after during COVID.

Lets be clear – this is not hitting all firms equally. The difference are marked by region and dramatically by practice area. Some are thriving, some are still struggling. Patent attorneys are swamped as idle minds spin at home coming up with newest new thing. Employment lawyers are flooded with eager, albeit baseless prospects. DUI lawyers have gone dark and are exploring temporarily pivoting to bankruptcy. Wills and estate planning attorneys are busy as the collective populace contemplates their mortality. Everyone we know has adjusted and altered their tactical outlook. I spoke with a client this weekend about cancelling their $12K/month linkbuilding retainer.  Smaller firms have updated their outdated sites with our free Frecho WoredPress website. Across our client list, as Google Ads costs have increased by 42% larger firms have reallocated their advertising budgets away from Personal Injury.  Oh yeah, and then Google decided to throw in a massive algo update to upset the entire apple cart in the middle of all of this.

We changed our brand temporarily from Mockingbird to Cockroach to focus on the survival of our clients during the CORONA Crisis. Cockroach – the adaptable, innovative, opportunistic, skittering, nauseating, and yes, disease-resistant arthropod that not only survives, but actually thrives in disaster. Whether you agree with it or not, the American economy is moving forward and its time for our clients to do the same.

Cockroach is now Mockingbird.

Avvo in SEO Traffic Free Fall

The legal directory, Avvo looks to be in complete SEO meltdown mode.  As the guy who architected Avvo’s SEO ascendancy, I take no level of schadenfreude in this… but four different data points over the past few months suggest to me that Avvo is suffering a complete SEO traffic meltdown.

Avvo was sold to Internet Brands (parent company of Nolo, Martindale and a panoply of other legal brands) about two years ago and quickly saw the abrupt departure of most of the C suite. Since the acquisition, we’ve seen little (if anything?) innovative coming out of the company and it looked Internet Brands’ plans was to simply focus on operating efficiencies and milk the cash cow.

It looks like the cow may be dying. Four data points corroborate to paint a story of a site in rapid decline.

1.  SEO Ranking Failings

According to rank tracking data, Avvo’s appearance in high value Organic Search results (think “car accident attorney Seattle”) has plummeted from a consistent 2% of market share to….. zero. In general, I eschew using SEO ranking as an indicator of success; however, it can be used when looking at competitors… which include legal directories when you are a law firm competing for keywords.

The chart below showcases a study of 4 short tail legal keywords across the country as tracked by legal marketing nerd, Gyi Tsakalakis. This past week, Avvo fell below .05% marketshare and simply doesn’t register at all.  Now, their longer tail, Answers product may still be bringing in traffic, as may name search queries (although that has become much more competitive since I left) but they seem to be no longer appearing for high volume, high converting, money keywords.

2. Ahrefs Traffic Value Data

I looked at Avvo on the Ahrefs Traffic Value graph, which shows a record low number for Avvo.  The traffic value graph is essentially a combination of keyword rankings cross referenced with the value (defined by PPC data) of those keywords. Like all of these third party tools, its horrendously inaccurate; however, directionally informative, but if you lend any credence to this type of data, the value of Avvo’s traffic has dropped by 90% from its zenith. Also note while Ahrefs does show a drop in traffic overall, the traffic value shows a much greater loss – again suggesting these changes are in Avvo’s performance in high value keywords instead of the more generic name or longer tail, informational searches.

3.  Ad hoc Comments by Lawyers

This drop in marketshare has been noted by lawyer advertisers. We’ve been hearing from individual lawyers noting a precipitous drop-off in leads coming from Avvo. I’d be curious if anyone has similar experience…. feel free to share in the comments.

4.  Layoffs

About 3 weeks ago, Avvo quietly laid off a portion of their sales staff. I don’t know how large those layoffs were, but from what I’ve been told, employees were informed jobs were safe and secure only to have the firm do an abrupt about face just weeks later. How do I know this? I’ve been interviewing ex Avvo people (yes Mockingbird is hiring during this uncertain time.) The timing of the layoffs coincides with what we’re seeing as an overall decline in ranking performance.

This may be temporary, it may be addressable, it may be related to COVID, it may be a strange shuffle in Google’s algo, but at this point, the present doesn’t look great for Avvo. Note – I did reach out to Avvo for comment last week, but they have not gotten back to me.

Nofollow Links Can Be Useful Too

The state of links is ever-changing, with new rules and guidelines to follow it can be confusing. Google’s John Muller was back recently challenging the way that we we think about links and ranks. As he fielded questions, Muller demonstrated that sometimes the way we think about SEO isn’t entirely correct. Offering advice on how to fight for top rankings.

Everyone knows the importance of links but what about dofollow versus nofollow? Over time most people have come to an understanding that dofollow links deliver greater value when fighting for top rankings. Versus nofollow links that may be easier to achieve but hardly bring any value at all. This is where Muller challenged this traditional thinking stating that dofollow links are no longer needed for rankings as well as nofollow links can be useful, too.

Google uses new rules that allow nofollow links to count as a link signal. This means that a normal nofollow link from normal websites may count as a link. This benefits sites that operate in niche markets where sites tend to link to each other with nofollow links. It could also apply to new websites that may only have nofollow links and have not had the time to gain dofollow links. Using this type of link as a signal for ranking is still beneficial for Google to be able to discover and display these sites in search.

It is important to remember that promoting your firm is about more than getting links. Building traffic to a website is about being proactive and similar to building traffic to a brick and mortar. In both instances, you have to figure out ways to make your business be different in order to be notable and better than competitors. Evaluate what top-ranking competitors are doing and focus on their innovations rather than traditional ranking signals. Continue to challenge what we know to know as the standard to look for innovation and continued to promote your firm in search.

 

5 Ways to Give Back During A Pandemic

COVID-19 is hurting some more than others. We’ve all heard that those with compromised immunes systems (asthma, diabetes, heart disease), and the elderly are more at risk of becoming severely ill with the virus. On top of this, more and more we’re starting to see the economic fallout of much of the planet not going in to work. First we saw the food and hospitality industry hit particularly hard as large groups were banned, then airlines began to feel it as people started taking self-isolation more seriously and eliminated travel. Now we’re starting to see the ripples across most all other industries.

So this situation has a lot of people wondering how they can help. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Get Informed

First things first, get informed. Quite simply, knowledge is power, and the more you know about what’s happening in the world the easier it is to stay calm and help. As COVID-19 progresses, the medical community is quickly developing a strong understanding of the virus, how it works, and how it’s transmitted. For example, this videoconference with Dr. David Price of Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York (for the time being treating exclusively COVID-19 patients) gives valuable info on the virus:

  • The vast majority of cases are transmitted via hand to face contact. In only very rare cases is the virus transmitted through the air (i.e. 15 – 30 minutes in a small room with a known carrier coughing).
  • Don’t buy masks unless you have the virus.
  • We may be practicing social distancing for 3 months, 6 months, or up to a year.

Access to critical information (and not being duped by attention seeking headlines) is the quickest route to your own peace of mind, but more importantly stopping the spread of the disease.

2. Do What You Do Best

When it comes to helping out, it may very well be the case that your professional skillset is much-needed. Before you start donating to food banks (which, yes, do that), volunteer your skills where they’re needed most. Are you an employment lawyer that can help field questions from the many people who have recently found themselves out of work, or mistreated by an employer in time of crisis? Do you have manufacturing capabilities to build much needed supplies? Can you offer a product or service for free that might be otherwise unaffordable for someone going through hard times? This is the type of mindset to take when it comes to your business, even if you can only help in some small way.

3. Give Blood

On March 12th, Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research issued a plea for people to continue to donate blood. For some time the rate of donation dropped significantly as fear over COVID-19 prevented people from scheduling appointments. During the drop in appointments we faced a risk of postponing surgeries and denying blood to those who need it. Pater Marks makes it clear that donation centers are still fully operational. Donation rates have since recovered, but the need for continued donation remains very real.

4. Donate

With such widespread economic implications from COVID-19, there are many places gladly taking donations to help. But before you start sending money out left and right, take a moment to make sure the organization you’re donating to is credible. There’s a great New York Times article with how to get money to areas of critical need:

Each city has different small business support funds, for the rest Google your city for geo specific donation opportunities.

5. Patronize Restaurants

To support restaurant/bar workers who have suddenly hit hard times, remember that most restaurants are still open and serving takeout. Don’t forget about your favorite neighborhood spot, they may still be open! Get out as much as you can to ensure that your favorite small businesses are still around when we finally come out of our social distance caves.