We F’d Up…

This post is meant to highlight three things:

  1. We are not infallible.
  2. Our job is to candidly advise on the status of marketing, even when problems are self created (see above).
  3. Being extremely selective in choosing exceptional clients fosters a genuine partnership where that honesty is appreciated.

Last week we f’d up. This was for a large, long standing client who has spent well over $200K with us. The long and short of it…while building out a Google Ads campaign for a client’s new office, we inadvertently deleted an existing one – and historical data, drives quality score and quality score drives economic efficiency – therefore the ads aren’t going to perform as well (for a short time). Our error is going to cost the client some money.

Here’s the exchange that happened between my AE and our client late Friday afternoon:

I have some bad news. While I was helping get the XXXXXX campaign edited, I accidentally removed the XXXXX campaign. I called support to try and get it back but they said there’s nothing they can do. I was able to duplicate the campaign, so it’s currently running on the same settings, with the same ads and keywords.

Since the original campaign was removed, we essentially are starting over with a brand new campaign. We still have access to the data from the original, but any authority that it had is now gone. It’s going to take a while for the campaign to start running the way it was.

Again, I’m very sorry. Please let me know if you have any questions or want to discuss this further.

That was at 5:22 pm on Friday. Client wrote back at 8:20 on Saturday morning:

I thought it was super classy for you to let me know about the XXXX campaign. I’ve used so many marketing firms and the reason why I was so attracted to Mockingbird was because Conrad was so upfront and honest with me. And I believe this extends to the entire company. Basically, other marketing companies tend to [be] very squirreley and Mockingbird is so honest, and that’s why I love working with Mockingbird. For example, you consistently say, “XXXX, you should use us for this…” and you also say, “Dan, I’ll be honest, you may be able to get a better value somewhere else.”  I really appreciate that candor.

I think the XXXXX campaign is a perfect example of why I enjoy working with Mockingbird so much. There was virtually no way that I ever would have realized that the XXXXX campaign was deleted. I’m just not smart enough to figure that out. But you saying, “look, XXXX, although you would have never realized this, I mistakenly deleted the XXXXX campaign and the paid searches may not be as good as before” was a super classy move.

So, final thought:

First, thank you for letting me know about what occurred with the XXXX campaign. I greatly appreciate your honesty about that.

Second, do not worry about. Mistakes happen, so not a big deal.

Thanks, XXX

One of our 10 Commandments is “Proactively Deliver Bad News.” This is vital in our role as consultants/advisors/experts. News from the marketing side of things is not always positive and a good agency won’t shy away from delivering bad news…even (or perhaps especially) when its our fault. And clients…you should recognize that us technical agencies almost always have the ability and access to hide any mistakes or concerns from you. That should never be our role, but as our client pointed out…he most likely would never have noticed. Ask yourself: when is the last time your agency told you things aren’t going well?

Bird Droppings:

Welcome to another edition of “Bird Droppings.” A simple list highlighting recent articles relevant to legal marketing in order to help bring you up to speed with what’s been happening in the industry over the past few weeks! Make sure to check out our upcoming events at the end of the list!

Industry Articles:

Attorneys that build links with press releases listen up! Google ignores those links and they don’t help your site in search.

Google is now rolling out the Google Speed Update, which impacts the mobile search rankings of the slowest sites on the web.

With Google’s pending Speed Update, gradual improvements to how quickly your law firm’s website loads can impact your rankings “a little bit”.

Avvo’s fixed-cost service discontinued by Internet Brands

Smart bidding is really smart, but its not perfect. Be careful when you make the switch.

Martindale-Hubbell Aggressively Marketing Their LinkSpam Network

Psssst…buddy…you…with the struggling website…yeah you. Want to buy a link? How about 5? I’ve got some nice, hot, untraceable links right here in my coat.

In the past 10 days, I’ve received questions from three different legal marketing agencies about Martindale’s new SEO product: The Martindale-Nolo legal marketing network which includes Nolo and Lawyers.com. It’s essentially a mass purchased linkbuilding scheme and people want to know: does this violate Google’s SEO guidelines against LinkSpam.

Short Answer: Yes it does.

But first, let’s hear from Martindale directly:

 

Hmmm…key messages are:

“providing stronger link value…helps increase links through our legal network of websites…help you gain higher search engine rankings”

Also…it’s “affordable” – meaning it’s paid. Isn’t this the flagrant buying and selling of links? Yes it is.

FindLaw Linkspam Provides Historical Context

Back in 2008 Findlaw got exposed for doing exactly this: mass emailing their clients with the offer of purchased links. This was called their: SEM-C product which enabled customers to purchase links and even specify the anchor text (remember anchor text?). You can find a copy of it here. This program got blown up quickly and received widespread backlash among the knowledgable (albeit small back then) legal online marketing community.

So, I didn’t think anyone would be so stupid as to replicate this experiment. Apparently I was wrong. Another variant of Martindale’s marketing materials states:

“This helps increase links through our legal network of websites and directories back to your firms website. Gaining stronger authority and helping you gain higher search engine rankings.”

Google Guidelines Violation

Does this really violate Google Guidelines?  Yup. Yup and Yup. Read excerpts of those guidelines below and ask yourself if there’s any possible way Martindale isn’t setting themselves and their clients up for failure:

  • This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank.
  • This includes exchanging money for links or using automated programs or services to create links to your site.

Note the key concern for law firms here is that these penalties impact not only the seller, but also the buyer of said links.

The Avvo Question

Now speaking of legal directory links, I’d be remiss in noting that AVVO recently sold to Internet Brands, who is also the owner of…Martindale. Back in July of this year, I reported that Avvo was removing contact information unless one purchased Avvo Premium. It was unclear if this included a link to the website. It’s also unclear if Martindale’s “network of legal websites” extends to Avvo as well, but it’s not too hard to connect these dots. I did reach out to the new Avvo people to discuss this further, but they demurred. On a personal level, I’d find it tragically ironic if Avvo is included within this scheme.

So…what’s going to happen?

If history repeats itself, all of these sites (both the sellers and buyers) may have a negative impact on their search traffic. According to the SEO rumor mill, the FindLaw link selling scandal generated a significant and protracted decline in traffic – although I frankly didn’t hear any rumblings of how this impacted the purchasers of said links. Granted that was way back in 2008, but I don’t suspect Google has gotten specifically dumber as it pertains to linkspam over the past decade. Further note that Google relies heavily on algorithmic learning and have been seeking out link networks for about 15 years now. Hiding this network from Google, especially with the large and prolific footprint of Martindale/Nolo/Lawyers.com (and hopefully not Avvo) would be extremely difficult. All Google needed was the linkbuilding smoking gun…an offer to sell links. And apparently, Martindale has just mass emailed that smoking gun to all of their customers (including agency owners who know better.)

Is Your Tagline as Creative as You Think it is?

Aggressive. Experienced. Cliché.

We at Mockingbird began to notice a trend in many firms’ taglines, namely, that they focus on the same overused, generalized words and phrases to describe their value to clients. I took a look at a random sample of 50 personal injury attorneys’ taglines across the country from Avvo’s directory, one from each state, and populated the word cloud* you see above.

It’s easy to see which words dominate the personal injury attorney tagline world. More than a quarter of the 50 taglines harp on their experience, 16% brag about how aggresive they will be, and 14% sing praises of the compensation they will earn for their clients. Sure, you’re aggressive in seeking justice for your clients. Sure, you have years of experience. But I shouldn’t be able to take your tagline and paste it into another law firm’s homepage and have it fit like a glove. Do you want potential clients to think you offer services identical to your competitors, approach situations the exact same way, and support them like every “run-of-the-mill” attorney?

No, you don’t.

So don’t use a slogan that makes you sounds just like the rest of them.

The whole point of having a tagline is to differentiate yourself from the competition, but when you sound just like everyone else you’re doing the opposite. What’s the solution?

  • Focus on what makes you different. Ask, “who are we and what makes us different from every other attorney we compete with?” This should be the first question you address when creating a tagline. Are you incredibly fast at responding to inquiries from potential clients? Do you take particular pride in the relationships you build or the settlements you have won? Then encapsulate that sentiment in a concise tagline.
  • Avoid clichés.
    When thinking about how to market yourself and your firm, stay away from broad generalizations. Choose wording and phrases that convey why you’re unique and in an exceptional position to give clients the legal support they need. A general rule of thumb is to shy away from adjectives. More often than not, they end up being too general and don’t convey the distinct advantage clients have to gain by choosing you. Lean more towards nouns and verbs to give your tagline energy and personality.
  • Remember that you’re speaking to real people.
    It goes without saying that whatever event happened that caused an individual to reach out to an attorney was a very trying situation. So think about what your potential clients are looking for. Put yourself in their shoes. They are seeking help. They are likely already under stress from having suffered a personal injury. And now they are looking at eight different firms that all promise aggression, high compensation, and are telling them how experienced they are. Speak to them with language that sets you apart and addresses the concerns and values THEY have.

If you believe that you are different and better positioned to help clients than your competitors, put words to it. Craft an original and honest tagline that sets you apart from the other firms your potential clients could be picking. Identify what you have to offer that is unique, and then don’t shy away from using that to market yourself. Don’t let your voice get drowned out in the crowd.

Need help crafting your own original and impactful tagline? Contact Mockingbird today to learn how we can help build a strong and successful brand for your law firm.

*Extraneous words (e.g. conjunctions such as “for,” “and,” “nor,” “or,” “yet,” and “so”) were removed before creation of the word cloud and similar words (e.g. “experienced” and “experience”) were categorized as the same.

Google Doesn’t Care About “Fresh” Content (So Says Google)

I’ve been writing about how Google doesn’t care about your “fresh” content for ages now. Mockingbird’s analysis of hundreds of thousands of pages of legal content (and I use the term “content” liberally here) across hundreds of law firm websites have confirmed this.

And yet, the legal marketing industry keeps telling you to publish publish publish in order to make The Google happy. As an industry, it’s super convenient to blame our failings on your lack of feeding the content beast. Or, it’s super convenient to have contracts that promise we’ll vomit out poorly rewritten news articles at a pace of X per week. Tangible, predictable projects to validate a bloated retainer that funds an offshore “writer” at exorbitant margins. One vendor claims as their tagline: “real lawyers have blogs” – as in, you aren’t a lawyer unless you feed The Google a steady diet of (largely unread) blog pages.

Except of course, all of this focus on bloated website pagecount rarely translates to increased traffic, calls or clients. That’s because of the fallacy that the frequency of publishing is a major SEO factor. You may have also heard this referred to as “fresh content.” The reality is, there are some industries (legal being one of them) in which “fresh” content isn’t necessarily better. i.e. It’s very difficult to have fresh content about trucking accidents on a regular basis.

But, like lemmings intent on a final trip to the sea, the legal marketing industry keeps reciting the mantra: “content is king.”  We keep pushing you to sign engagements in which we promise we’ll deliver 4 blog posts a week.  (and if 4 is good, wouldn’t 40 be better? Can I get a 104?) We wax poetic about the long tail and the need for more and more content to catch this elusive tail. We tell you that Google wants your content to be fresh as a baguette at a quaint French cafe at 6am.

Finally, straight from The Google’s mouth, the answer to the question: “Does Google favor fresh content?” in two characters:

Hat tip to Barry Schwartz (who apparently has more time to follow John Mueller, than I do.)

If you feel like diving deeper, feel free to peruse any of the following articles I’ve penned panning our myopic love of content:

SMX: More content, less traffic
SMX: More content, less traffic: Part II
Mockingbird: SEO Regicide, Content the King is Dead
Mockingbird: Another Indicator that your “SEO Content” is Awful
Mockingbird: Your Legal Blog Content isn’t as Good as you Think it is.

Details on Google’s Manual Action Penalties

Google has two methods of recognizing irrelevant sites to optimize a users search results. The two methods are automatic and manual actions. The automatic method is driven by an advanced algorithm that can identify potentially spammy or poorly developed sites. The manual method is just that, a real person manually reviewing content to determine if it is useful to internet users. If the site is found to be not useful or outside of Google’s webmaster quality guidelines, it may be penalized giving the site a lower PageRank.

Recently Google’s Senior Webmaster Trend Analyst, John Mueller, offered greater insight into the two different types of manual actions and understanding how to recover from the penalties. It is important to follow Google’s webmaster quality guidelines to ensure that you will receive a healthy PageRank which will maximize the visibility of your site within search.

Google’s Two Types of Manual Action Penalties

There are two types of manual actions, one more severe than the other.

  • Complete removal of the site from search and indexing
  • Partial removal from search

The first of the penalties is the harshest. If Google sees little value in investing resources to index content from a website, it will result in complete removal from the search results and indexing. This can happen because the site contains scraped or spun content, or is completely duplicative of another website. This kind of penalty results in a situation where the site does not exist at all for Google and nothing from that site will appear in search results.

The second is less severe and slightly easier to recover from as you are not completely kicked off of Google, however, you have no visibility through PageRank. In order to regain visibility, the site must edit or rewrite content before Google re-crawls the pages to ensure the issues have been resolved. After the page has been re-processed Google will continue to rank the page normally.

Regaining status after a manual penalty is not impossible but it can be extremely difficult. Both will have an effect on overall page rank and will require action taken by the webmaster to regain trust with Google. However, by understanding how Google filters and penalizes content we can avoid making mistakes that can lead to devastating penalties.

Google Begins Labeling Sites as Not Secure

Is Your Site Secure?

Google is once again leveraging its online clout to push the internet forward. The most recent initiative is to encourage websites to incorporate HTTPS encryption into the website to make the internet a more secure place for users. With the recent update of the popular Google internet browser, Chrome, the search engine giant will begin to label HTTP sites as not secure.

HTTP vs. HTTPS

On the internet, sites currently live under one of two options, Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). The difference between these two is that the HTTPS creates an encrypted communication channel between the browser and the website. This allows for safe communication of passwords, credit cards, and other sensitive information. HTTPS is achieved by installing an SSL certificate onto the site.

HTTP

In the past, HTTP sites were labeled on Google Chrome with an “i” icon. These icons were inconspicuous and did not draw user attention. When clicked, the icon alerted users that the site was not secure with the notification seen below.

HTTP not secure warning

HTTPS

At the same time, HTTPS sites that utilized encryption were labeled as secure, written in green, and included a lock icon next to the HTTPS. This was a subtle way to incentivize websites to transition to HTTPS and told users that they could trust the site.

How HTTPS is shown

The Update

Now with the update from Chrome 64 to Chrome 68, Google is taking less of a subtle approach. Google wants to make sure that it is a top priority for all websites to immediately transition to HTTPS. Users will now see “not secure” next to any website that still uses HTTP. This change will all but force any remaining websites to adopt HTTPS to remain competitive in today’s digital market.
Google Chromes Treatment of HTTP

Mockingbird Marketing is here to help. Contact us today to find out how we can optimize your site to achieve your online business goals.

Google Reinforces the Importance of Speed & Security

Starting this month, Google is rolling out a couple of critical algorithm updates regarding speed and security. These changes have been a long time coming, and Mockingbird Marketing has made sure that our clients’ sites are prepared.

Speed

We’ve known for quite some time that desktop website speed is an important ranking factor. But now, Google will also be looking at how fast your mobile pages are and use that as a ranking factor in mobile search. In the past, Google has (not-so-subtly) hinted at the importance of mobile page speed by releasing tools like the Mobile Scorecard and Impact Calculator.

Google has stated that this change will only negatively impact the pages that “deliver the slowest experience to users.” At Mockingbird, we have several practices set in place in order to ensure quality site speed, including hosting our websites on WP Engine.

Security

Google’s Chrome browser will now mark non-HTTPS sites as ‘not secure’. This is one of the numerous changes that Google has made over the years in order to incentivize secure websites…and discourage non-secure sites.

 

This is what the recent update will look in a user’s browser.

Google has hinted at a small rankings boost for secure sites, which has successfully encouraged many webmasters to add a security certificate to their sites. This recent change, which punishes non-secure sites, solidifies the fact that user security is no longer just an option, it is a must.

Implementing HTTPS was one of Mockingbird’s essential practices long before these algorithm changes were made, and our clients websites should not be negatively affected.

Historical SEO Spam from FindLaw

For those of you interested in a history lesson of how flagrant spam was back in the early(ish) days of SEO…. I was cleaning out my desk the other day and found a relic of FindLaw’s link selling product, SEM-C.  It’s dated July, 2008 and a printed copy has been gathering dust in my SEO SPAM folder. For those of you who have less than 10 years in the search industry, you’ll be amazed at how flagrant link selling was, even by big box providers, back in the wild wild west days of search. Read it here: FindLaw for Legal Professionals: SEM-C Product Details.  I’ve excerpted some of the tastier morsels below:

SEM-C includes articles submitted by the advertiser and hard coded links to be placed on the FindLaw Legal Professional portal. As FindLaw has a favorable rank with the search engines and is THE legal authority, customers will benefit from having a link on the FindLaw portal.

The product was essentially a series of paid links (that lasted for a year and then needed to be renewed) leveraging FindLaw’s authority. Customers wrote articles, defined anchor text, specified target pages and submitted to FindLaw.

Link modules – to be placed on relevant content pages. The product includes 3 links.

Articles… This product includes up to 5 articles. Articles will contain a hard coded link to advertiser’s web site.

Customers will have increased rank and penetration within natural search results on major search engines.

It even includes a section on helping law firms come up with high value anchor text.

The backlash on this was pretty immediate and strong, with negative articles coming from both the Search and Legal Marketing communities. Word on the street among the SEO nerd community is that FindLaw was hit by a substantial and long standing manual penalty from Google. But don’t think that FindLaw learned their lesson – the’ve never really given up their linkspamming ways. Back in 2014 we posted a review of FindLaw’s use of spambots to generate profiles and links (read more: Even More FindLaw Link Spam).