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!

Law Firm WP SEO Problems: Google Stopped Supporting Pagination

Bubbling up from the depths of search nerdom (Hat tip to Adam Gent) over the past 48 hours…some overly observant search nerds have picked up on the fact that Google is no longer supporting pagination, yet had failed to mention this to anyone.

Today Google’s John Muller acknowledged that not only was Google disregarding rel next/prev, but had been doing so for years.

I’ve personally noticed this anomaly while doing “site: searches” and locating paginated results with that result set. Seemed odd.

Why This Matters to Law Firms

This is especially impactful (at least theoretically) to law firms utilizing WordPress based sites who have been heavy content publishers and/or grossly overusing Tag and Category pages. Both of these tactics can lead to the generation of multiple, paginated pages. The pagination code, simply put, helps google understand that a sequence of pages are a list of items all related to each other. The most obvious example is a site with hundreds of blog posts, which creates a series of useless sequential navigational pages in groups of 10 blog posts each. This also happens automagically with WordPress sites with the use of Tags pages and Categories. The pagination code simply instructs the search engines that all of those pages in the sequence really belong as the same page.

This is important because (at least in theory) these paginated navigational pages offer no unique content and really a very poor destination for users. Overall, they serve to dilute the quality of content and careful management of them can actually decrease page count while increasing traffic. The accompanying graphic shows how we reduced a law firm’s site page count by 149 tag pages which resulted in an immediate increase in traffic.

Now, apparently one of the tactics to manage these useless pages, not only no longer works, but hasn’t worked for a while.

Sigh.

Time to go revisit all of our client sites…

What You Can Learn from Dick’s Sporting Goods (i.e. How to Monitor for 404s)

Today’s internet lesson brought to you by a retail anecdote from Dick’s Sporting Goods: yesterday I purchased a new lacrosse stick with the lowest of expectations for my retail experience. Instead I was delighted to meet Tucker, a retail associate who blew me away with his knowledge, service and genuine enthusiasm in helping my 8-year-old, first time lacrosse player. Upon checkout (which Tucker walked us through) our receipt included a link to leave feedback on our in-store experience – Tucker, knowing we were grateful and delighted customers wrote down his name and asked for a submission. (Turns out Tucker knows more about generating solid reviews than most lawyers…)

This is when it went sideways for Dick’s.

The Dicks.com/feedback URL redirects to a misspelled URL: dickssportinggoods.com/fedback (not feedback) and 404s….

A simple typo that’s soured my great experience.

Had Dick’s been monitoring their 404’s in Google Search Console, they would have been alerted to a spike in people getting an error page, been able to investigate it, and simply correct the misspelling. (I did send them a message over Twitter, which included a short, albeit predictable detour of searching Twitter for “dicks”, but I digress.)

How to Look for 404’s On Your Site Using Search Console

You can find error pages on your site in Google’s Search Console, under “Coverage” and “Excluded” you’ll find a list of different types of pages that are excluded from Google’s index. In my extreme case example below (disclaimer, not our client) just 8% of the pages on their site are actually indexed. (This is just yet another reason for you to have admin level access to Search Console – if your agency hasn’t set you up with that or (especially) if they refuse to give you access…start looking for a new agency.) Below that report, look for links to both soft and hard 404 errors.

Hone in on the “Not found (404) errors” to find broken pages on the site. In our example here, the site has fixed many of these errors over the past 3 months. Even better you can find that actual broken URL’s which are listed below the graph – making it super easy to fix.

And Dick’s – if your social media people end up reading this…fix that redirect and then make sure you give Tucker in your Issaquah store a raise…he could be working at Nordstrom. 🙂

Bird Droppings: Google Takes Its First Steps Toward Killing the URL…and More

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 News

Do people care about flashy ad copy? What makes people click on search ads?

Google is notifying advertisers that AdWords Express has joined the Google Ads platform.

Google is partnering with Automattic and WordPress in order to develop a news publishing platform.

Google decides to make unsolicited changes to your campaigns. Advertisers get 7 days to opt-out.

Google takes first steps toward killing the URL

Why Is Content from Google Posts Appearing in Local Pack Listings?

Upcoming Events:

What: Chat Bots: Can AI Deliver a Better, Cheaper, More Effective Chat Experience?
When: March 13, 2019
Where: Webinar
More Information

What: BEDLAM Conference 2019
When: March 29, 2019
Where: Nashville, TN
More Information

What: Digital Marketing for Attorneys
When: April 17, 2019
Where: Webinar
More Information

What: Practice 360 | A Day For Lawyers & Law Firms
When: May 17, 2019
Where: Washington, DC
More Information

What: PILMMA Internet Boot Camp
When: September 12, 2019
Where: New Orleans, LA
More Information

Google+ Shutting Down in April 2019

Google is Killing the Google+ Social Network

Google+ is (was) Google’s attempt at creating a social platform to compete with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Launched in June 2011, Google+ has had many ups, downs, and pivots throughout the platform’s life cycle.

It’s been linked to and disconnected from Google My Business (previously Google Places), Google Hangouts (RIP), Google Photos, and a slew of other Google products. In short, Google attempted to connect it to everything at one point or another.

In October 2018, Google cited low user engagement and announced they were shutting down Google+ by the end of 2019.

In December 2018, they accelerated their timeline to shut down by April 2019 due to bugs and security concerns.

Should You Be Worried?

No.

I’d safely bet that 99% of people reading this don’t use Google+ at all. Even if you do copy your Facebook posts to Google+ Circles, there’s nothing to save or transfer or export or worry about.

Let Google+ die, and be happy you didn’t waste time in a social network ghost town.

What You Need To Do

While Google+ is appropriately being killed off, Google My Business has absorbed many of its best qualities. If you’re not already taking advantage, you absolutely should be leveraging the following features through Google My Business:

  • Posts – Publish announcements, deals, and more directly on your GMB page.
  • Follow Button – People can follow your business, and be notified of updates & posts.
  • Q&A – Users can ask (and answer) questions about your business. Watch these closely!
  • Messaging – People can message your business straight from your GMB page.
  • Photos & Videos – Not new, but a major factor in promoting your business.
  • Reviews – Not from Google+ but you can’t talk about GMB without talking about reviews. Go get some!

The elimination of Google+ is long overdue, but if you’re already using Google My Business to its full potential you have absolutely nothing to fear. And, if you’re underutilizing some of the features highlighted above, now would be the perfect time to start.

How Our Client Got Scammed (& How We Played a Part in It)

Perhaps I should have thought long and hard before posting this, as Mockingbird unwittingly played a part in one of our clients dealing with a huge online headache.  But…I’d rather share our experiences so that others might avoid them, than cover things up to make us always look great.

Here’s the story:

One of our clients had their email account hacked. Hackers set up forwarding rules on that email account so that anything coming from us bypassed the client and were forwarded to them. They then replied to an existing current email thread with us, asking for a password to the website backend to make some basic content changes. The client had unfortunately used that same password for a variety of different accounts. Chaos ensued….

How to Guard Against This….

  • Use a sophisticated password management system. (We use LastPass).
  • I’d strongly recommend that law firms connect with your agencies and put in place a strict policy of ONLY sharing passwords over the phone.

There have been an increasing number of scams impacting small businesses – especially the legal community, if the chatter on solosez is any accurate indication. Protect yourself.