Use Google’s New Search Snippet Character Limit to Your Advantage

Have you noticed something different about your Google search results?

Google search of patent law

The link descriptions for search results, or snippets, are longer than they used to be!

For decades now, the bright minds on Google’s Search Team have been testing the character limits on these snippets. Recently, Google finally took the plunge and extended the maximum character limit on these snippets from 165 to 320 characters. It seems like a minor detail to base an entire blog post on, but it’s actually a very important update.

What are snippets?

Google defines search result snippets as, “a description of or an excerpt from the webpage.” This means that when you type a query into Google’s search bar, Google will automatically create the snippet by populating the most relevant content from webpages to your query. For example, if you search “first to file” on Google, the snippet for a Wikipedia article appears like this:

google search of first to file

search snippet of first to file google search

But, if you search for “first to file prior act,” the snippet for the exact same article changes.

google search for first to file prior art

search snippet for first to file prior act

In these specific examples, Google has auto-populated each of the snippets based on their queries. However, through most content management tools, you can optimize the snippet that Google displays by editing the meta-description of your page to a searcher’s query.

Why should I care about longer snippets?

While snippets are, for the most part, created by Google itself, they are the main way to convince a searcher to click on your webpage. The extension of the character limit on search result snippets means that now more of your content is being displayed by Google. The more content that appears, the more content a searcher can use to determine how relevant your page is to their search. If you have pages with meta-descriptions you have written, you can use this new character limit to your advantage to include more information about your page in the snippet for the searcher.

How should I take advantage of this change?

There are probably hundreds of individual webpages on your website, so editing each and every meta-description to cater to this new character limit seems like an incredibly daunting task. Rather than spending several hours scouring all of your webpages to edit each meta-description, focus your time on your site’s most important pages, and the pages that receive the most search traffic. From there, you can extend each description to include more relevant information to the page. By making this small change, you can greatly impact your SEO.

Stop Googling Yourself

If you grew up with an older sibling, cousin, or mean-spirited family member you might remember the “game” where your own hand was forcibly and repeatedly pushed into your face while the offending party mockingly taunted, “why are you hitting yourself?”

The game, if you can call it that, really only served the purpose of making you feel bad. It was a stupid exercise and entirely unwinnable.

Fast forward to now. You have a business. The days of having someone else bullyingly smush your hand into your face are way behind you. You’re all grown up.

Instead, you sit down at your computer and play a new equally unwinnable game: you Google yourself.

Why are you Googling yourself?

It’s easy to rationalize why checking in on your online presence by pretending to be a prospect would be the right way to stay tuned in to what’s really going on.

But it’s not.

Here are the reasons Googling your business is about as constructive as repeatedly hitting yourself in the face.

  1. It’s incredibly inefficient

How does a handful of one-off (and highly personalized) Google results provide you with any actionable information?

The best-case scenario is a lot of back patting and self-satisfaction. You’re number one in the rankings for the search you ran while logged into your gmail account and sitting in an office at the business you own. Well done. Now what?

Inversely, the worst-case scenario is your result is buried pages deep and now you’re combing through dozens of competitors that are kicking your ass for whatever search you just ran. What do you do with that information?

Either way, the answer is to start digging into more detailed metrics. Why not skip the first part and focus on the items that really matter?

This leads to the next reason…

  1. You have better metrics at your disposal

The most misleading rationale for Googling your business is the idea that you, “want to know how things are going.” That’s deceptive at best.

You already have a strong sense of how things are going.

You have access to your own books, your own analytics, and all your account information. You’re firmly dialed into the daily results and have a strong sense for how business is trending.

At the end of the day, most business owners will prioritize profit. This means clients and revenue are the most important metrics.

Beyond the bottom line of money and clients, qualified leads and inquiries are what drive your sales pipeline and keep business growing. Measuring inquiry volume, close rates, average cost per inquiry, and your average cost for each new client is where you can see the data that actually impacts your success or failure.

If your lead volume has dropped from an average of 100 inquiries per month down to 50, is it going to provide solace that you’re still ranking number one for a few key searches?

Similarly, if you’re not finding yourself on page one, but your website is generating a high number of quality leads from search, there’s a high likelihood you’re only focusing on a couple isolated data points from a much bigger set.

  1. You’re not your customer (and never will be)

Google has estimated that approximately 15% of their search volume is completely unique. That’s about 500 million searches a day that Google hasn’t seen before.

Your prospective customers aren’t always finding you the way you’d expect.

Yes, some high-level search terms are nearly universal, but that’s only one piece. Rather than trying to simulate a few results from the “research phase,” it’s more valuable to look at the complete picture.

What do your clients consistently ask about? What are their biggest concerns? How can you address those questions on your website in such an effective way that they’re immediately convinced they don’t need to look anywhere else?

Take time to read your competitors’ websites. What are they saying or doing that differentiates them from you? What can you do to stand out?

Building unique and creative content that provides a perfect answer for a never before seen Google search is going to convert better than another “me too” white paper, resource, or article on a topic that’s covered on 1,000s of pages across the web.

You should already know your customer’s profile, needs, concerns, and goals. Mimicking a query for the search term you hope they’ll use to find you is a fruitless exercise.

  1. It can have a negative impact

Worst of all, your attempts to monitor your own online presence can actually be detrimental to your online presence. How’s that for a Catch-22?

You probably already know that clicking on your PPC ad is the equivalent of taking money directly from your wallet and handing it to Google. But even when you don’t click on that ad you’re generating an additional impression.

When an ad appears frequently and fails to get clicks it starts being shown less and your cost of bidding for that search term goes up.

The impact on your organic rankings is less dramatic, but clicking on competitor listings and spending time on their site stewing about how your business is better still sends a signal to Google that this was a quality result.

None of this should suggest there’s no value in knowing where you rank relative to your competition. There is.

Yes, the importance of individual rankings is often grossly overstated. But there are still plenty of reasons this information can be useful and should be monitored.

That’s why there are tools available like GetStat, SEMrush, and BrightLocal that allow you to obtain more accurate analysis. That way you can get more reliable data without impacting your site’s performance in the SERPs.

Still not convinced Googling yourself is a bad idea?

Fine. You’re going to do it anyway. Human nature is a funny thing.

At least make sure you’re using a VPN and a private browser whenever you sit down for another session of slowly smacking yourself in the face.

And before you do, please take a few extra seconds to consider “why are you Googling yourself?”

Simple and Consistent Web Design

There are many elements that web designers need to take into consideration in order to generate “good” design, however two important characteristics of good design are simplicity and consistency.

All too often I find websites that are too busy. Websites with bright colors, multiple videos, images, and walls of text. Websites without these elements would be dull, however there is a right and wrong way to use these elements. The information your visitors are looking for will be difficult to find if your website is cluttered. If certain elements don’t help tell your story, you should remove them.

Simple design doesn’t mean boring, it just means that it’s clean and easy to use. Use the minimum amount of text necessary in order to get your point across. All the images on the website should be relevant. Images should always help explain content. They should make your visitors feel as though they are in the right place for the information they are looking for.

Making the site design consistent is also crucial. Make sure that the menus, headings, text and all design elements look and work the same way throughout your site. If you have a particular design element, try to reuse it throughout the website.

Simple design allows your visitors to access the information they are looking for quickly. Consistency in web design allows your visitors to understand how to navigate throughout your website easily. No matter how amazing the images are or how trendy the theme might be, users will not stick around on your site if it is too complicated and busy.

 

MyGooglePages.com: Or, “How To Verify if that Phone Caller is Really From Google”

Tired of receiving those calls from “Google”?  We got this forwarded to us from one of our clients last week:

Free website from Google huh!  Sounds awesome.  Let’s call “Peter from Google” back….

“thank you for calling mygooglepages.com – if you know your party’s extension enter it now, for the special offer, press 1….”

Except of course that a quick search for the phone number Peter left, let’s us know that the number is actually registered to a company called “You Goo First”, a Search Engine Optimization company scamming bullshitter, John Cheliotis.

And if you happen to go to their website – you WILL see a callout (gray on gray text) that they are specifically NOT Google.  BUT…. if you rely on the voicemail (“Peter from Google”) you’d be none the wiser.  Which, is exactly how they want it.

So, if you think you are talking with Google – probably makes good sense to verify it by asking for an email, which should come from @google.com (not @gmail.com).  And Peter and John…. perhaps this is all a big misunderstanding…. perhaps Peter’s last name is actually Frahmgoogel.

Is Your Law Firm’s Website Mobile Friendly?

The world is becoming increasingly mobile, and there are plenty of fascinating (and potentially frightening) statistics to prove it:

  • 91% of people have their phone within three feet of them at all times
  • 84% of worldwide cell phone users can’t go a single day without their device in hand
  • 71% of people sleep with their phones next to them

The trend towards mobility does not exclude the legal industry. According to The National Law Review, approximately 31% of law firm related website traffic comes through a mobile search.

Mobile traffic rates may vary from 21-57% depending upon practice area, but regardless of practice area it is likely that a significant portion of your potential clientele are entering your site from a mobile device. It is therefore extremely important to assure that your website is mobile friendly.

What does it mean to be mobile friendly?

Technically, for a website to considered mobile friendly, it must simply be responsive on mobile devices, but there are a few more requirements for a website to be considered mobile friendly by Google’s standards.

Google Mobile Friendly

If you’re wondering whether your site meets Google’s mobile friendliness standards, using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test is a quick and easy way to find out. Simply paste the URL of your site into the text bar and click “Run test”.

Let’s see what happens when we test the mobile friendliness of the Mockingbird Marketing website.

Google Mobile-Friendly Test Screenshot

Below are the results of our test…

Results of Mobile-Friendly Test

It looks like our site is mobile friendly – awesome! A few pages aren’t loading properly, but in our case (and in most cases), the loading issues for these pages aren’t affecting our mobile-friendliness, so we can ignore that warning for now.

Mobile-Friendliness & SEO

Being mobile friendly not only improves a user’s experience with your website; it may help your law firm to be found.

With 60% of searches now coming from mobile devices, it’s only natural that Google would take steps to assure that the results they are providing will be helpful for those on mobile devices.

Google is currently implementing a “mobile-first” version of its index. This means that Google will be treating the mobile version of each page of your website as the primary page to index, with desktop versions being indexed secondarily. This update is currently in effect for some users, but will take time to be implemented to all pages on the internet.

“You either change or get left behind” -Carol Cunningham

The mobility of your webpage is not to be taken for granted. As mobile devices begin to dominate the world of search, it is important that we keep up, and adapt our websites to meet Google’s standards, and more importantly, the standards of potential clients.

Know What your Agency is Doing: Buying Links

New client just forwarded me the breakup email exchange from her previous agency.

We pay for links monthly.

Know what your agency is doing. The reason the firm reached out to us, was because, despite all the money they had invested, search traffic hadn’t changed.  And then we go and find out that their agency has been torpedoing SEO efforts through an unsophisticated link purchasing scheme.  Now the client is going to need to pay me an extensive sum to undo the efforts of their previous firm – just to get them back to a reasonable starting point. We call this Janitorial SEO – the cleaning up of the messes of others.  It’s expensive and unnecessary.

If you don’t know what your agency is doing for you – it’s reasonable to assume they are buying links, torching your site and you are in for a huge headache (and invoice) down the road.

Authentic Images Are Worth It

Business Man Shaking Hands

We have all seen one of these photos. The man in a suit with the perfect smile doing “business things” in front of a blurry background. Stock photos are all over the internet. Many are high quality, but they often lack personality. Images can help humanize your brand. Instead of using images of freakishly good-looking young professionals in business suits, hire a photographer and block out an hour to take some group shots around the office. If money is tight and you have a digital camera, go the DIY route (just do some research on correct lighting as that will make a huge difference).

Don’t refrain from using an image of yourself or images of your team. Not only will it make your website more personable, there’s a good chance it will help your conversions. Marketingexperiments.com ran a case study on a consumer credit counseling service’s home page. The experiment ran a stock photo of a woman with a headset against a photo of the company’s actual founder. When the photo of the company’s founder was displayed, visitors were 35 percent more inclined to sign up for a free consultation.

If you have no choice but to use a stock photo, make sure it is high quality and relevant to the message you are trying to convey. Just because you like a photo, doesn’t mean you should use it. Make sure the image isn’t used too often or (more importantly) by any of your competitors. If you are using Google Chrome, right click on the image that you are considering and select “Search Google for Image.” This will bring up all locations and websites where that specific image is being used.

Google Reverse Image Search

No matter what your budget or time constraints may be, keep in mind that your customers want to relate and connect with you and your team. If there is any way to incorporate your own style over a stock image, you will stand out in the crowd.

Blogging for the Sake of Blogging

the malleability of content
…You put content onto a blog it becomes the blog.

Sometimes you need to write a blog post. You might not have anything to say, but as the date since your last post gets further and further away you realize it’s time to publish something. Anything.

I’ve previously argued in favor of not having a blog unless you’re committed to updating it on a regular basis. Still, even the most committed of writers gets busy from time to time and starts visualizing tumbleweeds blowing across their blogroll and dust accumulating on that post from a couple months back.

There’s only one thing to do. Get motivated, get your ass in gear, and knock out a post to get things moving again. It might not even be good (this post sure isn’t), but it still beats continued procrastination.

Writing isn’t something you can force, but it is something you can jumpstart with a little creativity. There are a few ways you can rekindle inspiration if you’ve been distracted with “actual work” and haven’t had time to prioritize your blog.

Here are a few surefire tips for knocking out a quick blog post even when you’re completely swamped:

Write about what you know

The less research you need to do for your topic, the easier it’ll be to write something semi-intelligent. Topics you already know a lot about are great because you can pull from past experience or existing knowledge without having to spend hours fact checking or looking for sources. Oftentimes the knowledge you take for granted will be valuable to readers outside your field who may not share your expertise.

Focus on generalities

Not every blog post needs to be a deep dive into the specifics of your chosen topic. Sometimes a quick hitter, high level overview is more than enough. If enough readers find it interesting, you can always go back and write a follow up post later that tackles the same subject in more detail.

Link to other articles or people

Your blog doesn’t need to be 100% your own material. You’re more than free to share interesting articles and topics being written about elsewhere. Offering a quick analysis or counterpoint to something someone else wrote can be a great way to mine content.

Publish your post (and don’t second guess)

If you feel like you’re merely blogging for the sake of blogging, second guessing your own work is all too easy to do. As long as it’s not a habitual thing, you should allow yourself the occasional “lazy” article. What feels lazy to you could still be useful to some.

Meta bonus tip: use a list format

Lastly, if you’re struggling to structure a post or chunk a topic into easy to write snippets, turn your article into a list. There’s a reason no amount of mockery will stop Buzzfeed from continuing to knock out listicles at a breakneck pace. Lists work, they get shared, and they’re pretty easy to write quickly.

In Summary

Even though as an agency we’ve railed against the obnoxious misconception that “content is king,” there is still validity in staying consistent with your posting. You won’t always know which posts are going to resonate with your readers, and waiting for the perfect topic can quickly become detrimental to getting anything done.

None of this is groundbreaking, but it should be useful if you’re stuck wondering whether a blog that’s now three months from the last publication date could use a bit of a refresh. At a certain point you need to get back in the habit of writing…even if it feels a bit like word vomit at first.

As long as you’re still writing in your voice, sharing something (marginally) interesting, and staying (tangentially) on topic, there’s value to be gained from keeping active.

The alternative option is to shut down your blog and admit defeat. That works too. But if you’re going to maintain a blog you need to stay committed to posting (semi) regularly.

Directory Management Is Important: Here’s Why

There’s been talk lately about the diminishing importance of keeping firm control over each and every directory listing, large or small, in your firm’s name. This talk is rooted in truth, for tools such as Yext and Moz Local do a pretty good job of cleaning up directories in your name across the web. In addition to this, search engines have a good idea of what directories/websites matter, and pay more attention to those. It’s VERY important to note, however, that some manual directory cleanup can go a long way. At a bare minimum, you must be aware of what’s out there.

Take for example, Peel Funeral Home’s placelookup.net listing. You’ll quickly notice the images of thick slabs of uncooked meat, a cheery butcher, and tags that list Peel Funeral Home as a place for “Eating & Drinking” showing up for… a funeral home:

Butcher Funeral Home

Based on the funeral home’s website, they don’t seem like the type to do this as a some sort of backwards publicity stunt. My best guess is that, when pressed to choose a business category whilst creating a listing, whoever made this chose “butcher”, perhaps not understanding that this tongue-in-cheek choice would not only show up on the listing, but decide the particularly graphic imagery as well.

Either way, THIS IS IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO HAPPEN.

Now, as a lawyer, you aren’t at risk of appearing to be a funeral home proudly selling human meat. The takeaway for a lawyer wondering how best to manage their directory presence is this: if you don’t have, at the very least, an awareness of what’s happening with your directory listings, you could be in for a surprise when you find out.