GDPR and the New Google Analytics Data Retention Period

The European Union has refined its data storage regulations, pushing for stronger consumer-oriented regulations focused on protecting online users privacy rights. The latest set of regulations, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is set to come into effect on May 25, 2018. The regulation is based on the fundamental idea that every citizen of the EU has a set of rights when referring to data collection. By creating more robust data collection and storage laws, the EU is better safeguarding the privacy of online users.

The information that is not to be collected under the new GDPR includes all information that has the potential to be uniquely identifying. This includes a user’s IP address, email address, home address, date of birth, financial information, transaction histories, and medical records. This new legislation also protects any user-generated data such as social media posts and personal images uploaded online.

Google’s Implemented Data Retention Policy

Being a data controller, Google is responsible for handling personal information. If you are using a Google product to track the on-site action of users in order to serve personalized advertisements, you must now acquire user consent prior to taking action. Google has implemented a new tiered setting called Data Retention. This setting allows a specific retention period to be selected. User and Event Data will expire after 26 months but some may play it safe by easily adjusting the setting to retain the data for a longer period or set to never automatically expire. In addition, Google is launching a new tool that can help erase a specific users information upon request.

The GDPR protects all personal user data across every conceivable online platform. Effecting any company that is to market to people in the EU, or do business directly. Users must express permission before any company can process or store their data through a clear and easily understood opt-in process. Currently, the majority of advertisers are not using methods that would be affected by the new regulations but will need to continue to monitor the use and storage of this data.

What Does Google’s GDPR Policy Mean for U.S. Small Businesses?

So far, this policy update looks like it will have minimal impact on businesses operating outside of the European Union. For clients doing business solely in the U.S., we’re currently recommending they set their Google Analytics event data to be retained indefinitely. However, each business is unique and should take time to educate themselves on the implications of the new regulation.

Blogging Basics: Keeping SEO in Mind

Blogs present a wonderful opportunity to produce content that can help build your website’s presence on the internet.

In order for a blog post to appear in search results and have link building potential it must be:

  1. Valuable to the reader and;
  2. Optimized for search engines

As an attorney, you have extremely valuable knowledge that users will be searching for. So, with a bit of digital marketing savvy, your blog can become a traffic driving asset.

Think Before You Write

Having an article that is valuable to readers and optimizing for search engines go hand in hand. As I’ve stated in past articles, user experience is at the root of most Google algorithm ranking factors. Don’t write for the sake of writing; write with your readers in mind. What questions are you consistently getting from clients? Do you have a fresh legal take on a current event? Whatever you’re writing about, make sure it’s something that people would actually want to read.

Structure Your Blog Post

Structure will make your content digestible for both readers and search engines. To achieve a well-structured blog post, you must utilize headings and lists. These elements help search engines understand what the content you’re producing is and for what queries it should be served.

Headings

Headings help search engines understand what the main topics of your blog posts are. Heading tags have a top-down hierarchy from <h1> to <h6>. You should only have one H1 tag (main heading), which will be the title of your post. Do not use multiple H1 tags, as having multiple H1s will confuse search engines.

(Remember, bolding and italics should not be used in place of actual headings)

Headings-structure

Lists

Bulleted and numbered lists make your content readable for users. A carefully placed list will draw the reader’s eye and allow for quick skimming. Additionally, using lists increases the likelihood that your post will be featured in a Google one box:

Write an SEO Title & Description

SEO Title

Your SEO title should be relevant to the content and include keywords that users are likely to be searching for; this includes:

  1. Subject/title of the blog post
  2. Firm location
  3. Law firm name

Prioritize title and location if you run out of characters. Remember to break up the pieces of your title with dividers to maintain structure.

Example: DUI Punishments | Seattle, WA | Law Firm Name

SEO Description

Your meta description should describe what the content is and draw the reader in. Make sure to include relevant keywords (without keyword stuffing), as Google will highlight the matching words from the user search query in your description. This will draw the eye of the reader and signal that the page is relevant.

Conclusion

Blogging for the sake of blogging is pointless. If you want your blog to have SEO value, it must be written with readers in mind and optimized for search engines. When starting a blog or ramping up current blogging efforts, start with the basics:

  • Think before you write
  • Structure your writing
  • Write quality meta descriptions and titles

and last but not least, keep at it!

Wistia Releases New Video Player, Vulcan V2

Video is a valuable tool that helps you connect with your viewers. Vulcan V2, Wistia’s new video player, is smaller and faster than their previous video player. The only issue is that videos can add a lot of weight to your site and slow it down. If your visitors experience slow page speed, they are more likely to leave your website. With the release of Vulcan V2, it shows that Wistia cares about the importance of website performance more than others.

Vulcan V2 is half the size of their previous player and is a quarter of the size of YouTube’s. Not only did they create a smaller player but also added a bunch of optimizations in order to increase page load time. Wistia claims that they are seeing pages with Vulcan V2 load 10% faster on average than pages with their last video player, Vulcan.

To learn more about Vulcan V2 or what Wistia has been up to, check out their video on their blog regarding Vulcan V2.

Beware of Your Chat Vendor

I have a love/hate relationship with chat. Mostly I hate chat. Or at least the ham handed implementations that are either a)horrendously intrusive or b)intentionally horrendously intrusive.

Look at this particularly obnoxious chat window that completely covers up the primary navigation. I can no longer learn anything about what the firm does, or who works there. Not to mention the poor metaphorical visual of cutting off Ms. Justice’s head and obscuring half of the firm’s logo.

Use chat. It works. But use it like Sriracha…carefully and sparingly so it compliments your overall marketing instead of forcing itself into the experience and ruining the meal for everyone.

(On the few cases in which I love chat…it is with chat vendors that allow you to customize the implementation to suit your best interest, instead of rigidly configuring it to maximize the financial gain of the chat vendor.)

Another Indicator That Your “SEO Content” Is Awful

I’ve been railing against the conventional wisdom that more content is the magic SEO bullet for years now. In fact, for many of our clients, we’ve been proactively working on decreasing pagecount, instead of increasing it. There’s a great framework for assessing the value of investing more money on more content in a Searchengine Land article I wrote that essentially shows how to evaluate the efficacy of content in actually generating traffic. Simple stuff, but often overlooked – which is crazy given the vast investment many lawyers make in vomiting out more content at a regular clip.

There’s an even easier way to review this through a very simple report in Google Search Console. This simple report shows the number of pages in your sitemap compared to the number of pages in your sitemap that are actually indexed. In the extreme example below, less than 12% of their sitemap is actually indexed. This means while Google knows about the content, they don’t actually care and those pages will NEVER surface in search results.

Note that this could be for a variety of reasons:

  1. The sitemap is dated and/or broken and showing pages that don’t exist (this happens more frequently than you can imagine)
  2. The site has a tone of content, yet lacks the authority (backlinks) to support the volume of content.
  3. The content on the site is extremely poor and/or copied.

Assuming the sitemap is correctly configured…if the vast majority of your blog isn’t being indexed…why would one continue generating content?

Google Illustrates the Importance of Mobile Page Speed with New Website Testing Tools

Google has made it clear that site speed (and thus page speed) is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages. Google representatives have even made announcements declaring that the company is “obsessed with speed.”

Why are site and page speed so important to Google?

As we know, users are at the root of most Google algorithm ranking factors. Representatives explain the importance of site speed to users stating,

Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.

-Amit Singhal, Google Fellow and Matt Cutts, Principal Engineer, Google Search Quality Team

Google User

To further highlight the importance of speed, Google has recently released a Mobile Scorecard and an Impact Calculator. One of these tools compares how a site performs against the competition on mobile devices, and the other aims to communicate the impact mobile speed can have on profits. Both tools aim to drive home the importance of investing in speed.

Mobile Scorecard

The mobile scorecard can be used to find out how your website stacks up to competitor sites in terms of speed. In general, if your site loads and becomes usable in five seconds or less on 3G connected devices, and in 3 seconds or less on 4G connected devices then your site is doing well in terms of speed.

You can test your site on 3G and 4G connected devices by changing settings in the upper right-hand corner of the tool

Impact Calculator

The impact calculator quantifies the potential effect that speed has on conversion rates by calculating the revenue companies could potentially gain by improving site speed. Unfortunately, due to the complicated nature of payments in the legal industry, this tool will likely not be applicable to attorneys. But, it is important to be aware of the existence of the tool, as it shows Google’s commitment to driving home the importance of site speed.

Both tools can be accessed here.

Google My Business Q&A Becomes a Negative Review

When is that negative client review not technically a negative client review…yet your most public negative client review ever?

When your disgruntled ex-client chooses to use Google My Business’ recently launched Q&A functionality to bash your business IN ALL CAPS, instead of using the typical review stars. I ran across the example below while researching the firm as the winning plaintiff in the example of name bidding for my last post. Now, Kurgis has 44 reviews – with an average star rating of just 2.3 – that’s hard to do. But, even worse, there’s a scathing Q&A (which is frankly neither a Q nor an A) showing up prominently in the Knowledge Graph when searching for the lawyer by name.

Sidenote: there’s something hinky going on here – the A: for the Q&A points prospects to Scott Shiff…who was coincidentally Kurgis’ co-plaintiff in the lawsuit I was covering.

Q&A rolled out within the past 6 months or so…very few lawyers are using it for their marketing efforts (one obvious easy example would be asking a simple question like, “What is the initial consultation fee?”) BUT…Q&A holds a very prominent spot in the SERPS – well above editorial review content. So, bad or good, Q&A can have a significant impact on click through and conversion rates.

How ONE Link drove an 11% Traffic Increase

Far too few agencies talk about link building and, in my humble (or not so humble) opinion, most that do, do an absolute garbage job.  Blake Denman posted this shot on Twitter the other day, of the backlink profile for “link building” work done by an agency. This stuff is pure garbage (yet most firms don’t know it).

Blake then postulated (IMO, correctly) how these garbage links (paid for by a client to an agency) actually had the end result of decreasing, not increase organic traffic:

This type of activity is NOT only paid for by the client, but then requires a client to a) notice the negative impact and b) hire someone else to clean up the mess. We call this Janitorial SEO. This is Blake’s joy to deal with for the next few months, and the client’s headache to pay him for it.

So…

What should a firm be doing about link building?

I want to showcase one example of a significant, permanent increase in organic traffic due to just a single link on a site we’ve been working on for years. Now the graph below doesn’t scream amazing, but the difference in average weekly organic traffic between the weeks January 22nd and 29th is a persistent increase of 11%.

The link in question was from a very high ranking site – ahrefs puts it at DR, 82; Moz’s OpenSiteEplorer at 83 and Majestic Citation Flow at 61. The content in question took weeks to develop and the outreach, was frankly hit or miss. In fact, it wasn’t our outreach that drove the link, but instead, the tweet from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (this is the way social really works). And just one link. And yet…boom. A 12% increase that will benefit the site for years to come.

So…how do you know if your agency is engaged in useful (I’ll call it advanced) link building, or link building so bad that it’s not just a waste of money, but it’s going to cause you to spend more money to clean their work up in the future? The first answer is easy: a good link building campaign is both long term and effective. This means, that over time, your inbound search traffic shows an up and to the right improvement. In the case of this site, that’s exactly what we’ve seen…below is the long term graph of their search traffic, in which we’ve done nothing more than generate strong content married to a proactive link building effort.

However, the quality of your agency’s link building efforts can be more immediately assessed based on the tenor of your relationship. Are you deeply engaged with your agency? Do they know what you are working on (amazing – specific matters can be link building gold). Have they pushed you on outreach and relationship building?

One final note: this level of engagement, expertise, relationships, content development, care and effort isn’t cheap. And it’s not always successful (which also makes it not cheap). But it’s the primary thing that drives success in organic and local search. If your agency is doing link building and you have NO idea what they are doing, most likely it’s not high level and you are simply torching your kids’ college fund. (Although, watch your traffic, if its growing, I’m more than happy to be wrong here).

If you’d like to read more about link building try:

 

The ONLY Question You Need to Ask Prospective SEO Vendors

Last week was particularly painful – I reviewed a $1,700 a month FindLaw site with pages carelessly duplicated. I looked at a firm paying $800 a month for SEO for a website without H1s. I analyzed a site with a $50,000 price tag (yes – four zeros) that didn’t have a robots.txt file. So, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of self-proclaimed SEO “experts” who wouldn’t know the difference between a canonical tag and a fluffernutter. But The premise of this article assumes you can do a decent job weeding out the flagrant SEO charlatans and social media marketing consultants guaranteeing Pinterest followers will catapult you to the top of the search results and instead addresses the more important question:

How do you identify an advanced agency from those that are merely competent?

I’ve written a few times about how to vet an SEO provider…

…but I think those articles may be overthinking the key point.

To answer this question, I’m looking to the tactical focus of our engagements for large firms in heavily competitive markets. Once we’ve completed the Janitorial SEO phase – cleaning up all of the pre-existing technical, content, penalty and platform disasters – we move into a maintenance phase. And during this phase roughly 70% of a client’s investment goes towards linkbuilding. So its obvious to me…the only important question you need to ask when looking for a genuinely advanced agency:

Describe your most effective linkbuilding campaign over the past three months.

Know that there is no singular right answer to this question – but thematically you are listening for a few things.

  1. Creativity – effective linkbuilding entails a creative approach to stories, facts and opportunities to generate stories for a highly interested (and online) audience. You are looking for someone who can either generate a unique perspective commenting on existing stories, or, better yet, be active in actually generating the news. Fundamentally – listen for someone taking a creative angle on a story or even a unique approach to the content medium – infographics, video or unusual content.
  2. Collaboration – without a doubt, our most successful linkbuilding campaigns involve deep cooperation with our clients. They know their issues, stories and perspectives better than we do – and we facilitate creativity through brainstorming sessions that include the client directly.
  3. Outreach – great content alone is impotent if no one reads it. “Content is King” is one of the lies lazy SEOs tell their clients – shifting the responsibility of the failure of an SEO campaign to their clients for not blogging enough. (See SEO Regicide, Content the King is Dead for more.) Find an agency who is able to identify raving fans and has an outreach plan for reaching those raving fans through social, email, phone or even traditional PR. Our most recent linkbuilding coup included a $17,000 spend with a PR agency that generated stories and links from places like the New York Times, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal’s Law Bog, as well as 40 other sites.
  4. Timeliness – in many cases, great stories are fleeting – so being able to jump on issues, turn around content and execute on outreach quickly is extremely important.
  5. Failure – note that high-end linkbuilding isn’t guaranteed. At least half of the time efforts are going to fall flat. (And just 10%-20% of the time, agencies deliver a home run.) Experienced agencies know this and should prepare clients for this possibility.
  6. Variety – a strong, organic backlink profile is built through a variety of tactics; agencies who rely on a singular approach to linkbuilding are often walking you towards a penalty.

Of course, you want to avoid like the plague, agencies who promise links, guarantee links, offer to buy links, or suggest in any way that they have a simple, scaleable solution to a complex, unscalable challenge.

Don’t expect to be able to hire someone who can engage in advanced linkbuilding at $500 a month or even $2,000 a month. This is hard, creative, uncertain work – it requires experience, brainstorming, contacts, writing panache, timing and a heavy heavy dose of luck to be successful. It’s an ongoing process

Also note that some Big Box website and SEO vendors are able to easily slot your site into a network of domains they control to generate links back to you. This is flagrantly against Google’s best practices and I’ve dealt with more sites than I care to count where the Janitorial SEO phase has lasted for months as we’ve dug a site out from a penalty. BUT…currently these networks can be effective when implemented by the more crafty Big Box providers. Law firms pay for the value of these links through exorbitant “hosting” costs that run into the hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars a month, when the actual cost should be between $5 and $29. Note that this is a risky approach – my take is that it’s a matter of when, not if, the sites get burned. Additionally, leave the vendor, and those links will slowly disappear from your backlink profile – leaving your site impotent.