Why You Can’t (and Won’t) Win Google’s Local Pack

A great Local SEO study came out yesterday from Juris Digital going over a single case study for “car accident lawyers” in every zip code in Houston. While much came from the study, two things stood out for me as they pertain to lawyers and search:

  1. Searcher proximity is a MAJOR impact on results.
  2. The sheer volume of firms is surprisingly large.

Point #1 is pretty obvious and Google has been pushing this messaging very aggressively.

Point #2 was much more surprising. Of the 138 different searches conducted (admittedly NOT a scientific sample size) – there were a whopping 82 different firms that showed up, with 22 of them showing up only once. The largest marketshare was less than 5%.

This means there’s not only massive variability in who shows up in local, but also that there aren’t any “winners.” Furthermore, you can’t accurately assess your local performance with a self conducted ranking test.

In summary, you are not working to “win” in Local Search, your agency is working to enable you to participate in the rotation of firms – and at best, you are looking at a 5% marketshare of those queries. This is one of the greatest things Google has shifted in order to spread some of the love around. It’s also a reason why there’s so much spam on the mapped results. Now if only I could get Google to rotate the directory results out of organic, I’d be doing just fine…

Is the Avvo Rating Gone with the Sale?

Yesterday brought news of Avvo’s sale, 12 years after the company was founded.  The news sent me scurrying back to the old site where I noticed (I think) something new…. the Avvo Rating no longer displaying on Lawyer profile pages. See Avvo GC, Josh King’s profile below.

Now, I’m not sure this is a)brand new and/or b)intentional – as in…. was this taken down because of the acquisition or is it just sloppy coding – which would be unusual for the Avvo dev crew.  If you view a profile, you can see the AR still loads momentarily (right under the picture where it says “Not Yet Reviewed”, but then quickly flashes out.

.Law Comes Clean About SEO

I was bemused to see a tradeshow booth from .law at the recent AAJ conference in Louisville (which was awesome btw).  And further bemused to know that Carl Jaeckel would be speaking to the conference about the TLD.  To be honest, I sat in the back of the room, huddled with fellow internet marketing shiny object curmudgeon, Gyi Tsakalakis as we plotted gotcha questions to fry Carl on stage.

To catch you up to speed if you know nothing of .law…. in 2015, this new Top Level Domain (TLD – think “.com” “.gov” and now “.law”) was introduced and aggressively advertised as an SEO silver bullet by the marketers behind .law.  (IMO $200 a year for domain registration seemed a beyond slightly excessive.)  This marketing included a bogus “case study” conducted by SEO veteran Bill Hartzer, vigorous PR outreach, a slick brochure (which seems to have been purged from the web), “sponsored” articles placed in legal and marketing blogs and a backlash from Google directly.  Regardless, the case study was touted widely among those selling the new TLD, including FindLaw and John Morgan of Morgan and Morgan, the chairman of the new domain selling service.

Over the past two years, our firm dealt with more than 10 .law domains that failed to generate anything in the way of Search Traffic – at great expense to the lawyers duped into purchasing the domains on the false pretext of SEO awesomeness.

But…. Carl (Morgan’s former CMO and COO of .law from the very beginning) gave us the straight honest truth, albeit two years late. At the AAJ conference, in response to a point blank question about the SEO benefits of the new .TLD, Carl replied:

I’d love to sit here and lie to tell you that you put on a .law and it will amazingly shoot you to the top of the search rankings. – Carl Jaeckel

So there you have it…. the .law marketers were lying all along (and they knew it… there’s a very good reason John didn’t move forthepeople.com to forthepeople.law.)  When I introduced myself and spoke with him later, thanking him for his candor, Carl blamed the “marketing people” for the false SEO promises.

But, when someone comes peddling these new domains (and they will), don’t fall for fuzzy vagaries of what Google may or may not do in the future to change their perspective on TLDs. The SEO silver bullet will NOT be based on “a new .law suffix that could set off a domain gold rush” (which was the 2015 title of an ABA Journal article that has also since been purged from the site, at whose bidding, I don’t know).

Looking Back on SEO in 2017

For better or worse, 2017 has been a year of change. We have a new president in The White House, Fidget spinners (briefly) swept the nation, and (most importantly) Beyoncé gave birth to twins.

But don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about politics, strange toy fads, or future royalty Sir and Rumi Carter.

I’m here to talk about SEO. So let’s begin by looking back to some of the biggest SEO trends of 2017.

1. Reviews Dubbed Most Prominent Local SEO Ranking Factor

Having a significant amount of reviews has been highly correlated with ranking in organic search, even if the website in question has a poor “link profile.” Beyond the amount of reviews the business has, the quality of those reviews will affect ranking. If a review is rich with keywords, such as city names and practices, then it is more likely to have a positive impact on ranking.

To digital marketers the importance of reviews in ranking comes as no surprise. At the end of the day, Google wants to provide users with the best possible experience from start to finish. That means providing information that will help consumers choose the best product or service possible.

It is highly unlikely that reviews will lose their value in 2018, so if you are interested in improving your organic ranking, ask your happy clients if they might be willing to write you a review.

2. The Roll Out of Google’s Mobile-First Search Index

In 2017, Google began rolling out their new mobile-first search index, meaning that Google will now use the mobile version of a website’s content to determine page ranking in search results. This change was made in order to keep up with users and how they are accessing the web, which today is primarily through mobile devices.

If you are curious whether your website passes Google’s mobile-friendliness standards, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, along with the help of the Mockingbird’s simple mobile-testing guide to find out.

phone

3. Ad Extensions (& More Ad Extensions)

In 2017 Google gave ad extensions, and more ad extensions and more ad extensions. The list includes:

  1. Sitelink Extensions
  2. Call Extensions
  3. Location Extensions
  4. Callout Extensions
  5. Structured Snippet Extensions
  6. Review Extensions
  7. Message Extensions
  8. Affiliate Location Extensions
  9. Price Extensions
  10. App Extensions

Ad extensions are beneficial for both users and businesses alike. They allow users to quickly and efficiently interact with ads, and they allow businesses to serve users useful information while taking up more space on the search engine results page…space that would have otherwise been occupied by another website.

AdWords Sitelink Extensions

If you want to know more about these extensions, you can read more about what ad extensions are and how to utilize ad extensions in the legal industry.

Summation

The SEO trends we’ve seen in 2017 have only confirmed what we already knew: Google puts users first. Every algorithmic change is made in order to improve user experience in the long run. Google is smart (like scary smart), and spammy marketing tactics that don’t benefit the user will eventually result in a bump down in ranking, hence Mockingbird’s 5th commandment:

White Hat to a Fault – “Don’t engage in unethical marketing – we are in business for the long term, as are our clients.”

Lawyers of Distinction’s New Top Dog

Mockingbird Marketing is pleased to announce that Lucy Davis of Seattle, Washington has been accepted as a member of Lawyers of Distinction. Lawyers of Distinction limits its membership to the top 10% of attorneys in the United States, and accepts only those who pass their objective evaluation of an attorney’s reputation, experience, license, qualifications, and disciplinary history. Through their vigorous research, Lawyers of Distinction has chosen to bestow this remarkable honor on our dear friend, Lucy.

Lucy Davis is a highly experienced and compassionate personal injury attorney at Davis Law Group in Seattle, WA. With many years of close client relationships, Ms. Davis takes a different approach to advocating for innocent victims of negligent crimes.

Ms. Davis is a member of the King County Bark Association and the American Kennel Club. She is also a strong supporter of the Courthouse Dogs Foundation.

In her spare time, Ms. Davis likes to take long walks and spend time with her family. During the summer months, she spends her time outdoors, either bike riding or boating around Lake Union and Lake Washington. Naturally, Ms. Davis is a die-hard UW Huskies fan, and enjoys attending the Dawg Wagon tailgate party.

Ms. Davis received her Bachelor’s degree from Springfield University, and her Juris Dogtor from Manhattan Law School in New York.

On behalf of Mockingbird Marketing, we want to congratulate all of the skilled attorneys who have been awarded the distinction of being in the top 10% of attorneys in 2017. We can’t wait to see the great things that 2018 brings, especially for Lawyers of Distinction.

*Disclaimer: Lucy is not a lawyer, but she really did win this award. This post is satirical and meant to be humorous. If you’re in for even more of a laugh, take a look at Lucy’s marvelous acceptance speech.

Flossing and Blogging

Ahhh… new years resolutions.  Like “I’m going to blog more.”

I remember my business school friend, Josh Strauss proudly proclaiming to our MBA section that his new years resolution was to floss – and now I think of him every time I pick a stray strand of overcook beef leftover from lunch from my teeth with some waxed string.

Its early January and lawyers across the country are reinvigorated and optimistic – time to “take their firm to the next level” and “up their game” with a renewed commitment to marketing.  Which often entail promises of blogging to feed the “Content is King” beast.  (Turns out content is NOT king, but I digress.)

Blogging is a commitment – call it an annual commitment and not one to be taken lightly.  And just like that tiny roll of overpriced string in your medicine cabinet – if you stop half way through the year, things start to decay.  Nothing looks sadder and more marketing pathetic than a blog long abandoned but still posted on the homepage.

“This post from 2015…..” screams “I’ve given up and I have nothing left to say.”

Now, don’t get me wrong – blogging is super valuable.  (Especially when you do it on your own site to improve your SEO performance and not another domain, but I digress again.)  Blogging can generate links.  Can generate inbound traffic. Can establish your thought leadership. Can forge relationships. Can generate business.   These are all good things.

But.

If you are going to abandon your blog, just like Josh abandoned his flossing regimen some time around April, you are better off not getting started at all.  My guess is that those of you with the self discipline to pull out that floss once a day will do just fine blogging, but otherwise… try something else.

 

(oh – and incidentally, less I turn into a hypocrite – my new year’s resolution…. publish something every business day.)

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.