What is a Manual Action and How Do I Fix It?

Google tries to be vigilant about spam. It really does. Link building schemes, black hat tactics, and malicious software are some of the main things Google looks for. When it finds them, it might respond with a Manual Action.


So What is a Manual Action?

A manual action is when an actual, real-life member of Google’s team checks in on your websites and penalizes it for going against best practices. Manual actions can take a variety of forms and can be consequences of a variety of things.


Types of Manual Actions


  • Partial Matches (partial de-indexing)

If Google finds pages in violation of best practices it might de-index those specific URLs. This means that they will no longer show up in search results. This can be done to a page, sub-domain, forum, or any section of a domain. A partial match action is generally the best possible scenario for webmasters who are facing spam attacks, as the domain is still functioning and traffic can still find your site. It is still important to try and fix the issue and lift the action as soon as possible.

  • Whole Site Matches (total de-index)

If the problem is found to be larger than a few key URLs, Google may de-index the entire domain. This is a harsh penalty, but it can be reversed once the site complies with webmaster guidelines. Whole site matches are generally implemented when a site flagrantly ignores guidelines by cloaking content, redirecting users, and exposing users to malicious content. If your site is facing a whole site match, you need to consider what brought you there and if you need to change course.


What Might Cause a Manual Action


Google has a long list of reasons for invoking manual actions. Most of them involve spam links, as link building schemes are about the most forms of breaking best practices that webmasters do. The complete list includes:


  • User-generated spam

User-generated spam is spam that comes not from the webmaster, but the users of the website. This happens in forums and comments sections of websites.

  • Unnatural links to and from your site

This refers to link building schemes and spam attacks. If your site is suddenly sending thousands of links to a single, low authority site or is showing signs of spammy link exchanges, or has thousands of links from one low-authority site, Google might reprimand the URL or domain.

  • Thin or duplicate content

This is more subjective, as some sites do not need large amounts of content. That being said, many sites have unnecessary numbers of pages with practically duplicate content, which often sees penalties.

  • Cloaked content/images

This is a pretty old-school black hat technique, and Google is pretty good at finding when people try to implement it. Cloaking refers to showing different content to humans than to the GoogleBot. They can do this by having one image cover another, writing paragraphs of keywords in the same color as the background of the page, or stuffing keywords into gibberish text. Google really doesn’t appreciate these techniques and comes down pretty hard on those that do it.

  • Redirects

Redirects, whether desktop or mobile, refers to when a user clicks on a link to one website then gets redirected to another, completely unrelated, URL. The penalties are usually applied when the redirect goes to a site that is harmful or the redirect is malicious in it’s intent (i.e. sending a user looking for cartoons to a porn site).


How to Fix a Manual Action

Fixing a manual action starts by fixing the problem you were originally penalized for. If you were hit for displaying spam comments you might want to delete those comments and block the IPs they were sent from. If you were hit with a spam link attack, go through the disavow process and clean up your referrals. Google has recommendations on how to fix your website after all types of manual actions. 

Once you have made the changes you need to make, you can make a reconsideration request. This is a request for Google to re-review your website and lift the manual action. 

Sometimes you do the work, write the request, and get a denial. This means you didn’t do the fullest work you needed to do. Get back to work and draft a new reconsideration request. 


Final Thoughts

Don’t mess with Google. Even if they wrongly put a manual action against you, you apologize and follow the recommendations they give you. Google holds all the power.

In Defense of Location-Based Hero Images

We’ve all been there: you want to build your website, you have a homepage, and you don’t know what to put as the hero image. Should you go for your team, arms crossed and determined, all standing in front of your office? Maybe a picture of you chatting with a client? What about a photo of your infinite bookshelf full of leatherbound, embossed texts? Or maybe even a custom-shot video that includes all of these things and more?

I’m here to argue for the simple location image. If you really want it, a location image with the firm partners in it. Here’re four reasons why:


1. Easy to Acquire

A professional photographer should have no problem taking stunning photos of your local scenery, all without the time commitment of a full in-house photo or video shoot. 


2. Improves Local Credentials

Local is everything in digital marketing. Consumers make decisions based on what is close and what benefits their communities. A reminder that you are a part of that community as soon as they get to the homepage doesn’t hurt. Local landmarks, scenic views, and sunrises rarely go wrong. 


3. Adaptable

So let’s go through some of the other options. That picture of your team? Inspirational now, a weird reminder in a few years after one or more of your team members have moved away. Isolating if someone new joins the team. 

Chatting with a client? Looks good now, kind of confusing if you ever look any different than you did when you took the photo. None can escape the hands of time, holding onto a photo won’t save you.

That custom-shot video? The same issues as the other options arise here: changing team members, changing images. You might even change offices. Not to mention how much an embedded video can slow your site down.

You know what’s reliably beautiful and consistent? A gosh dang sunrise behind a local landmark. 


4. Send a Message Without Overthinking It or Underthinking It

You’re here to look like a lawyer and lawyer things are your priority, not spending hours deciding which image should grace your homepage. That being said, a simple stock image won’t cut it. We’ve all seen law firm websites that look like they were tossed together; out of proportion stock images, outdated fonts, just plain weird color schemes. Be different. Be better. Show the world that you’re willing to make an effort, but won’t spend all of your time making an effort on things that aren’t your clients.


Obtaining Your Hero Image

So now you know what you want. How do you get it? Through a stock photo site like how we got the hero image for this blog post? Probably not. The homepage to your website is a bit more important than the top of one of our blog posts. 

Hire a photographer. They can help provide you with options while ensuring no one else has the exact photos you’re using. It also gives you the option of having photos of you and your team alongside your scenic locale. You will have more control and will likely get better results.

Find a photographer with good reviews or through someone you trust and schedule your shoot.

How to Properly Use Alt-Text

Images are some of the more misunderstood features of web pages. While they are important for conveying messages and often improve content as a whole, they can also lead to trouble when misused. 

Alt-text is your way of staying out of trouble and improving the indexability of your content. 

One of the worst ways images can get you in trouble is with ADA compliance regulations. When a website isn’t set up for accessibility users with any level of visual impairment will struggle. These users often use software that reads the content out to them. This is tough when the content says “Refer to the above image” and the only thing the software can say about the image is that it is 1926374627.jpeg. Alt-text fixes that.

When you insert an informational image onto your page, chances are you’ve seen the box to insert alt-text for the image. You very easily might have ignored it. You don’t want to ignore it.


What to Write in the Alt-Text Box

Ok, let’s look at this chart from Search Engine Land:

Google 2019 ad revenue share pie chart. $98.1 billion from search and other products, 72.7%. $21.61 billion from Google network, 16%. $15.1 billion from Youtube, 15.1%.

What information does it give? It clearly shows that Google earned a majority of its 2019 revenue from Search and other products. You can see that at a glance. What would a computer read? 

Without alt-text, it would read google-ad-revenue-share-property-2019.jpeg.

Let’s fix that.

So it’s Google’s 2019 ad revenue share. We can start with that.


“Google 2019 ad revenue share pie chart…”


Now, what does it actually show? Let’s go through the data.


“Google 2019 ad revenue share pie chart. $98.1 billion from search and other products, 72.7%. $21.61 billion from Google network, 16%. $15.1 billion from Youtube, 15.1%.” 


There you go. That’s an alt-texted informational image.


But what about decorational images?


So not all images are informational. They don’t all have clearly defined data. What if it’s just a random image? What if it’s just a descriptive image to show a picture of your product?

If it’s a random image (like the hero image here) alt-text isn’t 100% necessary. No one is missing out not seeing this stock image of water.

If it’s a product, describe it as you would your product. 

Here is our Definitely Real product, Google Juice:

Google Juice. Green juice in a glass with two straws and kale.

How might we use alt-text to describe this Totally Not Fake Google Juice?


“Google Juice…”


Well, that was covered in the file name. Let’s go a bit more in-depth.


“Google Juice. Green juice in a glass with two straws and kale.”


That’s better. 


So now you know how to do alt-text. It does take a bit more time when creating a webpage, but it’s cheaper than an ADA lawsuit

Monitoring Your Internal Linking on Ahrefs

Internal linking is a key aspect of on-page SEO, but can sometimes be hard to keep track of or remember to do. When you’re writing content it’s likely that creating anchor text is the last thing on your mind. If you want to learn more about why internal linking is important, visit one of our old blog posts. TL: DR; internal links help users navigate the site and search engines understand which pages are more important.


Using Ahrefs

Here at Mockingbird, we use a tool called Ahrefs to keep track of our and our clients’ top-performing pages and linking. One of the datasets it provides is the number of referring internal links for each page. 


Finding the Dataset

Image showing screenshot from ahrefs where location for the data set can be seen in the menu and the number of internal dofollow links can be seen for each page
From Ahrefs.com


The information you’re looking for can be found under the Pages → Best by links section, then select the Internal tab on top. 


When you sort by Dofollow links you’ll probably notice that the pages with the highest URL ratings tend to have the most links. This isn’t entirely coincidental, as you’ve probably guessed. 


Why Internal Linking Matters (to Ahrefs and beyond)

When a site has thorough internal linking the user is able to navigate the site easier and is more likely to visit the pages that are being linked to. The more unique visitors a page has, the higher it’s URL rating. This is why homepages often have high URL ratings: the homepage is usually the most visited page.


One of the major benefits of internal linking is that it’s a free way to improve your URL Rating. Unlike link building campaigns, you don’t need to call anyone. It’s a simple way to improve your site.


How to do Internal Linking

Just in case you made it to the end of this blog post without knowing how to do internal linking, this is for you. 


Internal linking simply refers to when one page on your site links to another page on your site. Two pages within a domain, linking to each other. The pages should be relevant, see the links above to previous blog posts on this subject. For law firms, this can be as simple as linking to your car accidents page in your blog post about a local car accident.  


In Conclusion

Now that you know what internal links are, how to create them, why they’re important, and where to check in on them, go out and build your internal linking networks.

Using Google Analytics to Improve Page Speeds

The uses and functionality of Google Analytics can sometimes feel endless. On that note, let’s break into page speed insights.


Finding Page Speeds

Behavior → Site Speed → Page Timings

Behavior → Site Speed → Page Timings

Knowing which of your pages are slowing your site down is key in optimizing your entire website. You can find individual page loading times under “Page Timings.” Within this dataset, you can toggle page views, average load time, and bounce rate.

By selecting a comparison view for the data visualization you can see which of your pages are taking longer than the site average. 

Once you know which pages are being problem children, you can begin to fix them. 


Fixing Page Speeds

Behavior → Site Speed → Speed Suggestions

Behavior → Site Speed → Speed Suggestions

Not only does Google Analytics tell you which pages are slow, they give suggestions on how to fix them. When you go to “Speed Suggestions” you can get suggestions on pages that aren’t even below the average site speed. 

Clicking on the suggestions will take you to a page that gives you the diagnostics on both your desktop and mobile pages. Since Google indexes on a mobile-first basis, neglecting your mobile site-speeds is probably a bad idea.

When you scroll down on the page you can see suggestions and how to implement them. Many of them can be solved using plug-ins, some of them can be solved by just reducing image sizes, and some can be ignored. These decisions are up to you as a webmaster. Or they’re up to us if you’re paying for on-site optimizations.

No matter what you decide to do with this information it’s good to have. Knowing what’s happening with your website is key to knowing what’s happening with your business.

Let’s Make 2020 the Year of No Long Term Contracts

Here at Mockingbird, we have made our disdain for long-term contracts well-known. We have seen too many law firms fall victim to the predatory practices of FindLaw and other such agencies. Too many of our clients have come to us after being stripped down by contracts designed to empty their wallets. It’s because of this that we want to warn you of the dangers of signing onto a long term contract and how to avoid it.


The Dangers

Domain Ownership

Ownership of the website often sits in the fine print of these contracts, and it rarely benefits the law firm. This is one of the ways agencies trap their clients; they can’t leave without losing their website. 


Content Ownership

Right alongside domain ownership is content ownership; the agency owns all the content on the website. This means that even if the client manages to leave, they can’t keep anything from the website they might have been adding to for years.


Upselling Poor Service

When you’re trapped in a contract the agency has little motivation to provide you with the service you deserve. When you find them failing to deliver, they might even ask you to pay more for certain features that should be included or are completely irrelevant. Suddenly the contract is more expensive and the service is just as bad.


Our Experiences

We’ve been in the business for a while, and we’ve had more than a couple of firms come to us desperate and without a website:

Helping these firms get back on their feet has made us painfully aware of how damaging long term contracts can be. That’s why we’ve built a guide for escaping FindLaw


What to Look for When Signing a Contract

As a lawyer, you’re probably used to the implications of the fine print. The fine print for your marketing agency shouldn’t be given any less attention than what’s in your clients’ cases. Here are a few of the things you should keep an eye out for and flag:

  • Domain ownership
  • Content ownership
  • Termination penalties
  • End dates

If you see yourself about to sign a contract that will hold you for years, stop and think: is there a better way?


There is. Don’t make bad decisions in 2020 that will follow you for the next decade. Don’t sign the contract.

What Types of Traffic are Better?

I’ve been spending some time on Google Analytics. I’ve been looking at which of our pages are doing well, which are at the tail-end of their trend, and which are leading conversions. 

There are some obvious leaders in the conversions department, mainly our homepage and our Law Firm Advertising page, both of which we heavily advertise. They are also pages that tend to get pretty consistent organic traffic. What I was interested in was how their organic traffic related to their paid traffic in terms of conversions.


Referral Traffic

The page we’re looking at had a total of 3,243 sessions in the selected time period. Most of that traffic came from referrals, but referrals drove the smallest percentage of sessions to conversions of the metrics being investigated (referral traffic, organic traffic, and paid traffic).  Despite its 2,160 sessions, referrals only led to 6 leads: a measly 0.28% conversion rate. 


This seems to be reflective of the site as a whole, as organic traffic drives the highest percentage of sessions. Referrals hold a close second, showing their traffic-driving power, but they also convert the fewest number of users. With a 0.57% conversion-rate sitewide, referrals should probably be thought of more as visibility-assets than business-drivers. 


Paid Traffic

For this page, the second largest traffic driver was paid advertising. Paid traffic drove a total of 10 leads on that page, leading to a 4.61% conversion rate. Despite being about a tenth of referrals traffic-wise, paid traffic had a conversion rate that was over 16 times that of referred traffic. This is a good example of quality traffic over general traffic. 


Organic Traffic

Finally, organic traffic for the page was third as far as numbers of sessions but was second as far as conversions. As previously mentioned, organic traffic drove the highest percentage of sessions site-wide. What wasn’t previously mentioned was that organic traffic has the third-highest percentage (0.83%) of online conversions. Above it were paid CPC (4.22% conversion rate) and direct traffic (0.84% conversion rate). 


The Takeaways

The point of this research was to see the value in different types of traffic; a holistic approach to understanding Google Analytics. A quick glance at a number of Google Analytics accounts will show that while each website has its own quirks, organic and referral traffic are often high in the ranks as far as numbers of sessions, but referrals are often outpaced by paid and organic traffic when it comes to conversions. 


But conversions aren’t everything. Holistic, remember? Direct traffic also often ranks high for conversions, which implies that the clients who went directly to the site knew what they wanted and had already made their decision to convert. They probably made that decision during a prior search, which is why we shouldn’t discount referral traffic or any traffic that doesn’t seem to be driving leads quite yet. The one exception I’ll concede to is paid traffic. If your paid traffic isn’t resulting in leads you have a problem.


If you want to know more about what your law firm’s website’s traffic means, contact Mockingbird.

Low on Funds? Don’t Get a Custom Site

Custom-built websites are beautiful. They can be technological cathedrals of web-design and intricacy. And, sometimes, they are wholly unnecessary. Many firms don’t need a complicated site, just a functional one that the lawyers understand and the clients can navigate. 


This is where websites from templates come in. A well-designed template is fast to set up, cheap to launch, and easy to manage. 


We’ve all seen bad lawyer-websites. They aren’t intuitive, have outdated designs, and don’t function very well. Maybe you own one of those websites. It’s understandable; being a lawyer is busy work and you probably don’t have time to manage a website, especially not a complicated new website. Unfortunately, a bad website can scare away potential clients. If it’s especially outdated it might not even show up in searches. 


A well-designed website template is easy to update, add to, and navigate. 


This is why law firms should have the option not to pay for a brand-new custom website, especially since it’s a luxury that not every firm can or wants to afford. Any service that says a fully custom website is a necessity is a scam.


So what firms generally benefit from template-built websites?


Firms that generally benefit from template-built websites are those looking to save money. This might include immigration lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, and solo firms.

If you are interested in building your website from a template, contact Mockingbird. Our Echo websites are fast, easy, cost-effective, and beautiful.

The 3 Best Resources for Beginner Website Owners

Running a website for a business is complicated and sometimes frustrating, and when you add advertising on top of general up-keep it gets even more complicated. When an issue arises, you might not even notice until you check back through your ad results. There might be a sudden, unexplained drop in conversions or interactions, and you’ll be left wondering if the problem is with your website or the ad platform.


Lucky for you, there are plenty of good resources to help you figure out if the problem is on you or Google:


1. Google Webmaster Central Blog

From the horse’s mouth itself, Google’s webmaster blog is one of the best places to hear about news and updates that could impact your website. You’ll learn about new features available through Google Analytics and Search Console and how to access them.


2. Search Engine Journal

SEJ publishes multiple blog posts every day from various experts in the field of digital marketing. Even if you aren’t a digital marketer, many of the posts are useful in providing tips and tricks of the trade. If you think an update is screwing with your data, just glance at SEJ. If there was an update, they’ll be the first to know.


3. Google Webmasters Help Community

Any question you have has probably been asked before, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask it again. The Help community is made up of seasoned webmasters, experts, and Google employees. You can learn from other people’s misunderstandings and get answers for yourself.


Of course, there are hundreds of other resources you can use. Knowledge and helpful guides saturate the internet. Go out and learn! Find your own path! Running a business is hard, but it’s always an opportunity for personal growth.

If running a website and a law firm is more of a time commitment than you can make, we get it. Leave the website to us. Mockingbird runs websites and advertising for law firms and knows how to keep up with the constant changes. Contact us to learn more.