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.

Avvo Sells….

I joined Avvo back in 2006, when it was just the flea of an idea.  Today Avvo announced they’ve been sold to Internet Brands for an undisclosed 🙂  amount.  Congrats to Mark, Sendi, Sachin, Josh and the rest of the team who made this happen and many thanks – especially to Mark for kicking off my career in Legal SEO over a decade ago.

Avvo Logo

Google moving (some) organic results above the map?

This is the second time I’ve seen this and thought it noteworthy.  For a long time now, we’ve had ads, then Local, then organic (sadly banished to the bottom) of SERPs.  This has heavily driven a push towards local (and the proliferation of spam in local, but I digress) and my personal love, organic SEO has suffered.  Interestingly, we’re now occasionally seeing a smattering of organic showing above the map.  Below is a query for divorce lawyer – note the Avvo listing sitting squarely between the ads and the Snack Pack.

I checked in with local search nerd, Joy Hawkins who said she’s seen it occasionally as well, but didn’t have a good understand of what or why they were triggering. My personal (and thin, anecdotal, unverified and otherwise speculative) perspective is that Google is pushing more subjective “quality” elements into search results.  Note Avvo – which ranks lawyers by quality of their background includes the word “Best” in their title tag.  We’ve also seen quality elements coming up law firms being displaying in Featured Snippets – I wrote about this for Law Technology Today a few weeks ago: Significant Changes to the Search Engine Results Pages.

Or perhaps its just another test that will come and go…..

A *strong* Case for Avvo Pro

Avvo has done really well with email marketing – and they are very good at using email to drive business to their advertisers.  And I just received a great email from Avvo that reinforces that point oh so very visually:

 

So – Heidi’s direct contact information shows up not only directly in Avvo’s search results pages, but also in their follow-up emails.  Would this tip the scales in favor of contacting Heidi over Stephen?  Not sure…. but if I was reading this on my phone, and speaking with an attorney was just a click away.  At $50, if you have reasonable volume of views on Avvo, that may be some $ well spent.

Full Disclosure here:  I still hold a bundle of early stage Avvo stock.

Legal Connect with Google Workshop – Two October Events

We’re happy to announce not one, but two Legal Connect with Google events for October.

This is a free, day-long, hands-on Workshop specifically designed to assist lawyers in evaluating their online marketing effectiveness.  Classes are focused on local, natural and paid search and are taught by Google employees and Mockingbird founder, Conrad Saam.

So if you wanted to attend the pilot event this week at Google HQ in Mountainview, but were unable to, there’s now a second and third chance.

Victoria Fabiano, Google Strategic Partner Manager
Victoria Fabiano, Google Strategic Partner Manager

Dates and Venues

October 7 and 8 in New Orleans.   Details and Sign Up

October 17th in Google’s New York City Office.  Details and Sign Up

Workshop Description

During this intensive Workshop, experts from Google and Mockingbird guide attendees through a 12 page worksheet to evaluate the efficacy of their current online marketing efforts, with an eye towards identifying specific weaknesses or missed tactics. This is NOT a conference with talking heads delivering thinly veiled sales pitches from sponsored powerpoints, but instead a hands-on, interactive education, empowering attendees with actionable tools & tactics.

This is a HANDS ON workshop, you will need a laptop and access to your Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and AdWords accounts, as well as your firm’s website CMS.

Elizabeth Olinger, Google Account Manager
Elizabeth Olinger, Google Account Manager

The Agenda

  • 8:30am-9:00am | Registration & Continental Breakfast
  • 9:00am-9:15am | Kick off & Welcome
  • 9:15am-10:00am | The Online Legal Marketplace
  • 10:00am-11:00am | Google Analytics & Business Metrics
  • 11:00am-11:15am | Break
  • 11:15am-12:15pm | Search – Organic
  • 12:15pm-1:15pm | Networking Lunch
  • 1:15pm-2:15pm | Search Local + Advanced Linkbuilding
  • 2:15pm-3:15pm | Search Paid

 

Best Free Legal Directories: 2016

There are thousands of legal directories out on the web and more popping up each day. Some are awesome and some are atrocious. In this post we’ll focus on what Mockingbird has deemed as the best free legal directories from 2015.  Why best?  Because they deliver … clients, or search authority that delivers clients.  But mostly… clients.

First, let’s review 4 compelling reasons every lawyer should be actively creating listings on these sites.

  1. Clients – As with any marketing effort, your end goal is to gain more clients at a lower cost. It doesn’t get easier or more cost-efficient than acquiring a new client through a free listing on a third party website.
  2. Citations – When Google sees citations for your business showing up consistently across the web (same name, address, and phone number), the more inclined Google will be to serve up your business in localized search results.
  3. Links – It’s all about the links baby! Linkbuilding is one of the most daunting tasks we face as SEOs. Directory listings are the lowest hanging fruit in terms of legitimate linkbuilding. (Be careful though, low quality links can do my harm than good.)
  4. Directory sites dominate – More often than not, legal directories command much of the real estate in SERPs (search engine results pages). The screenshot below shows results for the search query “Nashville Divorce Lawyer” – notice how 4 of the 7 results show are for directory sites rather than individual firms? If you don’t have a listing on the sites that are consistently dominating search results, then you are missing out on a lot of eyeballs and potential clients.  We’ve been saying for years that this is going to change… and we’ve been wrong year after year. So play the directory game, because they are already winning.

Nashville Lawyer Search Query

Best Free Legal Directories – Ranked by Mockingbird

Below are Mockingbird’s favorite free sites ranked by our (incredibly official) Birdie Rating that accounts for things like: ease of use, whether or not the link is followed, competitiveness, and search presence.

Avvo

Birdie Rating 5
Link: No follow
Why we like it: Industry leader; attorney endorsements; continually does well in the search results.  Unfortunately Avvo’s removed the follow link on your profile a few years ago; but you can still drive business with a robust profile and/or aggressive engagement in their Q&A section. (Oh – and Conrad used to run their marketing back in the day when it was just the speck of an idea.)

Justia

Birdie Rating 5
Link: Followed
Why we like it: ROT (return on time) is maximized – along with a link from Justia, you also get a listing in the Oyez directory and in Cornell directory.  We also love their founder, Tim Stanley, who is mad-scientist-smart about all things legal marketing and the original founder of ehmmmm… FindLaw.

Lawyer Legion

Birdie Rating 4
Link: Followed
Why we like it: Ties to NORML and NCDD so it’s especially great for DUI lawyers

Lawdeeda

Birdie Rating 4
Link: Followed
Why we like it: Strong link; non-competitive; we love the founder Brint Crockett who has done more than his share to expose legal marketing chicanery.

 

Lawyer Central

Birdie Rating 3
Link: No followed
Why we like it: User friendly

Findlaw

Birdie Rating 2
Link: Followed
Why we like it: High authority site offering a strong link (listing bonus includes free calls from commission-driven sales people in perpetuity)

Martindale Hubbell

Birdie Rating 2
Link: No link – citation only
Why we like it: Uses birth date as safeguard against manipulation and spammy tactics; strong domain that consistently performs well in legal search queries

Popular Membership-Based Legal Directories

Listed below are niche practice area sites that require paid memberships and/or an application for acceptance into the directory. 

Bankruptcy:
nacba.org

Consumer Advocates:
naca.net

Criminal/DUI:
ncdd.com
aapda.org
norml.org
nacdl.org

Elder Law:
nelf.org
naela.org

Employment:
nela.org

Family Law:
nacchildlaw.org
aaml.org

General:
nlg.org
bestlawyers.com
superlawyers.com

Immigration:
aila.org

Mediation:
attorney-mediators.org

Trial:
thenationaltriallawyers.org
nlg-npap.org

Trust & Estate:
actec.org
naepc.org

Looking Ahead

It’s a new year; do yourself a favor and take a few hours out of your weekend to create listings in the above directories.

If you would like to see the slide deck from Mockingbird’s webinar, view the recording, or just say hi, please feel free to email me directly.

Google Erroneously Labelling Lawyers with Professional Misconduct

Google’s Answer Box is a simple function that provides answers to basic questions directly in the search results. For example, “what time is it in London” or “how many square miles in an acre?”  The goal is to utilize content from extremely trusted websites to answer simple user questions without requiring a click through.

Answer Box results haven’t shown up heavily in legal.  Although that might have just changed – specifically for lawyer name searches.  Google is now pulling data directly from Avvo profiles for name search information – pulling Titles and work history directly into the search results on a simple name search.  This also includes a click through to the Avvo website – which could provide Avvo with a huge traffic jump.

Legal Answer Box

But note the horrible implementation – the title of the Answer Box is “Professional Misconduct” (not say…. the lawyer’s name).  At first blush (don’t make me think) it looks like poor Martha has been sanctioned in all of her jobs, going back to 1984.  (If you actually click through to the result, you’ll find that the Martha Patterson listed does NOT have any professional misconduct history.)  So – great idea, but horrendous implementation from Google.  This is a particularly tricky match – there are probably hundreds of Martha Pattersons in the US – and seven Martha Patterson profiles in the Avvo directory.

Now its highly possible that Google is just testing this among professional service providers (and the bad user experience above suggests that is the case) and is going to ratchet it back; although my instinct tells me your are going to get more and more information about individuals directly in the search box.

Introducing the Echo Legal Marketing Platform

Echo is our amazing new marketing platform. We take the tools that we use every day as an agency for our clients who are paying us $5,000-10,000 a month and we bring them into your law firm. We use video tutorials to provide step by step instructions on how to use them.

  • Analytics. How do we use Google Analytics? What do you need to keep an eye on and what metrics matter? How do we use tools like Moz Local and Yext to bolster our local performance?
  • Review Management. How do we make sure that when we’re reviewed on Yelp, Avvo or Findlaw that we get an email that day telling us about that review?
  • Call Tracking. How do we implement call tracking? What is call tracking and how does it work, and what can it tell you?
  • WordPress. We use WordPress websites to power our legal-centric and responsive designs hosting on the amazing WPEngine.
  • How do you use Google Webmaster Tools to track the real performance of your site at the keyword level, instead of relying on ranking reports?

All of this is wrapped around business reporting infrastructure with a final goal of helping you calculate exactly how your marketing investment is performing.

Marketing Tools: $300/month
Legal Centric WordPress site: $300/month
(or both for $500)Learn more at echo.mockingbird.marketing or sign up for our Webinar where we’ll tour all of this awesome functionality.

Online Reputation Management: How to do Reviews

Reputation management is yet another candidate in a long list of considerations you need to take into account when managing your online presence. In addition to proactively keeping your citations correct, building links, posting fresh content, structuring your site, and on and on, it can be tiring to know there’s one more thing that threatens to undermine your hard work and past successes. But anyone who tells you marketing is easy is a liar. There’s a reason this is our job.

 

What is reputation management? Why is it important?

The concept of reputation management is as simple as it sounds. If you want to be found (and subsequently hired), you need to put your information out on the internet. Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factor survey listed review signals as having 10% of total influence on search rankings. In addition, online reviews are trusted more than ads in almost every medium, and 35% of clients say they use online reviews to research new attorneys (thanks to the legal technology team at Software Advice for going out of their way to provide the raw info from that study). Having profile pages on sites like Avvo, Yelp, Google+, etc., makes you more likely to be found when someone searches for your practice. But getting clients isn’t just about whether your online presence is big or small, it’s also about whether that presence is good or bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re the top of the local pack for “personal injury lawyer New York” – if you show a 1-star average from 10 reviews, people will skip over you and go to the next attorney in line.

Managing your reputation means getting high-quality reviews from clients across multiple platforms, making sure those ratings are glowing and natural (no spam!), and dealing with bad reviews as they occur. It also means ranking well for search results directly related to your business, so that your results stand above any bad PR pieces that show up in the SERPs. But that’s a lot of moving pieces, so this post is just going to focus on one of the most obvious parts: getting good reviews. Let’s look into what you can do to have a great online reputation.

 

Getting clients to review you

The most important step towards getting good reviews is providing excellent service. You will find it very hard to get praise if you don’t deserve it. But once you’ve jumped over that minor hurdle, the next the best catalyst for reviews is asking. If you don’t ask for reviews, the only people who will give you any are the ones who seek out opportunities to do so. This usually lends to you looking worse online than in real life because angry clients are far more likely to go out of their way to review than happy ones.

At Mockingbird, we find that the best way to ask for reviews is in person after the case is over, then letting clients fill out the review in their own time afterwards. Strike up a conversation when the client comes by to fill out paperwork or make a payment, and tell them how much a review means to your business. Getting a verbal agreement from your client is one of the most effective means of guaranteeing they will review you afterwards. Look them in the eye, and gain their approval with a handshake. After that meeting, make the process is easy as possible by following up with an email linking them to your relevant profile(s) – except for Yelp, more on that in a bit. Another benefit of asking for reviews individually is that you can pick and choose who you want to represent you online. If you won a case but you don’t think the client will be receptive, consider not reaching out for a review.

Some people just don’t have the time to watch all their review sites and check in with each individual client, so they turn to automated review management tools like GetFiveStars or other automatic review solicitors. The usual trick with these is to send an initial email asking for feedback. If the reviewer gives a low score, they are thanked for their opinion and nothing else is done. If the review gives a high score, they are instead prompted to voice their opinions on one of several sites. We’ve tried this before, but our conversion rates were almost non-existent. The major problem is that this tactic is used for business with large client volumes, like restaurants or hair salons. Law firms and attorneys don’t deal with nearly as many clients, so you end up with a pretty bad return on investment. If you’re still interested in watching for reviews, consider a tracking software like ReviewTrackers so you don’t have to constantly visit your Justia and Avvo profiles.

 

Optimizing your impact

The strength of reviews is dependent on a lot of factors beyond your average ranking. Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors survey emphasizes the following:

  • Quantity of reviews
  • Authority of sites hosting those reviews
  • Diversity of sites hosting those reviews
  • Freshness of reviews, and the rate those reviews were added
  • Whether your rating shows up next to your search result (need 5 or more Google+ reviews)

The first on that list is quantity, which has become more important over the past year. Only about 8% of potential customers consider a business trustworthy if there is 1 review. For 85% of potential clients to consider you trustworthy, it’s good to have at least 10 reviews. Now these should be quality reviews so you can’t expect this to be done in a few days or even a few months. Like everything in SEO, good reputation management takes time.

In addition, you should be aware of what sites your reviews show up on, because there are a lot of options. A surprisingly large amount of users go through Yelp, along with Super Lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell, and Avvo. You can get reviews on Google+, Avvo, Justia, Yelp, and other directories, but ask your clients where they found your business so you what to focus on.

Yelp is a unique beast in that they don’t want you to ask your clients for reviews, something we’ve discussed in one of our LMQ videos. However, Yelp’s suggested ways to “remind customers”, such as profile links in your e-mail signature or stickers on your business door, aren’t effective for attorneys (and can be very tacky). We firmly believe that you should still proactively ask your clients for reviews, but avoid invoking Yelp’s ire by not explicitly stating where to go. A softer approach is more appropriate: “We really appreciate reviews because it helps our web presence, several places you can go are: [your top 3 targeted directories]”. In a follow-up email, don’t send them a direct link to your Yelp page, but ask them to search for your name.

Important Note: Even though you won’t be regarded as trustworthy if you have no reviews, potential clients will find you even less trustworthy if you have mostly bad reviews. Do not ask for a review unless you’re confident it will be a positive one.

 

The evils of astroturfing

It’s common to want an easy way out of this problem. Despite your best efforts, clients may not be likely to review you and not every review will be a raving 5 stars. At these times it may be tempting to look for another way to get your ratings up. But fight the urge. In addition to be less than fair to potential clients, it’s also dangerous for you.

Yelp is big on keeping reviews legitimate. They’ve sued attorneys for faking reviews before (we blogged about that incident), and they go over reviews to make sure nothing looks spammy or forced. Avvo will investigate reviews by hand multiple times, even to the point of asking reviewers to provide evidence that they worked with given attorneys. Remember that these sites make their livelihood off of consumers’ trust, so they are just as willing to crack down on scummy review practices as potential clients are. Even state governments have taken action against fake reviewing companies.

There are other tactics out there from attorneys and firms trying to slip under the radar. But this is the same story with so much of SEO – people try to game the system, and sometimes succeed for a short time, then get smacked once the system improves. Remember that if you want a good reputation, the best thing you can do is provide excellent service. Once people are willing to talk about how great you are, just nudge them in the right direction.

 

We’d love to hear your feedback in the field of review management. Have you used review management software? What do you think is the best way to get reviews? What do you think of Yelp’s opinion on review solicitation? Let us know in the comments.

You can find the sequel to this post here: Dealing With Bad reviews