Google Rolls Out Huge Changes to Search Results

Expect your PPC campaigns (and therefore probably your SEO traffic) to go a little haywire this week.  Google has abruptly rolled out a very large change to the search engine results page (SERP) interface…. removing all ads (and apparently everything) from the right rail – see Siberia below.

Siberia

Here’s What We Know

  • The changes impact desktop searches only.
  • There are now four ads above natural search results and three below.
  • The changes only impact “commercial” queries – presumably most of the more transactional legal terms, but probably less so for queries researching a particular issue (see example below).
  • The change is permanent (for now).

BAC

What it Means (I think)

  • Clearly pushing more ads above natural search is going to shift traffic from organic to paid…. SEO players lose, PPC players gain (and so does Google.)
  • In the already overpriced legal PPC market, there’s even more competition for just 4 prime spots (remember, SERPs used to have up to 11 ads, including most legal queries) which is going to drive up already irrational (read: unprofitable) PPC bidding among lawyers.
  • (Smart) lawyers will look to diversify their paid marketing channels – driving up bids in Bing.  (For more on the economics of this see my 2013 post – Google Adwords Costs 150% More than Bing Ads.)
  • Local now becomes even more important for lawyers (and remember, it was just August when the number of local results constricted down to the three firm “snack pack”.

 

In summary, there are fewer ads total; however, they take up more of the prime real estate – which impacts both natural and paid results.

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.

How We Replaced PPC with SEO and Saved $30,000

These are the results I love to share.  Back towards the beginning of the year, I spoke with someone who was concerned about  high PPC budget – she was spending roughly $2,500 monthly on Adwords and weren’t sure if the spend was paying off. In looking at the site’s performance it became clear that the client had most of her eggs in a poorly structured, untargeted PPC basket AND the site seemed to be grossly underperforming in SEO.

Over the past 6 months, we’ve turned her traffic upside down . . . . resulting in PPC savings of roughly $30,000.  While traffic is down about 15%, we’ve replaced the PPC spend with (free) SEO traffic and restructured an unprofitable advertising spend.  Here’s how:

replacing PPC

Step 1: Assess PPC ROI

We did a thorough business review of her PPC campaign – to assess just how much business the spend generated and calculated what her cost per client was for this channel.  (It was really bad.)  Armed with 8 weeks of eye opening data, we drastically cut the Adwords budget and launched a (small) Bing campaign at the same time . . . with CPC’s roughly 90% lower than her original bids. Take note: PPC is never the only answer.  If you look really carefully, you’ll see that we never entirely did away with PPC – its still bumping along, delivering a small trickle of traffic from both Adwords and BingAds – – – generating business at a very low cost per client (read: extremely high ROI).

Step 2:  Fix SEO Problems

Once we dug in, we found the client’s site had some major SEO problems and while they took some time to fix – roughly 3 months – the changes resulted in a 400% increase in her natural search traffic – essentially replacing the traffic drop from cutting the PPC budget.  Interestingly, even if the SEO hadn’t been borked we still would have killed the PPC campaign as it was literally costing her more than she was making from the clients.

Step 3:  Slowly Dial Advertising Back Up

Moving forward – now that we have solid business tracking (so we can ID cost per client by each marketing channel) we’ll slowly dial her PPC campaign up so her margins reflect her business objective:  ie. cost per client makes business sense.  We can also explore additional advertising venues and measure them on their ability to hit these cost per client benchmarks.

 

The net result?  The client is now bringing in roughly three times the business with the same marketing spend.  AND she could cut off her SEO spend and unlike and advertising spend, the traffic would continue.

Google Adwords Costs 150% More than Bing Ads

Back in July I wrote a post called You are Foolish if you run Google Adwords but not Bing Ads that outlined the economic theory explaining how Bing Ads return a higher ROI although lower volume than Google Adwords.

I’ve been running PPC campaigns on both platforms for Atticus’ clients and have confirmed the theory.  Interestingly, depending on the market forces, Bing is dramatically more effective at delivering not only more cost effective traffic, but more traffic overall.  What follows is comparative data for Adwords and Bing Ads for one client in a particularly interesting market.  While this is an extreme example, consider it an example of Bing delivering vastly better ROI.

This is a fairly simple campaign – with four different Ad Groups representing four different practice areas.  I copied the campaigns verbatim from Adwords into Bing (thanks for the nifty import tool Microsoft).  The only difference is in geotargeting, which I had to manually adjust for the Bing campaign, as they offer much less granularity (read: worse) than Adwords.  So this is NOT a pure apples to apples comparison as the Bing geo is admittedly larger, but as close as I could make it.

 

Bing Ads vs. Adwords Click Volume
Bing Ads vs. Adwords Click Volume

Now the volume difference was a surprise – and perhaps partially explained away by the larger geo area covered by Bing Ads, although I suspect there are  competitive forces at play there as well that are driving the performance.  The real kicker is the cost per click for Adwords running 150% higher than that for Bing Ads.  And this is the figure that drives ROI.

Adwords traffic costs 2.5x Bing Ads for Identical Campaigns
Adwords traffic costs 2.5x Bing Ads for Identical Campaigns

 

 

So let me say it again:  You are foolish if you run Google Adwords, but not Bing Ads.

SEO Regicide: Content the King is Dead

Content content content.

“You need more content.”

 “You need to rewrite news articles every day!”

“You need to blog more.”

“Publish or perish.”

“Google launched Hummingbird – you need to write FAQs!”

Psssssst . . . . lawyers . . .  all of the SEO experts are telling you (and all of your competitors) the same thing.  And like compliant lemmings, you are all doing the same thing.

Psssssst . . .  It doesn’t work anymore.

The Rise and Fall of the Content Dynasty

The genesis for the focus on content began about 5 years ago.  Changes in consumer search behavior gradually took effect – whereby users began looking for increasingly specific answers with increasingly granular content pages.  The “long tail” of search became the industry’s hottest new buzzword.  SEO experts, ninjas, and mavens started churning out pages with very subtle differences –  “Best Seattle underage DUI Attorney”, “Top 10 Settle teen DUI Attorneys” “Great Seattle Drunk Driving Lawyers for drivers under 21” ad nauseam.  The industry adopted the boorish practice of rewriting news stories and vomiting them back onto blogs that quickly became poorly written rehasings of yesterday’s news.

And for a while it worked (at least in generating traffic for the SEO consultants to return triumphantly with “success metrics” for their misguided clients – the fact that the phone never rang didn’t seem to matter – but I digress, that is a topic for another post.)  The legal industry became publishing sweatshops – with individual firms churning out hundreds, even thousands of articles a month.

Eventually, the search engines, as they always do, caught up with the SEO spammers.  Penguins and Pandas and most recently, Hummingbirds were let lose on the algorithms.  Content, the King, was under attack.

Content is Dead

The Succession of the King:  Quality Content

The search engine talking heads defended their King – retreating back to the ever-popular refrain – “write quality content and we will reward you with a bounty of traffic.”

So the SEO experts and mavens and ninjas did as they were told . . . infographics and guest blogging were born. Top 10 Lists proliferated like bunnies on a steady diet of Viagra. In time, most legally focused news stories was dissected and built into beautiful graphical statistical displays.  Guest blog brokers were born.  Just like with King Content, the disciples of his son, Quality Content initially did very well.  But as others caught up, they became increasingly less effective. Because everyone was doing it.

So the search engines sent warnings about guest blogging.  The cycle repeated itself again.

Quality Content is NOT Enough

This death of King Content and his prince son, Quality hit me square in the face a few weeks ago at Webcam –  a small but amazing conference in Bend Oregon.  Marshall Simmonds, who used to be the in-house SEO for the New York Times  (arguably one of the most high quality original content publishers) heralded the end of a dynasty:  Content is no longer King.

Eu Tu Simmonds?

And he’s right. We are now at a point in the evolution of the web where generating quality content is no longer sufficient for success. There’s frankly just too much of it.  The trick, the real hard part of marketing, today’s unscaleable solution and the successor of the crown is marketing content.  And by “marketing content” – I don’t mean “content marketing” – the aforementioned practice of vomiting out hoards of webpages.  I literally mean undertaking marketing efforts to promote your quality content.  This can take the shape of many different channels – social media, networking, the dubiously named “author rank” or even the marketing pariah of the SEO world – Public Relations.  Marshall’s pronouncement was utterly confirmed for me when I looked at the referring traffic for some legal sites and found that Press Release providers (PRWeb etc.) frequently showed up as the #1 referring site. For years, I have mocked the press release tactic as a dying relic of yesteryear  – but I’ve been wrong – because now, the genuine distribution of content is what makes the magic happen.

The reality is that the Quality Content mantra assumed that when you have quality content, links are going to happen.  This is no longer universally true – especially in hypercroweded content landscapes like legal.  To be successful, you must embrace proactively marketing that very good, high quality content.

Content is dead, long live Content.

Does My Site Look Fat in this WordPress?

If your site runs on WordPress, it is highly possible – even likely – that your site needs a diet.  WordPress makes it mind-numbingly easy to create lots of different pages by recycling your content, or snippets of your content, into various related pages.  This has been grossly exacerbated by uninformed SEO consultants  pushing their clients to aggressively “tag” blog posts.

Tagging

WordPress Often Generates Too Many Pages

First, understand that search engines don’t necessarily review all of the pages on a site, but instead use the site’s authority (from links etc.) to determine just how many pages they will both crawl (find) and index (add to the consideration set for search results).  Therefore, sites with low authority and lots of pages may find that most of their pages receive zero traffic and aren’t ever seen by search engines.

Let’s use Atticus Marketing as an example to showcase why all of these extra pages are problematic.  Yesterday, I published a great post on the differences between three mainstream CMS systems. Not only have the search engines failed to send any traffic to my lovely content, they haven’t even indexed or even crawled it at all!  They don’t know it exists. This despite the fact that I’m doing all of the social media marketing: posts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, Tweets and Retweets.

Here’s why:  Atticus is a very young site, with just 34 different sites linking to it AND I’ve built out lots of extra pages through WordPress’s Categories and Tagging functionality. Every time you create a category or a tag, WordPress generates a page to organize content with that category or tag.  These pages are optimized for the category/tag.  This functionality has the capacity to generate lots of pages with content that already has a home on your site – duplicate content that search engines eschew. (Note that tags are worse because the interface is very freeform, encouraging writers to generate multiple versions of similar tags).  You can see how this gets out of control:  on AtticusMarketing.com I have a paltry 10 pages and 25 blog posts – yet Google indexes 186 different pages for the site.  The reality is, the vast majority of these pages just contain content that exists elsewhere on the site.

The reason the search engines haven’t deigned to even look at my lovely new content is because my site’s authority and multiple duplicate content pages combine to convince them that much of my content just isn’t worth their time.

Tagging and SPAM

Look at this from a search engine perspective, to understand why a combination of page volume and site authority determines how many pages are reviewed.  Let’s review a more extreme example, from the Carter Law Firm, where a site utilizes WordPress tagging functionality to generate a litany of spammy pages.

The blog is well written, has some beautiful imagery, appropriately utilizes external and internal links and embraces edgy topics including Topless Day and revenge porn.  Unfortunately at the end of every single post is a long list of entries for both “Filed Under” i.e. categories and “Tagged With” i.e. tags.  Here’s the entry for the post on “Ask the Hard Questions Before Starting a Business”:

tag spam

This one piece of (very good) content is now going to be replicated on 15 different pages across her domain – most of which will have nothing but a verbatim copy of this content.  And many of these pages are “optimized” (I use the term very loosely here – but optimized with on-page elements like Title Tags, H1s, URL etc.) for very similar content:

  • “How to start a business” vs. “How to start LLC” vs. “start LLC”.
  • “Arizona business attorney” vs. “Arizona small business attorney” vs. “Phoenix business attorney” vs. “Phoenix small business attorney”.
  • “Business operating agreement” vs. “Limited Liability Company operating agreement” vs. “Operating agreement for LLC” vs. “what is an operating agreement”.

This is a content spam tactic intended to capture variants of long tail search queries.  In reality, search engines figured this out years ago and the site owner is doing nothing other than artificially inflating her page count – most likely to the detriment of her search performance.

How to Avoid These Problems

Personally, I enjoy the tag clouds that are generated by tagging my posts and there is definitely a user benefit of being able to see articles grouped along common threads.  To use tags and avoid an inflated page count, simply Noindex your Tags. (Be careful about noindexing your categories, to make sure your URL structure for your posts doesn’t include the category folder.)   The Yoast SEO plug in has simple check boxes for this, as does the All-In-One SEO pack (below):

Tag Spam 2

However, when implemented carefully, tags can be effective in generating inbound search traffic, but follow these best practices:

  • Limit your site to 5-8 general, broad categories.
  • Tags should have multiple posts of a similar topic associated with them.
  • Tags should be genuinely different, not replicated spamming for verbal nuance i.e. Not: “divorce laws” and “divorce law”.
  • The posts should be displayed as snippets (not the entire article).
  • The tag page should contain its own unique content – you can do this with the SEO Ultimate plugin.

If all of this sounds overly technical and confusing, buy a WordPress book or invest some time with someone experienced in both SEO and WordPress – leaving the tagging to the graffiti artists .

 

LawyerEdge Website Underperforming? A Cautionary Tale of Duplicate Content

Having trouble figuring out why your website isn’t getting more traffic?  Its possible the content on your site has simply been cut and pasted from another site – rending your SEO impotent.

Law Firm Website Almost Invisible

Initially, I couldn’t figure out why the law firm’s site was performing so badly – the technology was fine, the content seemed fairly well written and there was a reasonable link profile.  Despite this, the site was averaging less than 2 visitors a day from unbranded natural search –  and very few of those visitors were landing on the practice area pages.  Digging deeper, I found that the actual content on the practice area pages was cut and pasted across other LawyerEdge clients.

In the example below – we can see that Google has identified 58 other pages with the exact same content as this law firm’s page for pedestrian knock down accidents.

Duplicate content

When I looked across the website’s landing pages, I found that almost all of them had content that was duplicated across the web.  In the graph below, the vertical axis shows the number of pages found on the web containing the exact same content as the law firm’s topic pages.

Duplicate content on legal websites

Of the 40 pages I reviewed, just 13 had unique content.

Understanding Duplicate Content

Search engines hate duplicate content because it can generate a really bad user experience.  Here’s why:  Using the above example, imagine I do a Google search for “determining who is negligent in Pedestrian cases”.  The first result I click to doesn’t give me what I’m looking for, so I click back to the search engine and try the second result . . . . which leads me to the exact same content on another site.  Now I’m annoyed and instead of clicking back, I load up Bing to try to find something different.

The search engines minimize this poor user experience by identifying duplicate content across different pages and trying to identify the original version of the content (search geeks refer to this as the canonical).   Google and bing hide the other pages away from searchers in what is called “supplemental results” – which is of course, where I eventually found the law firm’s pages.  Supplemental results are shown here:

Supplemental Results

This is compounded when a large portion of a site’s content looks to be simply copied and pasted from other sites across the web.  Search engines reasonably deduce that the overall site is of pretty low quality wrt to unique, interesting content.  Google’s algorithm updated to try to identify (and weed out) these sites with the Panda update.  From the Google blog:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”

Note that Panda is a site-wide penalty – which means that duplicate content on many pages will impact performance of the entire site – even those deliciously well written unique and insightful pages.  The bar graph above, which shows the majority of the law firm’s pages having duplicate content indicates they have most likely been hit by the Panda update.

In the pedestrian knockdown practice area example, all of the firms listed below are competing directly with each other with the exact same content:

  • Rochelle McCullough, LLP
  • Inkelaar Law
  • Eshelman Legal Group
  • Joshua D. Earwood
  • Saladino Oakes & Schaaf
  • Levenbaum Trachtenberg
  • Ellis, Ged & Bodden
  • Law Office of Bruce D. Schupp
  • Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen
  • Law Office of Kenneth G. Miller
  • The Law Firm of Kevin A. Moore, P.A.
  • Buchanan & Buchanan
  • S. Perry Penland, JR.
  • Ardoin Law Firm
  • McWard Law Office
  • LeBell Dobroski Morgan Meylink LLP
  • Cox & Associates, P.A.
  • The Gefen Law Firm
  • Echemendia Law Firm PA
  • McKinney Braswell Butler LLC
  • Law Office of Charney & Roberts
  • Johnson & Associates
  • Pistotnik Law Offices
  • Bledsoe Law Office
  • Law Offices of George A. Malliaros
  • Roberts, Miceli & Boileau, LLP
  • William E. Hymes
  • Law Office of Donald P. Edwards
  • Ferderigos & Lambe Attorneys at Law
  • The Law Offices of Fuentes & Berrio, L.L.P.
  • Robert B. French, Jr., P.C.
  • The Law Offices of Peck and Peck
  • Cherry Law Firm, P.C.
  • Dexter & Kilcoyne
  • Philip R. Cockerille
  • Brotman Nusbaum Fox
  • Stephen J. Knox Attorney at Law
  • Littman & Babiarz
  • The Law Offices of Weinstein & Scharf, P.A.
  • Friedman & Friedman
  • The Law Firm of Robert S. Windholz
  • Fahrendorf, Viloria, Oliphant & Oster L.L.P.
  • Conway Law Firm, P.L.L.C.
  • Head Thomas Webb & Willis
  • Charles B. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
  • Pistotnik Law Offices
  • Nordloh Law Office, PLLC
  • The Law Offices of Rosenberg, Kirby, Cahill & Stankowitz
  • Kerner & Kerner
  • McAdory Borg Law Firm P.C.
  • For a funny one – check out this:  The Law Offices of This is Arizona – a template, presumably available for purchase with ghost Attorneys John and Joan Smith.

(To be fair, not all of these firms are LawyerEdge clients – there is a smattering of different agencies.  This does highlight the extent to which content gets cut and pasted around the web by website developers.)

How to Tell if You Have Duplicate Content Issues

The most obvious sign of duplicate content, of course is zero to low inbound search traffic to specific pages.  You can diagnose this in Google Analtyics using the “Landing Pages” tab under content (make sure you filter for ONLY “organic search traffic”).

Another more accurate approach is to take a unique looking, sentence from your page and doing a search for it with quotations around the phrase:

Duplicate Content IV

If your search returns a ton of results . . . its time to start writing.

 

Are You Sending the Wrong Signals to Search Engines?

Looking at the screenshot below, it is very clear to any human that this is a blog post covering Drug Sniffing Dogs and Search Warrants.  Unfortunately, the underlying code does a very poor job of telling computers what the article is about – leading to this page (and all the other pages on this site) performing extremely poorly in search.  Here’s why . . .

At a very high level, search engines scan web page code for indicators to deduce the subject matter of content on a page (reminds me of the old California Achievement Tests in 5th grade.) We’ll review three of the primary indicators:  Title Tags, URL, and Headers (H1s etc.).  Why are these so important?  Content contained within these indicators are intended to describe what the page is about – i.e. if a page is titled “Fuzzy Bunny Slippers” and has a similar heading – it is most likely a page about fuzzy bunny slippers.”

Justice Florida

Key On-Page Elements

Title Tag

The title tag defines the title of the page, shows up at the top of a browser and also is the link that appears in search result pages.  In this case, the page is done correctly.  “Drug-Sniffing Dogs and Search Warrants : West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer Blog”

URL

Unfortunately, when this page was created, the URL ends with “drugsniffing-dogs-and-search-warrants”. The failure to separate “drug” and “sniffing” in the URL optimizes the page for the never searched for word “drugsniffing”.

Heading

Heading tags define the heading of the page.  The primary heading is the H1, with subheadings H2, H3 etc. To a human, the heading of this page is pretty clear “Drug-Sniffing Dogs and Search Warrants”, but when we look into the code, we find that that heading is not identified with an H1 tag:

Justice Florida Code

In fact, the primary heading, H1, tells search engines that this page is about:  “Palm Beach County Criminal & DUI Lawyer : Criminal & DUI Defense Attorney in West Palm Beach & Palm Beach | Criminal Attorney: DUI, Assault & Battery, Felonies”.  What a mouthful – that’s some ugly keyword stuffing and is only very tangentially related to drug sniffing dogs and search warrants.  Note above that the H2 and H3 above contain generic, templated content as well..  Predictably, we find that every single page on this website uses the exact same, keyword stuffed, H1 – sending a strong signal to the search engines that every page on the site is about the exact same subject matter.

Why This All Matters

Not surprisingly, even with an exact search for the page title including the misspelling, the attorney’s content fails to surface.  I’ll bet dinner that his analytics also show zero inbound search traffic to this page.

Justice Florida Results

Why This Happens

Generally, modern website and blogging platforms have most of these technical problems ironed out.  You should never have to get your hands dirty in the code.  But this example highlights the importance of having a modern, up to date platform.  The justiceflorida.com site in this example is built on an outdated version of Movable Type.  The simple obvious solution:  a recent version of WordPress.

How to Diagnose your Own Pages

You know where to look for the URL and the Title Tag – heading tags are a little more hidden, but not too hard to find in the source code.  You can access the source code on a website by using the “view source” function in your web browser (usually under “view” or simply by right clicking on the page).  Then search the page for “H1” and see if you have a unique description of the content of the page.  These tags show up in pairs – so you should only have two H1s (as there should really only be one primary heading for a page); multiple H2s, H3s etc. are fine.

You are Foolish if you run Google Adwords but not Bing Ads

Bing vs. Adwords
Out with Captain Dan.

I went striped bass fishing in Cape Cod last week aboard the Salt Shaker.  Captain Dan, who has been fishing there for about 30 years, has intimate experience with fish, tackle, currents, temperatures and the bay; which means that I’ve pulled in some big stripers each of the last 6 years I’ve been out with him.

It turns out Dan is an experienced, savvy online marketer as well.  On the 45 minute ride back from the fishing area, I asked him about how he markets his one man charter business. What follows is a rough recollection of his comments about PPC advertising.

“I used to spend a lot of money on Google – but that stuff is expensive.”

“A lot of what I paid for were marketers clicking through and trying to sell me stuff – I know that b/c I used a different email.”

“With Bing, I’m paying about a quarter of what I did on Google.”

And he’s right – the economics of pay per click advertising mean that the return on investment for Bing will outperform Google.  Here’s why: In the PPC bidding system price impacts not only who wins, but also how much they win. Simply put – because web searchers tend to click on things higher up on the page, buying your way to the top means you’ll get more clicks.  This means that PPC traffic is one of the few items with negative economies of scale – where the more you buy, the higher the per item costs.  And the more bidders there are in the system, the higher that price goes. This is exacerbated by attorneys who have translated 3 years of get-to-the-top-of-the-class education to ridiculous, irrational PPC bidding wars.

Because Google is the dominant search engine, most small businesses dip their toe in the  PPC waters with Adwords, not Bing Ads. At the risk of stretching the metaphor too far – they are fishing where the fish are.  And this seems to make sense – but because the market is so crowded with all the other small businesses doing the same, the economics don’t pan out as well.  Essentially, while there is more volume of searchers at Google, the crowded marketplace makes each of these searchers more expensive to buy.

So, if you are running Adwords and not Bing Ads, you are flushing money down the toilet. You will get less volume at Bing – but it will cost much less per click – in Captain Dan’s case, about 75% less.  And this is the key to ROI. To make things even easier – Bizible has just launched a free tool that will auto-tag a Bing advertising account with Google Analytics tracking code. Get started.