Google Ads Taking Steps to Combat SPAM in Call Only Campaigns

One of the upsides about being a Google Premier Partner is that we have a direct line to Googlers to whine about terrible behavior on behalf of some advertisers. One of the bugaboos we’ve been whining about is law firm marketing agencies pretending to be law firms and competing with our clients for business. This has been true in local results as well as call only advertisements.

Starting in December (although our notification didn’t mention exactly when in December, but it could be as soon as…tomorrow) Google is updating their Call Only Policy with the following requirements:

  • Service providers will now be required to use their actual business name in call-only ads. Service providers can no longer advertise with a business name that doesn’t represent their specific business or clearly disambiguate from similar businesses
  • When answering calls from users who’ve clicked on their call-only ad, advertisers must begin the call by stating their business name, as it appears in their call-only ads.

Note this not only impacts the spammers but also legit businesses, as you now need to ensure your front desk answers appropriately. (No more, “law offices” as the salutation…which I’ve been trying to get you all to change anyway.)

You can check out the call only ad requirements directly from Google here.

And to all of you lead generation companies masquerading as a law firm…you’re welcome.

New “Follow” Button For Google Maps

Currently rolling out only to those using Google Maps for Android, Google is now giving users the ability to “follow” specific businesses as announced on their blog. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before IOS users start seeing this feature as well.

 

Image from Google

Once a user starts following a business on Google, they start to receive news from that business, like events, offers and other updates. The news, events and updates show up under the “For You” tab within Google Maps.

google maps for you tab example

GMB (Google My Business) Posts Shouldn’t Be Ignored

 

This Google Map update shows that Google is putting more stock into the Google My Business posts and so should your firm.

Prior to this update, users would only find your business’s Google post and Q&A if they actively searched for your business and found the Knowledge Panel or business listing. Now, this information can be actively sent to users that have shown an interest in your services.

We’ll have to see how this unfolds and the implications to your law firm’s marketing strategy as the feature is rolled out.

Interestingly, this update comes at a time when Google+ has been discontinued following a massive data breach and trust in Facebook is at a low.

Google Doesn’t Care About “Fresh” Content (So Says Google)

I’ve been writing about how Google doesn’t care about your “fresh” content for ages now. Mockingbird’s analysis of hundreds of thousands of pages of legal content (and I use the term “content” liberally here) across hundreds of law firm websites have confirmed this.

And yet, the legal marketing industry keeps telling you to publish publish publish in order to make The Google happy. As an industry, it’s super convenient to blame our failings on your lack of feeding the content beast. Or, it’s super convenient to have contracts that promise we’ll vomit out poorly rewritten news articles at a pace of X per week. Tangible, predictable projects to validate a bloated retainer that funds an offshore “writer” at exorbitant margins. One vendor claims as their tagline: “real lawyers have blogs” – as in, you aren’t a lawyer unless you feed The Google a steady diet of (largely unread) blog pages.

Except of course, all of this focus on bloated website pagecount rarely translates to increased traffic, calls or clients. That’s because of the fallacy that the frequency of publishing is a major SEO factor. You may have also heard this referred to as “fresh content.” The reality is, there are some industries (legal being one of them) in which “fresh” content isn’t necessarily better. i.e. It’s very difficult to have fresh content about trucking accidents on a regular basis.

But, like lemmings intent on a final trip to the sea, the legal marketing industry keeps reciting the mantra: “content is king.”  We keep pushing you to sign engagements in which we promise we’ll deliver 4 blog posts a week.  (and if 4 is good, wouldn’t 40 be better? Can I get a 104?) We wax poetic about the long tail and the need for more and more content to catch this elusive tail. We tell you that Google wants your content to be fresh as a baguette at a quaint French cafe at 6am.

Finally, straight from The Google’s mouth, the answer to the question: “Does Google favor fresh content?” in two characters:

Hat tip to Barry Schwartz (who apparently has more time to follow John Mueller, than I do.)

If you feel like diving deeper, feel free to peruse any of the following articles I’ve penned panning our myopic love of content:

SMX: More content, less traffic
SMX: More content, less traffic: Part II
Mockingbird: SEO Regicide, Content the King is Dead
Mockingbird: Another Indicator that your “SEO Content” is Awful
Mockingbird: Your Legal Blog Content isn’t as Good as you Think it is.

Is Google My Business Sending People to your FAX Machine?

Google My Business may be accidentally displaying your fax number as your phone number. I now have three data points from three different firms over the past week in which the fax number is being prominently displayed as the phone number. This is especially damaging for branded queries which typically return the knowledge graph (including the phone / fax number).

Here’s a very real, worst case scenario:

“Harry, you should call Bill Smith, he’s a great lawyer.”

Harry looks up Bill Smith on his laptop, sees the Knowledge Graph, dials Bill and gets the horrendous fax connect audio. Harry makes a split second decision that if Bill can’t figure out his own phone number, then there’s no way Harry is going to put his legal future in Bill’s seemingly incapable hands. Harry, goes back to Google and looks for a new lawyer.

It’s a simple check – run a query for your law firm’s name in Google. Then your name. See what phone number shows up and actually dial the number to verify it’s going through to your front desk. Then check Yelp (yes Yelp), Bing, Avvo, and other directories.

I’m not sure exactly why this is happening – highly possible spiders are running through sites and erroneously identifying fax numbers as phone numbers. Suffice to say – assume it’s broken and verify that your phone number isn’t delivering an annoying beeeeeeeepppppwhiiineclangclang to prospective clients.

Is Google Moving to Kill Retargeting?

This morning, Google announced an updated setting allowing users to turn off retargeting ads (which they euphemistically refer to as “reminder ads”.

“Reminder ads like these can be useful, but if you aren’t shopping for Snow Boot Co.’s boots anymore, then you don’t need a reminder about them,” – Jon Krafcik, Google

Note that in legal, these retargeting ads have been hit or miss – with some practice areas completely verboten due to privacy concerns (although some lucky PI advertisers still have been able to sneak through the Google ad review process. However, other practice areas that have a less personal nature (take business litigation for an extreme example), retargeting is incredibly effective, as the cost is extremely low to reach people who have already expressed an interest by being on a site.

CNN knows that despite living on the west coast, I’m an L.L. Bean fan….

Will this have a big impact? I’d say yes – Google accounts for roughly 90% of the retargeting market. However, it will ultimately be the ease (or difficulty) with which individual users can opt out of specific ads that will dictate the impact this change has on advertisers’ retargeting campaigns.

How to Inadvertently Hide Your Content (And Gut Your Site) with Pop Ups

Got another call from a lawyer whose website, he thought, was underperforming. A quick review of the site shows why….

While the site is visually fine, note that all of his practice areas display as pop ups on the same URL…the individual practice area content doesn’t actually exists at his URL: http://grenierlawgroup.com/practice-areas/. (Note below – the URL for this practice area is stuck at /practice-areas/, as is all their other practice area content.

And you can see that Google can’t find any pages about specific practice areas:

I’ve seen this with attorney profile pages as well. So…when you are DIYing (and you really can) your websites…be sure that all of your content has a page (read: distinct URL) on which to reside.

Questions your AdWords Agency Doesn’t Want you To Ask

Over the years, I’ve written a variety of posts to help law firms separate the SEO wheat from the chaff here here and here. It seems the same level of either gross ineptitude or deliberate opportunism has firmly planted itself in the AdWords world as well.  So I bring you, four very uncomfortable questions you should ask your current or prospective AdWords agency.

  1. Access – Do you have access to your AdWords account?  We provide our clients with Admin level access to their AdWords accounts.  If you don’t even have read access to your account, what is your agency hiding? My perspective is that it is YOUR account, we get to work on it, not the other way around.  Without access, this means that if clients leave their agency – they have to start all over again – this is a great model for the agency, but horrendous for the law firm.
  2. Reporting – Does your AdWords accurately track all types of conversions through sophisticated reporting infrastructure to get granular on conversions – phone, form, chat and even text messaging.  This means you can dial in to the actual keyword, or ad within an A/B test to tell you what’s working.
  3. Payment Transparency – we are crystal clear with what % of our spend goes to Google and what goes to us…. Ask you agency the same question and see just how straightforward they are with your dollars.
  4. Exclusivity – I don’t believe we can effectively (or ethically) advertise on the same Channel (AdWords) for two different clients in the same market at the same time.

And note, I’m not getting all high and mighty suggesting you should only hire a Google Premier Partner.  There are a (sprinkling) of solid AdWords agency’s not in Google’s program, BUT they are few and far between.

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?”

Is Your Brand Synonymous (to Google) with Personal Injury?

Google AdWords broadmatch is very broad. In fact it’s broader than I had thought.

Essentially, AdWords knows that “attorney” means “lawyer” “law firm” and lots of other variants. It is so broad, in fact, that branded queries for law firms: (i.e. Smith Jones and Williams”) are starting to turn up ads for competing law firms, even though there’s nothing in the branded query that denotes a law firm specifically. Semantically, “Smith Jones and Williams” could be accounting, or a pizza restaurant, or a document or an island, or a treaty from the 1700s… but Google has learned that people looking for that specific firm are actually looking for a criminal defense lawyer and are showing ads for other localized criminal defense lawyers.

Here’s an example I did from my Seattle office, for a huge personal injury law firm in Texas. Note that three ads for Seattle based PI firms show up for the very specific query: “Glasheen Valles”.

 

What this means tactically:

  1. Lawyers should bid on their own brand name. This includes the firm as well as individuals.
  2. Broad match in AdWords may be a path towards spending a lot of money on expensive PPC terms. A sophisticated campaign should be MUCH more specific.