Prediction: Google Screened as Ranking Factor for Google Local.

Google has traditionally and aggressively separated paid from organic.  The firewall between their departments ensures there’s not anti-competitive issues – i.e. spend more money on Google Ads and see your organic rankings skyrocket.  I’ve run into this over and over again with our awesome reps from the Google Premier Partnership program, who advise us and our clients on Google Ads.  These awesome peeps wouldn’t know the difference between an H1 and an Immigration Visa and think NAP is something their kids do after a particularly arduous virtual school day.

My prognostication:  Google’s separation between Search and Advertising may crumble in the near(ish) future.

Look what Erik Beatty spotted this morning in the support drop-down for LSAs: an  “Upgraded GMB Profile” option.

This is very valid useful data that, I would argue, should be used for showing up in the Local Results.  In fact, the prospect of improving what shows up in Local in the legal industry is what I thought the original intention of Google Screened …. removing the spammy crap that litters Local results – non law firms masquerading as law firms, out of state or out of market lawyers faking offices etc.

This would be a major adjustment for Google; breaching a very fine line between organic and paid.  While they’ve been reluctant to cross this rubicon in the past, lawyers should welcome this development as it will kick the bogus garbage out the Local, which filters real prospects through lead selling agencies, extracting a ton of value out of the legal profession with zero added value.

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.

Competitor Ads in your Google My Business Profile…

Well, we seem to be moving closer and closer to an advertising driven world, as Google has introduced advertising directly on competitor Google My Business listings. To the right is an example from Greg Sterling, at Search Engine Land which shows an ad for a competing car dealership showing up directly within search results. Greg notes that the advertisement is located almost an hour away…which, at least in the example, flies against the highlighted importance of “local” to consumers.

One important note – according to Greg’s review, firms can’t pay for ad free listings – which means any business may have competitor advertising embedded directly within their localized results. This “ad free profile” business model has been widely utilized by directories in (Avvo) and out (Yelp) of the legal market. From my experience this generates nasty backlash from prospective customers and Google is clearly trying to avoid that, although I’m not certain that the prospect of having competitor ads showing up by default on branded queries is going to engender any goodwill either.

If you’ve got an example of one of these ads in legal…please send a screenshot over.

Page Indexing Issues being fixed by Google

UPDATE 4/10/19: Google has announced this issue has been fully resolved.

Last Thursday, webmasters started noticing issues with Google’s indexation of pages throughout the web. Google had been removing pages from their search results for no apparent reason.

Google acknowledged the issue on Saturday, while also incorrectly reporting that the issues had been fixed. They haven’t provided any specific information around what caused the problem in the first place.

google search liaison indexing issue tweets

On Sunday, Danny Sullivan tweeted from the Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) that they are actively working on completely resolving the issue and that it was mostly fixed.

In his tweet, Danny also stated that the problem is solely on Google’s end, however, if there are high-importance pages that you noticed have been de-indexed you can request re-indexing through Google Search Console’s URL Inspection Tool.

request (re)indexing url inspection tool

John Mueller pointed out that even once the issue has been fixed, webmasters shouldn’t expect that all their website’s pages be added back to Google’s index. Additionally, he stated that “Awesome sites with minimal duplication help us recognize the value of indexing more of your pages.”

john mueller google indexing issues

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.

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.