Your Website – Three Things You Absolutely Must Control

I continue to run into attorneys who don’t really have control over their website – due to vendors who have set up certain systems, but retained high-level log in credentials (and failed to supply their clients with similar credentials.)  In common English please – Lawyers should have exclusive control and access at the highest administrative level to log ins for their Domain, their Host and this Analytics account.  In priority (and technical complexity) order:


As I’ve written before, if you don’t own your domain, you are essentially leasing someone else’s website.  As a most insidious practice, some legally focused online marketers are getting their clients to pay for search consulting services and eventually upping the price or reselling the domain to the competitor across the street.  This is the real estate equivalent of a landlord forcing a tenant to paying for upgrades to an apartment and then turning around and charging extra for the upgraded space.  Not sure if you “own” your domain?  Find out at Who Is.


You need high level access to your websites hosting provider in order to do a variety of back end things – like changing an email provider, moving hosting solutions and exporting your site’s content database.  While you may want technical assistance in performing these tasks, you must have access in order to do so.  Calling up your old SEO begging for passwords can be a drawn out, frustrating process.

Analytics Log In

For the most part, when I say “Analytics” I mean Google Analytics. Your Google password can then be used across the entire Google ecosystem –Analtyics, Adwords, Email, Webmaster Tools etc.  Having admin level access here enables you to invite others to view (or work on) any of these accounts. Thoughtlessly gifting this level of access to a vendor enables them to read your mail or create new accounts to access your performance after you fire them (recent occurrence with a client and vendor both of whom will remain unnamed).  You should have exclusive high level access.  Note that Google Analytics has recently changed their interface (confusing every non-regular user).  Carefully select access for your vendors among the following options (and never include “add users”):



Entrust your vendors with the performance of your website, but never abdicate control of it to them.


UPDATE:  Check out Steve’s comment below for an approach your agency should be using.

Lawyers: Your Email Marketing Channel (Might) be Dead

In May, Google started rolling out a new interface for gmail  that organized email into five different buckets, accessed via tabs  – including one marked “promotional”.   The promotional category includes all email focused on deals, offers and almost everything sent en masse from email service providers.  This new interface is being rolled out to Gmail’s 126 million US subscribers.

Gmail Tabs

Make now doubt about it – email – the super low cost, high ROI channel, is now less effective.  (The cynic in me suggests that Google’s move is part user experience and part an attempt to shift yet more ad dollars to different channels, like . . . . PPC.)

So far, email marketing companies have predictably downplayed the impact of the changes to email campaigns.  Constant Contact SEO Gail Goodman acknowledged “small decreases in open rates among Gmail users.”  MailChimp published an early study indicating a drop in click through rates of 7-8%.  Note that this was conducted at the end of July – at that point it is unclear (I think) how widespread the rollout of the new interface was – so these numbers may be extremely optimistic.

It will be interesting to see how users adapt to the new interface over time – will they forgo the “promotions” tab altogether, or flock there when in a “purchasey” mood – as some email marketers have suggested.  Hard to say – my personal suspicion is that we are seeing the beginning of a huge decline in the volume of marketing emails and a very heavy push towards high quality.  I simply can’t imagine ever opening a second mailbox at the end of the driveway that was stuffed with nothing but the weekly circulars from the local grocery stores.

What to Do?

If your firm has an active email list here are some ways you may be able to earn yourself into the primary tab – or at least minimize the impact of being shunted into a bucket with  Hawaiian timeshares, housecleaning services and adult dating sites.

  1. Focus on engaging subject lines.
  2. Abandon the canned, mass email content from legal email marketers that is recycled among all of their other clients.
  3. Segment your users (and your email content, subject lines) so you are speaking as closely to each customer’s interests as possible.
  4. Abandon the volume perspective – because email is so cheap to send, it encourages quantity instead of quality.  Reverse that mindset and don’t send anything if you don’t have anything interesting to send.
  5. If all else fails – ask users directly to be moved into their “primary” tab.



Stop Sending Me Your Google Account Log In Credentials

I frequently speak with attorneys who are only too eager to hand over their log-in credentials for the Google Analytics account.

Stop doing it.

You are not just opening the kimono – you are taking it off and throwing it away.  Here’s why:

  1. Once you’ve finished sharing this data with me, you’ll have to change your password; otherwise I’ll have ongoing access. This is easy to do, but few ever consider it.
  2. Most law firms don’t run their email through google and  because you must use a Google Account to access Google Analytics, many of the log-ins are personal google email accounts.  (While you can associate a non Google email address with your Google Account, very few do.)  Sending me over your personal account to log in to your company’s Google Analytics account means I can now read your personal gmail . . .
  3. If this is the primary business account (either a solo lawyer or the marketing department), the log-in also opens up access to Google Webmaster Tools, Google Adwords etc.
  4. By default your account probably has administrator access – which means you can add and delete users as you see fit.  Now that you’ve sent me your credentials, so can I.  

Note that if you rely on your agency to set up Google Analytics for you THEY will have your administrator level access.  This is something you should check and change immediately if it is the case.  (I’ll show you below how you can tell if this is the case.)  Demand your agency make you the sole administrator and then grant them “user” level access.

What does this look like in the real world?  Recently, I transitioned a client (who will remain nameless) from their existing agency (who will also remain nameless) to Atticus.  When reviewing the client’s Google Analtyics account, we discovered that a new, innocuous sounding administrator-level account ( was created just prior  to the switch.  My client swears that she not only didn’t create it but wouldn’t know how to.

Setting Up User Level Access in Google Analytics

You can avoid all of these problems by simply granting user-level access to Google Analytics.  Here’s a step by step:

Log in to Google Analytics and Select the Appropriate Website

analytics login

Click Admin

analytics 2

 Select the Users Tab

analytics 3

Click the “+New User” Button

analytics 4

Add a User with “User” Permissions.

Note that you can get more complex with what people can and can’t see – if you want to explore, here’s the Google Documentation.

analytics 5



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.

A Common Sense Law Firm Policy for Authorship

Authorship is the hottest new innovation in search.  And like many changes that preceded it, authorship has the legal community spinning in circles trying to figure out what to do.

But first . . .

A Quick Primer on Authorship

At a very high level, authorship is the association of an individual writer’s reputation to a piece of content.  This manifests itself in two important ways.  1. As a ranking factor – i.e. Conrad Saam has accrued a strong reputation for writing about search and therefore his content about search will rank well regardless of where it is published.  2.  As a click through factor – to help searchers identify good content, Google is including a thumbnail of the author in search results.

Authorship for Lawyers

Authorship is a big deal.  At the latest SMX Advanced conference, a study (with what looked like an admittedly anemic dataset) claimed a 200% increase in clicks to results with authorship than without, regardless of position on the SERP. Later in the same session, a major newspaper editor suggested that a writer’s Author Rank (uggg – our industry’s latest nauseating   buzzword that is soon going to be misused by MBAs desperate to display some tech cred) would soon be a primary hiring factor.


Authorship has been written about ad nauseam – I’d recommend Ann Smarty’s cheat sheet overview if you need to quickly get caught up. For now, I want to focus on the perceived risks of authorship . . .

Why Law Firms are Afraid of Authorship

Authorship does raise some genuine questions.  To capture search traffic, more and more law firms are expanding the velocity at which they publish content to the web – using more firm lawyers, or with ghost written content.  This has raised policy issues around authorship. The two most common concerns that have some law firms completely balking wrt to authorship are:

“What if I publish something that could be used against me down the road in a case?”

This red herring actually has nothing to do with authorship.  The logic is pretty simple –something published on your law firm’s blog that is so damaging is probably not going to be more so with a picture attached to the results on a search engine query.  I hear this concern mostly from law firms using outsourced third parties to vomit out a huge volume of low quality content onto their sites.  If this is a question you find yourself asking – consider fixing the content problem, not the authorship problem.

“What happens if Bill leaves my firm – can he take his authorship with him?”

This is more nuanced question and mirrors a common firm partner concern:  I spend year’s building Mary’s reputation as a great lawyer, and then she goes and opens up a firm across the street from me.  Allaying this concern requires an understanding of how authorship works. Let’s go back to the central premise of authorship: content for reputable writers ranking regardless of where it is published. So, yes, a lawyer can build up their writing reputation on a firm’s blog and then put that reputation in their pocket and start a new firm with a new website and leverage that reputation to rank.  From an Author Rank perspective two things happen here:  1)as their reputation builds on their new site, so does the value of that reputation to the original content and 2)if they choose to disassociate themselves from the original blog, they lose the value of that reputation.  It is important to note that reputation isn’t built just because I’m writing on a specific blog, but also because of many additional associated signals (links, shares, etc.).  Just like in real life, the reputation for an author (or lawyer, or singer, or SEO consultant) transcends any individual publishing platform.  Therefore, there is no downside to using authorship to enhance your content’s ability to drive traffic.

This brings us to . . .

A Common Sense Law Firm Policy for Authorship:

Don’t publish anything you wouldn’t attach your name to.

Your Ranking Report is a Dangerous Waste of Time

Lawyer:  “We’re ranking really well, but our phone just isn’t ringing.”

Me:  “Well, how much traffic are you getting?”

Lawyer:  “I don’t know”

You are wasting your time if you are looking at Ranking Reports to assess the success of your SEO campaign.  Worse – if you agency sends you a regular ranking report (and no traffic report), they are probably deliberately trying to hide their poor performance.

Ranking reports are often used by agencies to suggest success while they are delivering very little in value (i.e. more traffic.)  They distract from business goals and focus your search campaign on the wrong tactics.  They are used to rationalize exorbitant retainers that deliver little in the way of new business.

I recently talked to a lawyer who forwarded me her agency’s two most recent ranking report showing 172 different terms that “ranked” between 1-3. When we dug into the Google Analytics data, there were very few visits referenced for those terms.   Additionally, each ranking report had a different set of terms. I suspect her agency was simply using a third party rank checking tool, cherry picking the “good” results and sending her a rosy picture every month along with her bill.   I drew her the following graph cross referencing the ranking reports with her Google Analytics data to demonstrate why her agency’s glowing ranking reports weren’t driving inbound phone calls from prospective clients:

Ranking Reports for Lawyers

Why Good Ranking Reports Don’t Result in Traffic

So, how can a site rank for a term, yet fail to generate traffic?


Remember that little thing called Google Local Maps Places that dominates the screen area for most localized searches (including legal searches)?  Ranking Reports completely ignore Places results.  Legal SERPs very frequently integrate Places – so your glowing Ranking Report displays a very misleading picture of your site’s ability to generate traffic.


Search engines are increasingly delivering personalized results based on the individual searcher’s geography, previous search history and social graph.


A “divorce lawyer” search from my office will generate a results page with Seattle area divorce lawyers).

Previous Search History

My news related searches disproportionally return because they know I visit that site on a daily basis; whereas my father may return Fox news results.  Attorneys will frequently sit in their office, run a ranking check for a specific term they want business for, be pleased when their site shows up #1, yet puzzled that their phone isn’t ringing with a flood of incoming prospects. What they don’t realize is that the search engines are personalizing their results based on previous surfing history. The Ranking Report is delivering a false positive because the single most frequented site by any attorney is their own site.

The big picture: With the exception of the false positives from previous search behavior, personalization isn’t taken into account by ranking reports.

Social Graph

My searches include results from people with whom I connected via the social graph.  Google calls this Search Plus your World.  (Bing functions in a similar fashion.)  Depending on the searcher and the subject matter, research has shown up to 60% of results can be influenced by the social graph.

Long Tail Terms

Searches are increasingly specific – think “trial for my third DUI arrest” instead of “DUI Lawyer”.  This is known as the long tail.  Focusing on ranking reports misses all of the traffic within the long tail.  To get a feel for how the long tail works – look at all of the different terms that bring traffic to the profile page on your website.  If you are like most attorneys you’ll see something like:  “William O’Smith”, “Billy osmith”, “Bill O. Smyth”, “Bill Smyth Avvo Rating.” “Bill Smith Lawyer”  “Bill Smyth phone number” etc.

Additionally, its very easy to generate a positive rank for an obscure term.  Think “fuzzy bunny slipper lawyer”.  As more and more consumers are accustomed to search engines automatically geographically targeting their query, (think “personal injury lawyer” instead of “Poughkeepsie personal injury lawyer” they are frequently dropping the geographic component of their search.  A lot of erroneous ranking reports I’ve seen have obscure geographic references in them that are never searched by anyone (zip codes, townships etc.).


The Alternative To Ranking Reports

Instead of monitoring the search engines for how your site ranks for a finite set of terms, use metrics that really drive your business. Look at the inbound traffic to a page or group of pages within a practice area.  This can be done easily in Google Analytics with the “landing page” report.  Alternatively, use a keyword or a group of similar keywords to track inbound search traffic for a specific practice area – “divorce”, “implant”.  Changes in traffic that include these keywords demonstrates progress (or decline) in your site’s ability to generate business – not just ranking.

The Final Word

I wrote a version of this post two and a half years ago for Search Engine Land – Excuse Me While I have a Ranking Report Rant.  In the ensuing comments, there were a number of defensive agencies insisting that clients still demanded ranking reports.  Matt McGee, one of the best SEOs I know responded to the anger:

I made a decision 3-4 years ago to never again provide a ranking report to clients. I tell prospects this before they commit to working with me and invite them to find another consultant if they want to track rankings, or to do it themselves. Best SEO decision I ever made . . . My clients hire me to help them make more money. The ones who seem more concerned with rankings than money get referred to other SEO consultants.

Local Gets a Makeover: Google Knowledge Carousel

Yesterday, Google announced the most significant change to the user experience in Local search with the official launch of the “Knowledge Carousel”.  From Google:

Click on one of the places in the carousel to get more details on it, including its overall review-based score, address and photos. If you want to see more places, click the arrow at the right of the carousel. And you can zoom in on the map that appears below the carousel to restrict your search to only places in a specific area.

This new feature dominates the top of the search results for localized searches with a huge black bar and highly visual interface:

Google Knowledge Carousel
Knowledge Carousel for “Seattle Steakhouses”


Upon clicking on one of the carousel items, two very interesting things happen:

  • The search engine automatically executes a brand search for that item – in our examples see how “steakhouse” has been replaced by “Daniel’s Broiler Seattle” in the search bar.  (Interesting inclusion of the city here.)   
  • The map is replaced by a section dedicated to even more data specific to the business.

Click through on Carousel

What This Means for Lawyers

So far . . . nothing.  I have yet to see the Knowledge Carousel with any legal searches.  (If you find one . . . . please send me a screenshot.)  However, I suspect it is only a matter of time.  Restaurants are a great example where there are a lot of reviews and vibrant imagery – making the carousel experience appealing.  I suspect the relative paucity of this type of content is the reason we aren’t seeing this in legal.  Yet.  When the carousel comes to legal, those attorneys who will win will have the following common aspects to their online profile:

  • Vibrant imagery – of either their office, or more likely their portrait.  
  • Lots of structured data in their Google Places Page.  (hours, languages, practice area, pricing etc.)
  • A heavy volume of reviews across the web, but especially within the Google ecosystem.