Google Will Now Use Mobile-Friendliness as a Ranking Factor

Over the last few months Google has alluded to the importance of a mobile friendly (responsive) design. Now we know why. In Google’s own words, “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.” Google will also “begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed.” That’s right — Google will once again shake up the Internet world with an algorithmic ranking update, and this time they’re giving us a warning.

What does mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal mean?

Google considers a multitude of different signals to determine the quality of your website. For instance, they look at your backlinks (or other sites on the web that link to yours). They use your content as a signal – is it fresh, unique, and high quality? They consider the technological soundness of your site – how easily can their bot and users can find and navigate your site? The list could go on, but the important thing to remember is that in addition to the factors mentioned above, Google will now be using mobile-friendly factors to help rank your site in mobile search results.

This means that if you want to show up well in Google’s mobile search results, and we know you do, it’s critical that you update your site to be mobile-friendly.

The particulars of the update

At Mockingbird we try our best to keep technical jargon to a minimum (which is admittedly difficult), but it’s important to explain how this update will impact search results. Here are the specifics:

  • Algorithm runs in real-time – we suspect this means that if your site is updated to be mobile-responsive, you could see an immediate bump in the search results.
  • Page by page basis – if your home page is mobile friendly and the rest of your pages are not then only your home page will benefit.
  • Site will be labeled as mobile-friendly – if Google views your site as mobile-friendly, they will mark it as such in the search results that they produce to users. In theory this will increase your click-through rate. This is already happening – you can see an example from this screenshot I took this morning:

Mobile Friendly Google Results

Why does Google care about mobile-friendly (responsive) design?

Quite simply, Google cares about user experience (and you should too). Let me pontificate on the importance of this point. You should care how your customers (and, even more importantly, potential customers) interact with your site. If the user has to pinch, zoom, and drag your site all over their phone or tablet, they will not be satisfied with their experience. It may not be something you actively think about (I do because I’m an Internet nerd), but we’re all familiar on some level with the annoyance of a non-responsive site.

According to a Local Search Association study released today (March 11th, 2015), “60% of US adults now typically choose smartphones or tablets over PCs to find information before buying products and services offline.” Creating a great mobile experience for the user can no longer be a second thought, but instead an integral part of design and development.

What will this update mean for legal?

There are two important considerations when thinking about the impact on the legal industry:

  1. Lawyers often fall behind the times on Internet and SEO best practices (possibly why we see such obvious spam in the industry).
  2. Legal is extremely competitive compared to most other markets (also possibly why spam is so prevalent in this industry).

You can view this update as an opportunity to surpass your abhorred competitors, or you can view it as another Google-induced headache. Either way, it’s coming on April 21st and you can’t move out of the way.

What can and should you do?

If you’re not sure whether your site is mobile-friendly, don’t worry; Google makes it extremely simple to test whether or not your site passes their test. You can check out your site in real time via Google’s “Mobile-Friendly Test”. You can see our actual result below.

Mockingbird Google Mobile Test

If you passed, congratulations! You need not fear April 21st.

If you were greeted with a handful of red error messages, it’s time to seriously consider updating your site to be responsive to any device. Don’t get left behind in the extremely competitive legal landscape. If you need help avoiding the pain Google’s unmerciful hand, give us a call: 206-209-2125.

LinkedIn Publishing Won’t Eat Up Your SEO Traffic (and you won’t get Google penalized either)

Three weeks ago, Kevin O’Keefe posted a question on Facebook – the corresponding answers, of which there were 21, dug deep into SEO theories concerning duplicate content, canonicalization, rewritten summaries, excerpts, site authority and Google Panda penalties.

First, Kevin’s Question:

Anyone else looking at re-posting blog posts from your blog on LinkedIn’s publishing platform?

I could see lawyers and other professionals wanting to re-post a blog post from their blog to “LinkedIn Publishing” and — and vice versa. I see some people even advising to auto-post content from your blog to LinkedIn — though I am not certain how that is even possible, unless they are just referencing sharing versus publishing.

LinkedIn publishing content appears to be indexed by Google. That would seem to create problems with duplicate content for the lawyer’s blog, the risk being that LinkedIn’s version would outrank the blog post on a search for the matter covered in the piece.

According to some commenters, the duplicate problem was  so severe that it would likely invoke a Google penalty on a lawyer’s website. I wondered if this was true (spoiler alert – it wasn’t – but more on that later.)

First, some background on LinkedIn publishing and the dreaded duplicate penalties:

LinkedIn Publishing Background

LinkedIn’s describes their publishing platform as The Definitive Professional Publishing Platform (their words not mine) by showcasing content from influencers in the LinkedIn network. During 2014, LinkinedIn opened up publishing from a select few thought leaders  to more and more of its network.

Duplicate Content Background

As LinkedIn publishing rolled out, many SEOs raised concerns around duplicate content – simply put, would putting my blog content verbatim onto LinkedIn cause one of the following:

  1. LinkedIn, with its very strong authority, is stealing SEO traffic from my blog by utilizing my own content.
  2. The Google might see my content copied onto LinkedIn, believe the original version (known as canonical) was the LinkedIn version, further deduce my site is full of nothing but syndicated content and whack my website traffic with a duplicate content Penalty (aka Panda).

Concerns about duplicate content are exacerbated by the use (or misuse?) of canonical tags by LinkedIn. Canonical tags were specifically created to identify the original (or canonical) version of content – specifically syndicated content. LinkedIn self-servingly automatically generates those canonical tags on content in their publisher platform.  You can see the rel=”canonical” tag  highlighted below in the code for the article I published on LinkedIn, despite the fact I had just cut and pasted the content verbatim.

canonical tag Kevin’s Question

So we come back full circle to Kevin’s Question.

What does The Google do when I copy my blog posts to LinkedIn Publisher?

Let’s see what actually happens in the real world. I tested the theory that LinkedIn is stealing  SEO traffic by copying two of my recent blog posts verbatim to LinkedIn immediately after I published them.  Waited 24 hours to ensure the search engines had time to see both my blog and LinkedIn.  Then did a Google query for a phrase specific to that article and see what happens:

Findlaw canonical

What the what?  Oh LinkedIn . . . . ?  Where are you LinkedIn . . . . ?   Nothing. No mention of LinkedIn at all.  (Sidebar – the FindLaw ad is a little funny; I couldn’t help myself.) And apologies for getting a little geeky but you’ll note there’s nothing showing as suppressed results – which means that The Google hasn’t even indexed the LinkedIn page. I got the exact same results for both posts. I then rechecked the results 2 weeks later.  Same exact thing – no LinkedIn.  But perhaps, this is unique to Conrad’s specific situation.  So I ran 3 more legal blog postings from different firms.  Same results (or lack thereof).  Here’s an example of the results for content on a Chine Law Blog that appear verbatim on LinkedIn.  Note the two results at the bottom are syndicated and originally showed up as supplemental results.  But again.  No LinkedIn.  Not even in supplemental results.

china canonical

Interestingly, when I ran the test for two of Kevin’s posts he syndicated on LinkedIn, I did see LinkedIn, albeit below the original, canonical content (his blog), lumped in with all the other domains on which his content is syndicated.  (Note here that this isn’t a verbatim copy, as Kevin has changed the heading and therefore the H1 of the article.)

Untitled 5

Now, I haven’t done a comprehensive study, but so far 5 out of 5 data points tell the same story:  publishing on LinkedIn won’t cause LinkedIn to steal your traffic nor will it incur the wrath of Mountain View based Pandas. This of course, makes a ton of sense to me – – – I can’t imagine that the brainpower at The Google hasn’t figured out how to handle this very common widespread issue. Its not like syndicated content is an entirely new concept. Note that LinkedIn does aggressively push content in front of your LinkedIn network – so republishing does have real value even if that value doesn’t originate from SEO (gasp – did Conrad really just say that?). If you are still paranoid – just duplicate the experiment above for your own stuff; but as far as I’m concerned – ignore the SEO ballyhoo.

The only thing publishing on LinkedIn will do is to get your established network to read your content – which doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all.

What to do When FindLaw Pulls the Plug on Your Website

Want to see the world’s ugliest law firm website?

404 Coffman

That’s what Kendall Coffman’s FindLaw website looked like on Tuesday.  What follows demonstrates how Kendall was able to get his site (admittedly stripped down) back up and running with 21 hours.

1:27 PM Tuesday

I receive an email from Kendall.

I have been in a dispute with Findlaw for several months now, and Findlaw has decided to “take down” my website.  My site was, and if you go there, you will see nothing except maybe error messages.

2:02 PM Phone Call

I give Kendall a call – what follows are my notes from the call:

Kendall is locked in to a long term contract with FindLaw after moving his website from a self made 1&1 website. He’s become increasingly concerned over the decline in performance of his FindLaw site – and has been in an ongoing dispute over the fees he’s being charged and the site’s underperformance. Now I think that part of Kendall’s problem is entirely exogenous to FindLaw – as the real estate market and economy have picked up, the demand for his specific practice area has declined. But, Kendall is concerned that his site was hit by Panda 2.4 in September 2011, but unfortunately FindLaw hasn’t installed Google analytics on his site – despite his bringing up the issue – so this is just conjecture at this point.  He’s also concerned the backlink package he purchased from FindLaw has resulted in low quality links which may be impacting the site negatively.  However, it seems that FindLaw has viewed his inquiries about his site’s lagging performance as an upsell opportunity.

“When I ask for help, Findlaw tries to sell me something to cause my bill to go up.”

We go over the services Kendall is receiving.

His monthly bill is $1,519.44 and includes FindLaw Premium Profile ($59.40), FindLaw Firmsite 333 C Website Package ($628.95), Findlaw FS Web Advantage Starter Plus ($348.36). At one point he was sold on blogging and added FindLaw Post Plus Firmsite and FindLaw Blog Service Starter FS ($433.60 for 2 blogs a month).

So after ongoing billing and performance conversations, without any warning, FindLaw pulled the plug on Kendall’s website. (Note that it is particularly dangerous from an SEO perspective to do this as search engines are particularly loath to send traffic to an empty, broken, dead, error page.)

2:31 PM Pull the Fire Alarm

Occasionally at the agency, we “pull the fire alarm” – essentially everyone drops everything and jumps on a project where time is of the essence.  We’ve done this in the past, when a client’s host went AWOL, we’ve done it in response to news events in the mass torts space and yesterday we pulled the fire alarm for Kendall.  The goal was very simple: get a placeholder site up as quickly as possible.  Instructions to the team:

FindLaw has pulled Kendall’s current website and it is currently returning an error. The site, unfortunately is registered to 1&1. Our immediate goal is to get a barebones website back up and running.  We’re going to launch a very simple, scaled down version TOMORROW.  On our plate: build out a  5-6 page WordPress website from existing template; hosted on WPEngine.  Redirect old pages (there are 93) to homepage.  We think Kendall does NOT own any of the content, so he is going to have to rewrite it within our shell – we’ll need to provide him with the WordPress Guide.  Kendall is sending us information on his 1&1 logins.  We do NOT think there is an existing GA account – so should probably set that up as well.

3:46 Infrastructure

Kendall sends us log-ins to 1&1 – to which his domain is registered.  Fortunately 1&1 makes it easy for us to access these records.  (Note: good thing Kendal had an initial site through 1&1 – while he doesn’t technically own his domain – a big no no – 1&1 has made it easy enough for him to control what goes on that domain. His worst case would be if his vendor actually registered the domain and owned it – which has been known to happen.)

5:25 PM Creative Done

Mockingbird Design and Development used a preferred WordPress Theme and applied an existing basic design template. Utilizing the Wayback machine they were able to view Kendall’s FindLaw site (prior to the plug being pulled) and reviewed the general layout, imagery, content map, color schemes, logo and vital content like address, phone numbers etc.

Instructions emailed to Kendall along with the site and log-ins.

I would also suggest not to edit anything if you are not sure what that edit will do. With that said, I have set up some basic menus and pages for you to see how WordPress works. Attached is a basic WordPress Editing guide. This should help you create and edit pages.
Good luck!

Below are the old and new sites.   I might be a little biased but I think the new one looks just a little better.

Kendall’s New Site:

Kendall's New WordPress Site Kendall’s New WordPress Site 

Kendall’s FindLaw Site

Kendall's FindLaw site Kendall’s FindLaw site

11:36 PM Content Loaded

Kendall has written and uploaded content into the site and sends a few requests:
  1. Replace the FindLaw tracking phone numbers with his primary number.
  2. Add a Better Business Bureau badge
  3. Change the email address on the contact form on the site.
  4. Add ApexChat functionality.

9:31 AM Wednesday

Mockingbird Design & Development completes requested changes and modifies 1&1 registrar records to point to our WP Engine hosting solution.

10:11 Site Live

21 hours after Kendall discovered that FindLaw had pulled the plug on his website – he’s back up and running. You can now see it here: site. Its admittedly a stripped down version from a content perspective; but professional, functional (responsive) and much better looking than a 404. A few search queries and it looks like the downtime hasn’t decimated his search engine performance.  Over the next hour, we finish the process of redirecting the old URL’s.

Now, because the site is built on the ubiquitous and easy to use WordPress platform, Kendall can add much of the content himself without being beholden to a vendor’s proprietary platform. And if he wants further help on it, he can contract with one of the tens of thousands of professionals who work on WordPress throughout the US.


I started working directly with law firms precisely because I hated seeing small businesses going through these types of horrendous experiences. This may be naively idealistic and my MBA brethren would certainly scoff, but I’d rather foot a client’s hosting bill than deliberately hurt their business by leaving them naked and flapping in the online wind.  (Granted our hosting is only $29 monthly, but I digress.)

If you are concerned about your own FindLaw site, download the FindLaw Jailbreak Guide to carefully plan your escape.

Why Most Law Firms Need Only One Domain


While there are a few tried and true rules when it comes to SEO, a lot of the SEO advice out there comes with an expiration date. Should you follow such advice after it “goes bad”, you could be left with a very serious stomach ache–at least when it comes to your firm’s online presence.

For the longest time SEOs and people in the business of selling domains often recommended businesses buy keyword rich domains-as many of them as possible. If you happen to be a brain injury attorney in Seattle you should buy (and .net and .org) for that matter, and continue to buy domains like this so that your competition doesn’t get them, and one-ups you in the the search results. Not only that, but you should use those domains to create “microsites” that can rank for competitive keywords and drive traffic to your business through multiple organic channels.

Google became wise to the game, and in 2012 Google updated its algorithm to ensure that low quality websites with exact match domains ceased to get an unfair advantage over other websites. Despite this fact, businesses continue to pour thousands of dollars into useless keyword rich domains that won’t do them a lick of good.

Recently this got especially out of control as domain sellers started aggressively marketing the new .lawyer and .attorney TLDs to attorneys.  Since that happened, we haven’t seen any instances of these new TLDs dominating the marketing landscape.  It’s simply a case of marketers preying lawyers’ lack of knowledge to sell a useless “asset”.

Why this advice used to make sense:

When it comes to ranking pages and websites, Google wants to display the most relevant and highest quality results for every search. In the early days, Google used to determine relevance by the number of relevant keywords on the page and whether or not the keywords were in the URL itself. So, if your website happened to be, chances are you had a leg up in the game when it came to ranking for the term “Seattle brain injury lawyers”.

Not only that, but the text that people used when linking to your site (or anchor text, as us SEOs call it) used to be a big indicator to Google as to whether a site was relevant for a particular search term. Because has the keywords “seattle brain injury lawyers” baked right into the domain name, and because most people often link to a website using the domain name, this would be yet another advantage for using this keyword rich domain name.

Why this advice no longer makes sense:

If there’s anything that Google doesn’t like, it’s marketers using tactics to game the system. After all, it’s pretty easy to find keyword rich domains (as of this writing is still available). It wasn’t long before SEOs started building “microsites”, or small websites with very little content built specifically to “win” in the search results for certain competitive queries. It’s not uncommon even today to see businesses with five different websites, all of them with boilerplate content, all of them representing the same business, despite the fact that each site brings in what would barely qualify as a trickle of search traffic.

This is a poor user experience for both searchers and prospective customers alike, which is why Google started making keyword rich domains less of a ranking factor in 2012. This doesn’t meant that you can’t get your website to start ranking and get organic traffic, it’s just that in order to do so you’ll need to create quality, content relevant to your audience as well as to get links from large, high authority websites. In the end, you’re going to get as much of an advantage from as you would from Would it not be better then, for branding consistency, to use the latter rather than the former?

To review, let’s go over the DOs and DON’Ts

Domain name DOs and DON’Ts:

DON’T buy a keyword rich domain just to prevent competitors from buying them. Even if they create a site with this domain, it will still take a a lot of hard work for these sites to show up in the search results.

DON’T go on domain shopping spree. Domains seem enticingly cheap at $10.99 or less each, but if you buy 50 domains just for the sake of having them, you’re paying $549 a year for a practical return on investment of zero dollars.

DON’T create a series of keyword rich microsites to drive business. Google won’t give it to you.

DON’T change your current domain to a keyword rich domain that you’ve just purchased. For example, if you have a website at and then switch it over to Our experience has shown that you’ll actually see a temporary drop in traffic, rather than a gain. Not only that, but we’ve seen no long term observable benefit for changing from a site with your firm’s name on it, to a site with practice area related keywords in the domain.

DO put all of your eggs in one basket. The great thing about having just one website, is that the website grows stronger over time. One website will attract all of the links for your business and over time will generate much more web traffic that five smaller sites ever will.

DO consolidate your domains. If you already have a whole bunch of websites out there, see what you can do to make all those domains redirect to a single domain. This will often result in a quick observable boost in traffic for the main site. Before doing so, however, make sure that the content on your smaller websites are transferred to your main website.

DO protect your brand. Consider buying the .net and .org version of your domain. If people consistently misspell your business name, it may be useful to buy a domain with the most common misspellings. This is probably not necessary unless you hear about people misspelling your website. You should also buy a domain for former business names of your firm if that name has changed as well.

Brand protection, however, can go too far. DON’T do what Michael Bloomberg did:

7 Traits of Our Most Successful Clients in 2014

Now is the time of year for legal marketing experts to cement their expert reputation by offering prognostications on the whims of Google in 2015. I thought I’d offer a different take on 2015 by highlighting the traits of 2014, common to our most successful clients.

Last year, we worked with 69 companies – from multi-national firms to part time solos. Some of them were very successful. Some of them (really) struggled. What follows are lessons gleaned from the top 15 of those firms who really nailed it last year.

They Focus on Conversion More than Marketing

(Or more accurately – they know that improving conversion is the best marketing investment you can make.)

While lawyers may not understand the concepts of canonical tags or H1s, they do immediately recognize great customer service. Further, customer service (which begins with an extremely positive intake process) is something a firm partner has direct control over.
Successful firms don’t see their front desk as a gatekeeper to the attorneys’ offices, but instead as a welcoming committee that is professional, caring, available and polite. One lawyer insists on having a prim British accent (and accompanying professionalism) at his front desk. Another (PI guy) evaluates his front desk on their ability to have the prospect agree to an in-home meeting with an attorney who is literally in a Lincoln towncar on the way to that meeting by the end of that phone call.

They Engage With Their Marketing

One of the (many) dirty little secrets about online marketing for lawyers is that our clients can usually do a better job at the hard (at least hard for us) stuff than we can. The clients we saw consistently crushing it in the search engines were very actively engaged with the hardest, most creative, least certain aspects of SEO – content development, linkbuilding and review management. These were hands on clients who leveraged their expertise, network and established position of influence with our direction to deliver very successful SEO campaigns.

They Calculate Marketing Channel Effectiveness

Our best clients calculate marketing effectiveness by channel – and not just by asking prospects “where did you find us.” Through a combination of intelligent tracking infrastructure and onboarding management, they knew their cost per client by marketing channel – enabling us to have rational, math based decisions instead of emotive, theoretical debates. In many cases, we installed this infrastructure and the internal discipline to use it in order to make these math based conversations happen.
For one client we ran two simultaneous campaigns through a creative marketing concept for two very different practice areas. Each required a $20,000 proof of concept marketing investment. One was an utter belly flop – the other a run-away success. Had we been focused on debating the genius (or lack thereof) of the marketing concept instead of the business results, nothing ever would have happened.

They Don’t Have Social Media Consultants

Very successful attorneys recognize social media for what it is: a catalyst for their own personal networking. And they know that outsourcing personal networking just doesn’t work – either online or in person. Nor did they need to hire anyone to teach them to write in 140 characters or less. They never embraced the oft-touted fallacy that social media was going to drive search rankings or that prospective clients were going to tweet out their need for a DUI lawyer or begin their divorce process by announcing on Facebook their impending nuptial demise.

They (Often) Had Never Hired an SEO

There were a sprinkling of firms we worked with that had never ever hired an SEO before and started with old, somewhat dated site. Essentially – their backlink and content profiles were so squeaky clean, just by having done nothing, that a responsive website and a little professional guidance were all they needed to take off. Note that these were firms in niche practice areas (i.e. NOT Personal Injury) in secondary geographic markets – where a combination of simple best practices and white hat implementation were all that was needed to drive significant business.

They Work the Legal Directories

2014 was the year the legal directories took a jump up – specifically Avvo, FindLaw and Nolo – all of which benefited from Google algo changes this year. Successful firms didn’t see this as competition, but instead an opportunity to be leveraged through advertising and/or engagement.

They Don’t Care About Their Ranking

Speaking of search engines – our best clients never ever talked to us about where they ranked for whatever SEO phrase most heavily stroked their personal ego. They understood how search results are personalized and that the vast majority of converting traffic comes from the long tail and local. We deliberately parted ways with a few firms who were myopically more interested in a search engine rankings instead of getting their phone to ring. (And no – these things are not necessarily correlated.)

New Years is always a good time to reassess priorities – both personal and professional – mix in some of these lessons for your firm along with your January gym membership.

Its Here – Penguin 3.0 (and Webinar for Law Firms)

It’s been a busy weekend on the Internet. Friday, internet-dwellers became aware of a long awaited Google algorithm update, Penguin 3.0. Mockingbird Marketing will be hosting a Webinar, Tuesday, October 28th at 1:00 PDT to help you self-diagnose if Penguin 3.0 has impacted your site and what to do about it if it has. Webinar Signup: Penguin 3.0 Diagnosis for Law Firms.

Penguin Refresher Course

Google told us this was coming (we wrote about it last week), and here at Mockingbird we’ve been anxiously awaiting it’s arrival. Penguin is an algorithm update first released in 2012 that aims to put the hurt on sites with spammy backlinks. It’s a particularly interesting update because it appears that if Penguin has penalized a site, no matter how much backlink cleanup you do, the site won’t be able to recover until the next update. Considering the last update was over a year ago, a lot of sites have been sitting in limbo for a long time.

How to Tell if You’ve been Penguin-ed

We ran a quick study this morning on our clients, looking specifically at our top 20 clients with the most traffic. To see how Penguin affected our clients, we compared the natural traffic average of the four weekends prior to the natural traffic this past weekend.  If this pattern holds (and thats a big if – we’re dealing with just two days of data here) – 25% of the sites saw a increase of more than 15% and one got hammered.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 3.43.43 PM

[Note: we are by no means suggesting this is 100% accurate data. Two days worth of traffic is hardly enough to perform a complete study with – but this methodology should serve you well in diagnosing the impact of Penguin 3.0 on your site’s traffic once another week or two passes.  We’ll walk you through this process step by step on the webinar.]

In any case, this is what we found:

For the most part, to our delight, our clients faired well – with a quarter seeing a large boost and only one getting hit. A few clients experienced a huge increase in traffic. Uncoincidentally, we’ve spent a ton of time cleaning up the spammy efforts of previous agencies to sanitize the backlink profiles of these sites.

To see the effect of Penguin 3.0 on your site, we recommend following the same steps:

  1. Filter your Google Analytics data to only show organic traffic.
  2. Get your average traffic for the past four weekends (or if you can wait until Friday, the past four weeks).
  3. Compare this number to your traffic this past weekend. Take it all with a grain of salt, and consider what else is going on. Did you just re-launch your site? Have you been experiencing a steady decline in traffic for a while? And also remember – your best bet is to wait for at least a week to see a clear picture.
  4. Cheer, cry, or shrug, depending on your results.

Still confused?

If you have a website and you or someone on your behalf has ever done less-than-white-hat link building, keep a close eye on your traffic. If it takes a turn for the worse, there’s a good chance you are feeling the force of this Penguin smack down.

If you want to learn if the Penguin update affected your site, tune into our Webinar Tuesday, October 28th at 1:00 PDT.

New Panda Rollout Helps Lawyers (we hope)

Last evening, Pierre Far from Google announced a new rollout of the Panda algo (remember that Google change targeted towards identifying thin, weak and otherwise low quality content).  Don’t go checking your Google Analytics just yet – the rollout will take a week to full deploy and impact 3-5% of search queries.

Most notably Far announced:

This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice.

So it is interesting that in a very brief statement about Panda, Google is specifically calling out benefits to the little guys.  Reading the tea leaves here, I’m hoping this is in some degree a response to the backlash from Pigeon, which benefited the large directories at the expense of small businesses.

Google Authorship is Dead (or is it . . . .)

Last week, John Mueller over at Google announced authorship would no longer be shown in search results. In case you forgot, authorship was the nifty gizmo that made your picture appear in the SERPs next to content you wrote. Or at least, it did until this past June when Google removed the photo and just left your name.

Here’s what Google Authorship looked like in its glory days:

authorship 2

And here’s what it looks like with the removal of authorship:

authorship gone

boo boo!  Sad Trombone . . .

Why did Google (say they) got rid of authorship?

In their analysis of authorship, Search Engine Land cites two reasons. First of all, a low adoption rate by authors. Not many authors were implementing authorship code, suggesting that many content providers weren’t interested in it or didn’t understand how to use it. Secondly, a low value to searchers. Although authorship was originally intended to provide users with another indication of the validity of your content, it turns out that seeing your pretty face wasn’t really helping decision making.

Why do (we think) Google got rid of authorship?

Generally at Mockingbird, we take most of what Google says at face value. BUT – – – let me uncharacteristically offer a contrarian view:  Google got rid of authorship because we (the scummy, spammy) SEO industry transformed it from a positive quality signal into a spammy marketing tactic.  Especially within legal – where social media marketing consultants and SEO hacks desperate to demonstrate some tangible benefit to their clients went overboard with authorship.  Remember how FindLaw spammed authorship by attributing blog posts from old clients to their new clients? Hardly a legitimate quality signal and FindLaw wasn’t the only one.  My take is that it is highly possible that Google has removed the tangible benefit of authorship (that ego-boost of your picture right within the results that made lawyers salivate and social media marketing something to do) but has quietly held on to the concept of author rank.  Getting rid of “authorship” is going to remove (some) of the low quality signals that SEOs foisted into the author rank concept.

What does this mean?

Thankfully for website owners, Mueller says, “removing authorship doesn’t seem to reduce traffic to sites,” so you shouldn’t be too concerned on that front. However, folks in the SEO community have been spending time and energy on this since 2011, when authorship was first introduced.

Authorship was always about much more than the silly little picture . . . and for our clients we’re staying the course – building the authority of individuals.

The Pigeon Mess . . .

Last Thursday, Google quietly released a new algo update targeting improved search results that had a local component (i.e. almost all legal related searches).  Note that Pigeon impacts both local and natural searches – so the reach for law firms is very significant.  The early results are in to Pigeon and they aren’t pretty.

Here’s why:

Pigeon Favors Directories Over Law Firms

Like the most recent Panda algo update, Pigeon seems to have favored directories over the actual businesses in these directories.  There is widespread agreement among local search geeks – Mihm, Blumenthal, Shotland and more that directories have indeed benefited.  Andrew Shotland noted a 5-10% traffic increase for some of the directories he works with following Pigeon. Counterpoint: I pinged the guys at Avvo who didn’t acknowledge anything dramatic.

I should note that this direction continues to surprise me.  Cutt’s has often made comments to the contrary so I see the possibility of a  large reversal in the horizon (although I’ve been envisioning it unsuccessfully it for a while.)  It is highly possible that Google’s focus on “brands” and the rewarding of brands in search results is to explain – i.e. the Avvo’s and FindLaw’s of the world have established brands while branding for law firms, especially small law firms is essentially impossible – especially as a computer would view a “brand.”

There’s also an argument (and I think a good one) that this update is a hastily rolled out response to Yelp’s recent sniveling about anti-trust . . . Pigeon, which rolled out just two weeks after the leaked TechCrunch article  has very directly benefited Yelp.

Shake-up of Local Results in a Bad Way

In many cases, mapped results have changed almost completely.  We’ve also seen the reduction of the frequency and sized of mapped results – i.e. some formerly mapped results don’t deliver at all and some seven packs have been replaced  by three packs.  I had one attorney call me insisting that his claimed Google profiles were no longer appearing and yet some unclaimed satellite offices had suddenly shown up in the mapped results.

Remergence of SPAM Results in Local Pack

Michael Ehline at the Circle of Legal Trust noted that Avvo was now showing up as a local personal injury law firm in Los Angeles.  I dug in and found what looks to be an old spam tactic – piggybacking a local company to the strength of a large, relevant domain to win in local results.  This is more widspread than this example – the travel site, Expedia is now a small hotel on Madison Avenue in New York  . . . . at least according to Google maps.

Circle of Legal Trust

I looked further into the los angeles PI example and found the following result.  Note that both Avvo and are listed as a mapped business for the “los angeles personal injury attorney” query.  Also note that neither of them have a physical address and both of them have the identical phone number (which incidentally, you may not be shocked to learn, does NOT in fact ring to my old friends in Seattle.)  Also note both of them (and Farar & Lewis) are keyword stacked with “Personal Injury Lawyer” in the name of the business . . . . another rudimentary local search no no.

Avvo and Lawyers Local

You’d think that Google local results, with the focus on things like NAP consistency might be able to algorithmically detect that two different business within the same result have the exact same phone number.  Apparently not. Ehline insists that this result didn’t exist before Pigeon – and I tend to believe him.  The only thing he fears more than the Government removing his AR-15 is the Google removing his rankings.  While clicks go through to the appropriate directory, the phone number doesn’t – a quick search on that number brought me to an instagram (yuk) account that was associated with  . . . . a los angeles motorcycle accident attorney:


Hope you are proud of yourself, Attorney Robert Brenner – but don’t expect this flood of new business to last, after which it may well dry up forever. This is an old spam technique (and I won’t encourage it by telling you how) that Google’s quality update (read: Pigeon) re-enabled. Good job MountainView. This is why I believe Pigeon to be a hastily launched response to Yelp’s whinings and I would expect more turmoil as they work to (hastily) improve upon it.