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.

Law firm websites serving up foreign porn….

So as expected from the flagrantly clickbaity title, there’s little redeemable content in what follows.  You should probably stop reading now, but you won’t because you are wondering where this post is going and whether or the Mockingbird blog was hacked (it wasn’t). The moral of the story, is that Google results are sometimes entirely inexplicable. If that’s what you’re up for, then by all means, read on….

I often flippantly tell lawyers about the importance of upgrading their site, if for no other reason than to ensure that they don’t unintentionally starting hosting foreign porn.  It’s a glib comment, but born from experience… about every six months, I’ll sit down with a prospective lawyer client and review their site on a screenshare only to uncover porn. The experience lies in the weird Venn diagram of awkward, sophomoric and mortifying.

I ran into unintentional porn in front of a prospective client again today, while we were perusing the local results for Personal Injury lawyers in New Orleans on a shared Zoom screen.

Among the usual suspects was a firm I didn’t recognize with only two reviews outranking some large firms with impressive marketing machines.  Glicker Law.  In an attempt to show the client the value of a strong backlink profile (b/c why else would this two star firm show up on the Maps, right…?) I clicked through to GlickerLaw.com:

As Obi-Wan Kenobi said so eloquently, “these are not the PI lawyers you are looking for”.  A little digging on Archive.org shows that Glicker Law used to exist on this domain, but the it expired some time in early 2018.

Which begs the question: Why is Google serving a years ago defunct law firm website that now contains a huge compendium of foreign porn in the heavily competitive local results for personal injury lawyer in a major US metro? No clue.  And this isn’t new… back in 2016 I wrote a post almost entirely identical to this one: Seattle DUI Lawyers stripping for $1.99 a minute?

Now don’t get mad at me that this post lacks a good conclusion, that you fell victim to a clickbaity title and that your prurient curiosity was the only reason you’ve made it through this entire post; I told you at the beginning reading this was barely worth your time. No conclusions other than, “hmmmm, that’s odd.”

Welcome to search.

Google My Business is a Necessity (Even if it Goes Premium)

Last year Google sent out surveys to local businesses to see how much they could potentially charge for premium Google My Business memberships. This led to a bit of panic, but has yet to be implemented. What I’m here to argue is that your firm needs Google My Business, whether you need to buy a subscription or not.

 

Visibility

Even if they do implement charged services, GMB listings will still be free to claim. These listings are the best way to get your business on the map in a very literal sense. You claim your business and then you appear on the map. When a client searches “Lawyers near me” you need to show up.

 

NAP Consistency

Your name, address, and phone number are about the most important details of your business that you want to express. As far as Maslow’s hierarchy of marketing needs, your business name is pretty much at the bottom of the pyramid. GMB is a good starting place for ensuring your business details stay consistent.

 

Review Consolidation

As far as review collection goes, GMB makes it pretty easy. The service collects reviews from Yelp, Avvo, Lawyers.com, and various other platforms. This makes it easy for clients to find average ratings and for you to keep track of your reputation

 

Driving Conversions

Finally, I want to touch on the main reason to build out your GMB profile: it drives conversions. Really well. You can see this on Google Analytics: Conversions → Multi-Channel Functions → Top Conversion Paths → Primary Dimension: Default Channel Grouping Path. See where GMB ranks in your conversions. Here’s how it’s done for just a few of our clients:

 

In summary, GMB works in favor of local businesses. The main benefits of GMB aren’t the ones Google is thinking of charging for, so take advantage. If you don’t have GMB, you’re really falling behind. Please catch up.

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.

Avvo now hiding your info?

I was disappointed to hear on a legal listserve about two weeks ago the whispers of a plan by Avvo to remove contact information from profiles unless the lawyer was paying.  I thought perhaps it was a misunderstanding, as it seems that a directory devoid of…. directory information, makes it universally less useful.  But now that Internet Brands has acquired Avvo, and Mark is no longer behind the helm….

Just got a notification from Avvo Internet Brands that confirms their new product called Premium:

Our new offering, Avvo Premium, now includes the following features:

  • Display your contact information in search results and on your profile
  • Remove competitors’ ads from your profile
  • Have your profile prioritized in search results
  • See your contacts from calls, emails, and website visit
  • Select your best client reviews and promote them at the top of your page
  • Summarize your practice with a personal summary at the top of your profile

Of course, that contact information was always a part of the free profile and didn’t require Premium.  Apparently no more.

With this pivot, Avvo is essentially shifting from being a useful directory where consumers can find the best lawyer for their specific situation to functioning solely as an advertising platform. They have every right to do this, but from a user experience standpoint it would be a disservice to remove essential information from highly qualified attorneys solely because they’re not actively advertising with Avvo. With Google’s focus on user experience – I wonder how this removal of key information may impact Avvo’s performance in the SERPs – will be interesting to monitor over time.

Next Level Marketing…. Local Legal Spam across NY and NJ

About a month ago I wrote about the strange case of the solo practitioner, Andrew Calcagano who staffed 66 offices across the tri-state area.  Here’s the follow up post regarding his agency, Next Level – who according to one of the testimonials on their site….

“They maximize our exposure in a way no one else does.”

Well, at least that part is true.

Let me start with this:  Next Level produces amazing, slick, professional quality video.  They also spam the hell out of the legal market across the eastern seaboard.  And while Next Level pulled all mention of Calcagno from their website after my post… there were plenty more to do a little review on like:

The Law Offices of John W. Tumelty

Solo practitioner with seven “offices” across the bottom tip of NJ.

Proner and Proner Attorneys at Law

Despite their name “& Proner” and “Attorneys at Law”, the only attorney I can find on the website is Mitchell Proner, although he manages to have no fewer than five different locations.

Team Law

Team Law is upfront about their “appointment only” office space (on their website at least).

Lombardi and Lombardi

This 10 lawyer firm manages to spread their attorneys across 6 offices across the Garden State, although their Point Pleasant locations looks like I might get to order some friend popcorn shrimp along with my legal help.

And according to Yelp, 62 Broad Street is really the location of Jack Baker’s Lobster Shanty – to be fair, perhaps this did get turned into a law office once Jack’s shut down.

I did check out more of their clients’ alleged office spaces and in many cases, found some that might have been genuine spots; athlough there was a strange prevalence of law firms sprinkled inside medical office buildings.   But…. the pattern remains, small (even solo) firms, pushing 5-66 different locations is simplty Local Spam.  And, to reiterate my point from my previous post: faking office space is stealing, not marketing.

  • Its stealing from clients who want to hire (and think they are hiring) a law firm who is just down the road.  Remember 43% of people make their lawyer hiring decision based on proximity – so faking an office location when you are really 100 miles away is lying about the most important hiring factor to prospective clients.
  • Its stealing from other lawyers – well positioned in their local community – who are losing out to geographically distant firms. (And sometimes not even firms, but marketing agencies scumbags masquerading as law firms who sell local leads to non-local law firms).

Join me this Wednesday, for a webinar to discuss a case study on a State Bar that stepped in (or “stepped up” to deal with rampant local spam.  Join us:  Local Spam, Lawyers, State Bars and an Ethical Quandary.  (And Next Level Marketing people…. if you’d like to join the webinar and defend your tactics, consider this an open invitation…..)

Local Spam: The Solo with 60 Offices

Spamming the Garden State

Let me start by saying that I’m calling out a single lawyer here, simply as an example. There are thousands of law firms engaging in these spammy tactics either in-house or through their “agency” or marketing “expert”.  And let me also reiterate the point of my latest post:

Faking office locations is NOT marketing – its stealing.

  • Its stealing from clients who want to hire (and think they are hiring) a law firm who is just down the road.  Remember 43% of people make their lawyer hiring decision based on proximity – so faking an office location when you are really 100 miles away is lying about the most important hiring factor to prospective clients.
  • Its stealing from other lawyers – well positioned in their local community – who are losing out to geographically distant firms. (And sometimes not even firms, but marketing agencies scumbags masquerading as law firms who sell local leads to non-local law firms).

Which brings me to an example of local spam, albeit an extreme one – Solo practitioner Andrew Calcagno who has more offices across my home state of New Jersey than toll booths. In fact…. according to his Google listings, Calcagno staffs no fewer than 66 different locations…

Fortunately, at the Elizabeth Office you can get your acupuncture done while waiting for your lawyer, or your acrylic nails buffed at the Bayonne office.

       

Hurt on the beach? Try Calcagano’s “office” just one block from the sand, that looks suspiciously like my Aunt Doris might live there during the summer.

And nothing says success like swanky office space at 460 Park Avenue in the heart of New York City….  Except of course, the 17th floor of the building is entirely occupied by Dermatologist, Dr. Steven Victor.  How do I know this?  Because the very nice receptionist there told me so.

      

Need a McMansion Litigation Lawyer?  Try their “office” on Agress Road in Millstone, NJ

And at least Google won’t get fooled by the Regus office in Hamilton Township…

And it seems that Walmart (or women’s clothing chain, Joyce Leslie) has started offering DWI Legal services as well at their 100 Enterprise Drive in Dover, NJ locations.

 

Although, double check your car door is locked at the Passaic office….

I could go on and on.  Suffice to say I think its highly unlikely an attorney could plead ignorance of an overly aggressive agency creating all of these “offices.”  Besides, his website lists about 20 of them directly:

But speaking of overly aggressive agencies, I wondered who might behind all of these listings – afterall a single attorney probably doesn’t have the time to create and maintain 60+ “offices” – regardless of how virtual they may be.  So digging just a little further, I uncovered…. post coming tomorrow.  🙂

Caught Stealing… Why Your Local Spam is THEFT and Not “Marketing”

A month or so ago, I gave an amazing webinar with Local Search nerd and founder of Sterling Sky, Joy Hawkins  Frankly, the webinar was awesome because of the subject matter and Joy… this is no humblebrag.  Joy and I spent the better part of an hour talking about Local spam…. the underhanded dirty practice of faking office locations as a marketing tactic to artificially expand a law firm’s geographic reach.

Escape FindLaw Contracts

During the webinar I made the comment, that this practice is not a marketing tactic, but instead theft… that law firms are stealing business from other lawyers with fake locations. One of the webinar attendees commented, “thank you, thank you, thank you for finally calling this out for what it is.”

So here goes again:  Those of you engaged in local spam are stealing, not marketing. And those agencies helping you do so should be shunned.  

If there’s any question note this:  according to a Google study, 43% of prospects select their law firm based on the proximity of the lawyer – so lawyers faking locations are screwing not only their competitors, but their clients as well.

I’ve seen the devastating impact on the bottom line of many firms who suffer from competitors virtually elbowing their way into a market.  In any given month, 10% of our clients’ marketing investment is targeted towards combating those fake listings.

To date we’ve been quiet and private about those firms and agencies marketing with Local Spam caught stealing from our clients.  That stops today.  More to come….

 

Managing Duplicate Google My Business Listings in a Post Map Maker World

Since the old Map Maker feature was terminated at the end of March 2017, you may be left wondering how to deal with duplicate Google My Business law firm and individual practitioner pages. The information below, summarized from the recent post by Local SEO expert Joy Hawkins, should provide some direction for you and your firm.

Steps to Fixing a Duplicate Google My Business for your law firm’s listing:

  1. Find out if the duplicate listing is verified
    1. If it is, you’ll need to get access/ownership or have it unverified
    2. If it is not, continue on.
  2. Note any reviews that are on the duplicate listing. If there are positive reviews, contact google my business support to have them transferred.
  3. Compare the addresses between the listings. Do they match?
    1. If yes, contact Google My Business support via Twitter and ask them to merge
    2. If no, find out if the business used to be at the address at some point & continue
      1. If the business never existed at the wrong address, click “suggest an edit”
        1. Toggle to “Yes” next to “Place is permanently closed”
          1. Select “Never existed” as the reason and submit.
        2. If the business used to exist at the address, contact Google My Business support via twitter and ask them to change the status to “Moved”.

Special considerations for Attorneys

Attorneys can have individual practitioner pages. If you have an attorney that has a practitioner page and the attorney no longer works for your firm, contact Google My Business support via twitter and ask them to move the practitioner page to your firm’s page. This only works if the practitioner page is unverified or is willing to give you access to it. If they aren’t willing to do this, your last option is to have them update the information to the new firm.

Example of a proper individual practitioner listing:

example of google attorney practitioner page