Moz’s Local Ranking Factors Report

Every year, I get an email from Moz asking for input into their Local Ranking Factors survey.  The survey is conducted amongst a small group of SEO nerds. Due to the competitiveness of legal marketing, be glad to know our niche is especially well represented- I’m joined by legal marketing geeks, Mike Ramsey, Gyi Tsakalakis and Casey Meraz.  This year, the study came out shortly after Google launched the snack pack (catch up here), so the results are particularly interesting.

If you want to geek out, you can read the full Moz study here.

Overall Ranking Factors

Ranking Factors continue to diversify – meaning there are a wide array of things you need to get right.  Vendors who provide just one piece of the puzzle are rarely going to be enough to drive success (and yes – I fully acknowledge this is a self-serving comment.)  The factor consistently gaining in significance is behavioral performance (i.e. click through rates, time on site etc.) – this has been backed up by numerous studies.  In legal, this emphasizes issues like brand, meta descriptions, a site’s look and feel/user interface and accessibility of information.

And despite the ongoing assertions of social media pundits – Social is entirely immaterial to local performance – coming in dead last among all ranking categories.  Joy Hawkins (who is our secret go-to person when we get utterly stuck on a complex Google My Business issues) explains social and search:

I gave social signals 1% for organic impact because I do think it’s possible that they could impact ranking – I have just never seen a single case where they did. I always quote Matt Cutts where he indicated that when it comes to social signals it’s a correlation and not causation. Businesses that are active on Facebook also usually care about their ranking on Google and are actively trying to improve it. One doesn’t cause the other.

David Mihm, the author of the survey, offers his take on the waning (if not entirely dead) impact of Google+ in ranking:

At this point, I view Google My Business essentially as a UI for structured data* and a conduit to AdWords. While Google’s original “business builder” vision may still come to fruition, it clearly won’t be under the social umbrella of Google+.

Top 10 Ranking Factors for Local (now Snack Pack)

  1. Physical Address in City of Search
  2. NAP Consistency in Structured Citations
  3. Proper Google My Business Categories
  4. Proximity of Address to the Point of Search (i.e. physically where is the searcher)
  5. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  6. Domain Authority of Website
  7. Product/Service Keyword in Google My Business Business Title
  8. City, State in Google My Business Landing Page Title
  9. HTML NAP matching Google My Business Location NAP
  10. Click Through Rate from Search Results

Of particular note is the focus on quality including the prevalence of accuracy in Google My Business information (note David’s comment above).

Ranking Differentiators for Competitive Markets (i.e. legal)

My favorite facet of the survey is the focus on competitive markets – essentially almost all of the legal marketing space.  After getting the fundamentals right, this becomes the tactical focus of our engagements and frankly, these are often the hardest components of search – the stuff that can’t be automated, simplified or easily copied.

  1. Consistency of Structured Citations
  2. Domain Authority of Website
  3. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
  4. Quality/Authority of Structured Citations
  5. Proper Google My Business Category Associations
  6. Physical Address in City of Search (in the past month, we have been consulted twice on helping law firms decide what building to move in to.)
  7. Quantity of Native Google Reviews
  8. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Google My Business Landing Page URL
  9. CTR from search results pages
  10. Quality/Authority of Unstructured Citations (i.e. Newspaper articles)

Note the heavy heavy focus on quality above.  You don’t achieve these tactics through $10 for 1,000 twitter followers or a paid citation campaign.

Non Local Local Results

Heh?  This is really localized natural search – i.e. results for local queries (even those without a geo-modifier) that return typical SEO results.  I don’t want dwell on this, as this is a post about Local (i.e. mapped) results, but for natural search with a local component (which represents at least 95% of legal searches – the focus is on providing accurate location signals through Google My Business and a heavy focus on site authority (i.e. high quality links).  In fact the top 2 signals according to the survey are link related.

Negative Ranking Factors

Of course, no SEO conversation would be complete without a discussion of penalties.

  1. Incorrect business category
  2. Listing at false business address
  3. Mis-Match NAP or Tracking Phone Numbers
  4. Presence of malware
  5. Reports of Violations in your Google My Business location
  6. Mis-matched NAP/tracking phone numbers on Google My Business page
  7. Mis-matched Address on Google My Business page
  8. Multiple Google My Business locations with Same Phone Number
  9. Absence of NAP on website
  10. Address includes suite number similar to UPS Mail Store or other false address.

The negative ranking factors center around incorrect NAP as well and inconsistent information in…. here it is again…. Google My Business.  Given the prevalence of geo spam among lawyers (i.e. “virtual offices” or fake offices shoehorned into your friends insurance office), I expect we will continue to see a greater focus on reporting of non-real offices.   Frankly, the only impact we saw among law firms with the Pigeon roll out was severe penalties on some significant local spammers; so none of this really surprises me.

Snack Pack

Acknowledging that the Snack Pack launched just prior to the survey (and so the following is probably more intuitive rather than based on any studies, Moz asked about change in tactical focus given the snack pack.  Across the board, the increased focus was on quality signals (NAP, Authority, Citations).  The only quantity factor was Google specific reviews (i.e. the more the better but note the focus on Google, NOT reviews across the web – Avvo, Yelp etc.).   Tactical losers focused on quantity (which I read to mean low cost, low value, low authority – easily replicable) links, citations and…. my favorite punching bag…. social shares.

Introducing the Echo Legal Marketing Platform

Echo is our amazing new marketing platform. We take the tools that we use every day as an agency for our clients who are paying us $5,000-10,000 a month and we bring them into your law firm. We use video tutorials to provide step by step instructions on how to use them.

  • Analytics. How do we use Google Analytics? What do you need to keep an eye on and what metrics matter? How do we use tools like Moz Local and Yext to bolster our local performance?
  • Review Management. How do we make sure that when we’re reviewed on Yelp, Avvo or Findlaw that we get an email that day telling us about that review?
  • Call Tracking. How do we implement call tracking? What is call tracking and how does it work, and what can it tell you?
  • WordPress. We use WordPress websites to power our legal-centric and responsive designs hosting on the amazing WPEngine.
  • How do you use Google Webmaster Tools to track the real performance of your site at the keyword level, instead of relying on ranking reports?

All of this is wrapped around business reporting infrastructure with a final goal of helping you calculate exactly how your marketing investment is performing.

Marketing Tools: $300/month
Legal Centric WordPress site: $300/month
(or both for $500)Learn more at echo.mockingbird.marketing or sign up for our Webinar where we’ll tour all of this awesome functionality.

Online Reputation Management: How to do Reviews

Reputation management is yet another candidate in a long list of considerations you need to take into account when managing your online presence. In addition to proactively keeping your citations correct, building links, posting fresh content, structuring your site, and on and on, it can be tiring to know there’s one more thing that threatens to undermine your hard work and past successes. But anyone who tells you marketing is easy is a liar. There’s a reason this is our job.

 

What is reputation management? Why is it important?

The concept of reputation management is as simple as it sounds. If you want to be found (and subsequently hired), you need to put your information out on the internet. Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factor survey listed review signals as having 10% of total influence on search rankings. In addition, online reviews are trusted more than ads in almost every medium, and 35% of clients say they use online reviews to research new attorneys (thanks to the legal technology team at Software Advice for going out of their way to provide the raw info from that study). Having profile pages on sites like Avvo, Yelp, Google+, etc., makes you more likely to be found when someone searches for your practice. But getting clients isn’t just about whether your online presence is big or small, it’s also about whether that presence is good or bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re the top of the local pack for “personal injury lawyer New York” – if you show a 1-star average from 10 reviews, people will skip over you and go to the next attorney in line.

Managing your reputation means getting high-quality reviews from clients across multiple platforms, making sure those ratings are glowing and natural (no spam!), and dealing with bad reviews as they occur. It also means ranking well for search results directly related to your business, so that your results stand above any bad PR pieces that show up in the SERPs. But that’s a lot of moving pieces, so this post is just going to focus on one of the most obvious parts: getting good reviews. Let’s look into what you can do to have a great online reputation.

 

Getting clients to review you

The most important step towards getting good reviews is providing excellent service. You will find it very hard to get praise if you don’t deserve it. But once you’ve jumped over that minor hurdle, the next the best catalyst for reviews is asking. If you don’t ask for reviews, the only people who will give you any are the ones who seek out opportunities to do so. This usually lends to you looking worse online than in real life because angry clients are far more likely to go out of their way to review than happy ones.

At Mockingbird, we find that the best way to ask for reviews is in person after the case is over, then letting clients fill out the review in their own time afterwards. Strike up a conversation when the client comes by to fill out paperwork or make a payment, and tell them how much a review means to your business. Getting a verbal agreement from your client is one of the most effective means of guaranteeing they will review you afterwards. Look them in the eye, and gain their approval with a handshake. After that meeting, make the process is easy as possible by following up with an email linking them to your relevant profile(s) – except for Yelp, more on that in a bit. Another benefit of asking for reviews individually is that you can pick and choose who you want to represent you online. If you won a case but you don’t think the client will be receptive, consider not reaching out for a review.

Some people just don’t have the time to watch all their review sites and check in with each individual client, so they turn to automated review management tools like GetFiveStars or other automatic review solicitors. The usual trick with these is to send an initial email asking for feedback. If the reviewer gives a low score, they are thanked for their opinion and nothing else is done. If the review gives a high score, they are instead prompted to voice their opinions on one of several sites. We’ve tried this before, but our conversion rates were almost non-existent. The major problem is that this tactic is used for business with large client volumes, like restaurants or hair salons. Law firms and attorneys don’t deal with nearly as many clients, so you end up with a pretty bad return on investment. If you’re still interested in watching for reviews, consider a tracking software like ReviewTrackers so you don’t have to constantly visit your Justia and Avvo profiles.

 

Optimizing your impact

The strength of reviews is dependent on a lot of factors beyond your average ranking. Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors survey emphasizes the following:

  • Quantity of reviews
  • Authority of sites hosting those reviews
  • Diversity of sites hosting those reviews
  • Freshness of reviews, and the rate those reviews were added
  • Whether your rating shows up next to your search result (need 5 or more Google+ reviews)

The first on that list is quantity, which has become more important over the past year. Only about 8% of potential customers consider a business trustworthy if there is 1 review. For 85% of potential clients to consider you trustworthy, it’s good to have at least 10 reviews. Now these should be quality reviews so you can’t expect this to be done in a few days or even a few months. Like everything in SEO, good reputation management takes time.

In addition, you should be aware of what sites your reviews show up on, because there are a lot of options. A surprisingly large amount of users go through Yelp, along with Super Lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell, and Avvo. You can get reviews on Google+, Avvo, Justia, Yelp, and other directories, but ask your clients where they found your business so you what to focus on.

Yelp is a unique beast in that they don’t want you to ask your clients for reviews, something we’ve discussed in one of our LMQ videos. However, Yelp’s suggested ways to “remind customers”, such as profile links in your e-mail signature or stickers on your business door, aren’t effective for attorneys (and can be very tacky). We firmly believe that you should still proactively ask your clients for reviews, but avoid invoking Yelp’s ire by not explicitly stating where to go. A softer approach is more appropriate: “We really appreciate reviews because it helps our web presence, several places you can go are: [your top 3 targeted directories]”. In a follow-up email, don’t send them a direct link to your Yelp page, but ask them to search for your name.

Important Note: Even though you won’t be regarded as trustworthy if you have no reviews, potential clients will find you even less trustworthy if you have mostly bad reviews. Do not ask for a review unless you’re confident it will be a positive one.

 

The evils of astroturfing

It’s common to want an easy way out of this problem. Despite your best efforts, clients may not be likely to review you and not every review will be a raving 5 stars. At these times it may be tempting to look for another way to get your ratings up. But fight the urge. In addition to be less than fair to potential clients, it’s also dangerous for you.

Yelp is big on keeping reviews legitimate. They’ve sued attorneys for faking reviews before (we blogged about that incident), and they go over reviews to make sure nothing looks spammy or forced. Avvo will investigate reviews by hand multiple times, even to the point of asking reviewers to provide evidence that they worked with given attorneys. Remember that these sites make their livelihood off of consumers’ trust, so they are just as willing to crack down on scummy review practices as potential clients are. Even state governments have taken action against fake reviewing companies.

There are other tactics out there from attorneys and firms trying to slip under the radar. But this is the same story with so much of SEO – people try to game the system, and sometimes succeed for a short time, then get smacked once the system improves. Remember that if you want a good reputation, the best thing you can do is provide excellent service. Once people are willing to talk about how great you are, just nudge them in the right direction.

 

We’d love to hear your feedback in the field of review management. Have you used review management software? What do you think is the best way to get reviews? What do you think of Yelp’s opinion on review solicitation? Let us know in the comments.

You can find the sequel to this post here: Dealing With Bad reviews

8 Questions to Determine if your SEO Expert is… an SEO Expert

bambino con baffi fintiWhat follows is an admittedly arrogant post.  And I’m transgressing on a principle I teach my kids – you can’t build yourself up by knocking others down.  BUT… I keep talking to law firms, flummoxed by the lack of results from their SEO experts, only to find some really rudimentary mistakes.  What follows are a few questions to suss out just how expert your SEO talent really is.

1.  My site was hit by a Penguin Penalty – how do I get my traffic back?

Platitudes around the disavow process are often the answer to this question – and while disavow is important (and easy, if not tedious) – it is NOT sufficient.  A Penguin Penalty recovery involves not just removing the offending links, but replacing the value they had previously delivered to your site with new links. White hat linkbuilding is the hard, creative, uncertain, expensive and most valuable thing SEOs can do.  In fact, it is so difficult, that many “SEOs” don’t even try.

2.  How do you use Screaming Frog?

Screaming Frog is an extremely flexible tool used to scrape and analyze key elements of a domain at the page level.  It can identify everything from your duplicated title tags to broken links on competitors’ pages.  As analytics rock-star, Annie Cushing said,

“if you aren’t using Screaming Frog, you aren’t really doing SEO.”

Wait for the awkward silence when you ask this question…

3.  What are the last conferences your staff has been to?  Have you spoken at any?

Technology is ever changing – and agencies have a responsibility to keep up with those changes.  Reading Search Engine Land is a good starting point, but ultimately there is nothing to replace being in the middle of the action, interacting with the experts at geek-centric conferences such as SMX, Mozcon, and Pubcon.  Ideally your SEO expert has spoken at some of these conferences (and I don’t mean pay-for-shill talks, thinly veiled as legal marketing conferences.)

4.  We’re writing about 4 blog posts a week, should we keep it up?

SEO “experts” often quote the tired “Content is King” refrain to answer this question and perhaps delve into the vagaries of long-tail theory.  The reality is, vomiting out more low quality content does nothing more than convince the search engines that your site is full of… low quality content.  This problem was greatly exacerbated by web marketers between 2012 and 2014 who did little more than parrot “Content is King” at legal marketing conferences.

The, “should I keep spewing out more content?” question is best answered by using Google Analytics to review your posts for traffic and links.   If you find that 90% of those pages have no inbound traffic, very few pageviews and that no-one has linked to your rewrites of local car accidents thinly copied from the local newspaper, you might want to switch up your content strategy. Conversely, if you find all of your content is seeing action, then by all means, keep writing.  Read more here: SEO Regicide.

5.  We use Yext, so we don’t worry about NAP consistency.  Right?

Yext is just one tool in the NAP consistency fight (NAP – Name, Address and Phone Number) and while Yext handles roughly 50 major second tier directories, it does NOT manage the top 4 data aggregators; Moz’s Local product does.  Therefore, if you’re relying on tools to improve your NAP consistency, it’s important to utilize more than one — both Moz and Yext, for example.  Additionally, both tools need to be proactively monitored and managed to have a real impact – especially if you are dealing with a name change, address change, cleaning up geo-spam or eradicating poorly implemented tracking numbers.  Finally, neither Moz or Yext handles legal specific directories such as FindLaw or Avvo.  Solid legal SEOs have a list of legal specific directories that require manual management as well.

6.  Are heading tags built into my site’s template?

This is a question you can diagnose yourself.  Just because someone can (poorly) code a website, does not make them an SEO expert.  Review the heading tags across your site to see if a lazy or uninformed web developer has used them to style the template.  We had one site with the H1 tag copied across every single page of his site.  Oh – and it read “original text”.  This issue seems so simplistic, yet I see it repeatedly.  To do this, you can view source and search for H1, H2, etc., install SEO quake into Firefox and use the Diagnosis button for a page by page review, or if you are feeling ambitious (and have a site with fewer than 400 pages), use the aforementioned Screaming Frog.

7.  We want to launch a new website focused on <insert specific practice area>.

This is a favorite request for website developers who pretend to be SEOs.  They’ll churn out “SEO optimized” websites upon request and delivery of a nice fat check.  Of course, they are missing the aforementioned difficult part of SEO: linkbuilding (see question #1).  The reality is, from a linkbuilding, NAP and citations perspective, marketing two sites is more than twice as expensive as marketing one.  And if you go off the deep end with a full blown multi-domain strategy, you’d better have a very deep bank account.  Multiple domains can be appropriate for a firm with disparate practice areas – say DUI and Family law – but note that you’ll be investing extra marketing dollars to push both of them successfully.

And for my bonus question, we get #8 about social media…

8. Will you help us get more Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers to help our SEO?

This goes back to another SEO theory that has been dead for at least 3 years – that social media popularity drives search results.  Multiple spokespeople from The Google have been crystal clear that this is NOT the case.  Note that there can be a correlation between the two – with savvy content marketers using their wide and active social network to push great content to key influencers, which drives links, which drives traffic, but… ignore the social media marketers parading as SEOs who suggest the key to ranking for “Atlanta Divorce Lawyer” is a few thousand more twitter followers from Uzbekistan.

Except for Pinterest.  You totally should do that.  Really – it works.   Trust me, I’m an SEO Expert.

Citations – Overlooked Boon for Legal Industry

What is a citation?

Citations are a key determinate of your firm’s success in local search engine optimization.

Definition – mention of your business name, address, and (ideally) your phone number on webpages across the Internet. The distinguishing factor of a citation: a link to your website is not required.

Citations come in different forms. It could be a mention of your business name all by itself; a mention of your name and phone number; name, phone number and physical address; or name, phone number, physical address and website link.

The two main types of citations are structured and unstructured.

Unstructured citations are exactly how they sound – they are less formal and may only mention one of the NAP (name, address, phone number) components for your business. You will see this type of citation on blogs, in job descriptions, online news articles, etc.

Structured citations are what you see most commonly on the web. These are listings found in directories like Yelp, Citysearch, Manta, etc. We spend a lot of time at Mockingbird ensuring structured citations are listed consistently. They are the most complete representation of your business and, for the most part, the easiest to update (with some noted headaches).

Why citations are vital to your firm’s local SEO

The legal industry is arguably one of the most competitive verticals on the web. Lawyers need to utilize every tactic available, and acquiring citations is seldom done correctly if at all.

Citations are a critical component to major search engine ranking algorithms. Moz explains the different ranking components in their 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors study. Screen shot from this study below.

Local Search Ranking Factors Pie

In English: search engines pull basic business information from your website and a multitude of directories across the web in order to integrate that information into a single listing to show users. Google and Bing only want to present results that they trust are accurate. Why? Their success depends on it – sending a user to an incorrect address is the easiest way for a search engine to lose trust with that user.

So how can you build trust that your physical location is actually where you say it is? Consistent citations.

Google will trust that you are in fact a local business if your basic information, also known as NAP (name, address, phone number), is exactly the same across multiple authoritative sites and directories (think Yelp, Yellowpages, Avvo…). This helps separate the real businesses from the fake, spammy ones trying to game the system.

Let’s talk about something we all know; lawyers long for the coveted number one spot in the local pack. We can’t blame them. If you’re unfamiliar with the term local pack, it’s the group of local business listings that appears directly above the actual search results.

For example the local pack for the search term “Seattle marketing firm” looks like this:

Google Search Seattle Marketing Firm

Moz explains in their local search ranking report that external location signals (or citations) are the third most important factor used to rank businesses. If you’re wondering, the first two are on-page and link signals. Your name, address, and phone number should show up exactly the same across the web if you hope to show in local searches.

It’s an important task and something that every law firm must do.

Where to start

Starting is hard. It’s long, tedious, and frustrating work. Trust me I deal with this dirt every day.

Your first step is to choose a name, an address, and a single phone number that represents your business. Then find and edit every inaccurate listing out on the web. Tip: Keep an excel file that documents all of this information as you go. You can use this simple template we’ve created. Here are the top-tier directories and data aggregators you need to get right:

  • Acxiom
  • Factual – can’t edit
  • Infogroup
  • Localeze (Neustar)

Google trusts these sources because they are not easily polluted. Learn more about updating these main data aggregators, and the level of difficulty for each.

Top tier directories/citation opportunities

  • D&B
  • Bing Places for Business
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Google+ Local
  • LinkedIn
  • Yelp for Business

Google and people alike trust these sources and actually use them.

Low-hanging fruit (not included in Moz Local or Yext subscriptions)

  • Thumbtack
  • Yellow Pages
  • Manta
  • Angies List
  • Yellowbook
  • Kudzu
  • BBB.org
  • InsiderPages

Not the SEO savior you are searching for…

4 Citations Local Pack

Citations are not the be-all and end-all SEO solution that everyone is searching for (in case your hopes were rising). However, they could be your demise. Solid NAP consistency may be taken for granted if you have it, but if you don’t have it, you may never find yourself in that local pack.

Obligatory lawyer example

You are a personal injury attorney in NYC. Competition is cutthroat because of your practice area and geographic location.

Here’s the case. While crossing the street, an unfortunate New Yorker is struck by a taxi. Upon release from the hospital, the victim takes the obvious next step and searches for an experienced PI lawyer. He searches for “New York Personal Injury Attorney” and lands on your law firm’s listing in Google’s local pack. BOOM. All your hard work to improve your local visibility has paid off. All you have to do is pick up the phone and turn that lead into a lucrative client.

Local Pack Show Me Money

But that doesn’t happen. Instead of getting your firm’s front desk, the disgruntled New Yorker has called your old number, which is now the local UPS office. I highly doubt the victim wants legal representation from the men in brown. This is annoying, but only a slight inconvenience for him because he calls another listing from the local pack. Now your qualified lead is a client for your most loathed competitor, Joe-from-down-the-block. Don’t send clients to your competitors. That’s not good business.

The Facts

  1. Citations help your local SEO.
  2. You need proactively monitor citations for consistency.
  3. There’s a partial citation, and a complete citation – aim for the complete.
  4. It’s not easy work but it pays off.

Parting notes:

  • Evaluate the situation – https://moz.com/local/overview is a great place to start.
  • Start with your Google+ profile – fixing this is easy and will have the maximum ROI (or really ROTI).
  • Consistency over quantity – get it right before you run wild with building citations.

Go forth and take citations into your own hands. Or call us for help… that works too.

The Last 30 Days in Search – A March 2014 Recap

Each month there’s a ton of new articles published on the web regarding the latest news and trends in search marketing. Sometimes that news has to do with a Google algorithm update that can have huge ramifications for your business, and how you go about marketing on the Internet. Sometimes that news is about the latest tools, or best practices in search. And sometimes that news can be a simple statement from a well-known bigwig like Matt Cutts, but it can hint toward future updates, and give insight into Google’s perspective on search.

As marketers who serve the legal industry, we know that SEO can be a huge source of new business for attorneys. But it also can be difficult to stay abreast of the latest updates, and keep a pulse on the ones that are most applicable to the legal industry. So, to help you out, we’ve sorted through the last 30 days in search to identify some of the news we feel is most important for attorneys.

With that said, I give you the last 30 days in search.

Google Speaks Up on Disavowing Links

In a Google Webmaster forum at the beginning of the month Google’s John Mueller went on record to answer a user question regarding disavowing links to a website. With Google cracking down on paid and low quality links, many site owners are rushing to remove their links, or disavow them via webaster tools.  In this case the user was working on a website that was previously focused on gardening, and had a profile of links from other gardening related sites. However, the site had recently switched subjects, and he was worried that the gardening related links would now hurt the site beings they were unrelated to the new topic.

Here’s what Google’s John Mueller said:

Just to be completely clear on this: you do not need to disavow links that are from sites on other topics. This tool is really only meant for situations where there are problematic, unnatural, PageRank-passing links that you can’t have removed.

Then a few days later, Google’s Matt Cutts suggested in some cases that you should disavow bad links even if you haven’t been penalized, adding that if it’s only a couple bad links, it “may not be a big deal” though.

So, what does this mean to you? First off, I want to say that I don’t advise disavowing links to your site, unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. So please don’t run off and start disavowing links to your site. If you do this incorrectly you can actually hurt search traffic to your site. With that said, we’ve seen a number of attorney’s with bad link profiles, and two of which I’ve recently submitted link disavows for, after not getting a response from the sites hosting the bad links.

Here’s the question to ask yourself to assess if you’re a good candidate for link cleanup. Have you ever purchased links, or participated in a link exchange? If the answer is no, good work. Keep it that way. It will make your marketing much easier in the future. If you’re answer was yes, then it’s probably a good idea to have an SEO expert take a look into your backlink profile, and do some link cleanup.

Moz Local is Released for Managing Local Search Listings

Local search can be one of the most important, and difficult things to do for attorneys. If you do it right, you’ll show up in Google’s results with a map pinpointing your location, and any Google+ reviews placed neatly next to them like a beacon to potential clients. So, when you see one of the biggest names in local search release a tool and service to help you manage your directory listings, it makes you… happy. Or, perhaps relieved is a better word. Anything that can make managing directory listings for local search easier is a good thing. You can read more about the Moz Local release here.

Will Google’s Panda Attack Small Business?

At 2014’s Search Marketing Expo in San Jose, Matt Cutts announced that his team was working on the next Panda update that would have a direct impact on small businesses. For those familiar with the Google Panda update that was first introduced in February 2011, this may sound like reason for concern. After all, the original Panda was responsible for tossing many lawyers from the search results, deeming their sites as having “low quality content”. However, Matt Cutts and his team have explained that this algorithm update is meant to help small businesses do better in Google’s search results. There are no confirmed dates for when this update will take place, but it’s speculated that we could likely start seeing some changes within the next two to three months.

In related news, Google was also granted the patent for the Panda algorithm, ensuring Panda won’t be going anywhere.

Google is Reviewing Stance on “Not Provided” Keywords

In SMX West’s keynote, Google’s search chief Amit Singhal suggested that Google is reviewing their stance on “not provided” keywords in Google Analytics. If you’re not familiar with the “not provided” saga, here’s a quick recap.

In October 2011, Google started moving to “secure search”, which began limiting the amount of search query data website owners were able to access and view from within Google Analytics. Prior to this change you were able to view all of the different phrases that people used to arrive on your site, something very beneficial for improving user experience. For instance, if you handle DUI cases, you’d be able to analyze your search query data to see if you’re actually getting traffic on people searching for DUI, and see the exact phrases they’re using to find you. Since 2011 Google has continually reduced the amount of query data to the point now where 70-80% of query data is “not provided”. Meanwhile, Google’s been criticized for passing along the data to advertisers using Adwords PPC campaigns.

Our hope is that Google will return to it’s old system of passing along all search queries to website owners. However, it sounds somewhat unlikely, as Matt Cutts and Amit Singal have both said they’re happy with how secure search has worked on the organic side. So, does that mean Google will start withholding search query data for paid search clicks? We hope not. There’s no official statement on what they’re planning yet, but Amit has said:

In the coming weeks and months as [we] find the right solution, expect something to come out.

Yelp Sues Law Firm, McMillan Group, for Bogus Reviews

Not long ago I wrote a Search Engine Land post about a law firm suing their SEO for bad results . . . today bring us Yelp going after a law firm for posting fake reviews.  Having run marketing Avvo for about 5 years, I’ve seen all sorts of fake reviews (Avvo had, and I assume still has) a very strong algorithmic and human review spam process.  Yelp clearly has dealt with bogus reviews in the past without reaching for their lawyers.  I thought I’d dig in to see why they changed course this time . . .

Yelp goes after McMillan Group

San Diego based, McMillan Group  previously won a small claims suit against Yelp for a whopping total of $2,700.  The charge?  That  Yelp required an advertising contract in order for positive reviews to show up prominently on the company’s Yelp page.  Yelp is now coming back after the McMillan Group – citing a massive astroturfing (self-authored flattering reviews) campaign.  Essentially, Yelp claims the firm’s employees created new Yelp accounts for the sole purpose of writing one-off gushing 5 star reviews.  Many of the reviews track back to the same IP address, which coincidentally was also the firm’s IP address, (hmmmmm – not so smart McMillan Marketing staff).  In some  cases “unique” reviews were posted one after another and included exactly the same text.

Yelp has clearly dealt with bogus reviews in the past – there a few possible interpretations about why this review spat has been taken to this level:

  1. Yelp is bullying McMillan for the original lawsuit.
  2. Yelp is taking aggressive steps to protect the quality of their reviews.
  3. Yelp is seeking a PR counterpoint story to the “advertise with us or else. . . . ” news story that can’t seem to go away.
  4. The Yelp marketing department hates that McMillan has put the Yelp logo linking to a “Learn how we beat Yelp for their advertising practices” page on the Mcmillan.com homepage.

McMillan Homepage

 

Oh yes, and there’s Yelp again on a McMillan microsite (although it seems they haven’t been able to entirely figure out WordPress):

McM BK

 

Interestingly, I saw nothing but glowing 5 stars from 23 people on Google (although there was only 1 review on Avvo).

McMillan Google

 

Have some time and want to dig into the legal ramifications?  Here’s the complaint.

If I had to guess, I’d say this is a marketing tit for tat gone legal. All of this begs a very interesting question . . . other than the negative publicity, does this matter?  Do people  turn to Yelp when hiring an attorney?

Update:  Backlink Review

What would the backlink profile look like for a firm willing to astroturf reviews?  I took a cursory review at McMillan’s backlink profile.  Consider this a cautionary tale about how NOT to engage in linkspam.  According to open site explorer there are a 3,000 links from a whopping 2,000 different domains pointing to McMillan’s site.  Of those, the vast majority are evenly spread across anchor text with some variation of “san diego” + “bankruptcy attorney”  . . . 240 links with “san diego bankruptcy lawyers”, 240 links with “san diego bankruptcy attorneys”,   278 with “san diego bankruptcy lawyer” etc.

Now lets look at some of those links.

Spammy link tactic #1

Building single page “websites” on free website domains.  I counted 13 subdomains with links for McMillan on Weebly.  There are more linking subdomains on .beep, .webnode and others.

Spammy link tactic #2

Low quality directory submissions.  Here’s one of my favorites – a German website Webkatalog Firmen Anzeigenmarkt with this description of McMillan:

“It is required to have a lawyer Unless you have the time, patients, and understanding of the law to do it yourself. Here is why you need a Bankruptcy Law Firm San Diego. Better-quality San Diego bankruptcy law firm will advise you full fiscal session Facilitate and you build up a plan whichwill Certainly get the creditors off your back once and for ave McMillan Law Group will therefore take attention for all the paperwork and legal procedures Which are Merely too much to manage on your own.”

Spammy link tactic #3

Comment spam on subject-matter irrelevant blogs that don’t have no-follow attributes on comments.  According to OSE, somewhere hidden among the 7,137 other comments on this page on Dr.Dyslexia.com  is a link to McMillan.

Spammy link tactic #4

For a localized business, a reasonable proportion of links should be local – very few should be international on foreign language sites.  This is a very obvious and easy red flag to ID.  For McMillan, I found links on sites in Spanish, Chinese, German and more.

The Lesson Here

This post might sound a little mean spirited, but consider it a great example to NOT emulate with regards to link acquisition.  The real reason:  despite all that keyword rich anchor text, a Google search for “san diego bankruptcy attorney” didn’t return McMillan until deep into page 2 and they were nowhere to be found in the local (mapped) results either.

The irony, of course, is with all of this Yelp publicity, McMillan is going to build a slew of genuinely high quality links; unfortunately they’ll all be going to a domain that is probably unsalvageable.

Hot off the Press: Local Ranking Factors – Lawyer Edition

Local Ranking Factors

Every year, I’m honored to be among a handful of SEOs surveyed by local search expert, David Mihm to ID ranking factors that contribute to Local Rankings.  David’s survey has just come out on Moz and is worth a detailed look by any attorneys competing for business at a local level attorneys.

This year, the survey was broken into two components – foundational Local Optimization and Local for competitive markets. Some highlights below:

  • Local is as complex and multifaceted (if not more so) as natural search.
  • The foundations of local optimization have stayed essentially the same – there was no game changer this year, despite the heavy push around Google Plus.
  • Ranking factors for mobile devices were not that divergent from those of traditional local searches.
  • There was a very heavy focus on the quality of both citations and links (i.e. NOT quantity).  This doesn’t surprise me, but I’ve seen the legal market being very very slow to adapt to this.
  • Along the quality lines – the quality of reviewers was very important.  I saw this in my restaurant days at Urbanspoon where a single review from a Yelp elite could push a restaurant into the local results.  I’m not sure exactly how actionable this is for attorneys (i.e. soliciting business from elite reviewers seems a huge stretch) – but it does serve to focus the importance on the cringe inducing subject of online reviews.
  • One thing that surprised me (and perhaps because I’m desensitized o it after years in legal) was the negative impact of keyword stuffing in the business name.  The perception that overly descriptive business names results in all sorts of Google Juice (insert snarky tone) persists among many lawyers and legal-industry SEO “experts.”

So read David’s report – it is very hot off the press, having been published just this morning.