Is Your Blog Destroying Your Website’s Performance?

Legal Marketing SEOs have been saying it for years:  “Content is King”.  We’ve blamed the failure of our clients marketing efforts on the clients:  “the reason your site isn’t delivering is because you aren’t writing enough content.”  “You need to blog more.”   “Your site is SEO’d, you just need to write more.”

Here’s the dirty secret:  there is plenty of legal content out on the web.  In fact, I dare you to find a piece of legal content that doesn’t have over 100 pages on law firm websites optimized for it.  Its not the content stupid.  I wrote extensively about this about a year ago: SEO Regicide – Content the King is Dead and yet hapless SEOs still keep blaming their failures on their clients’ unwillingness to vomit out vapid content onto the blog on their SEO’d sites.  (I still don’t know what an SEO’d site is btw.)

Worse: your die-hard commitment to churning out dull prose about yesterday’s car accident on the intersection of Main and Walnut, is most likely hurting your site’s performance.  YES – content hurts – and the mind numbingly dull news rewrites being dumped into blogs on a daily basis pollutes not just the internet as a whole, but the ability of your site to generate traffic… traffic from people who are looking to hire you for your car accident expertise, instead of the slip and fall accident reported first in the Local Herald back in November of 2012.

Seems that all of those SEOs exhorting you to write more have forgotten about the apparently forgotten… Panda. The penalty that looks for dull, thin, poorly written garbage content and enacts a site-wide penalty – which hits the few good pages you do have.

How to Tell If (Google) Thinks (Most of) Your Content Sucks

What follows is overly simplistic – but as we’ve looked at data from hundreds of law firm sites, the following pattern has emerged.  Simply do a site:mywebsite.com search and see how many pages are indexed and then use Google Analytics, filter by natural traffic only, then look at: Behavior – Content – Landing Pages and count the number of pages that are generating inbound traffic over the past three months.  (Now this assumes you don’t have any ridiculous technical errors auto-generating duplicate versions of your content.)

In the graph below… note the outlier down at the bottom right hand corner.  This law firm has invested thousands of dollars barfing vapid content at a regular pace of 4 posts a week for the past two years. They wanted to know if… if… they should continue their content strategy (I shudder to actually write “content strategy”).  And yet – over the past 3 months more than 82% of their pages had not delivered a single visitor.  I plotted a few of our long-term regular clients to provide some perspective – other sites saw between 25% and 88% of their pages generating SEO visits (and you can bet we aren’t pushing more content to that one site sitting at 25%).  Note that it is not just volume of content – one site with close to 900 pages has almost 60% of them driving visits.

Content Hell

So…. if you find the ratio of pages to landing pages  below the 25% benchmark… perhaps your problem really is content.  Too much of it.

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 www.sanmateobankruptcylawyer.com, 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.

Ruminations

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.

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.

FindLaw Websites Crushed by Panda 4

On Tuesday, I posted about Google’s roll-out of Panda 4 – an algorithm update targeting spammy, thin, duplicative content and postulated that this was going to really shake up the legal industry.  It turns out, that was an understatement. Early results are showing that this algo update has had the largest ever impact across the legal industry.

The algo changes start with my friends in Eagen, Minnesota at FindLaw (and unfortunately, probably many of their website clients).

FindLaw.com Decimated by Panda 4

I was curious to see what happened to FindLaw’s traffic after Panada 4 rolled out, as the legal SEO industry has been vocally critical of Google for seeming to turn a blind eye to FindLaw tactics that flagrantly flaunt search engine best practices.  To date, none of the algo updates or Penguin penalties seem to have had a massive or persistent impact on either the FindLaw site or their law firm clients’ websites.   The early data suggests that has changed drastically with Panda 4:

Findlaw Alexa

Check out the massive drop in the past few days – FindLaw plummeting to traffic levels lower than they’ve seen in many years. Why did this happen?  Attorney, Damon Chetson described it best (and foreshadowed this week’s impact of Panda) in a post from January:  FindLaw Getting Penalized for SEO Abuse.

“FindLaw was “good” at creating a lot of content, most of it junk, that it could repackage and sell across websites and markets.”

This type of pervasive, thin, low quality content across a network of sites is exactly what the Panda algo updated was designed to detect and push users away from.

What Happened to Avvo?

After I saw this massive hit FindLaw’s traffic, my next stop was to check out Avvo.  (Full disclosure – I’m still a shareholder in Avvo, so I’m hardly writing from a dis-interested perspective here.)  Turns out Avvo didn’t get hit.  At all.  The Alexa graph below shows business as usual for Avvo.

Alexa - Avvo

In fact, legal marketer Shelly Fagin is reporting on some impressive gains for Avvo.

I’m seeing Panda 4.0 bumped down lots of lawyers positions for Avvo which now has a top SERP in most all our major search terms.

And the data I’m tracking suggests Shelly is entirely accurate.  Below you’ll see a sampling of ranking data on 1,500 different highly competitive head terms (like “Seattle Divorce Lawyer”) and the changes in incidence in Top 3 ranking for both FindLaw and Avvo.  While FindLaw’s appearance in the top 3 results has dropped by 44%, Avvo exploded by 210% and they are now dominating FindLaw on these highly converting (i.e. prospects making phone calls to lawyers) terms.

FindLaw vs Avvo Rankings

These changes are a big deal for the legal industry as a whole.  In 2006, I was part of a small group of people trying to use the web to bring consumers closer to the legal profession. Just eight years later – it looks like Avvo not only joined the big leagues, but is now the only major player left standing – martindale.com and lawyers.com have long been relegated to traffic irrelevance and now with Panda 4, FindLaw has joined them.

What to Expect If You are Advertising on Avvo or FindLaw

If the data above is indicative of FindLaw and Avvo’s performance overall, advertisers are going to start seeing a huge change in return on investment for their marketing spend.  As both Avvo and FindLaw essentially monetize their SEO performance as ads – I’d predict inbound traffic and call volume from FindLaw is going to crater. And if the data is correct (and the trend holds) I’d anticipate Avvo advertising rates to increase in about 3 months.

FindLaw Lawyer Websites Hit by Panda 4

My bigger concern is not really with the FindLaw domain overall, but their law firm clients who may have been negatively impacted by the tactics employed by their provider.  Did FindLaw website clients get hit too?  This is a little harder to diagnose, as most attorney sites are far too small to register on traffic reporting sites like Alexa.  BUT . . . anecdotally the answer seems to be yes.  Here are two data points:

1. FindLaw’s Pre-SEO’d Websites Hit

The day before the announcement of Panda 4, I wrote a post about FindLaw’s pre-built, pre-SEO’d sites . . . essentially websites being sold to Lawyers that were already ranking for highly competitive terms.  Seems like many FindLaw lawyer websites have disappeared entirely.  The examples I used – longislanddwilawyer.org, and lasvegas-duilawyer.com – which ranked on the first page for their respective key terms “geo _ dwi/dui lawyer” at the beginning of the week are no longer to be found in the search results.  Hand checking in on many other FindLaw sites shows the have disappeared too.  In a post today, A to Z Lawyer Marketing reports:

Well google just unveiled Panda 4.0 and it took FindLaw’s entire low quality network with it.    Hundreds of FindLaw sites have vanished from the SERP.   

2.  Forum Comments

Forum comments on the FindLaw’s Pre-SEO’d Websites Post anecdotally corroborate the data above:

Forum

If you suspect your FindLaw website has been hit by Panda . . . despair.  But just for a little while.  Then think about what makes Panda tick – that thin, recycled, low quality content.  Getting out of a Panda penalty is hard (and expensive) but is achievable. Check the stipulations of your FindLaw contract and thank your lucky stars this isn’t a Penguin issue where recovery is a much fuzzier, much harder, much more expensive.  If you are considering finding a new website or SEO provider, check out the FindLaw Jailbreak Guide.

 

 

Panda 4.0 Update – Lawyers Edition

Did your front desk phone stop ringing suddenly today?

Yesterday Google announced the launch of Panda 4.0 update – an update designed to further strengthen the quality of content they drive users to.  (Read that backwards:  Google is taking even more aggressive steps to filter out sites that deliver low quality garbage content.)

While this is an on-going roll-out, some results are already in and they are striking.

Alan Bleiweiss (as far as I’m concerned the web’s best Forensic SEO auditor) shared the Google Analytics data below showing just how massive an impact Panda can have on some sites.  What’s interesting in this case – its a client dealing with multiple algo penalties that has now cleaned up their act and under Alan’s guidance is played the game correctly and is seeing a massive upside from the Panda 4.0 roll-out.

Alan Bleiweiss

What Panda 4 Means For Lawyers

The legal industry is probably one of the worst offenders when it comes to low end content – driven heavily by the “content content content” call that was drummed by the SEO industry eager to sell lawyers blogging platforms and posts.  Given the extent of what we’ve seen from people like Alan and the incredibly heavy buzz this has generated among SEO geeks, I’d expect to see a very heavy impact to the legal industry.  Legal marketer, Shely Fagin has already reporting a heavy improvement in rankings for Avvo (this has NOT been confirmed by my old friends at Avvo, but frankly doesn’t surprise me as from my past experience I know they have a huge commitment to quality content.)

What to Do

Strap in and watch your Google Analytics account. If you’ve been outsourcing content abroad, spinning content, paying anyone less than $20 a post, or have content developed by one of the big box providers – I’d be very concerned.   Make sure you know how to generate a filter to look only at “non-paid search traffic” (image below) and look for big changes.  I generally recommend patience – but this is a big shift and unfortunately you might now being paying the price for a hiring a low quality vendor.

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.

Legal Marketing in 2014: The Only Thing You Need to Know

Now is the time of year when professional predictions, resolutions and prognostications appear across the legal marketing blogging landscape.  In the ever-changing SEO industry, correctly guessing the newest new thing is very effective.

As far as I’m concerned there’s only one thing you need to know about online marketing in 2014:  Matt is mad.

In 2013, the head of Google’s anti-webspam team (and unofficially, chief industry PR spokesperson), Matt Cutts, hammered the SEO industry with anit-spam algorithm updates.  And while Google started sharing these algo code name updates back in 2011; through 2013 we saw these names go from project code names whispered about at geek conferences into brand names, with careful, proactive PR launches.  Pandas and Penguins and Hummingbirds.  Oh My!

Traditionally, Google’s anti-spam PR approach has been to single out individuals – JC Penney’s, BMW etc. – and make an example of them.  And while there will continue to be individual examples, what we are now seeing is much more widespread.  This accelerated towards the end of the year with widespread algo changes and very public warnings about guest blogging, thin authorship and a litany of link scheme busts.  Here are some (non-animal branded) announcements from December 2013 alone:

Google Has Officially Penalized Rap Genius for Link Schemes

Matt Cuts Implies Google is Aware of SEOs Bribing Bloggers

Google Reduces Authorship Rich Snippets in Search Results

Google Squashes Backlinks.com – Another Link Network Outed by Google

Google’s Matt Cutts: Guest Blogging Abuse SPAM on the Rise

Google Busts Yet Another Link Network – Anglo Rank

Google’s Matt Cutts: Stitching Content is Bad SEO Quality Content

Google Mindset Shift

Most interesting was a shift in mindset publicly espoused by Google. Generally, given their vast reach and power – we seen amicable Matt speaking reasonablly gently about these issues. So I was very surprised to run across Cutts in a December 4, This Week in Google video, in a carefully worded statement saying:

“We want to break [spammers] spirits.”

Barry Schwartz has a detailed review of the video on Search Engine Land – here are some of the key excerpts:

“If you want to stop spam, the most straight forward way to do it is to deny people money because they care about the money and that should be their end goal. But if you really want to stop spam, it is a little bit mean, but what you want to do, is sort of break their spirits.”

SPAM and the Legal World in 2013

Aggressive and enterprising lawyers tend to be some of the more aggressive spammers – rivaling offshore porn, pills and poker.  In 2013, the third largest legal industry centric link buying scheme was quietly taken down (interestingly – to the best of my knowledge this hasn’t been reported anywhere.)  I don’t know if that was a manual change made by Google or if it was caught up in a larger algo update.  And remember lawyers – I’m talking to more and more of you coming up with various office sharing schemes to try to artificially expand your footprint in Google local results.  If you want to stay around for a while, open up a real office.  David Mihm’s 2013 Local Optimization Ranking Factors Survey identified the number one negative ranking factor:  Listing Detected at False Business Location.

So – Atticus’ predictions for 2014?

As a whole, the legal industry will experience a heavy shake-up with regards to who generates business from the web.  “Penalty Recovery” will become a staple of the legal SEO agency world as law firms flee the large spammy, legally focused SEO agencies/consultants/website providers.

 

SEO Regicide: Content the King is Dead

Content content content.

“You need more content.”

 “You need to rewrite news articles every day!”

“You need to blog more.”

“Publish or perish.”

“Google launched Hummingbird – you need to write FAQs!”

Psssssst . . . . lawyers . . .  all of the SEO experts are telling you (and all of your competitors) the same thing.  And like compliant lemmings, you are all doing the same thing.

Psssssst . . .  It doesn’t work anymore.

The Rise and Fall of the Content Dynasty

The genesis for the focus on content began about 5 years ago.  Changes in consumer search behavior gradually took effect – whereby users began looking for increasingly specific answers with increasingly granular content pages.  The “long tail” of search became the industry’s hottest new buzzword.  SEO experts, ninjas, and mavens started churning out pages with very subtle differences –  “Best Seattle underage DUI Attorney”, “Top 10 Settle teen DUI Attorneys” “Great Seattle Drunk Driving Lawyers for drivers under 21” ad nauseam.  The industry adopted the boorish practice of rewriting news stories and vomiting them back onto blogs that quickly became poorly written rehasings of yesterday’s news.

And for a while it worked (at least in generating traffic for the SEO consultants to return triumphantly with “success metrics” for their misguided clients – the fact that the phone never rang didn’t seem to matter – but I digress, that is a topic for another post.)  The legal industry became publishing sweatshops – with individual firms churning out hundreds, even thousands of articles a month.

Eventually, the search engines, as they always do, caught up with the SEO spammers.  Penguins and Pandas and most recently, Hummingbirds were let lose on the algorithms.  Content, the King, was under attack.

Content is Dead

The Succession of the King:  Quality Content

The search engine talking heads defended their King – retreating back to the ever-popular refrain – “write quality content and we will reward you with a bounty of traffic.”

So the SEO experts and mavens and ninjas did as they were told . . . infographics and guest blogging were born. Top 10 Lists proliferated like bunnies on a steady diet of Viagra. In time, most legally focused news stories was dissected and built into beautiful graphical statistical displays.  Guest blog brokers were born.  Just like with King Content, the disciples of his son, Quality Content initially did very well.  But as others caught up, they became increasingly less effective. Because everyone was doing it.

So the search engines sent warnings about guest blogging.  The cycle repeated itself again.

Quality Content is NOT Enough

This death of King Content and his prince son, Quality hit me square in the face a few weeks ago at Webcam –  a small but amazing conference in Bend Oregon.  Marshall Simmonds, who used to be the in-house SEO for the New York Times  (arguably one of the most high quality original content publishers) heralded the end of a dynasty:  Content is no longer King.

Eu Tu Simmonds?

And he’s right. We are now at a point in the evolution of the web where generating quality content is no longer sufficient for success. There’s frankly just too much of it.  The trick, the real hard part of marketing, today’s unscaleable solution and the successor of the crown is marketing content.  And by “marketing content” – I don’t mean “content marketing” – the aforementioned practice of vomiting out hoards of webpages.  I literally mean undertaking marketing efforts to promote your quality content.  This can take the shape of many different channels – social media, networking, the dubiously named “author rank” or even the marketing pariah of the SEO world – Public Relations.  Marshall’s pronouncement was utterly confirmed for me when I looked at the referring traffic for some legal sites and found that Press Release providers (PRWeb etc.) frequently showed up as the #1 referring site. For years, I have mocked the press release tactic as a dying relic of yesteryear  – but I’ve been wrong – because now, the genuine distribution of content is what makes the magic happen.

The reality is that the Quality Content mantra assumed that when you have quality content, links are going to happen.  This is no longer universally true – especially in hypercroweded content landscapes like legal.  To be successful, you must embrace proactively marketing that very good, high quality content.

Content is dead, long live Content.