Leaving WordPress Drops Traffic by 44% (and Tangentially, Why Mockingbird is Awesome)

Sometimes our clients leave us. And it always makes me sad…especially when they move to a different provider, who insists on them paying for an “updated” website and locking them in for a multi year contract. Especially, when they were already on a very good, well built WordPress site. But it’s even worse, when this website redesign underperforms.  Immediately and drastically. Our ex client, experienced this as a 44% decrease in website traffic that rolled out immediately after her new site launched. No new content, no changes in backlink profile, no changes to her local tactics or platform. Just a new website on a vendor’s proprietary platform, that frankly can’t compete with her, ahem, “old” (and in this case, the site was about 4 years old) WordPress site.

In the off chance that this was a random change in tracking infrastructure, we further validated the data above in Google Search Console – the results mirror the significant drop in search traffic – 44% in fact – once the law firm migrated away from WordPress.

Take this as yet another example of the value of a well coded WordPress website, which intrinsically outperforms proprietary platforms.

Now, not all WordPress sites are created equal – in fact many of the widely available and utilized templates are extremely poorly coded from an SEO perspective. (This is the part where I tangentially brag about our developers’ collective coding prowess.) And not all WordPress sites are fast – great hosting (in our case, WPEngine) is important – efficient code is important – expertly compressed imagery is important. In our case, we tend to obsess over those things. Now our ex client is seeing a 44% drop in her website traffic.  And because she is heavily dependent on the web for client development, presumably a 44% decrease in business. And it’s a real shame if she’s locked in for a multi-year commitment. I’m not saying you have to work with us – just be aware that platform matters. I apologize if this comes across as bitter…and yes, there’s a little bitter taste in my mouth…but I hope you can avoid the same mistakes she made, even if it’s not with Mockingbird.

Rumor Mill: FindLaw transitioning sites to WordPress????

UPDATE: A second, well placed and completely unrelated source has corroborated FindLaw’s intent to migrate to WordPress.

On the phone with another law firm prospect today who told me her FindLaw rep had told her that they were transitioning websites from the proprietary FindLaw platform to WordPress. Now, this would be a major change in the online marketing world for lawyers and something that would really shake up the industry. I received two competing perspectives on this after I posted on Facebook:

Not surprising. Everyone has been leaving for years for their own WordPress sites so strategically it’s probably their only move. Be interesting to see how it pans out for them. – Shelly Fagin

 

We’ll see. My guess is this is just an instance of the FindLaw rep not knowing anything. You could honestly put 20 of them in a room together and still not have the cumulative web knowledge to update a paragraph on their own proprietary system…   – James Eichenberger*

Now – the theoretical economist in my believes that Shelly is right. Having spoken to perhaps a hundred FindLaw clients in detail over the past decade, the long term, captive nature of the proprietary platform and contracts is something clients resent. No one wants to be beholden to a vendor, especially when cheaper, better alternatives exist. This has been, perhaps, the primary reason we’ve easily been able to score deals with FindLaw clients. (To be 100% fair, I did lose one client back to FindLaw about two years ago and that eats at me like maggots feasting on a forgotten hamburger.)

Alternatively, the pragmatist in me suspects James is right…I just can’t see the impetus to move with the market, while you can still squeeze a little more profit (and captive clients) out of your big box brand recognition.

So – in the comments…anyone from Minnesota care to weigh in and let us know?

* – and oh, hahahahahaha I went to link out to Shelly and James’ respective sites, only to find I couldn’t find anything for James, so I moseyed on to his Facebook profile looking for a website (and a lawyer in need of serious SEO?), but no…James’ Work and Education on FB…

Oh James – a beer on me should you ever find yourself in Seattle.

 

How to Inadvertently Hide Your Content (And Gut Your Site) with Pop Ups

Got another call from a lawyer whose website, he thought, was underperforming. A quick review of the site shows why….

While the site is visually fine, note that all of his practice areas display as pop ups on the same URL…the individual practice area content doesn’t actually exists at his URL: http://grenierlawgroup.com/practice-areas/. (Note below – the URL for this practice area is stuck at /practice-areas/, as is all their other practice area content.

And you can see that Google can’t find any pages about specific practice areas:

I’ve seen this with attorney profile pages as well. So…when you are DIYing (and you really can) your websites…be sure that all of your content has a page (read: distinct URL) on which to reside.

Back to Basics: On-Page SEO for Law Firm Websites

This blog post is specifically aimed at helping you optimize a page on your WordPress site, and even more specifically assumes you are using the Yoast SEO plugin. However, you can use these tips and tricks on pretty much any content management system.

There is no shortage of advice and articles out there about optimizing for on-page ranking factors. In this post, we’ll avoid the highly technical and look at some of the easiest, most basic wins.

Page Elements You Can (and Should) Optimize

  1. H1 tag
  2. URL
  3. Content: internal linking and images
  4. Title tag
  5. Meta description

My Not-So-Scientific Methodology

From the “Edit Post” or “Edit Page” view in WordPress, I simply work my way down from top to bottom and left to right: H1, URL, content, categories & tags (if blog post) title tag, meta description (Yoast SEO).

Optimizing Your H1 Tag

Your H1 is the title to your page and should describe the page appropriately. That is the most basic, and also most important thing to get correct. Search engines look at the title tag (we’ll get to this later) and the H1 to help them determine what the page content is going to be about.

Optimizing Your URL

Things to do: Keep it short, keep it human (avoid random strings of numbers and characters), and keep keywords to the front. Look to this post’s URL slug as an example; there are no stop words, my most important keywords “on-page-seo” are at the front, and it’s very easy to read and type as a human being.

Don’t allow WordPress to decide the URL for you or stuff it with unnecessary stop words (such as “the”) and keywords.

Optimizing Your Page Content

I could dedicate an entire blog post to this section, but in an effort to keep this post short and digestible, here is my bulleted list of the most important things to get correct.

  • Images: try and use images within the content when possible, and make sure that each one has alt text describing what that image portrays.
  • Internal linking: make sure that you are linking to relevant pages when it makes sense. For example, if you have a call to action such as “contact us for a free consultation,” that’s a great opportunity to link to your contact page. Or, if your page on personal injury describes more specific areas such as “motorcycle accidents”, that’s another great internal linking opportunity. 1-3 internal links per page is optimal.

Optimizing Your Meta Title (or Title Tag)

Your title tag is the most important piece to on-page SEO. This is your chance to tell the search engines what the page is about. Above all, you have to optimize this element.  Far too often we see our clients with uninformative title tags like “home” for their homepage, or “injury lawyers” for an important practice area page. Google usually displays somewhere around the first 65 characters and you should use all of that space. If you’re not sure where to start, here is a very safe and typical format to be used for law firms: “Practice Area | City, State | Brand Name”

By using this format, you are 1) putting your most valuable keywords first (this is important for ranking), 2) optimizing for specific location you serve, and 3) showing the searcher that you are actually a law firm. See example below of how this format would show up in search results.

Title Tag Google Results Example

Optimizing Meta Description

This is your chance to give the searcher a sneak peek at your page’s content. This is where you draw the actual click. You get roughly 160 characters to try and compel the searcher to click so use it wisely. You want to describe the page as concisely as possible; here’s the meta description I wrote for the post you’re reading right now… “This post describes how to optimize a page on your law firm’s WordPress site in under 15 minutes using the Yoast SEO plugin. Easy for anyone to learn!” Maybe not my best work, but at least it gives the reader insight into what they can expect from this post.

Wrapping Up

If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of these factors and how to capitalize on them, please feel free to reach out to me directly: dustin[at]mockingbirdmarketing.com. If you would like to learn more on your own, here are a few of my favorite additional resources on the topic:

 http://backlinko.com/on-page-seo
https://moz.com/blog/category/on-page-seo
http://neilpatel.com/blog/the-on-page-seo-cheat-sheet/

WPML Custom Language Switcher

Alert: This is a post intended for WordPress web developers.

Are you using the WordPress Multi Lingual (WPML) plugin to manage multi lingual content? Are you happy with how your language switcher button looks? If your website or theme is custom developed or heavily customized – chances are the easy WPML lang switcher widget looks pretty weird jammed into your header, sidebar, or footer. At Mockingbird, we like to have easily accessible language switcher buttons somewhere in the header. When possible, we will use a custom WPML language switcher to allow more consistent design and a stronger UX. We also try to built our sites as light as possible, using a custom switcher allows you to disable the WPML lang switcher stylesheet, removing 1 more stylesheet from your loaded resources!

The Code

I recommend using the plugin settings – “Link to home of language for missing translations”. Make sure not to use the WPML lang switcher widget in addition to the custom switcher if you have disabled the required stylesheet. You will of course need to style this custom switcher yourself. The php, html, and settings are of course editable, you can find documentation here. WPML has released a Twig solution for a custom switcher to avoid PHP, which seems needlessly complicated – learn more about that here.

The code below will need to be placed in the necessary theme file/location to function correctly. I develop child themes for the Genesis Framework and place this custom switcher code in the functions file within a header area hook. See below:

FindLaw Abandons Another Law Firm

It’s Halloween so, a perfect time for a scary post about a ghoul in our midst….

You’ll remember about a year ago, we knocked out a website for Kendall Coffman in 24 hours after FindLaw pulled the plug on his site – leaving it looking like this:

404 Coffman

So yesterday, we got the same call – another law firm abandoned by FindLaw, leaving their site naked in the breeze.  This time, we turned around a new site same day.  Now that’s not easy – it involved pulling our fire alarm – getting all hands on deck and working with our Echo WordPress template to push something live really quickly.  And we didn’t engage in rounds and rounds of creative revisions or discussion on the shade of blue in the background.  BUT…. within 8 hours of getting his inquiry – the new site is up and running and 100% technically sound. Designed from our Echo template, it includes:

  • attorney bio pages complete with attorney specific testimonials
  • removed FindLaw’s toll-free “tracking” numbers.
  • contact forms
  • legacy GA code
  • on-site search
  • social media integration
  • contact us page complete with Google maps integration
  • mobile responsive design with sticky phone number header.

Oh – and while I’m ranting about FindLaw…. unfortunately the firm had been paying FindLaw to write blog posts for them – except the devious, self-serving, underhanded, fine print in their agreement meant that FindLaw retained ownership of that content. So while Echo can handle blog functionality, unfortunately the firm’s new site will be blog naked (for now.) Imagine that – here’s a law firm paying FindLaw to develop content for them – that they, in fact do not own.  Kind of like buying a house only to find out your mortgage is actually a lease.

And if you are a complete blockhead and still considering buying/renting your website from FindLaw – perhaps you should peruse my 9 Questions Your Website Developer Doesn’t Want you to Ask post.

Technical Roadmap for Leaving FindLaw

And for law firms, or other agencies facing a similar FindLaw induced marketing disaster, here’s a roadmap of the technical issues to handle:

Here is a summary of everything we did – taken from our instructions to our client, Justin:

  • Moved all content that we could find archived on the web except for the blog roll as well as leveraged the Word document you provided – please use your sitemap to go through the content. Please also review the disclaimer and Privacy Policy.
  • Updated all the phone numbers in content/meta descriptions/header/footers to your direct line and removed toll free “Findlaw” numbers.
  • Copied the Google Analytics code as it was on your previous site. We highly recommend verifying you have ownership over this Analytics account. If not, try to obtain.
  • Kept the Google Search Console verification tag. We highly recommend verifying you have ownership over this Search Console account. If not, try to obtain.
  • Created a Bing Webmaster Tools account and gave you ownership.
  • Updated ALL the internal links. Since your site is now on WordPress, all the URLs end with a slash (/) instead of a combination of slashes and “.shtml”. Since we were manually migrated the content we could get our hands on, it was easier to update these on the go.
  • Migrated all the page Titles and Descriptions. Again, easier to do on the fly.
  • Created 301 redirects for:
    • all URLs ending in .shtml to point them to the new URLs with “/”.
    • Duplicate legacy contact form we found during migration
    • Attorneys URL to force lower case “A”.
    • Blog roll and blog. Note: This redirect will need to be revised if you choose to utilize the blog feature on your new site.
  • Setup and configured Yoast SEO
  • Updated Robots.txt and included your XML sitemap location
  • Configured contact form with a ‘thank you’ destination page and Google Event Tracking. Tested and confirmed working.
  • Crawled post-launch site
    • No internal 404 errors (this means all the links on the new site work!)
    • No internal 301 redirects on pages (this means that all the links go to the final destination, which is how it should be!)
  • I’ve also added 3 more “properties” to your search console account. The one you want to use is XXXXXXX. We can cover this during the demo.
  • I was also afraid that FindLaw would see my updates so I have added us as owners to these tools and removed permissions for the email you provided to manage users. I would recommend giving us a gmail account (or you can register your current email, which is through Office 360, to be used with google products) so that we can add that as owner for everything. This prevents FindLaw from taking access away.
  • Finally, I submitted the new site to be indexed by Google through Search Console. This should help get those blog posts you don’t own out of the search results. It will also help Google understand what in the world just happened.
  • Allowed site to be indexed by google
  • Added you as a user to the new site – you should have received an email with a PW
  • Added you as a user to your new host (WP Engine) – you should receive an invitation email to create a PW
  • Added your website back to your Google My Business listing and it was immediately published

#Hashtag Idiocy: #JustBecauseYouDon’tUnderstandItDoesn’tMeanYouShouldDoIt

Most of the time, when people drop hashtags all over their posts and tweets, like rabbits pooping in a garden, they are really saying:

“I don’t really know how social media works, but it seems to be a big deal, so I’m going to drop a “#” in front of random words.  #IGetSocialMedia #Really #Hashtag”

Sometimes it means,

“I really don’t get this so I decided to hire someone to do it for me (its, just that they don’t understand it either, but I don’t know that.”

The proliferation of hashtags in legal marketing, without a clear understanding of how they work, has led to the subsequent proliferation of hashtag marketing consultants. This practice, is reminiscent of the SEO “gurus” of 5 years ago, whose primary role was to “tag” content so “The Google can understand what it is about”.  This practice, of course led to WordPress sites with a  massive proliferation of duplicated garbage tag pages – lawyer, attorney, law firm, car accident, car crash, car wreck.  You get the idea.  We’ve spent thousands of our clients’ dollars unravelling these garbage pages, but I digress….

#BackToHashtags

Why?

Why are we so enamored with hashtags? We hear about them all the time. I’m going to go to Wikipedia for the definitional reason:

A hashtag is a type of label or metadata tag used on social network and microblogging services which makes it easier for users to find messages with a specific theme or content.

“Makes it easier to for users to find message with a specific theme or content.”  Remember that.  It means that either a)people are looking for your specific hashtag or b)its part of widespread trend.  So just because you’ve heard about hashtags for #savethewhales or the #superbowl or maybe an #smx conference or a loved brand like #patagonia, doesn’t mean people are looking for #caraccidentattorney with hashtags.  And, in the off chance, people are going to click on your #lawyer hashtag – all they are going to see is a bunch of…. other lawyers who want their business as much you do. Great idea marketers.

In all the examples below, I’m pulling tweets from a twitter search for “car accident lawyer” – and let’s not get further distracted talking about the idiocy of that tactic…. i.e. people don’t start their search for highly personal, highly private issues like an accident lawyer, divorce lawyer, dui lawyer, domestic violence lawyer etc on twitter, but I digress again.

There are a variety of garbage hashtag mistakes:

The Useless Single Word

This is done #simply #by #inserting #a #hashtag #in #front #of #words #the #writer #thinks #are important.

idiocy

#lawsuits #lawyer #litigation?  It does read like those old “tagging” strategies for website content doesn’t it?  The presumption here of course, is that someone is doing a hashtag search for #lawyer…. or there’s some degree of virality to this content.  Right…. anyone else think, all of a sudden, #Litigation, is going to start trending?

The Useless Concatenated Words

The next variant is smushed together words.  Think #BlackLivesMatter – that has a big following and is regularly searched.  But….. probably not #caraccident or #personalinjury.   Sorry #Pribanic&Pribanic.

overloaded-idiocy

And in my example above, note that if someone is looking for #pittsburgh (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility), its probably NOT because they just got rear ended by a Lexus on Main Street, Pittsburgh.

The Epically Bizarre Phrase

If two words are good, what not more?  #doineedalawyerafteracaraccident  This looks like my cat walked across my keyboard.  What possible marketing/social media/google juice/twitterverse explanation can you possibly have for this?

hattag-words

Interestingly “Legal Monthly” describes itself as “The official Tweets of the San Diego Legal Times Monthly”  Except, of course, there is no such thing as the San Diego Legal Times.  And their feed is nothing more than thousands of tweets with #hashtaggarbage from law firms and law firm newsletters across the country.  Now I could be wrong here, but someone is presumably paying for this “social media marketing consulting”.  Like the Porter Law Firm in the example above.

Hashtags and SEO

But Conrad, I was told this will help my Google rankings!

I’ll keep this simple:  The number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends or Pinterest Pins or Meerkat Meerkats are NOT an SEO ranking factor. Same holds for #hashtags. Or #hash #tags. Social media marketing gurus who suggest otherwise understand neither (or they are deliberately bilking you).

Think critically about why you spend money on marketing consultants.  What are they doing?  How does it work? Does it pass the sniff test? And just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that you need to spend money on it – otherwise your marketing dollars are a cost, not an investment.

#StopBlowingYourKidsCollegeFundOnStuffYouDon’tUnderstand

Law Firm Website Costs Graphic

Law Technology Today published my post on the Law Firm Website Cost Benchmarking Study we did for the American Bar Association.  You can read all of the goodies here.  BUT – they didn’t include my handy dandy graphic and so, in the spirit of a picture is worth a thousand words….

(Note – study size was 81 different law firm sites, built on the WordPress platform in the US.  Sites stuck on the Y axis – we simply didn’t have accurate turnaround time data for.)

Law Firm Website Costs

Squarespace vs WordPress for your Law Firm Website

Although it’s been around for a while, we’ve been hearing more and more about Squarespace lately. While it could be a great option for a portfolio or personal website, the real question is: can you use Squarespace for a law firm website?

Pros of Using Squarespace

  • Low cost – Squarespace websites run between $8 and $18 a month. For comparisons sake, using WordPress and hosting on WPEngine (which we recommend), runs $29/month. Although that extra $10 provides daily automatic backups and increased security measures, it’s still more expensive.
squarespace-pricing
Squarespace Pricing
  • Ease of use – For some one with minimal tech experience, Squarespace is very user-friendly. It’s designed well and uses a drag and drop page builder, which allows you to see your changes in real time. WordPress, while still fairly intuitive, comes with a lot more bells and whistles.
  • Mobile responsive – While it’s not uncommon for site builders to be mobile friendly, it’s important. All Squarespace sites work on computer monitors, phones, and all devices in between. WordPress is also mobile friendly, but it’s theme/developer depenedent.

Cons of Using Squarespace

  • Lack of customizability – Squarespace pales in comparison to WordPress in terms of customizability, in both functionality and design. Do you need a multilingual site? Want randomized blog posts in your footer? Have a vision in mind of exactly how you want your site to look? Squarespace won’t work for you.
  • SEO limitations – Squarespace makes SEO basics possible, but certainly not easy. Titles and meta descriptions indicated as “optional.” URL redirects, absolutely vital if you ever do any site restructuring, are hidden in Advanced settings. In WordPress, using a plugin like SEO Yoast makes SEO basics easy.

squarespace-seo-settings-optional

  • Proprietary – Unlike WordPress, which is open source, Squarespace is a proprietary system. While this might not cause problems short-term, it could mean trouble down the road. For example, only Squarespace developers can create tools for their websites or help you if something goes wrong.
  • Image focused – While for some this may be a plus (think wedding photographers and chefs), this can be a limitation for the legal industry. Many law firms lack high quality images that represent their firm.

Should You Use Squarespace for Your Law Firm Website?

My final verdict? Squarespace isn’t a bad option, especially if you’re on a shoestring budget and have a couple free hours on a Tuesday night to build it yourself. You could do worse. But you could also do much, much better.

Assuming time and money negligible, a custom WordPress site will always be your best bet. It will allow you to do everything you want to do and differentiate you from your competitors. For more information, you can read up on our website build process here.

If a custom WordPress site isn’t in the cards for you this year, you may be a good fit for Echo. Echo is our alternative to Squarespace and other website builders. It’s a legal-specific templated site that gives you the SEO benefits of a custom WordPress site and the low cost simplicity of Squarespace. If you want to learn more about Echo, you can do so here.

If you are going to use Squarespace, here are a few parting nuggets of wisdom:

  • Utilize their 14 day free trial without changing anything on your current site to see how it works for you. Make sure you no index your site during this time so it can’t be found by search engines.
  • Purchase a new domain or link your existing firm domain (use lawfirm.com vs lawfirm.squarespace.com).
  • Utilize the Google Analytics integration. Squarespace provides their own proprietary analytics in your site dashboard, but should you ever move away from Squarespace, you would no longer have access to it. You are nothing without data

Have more questions? Need advice? Give us a call.