#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….



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.


#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.


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?


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.


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
  • 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.


  • 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.

Popular Legal WordPress Contact Form Plugin Giving Errors

A widely popular contact form plugin on legal websites has been scaring its users since it released its latest update on Feb 20th, 2016.

Contact Form 7, or CF7 for short, came out with a recent update that boasts a new “Configuration Validator”. This validator scans your contact forms and looks for common errors that prevent your form submissions from being sent properly. It seems that CF7’s developer was tired of answering/fixing common CF7 configuration settings. I don’t blame him.

Contact Form 7 Validation Errors

If you’ve recently updated this amazing WordPress plugin, you’ve probably notice a new notification prompting you to “validate your contact forms now.”

contact form 7 validation message

According to CF7, if you’ve setup your forms properly you’ll be all set. However, even if your contact forms are working, you may also see something like this:

contact form 7 configuration errors found screenshot

AGH! This is my nightmare. Errors. And a lot of them. It just so happens that errors on contact forms are my least favorite thing.

Here are two screenshots of the actual error on the contact form (both are on the ‘mail’ tab and related to the ‘from’ field):

contact form 7 syntax error screenshot

contact form 7 email address error screenshot

How Do You Fix Them?

Step 1: If you haven’t already, install and activate a plugin called Contact Form DB. It captures and stores all form fills (even failed attempts), which allows you to follow up with emails that don’t make it into your inbox. Always have a plan B! I also recommend sending the developer a couple bucks for the piece-of-mind that they’ve developed for you.

Step 2: Test your forms. Send an email through your website to make sure you actually get it. Be sure to check your spam folder.

Step 3: If you don’t receive the email, change the “from” field on the mail tab to what CF7 suggests: [your-name] <valid-email-address@yourdomain.com>

Step 4: Test it again.

Step 5: Check your SPAM folder.

Bonus: If you’re running event tracking to Google Analytics, you might as well smash two birds and verify this is working as well. No time like the present! I’ve also come across a really helpful write up on other CF7 validation errors, why they are happening and how to fix them.

Why Are These CF7 Errors Happening?

The internet is full of scammers and spammers. Just because an email says it came from conradsaamhashair.com doesn’t mean it actually did. There are many ways you can send emails on behalf of other people domains. Scary right?

On the other hand, sending emails on behalf of other domains can be extremely useful for you and your business. Perhaps your contact form or intake system sends automatic emails on your behalf. Very handy if you receive a lot of leads throughout the day. Technically, these aren’t being sent from your email, though it looks as if they are.

The trouble with setting up emails and contact forms exactly the way that CF7 suggests, is that it’s complex and involves you working with your IT/Email hosting provider (who probably knows nothing about websites). Surprise, email hosting and websites aren’t the same thing. To completely remove the risk of Spoofers sending emails from your domain, you need to use email-authentication settings like SPF and DKIM methods (read: contact your IT support).

Adding to the complexity: every email provider, client, spam filter, contact form and website content management system is different. Yay!

In short, you can setup the contact form to work… but if it’s not exactly how CF7 wants you to do it (since they’ve been forced to joined the war on spam), you’ll have to get used to some bright red errors if you choose to stick with what has previously worked.

CF7 Update Summary:

Updating your plugins immediately after a developer has released a new version is a lot like buying the first generation Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. Sometimes everything goes smoothly, and other times you go through three different phones before you get one that works. It also means that you may need to get used to a few new quirks along the way.

We recommend that you regularly test your contact forms (and call tracking numbers) to make sure you are getting your leads. You’ve got enough to worry about – those two items shouldn’t be on that list.

Use a backup system to your contact forms. We like Contact Form DB. It keeps a log of all contact form submissions, even failed attempts.

Understand that sometimes there are false positives. Just because a scanner says it’s broken, doesn’t mean it actually is. Oh, and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow even if it was best practice.

HTML Sitemap: Creating in WordPress and Their Importance

What is an HTML Sitemap? An HTML Sitemap is a page on your website with links to every single page of important content on your website. Any pages on your site that can be indexed by search or are navigable from your menus should be linked to by your sitemap page!

But I already have an XML Sitemap! An XML Sitemap is purely for search engines, and all of the pages you submit via XML are not guaranteed to be indexed. XML Sitemaps are of no use to your end user. They are made for robots and look like they are made for robots. See ours here.

What Does an HTML Sitemap Look Like? A simple list of important pages with links to each one. Check out our Mockingbird Marketing sitemap page!

Why Your HTML Sitemap is Important

All of the content on your site should be navigable with clicks. But, some of your really old blog posts or deep pages may take quite a few page links and clicks to reach. When you create an HTML Sitemap page and place that page link in your footer, you provide links to all the important content on your site within 2 clicks! This is useful for visitors and the search engines alike. It may increase the likelihood of that old, yet important content, being indexed by search. All of this increases the chances of people finding your website and content through search.

This video may be a few years old, but Matt Cutts explanation still rings true, see below:

It’s unclear if HTML sitemaps are still a major SEO force/factor…. However, they are easy to create and possibly useful for search and users, every site should have one.

How To Create Your WordPress HTML Sitemap: Our Favorite Solution

WordPress has thousands of free and premium plugins available to do anything under the sun on your website. Some plugins we love make certain SEO tasks a breeze. We use WordPress SEO by Yoast to do all sorts of on site SEO tasks, like creating XML Sitemaps. That plugin has amazing functionality, but is missing an HTML Sitemap generator. And trust me, you don’t want to manually create an HTML sitemap. This would require creating a link to every page on your website, and adding a link every time you create a new page.

That’s why we use this amazing plugin – WP SEO HTML Sitemap. It integrates with your Yoast XML Sitemap settings, but does not require Yoast to function. With Yoast, this HTML Sitemap plugin will create one link to every page on your website that exists in your XML Sitemap. You should already have your XML Sitemap configured to include all indexed, important content on your site.

Steps to Setup your HTML Sitemap Page:

  1. Install the plugin on your WordPress site.
  2. Create a page titled “Site Map”.
  3. From your site’s WordPress admin screen, hover over “Settings” and click “SEO HTML Sitemap”.
  4. Settings:
    1. Sitemap Page: Select “Site Map”.
    2. Location on Page: Select “After Page’s Content”.
    3. Disable Plugin’s CSS?: Select “Disable the CSS Styles”. This will disable the column setting. Hint: you don’t want to load unnecessary extra css resources on your site.
    4. Link to XML Sitemap: Select “No, Don’t Link to the Sitemap XML”.
    5. Credit Link: Select “Don’t add”. Sorry Plugin Author..
    6. Hit “Save Changes” button.
  5. Add a link to your new HTML Sitemap page in your websites footer.
  6. You’re done!

See how easy that was? A few quick steps to increasing the quality of your website!

Easy Button

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.


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.

Website Refresh

We’ve finally completed a long overdue look and feel update to the website.  Like the barefoot cobbler’s children, we’ve been in need of a website redesign for some time now.  We’re also very proprietary about our client list and now, finally have a good site (our own) to reference.

And we eat our own dogfood adhering to guidelines from the Best Practices for Law Firm Websites post:

  • The primary job of a website is to make the phone ring – check out the cool custom persistent header that maintains the phone number when scrolling.
  • Built on easy to use (and easy to transfer) WordPress creating a custom look with limited incremental expense and automatically responsive.
  •  Hosted on managed wordpress provider WPEngine – more expensive at $29 monthly, but thoroughly worth it.
  • Yoast plug-in configured, GA-Code transferred.
  • Legacy URL’s checked and redirects installed where necessary.

And how much should these cost?  Had we billed our new site to a client – it would have come in at just under $4,500 – keep that in mind every month writing that $1,000 check for your website.

WordPress 3.9.2 Update Addresses Security Issues

Because WordPress is the most easy to use and widely available website platform it is heavily targeted by hackers.  And a hacked WordPress site can be almost impossible to fix . . .  we’ve actually rebuilt client sites from scratch in the past instead of managing headaches around hacking issues.

Yesterday WordPress just launched 3.9.2 to address various security concerns.  So if you are running WordPress – make sure you’re updated to the current version.  And if you are one of Mockingbird’s hosted clients . . . don’t worry, we updated you last evening.

Oh – and how can you tell what version you are running?  Just log in to WordPress and look at the bottom right hand corner of any page . . .

WordPress Version


That’s all . . . carry on.

WordPress Hacked: A case for a Managed WordPress Host

We push WordPress as the only acceptable platform for legal websites.  There is a downside: WordPress’s ease of use has led to widespread adoption.  And with popularity comes hacking.  WordPress is notorious as a target for hacks.  A hacked WordPress site is quickly rendered almost invisible (with the exception of highly branded queries) to search engines as they proactively steer users away from a sites that are out of the site owner’s control.

Here’s an example for the branded query “sostrin law office”:

Hacked WordPress warning

“This site may be hacked.”

This warning is the kiss of SEO death for a site.  In fact, searches for “criminal defense los angeles” didn’t return this site within the first 100 results, even after I had visited it.  Its a good looking site, with good content but I suspect is utterly invisible to search traffic.


We’ve had one client who came to us with a hacked WordPress site – their search traffic had essentially flatlined, the phone stopped ringing and their PPC spend had exploded by 300% as even branded search queries weren’t returning their site, so existing customers were clicking on their PPC campaign just to get the phone number.  Disaster.  For this firm, we were utterly unable remove the malicious code after three different attempts and were forced to rebuild their site entirely from scratch.  

The Answer: Managed WordPress Hosting

There are a few hosting companies that have sprung up to help site owners minimize the hacking risks of using WordPress – this is called Managed WordPress Hosting.  In short – this is the process of a)automating frequent backups b)automating updates to the most current WordPress version and c)eliminating WordPress plug-ins that are vulnerable to hacks. We use WP Engine and they also happen to offer stupendous customer service. While more mainstream hosting providers have started offering Managed WordPress hosting, I’d strongly recommend working with a company that focuses exclusively on the platform – Pressable (formerly ZippyKids) also has a strong reputation.

Managed WordPress is More Expensive

With basic plans coming in around $30 a month (at least 300% more than standard mass hosting solutions), Managed WordPress hosting is more expensive. But this is one situation where you get what you pay for – I’m pretty sure Sostrin Law Offices would be happy to increase their hosting budget right now.