The In Search SEO Podcast
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What SEO Metrics Matter to Your Clients?
Steven Long joins the podcast to offer his insights on which SEO metrics make your clients feel secure (and to share some content wisdom as well):
- What SEO metrics should you be sending your clients?
- How to smooth things over with new clients who have been burned by fake metrics
- What works when creating content for a very niche local business?
Plus, Google’s free product listings are putting the search engine between a rock and a hard place… here’s why!
Google Brings Free Product Listings to Its Main Google Search Results
SERP News: May 2020 Edition
Bing Updates its Top-Ranking Factors
Shopping Ads Aligned for Desktop and Mobile
Voice Search is Not Growing
Ads in Your Local Panel Have Returned
Google Inflating Abandoned Cart Metrics
Why Google Is at an Even Greater Risk of Going Too Far with Products on the SERP [00:05:53 – 00:21:31]
Google recently announced that the Product Knowledge Panel will only show organic listings under its Stores tab. In other words, if you Google a product like ‘granny underpants for men,’ Google may show a Knowledge Panel and in this panel are stores where you can buy granny underpants online.
Currently, as is implied, Google only shows stores that pay to appear in the stores tab of the Product Panel. So if Harry’s Succulent Shmatas has a free Shopping listing on Google shopping, his online underwear emporium will not appear in the panel whereas Bernie’s Bodacious Banana Hammocks does because Bernie pays for his online store to appear. Soon this will all be reversed, so goodbye to banana hammocks in the Knowledge Panel.
And this all makes total sense as at the end of the day this is what the user wants. To be able to find the best product to match their needs more easily and rapidly, something they can’t get with paid results. As recently as April this year, Google allowed for free listings on Google Shopping.
Now, everyone can throw their products up. You don’t have to be willing to pay to do so which means more products which means Google is more competitive with Amazon.
But Google had one problem with this approach. The problem is, you have to understand, that a lot of people start off on the main SERP and are not going to move to the Shopping tab to see these free listings, so as Mordy mentioned on this very podcast (or on Twitter), Google will have to show free listings on the main SERP! And that is exactly what we’re seeing here with this new Knowledge Panel.
You might be wondering why Google is showing free listings in the Knowledge Panel as opposed to making money off showing paid listings. The answer is, because if people throw up free listings but they don’t perform well, then people will stop listing products. Google is finding ways to give these products more visibility.
But the Knowledge Panel for products is a terrible way to do this. Why? For one, you have to enter the specific product name, so it’s not like someone searched for ‘best pans’ and your product showed up. This means that Google is going to throw the free product listings from the Shopping SERP onto the main SERP in more ways than the Knowledge Panel even if it’s not aligned with the user’s real intent.
In other words, Google is in a stuck position. Google has to choose to do what’s best for retailers by listing free products, or do what’s best for its users/searchers. Google might be saying to itself that they have to give these product listings more exposure so that they perform well and people will have more incentive to post more listings so Google can compete with Amazon. All this means that the SERP will be more heavily commerce heavily than it already is which leaves people looking for more research information in the lurch.
Google can’t have it both ways. Either it’s catering to retailers to have a more commerce-type SERP or it can cater to user intent and a more informative SERP. There’s no way Google can cater to both. This is the problem where what’s good for the user and what’s good for Google drive into a head-on collision. Usually, they’re one and the same, but not here.
Google already has a problem with being too commerce centric on the SERP. The problem is if you do almost any ‘buy’ search (except for complex purchases for cars, houses, and some software), even though there are informational results on the page, the top of the page is almost all commerce listings. Even the research carousel is only shown at the bottom. Now you could say that’s because the intent is to buy which could be, but clearly there’s another intent, i.e., to learn more about the product as informational results do show up.
Mordy has a hard time believing that the intent to learn about the product is so greatly dominated by the intent to actually buy that the entire top half of the SERP, for the most part, is all commerce. It feels like Google put its thumb on the scale for commerce and went all-in with ads, product carousels, the Local Pack, and now the top results being all commerce. They really want to drive home the notion that the SERP is the place to buy something to such an extent that they’re willing to push all those info sites down the page. Even when you run a clearly informational search around a product, like ‘laptop reviews,’ the first thing you get are PLAs and halfway down the page is another product carousel. That’s a lot for an informational query.
There is a solution to all this and that’s to move the research carousel up to the top of the SERP! That’s part of a larger plan that the search engine is going to have to make which we’ll continue on next week.
Keeping Your Clients By Sharing SEO Data That Means Something: A Conversation with Steven Long [00:21:31 – 00:58:23]
Mordy: You are listening to another In Search SEO Podcast interview. Today we have with us one of the foremost experts on SEO and digital marketing within the law industry. In fact, you might describe him as the Wayne Gretzky of SEO for law firms. He is the president of Precision Legal Marketing. He is Steven Long.
Steven: Wow, man, now that’s an intro.
M: Do you play hockey?
S: I do actually. I’ve played almost my whole life. I wouldn’t wear number 99 as that’s sacrilegious. I wear 33. If you’re a hockey guy, you’ll know who really made the number 33 famous. It’s kind of controversial, kind of like me.
M: Cool. So before we start talking about SEO, what is Precision Legal Marketing?
S: We’re a small boutique marketing agency for attorneys and law firms nationwide. While we’re full service, we focus mostly in the digital realm. We do a little bit of TV buying and commercial production/video production for lawyers, but predominantly, it’s us building websites, performing SEO Services, running PPC campaigns, and Facebook campaigns for lawyers and attorneys pretty much anywhere.
M: Where are you guys based out of? Not that it matters nowadays.
S: Yeah, we’re based out of Virginia Beach, Virginia, which is a lovely town.
M: Awesome. I’ve been to Virginia many times but not to Virginia Beach. A missed opportunity.
So we’re going to talk about metrics, how to measure your site’s performance, and which metrics to look at for local sites and for non-local sites. Let’s start off really simple for anybody who’s not familiar with the topic. When dealing with local or non-local sites, what are your top metrics when you’re trying to gauge a site’s performance?
S: For us, there are a lot of questions you could ask about metrics, in general, that are a little different for law firms. If you’re out there running a site for a law firm, you may have noticed some things that are quite a bit different than some of the other sites that you may manage. One of those things is bounce rate. The bounce rate for law firms is usually between 50 and 70 percent. That’s unfiltered without running a cheesy plugin that lets you artificially lower bounce rate so you can look really cool for your clients on a report.
But the fact is when people look for legal services, it’s kind of like when you buy a car. They’re doing a little bit of research first and then they’re making a decision. The stats are out there that people look at 3-4 attorneys online before making a choice so you see that pop up in the metrics. You see a high bounce rate, you see time on site of one and a half to two minutes. People just don’t spend a lot of time researching, they try to solve their problem quickly
M: It’s a funny thing because I know people are very much concerned about their bounce rate, but for certain instances, niches, and verticals it kind of makes sense for it to be high. Kind of like the conversion rate, it’s going to be high in some places and low in others.
S: Well, we’re not an e-commerce business so our conversion rate is very different. One of the things that’s unique about law firms is you can never really go into Google Analytics and set up a conversion goal that has any dollar amount attached to it. To a lot of people, that’s a totally foreign concept. How do you measure ROI? You measure ROI by being communicative with your client trying to find out who of their leads turn into a case. So I think that’s unique in our business. We spend a lot of time with our clients educating them on what a conversion is and how to follow that conversion path from an SEO perspective all the way down into a law firm business perspective.
M: How do you frame that to them in terms of conversions?
S: When we educate a client about conversions we start talking to them about the things that we really look at on the front end which is a phone call, a form fill, and a live chat. We have a live chat service that we deploy so those turn into conversions as well. You have to actually figure out on their end how they handle a phone call, a form fill, and a live chat. Where does it go? Who gets it? What do they do with it? What do they say to these folks? Using recorded phone lines is really helpful for us not even in a paid ad scenario, even in just a regular site optimization scenario where we’re just trying to figure out how they handle the business end of things. That can be very difficult talking to them about their staff and having tough conversations.
M: I don’t think I’ve ever heard the conversion framework expressed in that way before by qualifying what happens after they fill out a form or make a call. Who handled it? How did they handle it? What does it actually mean? In digital marketing, people can assume that if ‘x’ percentage of their goals have been completed then they’re doing awesome. Generally, you see folks looking at these very top-level metrics or unqualified versions of things like goal completion, conversions, and so forth.
S: Yeah, but the problem is that you don’t know if you’re doing awesome if you’re not digging into the business side of things. In certain areas of law, let’s take divorce, for instance, a conversion looks very different to them, because they may have to do a $200 initial consultation with the client. So there’s a conversion action you can measure ROI against. But then what happens from there? Do they turn it into a case? Does that turn into a retainer for the firm where they take a five, ten, or twenty thousand dollar retainer?
M: Well, I guess it depends on how bad the marriage is.
S: Right [laughs]. But then you have all these other issues too. And I know I’m in the weeds here, but underneath the weeds is the grass. You’ve got to really dig into this and it’s sometimes very difficult for law firms because they themselves don’t understand what they do and how they do it. It just works for them. The lawyer just goes to court. I hear that all the time.
M: I would imagine this is very similar to something like a car dealership or anytime where you’re going to make a more complicated conversion. You may make a phone call, you might come in, you might put a down payment, you might take that down payment back, all those sorts of things.
When we talk about looking at these things, what do you find that most people tend to look at as opposed to doing something a little bit deeper than you are?
S: I think most people tend to look at some of the standard metrics that are out there. You can glean some insight into performance by looking at the overall traffic, looking at it by geography, and looking at conversions. I call them top-line conversions (phone calls, form fills, live chat). Over time, if you see an increase in that activity and you’re hearing from your client that things are going, then obviously, those are valuable metrics, but digging into the data is really where it’s at.
The other thing about law firms is there’s a whole bunch of long-tail keywords and everybody says you can get conversions off long-tail and I don’t disagree with that. But in our business, you find that long-tail keywords generate the researchers, but when they’re ready to buy, when they’re ready to look at retaining a law firm, the conversions come off the short-tail keywords like ‘I need a personal injury attorney.’ It’s those quintessential, more traditional keywords in the law firm business that converts.
M: That’s interesting because we do always talk about long term long-tail keywords that convert. For example, I see that they work very well in the health space because whatever topic you’re going to talk about there are so many variants and so many questions you’re going to have. Imagine searching about pregnancy. There are millions of long-tail questions people are asking. There seems to be a lot of room in a lot of industries for long-tail conversions, but it is interesting that in certain verticals, that’s not the case. I wonder, how do you deal with that?
S: It’s frustrating. You have to follow the path, you have to really look at what the user is doing when they convert. They may start out looking at an FAQ page and end up on the actual attorney’s page. That’s really interesting because people in our business hire attorneys, not law firms. You see that in the data. You see them going from the divorce page or the injury page, funneling their way down to maybe an FAQ page, then moving on to the attorney themselves, and then picking up the phone.
M: I think it’s an important point because I would imagine that for every industry, every local niche or local service area business, whether it be cars or a retail store, whatever it is, is going to have a different path. I don’t think everything’s going to look like a law firm.
S: No, not at all. In fact, I think a law firm can be somewhat unique. When’s the last time you looked up a restaurant and looked up the chef? You’re looking at their menu!
M: Exactly. So how do you deal with that? If for long-tail the strategy that really helps you fight against the titans of your industry doesn’t work for you, what do you do?
S: So we actually usually use long-tail keywords and we try to get our fact pages to come up for those keywords. They’re research keywords so you want research-based information like blogs, facts, and inner pages of the website to rank for those types of searches. Oftentimes, those types of searches end up on the homepage so they’re a kind of quasi conversion. They’re leading to a conversion, but usually, people don’t convert from those directly.
M: Okay, so you’re diving in deep and you’re really thinking about your process. It sounds like you have a very complex view of where the user is coming from, what they’re looking at, and how they end up at a conversion.
M: Yeah, there are people who will say, “Who cares about the traffic? I’m ranking well.”
S: That doesn’t matter.
M: Exactly, it doesn’t matter. Rank is a joke. I remember, during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, I was looking at some travel keywords and all these sites are ranking number one for keywords that no one is entering into Google. Where are you traveling to? What hotel are you booking?
S: We saw the same thing. What do I do? How can my ex sue me during COVID-19? New York City was locked down so if you had a first responder like a nurse, who was going to work and coming home every day and had full custody of their child and their ex-husband wanted custody, how do you deal with that?
M: Ironically, my wife is a nurse and I’m from a divorced family. So how does that actually play out?
S: And thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are wondering the same thing nationwide.
M: As a side point, that must be a horrible situation to have to deal with.
S: We saw this showing up in conversions. People were asking general questions to the firm that have never been asked before. Where we published COVID-19 content, we won. We had folks coming in looking for information and then retain the firm for later and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing and that’s just with the traffic.
M: It’s funny because people will focus on traffic and there are two different types of traffic. There’s traffic that’s meaningful and there’s traffic that’s traffic. I remember some random big website was linking to something that I wrote and I was getting a ton of traffic from it, but it was worthless and had nothing to do with me. I don’t know why they linked to it. It was very random. So you could have traffic and it can be nothing. You could have conversions and they mean nothing.
S: You got to remember that we’re in the law firm business and salespeople prey on this business. They prey on it because their perception is that out there people have the money to spend and will spend it and so salespeople will go to where most of the fish are. So you’ve got a lot of bad actors out there that prey relentlessly on lawyers and law firms. For instance, as an example, I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen links built for lawyers on boating websites or websites that completely have nothing to do with a lawyer. It’s super frustrating and I wish it wasn’t the case.
M: At a certain point the client is going to catch on to that. You built me all these links, I paid all this money, and nothing’s happening. So you can use BS metrics, you can fluff your way through everything, but at a certain point, you’re going to have to deal with reality.
S: Pretty much, but it’s really difficult. I can’t tell you how many situations I’ve been in where we’ll get called in to consult and it’s the same old thing. They’re looking for an SEO agency and they want a top-down analysis of what they have. So we look at what they’ve been doing in the past and we show them a backlink report, we show them traffic metrics, and we’re really digging under the hood. They have no idea. And it’s not their fault. Mordy, we’re like doctors. We’re doing a CT scan on their website. So sometimes you have to have tough conversations with folks.
M: That’s got to be hard. Let’s say you have a client, they’re coming off a really bad experience where their previous agency was just feeding them fluff/vanity metrics of all kinds. And now they come to you and you’re going to show them what a real conversion means, how the process looks, what’s real, what’s not real, what metric you should focus on, how to actually qualify them, etc. How do you get them to believe you?
S: Very carefully. That can be very difficult sometimes. They look at you like where have you been my whole life. And it’s not me personally, it’s anybody in our field that’s ethical. But the bad actors out there are taking advantage of these law firms. Vanity metrics is a huge problem. So how do you get them to believe you? You have to go in with the honest blunt truth that the $3500 a month you were spending, unfortunately, was being burned, and here’s why, here’s how, and here’s what you could do to recover from it. That’s a really hard conversation to have. Who wants to hear that they just blew through 150 grand?
You’ve got to be careful. You have to always tell the truth no matter how good or how bad it is. And if you do that, you’re going to be okay.
M: I’m sure you have in the legal field your local lawyers and your national big attorneys. I guess there are laws that are more regional focused, location focused, and there are national laws in the US like federal tax law versus your local estate planning. What are the differences between, say, looking at the metrics that apply to a local service area business versus a national site?
S: Obviously, for local you’ve got Google My Business and local citation that you don’t necessarily have on a national basis. So from a local law firm perspective, you’ve got to really do a good job of really mastering their local SEO efforts and sensitive to names being specifically listed out properly. You have to remember they’re law firms with sometimes very abbreviated business names (e.g. H.H.M. Law). All of that stuff can come into play when doing local SEO and not necessarily with a national or regional firm. Regarding the metrics for local, obviously you want them to come from a local source. If I’m getting 30% of my traffic from Kazakhstan then that’s a problem.
The key thing to keep in mind for anybody out there, either in the SEO business or small business owners listening, that these keywords that we’re playing with are extremely difficult to rank for. So as a local law firm owner, you have to wade in the same water as all the other big fish. It’s this small law firm and the medium-sized local law firm that may have three, four, or five offices. If you’re a solo guy sitting up the street in your 2000 square foot office, you’ve got to compete against the depth and breadth of that law firm. And that’s really difficult because they’re all the same keywords.
M: That’s almost like the local retail setup that’s also competing with Amazon.
Let’s say you’re a big national lawyer, but because of the nature of your work where it’s not so simple like tax law, so you have people who fill out forms versus people who are calling in. I would imagine that those calls are far more valuable because it means a person’s really serious about hiring that lawyer or really serious about using the service versus filling out an online form. Correct me if I’m wrong in the legal field that the quality of the conversion is going to be different for a call versus a form.
S: You’re near and dear to my heart here. Yes, calls have to be answered and even in the smallest of law firms there’s a whole industry out there that is catered to serving these firms with call answering service after hours and we highly recommend that because the consumer of legal services needs to feel like they got what they were looking for. There are other sectors that are like this as well but this one’s unique in that these people are in trouble. If they need a criminal lawyer, they might feel like they found the right person. So we find the live check conversions to be extremely valuable.
Think about conversions in the legal space. I’m working all day. Am I going to sit on my company computer and search for my lawyer? Some do, but at eight o’clock at night is probably when I’m going to be on the phone when it pops up that I’ve got a traffic ticket in three days and I didn’t hire anybody to appear for me. That’s when I’m going to do a lot of research and you can’t get a hold of a lawyer at eight o’clock at night.
In the personal injury business, they do this really well. The personal injury law business is a big model for the mom and pop law firms across the country and really for anybody. If you want to talk about a tight intake process, you call one of these big regional national firms. Even if you fill out a form, you’re getting a text on your phone, you’re getting a call the next morning, you’ve got two emails in your inbox with an e-book and with direct contact information for your case manager. It really is drilled down really tight. And to get the local law firm to embrace that, that’s where it’s at because that’s what people expect these days.
M: It’s so funny because we talk about SMBs and the level of nuance that we’re talking about right now is really not discussed. There are very big differences between what type of conversion it is. It seems to me that the legal field itself, the legal space, is very unique. I’m not saying that the legal field is unique and the auto industry is not unique. Rather, each vertical seems to have its very unique considerations on how to qualify the data. I’m wondering, in terms of the legal field being unique, how does that play itself out? I’m sure in terms of content I would imagine this legal content needs to be very precise. It makes sense that legal needs to be precise versus a plumber where I don’t think the content that they’re writing needs to be exactly as technical as what the legal sphere is going to put out. What specific nuances, what specific considerations, do you have in the legal field that you might not have in another local industry?
S: Yeah, there’s some separation there between other spaces. The obvious alignment to that would be chiropractors, doctors, accountants, and any professional type services that have a large amount of regulation behind them that are watching what they put out on the internet. Here’s the deal with legal, we can’t be wrong. If we are legally wrong let’s say in a blog, well, guess what? Your writer has to figure out what the local laws and statutes are in Arkansas if the reader is there and they can’t screw it up. What we do is we employ attorneys to render content. We just don’t want to be liable.
M: You’re almost like a health site. This is funny because first of all, you are a YMYL industry. It’s funny because you don’t normally think about it like that. With health and finance, I understand the immediate loss if I get the information wrong, but with law, and this is my personal bias, it’s almost because of TV lawyers like Judge Judy. You almost tend not to think of the legal sphere as this super authoritative space and that it’s very much parallel to the health sphere.
S: Absolutely. And even those nationwide tort lawyers or, if you will, class action lawsuits. Those guys have to be accurate in anything they’re doing and everything they’re saying. Go to their websites and read their blogs. They’re very authoritative, they have to be. It comes down to that trust factor. When we take over a project from another vendor, not every vendor uses attorneys to write content so it’s riddled with mistakes.
In law school, you do two things, you research and you write. So these guys usually even if they hate it are good writers. They’re probably better legal content writers then romance novel writers but they know what to look for. So if you send them a blog that has got factual legal information that’s wrong then they can fix it. The opposite side of that is you send them a blog that’s written in plain English and you get it back and it’s terrible to read. You need to be writing for your audience.
M: Google even said this during COVID-19 that you should not be writing highly technical health content, you should write content that the average person can digest.
To bring this full circle, that all speaks to making sure that you have the right metrics in front of you and the right qualifications of those metrics so that when you speak to your client you can develop a real understanding of what’s working, what’s not working, what you should be looking at, and what you should not be looking at. I would imagine the number of blog posts we have is not a great metric to look at versus the number of highly authoritative, precise blog posts that we have produced might be only one versus 100 crappy ones that you’ve produced. But it doesn’t matter. If it’s wrong and not accurate you’re only going to hurt yourself.
S: You know what’s tough about blogging? It’s how many ways can you say the same thing?
M: I can find a million different ways.
S: Yeah, trust me, you’ll run out of the million. If you have the top five things to do after an auto accident, try to write that blog and make it unique
M: You can write that blog post and bring in a ton of traffic but if it’s not really high, authoritative content, you’re not going to think that you have to hire this lawyer. If you’re just going to write fluff, I’m not going to hire you.
S: Right, and you don’t see that a lot. When you write a post and you see it ranking bringing in conversions, that’s maybe one in five or one in ten posts. These are very competitive keywords.
M: Again, each niche, vertical, and industry has its own target lines of what success looks like and what it doesn’t look like.
S: That’s right. That’s one of the reasons I was really excited to talk to you because we run into this where an agency may have two law firms on their roster and they’ve got 200 or 300 clients so maybe they’re listening. And maybe they can glean some information from this. But this vertical is very sensitive and very unique in many ways. And there are others that are the same.
Optimize It or Disavow It
M: Which would you rather have, high conversions with a spammy business listing name or lower conversions but a legit name being used in the listing?
S: For me, it’s legitimate business all day. But that lines up with everything else we’ve been talking about today too. And I know you can get spammy to pay off. We see that a lot where you’ll have a firm that has one office, but then all of a sudden they pop up in 10 different localities with spammy names. That whole game is played very heavily in our business and it’s a pain in the butt to deal with.
M: That has to be hard, by the way, because it does work to a certain extent for a certain amount of time until the client realizes that you suck, and then they leave.
S: That’s why it’s so attractive. That’s why people do it because it does actually work. Does it work long term? I don’t know, it’s probably not our business. And then with the recent issues, Google My Business has been having, in general, it’s been largely ignored. It’s taking 30-45 days to get a listing unsuspended. Plus, the fact it was suspended for ridiculous reasons in the first place. So yeah, getting caught doing something spammy is not worth it.
M: You’d have to imagine if you’re a lawyer and you’re running some kind of spammy gimmick, that’s not just going to be in your listing title, that’s going to be pervasive. It’s going to be in everything you do.
S: Absolutely. Have you ever heard of a local law firm running four separate landing pages with four separate PPC accounts trying to occupy the top part of the SERP?.
M: That’s brilliant. I mean, it’s terrible but that’s brilliant.
S: But it works! Check this out. So we did a study on it and we were asked to come in and see if any of the conversions from each of these pages overlap. There was a 2% overlap so does it work? It sure does. Is it ethical? I don’t know. That’s a gray area.
M: Yeah, that’s not good. That sounds like a very spammy thing to do.
S: Yeah, so I’m into choosing to be a good person because unfortunately, you see too much stuff out there that’s not good.
M: Thank you for coming on, Steven. This was very enjoyable and very informative. Thank you so much.
S: Thank you, Mordy. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
SEO News [00:59:04 – 01:03:57]
Bing Updates its Top-Ranking Factors: Bing has updated its Webmaster Guidelines and listed the top ranking factors it uses…. They are: relevance, quality and credibility, user engagement, freshness, location, and page load time.
Shopping Ads Aligned for Desktop and Mobile: Shopping ads on the desktop SERP will no longer show with the ‘sponsored label’ as Google has aligned desktop with mobile by showing the ads under a label that reads “ad.”
Voice Search is Not Growing: A study from Proficient Digital says that voice search is not growing. Usage of voice devices has leveled-off.
Ads in Your Local Panel Have Returned: The test program that puts ads in your local panel is back! Ads are being shown in Local Panels and businesses can not opt-out.
Google Inflating Abandoned Cart Metrics: Google may be causing inflated abandoned cart metrics! According to a Wall Street Journal report, Googlebot can add products to a cart, but of course, abandons them… meaning, some of your abandoned carts might actually be Google.
Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.