Florida attorney, Rick Georges blogs that he’s always unimpressed with pitches from companies promising to increase his visibility on Google.

I have never attempted to increase my visibility online; but, have opted to continue providing content which I think is pertinent and valuable (a matter of opinion), and to do it often. After 20 years of web writing, and 11 years of blogging, I think the secret is providing quality content on a frequent and consistent basis over time.

As a result, searches relating to legal technology routinely bring up posts from “Futurelawyer,” Rick’s blog.

Perhaps there’s the occasion to pay for SEO help. Maybe you’re not willing to share of yourself like Rick. But knowing as well as Rick the power of giving of yourself, I, too, am a believer that you “don’t pay money to someone who claims to increase your visibility.”

Beyond proper indexing of content on Google, sound technology and offering value to readers, there’s little I have done to optimize my blog for Google. Yet, like Rick, my blog ranks at the top of Google for searches for items I have blogged about.

Rick suggests sharing your blog posts on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites.

I’m with him. I share my posts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Sure, there’s likely some direct influence on Google search. Rick believes especially in the case of Google+.

The indirect impact may be greater though. That being building your name, influence and readers. So long as you are sharing other’s content (blog posts, news stories), you and your blog posts will be received.

But bottom line, I agree with Rick.  “Do good work, do it often, and do it everywhere you can. No big secret.”

Law firms, bar associations and legal publishing companies looking to achieve optimal search engine performance for their expert content should be publishing on independent niche sites, not on their websites.

Search algorithms do not know how to recognize you and your content otherwise.

That’s the message from a piece yesterday by Adweek’s Sami Main (@samimain) regarding About.com’s recent decision to move away from its signature “cover it all content” on one site to niche publications on focused verticals. Each publication on a separate site and on a separate domain.

In what may be the the largest source of expert content on the net, About.com is a major publisher of information, how-to pieces and insight on countless verticals. In its 20th year, About.com is the 50th largest site on the net.

But keeping all of the expert insight on one website no longer worked. Per CEO Neil Vogel (@neilvogel):

We blew up the old About.com and put it back together—better. Algorithms didn’t know how to recognize About, but they can see these as specific sites.

Rather than publishing all content at the hub website (a mistake misguided legal industry publishers are making), About.com will publish vertical specific publications such as:

  • Verywell (verywell.com), which answers all your health questions without “making you feel scared.”
  • The Balance (thebalance.com), a hub for all things personal finance.
  • Lifewire (lifewire.com), a tech-help site.

Vogel told Main that users trust you as a publisher of specific sites. “When users trust you, the algorithm trusts you and traffic is up…”

Adweek’s approach and the approach of law bloggers making a name for themselves blogging on independent blog sites makes all the sense in the world. There’s far greater trust with a niche publications on focused verticals.

Trust is established by web users linking to your niche site and its articles/posts. Links from news articles, blog posts, reference sites or shares on social media — it doesn’t matter, they’re all “votes” establishing trust.

Take the example of all the law firms writing on the Dodd-Frank created, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an agency of the United States government responsible for consumer protection in the financial sector.

CFPB jurisdiction concerns the type of clients major law firms want — banks, credit unions, securities firms, payday lenders, mortgage-servicing operations, foreclosure relief services, debt collectors and other financial companies.

Do a Google search on CFPB. The only law firm with any presence, at least going five pages deep, is Ballard Spahr. Why? Because Ballard Spahr’s attorneys with expertise in the area are publishing the “CFPB Monitor” (cfpbmonitor.com), an independent and trusted publication living apart from the firm’s website.

The same is the case for solo and small firm attorneys publishing on independent niche sites. Look at Jason Shinn (@jason_shinn), and his Michigan Employment Law Advisor (michiganemploymentlawadvisor.com). Do a Google search for Michigan Employment Law and his blog is the third result. No coincidence that the first result is a Michigan employment law publication run by a lawyer independent of the firm’s web site.

How about the China Law Blog (chinalawblog.com) published by the Seattle law firm of Harris and Moure. Do a search on China Law and you find their niche publication off the website ranking first, ahead of two Wikipedia entries, a Harvard University Library site and the Library of Congress.

While law firms large and small pay for SEO to get seen, these lawyers and law firms pay nothing for SEO. Google ranks trust and authority it can clearly see.

When publishing on independent niche sites, Google gets a clear signal of what you are trusted for. Your content and all the links coming to the independent publication are about the subject on which you are an authority.

Not the case with a law firm, bar association or legal publishing company’s main website. Those sites are chockful of a zillion different things. Bios, office locations, press releases, content on numerous areas of the law and more present a mystery for search engines. Darn few reporters, bloggers and social media users are linking to organization websites and their expert’s content — no trust.

Bar associations need to get practice area newsletters and articles, many written by practicing lawyers, off their association website. Law firms need to get their niche focused blogs, newsletters, alerts and articles of their law firm websites. Legal publishing companies, though a black hole of content for search engines, would be best served by independent publications.

Rather than do what you’ve always done or following the counsel of a website developer, take a page out of the playbook of an innovative publisher such as About.com.

Blow your site up and put it back together — better. For the sake of search.

Many lawyers are fixated on Google when it comes to business development. Where is my site or blog ranking on search? How can I achieve better search results with SEO?

But as the Mootley Fool’s Chris Neiger (@cdneiger) reports, Americans spend more time on Facebook than Google. At least when it comes to smartphone apps, according to a Forrester Research.

Most lawyers find Facebook a challenge. Many look at the social network as a playground for personal trivia. They wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing professional insight or even a blog post with commentary.

Other lawyers and law firms attempt to set up law firm pages as their presence on Facebook. Most of those pages fail miserably for lack of engagement.

A Facebook personal account used by a lawyer to share those things they are passionate about, whether professional or personal, does work for business development.

Much like the pre-Internet world, lawyers mingle and have discussions with people on Facebook. The result is relationships and a word of mouth reputation. People trust you as a result of your authentic and genuine style.

Unlike Google, lawyers can proactively seek to be-friend those people they’d like to get to know. This includes prospective clients, referral sources and influencers such as bloggers, reporters and association leaders.

Facebook friendship and exchanges with this targeted audience lead to meaningful relationships. Relationships leading to face to face meetings.

Like LinkedIn, sharing your blog posts on Facebook leads to likes, comments and engagement. Much more so than on your blog itself.

Also for bloggers, the Internet is becoming more of discovery vehicle. Rather than searching for information, people we trust share news, information and commentary that we discover and read. That’s why 61% of millennials get news on Facebook.

Do I think Facebook is going to immediately supplant Google as most important for blogging lawyers? No, relevant searches on Google will retrieve items you’ve written over the years.

But Facebook has a place today for those lawyers looking to build relationships and a word of mouth reputation. And in the years ahead Facebook will become indispensable for lawyers — and possibly, even more important for lawyers.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Sam Michel

I blogged a couple months ago that Google was on the verge of penalizing non-mobile enabled blogs and websites in its search rankings.

Doomsday has now been scheduled. Directly from Google:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices. (emphasis added)

Again directly from Google, responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern.

Serves the same HTML code on the same URL regardless of the users’ device (desktop, tablet, mobile, non-visual browser), but can render the display differently (i.e., “respond”) based on the screen size.

Mockingbird Legal Marketing, well respected in the SEO arena, expects mobile-responsive sites to see an an immediate bump in search results and better click-through rates. Click-throughs improve because sites will be labled as mobile in Google’s search results.

You can already see the “Mobile-friendly” displayed in Google’s search engine results. Here’s the search results for “lawyer blogs” with Real Lawyers Have Blogs at the top.

mobile responsive design blogs

The non-mobile Google penalty makes sense. Google is looking to provide its users the best search results possible. Sending a user to a site that’s difficult or impossible to read and browse would foster a poor user experience.

The consequences of non-mobile can be pretty dire for law firms. According to a recent study, “60% of US adults now typically choose smartphones or tablets over PCs to find information before buying products and services offline.”

Having content produced by lawyers billing hundreds of dollars an hour that will get seen increasinly less often in search results makes no sense. Over 50 perecnt of the traffic coming to most law blogs is coming from Google searches.

Blowing off mobile feeling secure that your business readers are using non-mobile devices is fool hardy. 25 to 40 percent of law blog traffic is coming from readers on mobile devices. That number may go by 50 perecnt by years end. The people sharing your content on social networks are much more likely to be using mobile than non-mobile.

A good number of LexBlog Network member firms have already had us redesign their blogs on responsive design. With Google’s deadline now established, as a good partner we’ll work with our clients to get their blogs on responsive design in order to protect the investment they have made in content marketing and blogging.

Boy, do changes never stop when it comes to the Web and Google.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Jonathan Potts

Well not losing traffic, but just seeing the percentage of over all viewers coming from Google dropping.

The percentage of viewers coming to my blog from Google has dropped 28% in the last year.

In January of 2014 almost 57% percent of viewers came from search, or Google. This last month, it’s dropped to 41%.

Why the change? An increase in viewers coming from social media and referrals (citations/links from other blogs/sites). The biggest source of viewers is social media (Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook), which I believe represents 30 to 40% of viewers.

I say “believe” as Google Analytics displays viewers coming directly as 30% for my blog. There’s no way that many viewers are keying in my blog’s domain or clicking on a bookmark on their browser. It turns out viewers coming from a site with a “https” url (site operating a secure network), strip out referral information and show up as “directs.”

And the “https?” Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. All social media on which my blog posts are increasingly cited and shared, by me and others.

Here’s the increase in social media traffic depicted.

January 2014
January 2014
Blog traffic jan 15
January 2015

I’ve always told lawyers if they could inch their non-Google traffic higher than Google that was a good sign they were engaging readers and influencers. People were citing their blogs on other blogs and people were sharing their posts.

Having people who have trusted social media followers or readers of their own blog or news site share and cite your blog posts is gold. After all, people are apt to trust people they follow and read more than a “cold” Google search. Google is also going to refer people doing random searches for which your blog was not relevant.

The key is having a good law blog. One that is purpose driven offering unique insight and ideally engaging other blogs and news sources. Otherwise your posts will neither be shared nor cited.

As more and more people get their news and information on social media, you’re going to see viewers coming from social media increase dramatically, and the viewers coming from Google drop.

You’ll start to hear of social media optimization, not just search engine optimization. Lawyers and law firms using blogs and other social media in a real and authentic fashion to engage their audience will prevail here. Those who don’t will have a tough time catching up.

For information on how to review traffic channels on Google Analytics, search engine consultant, Gyi Tsakalakis (@gyitsakalakis), has a good piece on Lawyernomics about doing an annual review of your law blog’s analytics.

Last year, Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) of Google indicated that the number of search queries on Google from mobile devices far surpasses the number of desktop/laptop search queries.

So it makes sense that Google is now notifying webmasters of sites that are not mobile-friendly to fix mobile usability issues.

As reported by widely respected search engine consultant, Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick), Google is telling webmasters with sites that have mobility errors on 100% of the site’s pages that their sites will be “displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”

Per Schwartz:

What we have here is Google reminding these webmasters their sites are not mobile-friendly and issuing a warning that the pages won’t rank well in mobile search.

There are clear signs that a new mobile ranking algorithm is about to launch at Google. Google told us they are experimenting with it since November. They also launched a mobile friendly testing tool, mobile usability reports in Google Webmaster Tools, and mobile-friendly labels in the search results.

Schwartz shared a copy of the email going to webmasters of non-optimized sites.

non-mobile sites on Google

It makes sense for Google to rank blogs and websites which are not mobile-friendly lower in search results on mobile searches.

Google has always been focused on user experience and trying to do the right thing. Sending folks to sites which cannot be easily viewed is hardly the right thing to do. It’s an awful user experience.

As a law blogger you need to be mobile-friendly for a number of reasons. It’s the right thing to do for followers. Why make it tough or impossible for them?

News and information moves socially across social networks today. People are using social networks on mobile. Non-mobile content will not be shared and seen on social networks.

Now you have one more reason to be mobile-friendly. A big one. Google.

h/t Gyi Tsakalakis

Image by Flickr by Mark Knol

As reported over the weekend by Reuters’ Alexei Oreskovic (@lexnfx), Facebook has stopped including results from Microsoft’s Bing search engine on its social networking site.

The move comes as Facebook introduces Monday a search tool allowing users to search across comments and other information posted by their friends on Facebook.

As Oreskovic explains, Facebook search has long been geared toward helping users connect with friends and to find other information that exists within the walls of 1.35 billion user social networking service. But for years, Facebook’s search results also included links to the outside web that were provided by Bing.

No real surprise in eliminating Bing. Search is a key initiative for Facebook. With more than 1 billion search queries occurring on Facebook every day, the company believes the vast amount of information that users share within Facebook could eventually replace the need to search the Web for answers.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, told analysts this summer there are more than a trillion posts on Facebook, which his search engineers tell him is bigger than any Web search corpus out there. This would presumably include Google.

What’s this mean for you as a legal professional? That over time Facebook search could become more relevant than Google search to you and your audience of clients, prospective clients, and referral sources. It may not, but it could.

A big advantage Facebook has is the element of social search. Who would you trust more when asking for information – people you have come to know and trust or a machine? How about the friends of the people you have come to know and trust? You’d probably trust them over a machine too.

Google’s search results are built on complex algorithms that have served us well the last 14 or 15 years. Good content, well indexed by the publisher, and linked to by influential sites and authorities gets people what they are looking for – especially when you factor in the search history and location of the searcher.

Facebook ratchets things up to a whole new level. Rather than machines and algorithms alone, we’ll add into the search equation who is sharing what, who is liking it, and who is re-sharing it, and who is commenting on it.

Facebook’s search algorithms will have all of that plus knowledge of our personal and business interests as well as the interests of our Facebook friends and their friends. Add to that the browsing and transactional history for all of us who use Facebook to login in to third party sites.

Facebook’s search, or perhaps Facebook even telling us what we’d like to know without keying in a search (discovery), could get awfully good. Good enough to attract people to use Facebook search over Google.

Rather than a switch from Google for search, it may even mean just keeping people on Facebook for search.

After all, Facebook says the average American already spends 40 minutes a day checking their Facebook News Feed. Almost 75% of Americans already use Facebook, with over 30% using Facebook for news and information (Pew Research Journalism Project).

Lawyers who do not build a personal presence on Facebook through social interaction could come up short in two respects. One, the results they’ll receive on search will not be near as good as the results generated by people who have built their own network over time. A network relating to personal and professional matters.

Two, without a social network of personal and professional acquaintances, how will you and what you have written and shared be seen on search? How will your insight, passion, and care be seen? How will you be seen as a person of influence in your field?

If you are like most lawyers, you are already using Facebook, the key in the days ahead is to grow your network of Facebook friends, socially and professionally, and to start to using Facebook for personal and professional socializing.

By doing so, Facebook search will be more effective for you and for the people you would like to know something about you.

Who would have thought even a couple years ago that social media may be as important as Google in drawing traffic to your law blog. After all, eight or nine years ago we said BLOG stood for “Better Listing On Google.”

Reading an interview of BuzzFeed’s co-founder and chief executive, Jonah Peretti (@peretti), by The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller’s (@clairecm) was a real eye opener on the importance of social media for law bloggers.

BuzzFeed, an entertainment and news-focused Internet media company founded eight years ago, has experienced huge growth the last couple years because they move their stories on social media, as opposed to relying on search traffic. So much so that the company is now valued at over $800 million based on a recent investment of $55 million.

Peretti’s message to Miller was that the source of traffic to news, information, and media sites is shifting from search to social. A year ago, readers were much more likely to come to media sites from search engines, but now they are increasingly likely to come from social networks.

The numbers from the Shareaholic network, whose 350,000 client sites get 400 million unique visitors a month are stunning. Last July 13% of the traffic came from social and 41% came from search. This June 31% of the traffic came from social while 29% came from each search.

That’s a 140 percent increase in traffic from social with social trending to be more important than Google in drawing traffic to media, news, and information sites.

Perreti told Miller that going forward BuzzFeed is going to focus on quality content and content that people want to share on social media. To some extent they are one in the same as people are not going to share with people who trust them content that’s not valuable.

Peretti calls Facebook the “new ‘front page’ for the Internet.” Rather than people searching for everything they need, content is bubbling up in front of them socially. Content shared by people with like Interests and usually in the same social strata.

It’s easy to see why Peretti singles out Facebook. On Shareaholic sites Twitter accounts for 1 percent of social traffic compared with 23 percent from Facebook.

Though a media company such as BuzzFeed is sharing content that’s a far cry from a blog post on a SEC ruling, the message applies. People in the social circles of lawyers are extremely active on social. That includes other lawyers, bloggers, business leaders, clients, prospective clients, you name them. These folks share what they read – and a lot of what they read is on business and the law.

Sure, Google remains important. But going forward you ought to be spending more time looking at how you can increase traffic to your blog from social media than from Google.

Other than good content, good title tags, good site architecture, site speed, and engaging others via content to generate organic links to my blog, I never worried much about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Years later when I search for terms relevant to LexBlog’s business, my blog and our website are always at the top of the page. Usually the first or second result.

When lawyers grilled me about SEO over the years, I said search results take care of themselves.

Write informative, relevant, and engaging content in a way that demonstrates your passion, care, and experience. You’ll get plenty of search traffic and out rank other lawyers who pay thousands of dollars a month to get to the top of Google.

That didn’t stop lawyers and law firms from spending millions trying to game Google. Some with legitimate companies. Many with snake oil sales people promising the top listing.

But as digital marketing executive Andrew Edwards (@AndrewVEdwards) writes, SEO is dying.

In the “old” days, SEO was a matter of stuffing your metatags with top keywords; then it became more complicated as Google continued to refine its search algorithm. The current state of SEO, in rather sober fashion, calls for “quality content,” no keyword stuffing, longevity of the domain, lack of duplicate content, a well-ordered site-map and other items more esoteric. Really, it’s become more about just building a great site with great (and focused) content.
……
Now SEO may be going the way of Megalodon, a 100-foot shark rumored to exist but mostly accepted to have gone extinct a million years ago. If it isn’t functionally dead, it’s certainly in the sick-house. Google does not especially want the SEO industry playing games with its rankings, and what Google wants, especially in a case like this, Google gets.

It was only a matter of time for Google’s algorithms to catch up with the gaming of search results. Google knows you’d rather have sites with relevant and authoritative content at the top of the search results than marginal sites optimized by the gamers.

After all, if your search engine results are lacking, Google gets hit in the pocketbook. Google makes its money by selling AdWords. If people stop using Google as much, AdWord sales drop.

Legitimate search experts can still help lawyers. Site architecture, indexed pages, site speed, proper domains, local search, and more remain important. They’re also things lawyers don’t know how to get done.

If you want to get to the top of search results, do what blogging lawyers have been doing for years. Self author relevant content in a caring, conversational, passionate, and engaging fashion.

People who Google knows to be an authority will cite and share what you write. You’ll build authority and influence and it will be shown in high rankings.

Is SEO going to die over night? Hardly.

Per State of Digital, 863 million websites reference SEO and 105 people a second search for SEO on Google.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Thos Ballantyne

Maybe not for text search, but visual search.

Pinterest just raised $200 million in venture capital money at a $5 billion valuation. That brings the total amount raised by the social network to $764 million.

The Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Eric Van Susteren (@SVBizEric) reports that investors are betting on Pinterest becoming big in search – Google’s area.

The company announced a feature called guided search, which attempts to divine what a user might be looking for as they enter a search term by analyzing data about the images they’ve pinned, or bookmarked on the site, in the past.

When that feature was announced, CEO Ben Silberman said, “Pinterest at its heart is about discovering things you didn’t even know were there.”

If that sounds familiar, it should, because Google was saying basically the same thing four years ago when it launched Google Instant, which attempts to do about the same thing only in the query bar of its search engine (you know — that autocomplete feature).

Pinterest’s view of search is not as we think of search today. It’s more so discovery where via machine learning we are presented with what computers think we might be interested in.

Lawyers doing litigation ought to understand the same concept from e-discovery and predictive coding. The basis of discovery there is also machine learning.

Pinterest sees the world moving from text (Google’s sweet spot) to visual things like photos and video. Especially so with mobile where it’s easier to take a picture than text.

Rather than backlinks being the basis for search, Van Susteren, reports:

Pinterest hopes that by analyzing what people pin, how they organize things into collections, and how they share those things, Pinterest can use the collective intelligence of its users to draw conclusions that are still very hard for pure machine learning to make.

Drawing on the collective intelligence of users is the future of search – or better put, discovery. We’ll be presented with news, information, and other results based on the collective actions of people in our social circles and people with similar interests.

Many of us our visual. Especially so on mobile, where up to 50% of people are receiving news and information. Both directly from news sources and from social media.

What’s this mean for lawyers and law firms? Nothing earth shattering overnight.

But as Pinterest, and Google, get better at visual search, we’ll all need to do a better job of providing insight and commentary in a visual way. And we’ll need to get that visual insight indexed at places like Pinterest.

Many of us are visual learners. Pinterest is living proof. So is the mobile web.

Places like Pinterest and Google making the visual discoverable will be the key to making it work.

As Sustersen points out, a $5 billion valuation doesn’t sound so crazy when you’re playing in an area with a company with a $400 billion valuation, Google.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Michael Beck