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Google Ads announce more changes to match types – Challenges and opportunities

Google Ads has recently announced that it now allows ads to be served for queries that it understands to share the same meaning on broad modified and phrase match keywords.

For bigger advertisers, this is probably not a huge concern, as they are not limited by budget. Being visible for a wider range of search terms without having to add thousands of keyword variations can only be a good thing.

But what about those with limited budgets, and those in niche industries that need to target very specific keywords?

While there will undoubtedly be challenges to overcome in light of these changes, there are also likely to be opportunities.

Challenges

1. Spend may increase

An increase in impressions is likely to equate to more clicks, which is fine if these clicks go on to convert. But with Google determining how relevant a search term is to the keywords in your campaigns, just how much could spend skyrocket if left unchecked?

Neil Andrew from AdTech startup PPC Protect, says:

“These changes are definitely going to result in a massive increase in irrelevant and even invalid traffic on Google Ads accounts that aren’t actively managed/monitored. Our internal analysis on this shows up to 20% increases in budget usage from the change in broad/phrase match keywords, the vast majority of which isn’t relevant to a conversion action. As a SaaS platform provider, we are in a unique position to analyse this.

We have over 35,000 Google Ads accounts connected to our system currently, and we have had a number of users notice an uptick in both wasted spend and irrelevant traffic. We’ve also seen a large share of this traffic be invalid – mostly from bot activity and competitor clicking activity. It seems like narrow niche targeting is getting tougher to achieve by the day.”

2. Impressions may be wasted on irrelevant search terms

If you’re using a target impression share bid strategy, now might be the time to review it as this might impact impression share metrics.

Impressions may now include ads triggered by keywords that Google determines to have the same meaning (unless they are added as negatives). Just how much impression share is Google going to give to variants, rather than the keywords actually in the campaign?

3. Irrelevant terms/keywords would need to be revisited and reviewed

Ads showing for irrelevant terms/keywords that are already in the account that were tested earlier and paused due to poor performance are a major bugbear of mine.

I’ve noticed keywords that have been tested previously, and paused, can still be shown as a close match. So if you have keywords that you’ve paused because they historically haven’t worked well, you’ll now need to check if Google is still serving ads for the keyword and exclude it.

This means you’ll end up with keywords that state both added and excluded.

4. More time will need to be spent on analyzing search term reports and building negative keyword lists

Yes, analyzing search term reports is absolutely something that all PPC managers should be doing on a regular basis. However, having to check search term reports daily to exclude the keywords an advertiser doesn’t want to serve ads for is going to be time-consuming, especially on large accounts, taking time away from managing and optimizing other aspects of a campaign.

Sam Kessenich, Chief Digital Officer, RyTech, is already noticing impressions ramp up.

“Regarding the most recent changes to keyword targeting, without a doubt, these changes will increase impressions and clicks across almost every campaign. We’re noticing an increase across all search campaigns due to this change, and are being forced to do daily or weekly negative keyword additions when keywords don’t match goals. Proper negative keyword research and search term monitoring is the most effective strategy we can do before accounts launch and as accounts are running.”

5. Building ad groups with single keywords just got a lot more difficult

A great way to have control over a campaign at a very granular level is to build single keyword ad groups (SKAG). This strategy allows for highly focused ad copy and landing pages, and as a result, quality scores for this type of campaign are high.

Carolina Jaramillo, Paid Media Manager at POLARIS explains why this strategy will no longer be as effective.

“I’m a big fan of creating SKAG structured campaigns, and this new change might make it more difficult to protect the single keyword ad group structure. Consequently, due to this new change, how will we be able to optimise ad copy for a single keyword when this keyword is liable to match a wide range of different queries? Although I am interested to see how Google will look for opportunities to expand our reach to serve ads for relevant queries as they say in their update, and as they state 15% of searches we see every day are new, we will have to wait and see how this change will affect our clients’ Google Ads campaigns.”

So, can any good come of these changes?

Opportunities

1. May reveal new keywords that were not previously targeted which actually convert

Not everyone searches the same. So coming up with a comprehensive keyword list that captures every single potential search term a user might enter to find your products and services is nigh-on impossible. Keyword research can only take you so far.

With this in mind, showing ads for searches that share the same intent may provide a great opportunity to track down some high converting keywords, which may have otherwise been overlooked.

Haley Anhut, PPC Manager at Clean Origin thinks there are benefits of Google showing not only for close variants but also conceptually related keywords.

“I have already seen some very smart close variants triggering existing keywords. Whether these keywords can be left alone, included within an existing ad group or a new ad group created around those keywords for highly targeted ad copy; all offer a great way to expand your campaign reach and performance. The greater the awareness of a consumer’s journey to conversion, and how that journey functions within the search funnel, allows for a highly tactical approach when reaching consumers. With more data at our fingertips, we can enhance campaign optimization strategy and expand reach through relevant searches.”

2. Will save time creating granular ad groups

As Google is capable of understanding when search terms mean the same thing, and will serve ads as a result, you no longer need to worry about including the keywords within that ad group in the ad copy. While it’s not yet clear how showing ads for close match and intent-based variations of your keywords will impact metrics like ad relevancy, this catch-all approach could save time when it comes to creating granular ad groups containing just a couple of keywords for every campaign.

Coupled with a feature like keyword insertion, this could be a powerful way of increasing reach on low impression campaigns while making the ads more relevant to the user’s search term with minimal effort.

3. Top tips and advice from PPC managers

Rather than panic, you should be proactive in preparing for this change and keep a very close eye on your accounts as it begins to roll out.

“Broad and phrase match CPCs are increasing because there are more campaigns competing for the same keywords now. A good tactic is to allocate a portion of the daily budget to the new phrase match and broad match parameters and see which keywords are resulting in low CPCs and high CTRs. Those keywords can then be optimized into ‘exact matches.’ Overall, this change makes keyword research much more important now because a higher value will lie in ‘exact match’ keywords.”

Haris Karim, Lead Digital Strategist at MAB.

“To avoid the negative effects of unwanted reach, skew towards more specific match types like exact match, although exact match already allows same-meaning close variant targeting so that is not as specific as it once was, too. In addition to this, make sure you are using a robust negative keyword strategy to avoid showing for unwanted queries. Lastly, review your search term reports regularly to ensure your impressions are relevant to your ad group keywords, ads, and landing pages.”

Timothy Johnson, SMB Solutions and PPC Lead at Portent Digital Agency.

“I would say that if you still have some ad groups built around different match types, you should consolidate those ad groups into one. For instance, if you have an ad group dedicated to exact match keywords, and another ad group dedicated to phrase match, the phrase match keywords (which now are showing for more phrases) will cannibalize all of that exact-match traffic unless the exact-match keywords have higher bids and ad rank.”

Adam Gingery, Digital Strategy and Paid Search Manager at Majux Marketing.

“I feel like Google is trying to make our lives easier with this latest change, but it’s actually just making them harder. Yes, there will be opportunities for the big spenders to get more exposure from the lower volume terms that they may not have thought of or come across yet, but for the smaller players that need to spend their limited budget very wisely, it means more time needs to be spent constantly monitoring search term reports and adding more and more negatives. So my tip for those smaller advertisers would be to focus on negative keywords. Regularly check search term reports and add negative phrases straight from there, but also take the single terms within the longer phrases that are wrong, and add those as broad match negatives to stop Google showing ads for another phrase containing that term, if it will always be wrong.”

Ashleigh Davison, Head of Biddable Media, Browser Media.

“The obvious suggestion here to minimize impact is to focus on negative keywords, especially if you can do this preemptively before they start costing you money. So instead of just thinking of all the most obvious negatives that a business would want to avoid, you will now need to start thinking about close variations of your products or services that you may want to add.”

Ryan Scollon, PPC freelance consultant.

What do you think the impact will be? We’d love to know your thoughts.

Victoria is Account Director at Browser Media. She can be found on Twitter @VikingWagon.

The post Google Ads announce more changes to match types – Challenges and opportunities appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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How to Face 3 Fundamental Challenges Standing Between SEOs and Clients/Bosses

Posted by sergeystefoglo

Every other year, the good people at Moz conduct a survey with one goal in mind: understand what we (SEOs) want to read more of. If you haven’t seen the results from 2017, you can view them here.

The results contain many great questions, challenges, and roadblocks that SEOs face today. As I was reading the 2017 Moz Blog readership survey, a common thread stood out to me: there are disconnects on fundamental topics between SEOs and clients and/or bosses. Since I work at an agency, I’ll use “client” through the rest of this article; if you work in-house, replace that with “boss.”

Check out this list:

I can definitely relate to these challenges. I’ve been at Distilled for a few years now, and worked in other firms before — these challenges are real, and they’re tough. Through sharing my experience dealing with these challenges, I hope to help other consultants and SEOs to overcome them.

In particular, I want to discuss three points of disconnect that happen between SEOs and clients.

  1. My client doesn’t understand the value of SEO and it’s difficult to prove ROI.
  2. My client doesn’t understand how SEO works and I always have to justify my actions.
  3. My client and I disagree about whether link building is the right answer.

Keep in mind, these are purely my own experiences. This doesn’t mean these answers are the end-all-be-all. In fact, I would enjoy starting a conversation around these challenges with any of you so please grab me at SearchLove (plug: our San Diego conference is selling out quickly and is my favorite) or MozCon to bounce off more ideas!

1. My client doesn’t understand the value of SEO and it’s difficult to prove ROI

The value of SEO is its influence on organic search, which is extremely valuable. In fact, SEO is more prominent in 2018 than it has ever been. To illustrate this, I borrowed some figures from Rand’s write up on the state of organic search at the end of 2017.

  • Year over year, the period of January–October 2017 has 13% more search volume than the same months in 2016.
  • That 13% represents 54 billion more queries, which is just about the total number of searches Google did, worldwide, in 2003.

Organic search brings in the most qualified visitors (at a more consistent rate) than any other digital marketing channel. In other words, more people are searching for things than ever before, which results in more potential to grow organic traffic. How do we grow organic traffic? By making sure our sites are discoverable by Google and clearly answer user queries with good content.

Source: Search Engine Land

When I first started out in SEO, I used to think I was making all my clients all the moneys. “Yes, Bill, if you hire me and we do this SEO thing I will increase rankings and sessions, and you will make an extra x dollars!” I used to send estimates on ROI with every single project I pitched (even if it wasn’t asked of me).

After a few years in the industry I began questioning the value of providing estimates on ROI. Specifically, I was having trouble determining ift I was doing the right thing by providing a number that was at best an educated guess. It would stress me out and I would feel like I was tied to that number. It also turns out, not worrying about things that are out of our control helps control stress levels.

I’m at a point now where I’ve realized the purpose of providing an estimated ROI. Our job as consultants is to effect change. We need to get people to take action. If what it takes to get sign-off is to predict an uplift, that’s totally fine. In fact, it’s expected. Here’s how that conversation might look.

In terms of a formula for forecasting uplifts in SEO, Mike King said it best:

“Forecast modeling is questionable at best. It doesn’t get much better than this:”

  • Traffic = Search Volume x CTR
  • Number of Conversions = Conversion Rate x Traffic
  • Dollar Value = Traffic x # Conversions x Avg Conversion Value

TL;DR:

  • Don’t overthink this too much — if you do, you’ll get stuck in the weeds.
  • When requested, provide the prediction to get sign-off and quickly move on to action.
  • For more in-depth thoughts on this, read Will Critchlow’s recent post on forecast modeling.
  • Remember to think about seasonality, overall trends, and the fact that few brands exist in a vacuum. What are your competitors doing and how will that affect you?

2. My client doesn’t understand how SEO works and I always have to justify my actions

Does your client actually not understand how SEO works? Or, could it be that you don’t understand what they need from you? Perhaps you haven’t considered what they are struggling with at the moment?

I’ve been there — constantly needing to justify why you’re working on a project or why SEO should be a focus. It isn’t easy to be in this position. But, more often than not I’ve realized what helps the most is to take a step back and ask some fundamental questions.

A great place to start would be asking:

  • What are the things my client is concerned about?
  • What is my client being graded on by their boss?
  • Is my client under pressure for some reason?

The answers to these questions should shine some clarity on the situation (the why or the motivation behind the constant questioning). Some of the reasons why could be:

  • You might know more about SEO than your client, but they know more about their company. This means they may see the bigger picture between investments, returns, activities, and the interplay between them all.
  • SEO might be 20% of what your client needs to think about — imagine a VP of marketing who needs to account for 5–10 different channels.
  • If you didn’t get sign off/budget for a project, it doesn’t mean your request was without merit. This just means someone else made a better pitch more aligned to their larger goals.

When you have some answers, ask yourself, “How can I make what I’m doing align to what they’re focused on?” This will ensure you are hitting the nail on the head and providing useful insight instead of more confusion.

That conversation might look like this:

TL;DR

  • This is a good problem to have — it means you have a chance to effect change.
  • Also, it means that your client is interested in your work!
  • It’s important to clarify the why before getting to in the weeds. Rarely will the why be “to learn SEO.”

3. My client and I disagree about whether link building is the right answer

The topic of whether links (and by extension, link building) are important is perhaps the most talked about topic in SEO. To put it simply, there are many different opinions and not one “go-to” answer. In 2017 alone there have been many conflicting posts/talks on the state of links.

The quick answer to the challenge we face as SEOs when it comes to links is, unless authority is holding you back do something else.

That answer is a bit brief and if your client is constantly bringing up links, it doesn’t help. In this case, I think there are a few points to consider.

  1. If you’re a small business, getting links is a legitimate challenge and can significantly impact your rankings. The problem is that it’s difficult to get links for a small business. Luckily, we have some experts in our field giving out ideas for this. Check out this, this, and this.
  2. If you’re an established brand (with authority), links should not be a priority. Often, links will get prioritized because they are easier to attain, measurable (kind of), and comfortable. Don’t fall into this trap! Go with the recommendation above: do other impactful work that you have control over first.
    1. Reasoning: Links tie success to a metric we have no control over — this gives us an excuse to not be accountable for success, which is bad.
    2. Reasoning: Links reduce an extremely complicated situation into a single variable — this gives us an excuse not to try and understand everything (which is also bad).
  3. It’s good to think about the topic of links and how it’s related to brand. Big brands get talked about (and linked to) more than small brands. Perhaps the focus should be “build your brand” instead of “gain some links”.
  4. If your client persists on the topic of links, it might be easier to paint a realistic picture for them. This conversation might look like this:

TL;DR

  • There are many opinions on the state of links in 2018: don’t get distracted by all the noise.
  • If you’re a small business, there are some great tactics for building links that don’t take a ton of time and are probably worth it.
  • If you’re an established brand with more authority, do other impactful work that’s in your control first.
  • If you are constantly getting asked about links from your client, paint a realistic picture.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, I’m really interested in hearing how you deal with these issues within your company. Are there specific challenges you face within the topics of ROI, educating on SEO, getting sign-off, or link building? How can we start tackling these problems more as an industry?

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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Fix This Writing Mistake to Engage Readers with the Right Challenges

In college, there are three kinds of classes. First, there’s the blow-off classes, where 80 percent of your grade comes from fill-in-the-blank worksheets. To pass, all you really have to do is show up. Then, there are the classes taught by “real hardasses.” These classes kept you up well past midnight, flipping frenetically through flashcards,
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3 Simple Ways to Overcome Surprising Challenges of Working from Home

“Wow, you have the best job ever, getting to work from home.” “You’re so lucky. I wish I had that option.” Those are some of the comments I hear when I mention to others I work from home. Typically, I just nod and say, “Yes, it’s awesome.” I love working from home because I get
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Security Challenges to Consider Before Adopting a Hybrid Cloud Strategy for Your Business

Cloud computing has brought numerous benefits to companies. However, putting all data on the public cloud is something that a lot of IT admins are concerned about. This is why a number of businesses have opted to utilize a hybrid cloud environment. This allows them to store some data in the public cloud and others in an on-site cloud storage.

However, the hybrid cloud isn’t perfect. There are several security problems that companies should watch out for. Here are five security issues to keep in mind:

Inadequate Data Redundancy

Image result for hybrid cloud

Cloud storage service providers commit a substantial amount of resources to ensure the infrastructure is accessible and open whenever end users need it. Unfortunately, problems will inevitably arise. Some well-publicized outages like those involving Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure have underlined the risk of running applications using just one data center. Cloud architects need redundancy across data centers to lessen impact of such outages.

 

This lack of redundancy can end up being a major security risk to a company’s hybrid cloud, particularly if redundant data is not distributed across various data storage centers. Cloud architects can work around this by implementing redundancy via numerous data centers from one provider, using several public cloud providers or a hybrid cloud.

Data Compliance

Maintaining and showing data compliance can be more challenging with a hybrid cloud. Aside from having to ensure that the public cloud provider and the hybrid cloud you’re using are in compliance, you also have to prove that the means of coordination between the two is also compliant.

Poorly Assembled SLAs

 

Public cloud providers work hard to ensure that they meet all the conditions listed in their service level agreement (SLA). Businesses should also make sure that their private cloud can also live up to the same expectation. Otherwise, the company might need to develop SLAs based on the outlook of the lower of the two clouds, which could be your private cloud.

It’s best to gather data on your private cloud’s availability and performance under pragmatic conditions. Watch out for possible issues with integrating private and public clouds that could hinder service. For instance, if a vital business driver for the private cloud is storing confidential and sensitive data on-site, then your SLA should reflect the limitations to which the company can utilize the public cloud for certain services.

Risk Management

From a business point of view, information security revolves around risk management. Cloud computing, especially in hybrid clouds, entails the use of new application programming interfaces (APIs), demand advance network configurations, and pushes the boundaries of a conventional system administrator’s abilities and knowledge.

Unfortunately, these factors can lead to new types of threats. While cloud computing is just as secure as internal infrastructures, the hybrid cloud has a more complex system that IT admins have limited experience in handling, and this can create problems.

As with any technology, problems do arise. Luckily, several traditional IT and security vendors are already working on improving their products in order to support hybrid cloud issues. There are also third parties that can deliver niche tools to bolster particular security configurations.  

[Featured image via Pixabay]

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A Different Kind of SEO: 5 Big Challenges One Niche Faces in Google

Posted by Alex-T

When it comes to brick-and-mortar storefronts, local businesses often struggle to compete with neighboring big brands. Statistics show that, even for a well-known local store that’s established a strong relationship with its customers and built a community through the years, having such a neighbor can be detrimental. But what about a newly opened business? Does it have any chance of competing with popular brands? My experience has led me to believe there’s only one way a locally owned business can overcome big competition: it needs to take advantage of local SEO.

Recently, in collaboration with Accuranker, I conducted a survey that touches upon the difficulties local businesses face when trying to become visible in Google’s local results. We analyzed more than 300,000 local SERPs across multiple industries (beauty, medical services, auto services, legal, shopping, etc.) to get a clear understanding of what the chances are for a local site to seem attractive to Google.

One of the more curious insights our research revealed is that the legal services niche is among the most competitive. Sure, this finding isn’t rocket science. In fact, I bet on some level you were aware of this (or at least you had a gut feeling). However, this issue is much more complex than it seems. The legal services niche far surpasses other niches in terms of competition and prices.

Does this mean that the legal services niche falls under radically different rules and requires unique SEO tactics? This is exactly the question I set out to answer, and you’re most welcome to follow me on my little investigation!

Gathering the data for this article

After reading this article, you’ll understand the biggest challenges that any legal website faces when trying to become visible in the SERPs. The data here will help ensure that your future strategies are based on informed decisions. Moreover, you’ll be able to streamline your creative process and find non-standard approaches that will cement your success in the legal industry.

To conduct proper research on what SEO strategies local businesses employ in the legal services niche, I took the following steps:

  1. I made a list of keywords unrelated to any brand (which could hardly be classified as local).
  2. I identified the most competitive places in the US for this industry in order to analyze how legal sites build a presence in this extremely aggressive environment

The first step was simply to do keyword research, which involved a bit more manual work than usual — I tried my best to filter out branded keywords and ones that weren’t relevant to local searches.

With the help of Statista I was able to get a list of the states in America that have the highest employment rates in the legal niche:

states with the highest employment in law.png

This graph shows US states with the highest number of employees in legal occupations in the United States as of May 2014. Source: statista.com

You can see that California, New York, and Florida have the highest number of employees in this industry, hence these locations are the most “densely populated” by law firms and lawyers, and, as a result, the competition in these states should be higher than in other states. After I made a list of the most competitive locations, I was ready to move on to the next step — analyzing the domains that appear in SERPs for the keywords I had previously selected.

Now let’s see what my findings revealed.

The top 5 SEO challenges for the legal niche

The extreme competitiveness of the legal services niche might be explained by the fact that this market generates more than $ 248 billion USD in revenue (according to a recent report provided by Statista) with only a relatively small number of searches.

To give you a better understanding of the size of the legal services industry in the US, let’s compare it with a bigger market: for instance, if we look at ecommerce, we can clearly see that the revenues generated by the two niches in question are nearly the same (ecommerce sales surpass $ 256 billion USD), despite the fact that ecommerce traffic share figures are four times greater than in legal services. It’s safe to say that the legal niche has turned out to be a ridiculously competitive market, because it’s an outrageously profitable one. I’m also certain that the success of any SEO activity depends on a deep understanding of how the industry and its major players work.

In the next section, you’ll learn about the main challenges that legal businesses face.

#1. Online legal business are dominating local SERPs

Statistics from an IbisWorld report confirm that the online legal services niche was able to generate $ 4 billion USD in 2015. Moreover, in recent years this niche has been steadily expanding due to the fact that consumers are interested in getting legal services online. That’s why it doesn’t come as a surprise that a company named Rocket Lawyer generates more than 30,000 searches monthly (according to Google Keyword Planner) by helping users deal with their legal issues online. This number of searches proves that online legal services are gradually becoming popular, and people don’t want to spend their time scheduling an appointment with a lawyer anymore.

Now you’re probably wondering how this trend is affecting local SEO, right?

Knowing that New York, Miami, and Los Angeles are among the most competitive locations for the legal niche, I decided to find out which sites are the most visible in local search results there. I took into account more than 500 different keywords related to legal services and compiled a list of the domains that most appeared most frequently for those keywords. And here are the top three domains that remain visible in local search results in all three cities:

  • Findlaw.com
  • Avvo.com
  • Lawyers.com

After making this list, I double-checked these websites to make sure that all of them belong to the online legal services niche. I also decided to dig deeper and manually checked the top twenty domains that were most visible across all the locations I analyzed, in order to understand what kind of legal services they provide. I found out that 55.6 percent of the sites I analyzed belong to the online legal services niche. That means that local businesses now have to compete not only with global businesses, but also with online legal businesses that, by default, have better positions in SERPs, as the main goal of their business is to increase their online presence by getting more organic traffic from Google.

#2. Google doesn’t give priority to local legal businesses in organic search results

Apart from the strong presence of online businesses in local organic SERPs, I was struck with the steady visibility of the top twenty websites that appear in local search results in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. The shocking truth I discovered about Google local SERPs is that less than 20 percent of sites were unique across all the studied locations. This means that search results are occupied by global and online businesses in 80 percent of cases. Furthermore, the top three most visible domains remain the same in all three cities, and they are as follows:

  • Findlaw.com,
  • Avvo.com, and
  • Lawyers.com.

I also discovered that all three of these websites belong to the online legal services niche, and, despite SEO visibility, have a good number of backlinks. I am of the opinion that local businesses have no chance of competing with them whatsoever.

As I studied the 20 percent of websites that are unique, two curious cases of locally based businesses caught my eye — Injurylawyers.com and Cellinoandbarnes.com. Let’s take a closer look at these two websites.

From Injurylawyers.com’s “Contact” page, I learned that it operates mostly in Florida. However, I don’t think that the reason it ranks so highly in local search results in Miami is because of its physical presence there. Even at a quick glance, it becomes clear that Injurylawayers.com is ranking so high in local results because of its website’s overall performance. As you can see from the screenshot below, its website has a good number of referring domains, as well as a decent amount of organic traffic:

Source: ahrefs.com

Another site that caught my attention — Cellinoandbarnes.com — has a branch based in New York. The history of this legal company begins over 50 years ago, and without any doubt Cellino and Barnes is a well-known and trusted bran. Plus, Google recognizes it as a brand. The very fact that its brand name is being searched for more than 6,000 times a month speaks volumes about the trustworthiness of this legal company:

All these facts show that Cellinoandbarnes.com’s visibility in New York SERPs is because of the domain’s general performance in Google US organic search results:

Source: spyfu.com

My quick research proves that, in practice, Google doesn’t give priority to NY-based legal companies and still mostly relies on general ranking factors. And it seems obvious now that any online business can easily outperform an offline SMB legal company by increasing the number of backlinks, brand mentions, and site visits it receives.

#3. The local pack is still a saving grace for local businesses

One year ago, Google implemented a major change that dramatically minimized local businesses’ chances of becoming visible in local packs: Google replaced the 7-pack in SERPs with a 3-pack. And I was quite interested to figure out what kinds of businesses now hold these three positions in the legal niche, and whether these results are local.

Despite the fact that local organic SERPs are fully occupied by big online businesses, the local pack still is the best way to remain present in Google for locally based legal companies. My research revealed that 67 percent of sites that appear in local packs for legal services are hyper-local and local. To arrive at this percentage, I analyzed the domains that appear in local packs in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles in terms of their SEO performance in Google US (to do this, I used Serpstat’s Batch analysis tool).

I was also curious what share of online presence the local legal businesses that appeared in the local pack had, along with the breakdown by states. To mark sites as local, I checked their their traffic with the help of the Serpstat’s Batch Analysis Tool. (I’d like to note that I find Serpstat’s figures most relevant for such purposes, as they parse raw data from Google US. You can easily spot which sites are global and which are local.) And here’s what I found:

  1. Miami – 60% of legal websites appear in the local pack
  2. Los Angeles – 35% of legal websites appear in the local pack
  3. New York – 15% of legal websites appear in the local pack

This was quite an insight, since I assumed that California would be the most competitive location for the legal niche, because — as you may recall from the beginning of this post — it’s the state most densely populated by law firms. Also, it’s surprising to find New York only at third place in this list. Yet, as you can see, Miami has the greatest number of local sites that are present in local pack. Therefore, I believe that being featured in local search results in New York requires a lot more resources than it does to achieve the same visibility in Miami. And this is something that every SEO expert should be aware of.

#4. You can’t stand out without a site — even in local pack results

It’s a well-known fact that Google’s local pack provides businesses with the opportunity to appear at the top of Google SERPs even without a website. According to my previous research, which I conducted in collaboration with the AccuRanker team, the local pack works much better for less competitive niches. What I tried to clarify here is whether you can stand out in a local pack without a website in such an unconventional and competitive niche as legal services. Unfortunately, no, you cannot.

To prove this, I analyzed 986 local SERPs in order to figure out if legal brands can appear with or without a website. My findings showed that 86 percent of legal businesses that pop up in local packs have a website. This means that even if your business is visible in local packs without a website, in a majority of cases, it’ll be considered by potential clients as less trustworthy, since users usually expect to see a link to a particular domain.

Without a link to a professional-looking website, your business will seem less credible — not only to potential clients, but also to Google. Nevertheless, it’s not unusual for large, global companies to be trusted more than small, local ones. Therefore, small companies need to instill confidence in their potential clients by having a website.

#5. There’s no correlation between a legal website’s ranking number one in a local pack and its number of reviews

I’m certain that every business owner understands the importance of customer reviews. It’s a no-brainer that a level of trust is instantly established when a potential client sees that a local business has reviews. And it definitely increases the likelihood of said client to convert. Also, the very presence of Google native reviews is thought to be among the Top 50 local search ranking factors.

However, this study of legal services has already revealed that there are quite a few peculiar ranking factors that business owners need to keep in mind in order to succeed in this niche. That’s why I was curious to know whether there’s any correlation between a site’s number of customer reviews and its ranking #1 in a local pack.

With the help of the AccuRanker team I was able to get the sum of reviews that show beside each result in local pack. Afterwards, I analyzed more than 2,000 local SERPs in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. And here’s what I found:

There’s no correlation between ranking in the first position in a local pack and your number of reviews.

For instance, in New York local pack results, the companies that appear in the third position have 824 total reviews. Those that appear in the first – 732. Moreover, I noticed a good number of cases in which a company that had a solid number of reviews was ranked in the third position, while a business that hadn’t even been reviewed yet was ranked in the first.

Another striking insight I gained: most legal sites never show their potential visitors more than 2 reviews. Based on this data, I can say that this represents an overall industry trend of a lack of native Google reviews. That’s why Google ranks businesses that haven’t been reviewed so highly. Even if you have a significant number of customer reviews, it won’t help your business rank higher in local pack results.

One final note

Without any doubt, the legal niche presents a lot of unique local SEO challenges that other industries hardly ever face. The high penetration of online legal services into the existing legal market is changing the current business landscape — in particular, it’s drastically affecting local results. Online legal businesses are stealing an outrageous amount of web traffic from local companies, without giving them even a slim chance of ranking as well in local SERPs.

Fortunately, local legal businesses still have priority in local packs, but the highly competitive environment is forcing them to improve their online presence by creating a website. Since a majority of the companies that appear in local packs have sites, your potential clients’ expectations are ratcheting up. In fact, this trend may reinforce searchers’ opinions that businesses without a website are untrustworthy. Furthermore, it seems that Google also prefers to show users local legal businesses that have a site, rather than those that don’t. The only good news is that your number of reviews doesn’t really influence your rankings in local packs.

Still, if a local legal business is interested in attracting clients via the Internet, it shouldn’t hesitate to look for alternative ways of generating traffic in both organic and paid search channels.

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