Most lawyers think about search marketing in a broad way, trying to reach everyone on the internet. But focusing on local search, which involves targeting specific cities, states, and neighborhoods, can have better overall results. This area of marketing is often quite confusing, however. What is local search marketing, how does it affect Google rankings, and what can lawyers do about it?
In this episode of The Legal Toolkit, Jared Correia interviews local search engine optimization industry leader Mike Ramsey about the components of an effective online marketing campaign, recent and upcoming Google algorithm changes, and specific actions lawyers can take today to improve their local search marketing. Ramsey discusses the importance of citations like Avvo and lawyers.com and why you should create a Facebook profile. Other significant factors include the quality and content of the business website, online reviews on Google and Yelp, and link building. Essentially, Ramsey explains, ranking for local search queries is important, but lawyers also need to control their online presence because potential clients are most likely searching before they buy. If nothing else, he says, build a very well optimized website and go out and be a good lawyer!
Mike Ramsey is the president of NiftyLaw and has taken part in the industry leading Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study for many years. He is a founding partner of the Google-sponsored Local University conference series. Ramsey is an active guest speaker at many internet marketing events such as Lawyernomics, Mozcon, SMX, Pubcon, and Search Fest. He has been quoted and featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Mashable, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, and many other leading internet marketing news sites.
Special thanks to our sponsor Amicus Attorney.
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Jared Correia: Hello to yet another fine episode of the Legal Toolkit here on Legal Talk Network. Before we get started today, I’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsor. Our new sponsor is Amicus Attorney, the world’s leading practice management solution for lawyers. Amicus Attorney helps manage your law firm so that you can concentrate on being a lawyer. To learn more, visit AmicusAttorney.com. If you’re a returning listener, welcome back. If you’re a first time listener, hopefully you’ll become a long time listener to this fine legal podcast. If you’re my mom, bring more linguica and cheese rolls. I’m your host, Jared Correia, and in addition to casting this podcast, I’m the assistant director and senior law practice advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. We call it LOMAP, for short, and we provide free and confidential law practice management consulting services to Massachusetts attorneys. For more information on LOMAP’s offerings, visit our website at MassLOMAP.org. You can buy my book, Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers from the American Bar Association on iTunes or on Amazon. My co host is Heidi Alexander and she’s going to be back with you next month. In the meantime, if you’re desirous of more podcasting goodness, check out our Lunch Hour Legal Marketing show where we release monthly legal marketing episodes featuring industry experts. But here on the Legal Toolkit, we provide you each month with a new tool to add to your own legal toolkit so that your practices will become more and more like best practices. In this episode, we’re going to talk about winning local search. With all apologies to my boy, Charlie Sheen, and tigers. Just kidding, I don’t really know Charlie Sheen. Our guest today is Mike Ramsey. He is the president of NiftyLaw and he has taken part in the industry leading Local Search Ranking Factors study for many years. He is a founding partner of the Google-sponsored Local University conference series. Mike is an active guest speaker at many internet marketing events such as Lawyernomics, Mozcon, SMX, Pubcon, and Search Fest. He has been quoted and featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Mashable, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal, as well as many other leading internet marketing news sites. He’s a lover of all things search and social, and he loves the chess game of entrepreneurship and business management. Mike loves to travel with his family and loves his home state of Idaho. He moonlights as the owner of The Voice, a weekly newspaper covering Southern Idaho. He’s the author of Winning at Local Search, available through Attorney at Work, and he’s a BYU graduate, which means he probably even owns some of that secret mormon underwear. Mike, welcome to the show.
Mike Ramsey: Well, thank you for having me.
Jared Correia: Have you ever had a bio like that before?
Mike Ramsey: No, that is by far the best; covered everything, including my religion. There you go.
Jared Correia: I’m here to provide information, it’s what I do. Alright, Michael, let’s jump into the search piece, which I know you’re an expert in. I think most lawyers think about search marketing in a very broad way. Like what they’re doing in their practice is trying to reach pretty much anybody who’s on the internet, who may have even a passing interest in what they do. But as you know, law firm marketing is or should be more targeting than that. So one way to target your marketing is to focus on local search. So can you tell us what is local search marketing and why is it important in this market?
Mike Ramsey: Local search marketing is the practice of targeting specific geographies, ultimately. So for most law firms that is states, neighborhoods, and cities. And the practice of that can be done through many ways. Some of the more popular ways would be using online local directories. A website like Avvo, or Google itself has their Google local listing product where they’re showing map listings on their pages. Plus, they always show local search results. There’s social media, Facebook, different places like that where businesses can create profiles and people can search for specific types of businesses on their platforms. And then just every other mapping technology that’s out there. Ultimately, local search marketing is the art of targeting maps. It’s targeting with maps in specific areas. And that is what we’re doing.
Jared Correia: Have you trademarked that phrase yet? Targeting maps in specific areas, I like that. So you’re like a modern day Lewis or Clark.
Mike Ramsey: Yeah, I need to work on the trademark there.
Jared Correia: Hey, I know some good IP attorneys. Alright, so now that we have some grounding in what the local search marketing is, talk to me about the elements of local search. So the earth, wind, and fire of local search, as it were. What are the components to your mind of an effective local search platform?
Mike Ramsey: I would really say there are four specific areas that people need to have a plan and focus in. First and arguably the most important would be your own personal website and content that you’re creating. This is where a majority of your clients should be coming to you from and learning about your practice and researching you and reading about you and then of course contacting you. Within that website, one of the more interesting things that we find is that the most visited pages on a law firm’s website are the attorney bios. And that’s something that you can own and that you have complete control over as far as creating a really powerful, meaningful bio that showcases who you are, has really good imagery, different things like that. And then, of course, prominent contact information on the site, where you’re located, the practice areas that you serve, the cities and states that you serve. All of that information is very relevant, especially when it comes to showing up in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Ensuring that you have every aspect down of your website is just extremely important. And continually adding content to that website in the form of different information about interpretation of law or the adventure involved in the community, just an active place where people can see that you’re good at what you do and you’re going to do a good job for them. Moving on, the other area of local search would be local listings. And by that, I mean all of these online directories that you see that are either legal specific, city specific, just all of the above there, and that’s places like your Google, my business listing. Very important to make sure that you’re listed on that. Same at this point with Avvo. If you do a search across any search engine, you’ll find that some of the legal directories, Avvo, Lawyers.com, will be showing up very high and they’re actually driving quite a bit of traffic. Or at least people looking at those due to their prominence in search rankings. And so keeping your data consistent across all of these local listings online is very important. And by that phrase, “keeping your data consistent,” I’m talking about ensuring that your business name, your business address and your business phone number is the same across all of these places where there are local listings available. And the reason why is one, people need to be able to contact you from those local listings. So of course, you want to have correct information and you would be amazed at how many lawyers have signed up for five thousand yellow pages back in the day and each one had a different tracking number and now those numbers don’t redirect to the current phone number. So they’re losing business all the time because people will land on a directory, they’ll call the number, and either that number’s dead or it redirects to somebody else. It’s a real big challenge. So ensuring that that data’s consistent ensures that people could contact you. But even more importantly than that, Google uses these local listings and these other search engines. They look at the consistency of the information found there and the amount of information that’s found on these local listings. And it helps them determine how prominent you are in your market and then can boost your ranking in their local search results, in their map listings. So that consistency is very, very important. The next pillar that I would say is really becoming a much stronger aspect that people need to be focusing on over the past few years are online reviews. There’s many, many sites, but I would say that for a law firm, there’s three really big sites that people are looking at reviews quite frequently on. One would be Google itself. The other one would be -depending on the market you’re in – it will either be Yelp or Facebook, sometimes a combination. I noticed in alot of west coast areas, people shop on Yelp for law firms. And they’re very prominent and displayed in search rankings when somebody types in a phrase like, “Seattle law firm,” or “Seattle personal injury attorney, Seattle criminal defense.” And then Avvo’s another one that shows up almost nationwide now, especially if people start typing in something like, “Reviews of personal injury attorneys in Las Vegas,” or something that basically triggers reviews. Avvo really has gone a good job at going out and getting people to leave reviews and having a lot of that review information. Reviews are becoming more prominent because people are trusting them the way that they would trust a recommendation from a friend. There’s been study that’s been ongoing for about the last four years from a company and some friends of mine called Bright Local, and they ask a series of questions to consumers. Each year they ask and we see how the data changes year after year and one of the questions I find most interesting about reviews is that they say, “How likely are you to trust an online review compared to a personal recommendation from a friend?” At first, people were trusting as somewhere in the low 70’s to high 60’s, and now those numbers have came up to 80% where they trust those online reviews and we’re continuing to see that. There have been some companies that have pushed really hard to show how important and how great reviews can be for consumers; Amazon of course being one of those. We all shop at Amazon. The reason why we shop at it is because of the reviews and we can read and get a really good idea of the product and service. That’s becoming the case with every industry, especially law. People want to see reviews. They want to know the type of lawyer they’re going to work with. They want to know if they’re good. They want to know any troubles that they could expect. They want to know people’s previous experiences in total. Online reviews offer them that opportunity. You have to have a review strategy these days. And we’re seeing lawyers that do have a prominent review strategy in place just really out perform not only in rankings, but just overall and in what I would call a closed rate. Or the amount of people that are contacting the lawyer and becoming clients. And then the last pillar that I would say makes up a full local search marketing strategy is what I like to call links, likes, and shares. This is basically your popularity. Who’s linking to your website because of the things that you’re doing? Are you getting your activities within your communities linked by the community on Facebook and are people sharing things that you’re providing? Are they sharing your opinions of the thought leader? And ensuring that you’re constantly getting more links likes and shares is the fundamental way that you will see your website and you’ll see any other products that you own online basically rise to the top of the search result. In Avvo, the lawyers that have a ten out of ten generally rank a little higher in their algorithm and show up more prominently. The way that they get there is by getting reviews, by writing and having a lot of people recommend them and writing and answering people’s questions in their forums, different things like that. They’re getting links like shares to their profile and the people who do that on their website are as well. These days I think it’s very important for a lawyer to be showcasing all the work they’re doing in the community on their website so that when people are wanting to talk about it and wanting to share it, they’re going to the website, finding the information and sharing that. For instance, there’s a really great attorney in Las Vegas, Farhan Naqvi, and he does a lot of donation work which is very helpful here. One of the things that he does is he gives away hundreds, if not thousands, of bike helmets every year. And it’s very well covered in local media, radio, local news and different places. And being able to showcase that on his website allows for these media and news places to come to his site, see more information about it, and hopefully take those pages and reference them in their articles. So you have to be taking the opportunity to bridge that offline work that you’re doing, offline charity with online conversations that are taking place. So that makes up, in a very, very long, multiple paragraph way, the four pillars of local search.
Jared Correia: I’ve got to tell you, I’m on the Wikipedia page, the disambiguation page for four pillars and you’re not on here yet. So somebody needs to remedy that. We need to get a Wikipedia page up on this. Four pillars, review marketing, Mike Ramsey. That was super comprehensive. I think that’s an answer to it and packs a lot of useful information for lawyers. So let me ask you this. Lawyers are always busy, or at least they say they’re super busy. If I was an attorney and I wanted to do one thing tomorrow to do a better job in local search marketing and I could only pick one thing, what would I do or what should I do?
Mike Ramsey: Well, I’m going to give you two options. One is very illegal, the other one is legal. So one option, the illegal way is to go out and do something so big, I’m talking like Better Call Saul status and getting caught and famous and basically written up in every media article because you’re site and everything will go to the top. So basically do something very illegal that picks up a lot of news coverage like kill a lion in Africa that everybody loved.
Jared Correia: Mike Ramsey just said to kill Cecil, I just want people to know.
Mike Ramsey: And then you’ll see your website rise and you’ll become famous that way. Or, the other thing is just build a very well optimized and conserving website and then just go out and be a good lawyer. If you do those things, if your website is built well, you’ll have a good foundation. You’ve done everything right on that, and you just go out and be you. And if you’re a good lawyer, then over time I think you’ll win. Sure, there’s a lot of ways to do better, but if I was going to do one thing or recommend one thing, that’s it. Of course, for the legal disclaimer, I do not condone for the killing of animals or pulling off anything like Better Call Saul to gain higher rankings, even though it will work. But you cannot quote me on that.
Jared Correia: Okay everybody, do not kill any lions. On that note, we’re going to take a quick break and we’re going to come back with Mike Ramsey. He’s talking to us about Winning Local Search. Mike runs NiftyLaw.
Jared Correia: Before we get into our break, let’s say a word about our new sponsor, Amicus Attorney. Amicus Attorney’s world leading practice management solution allows you to do more, bill more, and go home early. It serves as the hub to your practice and Amicus customers report that they save over eight hours and bill an extra five hours each week. Built by lawyers for lawyers, Amicus has two award winning solutions: Amicus Premium with a unique client portal, and the exciting Amicus Cloud with seamless email integration. To learn more, visit AmicusAttorney.com
Jared Correia: Welcome back. We’re joined today by Mike Ramsey of NiftyLaw, and we’re talking about Winning at Local Search. Mike’s already talked to us about the four pillars of local search marketing, and we’re going to be getting more deeply into these topics as we move forward. So, Mike, let’s talk about viewing local search through the lens of last year. Based on the last year, and we can even say 2015 to look ahead in the next question. What have been the big changes in the local search environment over 2015?
Mike Ramsey: I would say the biggest change that somewhat caught people by surprise is that Google dropped Google Plus. They really separated it out from local, and so for the last few years, everybody’s been saying Google’s not giving up on Google Plus. You have to utilize it, and it was the fundamental platform that their whole local experience was built on. Well, over these last few months, they’ve been moving away from this, and now, Google Plus is completely separate from their Google local end of the business. They’ve done a whole new revamp of what local search looks like in Google’s search engine. So now when you go and put in a search, let’s do a phrase like, “Chicago personal injury lawyer,” then what you’ll see is you’ll get a list of instead of seven local map listings, now you might only get three. They will not show your phone number. They will not show your actual website url. They’ll just have two buttons: one will be a website button, the other one will be directions. You can click on those. If you don’t click on either of those, if you just click on the listing, the title of the business – which most people do because it’s how they’ve been clicking on normal search results on Google for so many years – it just opens up a box of a local knowledge graph of information that then displays your address, your phone number, and the reviews about your business. But it also has a list of your competitors. This has been a very big change, and what we’ve seen is people that were doing well in map results that were getting a lot of traffic in their website, they’re seeing a decrease of website traffic. And in some cases, they’re still getting the same amount of phone calls, but people are starting to be directed away from your website and to more information that you technically don’t own that Google owns and that they have about your business. I guess the big change is that you just have to be very, very familiar with what they know about you and you have to be very comfortable with what they have. You have to be comfortable with the reviews that are left about your business that Google has. You have to be comfortable with your descriptions that they’re saying and the categories of people that you serve or the type of law that you practice. This has been the biggest change and I really do look at it and say that coming more into the future, we’re going to see more changes like this that the search engines will try to basically keep people away from their going off of the search engine, going to a website and trying to give them the information from websites very quickly, easily, and what they would consider more efficiently.
Jared Correia: Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves but that’s good to know. As you said, a few years ago, everybody was saying get on Google Plus, get on Google Plus, but maybe not important as it has been traditionally. So now, let’s prognosticate a little bit. Looking ahead, what do you think lawyer and law firms are going to have to be prepared for as they look forward to designing their local search campaigns for the near future?
Mike Ramsey: I would say the biggest change that I’m seeing and that’s somewhat a little nerveracking to me is that Google’s doing a test in home based services right now in San Francisco. They’re doing it will bail bonds and plumbers. The concept is instead of having this free local map pack that available that you can go and create a free listing on Google My Business that you have to pay to show up on the map and it’s 100% paid. That’s a test right now. But if I’m Google, and I’ve already dominated the world, I’ve already created a parent company, all of that, and now Google’s a little sub sector of it and they’re just looking at increasing profitability so that they can go into these other areas and continue to put R&D into them. I’m going to find ways to basically get as much money from advertisers as possible. And the one area that Google has had a very hard time cracking is local. How do they monetize local? Now interesting enough, When you look at some of the most expensive keywords that you can buy on Google AdWords, they are all law related and it’s very interesting. I think that there’s this report done recently and it was a high percentage. I can’t remember if it was 50%, give or take 50% of the words in the top hundred words was local law related terms. And the cost was over $100 a click in some cases. So what I see happening is Google’s finding a way to shut off more free traffic that you could get from them and finding ways to turn that into paid. And law has got to be an area that they could potentially create a standalone product in due to how much money they see and the fact that it is the top of their expense list of keywords. They’ve got to want to do something with that and find a way to monetize that further. So you have to be ready to pay to play.
Jared Correia: You’re just saying that there are a lot of lawyers out there. You’re an honest man, I’ll give you that. But you’ve got a lot of lawyers thumping their heads against their heads now, not willing to pay money for that stuff. But it’s good to know better than not know, right? Let’s speak generally about resources that are out there. I think your book is great. Obviously, this podcast is super informative, right? But if I’m a lawyer who wants to learn more about local search marketing, if I want to dive into it and get my hands dirty a little bit on my own, where would I go to pick up relevant, up to date information?
Mike Ramsey: There’s a few places, starting with my book and your podcast. Moz Local is one of my favorite overall resources when it comes to local search information. If you go to Moz.com/local, then they have a tool and for free, you can put in your business name, address and phone number and see how consistent that information is across the board. They have a paid product that can help you fix that. But when we’re just talking about information, they have more guides and more information than about anywhere on the internet when it comes to local search. David Mihm, who’s a dear friend of mine puts together yearly a study on local search ranking factors, what it takes basically to rank high in Google and local search, both in maps and organically. That study just came out last week. And so there’s the fresh 2015 version of that that includes 30+ experts and their opinions on local search. And then they also have a bunch of free guides on understanding, just getting the fundamentals down of local search, so that’s a great place. The other place that I would like to recommend is actually a thrill and a disclaimer. I’m a partner at it but I do think it’s one of the best on the internet and that’s the Local University series. We put on conferences across the country at different points of the year. We were combining with Moz on something that’s more for experts, I would say for this event that’s coming up in I believe this February in Seattle. There’s a big conference, one of the bigger local search conferences of the year, and we’ll be planning our 2016 schedule of smaller events for people just learning local and that will be across the country throughout next year. But as part of that, we have a forum where you have access to five or six of the top minds in local search that are just answering people’s questions. And that’s at LocalU.org. So that’s a great place and the blog on LocalU.org has a ton of content for free that you can go to and read.
Jared Correia: Are you affiliated with universities? Is that why you call it the Local University series or do you view it yourself sort of as the online university for local search?
Mike Ramsey: Yeah, it’s like the online university for local search. We wanted it to be more studious, not so sales or pitch driven. So all of our conference series and the forum itself, we’re not trying to pitch products the whole time you’re there or anything like that. It’s just straight out research on what’s working, what’s not, how to do things. There’s really no strings attached. We really wanted it to be more like that studious style, and that’s where the name Local University came from.
Jared Correia: And the only reason I ask is because if you’re in Alabama hanging out in Tuscaloosa doing a Local University series, maybe there’s a video of you online crowd surfing or something. I don’t know, but I figured I’d ask. You’ve cleared that up for me, though. So we’ve gone through a lot of stuff here. We hit the four pillars – I don’t know, maybe we even got into a fifth pillar at some point – but sadly we’ve reached the end of this episode of the show of the Legal Toolkit. I know, it’s hard, and you’ll have to wait a couple of months to hear from me again. But if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can check out all of our shows any time you want at LegalTalkNetwork.com. Thanks to Mike Ramsey of NiftyLaw for taking the time to come to the virtual studio today to talk about local search. So, Mike, I know we’ve addressed this a little bit, but I’ll let you give your pitch on your own. Could you tell our listeners where they might be able to find out more about you and to find out about NiftyLaw?
Mike Ramsey: The best place is just going to NiftyLaw.com. We publish a lot of free articles on how to do things. I also have a listing to my book there which is specific for lawyers wanting to know more about local search and you can contact me from there. So NiftyLaw.com.
Jared Correia: Look at that, practicing what you preach. Have a solid website? You do. So thanks again, Mike, we really appreciate it.
Mike Ramsey: Thank you very much for having me.
Jared Correia: Oh, my pleasure, this has been fun. And thanks to everybody else out there for continuing to listen to my name blather against the backdrop of the wisdom of our regular guests. We’ll talk to you next time.
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