In what is probably going to be a game changer for attorneys, is the the end of “free” local search. We already saw many injury lawyers reconsider whether local search is worth investing in at all since the introduction of the 3 pack. But now, we are seeing whole areas in small geos being tested for an all paid for local search in Google. Of course we all know that organic results for lawyers have over time been slowly been pushed down the page and/or have been getting replaced at the top with directory sites like Yelp!, etc. So we can all see the writing on the wall as far as being able to afford the investment into any type of so called “free search.”
The Rapid Changes in Attorney Search
Many attorneys are looking at social marketing, and social media to try and rank their sites. While fun, and possibly time wasting, social media does not appear to have any direct result on ranking a legal website like it once did when DIGG front page shares could blast a site to the top of page one on Google. One thing is sure, Circle of Legal Trust would not have been formed if not but for the rapid and devastating algorithm changes of April 2012 that put many internet based companies, some good, some evil, out of business. Circle of Legal Trust was formed from connections made using Google Plus.
- One Door Opened & One Door Closed With Google Penalties of 2012
In a way, Circle of Legal Trust saved a lot of lawyers by helping them understand Penguin and Panda. When the attorneys recovered, many disappeared and/or stopped participating, apparently because “they were out of the woods” so to speak. This was a huge mistake and kind of a let down. In any event, those few who remained and the newbees sure to follow will benefit greatly from what I am about to discuss. The purpose of this piece is not to scare you, but to prepare you for more devastating and rapid changes in Google local search, and to prepare you to find other avenues of getting cases than online, or at least other than in organic or paid search.
- Is Paid Search Really an Option for Most Lawyers?
Of course, if you are willing to deal with click fraud, the Herculean task of disputing fraudulent clicks, and click bid scores that only a few very wealthy brands could ever really afford, then you don’t need to read further. In other words, it appears that the days of a new attorney putting out a shingle and ranking online, at least on Google, will soon be at an end. Some argue that it was inevitable that once it went public, Google would have to eliminate, or all but make ranking online impossible. Of course, there are others like David Amerland, or Bill Slawski, who might argue that all these changes are being done to improve search. I will let you be the judge as to who it helps, or doesn’t.
What is Facebook Up To With Businesses?
Facebook has taken quite a few leaps in getting attention from business owners through its advertisement and marketing campaigns. While Google might not have given any competition to Facebook with its social network, namely Google+, it will definitely not let Facebook take away the admirations of the paying business owners that easily. Google has gone hyper local with a new campaign that is definitely going to have a huge impact on Google’s local searches, your pocketbook, and people’s expectations from the search engine giant if this new service becomes successful.
Google Following Suit and Cashing out on Local Business Search
Some local search experts might like the idea that Google is apparently going to make some more money from the local listings, but it will give just as much benefit to the business owners and people relying on Google for searching businesses locally. The new service is the pre-qualified ads that are appearing on top of Google’s search results for businesses that more specifically provide in-home services. As of now, Google has tested this service by providing ads only for plumbers and locksmiths. The new service will be named Home Service ads.
This is going to allow Google users to get services from businesses like home tradespeople and probably later, other location based services such as doctors and lawyers, by simply performing a search on Google and getting local results for qualified professionals as it does now, except now there will be background checks, mystery spy shoppers to test your business to see if its real, and a few other ranking signals, probably like Yelp! reviews. In a nutshell, basically it appears the three pack will use the same ranking signals we have all worked so hard to get and pay for, but on top of that the staff will need to be trained to deal with paid shoppers (mystery shoppers), and the law firm will need to pay Google to subject itself to a background check and hope its firm fits into Google’s business model for how a law practice should be set up and run.
- Testing Is Being Done Right Now in Small Locale Three Packs
As of now, Google has tested this particular service in San Francisco Bay area where Google showed pre-qualified listings for only locksmiths and plumbers in the area. These results were shown on top of the organic search results and Google has made them pretty noticeable. The three results were accommodated within a box in which you could see not only the phone numbers of individuals but their pictures, ratings and names of companies they are working for. There is a “profile” option available with each ad in the box so you can click on it and see further details of the individual.
People looking for these individuals for services can place requests for services right from the search page. The reliability of the individuals shown in the results is definitely going to be a big matter for people searching for them on Google. Google has stated its words by saying that it is making these individuals go through thorough screening process before posting their ads on its search pages. Among many things included in the screening process there is background check, online reputation measure, insurance, mystery shoppers’ feedback, interviews and licenses.
The businesses whose individuals will be shown in the ads are also going through a strict check which is being performed by a third party. The name of the company performing checks on the companies is Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations. Google has also pointed out the fact that it is taking ratings of these professionals from the people who have had the chance of taking their services in the past. In addition to that, Google is also using Mystery Shoppers in order to know the level of service and to keep a check on the quality of service provided by these individuals and companies.
The program is going to include the highly ranked individuals in the ads but those who get bad rating will be thrown out of those ads or the program entirely. We can see what Google is trying to do with this new feature in its search algorithms. Google is quite scary for businesses when it runs several algorithm changes and names those updates with cute animals because those algorithm changes can throw businesses out of search rankings.
- Many Lawyers May Not Pass the Background Investigation and Mystery Shopper Test for Google’s Paid “Local Business” By Virtue of “Impossibility”
We must admire Google for its efforts that it puts in to make the search experience not only friendly for users but benefiting for businesses as well. From these ads it is clear that Google has realized the power of its local listings over organic searches. The problem for most attorneys, is fitting into Google’s idea of a storefront business that allows walk ins any time of the day. The guidelines that a lawyer must be able to receive customers during regular business hours is probably simply impossible.
- Litigators May Lose Big, But Transactional Lawyers May Win
Most firms that litigate, or do trials may be doing what lawyers do when the mystery shopper shows up at the office, or the Pinkerton investigator checks them out. The bottom line is that litigation attorneys are not like supermarkets, or even locksmiths. With few exceptions, we are the ones who need to interview the potential new clients, not our paralegals, not our law clerks, we sworn attorneys. This is why an appointment should be made.
In fact, personal injury attorneys are notorious for going to the home, office or hospital of victims, or even meeting the potential new client at the accident scene. Of course Google would say that is the model for a “service area” business, so you should be ok right? The problem with a service area business is that in the real world these are not service area businesses. These are aggressive lawyers out hustling for cases who also meet clients at the law office when an appointment is set in advance to assure the lawyer will actually be there. Think about that.
For the most part, litigators are constantly in depositions, trial, court hearing and mediations, among the many tasks lawyers perform daily. Transactional attorneys could stand to win big, assuming they are in the office when the mystery shopper show up and they pass the initial local paid test. I personally don’t know of a single lawyer who does not see clients by appointment only. Will Google make an accommodation for attorneys and other professionals faced with a mystery shopper to allow face to face by appointment? Who knows.
- Changes Keep Rolling
We know the new changes that Google has made to its Google Cards where users are readily able to see information about businesses and a lot of stuff on the go, based on their locations. People now believe that Google knows where they are at any given time, and so they expect Google to give them results that are most relevant and benefiting for them according to their locations whenever they perform a search. For now, the program is in its beta phase. The bottom line is that people don’t Google for a lawyer and stop by based upon their location. It is not a service station and the vast majority of consumers know it, just like they know when they go to the emergency room to stop by, the doctor will probably be with patients. These hard and fast rules may simply rule out a lot of attorneys from participation. Maybe it is no big deal. Let’s see how successful it becomes for Google. In the meantime, look at Craigs List and other ways to prepare for the loss of business and website traffic sure to come to many firms whenever a new change is made to the Google algo.
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