This is a bit of a throwback post, but my conversation with BluShark Digital’s Seth Price on local SEO still has relevance today.
I have published the transcript below but wanted to call out a few conversation points.
First is the fact that 15% of the searches every single day have never been typed into Google ever before. Still mindblowing. Still extremely relevant in terms of diversifying your query and topic strategy. People will search for you in ways you haven’t even considered. Consider all of the people that don’t even yet know that they need a lawyer.
Second, digital marketing channels work better in concert. If you’ve been a single channel, last touch, direct response pony, make 2022 the year you integrate your marketing strategy across channels.
Third, if you’re a local business, forget about all traditional notions of “link authority” (i.e. Domain Authority, Page Authority, nofollow, etc). Focus on relevant links both in terms of location and topic right so for a personal injury law firm in Chicago, getting links from even local rehabilitation centers, where your clients might be. Put yourself in the shoes of somebody who might be your client.
Agree, disagree, learn something new? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for dropping by.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to the SEO Insider with your host Seth Price, founder of BluShark. Taking you inside the world of legal marketing and all things digital.
Seth Price (00:10):
Welcome to the SEO Insider. My name is Seth Price with BluShark and we have Gyi from AttorneySync today, welcome Gyi.
Gyi Tsakalakis (00:17):
Seth, so great to see you. Thanks for having me.
Seth Price (00:21):
You and I spend hours offline discussing minutia of SEO and what works and what doesn’t work and what sort of people tell you works and doesn’t work. One of the things that we have bemoaned over the years is the sort of minimization, if that’s a word, of search. We had three ads and then the three-pack with a map. So now we have an LSA, we have pay-per-click ads, we have a map to get to organic. What gives? How do you get through the day these days?
Gyi Tsakalakis (00:59):
Well, I remind myself that Google is a publicly-traded company and is essentially a one-trick pony in terms of revenue from Ads but seriously the thing and we know we’ve talked about this over the years. The stat that always comes to my mind is that Danny Sullivan just recently confirmed that this is still their number. 15% of the searches every single day have never been typed into Google ever before and so everybody’s chomping at the bit for these lower funnel, non-brand head terms, spending $100, $200, $300, $400 a click and that’s not to say that you got to keep those in mind but there’s still a lot of searches that our organic sells a lot of visibility on.
Seth Price (01:49):
No, and I see that more and more that again LSA is not fully matured but it’s not in every search, paid Ads are not in every search.
Gyi Tsakalakis (01:58):
Seth Price (01:59):
And so it is interesting to sort of see that and when I see our stats, again part of it is making sure… And it’s a pull and tug right because part of the reason you want all that search traffic is to get to those money terms because a lot of good revenue does come from them and it’s unclear. Ironically breaking news as we’re taping this, with Justice looking at Google and antitrust matters, something we have sort of dreamed about for years maybe just a settlement that limits the number of paid spots at the top to not infinite. Which it seems like we’re going towards right now, giving you more of a focus but I think one of the things we’ve seen inside the LSA rollout has been how rudimentary, we think of Google as this juggernaut and it is, it’s worth gazillions and it controls the market but that they’re human and when you look at how clunky that this rollout has been, it gives you a little bit of insight as far as what’s on the other side of the curtain.
Gyi Tsakalakis (03:04):
Right exactly and we even know that even as on their core product being searched that we’ve talked about this ad nauseam over the years but spams still works right and so as sophisticated and as better as they try to evolve it’s still a machine, it’s still software, it’s still susceptible to manipulation but yeah I mean I think the other thing too that I think is worth folks that are watching this to or listening to this to be thinking about is you should diversify your sources of new business. So I would never advocate anybody just to be like “Go all in on just organic or paid or social or email.” And in fact, as you know all the channels work better in concert right so if you earn a visit for one thing and then you can retarget them for something else or show a targeted ad on social. All that stuff works a lot better when it’s all working harmoniously than if you’re just like “Oh I’m just going to be the organic search person.”
Seth Price (04:09):
Right, no absolutely, and something we’ve talked about offline that it doesn’t get a lot of talk is the power of a paid search campaign combined to sort of push or jolt an organic campaign. Your experiences with that? We’re seeing it with the recent algorithm updates, the TV advertisers getting a huge bump that we never saw before but that I feel like some of that can be simulated through paid search as far as pushing eyeballs through to sort of tweak the algorithm.
Gyi Tsakalakis (04:41):
Yeah, and I know that there’s a split of authority so to speak on the impact of brand but I kind of go back to Eric Schmidt years ago. Brands sort out the cesspool, right? They want to reward brands because brands are where you can build trust and so it’s not surprising when we see things like big TV spenders who are generating a lot of brand demand that impacts their ability to rank locally. We see that all the time. A new TV spender comes into town in legal and all of a sudden without a lot of the traditional SEO signaling to their page they start ranking and you’re like “How’d that happen?” It’s like “Well there’s a lot of brand traffic and Google’s rewarding that.”
Seth Price (05:28):
Right and along those lines when you’re looking at clients, people coming to you, and sort of struggling with how do you compete against the bigger guys? You have your famous catchphrase with links but how do you go about going up against the juggernauts?
Gyi Tsakalakis (05:47):
Yeah, you better be prepared. So I kind of use the military analogy. You’re not going to do a land warfare campaign on a small budget against some of these businesses or law firms we’re talking legal that are just so heavily invested right. I mean we talk about this all the time, people will say “Oh yeah how would I compete with the juggernaut on Google ads?” Well, they’re spending $350,000. I just made that number up I don’t know why that came into my head. [crosstalk 00:06:19] They spend a lot of money on those clips-
Seth Price (06:21):
[crosstalk 00:06:21] It’s no different from a TV advertiser. If you say “Hey I have $2,000 a month.” And they’re spending $100,000 they’re going to get a lot more eyeballs.
Gyi Tsakalakis (06:29):
Its strategic is my response to that right. The buzz term there from organic is the long tail. The thing that I was trying to say to folks because lawyers talk a lot about going niche and they think practice area with respect to niche but you can also think of niche as geographically specific and so hyperlocal right. To target people that are searching on neighborhood terms, street terms, local community terms. I think that’s another good point that I know you and I talk about a lot too is, spend more time on doing the research.
Everybody wants to go out there and publish content and more blog posts and Gyi says get links but I think so many people don’t spend the time to really think about who they want as a client? Where those people are? What keeps them up at night? What questions they’re asking? That should really inform your strategy and the good news is that there’s not as much competition there oftentimes. I know in Chicago we would see local neighborhood terms and the competition level there was a lot less-
Seth Price (07:36):
Gyi Tsakalakis (07:37):
Seth Price (07:37):
Gyi Tsakalakis (07:38):
[crosstalk 00:07:38]. The Volume might be more-
Seth Price (07:40):
[crosstalk 00:07:40] Embarassingly for some of my legacy sites that do super well. I look down I’m like “Dude we don’t have these pages.” We have an internal debate because if a statewide page is getting the love no matter what and Google knows you’re there, it may be doing some of that work for you and the question is, do you then spend a huge budget building out these micro-neighborhood pages? I guess it’s a dance with what you got. If you don’t have the statewide page ranking you damn well better do something otherwise you’re going to be sitting there with not a lot. What are your thoughts on that? On building out hyperlocal in content versus going after the larger more searched areas with a library of information for that.
Gyi Tsakalakis (08:24):
So sadly it depends but looks like you had mentioned, you’re a smaller shop, you got a smaller budget. Maybe you have a long-term strategy to rank those statewide pages but I would go really deep hyperlocal now. If you have some authority built up yeah I mean we talk about this all the time how Google talks about how doorway pages aren’t supposed to work but at the same time local content page that contains geographic information, the page title URL, and on the page and it’s actually a legitimate local resource, those pages kill as you know.
Seth Price (09:03):
Right, but is that a doorway page? Are you talking about just finding ways to bring meaningful traffic through the site to give it a trust point locally?
Gyi Tsakalakis (09:13):
So there was some guidance from Google that we shouldn’t create doorway pages and then we ask Google what’s a doorway-
Seth Price (09:20):
Yeah, what is a doorway page?
Gyi Tsakalakis (09:20):
And then they would say, say you’re a Chicago personal injury law firm and then you create a page for every county, city permutation in the state of Illinois for personal injury lawyer. So you’ve got Aurora personal injury lawyer and I don’t know DeKalb personal injury lawyer and Will County personal injury lawyer. There’s a line there where they say “Look you’re crossing into those doorway pages.” But I’ll tell you right now they say that and this is another thing that I think is useful for people to keep in mind. Google’s PR team on webspam is a lot different [crosstalk 00:09:56] fighting web spam than their actual search quality team.
Seth Price (09:59):
Well and also they may say things that they’re aspirational of. If you give somebody an answer for Aurora personal injury lawyer and that answers their question so where does that… To me, I’ve always thought as the doorway pages that are more dubious where they take you in and then pivot you to something else but in this case, to me, I would question whether or not that’s a doorway page or whether they don’t want hyperlocal content or the difference between DeKalb and Aurora and that’s the issue we all run into right? In the legal vertical, we have the same law statewide and you really need to mince things pretty finitely to get a distinction so that you could have unique content. The first thing people come to me and say is “Why are you spending all this time? Just change the name at the top of the page.”
Obviously, you can’t do that but the idea being that they want hyperlocal content at the same time I struggle because to me intuitively that’s not… But it almost brings me back to your favorite topic of links that we’ve seen a bunch of stuff. Remember back in the day where guest blogging was all the rage and then our Google spam face of the year I think it was cut. It’s not that it’s bad because they said don’t do it. He said, “Not that guest blogging is bad.” Bad guest blogging is bad which makes sense. What I’m seeing is what’s new is old and old is new. Is you can’t go on LinkedIn without getting 10 requests from people who want to sell you these placements.
Whenever you see something in this volume, Google’s not stupid, it’s on Gmail they know what’s going on, they know before I know. So there’s clearly this current trend of massive sale. Not that there haven’t always been links for sale but now it’s sort of a complete open market. Do you see this getting to a critical point where Google’s going to do something? Or is this too inside baseball? And they’ll just figure out which sites they don’t like and what are private blog networks?
Gyi Tsakalakis (12:06):
Yeah, probably a little bit of both. So my kind of thing on links is, especially if you’re a local business, it might be different we could argue about this if we were talking about publisher site but local business, all that stuff forget about it. Focus on relevant links both in terms of location and topic right so for a personal injury law firm in Chicago, getting links from even local rehabilitation centers, where your clients might be. Put yourself in the shoes of somebody who might be your client. What kind of business services do they need? Go to those businesses and try to find ways to earn links from them versus these emails that come in, I get them too so lucky me. 50 PA 90 links or DA 90 links, whatever it is. You can pretty much ignore all that stuff.
I think Google’s gotten a lot better at that part of it but at the end of the day to people that try to talk about the dial being turned back on links at the core of the search engine, it’s still a link-based search engine and so I think to your point about aspirationally, they might want to switch over to this entity based engine and knowledge graph and really understand how the world works and neural nuts and all this stuff but right now go show me a competitive search engine result page that has a site that doesn’t have a lot of links, that’s ranking for these really competitive terms because I haven’t seen many.
Seth Price (13:43):
And look along those lines when you’re thinking of it because look I agree, we two peas in a pod on local links. God bless it’s awesome but you’re also acknowledging that if you don’t have some high domain authority links coming in, it’s going to be harder to compete. That’s one of those places where you sort of start to question, not that you’re going to just take an email blindly but one of the things that I’ve thought about as Google wants to deemphasize links is they gave everybody this no index no follow concept or the no-follow link and things like Wikipedia and a lot of the big business periodicals that used to be wild west that you could get stuff on or that way but as they’ve done that and they’ve thinned the spam out because of that.
To me, if I’m Google one of the first places I would look are, if people aren’t spamming them anymore because there are no-follow links, is this where they’re going to be able to sort of at some point circle back and get a more trusted authoritative link? Because people think that it’s not there. Am I crazy to think that the Wikipedias and Forbes and places that said “You know what we’re not playing this game?” Are actually going to be the new trusted authority?
Gyi Tsakalakis (14:56):
No, you’re not crazy at all I mean I say the same things. You can ignore domain authority, you can also ignore no follow in terms of your prospecting. So my viewpoint is this and I think I might misquote this so people that are keeping score at home you can go ahead and call me out on it on Twitter but Google recently updated its guidance around no follow and in fact I think their new terminology is no-follow is a hint or something but come on, they’re keeping track. Remember Google they’re a big data company, they’re capturing all this data. If they’re keeping it and it’s taking up server space and they’re taking up database space and they think that it’s relevant, why wouldn’t they be including that in their mix?
Seth Price (15:41):
Well right and I feel that some of them really vet pretty well. Some became pay to play but the ones that didn’t are… Wikipedia is a pain to get on.
Gyi Tsakalakis (15:53):
Yeah and again you go read the prominence documentation on a local search from Google, I don’t think they name Wikipedia but they talk about “Are you listed in some of these sites that everybody recognizes?” To me, if you’re going to make a shift away from traditional notions of page rank and actual link equity, in terms of I don’t know, anchor text and domain authority and really focus on “Is this a real business that actually has real-world prominence?” That’s a place that you would go to to look.
Seth Price (16:31):
So if we go back in a time machine, couple of years back, you would always look at anchor text and the density of anchor text right. I remember some friends on the west coast it’s like “Just keep it under 5% you’ll be good.” I mean my early sites were embarrassing in how they were written and then we had the 5% rule for a while then 2%. I now just generically talk about once per paragraph which may even be too much in some areas but one of the things you mentioned earlier is spam still works and so I look at my sites and I look at anchor texts coming in inbound anchor text and I’m like some of these upstarts that never really learn that they shouldn’t be doing this stuff use these techniques and all of a sudden, you got SOBs that are now beating you for some of this stuff.
The authority may be there and something that we saw was criminal terms will be in place but DUI terms where somebody is getting those exact man checker texts. What are your thoughts on going back and saying “Look we’re not going to go back to the point where we’re doing Chicago DUI lawyer at 5%.” But if you want to compete for something, what is your thought on making sure that there’s some non-cringeworthy, non-zero level anchor text? Which you know isn’t what you should be fighting for at the same time if you are not hitting certain things in the algorithm those things just don’t pop.
Gyi Tsakalakis (17:54):
100%. I mean again it’s back to what Google aspirationally wants to be is not the same as what ranks and that’s another thing I always tell people too is trust your own data right because what works for me or what works for another firm or a competitor might not have the same impact and people find that really odd because they’re like “Isn’t the same algorithm everywhere at all times?” And it’s like “No it’s not.” There are different data centers. Google treats different keyword categories in classes differently. You’ve got a search quality rating that plays some factor in all that and so I always say like you were just talking about, go do a competitive analysis on your servs.
Take the keywords, the local keywords that you want to rank for, go through, pull those competitor sites that are ranking. See how many pages they have indexed, do a screaming frog crawl, see how they’re optimized, pull their backlinks and then get a sense of… Look in some places the keyword-heavy anchor text, the keyword heavy backlink anchor text works really well. Other places it tends not to and you still got to watch out, you can see over your shoulder you got to be worried about manual action and so it’s having that balance but the more smart-alec thing for me to say is “Just change your business name to include keywords because now your brand queries are your anchor text optimized keywords.”
Seth Price (19:23):
It is amazing. I’ve seen that in some markets, it works really nicely. Along those lines, we’re always trying to balance those things out. I’ll ask you something as an agency owner, how do you respond to people? Because we all are dealing with situations, you alluded to this before. Somebody who has a budget that is below the optimum budget for a market. The analogy that I’ve often used would be if asked people if they’ve ever renovated a rental property and there may be a shortcut that you’re willing to take as far as permitting, you’re going to put drywall up without the drywall permit but when it comes to electric, yeah I’m going to pull a permit on that to make sure the place doesn’t burn down and that when you are doing things for yourself there’s one level of risk but if a neighbor asks you to do something for them you have no incentive not to pull every permit because that great friend from down the street you barbecue with if something goes wrong and there’s a stop-work order all of a sudden they’re not your friend and you’re being sued.
You know how to go in one direction and be very aggressive, which there are a number of people out there that will do it particularly, you don’t see it as much but there used to be a lot of “I’ll guarantee you this in six months or in four months. Don’t pay till you’re there.” Versus what you know is tried and true. For my legacy stuff, I want to be as clean as possible. I’ll take a dip, may not be happy about it but I’ll take a dip in order to sort of weigh out that thing. When you’re dealing with the psychology and full disclosure which I know it’s easy to say but we know that you can say something to a client, when the chips are up it’s great but when the chips are down “I don’t remember that.” It’s almost like you need a contract where you initial each page to show that there’s full disclosure. How do you deal with that struggle?
Gyi Tsakalakis (21:23):
So a lot of the things that you said. One, we spend a lot of time educating. Out of all the Lawyers and it’s funny too because I’ve had the dubious distinction of wearing the titles of personal injury Lawyer and SEO, it doesn’t get any worse than that and I can tell you that a lot of the Lawyers especially now after doing this over the last decade, they’re coming to me and being like “Hey I want to see what you can do to push the envelope.” And I’m like “Look here’s what we can do but guess what? I’m making no guarantee.” And like you said I’m putting it in writing that your site’s not going to be de-indexed in three months because it might work awesome for a certain amount of time but we don’t know how long and so my thing is and I think over the years for me it’s more about who do I want to align myself with?
And I want to align myself with Lawyers that are in it for the long haul, are investing in their business. Don’t want to take the shortcuts but again as you mentioned, some of this is a bit of a gray area right and so I try to do the best I can to help them come to a decision of informed consent but it’s not always as clear and back to the conversation we had before. Everyone’s so frustrated because they’re like “Google’s saying this but what you’re saying does not line up with what’s actually happening in the search results and so who do I trust?”
And I’m like “I know, believe me, it’s frustrating for me too because I can tell you here’s what Google says, here’s what my experience tells me, and here’s what the search results tell me. So take your pick.” But it’s education and it’s finding alignment on business objectives right so we got firms that come to us and they’re like “I don’t care if we burn this domain down, it’s not our main site blah, blah. I don’t even know if my practice area is going to be a practice area in five years so get after it.” And then we have firms that are like “Yeah I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m in a competitive marketplace, I want someone looking over our shoulder.” At the risk of not trying to dodge but there’s no better cure than education.
Seth Price (23:30):
Agreed, I think that’s why you and I have been buddies for a long time.
Gyi Tsakalakis (23:34):
Oh, I miss you, we can’t even hang out anymore.
Seth Price (23:36):
Yeah, it has been too long in person. So I’ll wrap up with sort of the ultimate sort of question. Google’s smart, they got a lot of funds yet local spam is still this massive problem. Let’s try to unpack this, peel this onion a little bit. We’re sitting here brand works, reviews are now a thing. I feel like that New York Times expose about the eyeglass store set it back a while but they’re now back to a number of reviews. You see some guy in Atlanta, I just read it at 6,000 reviews and there’s very little policing on the upside of spam there and then that the name still works. How is it possible that in 2020 that we can’t get clarity? Look on any given day I’ll see two of the three listings on a major search term with spam listings. You almost want to say unless there are 10 reviews it shouldn’t even pop. They could do it, what is going on in your opinion?
Gyi Tsakalakis (24:44):
I’ll tell you my viewpoint it goes back to what we talked about at the start. They make no money on people clicking on a local map pack unless it’s an Ad and so the incentive just isn’t there. We know a lot of the people on the Google local team, they’re good people, they’re trying their best, they’re understaffed. It’s a big problem and yeah I just I don’t think that they have the corporate will and it’s interesting too because you could argue the same thing about search right because search doesn’t make them any money. It made them money to become Google but now that Google is a verb, where’s the incentive to police search results?
Seth Price (25:26):
It’s funny, do you remember back when Arvo started to monetize its listings? The salespeople would get a list of who’s up presumably and they would then call to sell you because it’s like a drug dealer like “Oh I love this, I want more of it.” And what I am seeing in the organic is something that… We have noticed some money searches that have been there for years and we’re actually for the last two to three months seeing a rotation where Monday through Wednesday gets one result and Wednesday through Sunday gets another and it’s consistent. The money stuff that you personally search yourself and you’re like “This is bizarre.”
Gyi Tsakalakis (26:07):
Yeah, I remember you telling me about that, it is wild. I hope you’re right, that I hope we get some more transparency through this antitrust loss here.
Seth Price (26:19):
Let’s not hold our breath on that but when we look at local. If I follow your argument out it’s hey if I put some spam listings in that are not going to resonate, it’s knocking people out who are established players who like that drug, who like the volume. The organic is pushed down. The map pack they’re now allowing spam in, they’re allowing it in, they know what to do to get it out clearly. When you see somebody who’s brand new from a Russian domain, in theory, to get most things in the map pack takes age… Conversation for another day. The sandbox seems to be a GMB effect now yet somehow these exact matches pull right in. Is there an egalitarian sort of ethos that Google is using in order to squeeze out established players to force more into the paid area? Am I too cynical or is there a piece of that going on?
Gyi Tsakalakis (27:22):
Oh, I consider myself pretty cynical, I’m not that cynical but I’m pretty close. There’s no question that they’re… It goes back to your point about the spam, once the spam comes in I think it kind of fries the system. I think that a lot of the signaling that they use, it just doesn’t get weighted and I’m sure you’ve talked to Joy about this too and this is something that Joy and I talk a lot about is, it’s not a one to one, if you nuke a spam listing, they reshuffle the deck and so if you’ve got thousands of spam listings coming in and several hundred at least trying to be nuked every day, the deck is just getting so shuffled.
Now the interesting thing about your case is the consistency right so it’s happening at the same times and so it’s hard not to start to think about what is advertising impacting it? Is offline advertising impacting it? But in order to really draw that conclusion, we’d also have to see holistically what the input of spam is? Maybe it’s also those are just hot spam days, I don’t know. It’s a weird thing but again I think for me you do what you can do. You push the envelope where you can push it, but until we have a little bit more accountability from the platforms. The same thing with reviews, the thing I would argue is consumer harm. We saw this argument made in these opioid clinics and rehab clinics but they’re pumping all this spam, they’re just lead gen. Imagine getting on the phone thinking you’re talking to a lawyer, you’re talking to some lead gen site.
I don’t know what maybe you know about the update on this but I know in Pennsylvania there’s a case where someone’s suing the lawyer because they’re saying they were misled by the fake reviews in their Google my business pack in retaining them. So I think there are some legitimate cases of questions of consumer harm and who’s actually responsible but Section 230, pretty big insulation for all the platforms. I think that Section 230 also provides a lot of benefit to the web but there seems there should be some accountability from Google to be like, you’re providing this platform great but at the same time you’re publishing this stuff that there’s a real chance of consumer harm here.
Seth Price (29:41):
Gyi Tsakalakis (29:42):
[crosstalk 00:29:42] That’s my rant.
Seth Price (29:42):
It is frustrating at the same time it is our chosen lot. Any final words for our audience?
Gyi Tsakalakis (29:49):
Build links folks, relevant, local links. Change your firm name if you can change your firm name to something with your practice area and location in it, stuff works. Get people talking, find ways to build that brand up, it’s a long-term play. If you’re in a competitive spot find different channels for advertising. There are lots of different ways to advertise your practice. Not just as much as Seth and I love organic and local packs, diversify those business development activities. Stay safe and healthy and Seth thanks again for having me, can’t wait to see you face to face.
Seth Price (30:25):
Absolutely, thanks Gyi.
Gyi Tsakalakis (30:26):
In person, I guess.
Seth Price (30:27):
This was great, thanks so much for being here.
Gyi Tsakalakis (30:29):
Speaker 1 (30:30):
Thank you for tuning in to the SEO Insider with Seth Price. Be sure to check back next week for fresh insights into building your brand’s online presence. Episodes are available to stream directly on the BluShark Digital website.