With Moz's release of the 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my observations about the local search landscape as it relates to lawyers.
Disclaimer: I had the privilege of participating in the Moz survey.
The image at the top of this post was generated on 10/22/2014. It compares two searches performed only minutes apart. Here are some additional details:
Query: personal injury attorneys Browser: Chrome incognito search history disabled location set to Chicago, IL Physical Location: 208 S Jefferson St Chicago, IL 60661
Hopefully it's obvious to you that this isn't a scientific study. For those for which it is not obvious: This is not a scientific study.
Nonetheless, there are a few anecdotal observations that I think are worth noting.
Notice just how different these results are from one another. Only 2 out of 7 of the listings are exactly the same and in the same locations. You might argue that the Glen Lerner listing is the same, but notice that it has a different business listing name and domain. It's also worth noting here that in the second Lerner listing, the domain is plus.google.com. That's not supposed to work. The Clifford listing appears in both SERPs, but in different positions. The remaining listings are unique, meaning they don't appear at all in the SERP performed only minutes later.
Also somewhat interesting are the 708 and 847 area codes. These searches were performed from my office located in downtown Chicago. I'd expect to see the 312 area code for all of these listings. However, 2 listings have area codes that I wouldn't expect. For those not familiar with Chicago area codes, check out this map:
As you can see, both the 847 and 708 area codes are pretty far from my location downtown. On the other hand, the address to which those numbers are attached are reasonably close to my location. This would seem to suggest that, so long as consistent, phone area codes aren't playing a significant role, or at least not nearly as much as physical location. This really isn't very surprising. However, it does seem to suggest that, again as long as they are consistent, area codes don't necessarily need to match location.
One of the local search factors that many folks (myself included) seem to agree has gained importance post-Pigeon is domain authority. In fact, Moz's survey lists this as the #1 factor that has increased in importance since Pigeon. Let's take a look at a personal injury attorney SERP:
As we might suspect, Avvo takes the first organic spot with a domain authority of 86. This is a trend that fits with my own experience, as well as, that of the survey and other smart legal search folks like Conrad Saam.
Next we get pack results. Somewhat interestingly, the #1 pack spot is held by a domain with the second-lowest domain authority of the bunch. As we move down to the rest of the traditional organic results, we get: 41, 87, 92, 100, 52, 43 and 47.
Again, it should be obvious that you can't view any single factor in a vacuum.
However, it is interesting to see how actual law firm domains compare with the directories. For what it's worth, based on my familiarity with this particular corner of the SERPs, the firms that appear in these traditional organic results have done extensive work to market their practices in this area.
In any event, part of the purpose of this post is to encourage you to keep some perspective when spot-checking results and monitoring search metrics. There's a tendency by lawyers to hyper-focus on particular keywords, SERPs, rankings, etc. At the end of the day, these are only very general guideposts. I'm sure we can all share examples of situations that seem to run contrary to many of the metrics that we use to measure successful SEO campaigns.
Ultimately, we need to be able to tie organic search traffic to meaningful conversions. These might include phone calls, form fills and chat requests. But even beyond those, we need to tie organic search traffic to actual paying clients. This is why it's so important to close your marketing loop.
The same can be said for things like page authority, domain authority and just about any proxy metric we might use to measure SEO efforts.
Am I suggesting you throw the search factors out the window? Not at all. When given proper perspective, they are extremely useful directional guides. But judging your effectiveness, or the effectiveness of folks you work with solely based on these metrics is foolish.
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