By Mark Homer
RANKINGS ARE DEAD. THEY DON’T MATTER.
The truth is that rankings haven’t mattered for a while now for law firms. Before you call me crazy, let’s think about it. Search engines are providing individualistic results. Results are based on location of the searcher, previous searches, and matched intent. What this means is that if I do a search for “car accident lawyer” sitting at my desk, I will see results of law firms that are near the GNGF office. When I leave work and go home to resume my research and search the same thing, my results will be different. I will see the law firms closer to my home, as well as the websites that I previously visited.
Over the years, the way people find information online has drastically changed as well. People just don’t search on their desktop anymore. With mobile devices, which boast features such as Siri and Cortana, users can now search the web using only their voice. These voice searches rely heavily on the searcher’s location and offer a newer type of search behavior: semantic search. Here is an example of semantic search: Let’s say you were to ask Siri: “When was George Washington born?” After Siri gives you the answer, you could simply search, “Who was his wife?” and Siri will give you Martha Washington. With voice searches, Google and other search engines use past queries to figure out what you want next.
Users are also searching on other platforms besides a search engine. The other day, I wanted to use some of the leftover chicken I had in my fridge before it went bad. I was tired of the usual grilled chicken and wanted to do something different. Instead of Googling “fried chicken recipes,” I went onto YouTube and searched for videos showing me how to make it. Why? I didn’t feel like sifting through search results for homemade fried chicken when I also had to sift the flour for the breading. I wanted a very visual representation of what I would be cooking, along with a step-by-step guide to how to prepare the dish. YouTube is not a search engine, and yet it is the second largest “search engine,” out-ranking Bing and Yahoo. The content is the same as before, however it is the behavior of the searcher that is different.
These types of search behavior make the old idea of rankings matter less and less. What is more important is having a well-rounded online presence so that you can be in the right place at the right time. So, what metrics should we focus on instead of rankings? It is actually quite simple: bounce rate, pages per visit/time on site, and conversions.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BOUNCE RATE
If you chase rankings, you will miss some of the most important data that is right under your nose. The first metric that you should pay attention to over rankings is the bounce rate. Bounce rate is when a user visits your website from search and leaves your site without ever taking an action (i.e. viewing another page or clicking a download link).
The bounce rate of a page tells way more information than just the sheer volume of visitors could ever tell. Let’s say, over the course of six months, your law firm goes from page two to page one. With the new ranking comes a major surge in traffic. While you are celebrating your first page ranking on Google, you fail to notice the extremely high bounce rate. Maybe your site doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing. Maybe your content is poorly written and irrelevant to the user. Being number one will provide you with more visitors, but if those visitors decide that you are not the best result, you won’t remain in that number one slot for long.
Google uses bounce rate as a signal for relevancy. If Google places a site at number one and all of the visitors that go to the site leave, then Google will believe that the result is not relevant to the user. If you are not able to match the user’s intent, Google will start to devalue your site as a resource for that keyword.
How can we make sure that people stay on your site? Have a clean site with interesting, relevant content. Draw users in. Answer their questions. Be the resource they are looking for. Once you can get them to stay on your site and not leave, you need to start paying attention to another metric to measure the success of your online presence.
PAGES PER VISIT AND TIME ON SITE
That brings me to my next point: start measuring how many pages users view while on your site, and how long they stay on the site. It is important to look at these two metrics side by side, as looking at one metric alone tells you nothing about the success of your site. If someone visits your site and navigates to five pages, it may seem like he or she is really liking what is on your site. However, when you check the time on site, you see that users are only on your site for 30 seconds. No one can read and digest that much content in that short of time. That user is most likely looking for a specific piece of information but can’t find it.
If your content is truly engaging and relevant, then these metrics should work side by side. For example, you should see that if users average three pages per visit, they are spending 1:30 (or a similar amount of time) on the site as well.
ARE YOUR VISITORS CONVERTING?
The last metric is the most obvious of all. Are your phones ringing? Are the cases you are getting from the web good cases? At what rate are visitors to your site converting? Conversion rate remains at the heart of any online strategy. If you are not converting visitors on your site, then what does ranking matter?
Time and time again, I hear the same exact question: “Can you get me to number one?” There is no answer that I can ever give that will satisfy that question, since every reply will begin with, “It depends…” I have spent a lot of time trying to find a way to effectively answer that same question that plagues many marketers. Finally, I came to a realization that it wasn’t the answer that is the problem; it’s the question. The question itself is flawed. The question that should be asked is: “Can you get my law firm in front of the right people at the right time?” That question has a simple, one-word answer: yes.
It is about controlling your entire online presence and matching that with the work you are also doing offline. It is not about being number one on Google, it is about being in front of the right person at the right time. As long as your firm can be found when people need help, you will have success.