Episode 13: Local SEO with Joy Hawkins

Joy Hawkins is the founder and owner of  Sterling Sky. She has been working in the Local SEO industry since 2006 and loves being a Google Top Contributor. She also loves spending time managing Google Ads accounts and has been certified in both Google Search & Display. She is also a speaker at various search engine marketing conferences such as SMX & LocalU, Pubcon & Mozcon.

In this episode, Hawkins talks to Casey Meraz about how law firms can use Local SEO to gain more visibility and clients for their business.

Prefer to read? Read The Transcript Below

Interview Transcript

Casey Meraz:

Hello and thank you everyone for joining us at the Lawyer Mastermind Podcast. Today, I’m joined by Joy Hawkins, the owner and president of Sterling Sky, a Google My Business product expert, the owner of LocalU and the owner of the Local Search Forum. Joy. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Casey Meraz:

Absolutely. Well, I think you’re really well known in the local search community, and pretty much from anybody that follows local search. A lot of attorneys, whether or not they’re new to internet marketing may have not heard of you yet, but let’s go ahead and start off with something in your title there kind of makes you stand out from a lot of other people that work in this industry, and Local SEO, and that is business product expert. Can you kind of tell our audience what that means?

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. So Google has, online health forums for all their various products. So the one that I’m a moderator on is the Google My Business Forum. So basically their forums are all run by a group of volunteers. So we have access to Google employees when we need to escalate issues and stuff. But you’ll rarely see Google employees actually responding, and communicating on the threads. It’s all done by a group of volunteers. And then once you are active for a long time and you have answers that are helpful to users, they kind of promote you. So the group that I’m in, they’re called Product Experts. It takes a lot of effort to get in there.

Joy Hawkins:

I want to say it took me two years of kind of consistent posting with lots of answers. And that was back in 2012 when I got promoted there. And then yeah, it’s great because I get to have regular hangouts with members on the Google team, that oversee Google My Business. So it’s a good place to have conversations about what we like and don’t like, but it is definitely a lot of ongoing work that we’re basically kind of Google my business support workers almost better, not paid, kind of.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Yeah. And I looked into this, I think years ago I was like, Oh, what do I have to do to kind of get known and looking at the work involved at the time, I was like, I really can’t commit to this. So really you’ve put in just hours and hours for years really helping people to get here. Right.

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. It honestly has to be like a hobby. If it’s something you enjoy doing and you really like getting in there for me, it’s a challenge. I’m like, Ooh, I’ve got some puzzles to solve. And there’s always unique issues that come up, new issues that come up. So it’s kind of helpful for me to know what’s going on and what the current trends are as well. But you really have to enjoy it, like it to be something you want to do even off work hours.

Casey Meraz:

For sure. That’s funny how you say it’s like a hobby. I love that, but that’s probably what makes you so good at it. And it’s helped you kind of see so many different areas and problems that people have had. Do you see a lot of one off issues that people experience, or are they a lot of the same problems being repeated?

Joy Hawkins:

Definitely a lot of the same problems being repeated and those problems change with time. Right? So the forum is a good way to find out if there’s bugs, one that’s currently a technical issue that’s going to be going on is in the Google My Business dashboard, photo views, aren’t working. So people are wondering why they had all these photo views and then they flatlined a few weeks ago. That’s a technical issue. So there’s lots of people complaining about that same issue. So the forum is kind of a good place to see that, but usually we see trends that are either current issues, or are there issues that people are just always facing like negative reviews. That’s one that’s never going to go away. We’re always going to see a high volume of threads about people complaining about how to get rid of their negative reviews. It’s kind of variation of both.

Casey Meraz:

Sure. And for the people listening right now, can you talk a little bit about negative reviews, if I’m a law firm and somebody left a negative review, is there any way I can get that removed?

Joy Hawkins:

There are some times is, so we actually have a list internally of reviews that usually we can get removed. And one of the first things we do when we get a new client is to look through their older reviews to find out if any of those kind of qualify. So some in particular that we’ve been successful with are employees leaving reviews. So, if it’s like an ex employee that they fired, those are not allowed. So if we can get substantial evidence through the person’s profile that they worked there, and if they say they worked there in the review itself, then usually we can get those removed. As well, if they reviewed multiple occasions, that’s usually another one we can get removed. So your law firm has six locations and this person leaves a one star review on all six.

Joy Hawkins:

It’s pretty easy to make a case to Google that they did not actually go to all six locations, different for restaurants, but for things like law firms, we can usually get those removed. And a more recent example would be any reviews referencing, like COVID kind of political stuff. Google has deemed that mask comments are political in nature, and they remove those as well. So if someone’s like, I went to this place and they made me wear a mask or vice versa, those types of reviews will get removed too.

Casey Meraz:

Okay. Got it. That makes sense. And what if it’s just like a general bad review. I worked with your business and I as the attorney just don’t like that review any recourse there.

Joy Hawkins:

Not really. The only time that I think we’ve had success with those kind of ones that don’t really violate Google’s guidelines in the actual context of the review, is if it is actually a competitor that’s going after a business and leaving them lots and lots of negative reviews, I’ve definitely seen a few of those where Google has removed them. But if it’s just a one off case and it’s a customer that you irritated, no those generally don’t get removed.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. And then as far as reviews go, I know we’ve just started talking about Google my business. Is there anywhere else that attorneys should be cautious of where they’re getting reviews? Is there anywhere else that they should focus on or is it just Google?

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. So I’d say any site where they have review stars on Google. So if you do a search for your law firm name on Google, any of this sites that show up that have stars on them in the search results, those are ones I would focus on. And you can also do some searches for some of your competitors brand names to kind of get some ideas. But I think once it comes to mind are like Avo, Yelp, Facebook. And there’s, there’s definitely a few others, but Yelp is probably the most tricky because you’re not actually supposed to solicit reviews on Yelp, the way that we do it here. It’s kind of funny. So when I’m sending a customer email to review Sterling Sky, I’ll literally say like, okay, here’s our link on Facebook and Google, and you can leave us reviews there, but we don’t ask for reviews on Yelp because that’s against the guidelines, and every now and again, we’ll get someone who’s like, I’m just going to go review you on Yelp, even though you didn’t ask, but that one is a tough one.

Casey Meraz:

Wow. That’s actually really good advice. And I don’t think I’ve heard that one before. And I spent a lot of my time dealing with reviews, but I love that actually. It’s kind of almost reverse psychology right there in front of them. Okay. That’s a good little pro tip there. So write that one down. So reviews are important. I think a lot of people know that they know how important they are facing the customer. What about as far as rankings go, do they have an impact as far as your visibility goes and ranking for important keywords in Google My Business?

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. I’ve seen the ranking impact more for longer tail keywords. If somebody mentioned something very specific in their review, and that specific thing you’re talking about, isn’t something that’s hugely competitive, then we’ve seen it make a difference. So for example, someone’s like, Hey, I got a spinal cord injury, and they’re talking about that in the review, that might help you rank for keywords like spinal cord injury lawyer. The volume of people searching that is obviously really small.

Joy Hawkins:

So we don’t see cases where you get a whole bunch of people to put car accident lawyer in your reviews. And then all of a sudden you start ranking better for car accident lawyer, because they just don’t contribute enough to the overall ranking factors to make a difference for really competitive keywords. I would say it’s more of a you want to have a lot of reviews, and a lot of good reviews because that helps your click through rate. And that is a huge ranking factor. So if you have an average rating, that’s like significantly lower than your competitors that is really going to hurt your ranking long term because people aren’t as likely to call you or click on you.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. And what about the average review rating too, since you’ve mentioned that, should everybody be aiming for that perfect five all the time? Or is there another number or what’s just your experience?

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. So a bunch of studies have been done on this. They find 4.5 to 4.8 is actually ideal. And I feel like a hypocrite saying that, because we have a five star average, right? I’m not about to go ask people to make a reviews, to try and get a 4.8. But I do think that people definitely obsessed about negative reviews, a little too much. They get really upset if they get one or two. And to me I’m like, that’s a sign of the real, if I see a firm with a five point average with 6,000 reviews, there’s a lot of red flags that go off in my head on if those are legit, and that’s kind of what the studies show as well.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Okay. And then as an owner, you have the option to reply to review. Is that something that you should do every time or especially what if they’re angry too? How would you respond to that?

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah, so I would say almost every time. So there have been a couple of cases where the person is clearly one of those people that you engage with them, it’s going to just make things worse. So there are a few cases where, if it’s a really irate customer, I do suggest reply offline first, like emailing them, calling them, trying to resolve the issue without replying on Google. But other than that, I would say definitely reply to every single one because the person that left the review will get an email alert. And so it’s kind of a nice way just to show them that you appreciate them leaving a review, and that you actually saw it.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Okay. That’s makes sense. And let’s dive in transition a little bit to talk about ranking factors, because I know there’s just a lot of questions that come up with this. And not too long ago, I had a conversation with a Google rep where he told me the thing I needed to focus on was adding keywords and labels. It’s an actual conversation I had. What’s your opinion on the top ranking factors and just on labels too, since I brought that story up.

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. Rule number one, never ask anyone that works at Google to give you advice on how to rank, first they don’t know. And second of all, even if you were talking to the people that did know, like in the engineered section, those guys don’t talk to people that are calling in, those are not the people you’re getting when you’re calling Google My Business support. Even if you could talk to those guys, they’re not going to tell you. So it’s just one of those things you never want to listen to Google.

Joy Hawkins:

So I can safely say that piece of advice about labels is crap, labels have no impact on ranking. There’s only four things in Google My Business that actually impact ranking and the rest is all based on your website. So I really say when people want to know where to focus your site links are the big things that I would focus on. But we do see links have more of an impact organically than in local pack rankings. So that’s kind of interesting, but onsite optimization tactics, your traditional SEO stuff, that stuff has a huge impact on where you rank in the Local Pack.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Okay. Well, I’m glad you cleared up the labels thing. I actually tried it just because I knew it was 100% wrong, but when you hear something, you’re like, I got to test it, anyway stupid story. Okay. So yeah, links are something that we talk about all the time on this podcast when it comes to marketing helping your organic presence, and obviously your Google My Business rankings. Have you seen any specific types of links that have had a greater impact than others, or some that maybe you shouldn’t even focus on?

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah, we have a client whose kind of, obviously it was a lot of personal injury lawyers, their specialty is car accidents. So something I found that was interesting to me about really, really, really large backlink profile. And when I look at the rankings, they rank pretty far away from their office for car accident, lawyer, really far away from their office, but not for any of the other variations. So the moment you start modifying it to bicycle accident, motorcycle accident, truck accident, et cetera, that pattern we notice goes away. So I think there’s kind of two reasons for that one is that their hierarchy of their site. Their homepage is optimized for car accident lawyers. So that’s definitely one contributing factor, but I do think the topics that they write about and when they’re doing like guest posting and things like that are really focused on car accidents.

Joy Hawkins:

So I think that’s something to kind of keep in mind, when you’re link building the topics that you’re talking about have a big impact. And if you’re really trying to rank for a wide variety of keywords, keeping that in mind and making sure that you’re writing about those topics is key. And we kind of see this with slip and fall a lot, those keywords we often find there’s one site that’s just super hyper focused on everything to do with slip and fall. And when they’re quoted places, that’s the only talk about, so that strategy works really well. So I would say as far as what link building strategies, I’m sure your audience is probably familiar with a lot of the ones we use, but when you are writing and publishing for other sites, which tends to be the common thing we see the most these days, topically that that makes a difference for sure.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Well, thanks for sharing that. And talking about those thematic signals. I’ve definitely experienced that. Where, for example, I was working with a firm in California, and they were everywhere for car accident and the word attorney, but a lot of those variants were nowhere to be found. So maybe even auto accident or lawyers law firm. So when you’re optimizing for these different keywords, do you have a certain strategy in mind that you work with, or do you even consider those other variants or how important are those to you?

Joy Hawkins:

We obviously prioritize the ones that bring in the volume. So that being said, sometimes it’s a lot easier to get ranking for long-tail keyword. So we do try to go after kind of both, we have the strategies where we’re trying to drive that head term, but then also know that there’s some easy wins out there if you go after terms that not everybody’s going after. So I think it’s kind of important to do both. And we usually have success from both, but I would say like, as far as what strategies to use, if your main thing is car accidents and that’s kind of what you really want to focus on. Make sure that a lot of your efforts when you’re link building and even the way you do your internal linking makes that obvious to Google, because that’s one thing I see a lot of people that they don’t do it well, they just have way too many internal links, and then they’re all weighted equally and it’s like, well, if this is really more important to you, you should probably have more links on your site going to those pages and less links going everywhere else kind of thing.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. And could you explain that or do you have a specific example just to help illustrate that point?

Joy Hawkins:

Sure. So let’s say I’m like, I go to a personal injury law firm website and on their home page, they have an opening paragraph that has 15 internal links, one going to the car accident page, one going to the bicycle accident page, one going to the slip and fall page. Sometimes an excess is not a good thing because you’re essentially kind of splitting your page rank. So if you think about it, you have 100 points, and then every single page you link to get to those points divided equally, if you get 10 links, then each one gets 10, but if you only have five and each one gets 20, so we’ve seen some good results from just kind of fine tuning, internal linking and making sure that the really important pages are getting more passed to them.

Casey Meraz:

No, and that’s really solid advice. And that’s probably an area that I think most law firms can improve upon, they get so obsessed maybe with like, Hey, I need more links or I’m not getting the number of links, when they have maybe some really powerful pages on their website that aren’t even linking to these very important pages. So I think that’s really solid advice that people could take right now and make an impact on their own website. And could you talk a little bit about anchor text as well?

Joy Hawkins:

Sure. Yeah. So, anchor texts is one of those things that with internal links, you can feel free to use as whatever keywords you want. There’s nothing against Google’s guidelines about keyword, stuffing, anchor texts on your site. And I think Google even says that openly, they’re like, tell us what this page is about. That’s helpful. And I think obviously when you’re publishing other sites, you got to be careful. I think there’s some things that look natural and somethings that don’t. So if you’re talking about car accidents, hyperlinking the word car accidents is fine, but if you’re car accident lawyer in Dallas, Texas, that might look weird depending on who was editing the article so I would say on your own site use it as much as you want, but on other sites be kind of cautious when you’re using anchor text.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Thanks Joy. That’s the clickable part of a link where you can have whatever words do you want in there. So yeah I really liked the idea of taking advantage of that internal, and I do think more people need to utilize that. Let’s shift a little bit to talk about proximity. I think that for one standard ranking reports, in my opinion, can be a little misleading because if I’m searching from my office for a keyword, and Google knows where I am, that proximity factor is probably going to wait my offices with a strong result there. So what is proximity and how can… and let’s start off with what the standard, if you have any insight as to what’s the standard ranking proximity you get for your law firm from day one, for example, I just created a listing and we’ll talk about how that expands moving forward.

Joy Hawkins:

So if it’s like a brand new office we normally see right away you’ll rank when people are within a mile radius from your office, let’s say, and we use Places Scout to track this because they have a grid feature, where you can literally say, okay, I want to track 20 miles from this point. And then it just plops down pins. And it scans as if it was a person searching from that location. And you can adjust the settings or whatever, but I would say, there’s really varies a lot. I was mentioning that car accident, lawyer case that we work on, where they rank really far from their office. I think their report is set to scan like 50 miles away. And they actually do rank 50 miles away from their office.

Joy Hawkins:

But that being said, it depends on where you are, in his case he’s right on the edge of the big city. So a lot of worries ranking our suburbs where there’s not a lot of competition if you’re right downtown Chicago, and you’re expecting to write for 20 mile radius, your upper Creek, there’s just no way that’s going to happen. So it has a lot to do with competition, which is why if you are a restaurant, for example, proximity is huge because you have a new restaurant on every block or several. So it’s just crazy. And so the proximity factor is way higher. And as a restaurant, you’re not going to likely rank very far away, with a law firm it is a factor, but it is way less of a factor than we see for other industries.

Joy Hawkins:

So it’s definitely possible to rank outside your kind of immediate area, but it takes authority mainly links and good content. And I would say time too, as well. Time is definitely a factor. We’ve seen this time and time again when we set up a new listing and we don’t even really do much with it. And then over time it still gains ranking.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Okay. And let’s elaborate a bit more on proximity, so, well, first of all, do you talk to potential new clients that have a fundamental understanding, that they may not be ranking for the keywords that they’re searching, where their clients are searching from? Do you still find that as a barrier or?

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah, so we actually published a article recently about rank tracking, where I actually gave a client email that we got, because it comes up all the time. People will be like, I don’t see myself here or there or whatever. So the first kind of step that we do is when we first take on a new client, we always start by doing an audit. And part of our audit is literally showing them how they rank in a grid. So saying like, yes, you rank here and here, but wait 10 miles away. Now, you don’t rank anymore. Now you’re seventh instead of fifth. And you’ll kind of see that pattern where the further you get away, the lower, the rank, right in general. And then it’s not the same across all keywords. So that’s a huge thing to keep in mind, your relevance for one term might be super high.

Joy Hawkins:

I’ve seen people have single results. So sometimes if Google has one result, that is just way better than the rest. They only show one, they don’t show three. And we have seen cases like that, especially for slip and fall terms on what it is about those terms. We’ve seen cases where one business can be the only result for an entire city, a huge city. And it’s weird, it sounds crazy, but the relevance is just so much higher. So they have more relevance because in some of the cases I looked at it, it was actually in their domain name, the domain name literally had slip and fall in it. The content on the site was all about slip and fall. The reviews, obviously similar, some of them even have it incorporated into the business name. So relevance plays a much larger role than proximity does in a lot of these cases we’ve seen for law firms.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah, absolutely. I agree with you. I remember for a while for motorcycle accident lawyer, I saw it in the Bay Area because there’s a firm there, I think it’s Russ Brown Motorcycle Accident Lawyers. It’s the actual name of their firm. And so often on that one’s triggered to be the only result sometimes. They seem to fix that now, but it reverts back every now and then. And another thing that I’ve seen, I’m wondering if you’ve seen is where let’s say my office is downtown in the city and then right around the office, I’m actually not ranking that well for whatever reason. And then outside of that, I am ranking very well. So it’s not a true circle but kind of more blotchy.

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. So we’ve actually done testing around those too. Once you get outside a certain area and I don’t know if it’s based on state lines, I haven’t looked at it that carefully, but for example, if I search Carson lawyer, Los Angeles, and I searched for him within Los Angeles, I would see very different things depending on where I’m at in the city. But if I search it from Baltimore, I’m going to see the exact same thing as if I search it from Chicago. So once you get outside of, let’s just say your state, because I know that’s true, proximity, isn’t a factor. So if you want to know how somebody is relevance and kind of important prominence, how strong those two signals are without proximity, do some out-of-state searches and you’ll see what that business looks like and how they rank without the location in mind.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Okay. Well, now that we’ve touched on proximity. Let’s talk about the thing that I think most people see every day, and that’s the business name and is it a good idea to just randomly add keywords to your business name? Because it seems to work pretty well right now still.

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. So interesting. So the pros are that yes, you will see ranking improvements overnight, you will. I actually just had sent an email right before this to a business owner that was… he would ask me to help him with something where he couldn’t figure out why his ranking was fluctuating. And he asked me to track it over the course of several weeks this, that’s what he did, and you’d see these fluctuations where he would go and kind of suddenly be in the top and then he would fall to three or four and then go back. And so I looked and I looked in detail, I spent like an hour or two on it. And what I found from looking back in the screenshots, and comparing notes was that a couple of his competitors would add keywords to their business name, then they would get fixed. And that would literally shift the order of the results.

Joy Hawkins:

So when I say it has a big impact, it was my number one factor on the local search ranking factor study that I just completed. I put it as number one, I’ve never seen another factor, have such drastic impacts. It’s ridiculous. So that aside to answer your question, I do think it’s risky to add keywords in there because you could trigger a suspension on your listing, but if I was a lawyer and I was in a small town and I didn’t think a lot of people were looking, I’d probably do it. Honestly, I’m just saying like that the benefits are huge. So I think you’re a lot more likely to get away with it in maybe areas where people aren’t looking as often. But if you’re in Los Angeles probably won’t get away with it when your competitors report you and you’ll likely get suspended.

Casey Meraz:

And is it true that they’re working on maybe making that, not as big of a factor?

Joy Hawkins:

I wouldn’t hold my breath. They say they are, but they’ve been saying that for quite a long time. And I also think it’s a problem for them, because I don’t think that Google has the ability yet to really distinguish between branded searches and non branded searches. So, that’s a problem. If someone’s brand name includes keywords, or the words people are searching for Google, doesn’t want to return another business for that search. So imagine searching Starbucks and getting some other coffee place instead, or searching McDonald’s and getting Wendy’s. That would be a problem. So I think until Google could really get better at knowing what’s a branded search and what a business name is that they’re never going to be able to solve that.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. Okay. Well, I will hold my breath on that, because I know I’ve been saying that for years, just from chatter that I’ve heard and I still haven’t seen anything in practicality, so I guess we’ll see. But what about the, I don’t know if you’re inside with this, but I think Tom Waddington had posted something about the upgraded Google My Business profile, is that associated with LSAs which are local search ads, or what is that about if you know anything about that?

Joy Hawkins:

So it’s a really limited tests, I haven’t seen it at all. So if you happen to get it as an option on your listing and you’re one of the few, I would say maybe 1% or less, but what’s really cool about it that I think is actually different, and I definitely want to defer to Tom for this, but it actually shows the Google Guaranteed label in the three pack, which is really crazy. I’ve never seen local service ads do that. It’s a separate section and it is a really visible section. But with this one, the screenshot Tom had in his article, so on Tomwaddington.com, there’s an article about this and the screenshot used literally had Google Guaranteed as a green label on the listing in the local pack, like in the three pack. And that, to me, it’s crazy like that is really visible and it’s on the organic side, not the paid side. So I would jump all over that if I could trigger it as an option.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah. That would be a clear differentiator between you and the ones in the pack. It’d be interesting to see a click through study on that. And then before we started talking about this, one of the other things I meant to touch on too, with spam fighting, because you had mentioned people can go and change their business name. Other people might change it back, you might get suspended. So if I’m a law firm in a competitive area and I see people spamming the listings, should I report that? Should that be a part of my strategy at all? What’s your opinion there?

Joy Hawkins:

Absolutely. If you don’t report it, they’re basically going to continue to have that insane advantage over you and it’s insane. It’s a huge advantage. So we’ve seen really positive results from getting that stuff fixed. So if you see business name that’s wrong, submitting it through… Google’s got a form called the Redressel Complaint Form. So if you Google that you should hopefully get the form and that’s the way that you want to send it to the Google team. And depending on the backlog, they normally process them anywhere from a week to three weeks is normal. It’s also good to watch for lead gen listings is another thing we’ve seen hugely increase in the last couple of weeks in the personal injury space. So companies that just create fake listings, they’re not real all firms, but they rank really well because the keyword stuffed them. So you’ll see something like the Meraz awesome accident lawyer group and it just may have a website. So those are important to report too, and we see them come in waves, whoever creates these, creates them in mass. So we see thousands of them kind of pop up overnight.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah. And I know a company tried to sell them to me in the past several have actually, even since then. And how do they get that auto verification? Is that how they’re doing this? That’s kind of what they explained to me. So I assume so.

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah, so I know some of their strategies. There’s a team of people I know that are very interested in finding out what strategies these people are using, personally I don’t care because whatever it is, Google picks up on it. They can see, right? Google can see all this stuff on the back end. And once they see a thousand listings were created through this method, they know what they need to go after the problem is this group, they’re smart and they try everything and they have VPNs, they’ve got massive amounts of people behind this. I’m guessing a lot overseas, but yeah, that’s an assumption and they’re always kind of three steps ahead of Google. So by the time Google’s kiboshed the current method, they’re already onto trying to find another one, another loophole and over the years exploded several. So it’s not been the same process they’re using every time.

Casey Meraz:

Yeah, and we talked about the risk of suspensions briefly a little bit earlier. I’ve seen people get suspended for quite a long time, but then I heard a story as well, not to mention any names, but I know of different law firms that maybe were trying strategies that didn’t work, that were definitely clearly against Google’s guidelines got caught, reinstated, caught, reinstated, caught, reinstated, and then caught again and basically wiped out for maybe forever or for a lot longer period of time. Have you heard of anything like that?

Joy Hawkins:

Yes. So, Google definitely has levels, there’s levels. And I also think there has been loopholes with some of the rain statements that people have learned and exploited. I’ve definitely seen people actually talk about some of the loopholes they found and how to get reinstated. And I’ve heard firsthand people get fake listings reinstated. So I think it’s one of those things just like creating fake listings. Google is trying their best to keep this from happening, but it happens. So, yeah there’s a good chance that you will see spam get reinstated. And although it’s irritating, I would encourage people to keep reporting it.

Casey Meraz:

What’s the most serious suspension? Can you get banned for life? Is that a thing, BFL?

Joy Hawkins:

If you’re using another IP address, no. Google accounts definitely get banned. So if you have a lot of stuff tied to one Google account, that could be really frustrating. This is one of the reasons why I won’t spam as an agency. If my customers are asking me about like, should I add keywords? I’m like, you can do what you want in your account, but I’m not doing that in my account. Because if my agency account gets suspended and I have hundreds of clients that now have suspensions, that is a nightmare. So agencies should not do that. If you’re a multi location law firm and you don’t want a headache, I would also say kind of pass the same advice to you. I think the account level suspensions are probably the worst case. I’ve never seen them ban at website, which I keep telling them they should do. That would be great in my opinion, if you’ve got a repeat offender that just keeps creating new Google accounts, but uses the same site. But as far as I know that doesn’t exist.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. And I’ve been seeing more tweets about the account level suspension. So I just want to cover that in a little bit more detail. So people understand, from my understanding you’re saying that if you’re working with a shady SEO agency, that’s maybe they aren’t even doing this for you, but they’re doing it for other clients, their whole account, which your business is wrapped up and can get banned, which will suspend your listing. Is that correct?

Joy Hawkins:

Yep. So we actually had a law firm like a couple days ago, hire us to help with the reinstatement and I’m looking at his listing and he has seven people on there managing his listing. So I was like, that’s something you should never have, have as few people as possible managing your listing. So that way you’re least likely to get hit with an account suspension, because if you hired an SEO company six years ago and you forgot to remove them, they usually don’t proactively remove themselves, let’s be honest that’s not in their better interest or they don’t care. So if you don’t remove them, then if they get an account level suspension, even though you haven’t hired them or worked with them in six years, if they’re on your listing, your listing can get pulled off Google and removed because of something they did. So definitely actively make sure your list of managers or owners on your listing is small and people you know are not shady.

Casey Meraz:

That’s great advice. And I think that’s something that everybody should check right away and see who has access and your Google My Business. Especially if you’re an agency jumper and you’ve been through five or six over the years, you can just get hurt by association there very easily. And then one last question, just talking about bad things that law firms shouldn’t do. It’s amazing how many times people ask me, can’t I just open a virtual office and all of these cities that I want to compete in. And there’s somebody in particular that I’m thinking of that calls me once a year to explain why the strategy is now better anyway, trying to do it. Why is that, obviously it’s against Google’s guidelines, but what are the risks there of doing that? And what is your overall take on that?

Joy Hawkins:

It’s just so easy to see the trend. So, if you want to be a good spammer, it’s better to hide your stuff. Right? So, if Google sees that you’ve got 15 offices and then every single one they can verify is a virtual service provider, that’s a really easy pattern for them just to go press a button and you lose 15 listings. So I don’t suggest the virtual office route. It is against guidelines for sure. And no, having the staff at the virtual office sitting there on the desk so that they can be applied – that does not qualify. It has to be your staff. You have to actually have somebody going there. So, honestly if you want to expand, just have a small office that you have like two or three people in or one, and it doesn’t even really have to be a giant office that you spent thousands upon thousands of dollars furnishing, a small, nice one with, with photos and signs and stuff. And yet it definitely costs a bit. I’m not saying it’s free, but it is a good marketing strategy. If you’re looking to expand your firm and get more leads. So, there’s a right way to do it. I just would not suggest what the dude’s telling you.

Casey Meraz:

Got it. No, I appreciate that. And I appreciate your candidness there too. So very cool. Awesome. Well, we really talked about a lot today Joy. Is there anything that I missed that you wanted to cover with our audience? Which again is of course attorneys whom you work with as well that we didn’t cover today.

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. I mean the one thing I just keep an eye on inside Google My Business is the attribute section. So on the info tab, they have this section called amenities. Sometimes it’s called attributes or just more information. They’re constantly adding new features because of COVID. So lately they’ve added appointments required, they’ve added online appointments, all these things that you can add to your listing, that show up really visibly in the search results. And depending on where you’re located too, they have some healthy safety ones, I would say, or again, depending on where you are fairly important. So you can say if you have masks required or do temperature checks for staff like that matters to some people.

Joy Hawkins:

So I would keep a close eye on those because they’ve been rolling out tons of new things because of COVID way more than usual. We have a list of them on our website, and push them out in our newsletter. But there’s a, I think a free guide on there. That’s called the Local SEO changes and it’s in our menu. But I would definitely keep up with kind of the changes that Google’s making.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. Well, and if you want to find this, what’s your website and again, the best ways to contact you, because I know that you’re going to mention your website here in a second, but I’ll say there’s tons of just great information on there. So you should definitely check it out.

Joy Hawkins:

Yeah. So our website’s sterlingsky.ca. And then there is a free resources section at the top where you can see the timeline of changes. So we update that weekly to kind of put all the new stuff, but we also push it out in our newsletter. So you can subscribe to our newsletter at sterlingsky.ca/newsletter. And if you have a question for me specifically, I’m most active on Twitter. So my Twitter handle is @JoyanneHawkins.

Casey Meraz:

Awesome. Well, Joy, thank you again so much for joining me today. Look forward to getting this published, and I will definitely send any questions your way that come towards the podcast. Thank you very much.

Joy Hawkins:

All right. Thanks for having me Casey.

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