27. Joy Hawkins, Sterling Sky – Local SEO for Law Firms

subscribe NOW

In this episode of The Rankings Podcast, host Chris Dreyer and Joy Hawkins, owner and president of Sterling Sky, discuss the unmatched benefits of local SEO. Listen in as Joy shares her best practices for achieving top rankings within your firms location, combatting local spam and fake reviews, and maintaining your ranking when expanding to new offices.

Transcript

Prologue

Welcome to The Rankings Podcast, where we feature top founders, entrepreneurs and elite personal injury attorneys and share their inspiring stories. Now let’s get started with the show.

Chris Dreyer

Chris Dreyer here, CEO and Founder of Rankings.io, where we help elite personal injury attorneys dominate first page rankings you’re listening to the rankings podcast right feature top business owners, entrepreneurs and elite personal injury attorneys. Speaking of top business entrepreneurs, I’m excited to welcome Joy Hawkins to the show today. Joy is the founder and owner of Sterling Sky, a consulting firm specializing in local SEO. The owner of Local Search Forum and LocalU. Joy is a veteran of the SEO industry with nearly 15 years of experience. In addition to her duties at Sterling Sky. She’s the author of The Experts Guide to Local SEO, a columnist said that a little wrong as on Search Engine Land, a regular guest speaker at SEO conferences. Joy, welcome to the show.

Joy Hawkins

Thanks for having me, Chris.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. So hey, I love having you on the show. I love having SEO geeks like myself on here. And take me back to the beginning of your SEO journey. How did you get started in SEO?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah. So I was going to school for advertising and decided to get a job doing telemarketing actually for a company that sold PPC ads. And so I just started there and slowly kind of got interested in SEO and Google Places came out at that year. So my clients were all kind of obsessed with how to get listed in Google Maps and how that works. So we just started testing all kinds of things and trying different things and kind of slowly took me down the path that led where I am today.

Chris Dreyer

So you were so you were a practitioner, you were taking like actual clients and prospects Can you and you’re like, Hey, this is how you got to do or what you have to do to get results.

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, because the company I worked for at the time, like they just did the ads part. They didn’t really care too much about SEO at all. Like they didn’t want to be an SEO company. But I did. So I was kind of doing a lot of the work on my own time. Trying to figure out how it all worked. didn’t really have anybody training me it was just all kind of self taught. trying different things.

Chris Dreyer

Nice. I thought when you’re first gonna say I was a telemarketer because I was a telemarketer. Is that person that called you in trying to sell you a TMT? They got hung up on a lot. So where did Where did the idea come from to create Sterling Sky?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, it was purchased at a necessity. I was working at a agency that I worked at for eight years. And I was particular about how I wanted things done and I had a really high standard from what I’ve been told. So I just wanted to be able to kind of have more say and what was being delivered and What kind of results to expect from doing local SEO? And I couldn’t seem to find that working for somebody else. So I just decided to start my own agency.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, that’s awesome. So So what is Sterling Sky do for people who don’t know, kind of give me the overview?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, so are we, we specialize in local SEO, we do PPC as well. But I usually tell people you know, we work with any small business in Canada or the US that has a local audience, so customers that are local to them, and they want more traffic from Google. That kind of summarizes what we do.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, and I gotta jump in here guys. So I work with Joy. I worked with her on several projects. We’ve had a ton of success together. We work on a project for a Houston personal injury law firm and and a firm in Florida and it’s just been awesome working with her. So I was really excited to have her on the show to really show share her expertise because in SEO, there are sub specialties in SEO. There’s there’s local SEO, there’s link building there. Content Marketing and, and she’s at the top of her game for local SEO. And I’m just really excited to talk about more about local SEO. Thank you. You’re welcome. Yeah. So let’s take let’s take a Philadelphia personal injury law firm. So what would you do to help grow that firm with local SEO? That’s super broad question. I know.

Joy Hawkins

Yeah. I mean, normally, with personal injury attorneys, we find it’s a mixture of content links, and what we call spam fighting. That’s I want to say the the primary things that we focus on for personal injury lawyers. So content, you know, depending on the business, sometimes we get clients that have massive websites, and we don’t really need to add much as far as new content we are more working on like how do we get more traffic to the existing pages? How can we restructure them, you know, build proper internal links, that kind of thing. So that generally is where we start but if the business doesn’t have a ton of content, we’ve we’ve had a few of those as well. You know, adding pages is key. But I’d say like, you know, one pattern we’ve kind of noticed is that most of the traffic that we see comes from a set number of pages. So it’s one of those things that if you’re like, I already have 100 articles, and I don’t really have anything new to write about, and there’s not really anything that I’m not capturing. We have seen lots of content pieces that we’ve seen other agencies create not do great. So I think it’s one of those things that we’re, we focus on content, but at the same time there, I think there are diminishing returns, depending on what type of content you’re doing. Link Building, obviously, there’s never an end to that, that is something that just goes and goes, as you well know. And I would say that’s probably true with spam, too, unfortunately, like we do see, when we’re first starting in a market, there’s a lot more what we call fake listings on Google that we like to remove. So anything from our virtual offices to those fake lead gen listings that we see a lot in the personal dealer space. So you know the patient dog by Lawyer in Pasadena, California. That’s like the name of the listing. So stuff like that, that tends to come and go. So you know, we’ll get a batch removed. And then the companies that create these listings create a dozen more, we have to get those removed, but it is kind of an ongoing process that we see.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, I completely agree. The legal verticals is just littered with spam. And before we get right into that, I want to I want to just cover one thing you mentioned, and I completely agree about content. There’s only so many keywords that can drive search volume, and I see so many firms that is keep creating 500 word blogs, 500 word blogs, and they cover the same topic. It just hurts you. Um, so going over into the the spam side of things. There’s two things you mentioned. The first one. So what can a personal injury law firm do to combat local spam?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, it’s just a matter of constant Looking to see, you know, is there Are there new things there that weren’t there before and reporting them. And then you know, following up, and I think it’s pretty commonly known these days that, you know, virtual offices aren’t allowed on Google or co working spaces off, often aren’t allowed. We see more of these in the personal injury space than any other type of law. Like we don’t see that same pattern with our bankruptcy attorney client, not the same level of fake listing. So I think it’s just a matter of like, how aggressive these businesses are with marketing and personal injury, they’re very aggressive. So there’s a lot of spam. But it’s a matter of just finding it. And I think one of the main things that people don’t do that kind of hinders their ability to see it is they, you know, they go on Google and they do a search and they think that everybody else is seeing the same thing that they’re seeing. But we normally when we’re scanning for this stuff, we’re searching from like, various zip codes and market areas because someone in the same town as you will see something completely different. If they’re like three or four miles away, so that’s kind of key and important. And we see a lot of cases where like, our client might be ranking and there’s a code, but the moment you get outside their zip code, all of a sudden there’s all this crap, that showing up that is pushing them out of the results. And we use a few different tools to help measure that. But I think that’s very commonly misunderstood thing amongst almost all business owners we talked to.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, that’s that’s like a nightmare for most SEO agencies, honestly, is trying to share those local results. And because they suffer from zip code or zip code. Let’s take it back to like the foundation. If you if a personal injury attorney sees spam, they see a fake review or they see a fake listing. What’s the basic way that they should go about terms of reporting that that violator?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, so for fake listings, Google has a forum called the business redressal complaint form. It’s a horrible name, but if you Google that you should get to the right form. And you can actually submit fake listings through that form that will get reviewed by Google. When it comes to fake reviews, honestly, Google is horrible at policing, fake reviews. And like, we don’t even really spend a ton of time on it anymore, because they’re just so horrible detecting them. So what seems obvious to me, obviously, often is not obvious to Google. But the only way to really report fake reviews at the moment is you can either flag them directly on the review itself, there’s usually a flag icon. You can also flag the profile now. So if you see like a user, that’s just clearly a troll and not, you know, actually reviewing businesses that they went to, you can also flag the profile now. Other than that, you can post on the Google My Business Forum. So it’s a Google has a public forum for all their different products. So there’s one specific to Google My Business. So I’m a moderator there and can escalate threads to Google, but that’s probably the best place to get input on. If There’s a chance to review is going to get removed or not because oftentimes they don’t.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, those those are great tips. And and, you know, it’s unfortunate that there’s just so much fan that you have to you it’s it’s not only a promotional component to SEO, there’s there’s also this defensive mechanism that you gotta employ to the so i’m gonna i’m going to take a moment here and I’m going to kind of put my gray hat on. So in the middle of white hat and black hat, I’m going to bring up kind of something on the fence here. So in the personal injury space, there are many businesses that are changing their name. And they’re incorporating x firm, accident injury attorneys into their their Google business name. What’s your thoughts on the DBA strategy for local SEO?

Joy Hawkins

I would argue it’s actually not gray hat Google’s completely fine with it. So if it makes sense for your business, and it’s not a lot of money to You know, redo your signs. And I mean, depending on the size of the firm, this is a huge undertaking, right for someone, like I’ve got some clients that they’re just way too established to pull off any of that kind of stuff. Easily, I should say they could pull it off, but it would just take a lot of effort. So if you’re like a smaller firm, I think it’s a lot easier, right? If you have less attorneys working there, and you have less reading to update, it’s fairly easy to do. I mean, you have to get a new logo, you have to get new sign, you have to file the DBA with the state. The advantages are quite high. So it is one of those things. I feel like I was looking in California the other day, and I think in San Diego, every single business seems to already be aware of this strategy. So it’s not working as well. So that is the downside. You know, it’s one of those things. It’s like, once everybody starts doing it, we’re seeing like, you know, the entire first page of results is all people with like keyword rich names, and everybody’s kind of gotten a handle on this a lot quicker than in other areas in the country. So I don’t think it’s one of those strategies. It’s kind of Be like, you know, really working well, a couple years from now, hopefully.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, hopefully I agree. So Google saw that in the past keyword based domains really had a benefit. So if your domain was Philadelphia personal injury lawyer.com it would have a benefit over a generic name. And now, what we’re talking about guys is we’re seeing business entity names. So if you’re if your firm name was Philadelphia accident injury lawyers, that has a distinct advantage over john smith law trying to rank in Philadelphia for injury or accident keywords, and it’s it’s pretty prevalent right now. And as Joy said, Go check out San Diego just do a search. I typed in and this is not in the personal injury space, but I typed in San Diego criminal defense lawyer, and I believe that exact name is a firm in San Diego. So

Joy Hawkins

there’s there’s one personal injury as well. I think it’s San Diego personal injury attorney As the name of their firm, it’s like an exact match thing. And there was this whole article written about them from their SEO company that they actually ended up subpoenaing Google because they wouldn’t stop getting their listings suspended. Because people kept reporting it thinking it’s spam. So that is the challenge, right? If you go with a keyword rich name like that, you’re going to get a lot more reports people going, Oh, this isn’t a real business, which they ran into.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. And not only that, just in just in California, in general, we see people just converting the category name from personal injury to criminal defense and just generic. So it’s just one of these things you guys are going to have to fight and look at, but I would encourage anyone listening, that’s maybe starting a new personal injury law firm to really take this into consideration because it can be an advantage to to enter a market more quickly, where other firms are more established when we don’t have a key word in their name. So on the local Google My Business Forum or on the local search page, it says that local results are based primarily on relevance, distance and prominence. In your opinion, because prominence is is, you know, that’s that’s harder to find, in your opinion, what encompasses prominence from a local SEO standpoint?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, so we actually did a study on this recently. So it was kind of based on prominence. But it was also looking at these things called place labels. So on Google Maps, businesses, certain businesses have labels on the map like they have something that actually says like McDonald’s is at this, you know, location when you zoom in and stuff. We’re trying to figure out like, why some businesses get them and some businesses don’t. And it comes down to prominence according to Google’s Help Center, like businesses that are prominent, get places, labels, businesses that are do not kind of thing. So the main factors that we saw that contributed to promise for things like interaction rate, so you know, are people actually interacting with listing click Think of it as like click through rate reviews definitely are one foot traffic is another. So you know how many people actually show up at the location? Obviously that is more of a thing I think for certain industries than others. But if you have a really high traffic you know Law Office, it’s got tons of staff and people coming and going every day that could definitely help build up prominence search volume for the business was another one. And then I would also say backlinks are big and I’ve mentioned reviews already. So those are the kind of the main factors.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, definitely. Definitely. And I completely agree in it and a lot of this so one of them backlinks, it comes back to backlinks. Guys, if you as long as you’re doing high quality link acquisition and you’re creating content that can earn links you’re doing, you know, these press mentions that kind of keeps you in the safe territory, as opposed to, you know, maybe buying sponsored listings or donor sites and some of these other tactics can really, you know, put your risk In. So let’s talk about let’s say we have a personal injury law firm. Let’s say they’re in. Let’s say, let’s use Houston. They’re in Houston. And they’re doing great there. They have a personal injury law firm. This is crushing it. So what’s the right way? say they want to expand their territory? What’s the right way to expand their territory and open a new office?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, so it’s a matter of looking at where you currently rank and then finding areas that you don’t rank in yet. So for example, Chris, we have a shared client in Houston for contacts here. But if you open an office and you already rank in that area, when is it happening usually is that one of the listings ends up getting filtered. So we saw this with our Houston client that opened an office in Katy. Their Houston location actually ranked in Katy already. So for the longest time, their new location and rank anywhere and their, their old location that was much further away. ranking as the new location started to build up prominence, get some reviews, things like that. We started, we kind of saw the flipping happening, we’re now the Katy location is ranking and Katy instead. So sometimes they rank together, it is really unlikely. So I usually tell people, you know, don’t count on that happening. Don’t think like, oh, if I open an office down the street, I’m going to rank twice in the three pack and beat one of my competitors out. And usually, it’s a good idea to only open an office when you don’t like have any presence there to kind of maximize your exposure.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, and and one of the things I want to point out guys is is, you know, if you were in St. Louis, and you Google best restaurants near me, you wouldn’t expect to see Chicago restaurants. So they’re going to show in the map pack. The businesses that are near the search query, the consumer the the proximity is a huge factor. So a lot of times when individuals are considering expanding Let’s say you have a Houston office or Philadelphia or Chicago or whatever, it might make sense to actually stay in your near vicinity. And maybe just stay in Chicago, but maybe you’re in North Chicago, maybe go to South Chicago, because you already have a lot of those keywords a lot of those mentions on your site as opposed to go in and try to enter a new market and say San Diego, because you can already kind of utilize your existing assets to help you expand. So let’s talk about favorite success story or case story that someone that who’s used your service. What comes to mind Joy?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, I mean, we’ve had it’s hard it’s hard to choose one but um, I’d say we’ve had a lot of success in the personal injury space when it comes to just simple what I call simple Anyways, I’m kind of on site stuff. So we’ve had cases where there was this one client that we had that came to us that had very, very few rankings In the three pack, and we noticed they rank really strong organically. So a lot of just like I’ll kind of give out some tips here, a lot of internal linking will impact three pack rankings. So Well, the first thing we did is, you know, we went on to their site and made sure like their homepage linked to the various internal pages that were targeting those keywords that he wanted to rank for. And we saw a lot of three pack rankings as a result. So that’s kind of great. It’s always great when you get a client that already has the organic rankings makes it a lot easier to kind of tie it all in together. But yeah, you normally find like a lot of the success stories or just people’s misunderstandings that they think they rank one place, so they should automatically rank in the other. And those two don’t quite work the same way. So when I say internal links, and we’ve also seen some really good success recently from consolidating site menus, so we get these sites that have giant menus on their site, you know, you drop down and then that page links to like 15 other pages. You can actually do more harm than good a lot of times by doing that, because you are like splitting your PageRank, essentially. So we’ve had similar cases. One was a personal injury firm where we consolidated their menu because they had all these services. And they’re like, we don’t even really care about medical malpractice. Like, well, then why is it in your menu, we took it out of their menu, we list all their other services as a result. So that’s kind of an easy win that we’ve seen several times.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, that’s a great tip, that architecture tip I see that everyone thinks they have to jam as many items as they can in the menu, but it just dilutes the equity to the your important pages that you really want to drive attention to not only that, the traffic itself, there’s there’s more options for that consumer to go. So that’s not driving the traffic at which is another signal, which is kind of going down a rabbit hole, which is why I think scholarship campaigns and things like that used to really work in the past because they really drive up a ton of traffic to your site. The one of the things I didn’t have prepped, I didn’t prep. On this, but I’m going to kind of hit I’m confident that you’ll have this here. So what what’s some local SEO tools that our audience should use?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah. So my go to and this one is not overly user friendly, because it’s it’s kind of clunky behind the scenes, once you get used to it I can’t live without this tool is Places Scout. And it’s what we use to kind of track ranking on. They have these things called geo grids, where you can basically like, check your ranking for a single keyword across like a huge geographic area. And it’ll tell you where you’re ranking and not ranking. So we use that so often for like that situation. You brought up Chris worried. You have a client that wants to open a new office, they want to know where to open it. I use that tool to figure out like, where do they stop ranking? Where’s the line essentially. So that’s when I would say I can’t live without.

Chris Dreyer

I love that.

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, we also use Bright Local, a lot Ahrefs, those are kind of well known Whitespark. And then I’d say for review and reputation management, our go to is Gatherup.

Chris Dreyer

Nice. Yeah, those are all excellent tools. I have to 100% agree on Places Scout there’s not really anything like it in terms of trying to determine where to place a new office or to try to check those multiple zip codes. And I’ve got to say two, they’ve really figured out their way to monetize that software. I feel like when I buy credits there I just go the same day. Yeah, but yeah, those are great tools. So so let’s shift to an individual that wants to expand and improve their local SEO acumen. You know, what would you recommend for someone that wants to improve their their local local SEO skills?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, so I mean, I think it comes down to just like the three things I was mentioning, like on site optimization, link building, removing spam, you know, the bigger market you’re in, the more likely that’s going to be a problem on the business side to reviews is huge. You know, if you’re not implementing a really aggressive review strategy You’re gonna lag behind. So we’re seeing that kind of time and time again, we have. We have one client in particular, that’s way behind when it comes to numbers of reviews, and we just don’t see the same conversion numbers on their cases that we see with other clients that have a more competitive number of reviews and comparison to their competitors. So it’s, it’s challenging, because you know, if you only got a certain number of clients, like you can only ask for so many reviews. That is one thing that every business owner should should definitely be doing if they’re not already.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, I 100% agree. One thing I want to mention too, specifically for personal injury law firms, a lot of times you get these different types of personal injury law firms where one will take every single case and settle it pre let you know and they take soft tissue, so they get a high volume amount of clients so they get more opportunities for reviews, which could in turn help your local SEO versus maybe someone with more of a reputation that just tries to Big cases these these major injuries? Well, if you’re not settling very many cases, that could help hurt you from an SEO standpoint because you’re not getting as many review opportunities after that point. And so who are who are some of your SEO mentors and influences today?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, so I mean, starting into this when it comes to everything to do with Google Maps. Mike Blumenthal was a huge one for me. I want to say I followed every single thing, he posted everything. He did everything he tweeted. So he was kind of my mentor. When I first started in the industry. Um, I mean, currently there’s, oh, it’s hard to pick like one person but um, I mean, as far as watching what people publish and stuff, some of the people I follow on Twitter that I think have some decent stuff is like Marie Haynes, anything she comes out with I normally read. I like Cyrus Shepard stuff at Moz. Chris, honestly, anything you put out I read so

Chris Dreyer

Awesome. Thank you. Yeah, the Marie, Cyrus he’s such a nice guy. I’m only briefly interacted with him, but I’ve always just had a really great experience with them. And, and I’ve actually I, you know, I’ve read a lot of Mike Blumenthal stuff, but I’ve actually never met Mike and yet he’s he’s just he’s a legend in the local SEO space too. So you know what one final question here? Is there anything that that you want to talk about that we haven’t discussed?

Joy Hawkins

Yeah, well, it’s somewhat of a new feature. And maybe people may not be aware of this yet. Google did launch. We’re calling them it’s almost like attributes for reviews a couple of weeks ago to lawyers in general. So now when people leave your review, Google’s actually prompting them to specify what things they liked there. So like, they’ll ask, was this person professional? Are they responsive? Did you get a good value? So now it’s I think it’s Google’s kind of response to people not putting enough information And the reviews. So we’re actually prompting users now. So you’ll start to see that on the reviews that come in on your Google business listing, you’ll see like the attributes people selected. And you can’t control that. That’s something Google comes up with. But they have like a set list. I think, which is the same for any type of lawyer.

Chris Dreyer

I just started noticing that and I gotta give a shout out to Joe. He has a he’s just a top notch copywriter, and that’s going to make his job a lot easier to identify those unique selling propositions, or just any copywriter in general. So it may be a way to differentiate your firm. If you see some some comments that are different than your competitors, because we’re all looking for those, you know, those unique selling propositions. And guys, we’ve been talking to Joy Hawkins, founder and owner of Sterling Sky, the owner of Local Search Forum and LocalU, Joy, where can people go to learn more about you?

Joy Hawkins

So on social media, I’m definitely the most active on Twitter so you can get me on twitter @joyannehawkins. I also run a completely free forum dedicated to everything to do with local search called the Local Search Forum. So that’s kind of a good place to go. If you’re trying to learn more if you have a question and you kind of want answers. My team moderates the forum and watches for posts so we do a pretty good job of making sure they all get responses.

Conclusion

Thanks for listening to The Rankings Podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.

Get Our Best Personal Injury
Marketing Tips

Delivered straight to your inbox
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Comments Below

Let us know your thoughts

More Episodes