Local SEO issue for two businesses in one location - Possum?

Jake tha Wolf

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Long story short, I work for a law firm that shares the building with another law firm. We are personal injury, they are criminal defense. When the criminal firm bought the bldg, we added through USPS a "b" designation for our suite # in order to differentiate the addresses with google. We've seen a major drop in rankings since last fall when possum hit, which I know dealt with filtering some of these results, but we are actually two different businesses, with two different addresses, albeit similar. We are getting crushed on local and organic results, where we used to rank in the top 3 for most all of our most powerful keywords, now we're 5-15 on maps, and page 3 for organic keywords. We've resorted to adwords which we never had to do before, and isnt an ideal way to market for personal injury, from an ROI perspective. Diagnostically, When I type the address into google (with the "b"), I get a map snippet that shows the other business "at this location" but not us.

This is compounded by the fact that these two law firms used to be together, doing both personal injury and criminal defense. They then split off, but stayed in the same building. To me this means its even more likely that google is filtering us out, as their algorithm might be more likely to see our previous affiliation and filter us, or at least, is clouding its ability to see us as separate entities.

Short of moving, what can be done to help us differentiate in our location? I made sure our google business categories are appropriately designated (at some point recently, they both auto defaulted to "general practice attorney" so I had to go in and change them back. Not quite sure how long they were both having that designation.

Any thoughts or input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks all
 

JoyHawkins

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Hey Jake,

Do any of the categories overlap at all? Do you see the other firm instead of yourself? You mentioned you see yourself as 5-15 which doesn't sound to me like you're being impacted by the filter. The filter normally is when you're not there at ALL but then you see yourself when you zoom in.

What location are you searching from when checking your rankings? Are you searching from the city or from your zip code?

Were you always on page 3 organically? Organic ranking has a huge impact on local ranking so I wouldn't expect a business on page 3 organically to make it into the 3-pack.
 

Jake tha Wolf

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Hey Jake,

Do any of the categories overlap at all? Do you see the other firm instead of yourself? You mentioned you see yourself as 5-15 which doesn't sound to me like you're being impacted by the filter. The filter normally is when you're not there at ALL but then you see yourself when you zoom in.
Thanks for your reply Joy! Interestingly, google keeps auto resetting us both to "general practice attorney" and we've both changed it a couple times and it keeps getting reset. I have it set up for us as "personal injury lawyer" and them as "criminal defense lawyer"

What location are you searching from when checking your rankings? Are you searching from the city or from your zip code?
Everywhere... I do a weekly rankings check on mobile device from 4 different parts of town, on my phone (chrome). I also do searches in incognito mode (to remove search history bias) from home, our office and random coffee shops to see whats showing up where.

Were you always on page 3 organically? Organic ranking has a huge impact on local ranking so I wouldn't expect a business on page 3 organically to make it into the 3-pack.
Before Possum, we were ranking 1st page organic and top 3 on the map listing for the most strong keyords, typically #1. At that time I wasnt doing major diagnostics as mentioned above since we were doing well and getting plenty of calls.
 
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The same month Possum hit, there was also a Penguin update. That update had to do with discounting any value from spammy backlinks. If you've built links in the past in 'fast and easy' ways, you likely had a weak foundation that just happened to stop supporting you when that update hit. I'd have someone look over your backlink profile to start with, I imagine that's where your work is going to be.
 

Jake tha Wolf

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Funny you should mention. We had a snafu last year where our business partnered with another business, and we redirected our site to a new partner site (with proper redirects to retain as much SEO juice as possible). Then unfortunately, the partnership fell apart, and we reverted to our original domain and redirected everything back to it. I dont think we ever recovered.

Besides all of the best practice directories and local sites, we have a lot of really high quality backlinks from about a half dozen news agencies (local Fox, NBC etc as well as print and online news media) to cover a PSA campaign we ran last year highlighting crosswalk safety. One of the planned benefits for this campaign was to capture just these kinds of super high quality links, some of which are .gov etc...

in the distant past, we used things like UAW pro (back when that was a good idea) to generate and distribute unique blog content. Those links turned out to be hurtful, but we cancelled that service and verified that the links were no longer active at least a year before all of this started, so I cant think of any low quality links that we have in any decent numbers.
 

JoyHawkins

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Possum was a strictly-local algorithm update (didn't impact organic) so if your organic ranking tanked as well, it's likely something else. If your organic ranking dropped, your local ranking would usually drop along with it so I would say it's likely your drop is not related to Possum.

If you want to post specifics like the keyword + website in question, I'd be happy to give more specific advice instead of guessing ;-)
 

Jake tha Wolf

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Thanks very much Joy for your help, its: Asheville Personal Injury Attorney - Lakota R. Denton, P.A.

and the strongest (search volume) and most basic keywords are:

Personal injury lawyer
personal injury attorney
car accident lawyer
car accident attorney
injury lawyer
injury attorney
Asheville personal injury attorney
Asheville personal injury attorney
Asheville car accident lawyer
Asheville car accident attorney.

I also think its weird that when you type in our physical address, google shows the location and "businesses at this address" which does NOT include our business (Lakota R. Denton, P.A.)

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.20.48 PM.jpg

 

JoyHawkins

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So I didn't have time to do a deep dive but there were a few things I observed that I'd recommend changing.

First, remove the suite # in Google My Business. Google ignores the suite number anyway and it's misformatting your address so that Google can't completely understand it.

Second, your issues are definitely more organic related and it doesn't appear like the drop had anything to do with Possum.

Third, I would strongly suggest removing these hidden rich-anchor-text links. They go to the same page they're on (the homepage) and this could be causing issues since hidden links is definitely against Google's guidelines.
Hidden Links.jpg


Fourth, I would look into why your categories keep changing. Contact Google My Business and ask them what's doing it. It could be someone editing your listing or a 3rd party source but you definitely don't want it to keep happening as that could impact ranking too.

 

Jake tha Wolf

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Jun 28, 2017
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So I didn't have time to do a deep dive but there were a few things I observed that I'd recommend changing.

First, remove the suite # in Google My Business. Google ignores the suite number anyway and it's misformatting your address so that Google can't completely understand it.
would that not only compound the NAP issues I'm having? the only thing that differentiates the two businesses from one another are the suite designation, or "b". If I remove the suite number, I'm afraid it would only drastically increase the likelihood of filtering, based on multiple locations in the exact same place. I was under the impression this was best practice to avoid issues.

Second, your issues are definitely more organic related and it doesn't appear like the drop had anything to do with Possum.
Can you elaborate on this? I'm glad to hear, but I'm wondering what the rationale is

Third, I would strongly suggest removing these hidden rich-anchor-text links. They go to the same page they're on (the homepage) and this could be causing issues since hidden links is definitely against Google's guidelines.
Yext.PNG
I will run this past my website architect and see what she says. She is the SEO instructor for the largest agency in the region, so I tend to trust her methods, but doesnt hurt to ask I suppose


Fourth, I would look into why your categories keep changing. Contact Google My Business and ask them what's doing it. It could be someone editing your listing or a 3rd party source but you definitely don't want it to keep happening as that could impact ranking too.
I tried asking them yesterday. I think I've had about 5-6 calls to GMB support, always a call center in what sounds like India or Pakistan. I asked about that specifically, the guy said, you can't make changes to your listing or it will hurt search rankings. I asked why google keeps auto changing it back, and he told me to make sure your page is optimized and refrain from making changes. Over and over, stock answers read off a page, with no engaging the actual question. So I have no idea why they keep changing it. And apparently, every time I fix it, I both help the targeting, and hurt my ranking by making changes. I really wish their support was worth a damn. I think in 6 calls, I've maybe gotten 1 or 2 tiny morsels of assistance. Mostly they dodge any questions that require a complex answer or digging in at all.
 

JoyHawkins

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Jake,

Sharing an address is not what gets you filtered. It's the proximity of your pin on the map to other related businesses in the area. The suite # field is pretty much useless since Google doesn't read it at all. See this case study for an example of a business that got filtered due to a business down the street.

You guys aren't filtered, your ranking just dropped. If it had been Possum you would have noticed your local ranking drop or disappear but your organic ranking would have remained the same. That's not what you explained happened so since your organic ranking took a hit, you need to look at organic factors to find the issue.

Try this tool to get an idea. I also asked Marie Haynes to chime in here because she is an expert when it comes to traffic drops, especially when it's an organic drop.

Google states hiding links is a violation of their guidelines:

Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
I'll check w/ GMB on the category issue to see if I can get any answers for you.
 

Jake tha Wolf

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Thanks Joy, I appreciate your time and energy trying to help me sort this out.

I think one of the things that complicates the diagnostics is that there are a few moving parts, potentially including possum, as well as the multiple redirecting that happened in a short-ish amount of time, due to circumstances outside of my control. It is possible that the domain got moved around too much too quickly, and google put us in some sort of penalty box. The main reason I think this is that we've been having trouble getting confirmation that we're getting credit for our backlinks. I've run backlink checks on several platforms (Moz, screaming spider, Ahrefs) and they never show anywhere near the correct number of, or quality of backlinks. We're *just* starting to see the big news station backlinks that we got last year in the spring and summer. I dont know if that is indicative of google being careful with us or not, but I can say that an organic rankings drop that happened last fall could have been a partial result of this, around the same time that possum hit local results. I have confirmed from GMB reps that there is nothing available to them that shows that we are penalized, on local results, for what thats worth.

Either way, its my JOB to fix it, even if I dont understand exactly what the problem is, or how to fix it. In all honesty, with my expertise level, I'm relegated to getting backlinks, creating and pushing content on social media, and making sure the site remains healthy from the tools I have at my disposal.

The dramatic delay in link credit is the most interesting piece for me, and also the hardest to get a peek behind the curtain at. I can tell you, this is the last position I want to be in: trying to fix a problem that I dont/can't fully understand the etiology of, and little to no way to get empirical information about. Thankfully, resources like this one exist, and I'm very grateful to people like you Joy!
 

Jake tha Wolf

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Joy, I asked our website designer about the hidden links and her response was that the hidden links *may* be a result of some schema markup she added, to improve SEO. If this is the case, will google penalize the hidden links even if they're a mechanism or byproduct of schema? or will it recognize that it is serving a larger function?

We can remove it if thats whats recommended. Do you have experience one way or another with schema, as it would relate to a site like ours?

many thanks again.
 

Marie Haynes

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Aug 7, 2012
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Hi...Thanks for the heads up on this question Joy.

This is a situation that likely needs a good thorough look at in order to definitively say what is going on. But, I'm happy to give you some initial thoughts.

First, you mentioned that you dropped both in the local results and had a significant organic drop. As Joy mentioned, Possum only dealt with local (maps) rankings, so if you're seeing an organic drop, there is something else going on.

Can you segment your traffic to look at just Google organic and determine what the date of the drop was? (To do that go to Acquisition --> All Traffic --> Source/Medium). Is there an obvious date when the drop starts? If so, is it before or after September 23?

Also, when did the split in businesses happen? Did this business start on a new url? Or did the other one? Or were they always separate? SEMRush.com is not showing this site ranking for much back in September of 2016. I looked at the keywords ranking in August of 2016 that related to "personal injury" and none of them were close to the first page:

Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 5.31.52 PM.jpg

Is it at all possible that you were seeing personalized results when you were seeing first page rankings organically? Was there a drop in business in September as well?

Can you give us more details on this:

This is compounded by the fact that these two law firms used to be together, doing both personal injury and criminal defense. They then split off, but stayed in the same building.
What I want to know, really, is whether these two businesses used to share the same website, and what happened to their websites when they split up, and also when that happened.

 

Jake tha Wolf

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Hi Marie! Thanks for jumping in. Let me see if I can help answer some of these points.

re: rankings in september, we lost our analytics tracking at some point, and I dont have w way to track any metrics before April of this year. :-/ unfortunate, I know.

re: the lineage of the urls: I joined when my boss (lakota) still worked for the Minick Law firm (ML). We had very good success ranking them #1 on maps for personal injury, criminal defense and DWI lawyer in 4 different markets where they had locations. About a year and a half later, we built a personal injury specific website for my boss Lakota R Denton (LRD) and a few months later he split off. They still shared the building. Then they both moved to the new location to share the office expenses together while maintaining separate entitites. Our ranking took a small hit when we all moved, and quickly bounced back. At this point, Lakota was solidly ranking #1 on maps and top 5 organic for personal injury keywords. About May of last year, he partnered with a guy in South Carolina (we're in NC), and we built a new site (NCSClawyers) and redirected our site and all its juice to NCSClawyers. This website ranked pretty well, but never got quite back to the same authority, but close. However, in about September, the partnership fell apart, and our advice from our website person who is a well known local SEO guru and educator, was to relaunch the LRD site and redirect NCSClawyers back to it. This was in September, and we never recovered from all that. So that was September and we've been scrapping to get our authority back ever since.

Does that make sense? Minick Law (DWI and personal injury) > LRD splits from Minick Law > LRD partners and creates NCSClawyers > NCSC falls apart and we went back to LRD in September of 2016.

Minick was out of the equation after step one, and never really saw a drop in rankings. Their site is still very strong, which I'm proud of.
 

Jake tha Wolf

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When Lakota split from Minick Law, Minick removed all personal injury marketing and pages from their site, as well as mention of Lakota. I actually think they may have kept him on there for a couple months after the split, for referrals, and since they were still ranking for personal injury and were happy to refer from us.
 

Marie Haynes

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Thanks Jake, but I'm still confused. Might be because I haven't had any coffee yet. :)

What is the history for ashevillepersonalinjuryattorney dot com (We'll call this APIA)? Can you answer these questions?

-When was the APIA initially created?
-When LRD split off, when was that and were there changes to the content of the APIA website?
-In May of last year when he partnered with the guy in SC, what happened to the APIA site? Was it still live? Was it still ranking? Did content change?
-It sounds like you're saying that when the partnership dissolved, you only then started using the APIA site. Did it go offline previous to this? Again, did content change?

It sounds like a complicated situation. I'll do my best to help out, but I'm sorely behind on client work. Somehow situations like these always draw me in though as I like a good ranking mystery.
 

Jake tha Wolf

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Thanks Jake, but I'm still confused. Might be because I haven't had any coffee yet. :)

What is the history for ashevillepersonalinjuryattorney dot com (We'll call this APIA)? Can you answer these questions?

-When was the APIA initially created?
9/15

-When LRD split off, when was that and were there changes to the content of the APIA website?
LRD split off a few months later (after the site started showing some results), so probably early 2016


-In May of last year when he partnered with the guy in SC, what happened to the APIA site? Was it still live? Was it still ranking? Did content change?
just looked at hosting, the registration for YDlaw (partnership) was made in 5/16. the APIA site was taken down and the domain was redirected to YDlaw.

-It sounds like you're saying that when the partnership dissolved, you only then started using the APIA site. Did it go offline previous to this? Again, did content change?
Yes it appears it was shelved for a handful of months and relaunched when YDlaw fell apart. When it was relaunched, we retooled the look and built out a bit more content to the site. But essentially it was not a huge overhaul.

It sounds like a complicated situation. I'll do my best to help out, but I'm sorely behind on client work. Somehow situations like these always draw me in though as I like a good ranking mystery.
Well, I understand and surely appreciate any time and energy you can devote to helping me sort this out. I hate that its kind of a complex and confusing timeline. It didnt feel like such a whirlwind at the time, but in retrospect it sure does! Thanks so much for your input, Marie and Joy!
 
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Hi Jake,

Your web developer's explanation for those links is troubling. There is no circumstance I can think of where a link as such would come out of posting schema markup. I took a quick look on the site, what Joy spotted was the alt text on the two logo images (one for the responsive desktop site, one for the responsive mobile site) at the top of the page. In my view, having those images alt-tagged in that way is fine. Alt tags will always show up when the image can't load (if you're viewing a text only cached version of the page as Joy was for example) and they will appear as a link if the image is set up as a hyperlink. I assume the logo is just set to link to the home page from every page on the site, which is why Joy spotted that it linked to the same page you're on when you're on the home page.

Those links aren't a problem, though based on your developer's explanation, I would tone down your assumptions about their level of expertise. SEO is a strange industry after all. It changes alarmingly fast (an expert from 2014 would be very behind the times now) there is no real accreditation or proof of expertise, so you're basically relying 100% on past evidence of success, and social proof... neither of which is a great metric when judging technical skill in such a fast moving industry. All you have to do is look at Bernie Madoff to see how guru-authority can give a poor judge of real merit. It's fine to make a mistake or not fully understand every single aspect of the site, but to tell a client that something like 'hidden links' could come from the schema shows a surprising amount of ignorance of basic knowledge I'd expect an SEO to have. Given the kinds of problems you're all experiencing, it may be wise to set aside some assumptions until you figure things out.
 

Jake tha Wolf

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Jun 28, 2017
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Interesting. Yeah we're getting to the point where we realize we may need to hire a third party expert to come in and evaluate all of this to see what we're missing. I'm sure it won't be cheap, but we cant afford to be taking this hit, so its a necessary cost. My boss has been in contact with a lawyer SEO specialist who offered a package to do a heavy diagnostic dig. At first I thought: why pay a guy thousands for him to tell us to get backlinks and move, but now Im not so sure thats the problem. Some kind of knot got tied behind the curtain and we're just not sure how to go about identifying and fixing it.
 

Jake tha Wolf

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I appreciate you looking into this James! If you have any other thoughts or suggestions, please let me know!
 

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