All posts by macaulaylegalmedia@gmail.com

How To Make Your Business Rank in the Google Local 3 Pack

The Google Local 3 Pack is valuable real estate for local businesses. It’s the first place many consumers look on a Google search and it’s become more competitive to get on the map in recent years.

Before the summer of 2016, the 3 pack was a 7 pack. It was a lot easier to show up at the top of search results.

We have seen considerable ‘3 pack angst’ since that change. But before you go out and buy expensive ads, you should be aware of the ways of increasing your chances of getting on the 3 pack.

This article assumes you have correctly verified your listing and you have an actual bricks and mortar office. Google has become increasingly adept at striking out virtual offices or meeting locations that lack signage and staff.

In late 2017, Local SEO Guide carried out research based on 200 ranking factors impacting100,000 businesses.

The importance of reviews is no surprise but the new info here is how businesses can use keywords in Google reviews to improve their ranking.

Reviews will help the business show up in the greatly valued ‘Three pack.’ However, it’s worth noting that your organic strength is the number 1 factor in how likely you will show in the three pack. In other words, good website content is as important as ever before if not more so. The study states:

“If you are winning in local organic search, you are most likely winning in local pack searches also. In fact, ranking in local organic searches was the #1 high correlating factor with ranking in packs … If you want to be in local packs, the best thing you can do is crush it in organic search.”

Reviews are a very important driving factor of ranking in Google My Business pack results.  Google sees reviews as easier to trust than backlinks. Number of reviews with keywords followed by cities are the most important ranking factor.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR A LAW FIRM OR ANOTHER BUSINESS?

If you are working with clients or customers on a review, it’s better to link it to a location and suggest certain keywords connected to your business rather than a general view in which the client says he or she was happy with your service.

Engagement is also important with Google My Business. Google clearly uses engagement to order search results, and local packs are no different. So features like photos are content for your users to engage with. It’s important to reply to Google reviews.

The number of reviews businesses receive is increasingly important. If your business has a number of locations, make sure to concentrate most of the reviews on the main office.

You should resist the temptation to go crazy with your review strategy and to send out a mass mailing asking your client base to review you. If you have 30 Google reviews that have been accrued over two years, and you get another 30 in a month, it will send out a red flag to Google. Google that may note the review as spam, remove reviews and threaten the listing itself.

If Google suspends your Google My Business listing, this can be hard to retrieve and may severely impact your online presence.

Terrorist Attack Sparks Diversity Visa Concerns

The diversity visa lottery was an obscure program described as a quirk in the U.S. immigration system before this week’s terror attack in New York that left eight dead and sparked diversity visa concerns at the highest levels.

That all changed when it was reported that the New York City attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, came to the United States legally in 2010 from Uzbekistan through the diversity immigration lottery visa program.

President Donald Trump immediately pledged to abolish the program.

The diversity visa lottery has been described as one of the quirks of the U.S. immigration system.

diversity visa concern
Terrorist attack sparks diversity visa concern

Trump singled out the diversity program and one of its congressional sponsors, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reported NPR.

Ironically, even before the terrorist attack, the diversity visa program was expected to be living on borrowed time. Last May’s lottery was expected to be the last.

Every year, as many as 14 million people vie for up to 50,000 green cards that are handed out in the lottery.

The Washington Post noted last May’s lottery was likely to be the last. The current diversity visa concerns after the terror attack reinforce that impression.

The Diversity Visa Lottery rewards under one percent of the people who enter permanent residency status in the United States.

While Trump targeted predominately Muslim countries in his travel bans, he said little about the diversity visa lottery until the terrorist attack, although the program runs counter to his preference for merit-based immigration programs.

Earlier in 2017, two bills were introduced in the Republican-controlled Congress to eliminate the program.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), the co-sponsor of one of the bills intended to end the lottery, spoke of fraud in the program and said it fails to deliver diversity, despite its name.

The diversity visa program was originally set up under Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The legislation created a new class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants.” They come from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. The program is concentrated on six geographical areas. No single country is allowed to pick up more than 7 percent of available visas.

The Washington Post reported Schumer did play a key role in drawing up the program to encourage immigration from nations who sent few national to the U.S. in 1990. His proposals formed part of a broader immigration package passed by Congress in a bipartisan vote and signed into law by a President George H.W Bush.

The Post noted  Schumer was also part of a bipartisan group of senators who sought to end the program in 2013.

Diversity Visa Concerns Are Focused on Uzbekistan

Africans make up the largest percentage of diversity visa recipients – about 44 percent.

The New York terrorist attack raises questions whether Uzbekistan has flown under the radar.

Uzbekistan — the home country of the accused New York attacker — received 958 visas in 2006. In 2010, the United States gave green cards to 3,596 people from the Asian country.

Find out more about the diversity lottery program on the Department of State website.

Contact David Macaulay at macaulaylegalmedia@gmail.com.

Quick and Easy SEO Tips – A Beginner’s Guide

We have been living in the new digital landscape of SEO for more than a decade but many small business owners remain clueless about the world of Search Engine Optimization. It can be challenging to know where to start and where to turn for quick and easy SEO tips.

Faced with this bewildering new normal, it’s hardly surprising that many smaller enterprises avoid tackling their SEO problems or outsource them. Many businesses are fighting every day to grow or even to make ends meet. They may have little time to even add valuable website content, let alone to optimize it for search engines to improve their chances of being found online.

A coherent SEO strategy can go a long way and you don’t have to hire an expensive consultant. These quick and easy SEO tips will help you set up basecamp.

Read these easy SEO tips
SEO tips can be quick and easy but it takes hard work to take off

It’s important to realize SEO is a long-term strategy. Don’t think you can flood your site with content for two months and then post nothing on it. It takes time for search engines to notice your web presence.

It’s important to know what SEO is from the outset. Think first of all about the role of the search engines. The search engines will analyze all of the web pages they have ever visited and give you the most relevant results. Seach engines are clever at understanding the relevance of results to the search query.

Here are seven quick and easy SEO tips.

1 Realize the Real Audience is Human 

People drive your bottom lines and the search engines know this. If you build your website so as it’s user-friendly, the search engines will reward you. A few years ago, website writers would try to game the system by stuffing their copy with the keywords they wanted to show up for.

Now the search engines will look for user-friendly content that makes the experience easy and entertaining for your visitors. Consider using a range of media and answering the questions that people are asking on your website. Keyword research is an important way to do this.

2 Find Keywords that are Relevant and Profitable

Before providing content for your site, you should consider the keywords that you want your potential clients to search for. The expression ‘keyword’ can be misleading. Keywords are usually more than one word. Seek out keywords that will ensure your site is found and is not over-utilized elsewhere.

For instance, if you own a personal injury practice in Chicago, there will be massive competition for the keyword “Chicago personal injury lawyer.’ The trick is to find a keyword that fewer people are searching for and fewer of your competitors have thought of. If, for example, accidents in elevators is one of your practice areas, instead consider a keyword like ‘Chicago elevator accident lawyer.’ Although fewer people will be searching for this term, a potential client who has been injured in an elevator accident may be and your site is more likely to top a Google search.

Use a tool to research keywords that you want to rank for. Google Keyword planner is a great tool and it’s free. To access it, you need a Google Adwords account. You can set up an Adwords account free without doing paid search. You can find the Keyword planner under the Tools tab. This guide on Backlinko tells you how to get the most out of the tool.

Although Google Keyword planner is aimed at paid search and tells you how much to bid for on keywords in paid search, it’s useful because you can find the demand for certain keywords and the search volume. Seeking out keywords with less competition but lots of searches will help you get ahead of your competitors.

There are other great keyword research tools you can use like Moz Keyword Explorer, but you will have to pay for these services.

If you are building out a new website, every page on your website should be optimized for a keyword. Even if your website is well established, you can utilize keywords in blog posts and new pages. However, make sure not to detract from the pages that are optimized by using the same keywords in subsequent writing.

Although developing a keyword strategy may not seem like it should be included in a list of easy SEO tips, keywords are a bit like the foundation of a house. Once it’s solid, it easier to build.

check out quick and easy SEO tips

3 Build Keywords into Your Content

If you find a host of great keywords but don’t know how to use them, it’s like buying an expensive new camera without reading the manual. Make sure your web pages are aligned around the keywords.

The search engines want to see unique keywords that are optimized on each page.  Draw up an Excel spreadsheet from the outset that highlights the keyword that’s slated for each page of your website.

Once you have this, write your copy around that keyword. Don’t overstuff the page with the keyword. Your pages should be written with the reader in mind with the hope he or she will become a client or a customer. Make sure to include the keyword in the title and the SEO title as well as a handful of times in the copy. If you are working in WordPress an SEO tool like Yoast can help you optimize your pages for their allocated keywords.

4 Don’t Forget About Images

Images will break up your copy and make it more user-friendly for the reader. However, you need to guide search engines to tell them what information is contained in the images.

Make sure to rename images so as the search engines know what they are about. Use your keyword in captions and alt tags. These boxes are visible when you upload images. Too many people leave them blank.

5 Use a Range of Media

Variety will keep visitors to your website more engaged. The longer they spend on your website the more favorable the ‘bounce rate’ of your site will be. Google prefers sites with a lower bounce rate because it indicates visitors find more value and interest in your site and are more engaged if they are not clicking away.

Adding variety to your website is one of the quick and easy SEO tips that doesn’t take much technical know-how. Embed videos from your YouTube channel, use polls to engage people, reply to comments and consider adding features like infographics and memes.

More than half of all searches are now on mobile devices, making it vital that your content is not too text-heavy and ideally features elements like video and other graphics.

6 Wok on Getting Good Quality Links Your Domain

Backlinks are links to your site from another website. They are important because search engines like Google and Bing see them as endorsements. If someone else is linking to you, they must like something about your site.

Think of a link to your website as a vote for your page. The search engines pick up on links to your website.  But not all links are good links. In the past, Google moved to outlaw practices such as link exchanges and the buying of links.

The search engines place value on the relevance of the links.  Some links are better than others in casting votes for your website. If you work as an insurance attorney, for example, a link from a trade association or a professional body will be worth more than a link from the website of a pet supply store that opened up a week ago.

Generally, good quality backlinks include links from government entities, charities, educational institutions, and the mainstream media. If your work is being featured by a local TV station, ask if you can get a link from their website to yours. Often non-profits will provide a backlink if you agree to be a sponsor.

7 Create Unique and New Content

It has become a cliche, but content remains king in the world of SEO. You should add new content to your website as often as possible, whether blogs, new pages, pictures or videos. Google prefers lengthy content that’s optimized for SEO.  Daily blogs are ideal. If you are not able to add to your website every day, hire a writer. Also look to feature guest bloggers and contributors. Encourage comments but also be careful to moderate them. Maximize that content by posting links to it on your social media sites. The idea of the storefront is becoming unfashionable but your website is really little more than a virtual storefront. If nobody is coming through your door, you’ll be living a lonely and unprofitable existence.

David Macaulay is a writer who has been working on SEO with law firms and other businesses for more than six years.

The Environmental Legislation At Risk from a Trump Presidency

It’s no secret that Donald Trump is at odds with many environmentalists about the scale of the threat facing the planet or even whether a threat exists at all.

America’s next president pulled no punches in a tweet in which he infamously claimed global warming was invented by the Chinese. He stated:

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Although the tweet seems to offer zero hope that climate change will be addressed by Trump’s administration there are two important caveats.

Trump wrote it on Nov. 6, 2012, when few people – probably including Trump himself – entertained the notion of him becoming the President of the United States. During last year’s election campaign he attempted to dismiss it as a joke.

the environmental legislation under threat from Trump
Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach is built on a reclaimed landfill

As president, Trump will face concerted efforts to address the issue of climate change given the many agreements that the United States is party to and statistics showing 2016 was the warmest year on record for the third year running.

The pressure he will come under is unlikely to prevent significant pieces of environmental legislation and policy being amended or ditched up under the Trump Administration. They include:

The Clean Power Plan

Ambitious rules to weaken America’s reliance on fossil fuels in an attempt to cut carbon dioxide emissions were published by the Obama administration in 2014. The Clean Power Plan is an ambitious blueprint to cut carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal-fired electric power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

States were required to submit a final plan, or an initial submittal with a request for an extension by September 6, 2016. Final plans were to be submitted no later than September 6, 2018.

The plan was opposed by 24 states which launched a lawsuit. The Clean Power Plan is stayed while a 10-judge panel reviews a legal challenge. A decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rare “en banc” review is due later this year.

Trump is already under pressure to give a sign that the plan is moribund to the states. The 24 states led by Texas and West Virginia, penned a letter to Trump in December.  They asked him to issue an order to allow them to stop working to enforce the rule to reduce emissions from existing power plants.

Tackling the Clean Air Act itself may be more problematic. The legislation was passed by Congress and signed by President Nixon in 1970, conferring authority on the EPA. The law contains strong language mandating protection against any type of pollutant that poses a danger to public health and welfare. It specifically requires the EPA to curb pollutants that harm “climate.”

The Paris Agreement

At the Paris climate conference in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, developing countries were required to join the effort to cut greenhouse gases.

The agreement outlines a global action plan intended to put the planet on course to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

The United States and China played a leading role in the treaty negotiations in Paris. The countries are among the biggest carbon dioxide emitters on the planet.

Under the agreement, countries voluntarily take steps to cut their impacts on the climate starting in 2020. The U.S. promised to slash its pollution levels in 2025 to 26 percent below its 2005 levels. A significant switch away from burning coal for electricity is built into the calculation.

Trump has vowed to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. He has made pro-fossil fuel noises, and backs a free energy market, although he has yet to flesh out the details of his energy policy.

Although Trump can’t cancel the Parish Agreement for the rest of the world, he can certainly remove the U.S. from it or simply ignore it, states Climate Central. This is because the Paris Agreement does not have treaty status under international law.

The agreement was made voluntary to accommodate the environment in the United States. The legally binding carbon dioxide cuts demanded by a treaty would have required Senate approval, which was considered impossible under the Senate’s Republican leadership. However, parts of the agreement such as the requirement of nations to monitor and report their emissions data was not voluntary.

The article in Climate Central notes how Trump could pursue either a slow or a passive option as alternatives to a confrontational withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

An American withdrawal would be problematic but possibly not fatal for the agreement.

Erika Rosenthal, a lawyer with EarthJustice, pointed out there are other major carbon dioxide emitters like India, China and other G20 countries that can run with the agreement.

The Waters of the US Rule

In 2015, the EPA published the Clean Water Rule which defined the “waters of the US.”

Dubbed “Obama’s water war” by Politico, the Waters of the United States Rule is a technical list of waterways such as rivers, streams, marshes and lakes that fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. As such, they can be protected from development or other polluting activities.

It pitted the Obama administration against a phalanx of home builders, farmers and oil companies that banded it a power grab by Washington.

Obama defended the rule by saying it will add the clarity and certainty industry needs need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act.

He said the list will identify protected waters and bring to justice polluters who knowingly threaten U.S. waters.

In a statement after the EPA released a final version of the regulation, he said:

“My administration has made historic commitments to clean water, from restoring iconic watersheds like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes to preserving more than a thousand miles of rivers and other waters for future generations.”

The rule was opposed by Republicans and some Democrats in Congress. Almost inevitably, it ended up in the courts.

The courts have spent almost a year deciding if they have jurisdiction to review the validity of the “Clean Water Rule.” The sixth circuit split on the whether it had jurisdiction.

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States announced it will decide if the courts have the authority to review challenges to the rule. It granted certiorari in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense.

The legal machinations may ultimately prove to be the legislative equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The Waters of the United States Rule is the type of order handed down from Washington that has raised Trump’s hackles for years and it’s unlikely to resurface.  The environmental landscape of the United States is likely to be changed four years from now. The only question is how dramatically.

Immigrants Who Won The Medal of Honor

Immigrants have made a valuable contribution to the history of the United States, whether in business, science or in the military. The Medal of Honor is the highest military award given by the United States government and many immigrants have won it.

Their actions were praised recently in an article in Immigration Daily.

The Army medal of honor

Immigrants have often faced prejudice to defend the country that opened its doors to welcome them.

The Cato Institute noted how about one in five of all recipients of the Medal of Honor were immigrants born outside the United States.

The heroes include Laszlo Rabel the leader of Team Delta, 74th Infantry Detachment who lost his life during the Vietnam War. He came to America from his native Hungary and entered the service in Minnesota. The staff sergeant’s team came under attack in Vietnam and a grenade landed in the middle of the team. Rabel threw himself on it, using his body to shield his team from injury and death. He lost his life but saved those of his fellow soldiers.

Another recipient was Marcario Garcia, a 24-year-old Mexican national whose heroics in the World War Two earned him the medal. When his company was pinned down by heavy machine gun fire from German troops, he refused to be evacuated.

He crawled forward toward enemy lines and hurled hand grenades into the German emplacement. His actions destroyed the gun. He later stormed another enemy gun emplacement, killed three German soldiers, and captured four others, thus helping save his company.

March 25 is set aside as National Medal of Honor Day to pay tribute to the recipients of our America’s highest award for valor.

On its website U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services highlights about 30 facilities that are named after immigrant recipients of the Medal of Honor. The Dallas field office in Texas is named after Army Air Force Sergeant Archibald Mathies, who was born in Scotland and died in an air crash in World War Two.

Immigration became a controversial issue during the presidential election campaign of 2016. The list of those who honorably served their country is a powerful example of how immigrants make a positive contribution.

Five Top Social Media Tips for Law Firms

This week I was invited to be on a panel for a discussion hosted by Martindale-Nolo and the young lawyers division of the American Bar Association about using social media to grow your law practice.

More than 1,400 young lawyers were on the call and there were six panelists including attorneys and social media people from Martindale-Hubbell.

facebooksocial media strategies for law firms

I was blown away by a poll taken at the start of the call that revealed more than half of these young lawyers are not using social media for their practices. I would have expected that kind of response from people my age or the older partners at firms who view social media as a disturbing new development. However, most of these participants were in their twenties and from the social media generation

My law firm has used social media for about four years now but I still face something of an uphill struggle to persuade the older partners about its importance. Facebook is a platform their wives spend too much time posting pictures of their kids on; it’s a place for cuddly cats.

Both of these statements are true. They also go to the heart of why social media is such a powerful tool for attorneys and other businesses such as accountants that you would not necessarily associate with social media.

You won’t get dozens of cases every month from Facebook unless you are a firm like The Law Offices of Jacob J Sapochnick, a San Diego immigration lawyer who has more than 139,000 Facebook likes and gets as many as a dozen cases a day from the social media.

That’s immaterial in many ways. Facebook and other platforms are a way to get into people’s lives in a subtle and unobtrusive way without proclaiming you are a lawyer and turning people off. It’s the online equivalent of that fridge calendar from a landscaping company. You don’t think much about the company until you suddenly need a tree removed and think “I know a landscaping company.”

When my firm started experimenting in social media it was an unimportant sideline. Now it’s the third or fourth biggest source of traffic to our website and posts routinely get hundreds of views. It’s certainly not our most important marketing tool. But it’s gaining in importance all the time and the potential is unlimited. In the second quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.7 billion active users and as many as a third of all people get their news first from social media. It’s not going away any time soon.

If your law firm does decide to build social media platforms, you should adopt a strategic approach. Here are five top tips.

Five Tops Tips for Using Social Media as a Law Firm

1 Decide Which Social Media You Should Concentrate on

Unless you have unlimited resources, you won’t have the time to establish a comprehensive presence  on all social media platforms. Decide on your main platforms and devote most of your resources to one or two. You can develop others at a later stage.

Facebook remains the most popular of social medias and the one it makes the most sense to have a  presence on. We also devote considerable resources to producing and posting videos on YouTube. Given that YouTube is owned by Google it makes sense to set up your channel and post videos regularly. YouTube videos show up in Google searches and Google is as dominant in the world of search engines as Facebook is in social media.

Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each social media and consider what people want to see. For example, LinkedIn is a lot more business-orientated than Facebook. This is a good social media for developing contacts and possibly getting referrals from other lawyers. It’s not the social media to post lots of pictures of the partner’s dog on.

People often ask me about Google+, the social network that was set up by Google to rival Facebook, but ultimately failed. I believe it is important to have a presence on Google+ but not because anyone will see your content. Rather, it sends the right signals to Google. And don’t forget to verify your Google My Business listing and seek out reviews. These are golden.

2  Don’t Treat Social Media Posts Like Ads

If you have a social media site, one of the worst things you can do is to treat is like a platform for TV ads or a place to bombard people with legal material. Some of our most popular forms of content are pictures of office staff having birthdays, their children or attorneys doing very un-attorney like things. Tag people in the posts and you’ll generate interest, shares ,and comments.

Educational posts are also great things to run on social media and may be shared. These can relate more closely to your practice. Examples can include safe walking to school tips or how to strap children into car seats.

There are also a variety of feeds you can use to vary up your content that may have little to do with your practice areas. If an important football game is taking place, think about how you can tailor your content to the game everyone is talking about. Use humor and post memes now and again.

3 Use Social Media to Promote Your Own Content

Having a social media presence is far more important if you can drive people to your own website or even to another social media channel like YouTube. You need to create your own content and share it on social media. If you get traffic to your website from a social media site, it may boost your website’s ranking with the search engines.

The proviso here is that content on your website should generally be related to your practice area. You shouldn’t be posting all of your immigration or family law blogs because your Facebook page will quickly become dull. One method we have used to drive people from social media to our website is to have competitions . People won’t mind being directed to your website if they think they will win something. It’s a win for you too because you will be boosting your site and hopefully capturing their information.

You can keep the narrative going by announcing the winners on social media and even posting a video of the drawing.

4 Be Ethical

The fact you are posting material onto a more informal platform is no reason to forget about the ethics a law firm has to abide by. Check with your local state bar association to establish the rules. In Virginia, for example, there are rules that require a lawyer to maintain a client’s confidences and secrets. You should be very wary about posting anything about a client until a case is settled and, even then, you should obtain the client’s permission.

There are also rules about misrepresentation that can get an attorney in trouble. If, for example, he or she makes a friend request to a potential client in order to solicit their business, the lawyer may fall foul of the state bar.

Advertising rules are as pertinent on social media as anywhere else. It’s one thing to blog about a case result (providing you meet the disclaimer requirements) and to post a link to the blog on social media. But you can’t make subjective comments like boasting you are the best in your field.

Also avoid using social media to vent your frustrations about a court case or another attorney and steer clear of politics and religion.

5 Consider Paid Promotions and Review Analytics

Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have increasingly moved toward a “pay to play” model.  Businesses won’t get the organic exposure they received two years ago. Although this may be an irksome development, social media advertising is still very cheap compared to Google Adwords and it’s a quick way to build your following and to target the people you want to reach. Facebook has very sophisticated targeting tools.

As well as promoting posts or considering limited advertising spends, you should regularly check analytics to see which kinds of posts are working and which are not.  This will allow you to develop a more sophisticated social media strategy and to concentrate on what works best for your brand.

 

The Supreme Court Ruling Against Texas’ Abortion Law – Five Key Points

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling on a Texas law that closed dozens of abortion clinics has been hailed as the most significant court decision related to abortion since Roe v Wade in 1973.

The Supreme Court backed abortion rights
An abortion sign in South Africa

The decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was important because it tackled two specific and key provisions of a sweeping law to restrict abortions that Texas’s conservative legislature passed in 2013, namely:

1 The requirement of doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles away from the abortion clinic.

2 It required clinics that perform abortions to have the same health and safety standards as ambulatory surgical centers that perform far more complicated procedures.

The practical effect of the law was to close dozens of abortion clinics across the Lone Star State. Opponents of the legislation claimed it would cut the number of abortion clinics from 40 to 10. About half of the clinics had closed by the time of the ruling.  The Dallas Morning News reported a 14 percent reduction in abortions in the state.

In a nutshell, the 5-3 ruling of the Supreme Court, which was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, said that both the admitting privileges and the onerous surgical center requirements “constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution.”

Here are five important takeaways from the ruling

1 It Sends a Message to Other States

Republican-led states have been undermining abortion since 2010 when the party made historic electoral gains and doubled the number of states it controlled. The Supreme Court ruling has drawn a line in the sand and made it clear that laws as restrictive as the one in Texas will likely be struck down.

2 It was the First Pro-Abortion Win in More than a Decade

Pro-abortionists have been losing ground for 10 years, even though Roe v. Wade remains in force. The last time they were on the winning side of a major Supreme Court case was 16 years ago, when a 5-4 ruling in Stenberg v. Carhart invalidated a law in Nebraska that banned a procedure abortion opponents called “partial-birth abortion.”

3 Justice Anthony Kennedy Changed Sides

All eyes were on which side Justice Anthony Kennedy would back. Kennedy has been a swing vote on abortion in the past, but he joined the majority side in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The Supreme Court’s future direction on this contentious and polarizing issue  is likely to depend on November’s election and which side gets to appoint the ninth judge.

4 The Lack of Health Benefit Argument Was Pivotal

One of the original issues disputed in the case involved the Texas legislation’s perceived benefits for maternal health. While the Fifth Circuit assumed health benefits would arise for women, the Supreme Court said it had demonstrated “blind deference” to the claims of lawmakers with an anti-abortion agenda.

The Supreme Court considered statistics that found there are seldom complications from abortions and  even when complications do arise, the H.B. 2 law probably wouldn’t help much.

5 The Opponents of Abortions May Adopt Different Tactics

Anti-abortion lawmakers have become increasingly bold in recent years. Recently, proposals for a total abortion ban were vetoed by the Governor of Oklahoma. Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt may change that because they will be more aware of the possibility of legislation being ruled unconstitutional.

Another ruling could make for an even broader pro-abortion precedent. That would be bad for the opponents of abortion.

We can expect to see states continuing to chip away at abortion laws, but it’s likely to be in a way that’s more subtle that the law in Texas.

 

Blog Length is Key to Search Engine Recognition

I am often asked by small businesses or attorneys about blog length, and how long the optimum blog post should be. This is an important question because many business owners believe that their pages and blog posts will rank well if they look attractive.

blog length is important to SEO

In reality, if a blog post is too short, it won’t rank well. Fashion may be obsessed with skinny models, but Google doesn’t have much time for skinny blog posts. That’s because the search engines assume under weight posts are starved of substance and less than useful to the consumer of information.

What’s the Minimum Length for a Blog Post?

 

A recent post by the SEO company Yoast states that blog posts should be at least 300 words. Many legal writing firms work to a minimum of 350 words, and that doesn’t include a call to action at the end of a post.

Long posts rank better than short posts with search engines, but there is an important caveat. You have to be a good writer who is imparting useful information.  The search engines are fairly adept now at picking up on instances in which writers don’t have much to say but are stretching things out for the search engines.

It wasn’t always this way. When I started writing business and legal blogs more than six years ago, pepping copy with phrases such as “experienced Florida personal injury lawyers” could help you be found by someone who was searching for an injury lawyer in Florida. These days, writing for search engines r human beings is more likely to get you penalized.

Having a journalistic background helps immensely with blog writing. Being a journalist used to be all about what publication you worked for. Now every business needs to adopt journalistic techniques to punch their weight online. Given the rapid growth of blogging, social media and visual sites such as Instagram, we all have to run our small, in-house multi-media empires.

While good writing can help with those long blog posts, the search engines don’t like vast typographic forests like New York Times editorials. The internet likes the product to reflect the labelling. Google doesn’t want long articles that keep the reader guessing until the fourth paragraph. Reflect the headline and its key word in the first paragraph and say exactly what the article is about.

So, for instance, the key word or phrase for this article would be “blog length.” The phrase “blog length” should be used a number of times in the body of the text.

Make blogs considerably longer than 300 words if you can. A blog of 1,000 words is likely to score well with the search engines as long as it’s broken down. There is an even stronger case for blogs of more than 2,500 words.

The downside here is the sheer time they can take you to write and the challenge of keeping them eye-catching and interesting. Your site will also benefit from regularly posted blogs. However, churning out blogs of 2,500 words is considerably more time consuming and may impact the number of blogs you can post.

Text structure is key to keeping those long blogs readable. See this article from Yoast about text structure.

Readers (and thus search engines) are likely to reward you if you make lists. The advantage of numbering or bullet points include:

  1. They break up vast areas of text;
  2. People like lists;
  3. You can rank points in their order of importance;
  4. They are popular on social media when you share your blogs;
  5. It makes for a catchy headline to say you are imparting a list such as ‘Seven Secrets About Contested Divorces.”

When it comes to blogging length, I like to vary it up with a few longer blogs. The world of SEO is a rapidly changing one but as a general rule of thumb, you can’t go wrong with blogs of 400-500 words and  web pages of at least 800 words.

David Macaulay

Contact me at macaulaylegalmedia@gmail.com for more information.

 

 

 

The Rights of Grandparents in Visitation and Custody Cases

When we talk about grandparents’ rights in family cases, the term can be misleading. Grandparents don’t have rights in a constitutional way. However, in every state, there are circumstances in which grandparents may be given some rights over children, ranging from custody to visitation.

The recognition of grandparents’ rights is a relatively new development, and there are variations from state to state. Most of the statutes have been in place for less than three decades. Every statute requires its courts to consider the best interest of the child before awarding custody or visitation to grandparents.

Grandparents have legal visitation rights in most states
Grandparents have rights in all states

In the past, the role of grandparents in bringing up children was downplayed by the courts. Grandparents are heavily involved in some families and may even be primary caretakers. A list of grandparents’ rights has been published by Findlaw.

Here are some key rights:

Visitation Rights for Grandparents

The courts don’t need to get involved when parents or guardians allow or encourage visits from grandparents to grandchildren. It gets more complex when visitation is denied by parents. In such cases, If parents or guardians encourage or, at least, allow grandparents to visit their grandchildren, then no grandparent can approach the court to obtain visitation rights. They must prove that it is in the child’s best interests to grant those rights. Some pertinent factors include:

  1. The relationship between the child and the grandparent
  2. What impact the visitation will have on the child and his or her parents
  3. How recently the child was in contact with the grandparent
  4. The likely effect of visitation on the child and parent
  5. Whether granting visitation by grandparents would interfere with the child’s time with his or her parents
  6. Whether a grandparent has ever neglected or abused a grandchild.

Most states allow some visitation by grandparents unless there are other concerns such as alcohol or drug abuse.

The legal concept of allowing grandparents to visit with their grandchildren, even when the parents of the children object, is based on the idea that children need contact with their grandparents. An exception to this approach is where an objection is based on a serious concern such as neglect or abuse.

Courts in each state are required by federal law to recognize and enforce non-parental visitation orders granted in other states. But some states have gone too far. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the nonparent visitation portion of Washington state’s visitation statute as unconstitutional, ruling that it violated the due process rights of parents to raise their children.

In the case of Troxel v. Granville, the Supreme Court reviewed the case from Washington State. The justices found that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions about raising their own children. However, the court did not agree that Washington State’s permissive visitation statute was unconstitutional or with the argument that allowing a nonparent to petition for visitation rights amounted to an assault on the integrity of the family unit.

In the wake of the Troxel ruling, many states changed their grandparent visitation laws to be consistent with the ruling that the starting presumption should be in favor of the parents, and judges are now very careful about taking parents’ wishes into account when resolving disputes.

Custody by Grandparents

Grandparents face an uphill task to gain custody of their grandchildren in most states. Unless a parent has voluntarily given up his or her parental rights, grandparents will likely have to prove that the parent is unfit to gain custody. However, some states have laws that make it easier for relatives who already have physical custody of children to obtain legal status based on the best interests of the child. See HelpGuide.org for more details.

Five Top Tips to Make Your Webpages Show Up In Searches

In recent years, creating successful web pages has become an increasingly complicated art that involves a multitude of considerations.

SEO

A decade ago SEO was the only game in town, and it was easier to anticipate searches that would land up on your page by using key words and exact name titles. Although we have lived with search engine optimization (SEO) for some time, that’s not to say all small business owners are comfortable with it. Many hand it over to an Internet company that does its “magic” in a mysterious place with little accountability about what’s going on. SEO can be like the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes. Your SEO provider may tell you he or she has dressed up your website to attract all visitors but in reality, it’s naked. You probably won’t even realize.

While SEO was once the entire focus of an internet marketing strategy it’s now just an important plank. There are a plethora of new mediums and platforms that we ignore at our peril. But it’s still important to know the secret to a successful web page.

A survey by Moz in 2015 gives some valuable insight about the kinds of pages that will help your SEO. Moz says it surveyed the “opinions of dozens of the world’s brightest search marketers” and ran correlation studies to better understand the workings of the search engine algorithms.  Moz asked the opinions of more than150 leading search marketers who provided expert opinions on over 90 ranking factors.

As well as picking the brains of search experts, the team at Moz, led by Dr. Matthew Peters, ran a wide-ranging correlation study to determine which features of websites and pages are linked to higher search rankings. Moz partnered with a number of organizations including SimilarWebDomainTools, and Ahrefs.

In the world of SEO there are no hard and fast answers but the survey shows the characteristics of web pages that rank higher with the search engines, and most crucially Google, which has updated its algorithms frequently over the last three years. The top five are as follows.

The most important characteristics of successful web pages.

1 Domain Level Link Features

Improving domain level link features is the top way of ensuring your site ranks higher. You should focus on your link profile by getting more links from other well-linked-to pages. Quality links to your site are worth their weight in SEO gold. Consider getting links from local business organizations like chambers of commerce. The importance of links to your site may seem counterintuitive. It doesn’t seem very fair that you may have the highest quality site but a competitor is receiving a better ranking because of the number of authoritative links to his site.

 

Google is focused on returning results from sites that are a leading authority in their market. It’s looking for sites that have proved to be a great resource for people who are seeking answers within your industry.  For that reason it’s important that the sites linking to your are relevant to your industry and not spammy.

 

2 Page Level Link Features

Talking about page-level link features is a technical way of saying you should aim to get high quality links aimed at a single page of your website. According to the 150 experts who were surveyed, good links to your page is rated 8 out of 10 in terms of importance by Google. The search engine also looks at how popular each page of your site is and gives it a ranking. You can improve page level link features by getting links to your site from important bodies or publications such as blogs in your industry. Directories at a local level and sites such as Wikipedia are also important.

 

3 Page Level Key Words and Content Based Features

 

This is the third most important feature and it received a 7.8 out of 10 from the experts. Google is very discerning about content these days. A successful page should target a single, narrow topic. The primary key words should appear in the page’s URL. Google prefers content that’s broken up into headings and you can bold or italics for some key words. Primary key words should appear at least a couple of times in the body and you should use ALT tags for illustrations. See this article about adding alternative text to illustrations on WordPress.

 

4 Page Level Key Word Agnostic Features

 

This one is a bit of a mouthful. It’s nothing to do with religion, rather everything on the page that’s not related to key words. You should make sure your content is functional and easy to read and the right length. I’d suggest at least 500 words for a blog post and 800 words for a web page. Make sure your content is unique to your page and not duplicate. Programs such as Copyscape or Grammarly can scan your pages for duplicate content.

 

5 Engagement and Traffic Query Data

 

It’s important to get visitors involved in your website and to keep them engaged rather than having them bounce quickly off again.

 

There are a number of ways to keep visitors stimulating and engaged and it’s important to consider the appearance of your pages. Today very few people will want to plow through intense, text-rich copy that’s not broken up. If a lot of people are hitting the back button on your pages, it will increase the “bounce rate” which is an indicator that your page is not interesting enough. Some ways to improve engagement include:

  • Encourage visitors to get involved with comments or feedback. Ask questions.
  • Use visually-pleasing informational images, charts, graphs and infographics
  • Use engaging video and embed it in pages and graphics.
  • Link to “related pages” below the primary page content
  • Utilize interactive elements on the page
  • Use interesting images that complement text rather than stock photos.

These are the top five ways of improving the performance of your web pages. There’s no magic bullet, it’s fast-changing and there’s no guarantee your pages will appear on the front page of Google. You should be wary of anyone who tells you they will.

Interested in our page writing service? Email Veritaslegalmedia@hotmail.com.