At the start of every year, we find that it’s important to evaluate how people are currently—and how they anticipate—searching for professional services. In the digital space, what worked one year may not work the following year, and search behavior may change several times in one year. We could even view 2021, especially this first part, as a perfect storm of changes in how people not only conduct their searches but also trust and consider biases within their searches. 

The “perfect storm” we face right now is as follows:

  • Scrutiny has arisen around the motives and power of major tech companies in charge of presenting the overwhelming amount of information people get online, from Facebook and Twitter to the emergence of new “free speech” social platforms
  • Google has a major social responsibility to organize their algorithm to present what we think are the most accurate, reliable search results. The “Medic” update has numerous iterations to filter out unreliable medical/health information. We can expect the same for social and political issues and conversations. 
  • Amazon Web Services will not support the bandwidth of social platforms deemed a forum for conversations in sedition and dissent, as we saw recently with Parler.
  • Other tech giants are poised to leverage their clout to get market shares with search engines, such as Apple and even Tesla.
  • COVID-19 will still be present in society for months to come, an especially contentious election year is putting a new administration in office, and there is a generally heightened level of distrust that big tech will positively contribute to the lives of average people. 

Though this may not necessarily apply to typical perfunctory searches for products and services, this seems exponentially augmented the moment any degree of social, political, or medical content begins to see coverage. This could all converge on a radical shift in how search engines view their moral and social responsibility in the evolution of SERPs along with additional steps for validity and fact-checking, but let’s leave that topic for another day. 

In this blog, we have two main surveys that were conducted, both with over 250 participants. One is our commonplace breakdown of which SERPs are the most appealing to consumers as of January of 2021. The other is a new survey asking if Facebook, Twitter, and Google are altering and/or suppressing information on their platforms from a general standpoint or a social/political standpoint. I felt these questions were important to explore in order to get an idea of how long it will be before people discontinue either pursuing the information on these platforms or being receptive to the information being presented to them while engaging on the platform. 

The Survey Results

Here are the following results, citing 1 as agreeing least and 10 as agreeing most.

Each final score of 1–10 is a weighted average of the respondents’ Average (40%), Mode (30%), and Median (30%).

On a scale of 1–10, how much do you feel that this platform alters or suppresses general information that is presented to you?

Facebook – 6.56
Twitter – 5.77
Google – 5.48

On a scale of 1–10, how much do you feel that this platform alters or suppresses social/political information that is presented to you?

Facebook – 6.41
Twitter – 6.26
Google – 5.09

On a scale 1-10, do you feel like you will be LESS likely to trust information that you see on this platform in 2021?

Facebook – 7.65
Twitter – 5.17
Google – 4.96

Dissecting the Survey Results

There are a handful of takeaways from this survey:

  • Most people feel that the alteration/suppression of information on Facebook is fairly consistent, regardless of it being socially or politically inclined. I personally feel that isn’t a good sign for how people perceive Facebook as a whole, since politically charged content is objectively more inflammatory and damaging than most other social topics. This aligns with the staggering number of 7.65 for the average response of people’s lack of faith in the information on Facebook in 2021. The most common response for the question “Do you feel you will be LESS likely to trust information on Facebook in 2021?” was 10 (strongly agree), with 16.5% of all respondents. Nearly half of respondents, 42.5% , answered 8 or above. 
  • When asked about suppression of information on Twitter, there was a clear uptick between the alteration/suppression of general information vs. social/political information. I felt this one would be a bit more obvious considering the disclaimers and banned accounts of political personalities in recent weeks. 
  • Even with the agree-leaning responses for Twitter, the faith in the platform was relatively neutral going into 2021, far less volatile than Facebook.
  • Google saw the inverse trend from social platforms; participants felt that Google altered and suppressed general information and results, but when they were specifically social or political, it was practically neutral. These respondents evidently felt that Google may have a truly neutral stance when it came to the presentation of information that would otherwise be controlled more often in social media settings.
  • In regards to people’s trust in Google in 2021, the sentiment was virtually neutral, which is a good segue into the second part of this blog.

If consumers don’t have faith in the channels we promote, grow, and advertise in, what is the point of continuing to push for them? Though Twitter has never been a “go to” for the majority of marketing mixes for law firms, Facebook has certainly been on the forefront for lawyers and legal marketing gurus alike for years now, from both a paid and organic standpoint. What would you say to the future of an entire platform if over 30% of the country’s population thinks it serves a completely biased audience with the antithesis of this group’s personal agenda and fundamental social beliefs? Would it depend on the demos you’ve been specifying, or would it completely uproot everything you’ve been working towards?

Since Google is maintaining the status quo for the average person’s perception of unbiased results as a whole, it’s time to move on to the actual user preference of the results. In the second survey, we break down the typical SERPs as we see them from short-tailed keyword searches in most markets. Our survey presents the following graphic, with 1 (Local Service Ads), 2 (Google Ads), 3 (Google My Business/3-Pack Local Results), and 4 (Organic Results):

We are essentially asking what type of result they’d be most likely to click based on the faith that the result would provide the best experience, answer their question, and help them retain the best law firm for their case. We also asked what result they’d be the least likely to click, and you’ll be pleased to know that it wasn’t simply that “1” won out because it was the first result or “4” lost because it was the last result.

Most Likely

LSA 82 20.50%
Google Ads 67 16.75%
Maps 152 38.00%
Organic 90 22.50%

Least Likely

LSA 69 17.25%
Google Ads 163 40.75%
Maps 75 18.75%
Organic 75 18.75%

The biggest difference in this survey from one I did back around August or September of 2020 is the adoption of the LSA (Local Service Ads). When I conducted a similar survey just after the major rollout of LSAs in most markets, only about 10% of respondents said that LSAs would be a “Most Likely” click for them. The sudden appearance of this result was not adopted yet and wasn’t trustworthy enough to garner a strong reception. After almost 6 months, it seems that people are coming around.

With the introduction of LSAs now, especially with the headshot, the Google Screen verification and checkmark, and years in business, Google Ads are now wedged between two types of results that showcase so much verified and trustworthy information that they seem gaudy and misleading by comparison. By LSAs adopting such dependable traits and Google Maps touting renowned reviews, I am not surprised to see Google Ads being the least likely to get clicks, by far, even with four prominent positions. 

Maps is stronger than ever with even more augmented results, but there’s something unfortunate to be said about general organic SERPs. They require a scroll-through, the most far down they’ve ever been, and have dropped their “most likely” to 22.5%. Together with Maps, they are still well over half of organic results, but it’s going to require longer and longer-tailed searches for organic SERPs to maintain relevance. 

Stay Ahead of Critical Updates with Industry Experts

At Market My Market, we’re all too familiar with Google changes affecting marketing results in the blink of an eye, and we’re usually among the first to know. By partnering with legal marketing experts, you can take measures to protect your marketing results and ensure your law firm remains competitive during uncertain times. If you’re interested in learning more about how we help law firms improve their SEO and expand their businesses, contact us for a free consultation.