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Interview with an Expert: What Should Your Law Firm be Doing with PPC and SEM?

Consultwebs recently sat down with Paul Julius, our resident expert on digital advertising, PPC and all things SEM, to discuss some important topics for our law firms.

We hope you find the information he shared helpful to your firm. CW: The terms SEM and PPC are used a lot in legal marketing circles, but there seems to be some confusion around them on occasion. Could you define what those terms mean?

PJ: SEM stands for search engine marketing, which some people use meaning pay-per-click advertising, but it’s really evolved into a broader approach including any spot that you can buy on the web—AdWords PPC, Bing, as well as paid social media, or a direct buy where you negotiate to show your ads on a particular site, like a local news website, paid content marketing. We approach it like anything that is a paid marketing option online falls under SEM. So, SEM is paid, and by contrast, SEO (search engine optimization) is “organic,” where you are investing in a longer-term presence to try to get better visibility in organic search results.
PPC is a part of SEM, and PPC stands for pay-per-click. That refers to the billing method that a lot of platforms use where they charge you for every time your ad gets clicked, regardless of how many times it is shown. Then there is CPM (cost-perimpression), where you pay a rate per thousand impressions of your ad, regardless of how many times it is clicked.
So PPC is a part of SEM and involves anything where you pay for each click.

CW: Lots of law firm marketers have said that PPC is way too expensive, seeing pricing in certain markets or practice areas that is well above $100 per click. If a firm doesn’t have a massive budget, is PPC even worthwhile for them?

PJ: I think it depends. First, yes, a lot of people say that the clicks are expensive, but you need to keep in mind that there is a lot of intent behind a lot of those expensive keywords. So you need to determine if it’s worth the cost to get those people to your landing page. You always have to look at, “What is our ROI?” You don’t want to be running at a loss, although some firms also have the perspective that getting cases that competitors won’t get might be worth running at a reasonable loss. It all depends on your goals.
Also, there are different kinds of things that you can do with PPC. Some PPC can get expensive, but there are some options that are less expensive. You can do display advertising on a pay-per-click basis, for example. And you can get creative with a lower budget. You can hyper-target your locations. You can do some ad scheduling where you only run ads on certain days or certain parts of a day. Those are a couple of ways to work on a lower budget, but that’s not necessarily ideal.
It’s important to keep in mind that the best PPC campaigns are the ones that have the budget to run consistently. You never know when that prospect will be looking for help, and so you want your firm to always have that presence. If you have unlimited budget, yes, you can dominate in PPC, but you don’t need to spend a ton to get some results.

CW: If a law firm has never done anything with PPC before, and they are wanting to try it for themselves, how do they get started?

PJ: If you don’t know anything about PPC, I’d suggest getting AdWords certified. It’s free. There are a bunch of videos to get you started with the basics: how to set up a campaign, what all the different components are, the keywords, the ad groups, ad extensions, everything.
With the legal industry, I’m a bit torn. There is no substitute for experience, but a firm could spend a lot of money just figuring things out. I would really recommend spending the time to do some research beyond just what AdWords certification will give you. Look around online. There are some other resources too. Certified Knowledge by Brad Geddes, PPC Hero, those are pretty good. I think once you get through that stuff and are comfortable with the basics, you can get into it.
But, set yourself some limits for both time and budget. For example, say we’ll give this 30 days and a budget of $4,000. Then keep an eye on things and see what happens. Google has good support as well, so if you have questions, you can get answers.

CW: Following up on that, what are some landmines to avoid when getting started with PPC?

PJ: A few things. Watch out for single-word keywords like “lawyer,” or “attorney” or like “Boston lawyer.” You could get into a lot of trouble with that. You’ll see a lot of volume, but most of it will probably be irrelevant to the practice areas you are going after and you could waste a lot of money.
Don’t put too many keywords into an ad group. Every keyword term in an ad group should be pretty relevant to each other. You don’t want to have more than 10 or 20 keywords in an ad group because it’s going to be tough to write ad copy that is relevant to that specific group. That can affect your quality score and what you end up paying for your clicks. A low-quality score can cause you to pay a lot more.
Lastly, make sure your landing page for every campaign is driving the actions that you’re looking for. You probably don’t want to point ads to your homepage or your “personal injury lawyer” page. You just paid for someone to click on your ad and come through to a page, sometimes at a pretty high price. You need to do everything you can on that page to get them to take the action that you want them to take, most likely to contact you. Your firm’s homepage or practice-area pages may not have all of that. A big red flag is if you’re getting clicks and not getting anyone to contact you. You probably want to take a look at your landing page and make some changes.
You can be much more direct, have more of a sense of urgency and use the page to alleviate some of the fears that people may have in contacting you. For example, you can say, “Free, no-obligation case consultation,” answer some of their questions, and include some strong calls to action that you may not want on other pages of your site.

CW: What’s the biggest mistake a law firm can make with PPC?

PJ: Not paying attention. If a firm doesn’t track conversions, meaning they don’t know if people are contacting them because of their PPC ads, or any other marketing efforts for that matter. If you don’t know if your campaign is working, you can’t make adjustments to make it better, and you wouldn’t know if you were wasting money. So, that’s the biggest mistake.
Also, some firms use the “set it and forget it” approach. That’s where they set up a campaign and then just let it run without checking on it. If you aren’t monitoring your spending, your different ad groups, your quality score, results and everything else, you can’t improve it, and you won’t see if you’re wasting your budget. You have to stay on top of it.

CW: Is there a type of SEM that every law firm should be doing, in your opinion?

PJ: Every firm’s needs and goals are different, but if there is one thing that comes closest to “every firm should be doing this,” it’s probably brand protection. What I mean by that is bidding on your firm’s own name in AdWords, for example.
What can happen is that a prospect may be looking for your firm, search for it specifically, and then see an ad for another law firm in their search results. Keep in mind, very often the first four results are ad results, and on mobile it’s pretty much all you see until you scroll. Especially if you are not running an ad for your branded terms, they may see another firm’s ad, click on it and hit another law firm’s site, and you may have just lost a case. If your ad is there at the top, and they were searching for you, that’s protecting your brand in those results.
That might not apply to all law firms and may not be completely necessary, but it is something to be aware of.
Remarketing, also, is something firms should look into to show people ads after they leave the firm’s website to keep your firm in front of them. It may not be applicable for all firms, based on their practice areas or their situation, but it’s something to explore.

CW: Right now, what is the biggest opportunity for law firms in SEM?
PJ: Facebook. But, you need to have an active Facebook page to make the paid side of Facebook worthwhile. Facebook has its own algorithm to see how active your page is, how many likes you have and everything, and that will affect your ads’ performance. The better your organic presence on Facebook, the better your ads will do too. If you have a dormant Facebook page, you won’t do as well as if you have an active page where people are engaged.
There are lots of different types of ads and ways to boost your exposure on Facebook. They have carousel ads, they have ads where people can fill out a form right on Facebook and never even have to go to a landing page. And the ways that you can target people on Facebook are much more refined than you are able to get with other platforms.
With targeting, for example, if your firm was looking for employment discrimination cases against a particular employer, you could target people who currently work there or used to work there. If it was only in a couple of states, you could target those states specifically. You can target by gender, education level, job title, interests and other information that’s available in Facebook, to narrow your audience to much more likely candidates for the cases that you’re looking for.

CW: Any other advice for law firms that can help them with their paid online marketing?

PJ: It’s important to note, and this may be obvious, that SEM is a “here and now” kind of strategy. You are paying for a presence on the web to get leads, most times, and when you stop paying, that presence stops too. With SEO, it’s a longer-term play, where you are laying the foundation to establish authority and get traffic from organic search results to get leads. It takes a bit longer, of course, so there are advantages to each approach.
Ultimately, a strong balance between SEM and SEO is what I see works best. When a firm is really strong organically in some practice area search terms, but is still working on getting rankings up in another area, that is when they can use AdWords to get opportunities with those kinds of cases. And definitely make sure that the ROI is there for whatever you’re doing online.

Paul Julius

Paul Julius has an extensive background in Web design and online marketing. He brings a unique combination of skills and perspectives to his role as a Digital Advertising Lead with Consultwebs. Paul is responsible for setting up, managing and maintaining all PPC campaigns for our clients, including campaign strategy, keyword research, bids and the analysis and reporting of results.

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesMarketing

About the Author: Paul Julius has an extensive background in Web design and online marketing. He brings a unique combination of skills and perspectives to his role as a Digital Advertising Lead with Consultwebs. Paul is responsible for setting up, managing and maintaining all PPC campaigns for our clients, including campaign strategy, keyword research, bids and the analysis and reporting of results.

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