We have always been very upfront that it takes time to see search engine optimization (SEO) strategies drive enough traffic to start to see a return on the investment.
In fact, it can take up to 12 months or more for some parts of the country and practice areas. Our data shows that this law firm SEO investment certainly pays off over the long term, but many law firms ask what they can do to speed things up and get business from the internet faster.
That is when we tell people that paid advertising online works when done the right way.
Paid advertising can be paying for a listing in a directory service (like Avvo, Laywers.com, or FindLaw) or it can be a more complicated use of Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, or even geo-targeted mobile display ads.
As soon as I say Google AdWords, I always get a few eye rolls.
Many people have been sold the Google AdWords promise of instant business. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many end up with huge bills and few leads. It is very frustrating to see the number of times a law firm business was taken advantage of by a misleading salesperson.
Because adding paid campaigns to your marketing mix can mean an influx of leads—but only if they are managed correctly.
We have taken over many Google AdWords campaigns for clients and have provided even more consulting calls to review Google AdWords campaigns for law firms. Here are the areas where we commonly see issues arise.
The Google AdWords Salesperson
A Google salesperson calls and tells a law firm that they can simply use AdWords to quickly grow their business from online searches. The expectation is that the law firm partner/business owner will go in and set up their AdWords campaigns, sometimes with the guidance of a “Google Representative”, and then run and manage the campaigns on their own.
This is only going to be successful in one instance: if someone at the law firm dives deep into learning and understanding how to correctly set up, and proactively manage Google AdWords campaigns. To be successful, you need many months—or more like years—of hands-on experience and mistakes.
If you don’t have that kind of time, this is set up to fail for a number of reasons.
You are buying from a “Google Representative” which is either a low-level sales position at Google or an outsourced person (yes Google outsources some of this) who gets a commission to sign up businesses.
Many of these reps are not evil and have great intentions, but they should know that legal keywords in Google are some of the most competitive in the system. You have to run an extremely careful and high-quality campaign to win on Google AdWords in the legal industry.
Then you have this “Google Representative” help set up your campaign. They may be an expert at selling AdWords, but they are probably not an expert on creating and managing a properly optimized campaign. It’s like taking your car to be fixed by the person who sold you the car instead of the certified and trained mechanic.
It’s easy to set up a Google AdWords campaign. You can see your ad showing up in the top spot right away, but if you are getting the wrong clicks that don’t lead to conversions, you will burn through your budget (and sometimes more) with nothing to show for it.
Note: This is not to say that Google representatives are misleading you here. We just believe that getting a tiny bit of help setting up then being expected to manage something as complex as Google Ads campaigns means you’re destined to waste a lot of money.
In fact, as a Google Partner agency, we have access to a few Google representatives, and they are awesome! One is there to solely help provide best practices on how to market on the Google AdWords platform. We also have access to other experts in specific Google AdWords areas that we can bounce questions about specific campaigns with. But this is much different than someone who is both selling and helping you set up a campaign.
You get clicks but there is no conversion focus on the website.
We see many AdWords campaigns that aren’t horrible—they are set up correctly enough that they should be driving some quality leads to the firm, but we hear that the firm has received no leads from the campaign.
Upon closer inspection, we see that every Google Ad is sending the user to the home page of the website. Often these homepages have few, if any, conversion elements.
You should provide a conversion opportunity for a person clicking on your ad in at least three (and a half) ways:
1. Phone Number
yes, they searched online, but many people will still pick up the phone to talk about their legal issue. I am surprised by the number of websites that still make it hard for me to find the phone number. Put it in big text in the upper right of your website.
Provide a form (above the fold is best) for someone to fill out their information to submit to you online. Think about it—if someone is at work and searching for their legal issue, they may not want to pick up the phone to talk to someone. They need a more private method to contact you. Give them a form so they can provide you with their name, email, phone number, and overview of their legal issue. Then when you get the form in your inbox, call them immediately! Quick ethics tip: limit the characters they can enter in the form so you don’t get entire essays that could provide enough detail about a case to impact conflict.
3. Live Chat/Text
We are in a 24-hour instant answer world now. At any time of the day, I can ask my phone what the weather will be tomorrow, text to have a pizza delivered, or jump on a video call with a doctor to talk about some flu symptoms I am having. The consumer expectation is that there is someone there to answer their question right when they search. Having a live chat feature on your website alleviates this instant answer bias. If someone can click on your website, feel that they provided their issue and someone heard them, and schedule to talk further with an attorney later that day or the next day, that person will likely stop searching.
However, if they go to a website and there is no live chat, even if there is a form, some people will bounce back to the search and check out the next law firm down the list. You don’t have to man the live chat. In fact, we recommend outsourcing that control to a 24-hour service that will send you instant emails or even text message upon completing a chat (full disclosure, yes, we sell a service that does this). Our data shows that 25% of leads to law firm websites that we manage come in after standard business hours. Don’t miss those potential leads.
Now the half of the three and a half tips:
3.5 Make sure all of the above works amazingly on your mobile responsive website.
When someone searches on a mobile device, make sure the phone number is able to be clicked so that the phone automatically calls your firm. Make sure the form is usable and is easy to find on the mobile phone, and that your live chat feature is visible but doesn’t take over the mobile screen with a pop-up.
Google says over 50% of all searches are mobile and our data shows a similar number. Law firm websites we manage range between 40%–60% of visits from mobile devices depending on practice area.
NOTE: If someone calls you to tell you that ‘your ad campaigns aren’t optimized correctly’, ask for more detail.
Google does not share your information with anyone so if someone implies they have access to your data you can report them.
The representative that handles your billboard, radio, website, Yellow Pages, etc., is also handling your Google Ads
Quite often we see companies with expertise in specific areas of marketing add in digital advertising to their services mix.
While some are truly expanding their services by hiring a team or merging with another company, most seem to just be selling an outsourced packaged service. Or worse, they sell the ad service and then have their current team, which doesn’t know what they are doing, run the campaigns.
Some of these companies’ practices really, really burn us up because we know how much waste of marketing money and resources it caused the law firm, such as:
1. Hiding what is spent on the actual media
There are too many service providers who sell ‘digital ads’ as a package for a fixed price. Often, we see something like $1000 or $2000 dollars a month, but sometimes as low as $500 per month. But in reviewing reporting, and even when we tell law firms to ask for more, their agency refuses to provide what money was actually spent on the ad media vs. what is a management fee.
These service providers buy very inexpensive keywords that drive less than desirable traffic, if any, to the website. It results in little to no leads, but they are able to show an ad running in the top few spots to make the law firm feel like something is happening. It actually goes completely against Google partner agency guidelines to not disclose the media spend vs. the management fee – see the actual policy here.
2. Reporting leads as a result of their digital ads, but we can’t find ads running to the clients’ actual website.
In these instances, the service provider is purchasing ads to a central generic website about the practice area, then collecting the lead information and passing that on to their regional clients.
For larger companies that were able to sell services to dozens and dozens of very similar law firms in the past, like the Yellow Pages, for example, this allows them to get around the automatic conflict of managing Google Ads accounts for more than 3–4 similar businesses per region.
Think about it, depending on the search there are only 3–7 ads on a search result page. If you sell to more than 3–7 clients, you are instantly relegating one of them to page two and therefore less success.
If your service provider works this way, you think you are paying for ads, but you’re getting zero brand recognition for your firm and the traffic does not go to the website you worked very hard to build.
Furthermore, since most law firms don’t even realize this is happening, you are not in control of the website the ads lead to, therefore you’ll have no idea if there are ethics violations. You could be responsible for the content they put on the site without ever knowing it existed.
3. They don’t control your website—therefore they can’t be successful.
To be successful with Google Ads you need to be tracking as much data as possible. Based on that data you should be continuously split testing ads and landing pages.
If the service provider you purchase digital advertising through does not control your website and doesn’t ask to work with your web team to get pages added, then they are severely limited in the data and ability to optimize your campaign.
I am amazed at the amount of Google Ads campaigns we look at that are not connected with the firm’s Google Analytics account or don’t have any conversion tracking on the website that feeds back to Google Ads data. In our opinion, this demonstrates a total lack of care for the success of a campaign since they’re not even trying to implement practices that would turn ad clicks into leads.
4. Hurting your SEO and brand by creating their own website.
Similar to the above issue, we have found that some service providers create what they call a ‘microsite’ but which is really just a thin website that pretty much copies your existing website.
We have seen providers copy the look and feel of the existing website and even copy some of the content.
The problem is that most of them don’t understand search engine optimization. Having a second site that gets indexed by Google—especially if it contains much of the exact same content—can cause confusion to the search engine algorithm.
And causing the search engine algorithm to be confused usually leads to less ranking and less traffic to your main website.
NOTE: If the service provider you’re working with makes it impossible to see the analytics of your media spend vs. their management fee, the actual ad performance from Google, or login to your Google Ads account, you can report them.
Any of these practices violate Google’s agency guidelines.
You gave up too quickly
Maybe you were running the Google Ads account on your own, didn’t set your limits correctly and burned through thousands of dollars before you realized what was happening.
Or, maybe you signed up with an agency for thousands of dollars a month for what sounded like ‘instant leads’ from Google Ads and didn’t see any leads for two months.
In either case, many law firms in these circumstances turn off their campaigns and chalk it up to, “Google Ads doesn’t work for me.”
Google Ads, like most online, data-based marketing efforts, takes time to dial in. At GNGF, as a certified Partner agency, we are very good at Google Ads and we only create these campaigns for law firms.
We know what it takes for a law firm to be successful with Google Ads, but we always tell our clients that they need to budget for a minimum of 3 months ad spend before they start seeing consistent leads coming in the (virtual) door. Depending on the city/region, combined with the practice area(s), combined with the existing competition, we need to consistently tweak every campaign we run.
The ultimate goal we have with most law firms is to continually optimize ad campaigns to grow leads while working to continually reduce the cost per lead and ultimately working down to a strong ROI (return on investment) on the cost of acquisition of new clients to the firm.
This takes constant testing and continual monthly optimization (or weekly for large campaigns) to get to a comfortable balance of the number of leads vs. the cost to get the leads.
Too many law firms pay what we call the ‘Google Tax’ by jumping in, spending a bunch of money, whether on your own or with an agency and then jumping out before their campaigns have had time to be properly optimized.
Yes, you CAN get law firm leads with paid advertising
Google Ads is a viable way to drive new leads from the internet to your law firm. However, we believe that most firms should not be running Google Ads on their own.
Focus on providing great legal services and charging a fair fee for those services as much as possible and let agencies that spend their time and effort working on active campaigns and staying abreast of the latest Google Ads changes help drive the leads to your firm.
But you need to be careful who you choose to manage your campaigns. Please, at a minimum, use a Google Partner Agency. To become a partner, multiple agency staff members must be certified in different Google Ads subjects and the agency needs to have proven experience running large campaigns.
We would also argue that choosing a Google Partner Agency that only works with law firms provides extra benefit.
There are a few agencies that meet that criteria. From our many years of experience in the legal marketing industry, we know most of these agencies personally, so we can assure you that there are quality law firm marketing agencies out there that run Google Ads campaigns correctly and transparently.
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