At the end of 2016, we predicted that we would see a continued need for law firms to increase the proportion of paid advertising in their marketing mix. And since then, we’ve only received confirmation of that prediction with each one of Google’s changes.
We had heard rumors that Google was going to start including pay per click ads in the results for a local search, but it wasn’t until even a month after we published our prediction article that we started to see these show all over in actual searches for law firm terms. This is just one reason why it is more important than ever to integrate paid ads into your digital marketing strategy. And there’s more.
Google Ads take over Mobile real estate
Previously, Google started allowing longer ads and including things like a law firm reviews and address links in ads. This allowed ads to take up a good amount of real estate on the screen, especially mobile devices. In fact, on mobile, if you have two well written ads with an extension or two included it will take up most of the real estate of the screen, requiring a user to scroll to get to organic results.
See the screenshot below:
You can see that Gregory S. Young is not taking advantage of the extended ad real estate that Google now offers, unlike OAL Law, whose ad takes up the equivalent of 8 lines. Furthermore, note that this part of the search results, just ads, took up the entire screen.
In 2016, you would have scrolled down from a search with local intent like this one to see a map with three listings highlighted and their detailed information below, and these would have been organic search results.
Looking at this second screenshot, you can see that Google has yet another ad, Jones Kahan Law (although not using all the real estate they could) then under the map, instead of the top local organic search, you see an ad for Casper & Casper.
We happen to have a client in this area, so we have been tracking this search term for awhile. I can tell you that Casper & Casper was NOT ranking in the local
pack for this search previously, but now, using paid advertising, they are first. Unlike some predictions from last year, Google did not drop one of the 3 pack listings and replace it with an ad. As you can see in the third screenshot, they added the ad on top, below the map, but still show the top 3 organic local search results for this search. And unfortunately, when working through this example, I had to scroll up with my thumb 3 times just to see the organic search results.
Longer Ads Get More Clicks
As GNGF is a certified Google Adwords Partner, we get access to these features in beta before they are fully rolled out and therefore we have played with these different types of ads. We have seen that these longer ads, especially when using the right ad extensions, and the local search pack ads are working for clients. They are generating clicks, leads, and ultimately clients for law firms. We believe, that because of the prominence of the ads in local searches on mobile devices they are getting more clicks than we would typically see even two years ago.
Google Ads also dominate search results on desktop
One more thing to note, is that Google introduced a standard search result on mobile and desktop. In the desktop screenshot below you can see that Google does not have the ads on the right side like they used to. They are now on the top and the bottom of the search results.
Depending on the search and the competitiveness of the ad spending, you will see two, three, or even four results above any organic search results. Then at the bottom, you will see the remaining few ads. In this example, you can see that Jones Kahan and Levy Law Offices are taking advantage of the longer ads and the ad extensions and will most likely get significantly more clicks than the smaller ads by Young and Donahey. But, again, unless using a very large desktop (this screenshot was taken on a standard 13 in Macbook air), while the user can at least see the map here, the user still has to scroll to see the organic listings.
Is LOCAL SEO Useless Now?
What does this means to the law firm that has been steadily investing in Local SEO? When you combine this information with the fact that over 50% of searches (and growing) happen on a mobile device, the majority of the competitive keywords for a law firm result in search result pages where you don’t even see an organic listing unless you scroll. If you are ranking well, maybe you are even the first result in the local pack, you may not even be seen on the initial search result on a mobile device or even desktop without someone scrolling down. This does NOT mean you should stop investing in search engine optimization strategies. But we are now recommending that law firms add some dollars to their overall budget or shifting some dollars from other marketing strategies (like print or, yes, even SEO) over to invest in more paid advertising. Unfortunately for your digital agency (us included) the big winner in this scenario is Google, as a good part of your PPC budget will go directly to them, but if you are trying to grow leads at your law firm, we have to utilize the data we have to provide the best direction.
Good news for law firms just starting to market their firm online?
On a positive note, if you are just starting to ramp up your online marketing, you can outrank someone (via an ad) in the local search results just by doing paid advertising. For our clients that are just getting started, we recommend a three pronged strategy, dominate your organic branded search, use paid advertising to rank quickly (via an ad), and begin a slow and steady effort to organically rank on longer tail competitive terms, especially those that do not result in a local search pack result.
“On a positive note, if you are just starting to ramp up your online marketing, you can outrank someone (via an ad) in the local search results just by doing paid advertising.”
Another interesting finding is that our data has been consistently showing that as client’s invest in paid advertising along with SEO, leads from paid ads increase, but surprisingly, leads tracked back to organic search traffic also increase. We have some theories as to why this is and we will discuss more fully in a future article.
We didn’t even get to discuss the paid advertising landscape that is quickly maturing on Facebook and LinkedIn, and the continued growth of Avvo driving traffic to law firm websites. I will have to save that for a future article too.
In Summary: Our prediction became true faster than I would have predicted and we now strongly recommend beginning to invest in a paid advertising strategy if you are not already doing so.