I read an article last week by Kashmir Hill on Forbes.com with great interest about a subtle yet significant ruling by a Wisconson Judge — the article is titled: Judge Suggests It’s Okay For Advertisers To Place Google Ads On Your Name.
“We already have a little legal protection for our names and identities when it comes to advertising, called the “right to publicity.” (Essentially, it protects our right to endorse products.) Internet law professor Eric Goldman told me at the time that there was already an ongoing lawsuit about the issue. Two personal injury lawyers in Wisconsin sued a competitor that had placed an ad for its law firm on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing searches of their names. (I’m kind of impressed that the competitor found a digital alternative to ambulance chasing: competitor search traffic chasing.)
Goldman blogged an update on that lawsuit today. It’s not good news for anyone hoping to sue over a Google ad…
‘A Wisconsin court has said that a keyword advertiser didn’t violate publicity rights by buying a person’s name for keyword advertising. Although the propriety of keyword advertising on a third party trademark has been hotly contested since at least 2004, I believe this is the first ruling addressing the publicity rights issue.’
Judge Kahn then came up with a real world analogy for the competition over digital space:
‘In the development of commerce in the United States, a frequent method of competition has been for one business to start up in close physical proximity to its competitor. This is common knowledge. A Chevrolet dealership in the post-World War II era would open shop on a large lot at the edge of town. Within a year or two, a Ford dealership was across the street. McDonalds may operate alone in a commercial district for a while, but before long, Wendy‘s or Burger King pops up nearby. Cannon & Dunphy, S.C. would have every right to open an office next door to Habush Habush & Rottier, S.C. This is not in dispute…
Defendants argue that their use of the plaintiffs‘ names as key-words is a present day approach to such location competition. Although the defendants are not physically appearing at the business address of plaintiffs, their names show up when potential clients are seeking the plaintiffs.’
I’m not on board with that analogy. A better one might be if attorneys from Cannon & Dunphy set up a little stand in front of Habush’s door to try to nab clients as they walked in.
Judge Kahn decided to dismiss the case.”
I agree with Kashmir Hill and don’t really agree with the judge’s analogy. In fact, I worked at a digital marketing company back in early 2000 and being one of the leaders in the space, we found out that a couple competitors were bidding on our name. Working hard to build a great reputation with clients and the industry took many years and as Kashmir Hill states above, we definitely felt like someone was standing in front of our office trying to take the clients. After some emails to google we were told that it is not recommended practice and at the time was against the terms of service for someone to bid on another companies’ trademark. Armed with that, we sent a couple very polite letters to the competitors in question and they ceased bidding on our keywords. Looking at the google terms of service, I do not see this limit anymore – in fact according to the google support forums it now seems to be OK and there is no recourse within google for this.
Based on this new ruling, what’s a leading law firm or attorney in their market to do based on this court ruling and other similar one’s (like this case from last year: Rosetta Stone suit vs Google dismissed )
Ignore the ruling and focus on the right search engine traffic
At GNGF we suggest you ignore these ramifications altogether and focus on your organic search results, that is, getting your Google Places listing and/or other links about your law firm to the top section of the organic results on the search engine pages.
While we often manage pay per click (PPC) campaigns for our clients, we don’t push PPC as the best way to gain new clients for a law firm. It is one piece of the pie but often gets too much focus and a disproportionate amount of marketing dollars for the overall value.
If you look at all the different studies over the past 5 or 6 years the data is overwhelming that organic search results get a significant amount more of clicks than the ads on a search result page. Anywhere from 70%-85% of the total clicks go to the organic rankings depending on the study. And an iProspect study found that 72% of Google searches feel that organic results are more relevant to their queries than paid results.
That’s good news if you are a savvy attorney who invests time and budget toward search engine optimization activities. In fact, if you invest enough resources to get to the first page and even the top three listings, then according to a new study from Optify (via searchenginewatch) you will get over 58% of the traffic.
That is very compelling data and supports other research from the past 10 years like:
- Often Internet users rarely go beyond the top 30 search engine listings. (Forrester Research, 2000)
- 90% of Internet search engine traffic goes to the top 30 results. (Forrester Research, 2000)
- Web users typically visited only the first three results from a query, with one in five searchers spending 60 seconds or less on a linked web document. Penn State University, 2003)
- Organic (non-paid listings) search engine results found that study participants viewed the first three positions 100%, the 4th at 85%. Positions 5 through 10 required scrolling down to view and resulted in 60% to 20% views. (Eye-tracking Study, Enquiro, Did-it and Eyetools, 2005)
- 75% of search engine users click on the first link of interest. (Eye-tracking Study, Enquiro, Did-it and Eyetools, 2005)
Therefore, if you are already wise and investing in Search Engine Marketing efforts as a strong mix of your marketing budget, then our advice is not to stoop to the level of those squatting on the successful law firm brand you have created, but to continue providing great value to your clients and continue to focus on ways to ensure your firm sits at the top of the google search results.
These days it has become easier to do that within a local market as we discuss in a previous posts like: WHY Google Places dominates Local Search and Why do other Law Firms appear in front of me in Google Search Results?
If you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to your Law Firm’s Search Engine Marketing / Search Engine Optimization, then be sure to check out our special report all about attorney internet marketing titled: “Are You Wasting Your Hard-Earned Advertising Dollars Every Month? How Attorneys Blow It With Traditional Advertising & How You Can Dominate Page #1 of Google”