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The world is flushing an estimated $6 billion plus down the drain each year in wasted ad spending online. This money is wasted on ads that never get seen, on fraudulent views, and on visits by bots that are counted a views, and on clicks that do not benefit the purchaser of the ads in any way.

If you are an attorney and you are paying for pay-per-click, remarketing, video advertising, banner advertising and any other kind of consumable online ad, chances are that you are bleeding money. The probability is that your marketing dollars are deployed inefficiently and in a way that will not be sustainable over the long term.

At LawLytics, we have long advocated building lasting marketing assets rather than simply spending money. Our argument is that if your law practice relies on spending money on consumable online ads, your practice wasting time and money that could be spent building sustainable assets instead.

Law firms should not rely on pay per click advertising alone

According to Google, 56.1% of all ad impressions go unseen, and the average ad publisher has just over 50% viewability (when at least 1/2 of the ad is visible on the screen for a minimum of 1 second). There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  1. People use ad-blockers. Nobody likes looking at ads. There’s enough clutter in our lives, and enough noise to filter through to get to the signal anyways. The technology exists to prevent me from having to look at online ads while I’m on the web. The technology is free. I use it except when researching pieces like this blog, and when showing our attorneys what their pay per click ads are really doing. If you want to stop seeing ads too, head over to Adblock Plus (you may be amazed at how much better you feel not filtering through hundreds or thousands of marketing messages a day).
  2. Ads appear below the fold. If the viewer doesn’t scroll down (i.e., they click on an ad that is outbidding yours), they never see your ad.
  3. Websites play games with the ads they serve. Bad actors who are accepted as ad publishers serve your ads on garbage sites. They play the numbers game that a certain percentage of the ads that they display will get clicked. It’s a game or arbitrage the details of which are beyond the scope of this post.
  4. Mobile devices display ads differently. Depending on your area of practice, it’s highly probable that 50% or more of your potential new clients are using mobile devices to search the web, and yes, to hire attorneys.

What every lawyer needs to understand about their pay per click advertising

Let’s start with some very facts about your law firm’s pay per click advertising.

  1. Your competitors are clicking on your ads. Each time they do they are costing you money. There is nothing to stop them from doing this. They don’t care that they are costing you money. In fact, some of the do it on purpose to level the playing field, drain your ad budget, or just to stick it to you. How many competitors of yours are clicking on your ads?
  2. Marketers are clicking on your ads. Ever wonder what the biggest indicator that you are a good target for somebody who would cold-call your law firm trying to sell you online marketing? At LawLytics, we believe that it’s the fact that you are already spending money on disposable advertising. Cold-calling marketers know that you will continue advertising, and they know that you’ve got budget. It’s easier for them to convince you that you should switch to them from your current provider than it is for them to convince somebody with no advertising budget to have one. So if you are spending money on online ads, when a marketer calls you (or sends you a spam email) there’s a chance you have paid at least the cost of one click for the privilege of being solicited.
  3. Even your marketing agency may be clicking on your ad. Maybe it’s just to make sure that the ads are working (oops, that just cost you another $50, oh well). And maybe it’s far less innocent than that.

The point is, that not all clicks on your ads are valuable to you. Some waste your time. And they all cost you money. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Where your law firm’s online ads are displayed matters.

The basics of buying online advertising are very simple. Anybody can do it, and if the scope of the ad purchase is controlled, and the ads displayed strategically and with restraint, there is a decent chance of minimizing the bleeding, and maybe even getting a ROI. Unfortunately most attorneys don’t use best practices, and neither do most vendors who hold themselves out as pay per click management firms.

Before you read on, please watch this video to if you are not familiar with Google AdWords Match Types, including broad match, broad match modifier and exact match.

It is easier for both attorneys and for marketing agencies to do a scorched-earth type of campaign, displaying the law firm’s ad whenever certain keywords are searched, regardless of the context. This can create a lot of waste. Suppose you bid on the key word “lawyers” without applying filters. Done poorly, your ad will display with many unwanted search queries.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor anybody at LawLytics is saying or implying anything negative about any of the law firms or attorneys whose websites appear in the organic or pay per click ads depicted in the images below. The purpose of the images are solely to illustrate what can happen when a law firm targets general keywords in their advertising. The annotations on the screen (the maroon boxes and arrows) were added after the fact for illustrative purposes.

Is there anybody out there searching for a lawyer who juggles? Sure, it’s somewhat possible that this could be a criteria for somebody looking for a lawyer for a very specific case. But it’s certainly not a big-money key-phrase, and I can’t imagine that any of the lawyers who are offering to pay for clicks to their website for this particular search are actually targeting searches for “lawyers who juggle.” Chances are they are broadly targeting the word “lawyers” and if somebody types in “lawyers who juggle” and happens to click on their ad and cost them money, well, it’s a collateral expense.

In the image below, the results in the maroon boxes are pay-per-click ads, which will cost each website owner money if they are clicked (no ads were clicked in the making of this blog post). None of the copy in the ads appears to specifically target juggling lawyers, or lawyers who handle juggling-related cases. The results in the middle of the screen are the more relevant organic listings, and they all appear to rank well in Google because the context does relate to lawyers and juggling, in these results juggling a work-life balance mostly.

Lawyers Who Juggle

While this particularly juggling-related search probably isn’t a big money waster for lawyers because it’s probably only done by people like me seeking to make a point, I regularly see more harmful searches also display the same ads.

A Google search for “dishonest lawyers…”

SERP for dishonest lawyers

And “incompetent lawyers…”

SERP for Incompetent Lawyers

And perhaps the worst offenders of them all for attorneys who are spending money on ads in order to make money… buying ads that appear in searches like:

“Free lawyers…”

SERP for Free Lawyers

And “cheap lawyers…” (unless being a discount law firm in your thing)

SERP for Cheap Lawyers

The point is that an attorney can lose money needlessly by not targeting searches well.

Why Do Pay Per Click Managers Target Overly Broad Searches?

Given this fact, why is it so prevalent, even among companies who take fees for managing attorneys pay-per-click advertising to target overly broad words? Here are some reasons why it might happen (of course reasons will differ depending on the person, company and situation):

It’s much easier to set up a broadly targeted campaign. It’s conceivable that a lawyer or their representative could simply bid on the keywords like law, attorney, and lawyer and, if the bids are high enough, appear in a lot of search impressions. But this method can be very wasteful, resulting in a lot of unwanted clicks, and a lawyer quality score.

The lawyer or company doesn’t know any better. They want to attract the widest range of searches, and so they use the broadest possible targeted words to do so.

They get better margins, or they get a return on laziness. Pay per click management companies often take a percentage of the law firm’s total ad spend. So if your law firm spends $1,000 on pay per click ads, unless you are paying a flat management fee to the management company, you are probably paying the company a percentage of your ad spend off the top. I’ve seen these management fees range from 10% to 30% of the total ad spend. Often times companies will lower the percentage as the law firm’s ad spend increases. So as long as you get to $1,000, in the 30% scenario, the company gets $300. It doesn’t matter how legitimate the ads were, or how well-targeted.

It may take a company a lot less time to run up the ad spend using overly-broad search terms, and it’s a lot less burdensome to set up. To an attorney who is not paying attention, broadly targeted campaigns, while wasteful, result in more impressions, and sometimes more clicks. Even though neither the impressions nor clicks are likely to result in revenue and are highly dilutive of ROI, they at least can show that something is going on.

What lawyers can do to get better ROI from pay per click ads

Ultimately, we hope that attorneys will build a web presence that obviates the need to spend money on disposable advertising. At LawLytics, that’s exactly what we help them do by giving them the tools and training necessary to break free of dependence on marketers. However, if your law firm is dependent on pay per click ads, here are some things that you can do to stop the bleeding.

  1. Make sure that you have ownership of, access to, and control over your ad accounts. Even if you never log in, the fact that you can if you want to will decrease the likelihood of the wool being pulled over your eyes.
  2. Set your paid searches to appear only in geographic areas where you take cases, or where cases are likely to come from.
  3. Spend a little time thinking about what your potential clients are actually searching for, and use those terms instead of broad catch-all phrases like “lawyers” and “dui” and “divorce” and “bankruptcy.”
  4. Spend a little time creating landing pages that speak to the individual searches. You can easily do this in minutes using LawLytics.
  5. Spend a little time creating targeted copy that matches with the keywords that you use in each ad.

Conclusion

We want to reiterate once again that no matter what you do to optimize your law firm’s pay per click marketing, it will always be less efficient than a solid online presence that attracts free traffic. No matter how efficient your ads, the second you turn them off and stop paying for them, you will derive no further benefit from them. For that reason, we recommend using pay-per-click ads only when necessary, and only as a supplement (or interim measure) to a well-planned and executed strategy to build sustainable and free traffic.