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Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) can, in some cases, be an effective short-term bridge for an attorney’s online marketing. Using PPC can make sense in some instances, such as when an attorney has a new law firm website and has yet to develop a solid and expansive archive of original, high-quality content that offers the benefits of high-value organic SERP rankings for specific, targeted search phrases.

But, unlike content-based search engine optimization (SEO), PPC is not an effective long-term marketing solution for lawyers who hope to grow their businesses efficiently while maximizing ROI.

When attorneys spend time and/or money adding high-quality, targeted content to their law firm websites, they are making an investment in the long-term online visibility of that site.

As the number of indexed pages on your site grows and the number of long-tail search phrases you are able to target expands along with it, your site will begin to gain authority with Google and your content will likely begin creeping up organic search results for the phrases you target with your content. Over time, this will lead to increased visibility for your law firm website’s content in organic search results, as well as increased traffic to your law firm website by those individuals most likely to retain you as their attorney.

Once the initial investment in a piece of website content has been made and the content has been published on your site, there is no further investment required for that piece of content to begin driving potential clients to your law firm. And, unlike pay-per-click ads, the content’s lifespan as a marketing tool is essentially infinite.

As soon as Google is able to index a piece of quality content and return it on SERPs for relevant queries, that piece of content begins working to bolster your website’s SEO, and it will continue that work indefinitely. All that is required is the initial investment associated with producing a piece content in the first place (be it time or a dollar figure), regardless of the number of clients that piece of content brings to your firm over time. This is the benefit of content-based SEO.

PPC Is a Long-Term Law Firm Marketing Expense

Search engine marketing (SEM) in the form of pay-per-click ads (PPCs), on the other hand, offers no such long-term potential for ROI.

In PPC, the costs associated with directing traffic to your website are ongoing. Since you pay each time someone clicks one of your ads, the cost for each potential client Google brings to your site (assuming each click comes from a qualified potential client) will always mean incurring an additional expense.

And, as a result of Google’s auction-based sales system, those costs are actually likely to increase over time as additional competition for specific keywords continues to drive up prices for the ads associated with those keywords.

Further, you can also expect to pay for many clicks by individuals other than your potential clients. This includes clicks by your competition, curious friends and family members, marketing companies looking for someone to whom they can sell additional ads, as well as inadvertent or accidental clicks and “clicks” by automated bots. Unfortunately, Google does not distinguish between clicks that actually come from your target audience and clicks that come from anyone (or anything) else.

Where the ROI for high-quality content published on your website will tend to trend upward over time as it continues to attract potential clients to your site following your initial investment in that content, ROI for PPC ads is an often-times diminishing figure as a result of clicks by those who are not qualified potential clients and the continually increasing costs for keywords and search phrases.

Thus, whereas quality content added to your law firm website functions as a marketing asset for your business, PPC ads function as an ongoing expense.

Website Traffic From PPC Ads Is Less Targeted than Traffic from SEO

Many times, when a potential client begins looking for information about their case or matter, they are unaware that they are in need of an attorney. Instead of searching for a phrase like “DUI Attorney Georgia” or “Family Lawyer Delaware,” your potential clients are more likely to search specific questions about their problem, such as “What is the penalty for a first time DUI in Georgia?” or “How do I file for divorce in Delaware?”

When bidding on keywords or search phrases for PPC ads, you are likely going to be bidding on more general, less targeted keywords or phrases. As a result, the traffic you are likely to get from ads that appear on SERPs after those general phrases are entered into a search bar is likely to be from less qualified leads (if they’re qualified leads at all). Those who perform more generalized searches may be less likely to pull the trigger on hiring an attorney than those searching for specific information about their particular case.

Further, one of the most important aspects of online marketing is building trust with potential clients. Ads are unlikely to build trust. However, the content on your law firm website is going to be a major factor in establishing trust with your potential clients.

By answering as many of their questions as possible without requiring users to navigate off of your site to perform an additional search, you will maximize your chances of converting potential clients into actual clients when they visit your site. Therefore, the best way to both increase your law firm’s online visibility and increase trust with potential clients is to invest in long-term marketing assets such as targeted content creation instead of paying for disposable (and less targeted) marketing expenses such as pay-per-click ads.

If You Must Use PPC, It’s Best to Manage Your Account Yourself

As mentioned previously, PPC can have its place in law firm marketing, though it should not be used as a permanent marketing “solution” for your law firm’s online marketing efforts. Rather, the time, money, and effort you invest in PPC in the long-term are much more efficiently utilized to improve your website’s SEO by adding content to your site.

Still, if you must use PPC for your law firm for any period of time, it is best that you handle it yourself rather than outsourcing it to a third-party provider. Third-party marketing companies are not likely to have a solid grasp on legal marketing ethics, which could actually end up landing your firm in hot water with your state bar. Even if you are able to find a marketing person or company who is well-versed in legal marketing ethics, marketing companies who sell PPC ads may have conflicts of interest baked in to their sales practices.

For example, if a PPC salesperson is working for two competing attorneys, the salesperson is likely to bid on the same keywords and search phrases for both attorneys. This, in turn, drives up the price of those keywords for both attorneys, and, in the case of companies that charge a percentage of your PPC expenditure as their fee, increases revenue for the marketing company while draining the marketing budgets of both attorney clients.

For attorneys who are interested in utilizing PPC for their firms, Google makes it easy to manage your account yourself. They also allow attorneys to set limits on their accounts as far as target audience, geographic region, total expenditure, and daily budget. Though third parties are also generally able to set these same limits, it is not typically in their interest financially to do so, especially if they are charging based on the percentage of your ad spend.

By failing to set such limits on PPC expenditures, it is not unheard of for attorneys to blow quickly through their marketing budgets as a result of attracting a high volume of unqualified web traffic to their sites, as opposed to bringing in the traffic most likely to convert to actual, paying clients.

When it comes down to it, PPC marketing can, in some cases, help to drive traffic to your law firm website. But it is not as effective, affordable, or practical a marketing method as adding content to your site for the sake of your site’s SEO.

If you would like to learn more about PPC for attorneys, check out this LawLytics webinar on the subject.