No-Compromise PPC Advertising
How to Use Pay-Per-Click Without Being Used and Risking Your Practice
4 Simple Guidelines to Protect Attorneys Who Buy PPC
Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) can be a viable temporary or supplemental source of new clients for some law firms, but it can also drain your practice financially. If your law firm is considering PPC advertising, these guidelines will help you get honest value from PPC by identifying competent and ethical PPC providers (all LawLytics PPC partners agree to these guidelines):
No Conflicts of Interest
GUIDELINE: The agency must inform all affected law firms and get each firm’s consent before agreeing to work with more than one firm that competes in the same jurisdiction and practice area(s).
REASON: There is a conflict of interest if a marketing agency bids on behalf of multiple competing firms while deriving a management fee from each. PPC is a bid marketplace. When representing more than one competing law firm, an agency must choose between two options that are bad for the law firm. The agency must either:
- Choose to give better efforts to one firm over the other, or
- Attempt to give equal efforts to each competing firm.
Neither of these options results in good outcomes for all competing firms, and both benefit the agency that’s willing to sell conflicted services.
When a marketing agency gives one firm better efforts than the other, it benefits the favored firm while putting the unfavored firm(s) at a significant disadvantage. If you are the unfavored firm, you’re essentially paying an agency to make sure that its other client — your competitor — beats you.
When a marketing agency tries to give equal efforts to competing firms, it drives up the bids for all of its clients. That results in each client paying more money to Google and the agency collecting more fees. If a PPC agency is truly using best efforts for multiple competitors, the competition between the firms never stops. As soon as one firm gains an advantage, the agency would be obligated to apply that advantage to the other firm as well.
Attorney-Ownership of Account
GUIDELINE: The agency must provide each law firm it works with access to and ownership of their own PPC accounts and all of the account data.
REASON: Some PPC agencies don’t let attorneys own or access their own PPC accounts and actually hide the data from the lawyers. These agencies assert that it’s more efficient to put the law firm’s PPC account on a system the agency owns. When it comes to the agencies’ financial interests, this is true.
It’s more efficient for the agency because it:
- Prevents the attorney from seeing what’s going on, and
- Keeps the law firm captive and dependent on the agency.
But preventing an attorney from owning and accessing their Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and other ad platform accounts isn’t in the firm’s best interest because it causes:
- Lack of choices. The account is not easily portable, making it less likely that the law firm will switch providers if the strategy isn’t working or if they realize that the agency is overcharging them.
- Lack of transparency. Without access to the data, the attorney has no way of verifying whether the money the agency claims to be spending on ads on the law firm’s behalf (and the agency commission on those ads) is accurate or effective.
- No recourse. If you work with an agency that violates this guideline, when you decide to leave them, you’ll have nothing to show for the money you spent.
On the other hand, when you work with a PPC agency that abides by this guideline, you can leave any time, and take all of the work that they have done on the account with you. You’ll be able to keep the agency honest while you’re with them so you’ll get fair value for the duration of the relationship.
Don’t Make Attorneys Dependent on PPC
GUIDELINE: Attorneys are best served by building long-term, revenue-producing marketing infrastructure. A PPC agency should always work with the attorney to ensure that PPC is not monopolizing the firm’s resources to the point that the firm is unable to invest in long-term organic strategies.
REASON: PPC can be a viable interim measure as your content and SEO is getting traction. However, there are several reasons why lawyers should do everything possible to avoid becoming dependent on pay-per-click ads.
- Poor Quality Leads. PPC search ads drive poor quality leads compared to organic searches.
- No Long-Term Value. PPC is disposable marketing that does not build long-term traction for the firm.
- Unpredictable. Bidding wars with competing law firms make PPC unpredictable and draining.
- Subject to Fraud. PPC ads attract click fraud from competitors who drain law firm marketing budgets by clicking the firm’s ads.
- Attracts Predatory Solicitors. PPC ads attract some of the worst marketing solicitors. They see lawyers bidding on expensive keywords, click the ads to get the decision-making lawyer’s information — often costing the firm $50+ dollars in the process — and then call them or submit a form on the firm’s website in an attempt to sell the big PPC spenders more disposable marketing.
- Volatile. PPC is difficult to predict or control. You could wake up one morning to find yourself outbid by a better-funded firm that can afford to bid you out of business.
When you work with a PPC agency, their goal should always be to get you the business you need today without hindering your ability to more efficiently attract the business you will need in the future. This means that the PPC agency should see its role as supporting — and likely temporary — in your law firm’s marketing.
Fair Prices and Transparent Billing
GUIDELINE: The agency may never ask for, nor require, a commitment greater than month-to-month, nor charge a cancellation fee. The agency must disclose how its prices are calculated, and never charge more than 15% of the total amount spent on ads as a fee for its services. The agency must provide a full accounting of what was spent on ads and what was spent on management fees.
REASON: Attorneys routinely get taken advantage of by PPC marketing agencies. This usually comes in one or both of the following:
- Overcharging. PPC agencies charge more than they should. Once a minimum ad-spend threshold is met, anything more than 15% of the total ad spend is highly suspicious, and anything over 20% of the total ad spend is unreasonable.
- Obscuring. Some PPC agencies obscure their fees by making pay-per-click advertising one of several included services for a flat fee. This prevents the attorney from understanding how much of their money is actually being spent on ads and how much is spent on management fees or commissions taken by the agency.
- Holding Firms Captive. PPC bidding is time-consuming and requires ongoing efforts to ensure that law firms don’t waste their budgets on junk clicks from competitors, solicitors, and unqualified clients. If you are locked into a long-term contract, it gives the agency the ability to slack off without accountability. When PPC agencies slack off, you’ll be burning your money (paying Google or Bing as well as the PPC agency’s fees). Accountable PPC agencies will not ask you for (or require) anything beyond a month-to-month agreement.
Overcharging, obscuring, and holding firms captive often go hand-in-hand. For this reason, it’s important for attorneys to have complete clarity on what they are spending on pay-per-click ads and why. Charging a fair price and providing documentation of the ad spend on a monthly basis is easy. The agency should want to do it to prove value and retain the law firm’s business. The only reason a PPC agency would feel the need to lock you into a long-term contract is if they doubt their ability to produce results and are therefore afraid that you will leave them earlier.