Ad space limited and costs money to win
By Donna Walter
Dolan Media Newswires
More business could be just a click away.
That’s the theory behind keyword advertising, also called pay-per-click or PPC advertising. Among the early adopters was the St. Louis law firm of Brown & Crouppen PC.
Andy Crouppen said the personal injury firm started using PPC advertising shortly after Google began offering it (around 2002).
“With all of our marketing efforts we really try to stay on top of any new trends or any new media,” he said. “We’re willing to try anything once.”
The firm is not diverting resources from more traditional forms of advertising to pay for online advertising, he said. Rather, its Internet advertising efforts are in addition to TV commercials and billboards.
A study prepared by New Media Strategies for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform last year predicted that plaintiffs’ firms would spend $50 million in one year for Google keyword advertising alone.
Gyi Tsakalakis, a co-founder of Chicago-based AttorneySync, a digital marketing agency for law firms, estimated nearly 300,000 lawyers in the United States have consumer-related practices ripe for Internet advertising.
And as more people access the Internet through mobile devices, he said, online searches for goods, services and even lawyers will increase.
Google is preparing for a big influx of users through its AdWords enhanced campaigns. As Tsakalakis described it, lawyers who advertise through AdWords will automatically advertise on desktops, tablets and smartphones.
How pay-per-click works
The PPC model is complicated.
To get started, a lawyer will need to set up a Google Adwords account, Tsakalakis said, as Google has more than 70 percent of the total search market, although Yahoo! and Bing also offer advertising.
Then the lawyer will choose what keywords he or she wants to bid on. The keywords pull up the paid ads when someone uses them in a search.
Every time someone performs a search, Google holds an auction for the keywords. The advertiser pays when someone clicks on that ad. The price the advertiser pays depends on the keyword used to pull up the ad.
Only so much ad space is available. So whether a lawyer has a winning bid depends not just on the dollar amount of the bid but also on a so-called quality score that measures the relevance and authority of the lawyer’s website to his ad, Tsakalakis said.
“Say I’m a personal injury lawyer, and I bid on the term ‘lawyer,’” he said. “Well, there’s not a great relevance match there because ‘lawyer’ is just so general and ‘personal injury’ is more specific.”
Tsakalakis warned that AdWords is not “a set-it-and-forget-it system,” but needs constant monitoring.
Good AdWords technicians constantly are testing and refining the PPC campaigns, Jon Reiter, founder and president of Epic Web Results, said.
“One of the reasons most AdWords campaigns just simply fail is people go in, follow the Google guidelines, they set it, and then they never touch it again,” he said.
Brown & Crouppen has a full-time employee who “quarterbacks” the firm’s Internet efforts with the assistance of outside vendors, Crouppen said.
Spend money, make money
PPC advertising isn’t cheap, especially in the personal injury arena.
What lawyers can expect to get out of advertising is related to the amount of money they put into it.
To give it a fair shot, a lawyer should spend thousands of dollars a month on PPC advertising, Tsakalakis said.
And that’s just on the keywords. Paid search managers charge a percentage of what the lawyer spends on an advertising campaign, he said. A reasonable fee, he said, is between 10 and 20 percent.
Using only PPC advertising, a personal injury lawyer who wants to bring in 10 new clients a month could pay roughly $2,000 each month, assuming he can close the deal on half the phone calls he receives, Reiter said. It’s not unreasonable, he said, to spend $10,000 a month to get 100 clicks or even $100,000 a month for 1,000 clicks.
“The more heavily advertised something is, the more searches it gets,” Reiter said. “The more searches it gets, the higher the cost per click goes.”
At Findlaw, lawyers must commit to a three-month period of spending at least $500 each month on PPC advertising, Dennis Ensor, a client development consultant for western Missouri, said. The $500 monthly price could be enough for lawyers with a niche practice such as brain injuries, scalds, popcorn lung disease or pneumatic nail gun accidents, he said.
But some of Ensor’s clients are spending $10,000 a month. For personal injury lawyers, trying to get by on $1,000 a month generally doesn’t work because their competition is spending so much more, he said.
At $500 a month, Reiter said, “Don’t expect to set the world on fire, unless you have a noncompetitive area such as tax law.”
The cost isn’t worth it to St. Louis-based Brown & Brown, which said it does not use pay-per-click advertising.
“You can spend 45 bucks a click and somebody might just click on it and say, ‘Eh, I don’t like these guys,’” founding partner Dan Brown said. “That can add up really quick.”
And some of those clicks could be coming from other lawyers trying to drive up a competitor’s costs, Tsakalakis said. Google has been trying to combat click fraud since it began offering PPC advertising, he said.
Ensor said PPC advertising is useful for lawyers who want to expand their practices into another geographic region or even nationally, are doing something new and want to get their name out quickly, or are launching new websites.
But law firm technology blogger Catherine Sanders Reach said she doubts the effectiveness of pay-per-click ads.
“I don’t know how many people click on those,” she said. “I know I personally never do.”
Reach, the director of Law Practice Management & Technology for the Chicago Bar Association, emphasizes social media over pay-per click and other forms of Internet advertising.
Crouppen said Internet advertising in general is “at least as cost-effective as the other forms of direct response advertising that we use.”
“The magic is not in the advertising,” he said. “I think, for the most part, if you spend the money and advertise properly, it works. The magic is in how you convert those leads.
“I think that you could have two different firms each getting the same 100 phone calls, you’re going to see a dramatic difference in how many cases, signed cases, that leads from one firm to the next.”
Advertising lawyers must be responsive, Tsakalakis said, when potential clients contact the firm for more information.
“You’ve got to answer the phone; you’ve got to schedule appointments,” he said. “If you rely on people leaving messages, you’re dead in the water.”