In an era where consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet to research local services, and where the yellow pages is increasingly used for fireplace kindling, savvy lawyers now realize that any effective marketing strategy must have a significant online component. With that in mind, I give you my ten tips for marketing your law firm via paid search advertising on the search engines.

Note, just to be clear, I am only talking about paid search (also known as pay per click advertising, PPC advertising, search engine marketing, or SEM!) – I am not talking about organic search engine optimization (also known as SEO, natural search, or algorithmic search!). For those of you who want to learn about SEO, I highly recommend the folks at – the world experts on law firm SEO.

1. Avoid Vanity. In the world of yellow pages advertising, having a full-color advertisement on the back of the yellow pages is the prime placement for a law firm. After all, it ensures that virtually anyone who picks up the book – whether they are currently looking for a lawyer or not – will see your smiling face. In search engine marketing (SEM), the equivalent is the “top listing” on Google – that is, the first highlighted paid link at the top of the page.

Depending on the geographic location of your law practice and your practice area, the top link will generally cost you from $3 to upwards of $25 – per click! Think about that for a moment; let’s say you are a New York City personal injury lawyer. If you want to be in #1 position, you can probably expect to pay $25 a click for 300 to 400 clicks a day. That’s around $7500 a day, or $2.7 million a year!

Now I’m sure there are some law firms that can afford this much expense to buy a single keyword, but the question is: are they buying this keyword so they can ‘one-up’ other law firms and stroke their ego, or are they buying this keyword because it makes them profitable? Let’s face it, a law firm is a business, and all business is competitive. If you make bad marketing decisions (unprofitable marketing decisions), and your competitive makes profitable marketing decisions, over time your business will suffer and your competitors will prosper.

As a result, any keyword that you buy via SEM must be measurably profitable or you simply shouldn’t buy it. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to buy “New York City personal injury lawyer” for $25 per click. But after a week of testing (and thousands of dollars of cost), if you aren’t seeing new clients come in the door as a result of this keyword, you need to reduce your bid or shut it down entirely.

Yes, it may hurt your ego to see your big competitor buying the #1 position on Google, but it will hurt his ego a lot more when he needs to contact a bankruptcy lawyer when he can no longer pay his bills! So rule #1: buy keywords based on measurable logic, not based on what your heart wants you to do!

2. Track Everything. Very closely related to “Avoid Vanity.” In order to make sure that your SEM campaigns are making your firm money, you need to do everything in your power to track the return on investment (ROI) of your SEM campaigns. One of the biggest differences between an SEM campaign and a yellow pages campaign is that with SEM you have a tremendous amount of quantifiable information available to you.

With the yellow pages, the best you can do is to put something in your ad that says “Please mention you saw our yellow pages ad” and then ask your receptionist to ask callers how they heard about your firm. With SEM, however, you can determine which keyword resulted in a submission of a ‘contact us’ form, how much you paid for the keyword, what time the keyword was clicked, what advertisement they clicked on, and even the geographic location of the user!

The biggest differentiator between successful SEM campaigns and failed campaigns is the degree to which the advertiser tracks ROI. An SEM campaign with tracking implemented enables you to spend more money on keywords that drive conversions and reduce bids or pause keywords that don’t. To learn more about a simple online tracking solution, check out the Google Conversion Tracker.

3. Geo-target. Imagine what would happen if your Chicago divorce law firm started getting calls from potential clients in Idaho and Hawaii. First of all, your administrative staff would have to waste a lot of time fielding calls from people you couldn’t help. Second, if you were paying money for these clicks via SEM, you would be wasting a lot of money.

Fortunately, the search engines have created tools that enable you to restrict the range of your advertisements to your locality. Indeed, on Google, you can target your advertising to your specific country, state, city, or even zip code.

For some practice areas, it might make sense to target the entire country (example: mesothelioma lawyer), and for others, you might want to have a radius of no more than 10 or 15 miles from your office (example: divorce lawyer). Either way, if you don’t make a conscious decision about the geographic location from which you want to receive clicks, you will likely cost yourself a lot of money. You can learn more about geo-targeting here.

4. Provide Multiple Contact Options. Everyone is different. Some people want to immediately call a lawyer and schedule a meeting ASAP. Other people don’t like talking on the phone right away and would rather submit a “contact us” form online instead. When you design your Web site, you need to make certain that you have different contact options for different people.

Keep in mind that every time you get a click from an SEM campaign, you pay for that click regardless of whether the person who clicked ends up signing up as a client. Hence, if you don’t do everything you can to get them to contact you after the click, you are basically costing yourself money.

5. Prompt Your Receptionist. Previously I noted that the only way to measure the ROI of yellow pages advertisements was to tell your administrative staff to ask callers “where they heard about us.” The same applies to your SEM campaigns. If someone calls in and says that they “saw your ad on Google,” try to get your receptionist to probe a little deeper. For example, “do you remember what word or phrase you searched for?” and “did you click on one of the ads at the top or on the right of the page, or did you click on one of the regular results?”

This is not a perfect science, as your receptionist might frequently forget to ask these questions, and most Internet users don’t really understand the difference between a paid result and a natural result. But every bit of information counts. Remember that $2.7 million annual cost for buying “New York City personal injury lawyer?” If one phone call came in from that campaign and resulted in a $10 million verdict, that could justify purchasing that keyword. But if you don’t connect the keyword to the lucrative case, you might mistakenly cancel your campaign and miss out on the next big client!

6. Measure Leads Not Clicks. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see from law firms starting an SEM campaign. A lot of people think that getting a lot of clicks (or “hits”) defines success. This is almost never the case. Here’s an example of why: if I bought the keywords “free money”, “xxx pictures”, and “Britney Spears” on behalf of your Dallas bankruptcy law firm, you’d get millions of clicks – and it would cost you millions of dollars. But do you think your firm would make any money off these keywords? Of course not!

At the end of the day, the best case scenario is to only get clicks from potential clients. That may mean that you get 200 clicks a month instead of 10,000,000, but if all of those clicks come from keywords like “Dallas bankruptcy law firm” and “file bankruptcy in Dallas”, the odds are very high that you will only be paying for clicks that have a high likelihood of turning into actual clients.

Again, remember that your SEM campaign needs to be measured based on ROI and profit, not based on vanity and clicks. Let your competitors buy the high-volume, non-converting keywords and waste their marketing budget while you focus your spend on highly-targeted, converting keywords that bring profitable clients in the door.

7. Be Specific with Keywords. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client. Try to figure out what word or phrases you might type in a search engine if you were looking for your firm. My advice is to start very conservatively with this exercise. While it is true that you might find clients for your Palm Beach Florida trusts and estates firm via the search “Florida Attorney”, it’s also true that 99% of the people who type in this search are probably looking for something else.

So start with the most specific query you can imagine, like “Palm Beach Florida Trusts and Estates Lawyer”, make sure that you are profitable on this highly-targeted keyword, and then slowly expand to more generic terms (perhaps “Palm Beach lawyer” or “South Florida estates law firm”, etc).

8. Include A Call to Action in Your Ad Text. SEM ads are text-only – there is no opportunity to use color, pictures, or animation. In fact, you only have 95 characters (about 2.5 sentences) to convince searchers to click on your ad versus the ads of your competitors. The most effective way to do this is to give users a “call to action” – in other words, tell them why they should click on your ad and what you want them to do.

The easiest way to think about this is in two parts – first create a benefit statement, second tell the user what to do next. Here’s a few examples of what I mean. Let’s say that you are a Seattle admiralty law attorney. You’ve got 25 years of experience and you give all potential clients free consultation. Here’s an example of an ad that drives these points home and gets people to click through to learn more:

Seattle Admiralty Law Firm
Over 25 Years in Maritime Law.
Call for Free Consultation Now.

Or let’s say that you are a San Diego immigration attorney specializing in H1-B and green card applications. You might create ad text like this:

San Diego H-1B Experts
Fast H1-B and Green Card
Service. Call 567-2343 Today.

Now let’s look at an example that don’t follow this rule. Let’s say you are a Charlotte insurance defense firm and you created this ad:

Smith & Barnes, LLP
Charlotte Insurance Defense Firm.
Licensed in South Carolina.

How are you different? Why should I contact you? What do you want me to do next? If it’s not clear to a user, the odds are that he or she won’t click on your ad and will move on to your competitors’ ads.

9. Restrict Advertising to Your Office Hours. The best thing that can happen after a searcher clicks on your ad is for that person to call your office to schedule a consultation. The worst thing that can happen is for that call to be sent to voice mail or even worse, a number that just rings forever after hours.

Studies show that people who call a business are 3 to 5 times more likely to convert into a client than someone who just visits the business Web site or even submits a “contact us” form. So if you have ads running at 1AM and there is no one around to answer the phone, there’s a decent chance that the potential client on the other end is just going to move on to another firm.

This basically means that you have three options for handling after-hours phone calls: 1) you can have a 24 hour answering service; 2) you can pause your ads after your receptionist leaves; 3) you can grin and bear it and assume that your ROI will be lower after-hours.

For a lot of law firms, I recommend simply pausing your SEM campaigns when you don’t have a live person to answer the phone. This is easy for an SEM expert to set up for you in Google (the tool is called “day-parting”). You can learn about day-parting here.

When you combine day-parting, geo-targeting, and targeted keywords, you give yourself a huge advantage over your competition. What ends up happening is this: you start to bid more and more to show up in top position for great keywords, in the right geography, at the right time, and your competitors’ bids get watered down with all the other keywords you don’t want. That means that you pay a lot for the good stuff, and your competitor ends up paying average prices for everything – you get the good clicks, he gets the bad clicks.

Think of this like a game of poker. If you bet $50 when you have a full house or four of a kind and only $1 when you have a pair, but your competitor bets $25 regardless of what hand he has, who will end up winning? You will, of course!

10. Ask for Help. All of the tips above come from years of trial and error in SEM. When I first started advertising on the search engines back in 2000, I made a lot of mistakes and probably cost my company a lot of money unnecessarily. If you wanted to become an SEM expert, you could take the same route I took – spend a lot of money and a lot of years figuring out what to do. But for most lawyers, I don’t recommend this route, simply because your job is to practice law, not to practice marketing.

That being said, I do think it is valuable to learn ‘enough to be dangerous’ about SEM. Unfortunately, there are a lot of agencies and consultants out there who claim to have your best interests at heart but are really nothing more than fly-by-night scams. They know how to push a law firms’ buttons; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard law firms tell me “XYZ firm promised me #1 position” or “123 Agency said they would guarantee 10,000 hits a month!”

It’s somewhat similar to getting your car fixed. You know that trick at the oil lube place where they bring out your air filter (which you may have gotten replaced a few weeks earlier) and show you how dirty it is and try to get you to buy a new one? If you don’t know a little about cars, you’d probably get your air filter replaced every 3000 miles. But you also don’t want to spend your weekends changing your oil and replacing your brake pads. So you let the oil lube change the oil, but you know enough to turn down all the ‘extras.’

So learn a little about SEM so that you know how to ask the right questions, then find an expert to do the work for you. You’ll avoid costly mistakes, and you’ll be able to spend your time doing what you do best – representing clients!

It goes without saying that I of course recommend my firm – – as experts who do have your interests at heart. We’re affordable (starting at under $500 a month, depending on the size of your marketing spend), we have expertise in law firm marketing, and we want you to understand what we’re doing and why it is the right SEM decision for your law firm.

So true to my advice, if you want to learn more, you can either submit a contact us form, or call us at 415-336-8943. All potential clients get a free consultation, so what are you waiting for – call today!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and I’d love the opportunity to help you build a profitable SEM campaign.

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.