Ben Trott, managing director of Marketing Lawyers, explains how you can drive new clients to your website using Google Ads and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising – and how to make sure your budget and strategy are optimised for the best return on investment (ROI). (Updated 12 April 2023)
(Note: The Law Firm Ambition webinar 'Generating and converting instructions for law firms' is on 16 November.)
Law firms are forever being told that the internet holds the secret to attracting new clients. But with intense competition, getting new visitors to find your website can be increasingly difficult. Strategies like search engine optimisation (SEO) or building your social media presence takes both time and money.
PPC offers a shortcut. Your ads can be displayed at the top of Google when internet users are searching for the specific legal services you offer – exactly at the time when they are the best prospects to become new clients. And because you only pay when users click on the advert to find out more, you avoid much of the wasted cost of traditional advertising.
That said, competition to have your ad displayed against the highest value searches can be fierce, with correspondingly high advertising prices depending on the area of law. So it is essential to fine-tune your PPC tactics and strategy to ensure that you get a good return on your investment.
"What makes PPC stand out from other marketing tactics is speed. You can start an advertising campaign this morning and get new visitors to your website this afternoon."
Ian Gandy, head of digital, Travelers
Legal services keywords
PPC advertising works best when you can identify the kinds of searches your target clients carry out online and what 'keywords' (generally longer phrases rather than individual words) they use.
Of course, if you are a personal injury lawyer you'd like your ad to be displayed when someone searches for "personal injury" – but so would every other personal injury lawyer. So broad terms like this tend to be very expensive.
What's more, you are likely to get visits from potential clients nationwide. If you only serve one region, that means most of the clicks you pay for could be a waste of money.
The obvious implication is to look at localised keywords – for example, "personal injury Norwich". This works particularly well if you can include the local term in the ad copy, as it will benefit your ad's 'quality score' (which is explained below).
With the switch to online meetings and the ability to service clients anywhere in the country, locality is becoming less important. But some individuals/businesses still use a location keyword when searching for particular legal services online.
Another option is to use Google geo-targeting options. This allows you to only serve ads to users who Google determine to be in your targeted area, or to exclude certain regions.
There are also dozens of more focused keywords to look at (often referred to as 'long tail' searches). For example, "accident at work claim" or "brain injury compensation claim". Search engines automatically suggest longer search terms as you type.
More creatively, you might think about searches not directly related to legal services. For example, someone searching for "domestic violence" might well need the services of a family lawyer, or a search for "how to value my business" signals a potential opportunity for a corporate lawyer experienced in selling businesses.
It is worth thinking about whether a search suggests that someone is looking to instruct a lawyer or at an earlier stage of research. In both cases, they might well click on your ad (costing you money). But the first is more likely to lead to new business, at least in the short term. A search like "online conveyancing quote" is more likely to lead to a quick instruction than "legal costs when moving home". This is called commercial intent and it has a major impact on the conversion rate of the enquiries you receive, bearing in mind that the cost of dealing with the enquiries that do not convert is all part of the ROI calculation for your firm's PPC campaigns.
Ideally, you want to hit the sweet spot, choosing search terms where the cost per click is relatively modest but the likelihood of instruction and the fees you can generate are high. In general, a campaign involving multiple long tail keywords will be more cost-effective than targeting broader searches.
Given all the options available, a focused PPC strategy is more important than ever.
"Search data lets experts understand which keywords are used by people likely to instruct you, and which keywords are used by people simply looking something up … so you can target one group and avoid the other."
Rich Dibbins, founder, Staxton Digital
PPC advertising options
Many PPC advertisers think exclusively in terms of Google search advertising. But there are other options to consider.
While Google does reach more people than any other search engine, its advertising prices also tend to be higher. Search engines like Bing and Yahoo may bring you clients more cost-effectively – either instead of or alongside advertising on Google. These other platforms tend to have different demographics of searchers.
Another alternative is to use PPC display ads. These run on sites that you know your potential clients are likely to visit. A service such as Google's display network can automatically place your ads on websites that match your client targeting requirements.
As display ads are seen by people when they aren't actively searching for a lawyer, you will tend to get more wasted clicks. But cost-per-click prices tend to be much lower, so the overall cost per new client can work out better. By reaching a wide audience, display advertising can be particularly useful for building brand recognition.
Even when doing search ads, you can include images (at no extra cost) to make your ads stand out.
As always, success comes from tracking the results of your strategy, testing to see what works and making improvements.
A good ad encourages potential clients to click on the link to find out more. You only have a few words to play with, so a strong headline and a clear message are essential. Your ad should reflect what you think you know about the searcher. Using some or all of their search terms in the ad helps show that you are offering something relevant to their needs.
For example, if someone searches for "brain injury compensation claim", it makes sense for your ad to have a headline like "Brain Injury Compensation". The brief additional text can then highlight one or two key selling points – for example, free consultations, or winning as much compensation as possible, or no win no fee.
Including search terms within your ad copy can also improve your ad's 'quality score'. If Google judges your ad to be more relevant for a search term than the ad of a competitor, your ad may appear in a higher position although the competitor is paying a higher bid. Also, search terms that appear in ad copy appear in bold, which can further differentiate your ad from those of competitors.
Responsive ads circulate a range of different headline titles, enabling you to test out a selection of ideas. Google gives you a score when creating them, so you can see when you should add more titles.
Dynamic ads push other relevant content on your website to potential online searches. But be wary about using these without speaking to an expert, as without the right strategy you can run up costs while achieving no results.
Google offers additional 'extensions' that can make your ads more effective. These include options to include your phone number, location or additional features such as forms. Whether these extensions are actually displayed depends in part on how much you are bidding for ads and whether Google thinks an extension will help increase the number of clicks you get.
Your ads generally appear alongside ads from other law firms. Have a look at competing ads to see what they say and how you can stand out. What makes the service you offer special? How can you tailor different versions of your ad to each individual search?
"If someone is searching on a mobile device, they often want to take immediate action rather than do a lot of research. Make it easy for them to call you."
Helen Cox, marketing consultant, Helen Cox Marketing
Most ads aim at getting searchers to click through to your website where they can find out more. So the page they click through to – the landing page – needs to keep their interest and provide a clear 'call to action'.
A good landing page reflects and amplifies your ad. For an ad highlighting free consultation and how much compensation a client can win, the landing page backs this up with more details. For searches like this, where someone is looking to instruct, the call to action might be strong encouragement to "call us now".
By comparison, if someone is searching for "GDPR", the chances are that they are trying to find out more information about the implications of GDPR for their business. Your landing page might offer a GDPR checklist, together with an invitation to sign up for your GDPR seminar or download a guide, capturing their information.
If you are running multiple ads for different searches, each ad should take the visitor to a suitable landing page. Strong landing pages don't just improve the likelihood that potential clients will contact you. Google gives a higher quality score to your ad if they think you are offering a relevant service.
Lay out your information on the page in sub-headed sections. Use bullet points to list key information, such as the geographical area you serve. Include a way to get in touch in the text ('For a free initial telephone consultation call X') as well as a contact form.
As with the PPC ads themselves, it's worth comparing your landing pages to your competitors. How does your message compare? Which law firm do you think a potential client would choose to contact?
DIY or agency?
The decision on whether to use an agency depends on what in-house resources and training you have and how much you are investing in PPC. You might decide to run a pilot campaign yourself, but a specialist agency should be able to get better results, particularly if they have legal sector expertise.
- Agencies specialising in the legal sector will understand legal terminology and purchasing behaviour; they should also have large amounts of data on different keywords, their costs and how effective they are at delivering new clients.
- An agency (or a copywriter) can come up with ideas, then draft ads and landing pages.
- An agency will have the expertise to make best use of Google ad extensions.
- An agency can set up and interpret analytics to monitor and report on your advertising results.
Agencies typically charge a set-up fee to create your PPC campaign and then a monthly maintenance fee to cover reporting and continual improvements.
"You actually have to apply some SEO techniques to your PPC landing pages to improve campaign performance."
Sam Borrett, Director, Legmark
Accurate targeting is critical to getting value for money from your PPC campaigns. While choosing your search terms goes some way towards this, there is much more you can do to filter the audience that sees your ads.
Most obviously, you should restrict your advertising to the geographical areas that your law firm covers. A private client lawyer might particularly want to target more affluent areas, where the value of instructions is likely to be higher. Other filters can let you control what time of day your ads appear (eg if you don't handle calls out of hours), present different versions to searches on smartphones or tablets, target ads at people who have already visited your website and so on.
You should always consider 'negative keywords' that let you exclude certain searches. For example, anyone searching for "personal injury reform" is more likely to be a student or lawyer than a potential client. And anyone searching for “personal injury jobs” is looking for a job. So you need to exclude "reform", “reforms”, “job” and “jobs”. Avoiding wasted clicks can be crucial to keeping costs down. A good PPC agency should be able to exclude all the right words from the outset, rather than having to spend money finding out what doesn’t work.
At the same time, you may want to test out how different ads and landing pages affect your results. 'A/B testing' involves trying out two different alternatives and comparing the numbers of click-throughs and what visitors do once they have reached your website.
Monitoring is crucial. Which keywords and ads give you the most click-throughs? Which searches deliver visitors to your website who go on to instruct you?
Google offers recommendations for your PPC campaigns, some of which can be automatically applied. Some of these will change the targeting and effectiveness of your campaigns, so understand what any recommendations will do before applying them.
"SEO and PPC aren't just about ranking positions and clicks. A site that is SEO'd correctly or a good PPC campaign will improve your users experience on the site and will make them more likely to interact with your firm."
Simon Gorman, Director, Simdure
Measuring PPC returns
Your PPC campaign should deliver plenty of useful, actionable data.
The number of impressions tells you how many times your ad has been displayed. All popular PPC advertising platforms will provide reports on your click-through rate (CTR). A low CTR suggests problems with your ad copy and can harm your Google quality score.
Tracking visitors to your website allows you to see what happens next.
- If visitors immediately 'bounce' away from your site, that suggests you are attracting the wrong visitors or have a very weak landing page. By contrast, if visitors stay on your site for a long time, it suggests that you are providing interesting, relevant content.
- More importantly, you want to monitor whether visitors take the next step to contact you (or sign up for a webinar, or whatever your call to action might be).
- What do you have to do to turn these initial contacts into clients? What percentage of contacts instruct you? In total, what is the cost per new client?
- What is the value of each client – both in terms of any immediate instructions and likely future fees?
- You can track telephone calls via 'dynamic number insertion', which assigns specific phone numbers to specific ads. This lets you see which ads are driving the most calls and conversions.
Working through the data tells you how much value each advertising campaign or even each individual keyword has delivered. In turn, that lets you compare cost-effectiveness and decide where you might want to increase your advertising spend or scale back.
PPC top ten
- Focus on multiple narrow searches rather than broader keywords.
- Target your audience as closely as possible using all the available filters.
- Look at the competition to see what they are doing – and how you can differentiate yourself.
- Create ads with a clear message that speaks directly to what searchers are looking for.
- Direct website visitors to landing pages that reinforce and amplify each ad's message.
- Make sure you have a clear call to action.
- Run pilots or A/B tests to try out ideas and see what works for you.
- Continually measure cost-effectiveness and refine your advertising campaigns, including adding 'negatives'.
- It's not all about Google search – look at other search engines, display advertising and social media options.
- For sizeable PPC campaigns, get help from an agency with legal expertise.