SEO vs. PPC for Law Firms

Creating an effective marketing strategy for your law firm is becoming more important as time goes on. With more law firms moving into the online space, you have to differentiate yourself from your competition in order to get the business that you deserve.

There are two major forms of online marketing that you should know about before committing yourself to any long-standing strategy.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a long-term strategy that limits the amount of money that you have to spend while maximizing your potential for high-value long-term placement.

Pay per click, or PPC, is a shorter term strategy that works well to determine how to employ more longstanding efforts while also providing support for seasonal sales efforts and short pops.

The two strategies, SEO and PPC, also work well with each other. It is essential that you understand the basics of both, even if you plan on hiring a third-party specialist to manage your campaign. Here we will go over the details that you need to know about SEO and PPC so that you can make an informed decision about which to use, whether you want to use them in tandem, and how much you will invest in each strategy.

The Basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) For Law Firms

Search engine optimization is any action that you take to improve your organic listings within the major search engines, especially Google. Google controls over 60% of the total traffic on the Internet. All three major search engines, Google, Yahoo and Bing, together with control around 70% of all traffic on the Internet.

Organic page 1 results on Google receive 90% of the clicks for all online pages competing for that keyword. Below is quick video explaining the different type of search results in Google.

Needless to say, it is essentially important for your online visibility to be included in Google search results.

Organic search results appear in Google down the center of the page. Organic search results have exponentially more value to the average viewer, especially in terms of the legal industry. This is because organic listings are trusted far more than paid advertisements.

You cannot pay for a placement in organic listings. Your position in organic search rankings is determined completely by the internal algorithms of the major search engines.

They choose your placement based on how relevant they think your content is to the keywords and topics that you have chosen. Because we are talking specifically about the legal industry, your content must relate to your legal specialties. It may also help if you localize your content to your surrounding area.

There are many ways to improve your search engine ranking. Although there is no set strategy, you should go over all of the techniques below to try to maximize your organic visibility within Google and the other major search engines. The same tactics work for niche-oriented search engines as well.

First of all, create a fast loading website

Fast loading, responsive mobile websites are visited much more often by the major search engines than slower websites. In most cases, law firms will start a blog or a syndicated newsfeed in order to keep their site updated with content your potential clients are most interested in.

In short, the more relevant your website is to your niche, the higher it will go in major search engine listings.

Secondly, you should try to have a specialized website.

Keywords that are specialized and localized will give you a more highly qualified audience. For instance, if you are doing personal injury law, there is no reason for anyone looking for a criminal lawyer to view your pages.

All of your content, from the pictures on your homepage to the blogs you write each day, should focus on the topics that you specialize in.

Third, it is especially important to localize your website

Unless you are taking cases from different geographic regions, your audience will be comprised mostly of people who can visit your physical location.

The major search engines also reward law firms that have a foothold in their local jurisdiction. If you try to create a wide net marketing strategy to capture a general audience, not only will you have less qualified traffic, but you will also be punished in major search engine rankings.

Fourth, get press mentions and earn links

Google still relies on links from other websites pointing to your own as a vote of confidence. By earning links from local news sources, local websites, and legal related websites you can help skyrocket the authority of your website in Google search rankings. Check out our link building guide for tips on how to earn more links.

Finally, make sure that your website is organized well with a good internal link structure.

You do not need to fill your website with an overload of information. If a website seems cluttered to the human eye, then it is likely confusing to the major search engines as well.

Make sure that you have white space in your display and that you stay specific in your content. Resist the temptation to add all kinds of third-party apps just because they are the latest thing in the market.

While Google uses hundreds of different ranking factors to determine where a website should rank, this is a starting place to make sure you’re doing the right things for your firm.

This is just the starting point

If you follow these tips and continue to build your presence and authority, then you should see your website begin to appear in the organic search listings for the keywords that you have chosen. You may have to hire a search engine optimization specialist for this to work because you will likely have competition even within your specialty.

The Basics of Pay Per Click (PPC)

Pay per click is another way to get your website on the major search engines. However, this is paid to advertise. These listings show up around the organic search listings. Pay per click ads and organic search listings are never mixed together. An example of pay per click results with the “ad” box is below:

In certain cases, these listings have an advantageous place over organic listings. For instance, if you are willing to pay top dollar for a certain keyword, your paid advertisements can actually appear above organic search listings on Google, giving them above the fold priority when people search for a law firm in your area.

The term paper click refers to the fact that you do not have to pay for every impression. An impression simply means that your ad showed up in front of a user as they conducted a search on one of the major search engines. However, you do not actually pay for that listing until that user performs what is known as a “clickthrough.” This simply means that they click on your ad and the link that you have connected to that ad takes them to your website.

Once the Internet user clicks through to your website, you will pay for the impression. The amount of money that you pay depends on the competition that is taking place for that keyword and location.

In order to have your ad appear at all, you will need to bid for certain keywords. If you have a great deal of competition in your area, then the bid price will likely be higher than if the competition was low. More popular keywords will usually get paid on by more law firms as well. In order to gain visibility in search listings here, you will need to outbid enough of the competitors to receive priority.

This, of course, means that you must be strategic in the keywords that you pick. However, the landscape may change more quickly than it would for organic search listings. Once people realize that you are getting traction for a particular keyword, they may enter the market for that keyword. Because all they have to do is outbid you, they can quickly supplant you when it comes to visibility. This is what makes pay per click advertising a more short-term strategy in most cases when compared to search engine optimization.

However, there are a few strategies that you can employ to maximize your use of paper click advertising. We will go over a few of them in the text below.

First, you can pick keywords that are relevant only to your law firm.

This can be a tricky practice, as you still want to compete for keywords that are relevant to your general areas of practice. However, a bit of savvy research can help you here, and experience is always the best teacher. If you have a specialty that none of your local competitors is able to compete with, then you have a definite advantage when it comes to your pay per click keywords as well.

Secondly, you can stay ahead of the curve.

Once you see there is too much competition for a particular keyword, you can quickly move onto another keyword that you have already identified. Doing this will keep your competitors on their toes, forcing them to pay more for their keywords while you move ahead to keywords that are less stringent on your budget. You can use local news cycles to see what people are looking up. That is one advantage of a paper click advertising campaign – it can be changed on the spur of the moment, ensuring that your campaign is always in line with real-time events.

Thirdly, you can create better headlines than your competitors.

Paper click advertising is not all about how much money you can spend for a particular keyword. If you have a more compelling headline than your competitors, then you will receive more attention from people who are looking for lawyers in your specialty. Make sure that the introduction text that you have in your headline speaks directly to the issues that your potential clients are dealing with.

Lastly, you can build a reputation that increases your trust factor with your potential clients.

Paper click ads are generally perceived as less trustworthy, meaning that there is always a measure of personal trust that goes into each click that a user makes. If you have a better reputation in your area than your competitors, then you may be able to use that to generate more attention to your advertisements.

The Importance of Localization

No matter which strategy your law firm employees, it is very important to understand the importance of localization. Becoming known to a local audience is not only important for short-term sales, but it is also important for long-term trust as well, especially for law firms.

The major search engines have taken great pains to reward companies that focus their attention on the local market rather than trying to overstep their natural boundaries and market to a bigger audience than they should.

Any online marketer worth his or her salt will tell you this up front – if you want to go global, go local.

Using SEO and PPC To Grow Your Law Firm

Search engine optimization and pay per click advertising are meant to be used in tandem. As mentioned before, search engine optimization is a more long-term strategy.

Pay per click advertising is more flexible, but it is a short-term strategy for most law firms. The two strategies can be used alongside each other to help each other out. Here are some of the techniques that you might want to employ.

First of all, you can use pay per click advertising to find the best keywords for your search engine optimization efforts.

If you are unsure of how a keyword will perform and you do not want to commit to it over the long term, you can test it by using a paper click advertisement based on the keyword you’re interested in.

You can then amass real data that will allow you to determine quantitatively how it would perform in a long stretch. If you find a keyword that does perform well, then you can base blogs and other content around it, raising your value in organic listings for that keyword in the major search engines.

Secondly, you can use pay per click advertising to drive traffic to the pages that you are optimizing for keywords that you are using in organic listings.

In short, you are using the short-term strategy to bolster your long-term strategy. As long as you keep people coming to your webpage, the major search engines will assume that your customers deem that page trustworthy. Clicks that come from short-term advertisements will raise the visibility of that webpage in organic listings.

You can also use pay per click advertisements if you have a seasonal sale. The beauty of paper click is that you can scale it up or down depending on your needs at the time.

If you know that you are in a slow season, you can cut back and save that budget for other things around the office. If you know that your competition is about to ramp up for a busy season, you can then redirect those funds back into an advertising effort. You can also take funds that you would not be using for a paper click campaign and move them into a campaign for search engine optimization.

Is very important that you understand how you can actually use the money to bolster your organic listings. Many law firms will hire copywriters to build out a blog based on a certain keyword. Although the writers are only paid once, the attention those blogs receive (as long as they are well written) will keep a page in the major search engine listings for a long time.

You can also hire professional help to optimize the page so that the major search engines will trust it more. There are certain coding techniques that you can employ to increase site speed and the organization of the website backend. If the major search engines see that your website is more organized than the average website, it will be listed in a more advantageous position in organic listings.

Which Strategy Should Your Law Firm Use To Get More Clients?

It can be difficult to tell which strategy you should use in your own public-facing efforts, or if you should use both of these strategies at the same time.

There are many different aspects that you should consider. The most important of these will be listed below.

Although your budget is listed here first, it should actually be the third or fourth thing on your list. Search engine optimization and pay per click advertising are both proven methods that both bring back a high ROI if they are implemented appropriately. Under the circumstances, it is really not a question of how much to spend, but more how to spend the budget appropriately to create a positive net cash flow.

Law Firm SEO can take from six months to a year to generate results where as pay per click can happen right away.

You should also look into whether you need short-term or long-term advertising.

Firms that are trying to make names for themselves may want to invest in more long-term advertising in order to build a reputation within the local community. It is very important at the beginning of any marketing campaign to be as ubiquitous as possible.

If a law firm does not have the budget for both a search engine optimization and paper click campaign, most firms go with the search engine optimization option first. Short-term sales are definitely tempting, but they do not build the reputation that most legal entities need to have in order to survive in a highly competitive marketplace.

A law firm should also consider the time that has to put into an online marketing effort. If it does not have a lot of time, then it may want to employ a paper click campaign in order to take advantage of the time it does have most advantageously. If there is no one in-house to manage a long-term campaign, then a short-term paper click advertising campaign may be the only thing that is viable.

It is also possible to hire professionals for both types of campaigns. Many third-party marketing specialists have the ability to create interwoven campaigns that combine the advantages of both SEO and PPC.

Choosing Professional Help

Online marketing does not have to be your core competency in order for you to invoke an aggressive and successful campaign for your law firm online. There are many professionals who will help you create a strategy that will work in the short and long-term.

However, there are also many bad options as well. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of a good online marketing firm.

First of all, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is no technique that can take you to the top of Google organic listings in a week. Any online marketing company that claims to be able to do this is lying. They are probably using underhanded techniques that will get your site banned from Google after a short time.

It is also incredibly easy to vet online marketing companies – simply look at how they are performing in online search results! If they do not even have the expertise to bring their own name up, there is no way that they will be able to help you do that either.

Finally, look for an online marketing firm that speaks your language. Online marketing is not your core competency, nor should it have to be. The secret to a positive relationship with an online marketing firm is communications. They should be able to explain to you exactly what they are doing in language that you can easily understand. If they cannot do this, then you should move on, no matter how good their portfolio may be. A partnership with an online marketing firm is a long-term commitment, and you need to deal with people who understand you.

Use the tips above to get your law firm started on the right track in your online marketing efforts. Whether you choose to focus more of your time on search engine optimization or a pay per click strategy is up to you, but you should always keep your ear to your analytics in order to determine the best strategy for the future.

Keep in mind that your market will always change based on new competition and the rule set that the major search engines invoke on the marketplace. You should always look to new strategies so that you can stay on the cutting edge of what works in the legal industry. The basics may stay the same, but the details will always change. Come back to this text as a reminder on how to use SEO and PPC from a fundamental standpoint, but always look to educate yourself on the latest happenings in the online space.

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Casey Meraz

Casey is the founder and president of Ethical SEO Consulting and Juris Digital based in Denver, CO. Casey's specialties are in organic and local SEO. He is a regular contributor to the Moz Blog and the author of How To Perform The Ultimate Local SEO Audit. If you have an SEO question or need advice please feel free to reach out by email: cmeraz@jurisdigital.com. Follow Casey on Twitter @CaseyMeraz.