There’s no question that prospective clients of non-hourly priced legal services can’t find the "new normal" firms offering these services unless the firms are doing some shouting online, see our Nov. 30 post.  It’s equally as clear that the shouting can be done ethically, see our Dec. 18 post

But is Google AdWords, one of the most widely used online marketing tools, worth the cost? 

According to Google’s snappy tutorials, the answer is yes so long as the revenue earned on each click on the lawyer’s ad is greater than the cost incurred by the lawyer in generating that click.  However, good luck reaching agreement within your firm on revenue resulting from a specific prospect clicking on your ad and being directed to your website.

The better approach, it seems to us, is to ask what happens when a client prospect types in the "key words" most relevant to the lawyer’s practice.   If the lawyer’s website does not appear on the first page of the search results, then it’s probably worth the cost to use AdWords to help get you there.

As explained in Agency San Francisco’s recent tract Guerrilla Marketing for Attorneys:

Getting on Page 1 of Google when people type in your law firm’s "key words" is by far the most critical Internet marketing that your law practice can do. Most of your potential clients that use search engines will never go beyond the first page.

The case for using the appearance on Google Page 1 as the test whether to pay for AdWords after the jump.

AdWords Requires Lawyers to Bid Against One Another for Ad Placement

Adwords is a pay-per-click service that requires the lawyer to pay a fee to Google each time an Internet user clicks on the lawyer’s advertisement appearing on a Google search response page,  Clicking on the ad directs the Internet user to the lawyer’s website. 

Here’s the rub: Google effectively auctions off the most highly desired search terms (and consequently the likelihood of the ad appearing "higher up" on the search response pages) to the lawyers willing to pay the most for these terms – the more the lawyer is willing to pay for a click on their advertisement, the more likely is Google to feature the lawyer’s ad in response to the relevant search term.  Furthermore, not only do lawyers bid against one another, the bidding is highly competitive due to the relatively finite number of search terms most relevant to a particular law practice.  Check out attorney Ben Glass’s video on this point:

For example, Google’s "traffic estimator" demonstrates that  terms such as "patent litigation" or "intellectual property" are being searched on average tens if not hundreds of thousands of times per month.   Who wants to get in a bidding war in such a highly competitive environment?  Based on our preliminary review, the bid or cost per click the lawyer may need to pay for a higher profile appearance in response to the search of such high traffic terms is in the several hundreds of dollars a month.   While the kids won’t need to give up college, this is nonetheless a lot of money to spend where the return on the investment = the possibility of getting some subset of client prospects who view the ad to visit the lawyer’s website + the more speculative possibility that some subset of prospects,  having reached the site, might contact the lawyer to discuss a representation + the even more speculative possibility that some subset of prospects, having both gone to the site and then contacted the lawyer, decides to retain the lawyer.

Difficult if Not Impossible for Lawyers to Evaluate AdWords By Comparing Revenue vs. Cost Per Click

We have not found anything that might allow the lawyer to quantify in dollars and cents the return on investment in AdWords.  Google does provides informative tutorials by Google economist Hal Varian on how to bid for AdWords, but these tutorials focus on websites selling products as opposed to services and their analyses ultimately require hard numbers on  how many clicks into the website result in a sale (or in Google speak, a conversion). 

When does a conversion occur in connection with a prospective client visiting the lawyer’s website?  Is it the visit itself?  (We doubt it.)  Is it the prospect taking the further step of contacting the lawyer?  (Certainly of greater interest to the lawyer, but enough?)  Is it the prospect’s decision to engage the lawyer after running the Google search/lawyer website gauntlet.  (Best, but how realistic?)  Good luck monetizing these different results.

A Better Test for Whether to Use AdWords: "Are You on Page 1?"

Rather than get tied up in knots trying to quantify both click revenue and costs, the better focus it seems to us is whether the lawyer’s website appears on Page 1 when a client googles the key words most relevant to the lawyer’s practice. San Francisco attorney Brett Burilson expands on this point in his video:

Guerrilla Marketing lays out the case for why lawyers should get their websites on Page 1 and use AdWords to get them there:

So where are your potential clients? They’re all online.

Google is the most popular search engine in the world. Google gets 65.4% of all searches.

What is "Page 1"? Page 1 is the first page you see when you type in your key words or search terms into Google’s search engine. There are only 10 results or websites that Google presents on its "first page" for any search. The 10 sites allowed are always below Google’s paid ads, which are at the top and the right of the Page, called Google "Adwords". These non-paid search "results" are called "organic" results since they’re not paid ads

Most of your potential clients that use search engines will never go beyond the first page.

[L]et Google drive traffic to your site using their paid ads. Adwords is also Google-friendly and will help get your legal website to the top. Only use it for 4-6 weeks after the initial launch. By then your organic keywords will be optimized and put you in the top 10 search results

We’ve used these insights in evaluating whether our firm CLP should use AdWords.  We’ve determined that regards the most important key words relevant to our model, namely, ‘flat fee IP litigation," both our website and blog already enjoy Page 1 status.  So no compelling need right now to incur the costs of AdWords.

This said, we’ve noticed the trend among thought leaders is to refer to "efficiency-based pricing" or "value pricing" (as compared to "hourly-based pricing").  It might be worth it for CLP to pay for some ads that drive us to Page 1 when these terms are searched.

Likewise, our model has proven attractive to companies defending NPE patent litigations, particularly with respect to the online gaming and online retail markets.  Perhaps we should be using AdWords for Page 1 visibility relevant to this industry-specific litigation.