This guide is written by Dan Holt. Dan has been involved in digital marketing since 2009, since which time he and his agency, Boss Digital:

  • Have managed over 300 campaigns, including many in the legal market
  • Been featured in many of the world’s largest digital marketing blogs and magazines, including Moz, HubSpot and Search Engine Journal
  • Dan also runs a weekly podcast on BossToBoss.org, where he interviews the world’s leading sales and marketing experts, including many from the legal industry, on a variety of topics from content marketing to PPC.
Dan Holt
Dan Holt – Managing Director

Overview of PPC in the legal sector

For the most part, there are two types of firm that invest heavily in PPC:

  • Those with a tight grip on their marketing, particularly the financials, who understand their cost per acquisition vs their customer profit value (lots more on that later!) and precisely how to scale in a manner that protects profit and cash flow. These are, most typically, either tech start-ups that have entered the legal market, or the larger firms that have dedicated digital functions.
  • Those with absolutely no idea whatsoever, who unimaginatively fall back on PPC as the only channel that can actually drive results (albeit with no sense of whether that’s happening in a commercially viable manner.

The other 80% of the legal market, either spend very cautiously on PPC or avoid it entirely.

This is good news, as it means that despite having been around for nearly a quarter of a century, PPC for law firms continues to offer a viable and scalable route to market for the small number of companies that get a handle on their numbers.

This all begins with understanding CPA modelling.

Developing a CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) Model for Your Law Firm

Perhaps the most important component of any PPC for law firms is what we refer to as Cost Per Acquisition modelling.

In simple terms, it refers to the cost of generating leads relative to their value within a campaign, and it’s business-critical. After all, there is simply no point in generating leads that cost more than they earn!

You might challenge that by highlighting its omission of any brand consideration, but in truth there is very little impact on brand via PPC. Of course it exists, but it’s marginal and absolutely not something to be judging a PPC campaign by.

So instead, we need to dig into the numbers, starting with the value of leads:

  • What’s the average customer lifetime profit value? This is about profit, not revenue. And it’s also about lifetime value, although this does assume that short term cash flow is not a barrier. If it is then you may need to substitute lifetime value with initial transaction value, although needless to say this will dramatically reduce the campaign’s scalability. In the legal market, although the majority of your clients will be looking for one-off services or advice, there will be a small number of clients that specifically are looking for ongoing retainers. 
  • Are there referrals to consider? Most law firms generate a significant proportion of their new business via referrals. In many cases one new customer may actually equal multiple new customers. Ideally these considerations would be factored into the model, although once again it depends on the health of your cash flow. If cash is tight then I’d suggest committing the referral dimension for now. 
  • What’s the conversion rate of SQL (sales qualified lead) to closed business. With the increased connectivity, and more law firms offering bespoke services, it’s more important than ever that firms successfully close opportunities into sales. If you have a strong rate of acquisition, but a low rate of closure, it’s worth analysing your processes to establish if a) you are talking to the right audience and b) if you are instilling confidence and trust in them to encourage them to convert. 
  • Finally, how good is PPC at actually driving SQLs? That, of course, can only be established via a trial period (more on that later).

The above will provide a lead value figure. It’s worth noting that this figure isn’t absolute as certain legal services will require more time on them, depending on their complexity. This means that they can end up costing more than more common requests. 

The other side to this equation is of course the cost of the lead. This will vary across different product/service lines and keyword/ad groups under each of these, but when you do have sufficient data it should become very clear whether or not the CPA is higher or lower than the lead value. If it’s higher, stop wasting your money and move onto the next channel with the peace of mind of knowing that you’re not missing an opportunity. If it’s lower, then pat yourself on the back because you’ve just found a profitable and scalable route to market!

At the same time, don’t forget that you need to establish the frequency that you get enquiries relating to this legal service. If it’s not very common, it doesn’t matter if it’s extremely profitable as you are rarely going to get asked for it.

As a final note, if the answer is higher today, don’t write off PPC indefinitely. It may be that you weren’t able to factor in the full lifetime value or referrals due to your cash flow constraints. Or it may be that your brand is currently weak (more on that below) and that in time the parameters of your model evolve. Additionally, you may be able to explore PPC options on other platforms with a cheaper core costs to help boost your revenues in the short term, so you can commit to a more expensive and expansive PPC campaign in the future. 

How PPC Relates to Brand

While PPC has almost no direct impact on brand itself, that’s not to say that there isn’t a relationship:

  • For a start, the stronger your brand, the higher your conversion rates and more you can likely charge for your product/service relative to the competition. This is absolutely critical as that means that you can be far more aggressive from a PPC perspective, effectively outbidding your competition until it’s no longer viable for them to compete.
  • Secondly, those firms with a clear set of value propositions for each audience segment, invariably run tighter PPC campaigns as they understand precisely who they’re targeting, with what messaging and via what landing page. They don’t simply “throw **** at the wall and see what sticks”, but rather operate in a highly focused, strategic and lean manner, that minimises wastage and optimises conversion rates.
  • From a legal perspective, it’s best to pick out your key services and competencies and develop your PPC strategy around promoting these.

Which Legal Market/Products are Likely to Benefit Most from PPC

There’s a simple and complicated answer to that question. The simple answer is that if your audience knows that your proposition exists, then PPC can play a role, as they will be actively searching for it and when they do you want your brand to appear on their radar.

However, for most companies operating in the legal space, their product/service is not infinitely scalable. Most are linked closely to the delivery of human hours, as is the case with any professional service, and therefore there is a limit to how much you can sell/grow in any given time period. It’s therefore incumbent upon the firm to first exhaust their highest return channels (or those with the lowest CPA), and they’re likely to be a combination of organic search, email marketing and various forms of offline engagement.

That’s not to say PPC doesn’t play a role for these companies. It absolutely does. But that role is one of filling a gap when the more efficient channels are driving sufficient demand.

Where things become really interesting from a PPC perspective is with companies that have a more scalable product. For example, this may be a wills company that sells a very particular product, most of which is either standardised or automated. In this situation, it wouldn’t matter how many leads their organic and owned channels were driving, as long as PPC was able to drive a viable CPA they should be spending that money all day long. The same would be true for any form of direct response marketing. As long as the cost per acquisition was lower than the customer lifetime profit value, even if only by a few pence, then they should be driving as many leads from it as possible. Moreover, if you start developing more SQLs, you can begin spotting trends within the market and honing your PPC strategy accordingly to continue taking advantage of these opportunities. 

Running a Short Term Trial Phase

Before you launch your campaign in full, it’s always sensible to begin with a trial. This will provide you with two things:

  • Your CPA
  • The quality of the SQLs

From this you will have a clear sense of whether PPC is a profitable channel for generating leads that will actually drive real business for your firm.

The budget required for this will depend on the competitiveness within your niche (and by extension the cost per click),but typically £2000-3000 should provide sufficient data within most legal verticals.

A PPC trial should be no longer than several months because otherwise you risk spending unnecessary resources and time optimising the campaign without any assurances that your law firm will benefit from this. You should also analyse performance regularly in order to identify which areas are performing well and which can be improved.

One core aspect of a good trial process with PPC for law firms is not to continuously get distracted by tinkering campaigns. Doing this can continuously reset machine learning periods and actually have a profoundly negative algorithm effect. 

If the trial is a success then happy days – you can now scale as aggressively as your team can handle. Be aware that you may reach a point where your current campaign cannot be optimised further even if spending increases. This can result in wasting budgets if not monitored consistently. Law firms that think they are reaching this point can instead shift some budget to start promoting a different legal service or product in another PPC campaign, to ensure you still get the most benefit for your expenditure.

If your PPC campaign is not yielding the results you hoped for, then you may wish to either extend the campaign if the CPA only slightly exceeded the lifetime customer value and if you believe further optimisation will continue to reduce this. Alternatively, you may decide to knock it on the head entirely. But at least if that is the case you can rest assured that you are not missing an opportunity and leaving money on the table!

Building your Legal PPC Campaign

The legal industry is expensive and highly competitive so it’s vital that law firms take all marginal gains where possible in order to attract high quality leads. An effective PPC marketing strategy can create a consistent pipeline of conversions that are focused around the most relevant keywords, phrases and questions that relate to your legal practise or business.

PPC marketing shouldn’t be viewed as an alternative to a robust SEO and content marketing strategy but instead should be viewed in tandem with it. PPC allows you to target any keyword immediately, including those which will take months and years to rank for organically. It also helps you identify which keywords have the best profitability and conversion rates, so you can hone your content strategy around targeting this terminology, rather than focusing on less beneficial or relevant keywords.

PPC can actually also guide your broader SEO strategy because it provides you an instant opportunity to test terminology, calls to action and selling points to establish which resonate best with your audience. Once you have this data, you can update your website content and meta-data with this information to make it better geared towards achieving positive actions and generating leads organically.

It’s essential to spend enough time planning judiciously so that you create a strong business case for your PPC marketing. Once you launch one successful campaign, this can be the catalyst to pushing forward and expanding your PPC marketing.

It’s important to note that PPC marketing is not channel-agnostic. One of the biggest mistakes that any law firm can make is treating PPC as a separate entity, whereas omni-channel approaches actually can help you steer the campaign in the right direction, highlighting possible opportunities for expansion and success and more importantly showing you potential pitfalls.

The easiest starting point for a PPC campaign is paid search. This involves identifying a collection of words and phrases that you would like your law firm to appear in searches for, and bidding on them in real-time auctions against other advertisers. Google Ads allows you to either manually bid or offers an automatic bidding process to give you full flexibility.

To set up a campaign, you first need to identify your business objective: website traffic, top of page impressions, phone calls, or leads. Once you’ve established this, you can set a budget for your campaign. GA will never exceed your budget and will automatically pace it so it can last the full length of your campaign if you set start and end dates. Create unique Ad Groups for each location or legal service that you want to target. From there, you can assign keywords.

Keywords are split into three main categories:

  • Broad (and Modified Broad) – these searches will look to bid and appear for any words within a given search. For example, the broad match of ‘Family Lawyer Berkshire’ could appear for any search featuring the words ‘Family’, ‘Lawyer’ or ‘Berkshire’ or any combination of them. Broad matches are great for scoping out broad topics, and can be very cheap, but law firms run the risk of appearing for searches that are only vaguely relevant to their service offering. Using the + is recommended as it modifies broad keywords so they only match relevant variations.
  • Phrase Match – these searches will bid on phrase combinations of your keyword. In the above example, it might be ‘Family Lawyer’, ‘Berkshire Lawyer’ or ‘Family Berkshire Lawyer’. Although these are more expensive, they are usually more relevant for businesses and have a better conversion potential.
  • Exact match – these searches must match your keyword completely (besides obvious typos/capitalisation etc.). They are the highest converting because they have the closest and clearest intent, but that also makes them the most expensive.

It’s important to have a variety of different keywords from all types to help drive engagement. Through PPC analytics tools, you can analyse your keywords and quickly ascertain which perform and which don’t, so you can switch them on and off accordingly. Once again, this 360-degree control is another benefit of PPC marketing and is very important for successfully managing PPC for law firms.

Once you agree on your keywords, you can start creating responsive adverts. These allow you to create a range of relevant headlines, descriptions and calls to action that relate to your offering. As a rule of thumb, legal service companies should try and cover as many keywords as possible within their advert text. If you have a lot of keywords, then split-test by creating multiple variations of similar responsive adverts. Once you run your campaign, you’ll start to quickly see which keywords and topics are closest to the enquiries and questions people are asking. This again allows for further optimisation.

The structure of adverts most commonly used in PPC for law firms is as follows:

Final URL: The page you want to send your website visitors to when they click on your advert.

Display Path: The information after the trailing-slash in the URL that explains what the page is about.

Headlines: You can create up to 15 headlines each a maximum of 30 characters long. They should include relevant keywords and topics that relate to your law firm brand, and also have strong calls to action.

Descriptions: You can have up to 4 descriptions that are 90 characters long. They should showcase your key services and the biggest benefits of using your law firm.

People focus on unique selling points, brand credibility and how closely your advert resonates with what they are looking for. A strong headline, clear message and compelling CTA, using keywords or synonyms relevant to your law firm will help maximise your quality score.

It’s important that once you drive traffic onto your website that you have set up proper PPC landing pages to convert leads. Although law firms like to focus on detailed information, PPC-specific pages instead work differently. They have a lot of important information, however, it’s spaced out and often broken down into bullet points or chunks to make it easily digestible. Legal procedures can be hugely confusing and anxiety-inducing, so visual content like videos and diagrams can help to explain more complex concepts which can serve to reassure clients. PPC for law firms works best when you demystify tough concepts. 

Most importantly, there needs to be a really clear prominent call to action at the very end of the page and no ability for users to become distracted or navigate off-page. By taking this approach, you always focus your visitors on that one important end-goal and that means you have the greatest chance of securing a lead.

Legal PPC Best Practice 

The idea behind building your PPC campaign is that once complete, a visitor will type in your search term and see your advertisement at the top of the page matches what they’re looking for. They’ll click through, and google redirects them to your page, from where they then make contact with you to become a lead/subscriber/customer etc.

With that, PPC for law firms sounds super simple, but it always takes tweaking and measuring to achieve objectives. That’s why we always recommend a little trial period to understand your parameters. It might help, however, if we showed you a few examples of what looks good or bad, based on our earlier mentioned search queries.

Let’s say we type in ‘Family Lawyer Berkshire’. Here are the results below:

PPC for Law Firms Google Query Example 1

One would assume anyone with the above search query is looking for a family lawyer in Berkshire. Fortunately, we can see 3 different family law firms, which are area-specific, so clearly the area-specific keywords are matching correctly. 

The top two ad results have taken advantage of the fact they have 3 lines of ad description underneath. However, the 3rd ad has only a single line, with far less detail. There also isn’t any location keyword in the title of that 3rd one. The top ad references they’re a high net worth specialist and has more detailed sub search sections, a free extension which no one else has used, whilst the 2nd ad references low cost & affordability. Whilst the two are both family law firms, they may have slightly different target audiences, so are able to compete for the same keyword. 

The third ad, has no specific information about affordability, location, or expertise, which again could be seen as a mark against it considering the standard approach of PPC for law firms. Overall, the top 2 search results are the better of the 3 ads and would draw clicks dependent on the financial status of whoever is searching. Let’s rearrange the search query and see what difference it makes.

PPC for Law Firms Google Query Example 2

Rearranging the query you can again see a few different ads. The 1st and 3rd ad have location-specific keywords in the title, which would make sense with the search being location-specific. However, the 2nd and 4th do not. Once again, the bottom ad has only a minimal description, lacking the depth of information the top results show. 

The top 2 results this time also show there to be a free initial consultation, a great CTA to grasp any onlookers. The best ad again this time, is the top result, with more depth of information available, location keywords, subject keywords, and free consultation CTA’s included in the ad description. Try to be as thorough as you can, answering the questions you think the searcher is looking to have answered. These adverts could definitely both be improved, however. Adding a click-to-call button can increase the rate of conversions that come directly from the search engine results, especially on mobile. Additionally, they could look at adding rich markup text like Schema to offer further details on their exact service offering. 

If you’re looking for any more information about PPC for law firms, or want to discuss potential campaigns please contact us here for a free consultation!