Why Pay Per Click Means Expensive Legal Marketing

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Nov 16, 2020

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Attorneys who do not have a well established website are struggling to “catch up” with firms who built websites before the Internet boom. Because placement on the first page of search results is difficult, and costly, for Internet newcomers, growing numbers of attorneys are turning to Pay Per Click (PPC) programs. With PPC advertising, the attorney pays only for click-throughs to the attorney’s website.

Despite its intuitive appeal, PPC advertising is among the most expensive and inefficient forms of legal marketing. The cost of generating a single visit to a law firm’s website is high. More significantly, a website visit does not guarantee a call, email or office visit as the conversion rate on hits to a website is low. The result is that many law firms pay thousands of dollars per month for very little in the way of actual business.

Before signing on to a PPC program, you need to consider the cost per click (CPC) of a relevant search term. The cost can be enormous. Some examples of the average CPC in different metro markets, as estimated by Google, show why:

Term Cost Per Click (CPC) Market
Personal Injury Lawyer $18.84 Los Angeles
Auto Accident Lawyer $14.54 Miami
Criminal Lawyer $17.11 New York City
DUI Lawyer $23.92 Boston

For $100, the PPC term “Personal Injury Lawyer” in Los Angeles, will generate only 5 unique visitors to a firm’s website, but the probability of gaining a client from those visits is zero. A typical conversion rate to an actual call or email is probably about 1 in 20 or 1 in 30. Some attorney marketing search engine optimization (SEO) firms claim they can increase the conversion rate to 10%, or 1 in 10, which may be unrealistic.

If your firm does spend $100 per day, that amounts to $3,000 per month, which exceeds the entire monthly legal marketing budget for many firms. The CPC for the four search terms shown above average $18.60. Using that as an average, a PPC budget of $3,000 per month would generate 161 unique visitors, but that is only a web visit—not a call, email or office visit. Using the admittedly unrealistic conversion rate of 1 in 10, would generate about 16 calls or emails per month, which calculates to about $187.50 per call or email–and that does not necessarily mean an office visit, let alone a new client.

The reality is that if you get 10% of the clients that call, email or visit, (remember many will have no money or no case) to retain your firm, you are doing exceptionally well. Even law firms that are very good at converting calls/emails from a legal marketing firm into an actual client only achieve a retention rate of 5-10%, and that’s a best-case scenario. If a firm gets 16 leads per month based on a monthly $3,000 PPC budget, the firm would gain approximately 19 retained clients after spending $36,000 per year on PPC. This works out to almost $1900 per retained client, which is more than many reputable programs charge for an entire year of service. That high cost is a good reason why firms new to online marketing should not rely on PPC marketing, which may be the most expensive form of legal advertising, especially in terms of return on investment (ROI). Most would-be advertisers don’t recognize this hidden truth because marketing companies that provide SEO services do not talk about the cost of an actual lead or retained client. They simply refer to increased website traffic, usually as a percentage (i.e. 50% increase in traffic).

A new variation on legal marketing programs, called Pay Per Click Management, focuses on the number of visitors to your site and the increase in traffic the marketing firm can generate. These attach a premium to the already high CPC, but claim to get more action. Generally, these firms buy less popular and less expensive terms that do not convert as well. This tactic increases the number of unique visitors to a website but reduces the conversion rates. PPC, by itself, is a very expensive and inefficient form of online legal marketing that is not improved by legal marketing firms that claim to increase your unique visitors by 50%. Now you must cover the premium cost of the PPC management firm and deal with lower conversion rates.

A much more effective way for newer firms to catch up with those with established websites is to work with a legal directory or pay per lead service. Many legal directories already come up at the top for relevant search terms and can generate leads at a much lower price than a PPC campaign, which means a lower cost per case. Pay per lead programs also are a good alternative because you pay a fixed cost for the actual leads you receive. This means that you know exactly what each email or call from a potential client costs. Legal directories can be less expensive than PPL programs, but both are much less expensive, and more efficient, than PPC legal marketing.

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