Word play

  • August 06, 2014
  • Nicolas Ritoux

Aside from the corporate world, lawyers often serve a neophyte clientele. And when a neophyte is looking for a lawyer, he doesn’t dawdle: he just Googles the word “lawyer” and the name of his city.

Try it near your office. Just these two key words will bring up an avalanche of advertising links for local lawyers. These links use a sort of word play to get new clients to click on them.

“Criminal lawyers have a real interest in being ‘hit’ by search engines, because we respond to a one-time need, for people who know nothing about law and need a lawyer fast,” says lawyer Richard DubĂ©, who was found by Googling the key words “lawyer, Montreal”.

“I see a real return on investment in this. In fact, it’s the only marketing I use,” continues DubĂ©, whose office is located in Old Montreal and who has been using SEM for four years.

SEM stands for search engine marketing, or “key-word advertising.” SEM is the main source of Internet advertising expenditure, and it is on the rise in every profession that traditionally relies on directories to attract clients, like hairdressers, restaurant owners, dentists … and lawyers.

Ideal for the public at large

“Key-word advertising may not be useful if your bread and butter is major business clients, but it is ideal for targeting the public at large and small business,” comments Brian Goldfinger, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in personal injury, and who was also found on Google.

“I need to continually turn over my clients. My job is to reach an agreement as soon as possible, and very few clients come back to see me unless they have another accident,” says Goldfinger.

“People are using search engines to find a lawyer. I take the time to learn about SEM so I can stay competitive.”

How does it work?

Whether you use Google, Yahoo! or Bing, search engines all offer the same advertising model, known as “pay per click” (PPC). Here’s how it works:

• You advise the search engine of your daily advertising budget, and the region/city/ postal code you are targeting.

• You submit your ads, which have a title, two very short lines of description and a website address.

• You select key words and key-word sets (e.g., “lawyer Montreal”) that will bring up your ads.

• You only pay for clicks on your ads. Simple, isn’t it? That’s what a lot of self-taught advertisers think. But the problem is that you’re not the only one who has figured this out. In the highly competitive lawyer market, it’s better to go one step farther: be clever.

Unless they compete on their rates, lawyers have to fight for visibility. So, how many lawyers are there in your city? Certainly too many for one page of Google results. That is why the most searched sets of key words, like “lawyer, Quebec,” can cost up to $1.50 every time someone clicks on your ad. You attract more traffic, but it’s less cost-effective.

‘Qualified’ prospects

SEM offers a lot of potential if you use it right,” says Jeff Quipp, founder and CEO of Search Engine People, an Ontario Internet marketing company with a number oflaw firmclients. “The difference with traditional advertising is that [with SEM] you reach people who are actively looking for information that relates to you. This is what we call ‘pre-qualified prospects’.”

“To promote yourself cost-effectively, you have to keep in mind that web users are looking for a solution to a problem,” advises Quipp. “For instance, if they are in the midst of a divorce or a breach of contract suit, they will search those words.

“So it’s a good idea to target a segment instead of buying key words that are too general. There may be less traffic, but it will be more on point; your prospects will be more qualified, increasing your chances of a sale on each click.”

Be patient

“It’s not enough to buy key words; you also have to attract clicks by designing your website to match web users’ searches,” explains Christopher Costa, president of Lawyers Court , a Chicago firm that specializes in Internet marketing for lawyers, and author of the blog Legal Search Marketing. Search engine optimization (SEO) goes hand in hand with SEM, and it will help you improve your organic listing -- that is, earn your website a higher ranking in the regular pages of results rather than in the paid spots.

“For lawyers, a good SEO strategy is to broadcast quality online content, preferably specific, so other sites will link to yours, which makes it more relevant in Google’s view,” explains Costa.

“It’s also important to update your profile in the various professional directories, making sure that you add links to your website. If you have time, you should also keep a blog and comment on other people’s blogs. Then there is video, which is growing in importance. All these types of content contribute to a quality ranking.”

Unlike SEM, SEO requires time and patience, which are in short supply with lawyers. Even if it means recruiting someone to handle it for you, your efforts will still end up paying off.

“There’s a reason why some firms spend thousands of dollars a month on their search engine strategy,” says Costa. “These days, that’s where the action is.”