Search engine marketing for Law firms

Authored by Tanner Jones, Vice President of Business Development

Mastering SEM for Law Firms

In a digital era where online visibility can make or break your law firm, Tanner Jones offers a masterclass in SEM that promises not just to level the playing field but to turn you into the player everyone’s watching. Whether you’re looking to refine your current strategy or starting from scratch, this guide is your blueprint for success in the competitive legal market.

Key Takeaways:

  • Level the Playing Field: Discover how small to medium-sized law firms can compete with industry giants in the digital space, without the need for an infinite budget.
  • Build Your Digital Moat: Learn the importance of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) in protecting and enhancing your firm’s online presence against the competition.
  • Brand Building is Crucial: Understand the journey of the new customer and the significance of making your firm more visible as a brand through strategic online interactions.
  • Break Through the Noise: Tactics to navigate and stand out in a crowded marketplace by focusing on strategy over fleeting tactics.
  • SEM Simplified: A deep dive into SEM, distinguishing it from SEO, and exploring its components including Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising for targeted traffic and conversions.
  • Budget Doesn’t Dictate Success: Real-world comparisons show that strategic SEM can enable any firm to punch above its weight, regardless of budget size.
  • In-House vs. Agency: Insights on whether to manage SEM internally or outsource, tailored to your firm’s unique needs and capabilities.
  • Actionable Strategies for Growth: Case studies highlight the tangible benefits of embracing SEM, from significant increases in site visitors to a surge in case acquisitions.
  • Future-Proof Your Practice: Final words of wisdom on ensuring your firm is not just surviving but thriving in the digital battlefield through quality counsel and strategic marketing efforts.

Do you know the biggest challenge law firms face regarding online visibility today?

Here is a fact: Small to medium-sized firms with limited budgets can compete with giant law firms in the digital arena.

There are juggernaut law firms or the concept of the 800-pound gorilla law firms. These are firms like Morgan and Morgan, which are often national or regional law firms. Firms like this may appear to have a seemingly infinite budget. 

The reality is that big law firms spend big bucks on many forms of advertising, including traditional advertising methods like TV, radio, and billboards, and thus create top-of-mind awareness in their market area(s). Giant law firms don’t stop there; they often use Local Services Ads (LSAs), Pay-per-click (PPC), optimizing their Law firm website and Local SEO and for organic search, and securing all their bases for maximum market share.

I’m fully aware this concept may sting.

It’s the same concept as if a big bully tried to take your school lunch. But, are there ways that you can safeguard that lunch? 

Of course. You just need to build a digital moat around your firm!

In this case, your firm should focus on SEM or Search engine marketing.

What Is Search engine marketing?

Let me walk you through the process step by step…

Overcoming Online Visibility Challenges Through Brand Building

Knowing where you stand and what you can do about it is always the first step.

To optimize your marketing efforts and return, you must recognize the importance of getting your firm’s name out there and learning to be more visible as a brand.

This also means understanding your client’s journey. 

The New Customer experience

Google added the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), the stage where consumers educate themselves before purchasing a service or product.

According to Medium, Google states that, on average, consumers spend 7 hours researching a product, engaging with 11 touchpoints in 4 different locations before buying.

Sem customer experience diagram

Google’s 7-11-4 Rule:

  • 7 Hours of Content – Consumers assess brand credibility and understand product offerings through blog articles, videos, podcasts, social media, and customer reviews.
  • 11 Touch Points – These are the brand-consumer interactions that happen online and offline. These include ads, websites, social media, email newsletters, brochures, and more.
  • 4 Different Locations – Firms must recognize where consumers go for information. These locations are your website, social media, podcasts, physical stores, events, community, etc.

Knowing these touchpoints will help you understand the importance and the power of having online visibility.

Here’s another critical step: eliminate limiting beliefs from your vocabulary! 

Suppose you’re a local law firm and want to place all your bets on SEO only. In this case, you’re not doing anything proactively to get your firm’s name out there beyond waiting for someone to Google ‘car accident lawyer’ and find you.

The idea that ‘if you build it, and they will come’ is outdated. Today, you need to build it, market, and advertise it aggressively by placing your brand in front of the right people; meet people where they are.

But this isn’t the only limiting belief.

Another limitation many law firms have is, ‘I simply don’t have the budget to compete with big law firms, so I’m not going to.’ It’s worth noting that these are commonly some of the most successful trial attorneys who hold this limiting belief. And those same attorneys often continue to rely on referred cases from the “marketing minded” attorneys. Imagine if they got serious about winning in digital?

I continue to argue that there is an opportunity for every firm online. 

For example, you don’t have to spend money on TV, so your community knows your firm. There are other creative ways to be out there, like leveraging your community.

According to recent studies, 87% of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. Consumers are looking for businesses that support the same causes they do. By engaging in community service initiatives, law firms can showcase that they are a part of the community they’re serving and demonstrate their alignment with clients’ values.

In my opinion, one of the challenges law firms face today is the amount of noise in the marketplace. All of the “shiny objects” are built to get attention. It’s easy to get lost in tactics and lose sight of strategy. When a firm gets too lost in sales activation tactics and ignores their brand-building efforts, they miss a huge opportunity in the marketplace.

Noise in the marketplace sem quote

“One of the challenges law firms face today is the amount of noise in the marketplace. All of the “shiny objects” that are built to get attention. It’s easy to get lost in tactics and lose sight of strategy. When a firm gets too lost in sales activation tactics and ignores their brand building efforts, they miss a huge opportunity in the marketplace. I get it, though, because there’s no instant gratification from long-term branding building, but it has always mattered.” 

Understanding Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is advertising your website in the SERP, search engine results pages, through organic SEO efforts as well as paid ads campaigns.

The difference between SEM and SEO can be confusing, so let’s look into this. In SEO, we use relevant keywords, backlinks, and high-quality content to organically enhance a website’s visibility in search results. In SEM, there’s a mixture of SEO and paid search strategies.

2 Biggest SEM Ad Platforms:

  1. Google Ads
  2. Microsoft Advertising (Bing Ads)

Examples of Search Engine Marketing Ads:

  • Google Local Services Ads (LSAs)
  • Google Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads
  • Google Local Ads
  • Microsoft / Bing Search Ads

SEM Helps Law Firms Drive Targeted Traffic and Conversions

Now, going back to the main challenge law firms face.  We have acknowledged that there are big spending law firms all around us. As a matter of fact, we’re seeing even venture capitalists start to invest in law firms in states like Arizona, where it’s now legal for non-lawyers to invest in legal service businesses.

Are we going to see more or less big law firms trying to push us around in the future?

The answer, most of us agree on, is a resounding YES! We’re only going to see more big law firms diversify their investments.

This brings us to the question: Does a big budget always correlate to winning?

The beauty of SEM is that law firms, regardless of their size, can punch above their weight.

For example, when we look at the NFL (National Football League), we see organizations like the Dallas Cowboys that have some of the biggest budgets in the country for recruiting all-star athletes and investing in crazy spectacular entertainment.

Yet, they have not won a national championship since I was in elementary school.

The correlation is that just because you have a big budget doesn’t mean you’re going to win every time or own the majority of your market.  

There’s still a piece of the pie. But that doesn’t mean it’s just handed to you. 

The Practical Opportunities and the Wins for Law Firms When They Are Investing in SEM

Here are the SEM statistics that will strengthen the reasons why law firms of today should get involved:

Why SEM Works for Law Firms

What is search engine marketing for lawyer
  • 70+ percent of shoppers buy online using their phones. (SEMrush)
  • More Google searches happen on mobile than on desktop. (Smart Insights)
  • Approximately 40% of ad spending in the US comes from search advertisements. (Statista)
  • After comparing the top organic result on Google with the top sponsored result, the organic SERP gets 19x more clicks. (First Page Sage)

These data prove that being online is a must if you want your firm to stay relevant, build brand recognition, and become dominant in your market for case-driving search queries.

Maybe another angle of looking at it as well as if you’re a car accident lawyer, would you rather be in a big room full of individuals who do not have a driver’s license and have never driven before in their lives? Or, would you rather be in a room with only one or two people who have just recently been involved in a serious car accident?

It’s a very simple example, but the thought is that, as long as you’re ranking for the right case-driving search queries, you are showing up in front of some of the most high-quality prospects at the perfect time; that’s when you know you’re doing SEM right.

SEM for Law Firms

Today, it is no secret that digital advertising is the new brand driver for law firms. It is one of the most effective ways to drive traffic and leads to a firm’s website.

One of the beauties behind SEM is that it is entirely measurable – unlike expensive billboards and TV ads. With SEM, you get measurable results where firms can determine which ads work best, which need improvement, and which will be most effective for future retargeting campaigns.

Remember, advertisements act only as an accelerant. Your campaigns need to be dynamic and need continuous ad spending and ad optimization to bring in more business.

The most important takeaway here is to avoid blind ad spending and have a strategy for where dollars are being allocated. This brings us to the next section.

Who Should Manage SEM: In-house or Agency?

What is sem for law firm

There is no one-size-fits-all model or strategy that works for every firm.

We need to start off by acknowledging that some firms may be better fit with a full in-house marketing team while others are better off with outsourcing to a law firm digital marketing agency.

Let’s take the case of a personal injury law firm. In some cases, settling a case and staying out of court works out just fine but other times cases can get complex and law firms need to acknowledge whether they are ready to take on such complex challenges and leave their marketing responsibilities to an agency or take on everything at once.

In a complex personal injury case, in some cases the firm will go out and they will find an expert trial lawyer, for example, that has proven themselves in this particular case type and they will bring them in as co-counsel, essentially sharing that case and will share in the fees of that case.

However, the firm must acknowledge the limitations of their expertise where their business model stops and where another starts. Now, take that same concept to marketing.

Some law firms have tremendously brilliant marketers in-house, and those brilliant marketers may have access to their own knowledge and skill sets to run a comprehensive search campaign or digital campaign.

In those instances, that’s great. You should continue to leverage that and make the most out of it.

But, what should law firms do when they are at their limit of capabilities?

In this scenario, if the law firm is not leaning on outside expertise, chances are another more swift competitor might do better at closing that case simply because they decided to delegate the rest while they focus on what they do best: resolving cases.

It’s a matter of being intentional and honest with your self-reflection as a law firm and understanding what talents you have available to you or even acknowledging that you don’t want to have to oversee or manage particular talents.

Maybe it’s not a passion area of yours. And in those instances, it makes perfect sense to be able to lean on outside expertise. So to me, that’s the big picture. It basically just cements that there is no one-size-fits-all, and you have to look at your own area, your own firm, your own capabilities, and then what you have access to externally.”

Sem marketing meaning sem quote

“It’s a matter of being intentional and honest with your self-reflection as a law firm and understanding what talents you have available to you or even acknowledging that you don’t want to have to oversee or manage particular talents. Maybe it’s not a passion area of yours. And in those instances, it makes perfect sense to be able to lean on outside expertise. So to me, that’s the big picture. It basically just cements that there is no one-size-fits-all.” 

Being in Consultwebs for many years has given me the privilege to witness and be a pivotal part of the success of law firms. Let’s quickly look at some of these instances.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Harnessing the Power of SEO and Digital Ads 

This is a case study of a firm partnered with Consultwebs. In 2022, the firm’s total site visitors increased by over 16,000 from the previous year, representing a 116% growth. Moreover, this firm saw a significant 457% leap in organic visitors, pulling in an additional 24,557 prospective clients compared to 2020.

A Comparative Case Study on Law Firms That Level Up Their Marketing Assets Versus The Ones That Don’t

It is a case study of 200+ law firms that expand to SEM investments with Consultwebs. The firms investing in more than 2 marketing campaign upgrades with Consultwebs see an incredible increase of 1,724% in case acquisitions. That is 3X the number of cases compared to those with 1 upgrade and over 18X compared to those not upgrading at all.

The Business Lesson from the VP of Business Development

Whoever it is that you’re partnered with, whether that’s an in-house marketing team or an outside agency, make sure you have a clear strategy and expectations.

I suggest you begin self-examining the following:  

✅ What are we doing over the next three to six months?

✅ How is my law firm’s brand viewed and represented online?

✅ Are we focusing on money-making strategies?

✅ Where’s our content effort going?

✅ What are we expecting in terms of performance?

✅ How are we measuring results?

From my experience working with law firms, there must be some level of consistent accountability to identify and measure what matters. 

Here are some other last tips:

The firms that are willing to ask questions on how they can support and build more accountability and success into the relationship and then take action on that advice, are the ones ultimately that are going to thrive!

I’d like to end by saying:

Go to war sem quote

Law firms, don’t go to war without seeking quality counsel.

“Law firms, don’t go to war without seeking quality counsel. You may recognize the importance here, but if you haven’t sought guidance on what you’re doing to win in your market and to go to war, then you’re ill-equipped on the battlefield.” – Tanner Jones

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