organic and paid search returnsThe internet marketing debate over the relative advantage of paid (pay-per-click aka PPC) versus organic search marketing strategies has been raging for years. And as the years have passed the costs to be competitive in both realms has significantly increased. Law firms seeking to answer which traffic stream is better for them have been confronted with plenty of data, but no simple answer.  The truth is that there is no simple answer because this is an extremely complicated question. The question cannot be answered without careful consideration of your law firm’s broader and long-term marketing goals (which we’d be happy to talk to you about).  Thus, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – so we will not try and generalize an answer for you here. Both paid (PPC) and organic search marketing strategies have advantages and disadvantages. Each need to be carefully considered. However, what we can do is provide some interesting data to help you decide whether or not paid and organic SEO even has the potential to connect you to clients online…

Benefits and Drawbacks of SEO vs. PPC

Organic search results (aka SEO) tend to engender greater credibility and consumer trust than PPC ads. The availability of organic content last longer than PPC ads (indefinitely, really). And organic search returns and have higher click-through rates than their paid counterparts. On the other hand, organic results typically take months—in some cases years—to achieve first page ranking and the significant client calls that come with that ranking. If your law firm needs new clients in the coming days or weeks, waiting to gain organic authority from Google just might not be an option. One of the reasons that organic law firm search return listings take so long to move up the search returns is that Legal Services is one of the most competitive arenas in SEO. Because it is so competitive, it takes a lot more time and content to cut through the clutter of what the other law firm’s are creating and get the “attention” of the search engine ranking algorithms. This significant competition means law firms (or their SEO providers) must be willing to invest significant time, money, human resources and top-tier SEO expertise to achieve top-tier results.

Paid search results (PPC) solve many of the timing problems associated with organic strategies.  They can move your law firm to the first page of search results within seconds. PPC ads are easily targeted to specific market segments and geographies. They can also provide a more predictable return on investment (ROI) than organic results when measured and adjusted. However, the cost per visitor paid in PPC fees can be thousands of times higher than the cost of organic traffic. For example, a sustained organic personal injury SEO campaign can generate new visitors to your website at a cost of $2.00-3.00 per visitor. The cost per PPC visitor for the same search string is $130.00 at the time of this writing (and only going up).

So short term, yes PPC can drive traffic to your website. But dependent upon your practice area, budget, and profit per case it may not be financially sustainable! Organic can bring lower cost traffic to your website, but only if you have a budget that allows you 6-12 months to build your website’s authority up – and then the on-going SEO budget to keep it at the top. A combination of both strategies is a great way to create a predictable stream of new cases, but keep in mind that the fees on those cases should always be expected to vary. Also keep in mind that the costs for both types of traffic streams should be expected to continue to rise. Historically we have seen PPC costs per visitor rise much faster than organic costs per visitor. We would attribute this to law firms’ willingness to trade a long-term client generation strategies with the possibility of one short-term (outlier) result. But if you’re not planning to retire on the next 5 years, an organic strategy is definitely worth your consideration.

By the Numbers

Law firm marketers can make better decisions when knowing how consumers behave and adjusting their marketing strategy accordingly.  A recent, joint analysis from GroupM UK and Nielsen based on some 1.4 billion searches in June of 2011 provides a snapshot of consumer behavior, by the numbers, as follows:

  • 94% of clicks went to organic results (this on Google and Bing), with only 6% going to paid ads
  • Of organic clicks, the top 3 results accounted for 68% of clicks (with 48% of all clicks going to the number 1 organic result, 12% to the second and 8% to the third)
  • Among “branded searches” (those which include the company name or some variant of it), 90% went to the number 1 result, and 80%, 4 out of 5) went to the number 1 organic search result
  • Among non-branded searches, 61% of clicks went to the top 3 results, with 35% going to the number 1 result
  • Women (53%) are more likely to click on PPC ads than men (47%), as are younger web surfers, with 35% of all PPC clicks coming from those aged 34 or younger

In general, a law firm marketing strategy which includes both organic and paid search results, leveraging the relative advantages of each, is most likely to achieve the long-term and short-term business outcomes your firm is seeking.  To learn more about the ways in which PPC and organic search strategies can help your business, contact us today.

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