SEO and PPC: Is One a Smarter Investment Than the Other?

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If you want to effectively build a client base, then your law firm’s website needs to show up at the top of search results. There are two strategies you can use to make this happen: SEO and PPC advertising.

Both SEO and PPC are equally attractive options for law firms, but for very different reasons. Let’s examine the strengths and weaknesses of both marketing tactics and see if we can find the perfect solution for your website.

What You Need to Know About SEO

The first search marketing strategy you could use is good old-fashioned search engine optimization (SEO). This is the process by which a website is designed to appease both search engine criteria as well as cater to the user experience. SEO strategy revolves around a number of techniques, such as:

The better your website handles all these criteria (and more), the higher it will appear in search. Here is an example of how your website might appear in Google with SEO:

screenshot of a google search engine results page to illustrate the concept of seo for law firms in minneapolis

Here are some other things you need to know about SEO before jumping head-first into it:

  1. It’s Free-ish

SEO is free… in the sense that you don’t have to pay Google or Bing or anyone else to rank your website. It’s not free, however, in that it takes a lot of time to set up and manage over the long-term.

  1. It Requires a Lot of Attention

Search engines aren’t always transparent about what exactly makes for a well-optimized website. So, you have to pay close attention to algorithmic changes that affect your site’s traffic.

  1. It’s Great for Local Businesses

Local SEO is a great option for businesses trying to rank for a specific location (as opposed to a global business).

  1. It Takes Time

This is what the average click-through rates (CTR) for organic (non-paid) search results look like:

organic click through rates of search engine optimization advanced web ranking screenshot

As such, it’s important to be aware that a really good SEO strategy can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to start showing real results. It takes time to build trust with search engines, which is why you need to use other marketing strategies concurrently with SEO.

  1. But Results Last a Long Time

Once you get your site on the first page of Google, it’s pretty difficult to get off of it unless your site is blacklisted (which, again, is hard to do if you’re playing fair).

  1. Organic = Safe

As people grow more suspicious with advertisements (with some going so far as to installing ad blockers in their browsers), your only chance to reach some of them is through SEO.

What You Need to Know About PPC Advertising

Another way you can launch your site to the top of search is by using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. One of the most common platforms for this is Google AdWords. You choose a keyword, set a “bid” for it (the price you’re willing to pay for every click), and then run the campaign. This search strategy instantly puts you on the very first page of search results.

In the same search I conducted before, here is how the PPC ad results appear at the top of the page:

screenshot of a pay per click google search results page to illustrate the concept of ppc for law firms in minneapolis

The ads are nearly identical except for two things: additional information is added to the listing and these ads don’t require the user to scroll to find them.

Now, before you decide that the fast-pass of search marketing is the way to go, consider the following facts about PPC:

  1. It Takes You Straight to the Top

When you pay a premium to Google or any other search engine, your website is placed in prime real estate space. For most of you, that will be at the top of the search results page. For others, it’ll be at the bottom.

  1. There’s Much More Customizability

With SEO, you attach metadata to each page of your site that the search engines will display. But it’s only the basics: title and description. With PPC, though, you can write unique ad copy to show up in search results. You can also attach descriptors like your phone number, links to other pages, and, in some cases, attach a photo.

  1. It’s Instantaneous

The second you launch a PPC campaign in Google AdWords, your listing starts showing up when users search for the keyword you bid on.

  1. It’s Temporary

An effective SEO strategy will bring your website long-term success in search. PPC will not. Your site will only show up in search results so long as you throw money at it.

  1. Legal PPC Can Be Expensive

This is usually a dealbreaker for a lot of law firms. The average cost per click, on average, is higher than any industry measured (legal is in the light orange):

chart that shows the cost per click for google adwords for law firms

To make matters worse, the average click-through rate isn’t too great either:

chart to show the industry average of google adwords click through rate ctr

However, the average conversion rate is the second highest out of all industries:

a chart that shows the industry benchmarks for google adwords conversion rates

So, even though it costs a lot more (usually) for law firms to use PPC marketing, and it’s tough to get users to click the links, the return is BIG. Clearly, there is something about PPC marketing that works well when you target the right people with the right keywords.

  1. Google Sucks

Which brings me to my next point: PPC advertising should never ever be automated and left in the hands of Google. You already know that the odds are stacked against you in PPC. If you allow Google to assign default settings to your ads and to create lackluster copy that has no chance against the competition, you’re just throwing money away. Always create your own well-researched campaigns to get the most out of PPC.

SEO and PPC: Which Is Best?

In all honesty, law firms need both SEO and PPC. Anything you can do to increase visibility in search is key, which means your website needs to be top-of-the-line and, yes, you will need to pay Google occasionally. Ideally, you will have a local search strategy in place, too, that gives your site a presence in Google My Business results. Consider it the holy trinity of winning the search game.

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