Pay per click – how to use it effectively

The legal landscape is changing rapidly as a result of the Jackson Reforms ban on referral fees and the introduction of alternative business structures. With the large aggregators facing an uncertain future, many firms are increasingly looking to bring lead generation in house using pay per click (PPC) marketing platforms especially Google Adwords. PPC offers control over the type and volume of leads generated, as well as the opportunity to reduce the overall cost of each lead.

Whether you are a managing partner employing a PPC agency or a marketing manager running your own campaigns, you need to understand how PPC works. This article looks at how to make the most of the advertising medium that made Google into the massive global success it is today.

Get a great website

The number one goal of a lead generation website is for visitors to initiate contact, so make it easy for users to leave their details and make contact; only ask users for the minimum amount of information that you require to start this process. Not all users will want to fill in forms so you must also have a prominent phone number and an eager customer service team.

Law firms’ sites often fail to present a human face. People buy people, and you must tell visitors who you are, what you can do for them and that you do it well. You need to engage users with staff profiles, client testimonials and case studies that give them peace of mind in the service that you have to offer.

Stop and think about what the look of your site conveys to a user who has never seen you before. You need to avoid the tabloid looks of the aggregator sites while trying not to appear too expensive or serious for the client’s needs.

Campaign and keyword structure

The legal PPC market is now extremely competitive, as law firms small and large pile in and give PPC a go. If you want to deliver a positive result (and not just give it a go), it is critical to optimise every aspect of the campaign. The magic word in PPC is relevancy:

  • Google wants to offer searchers the most relevant adverts for their search queries. If it achieves this, Google gets clicks, Google makes money, and the consumer sees ads that are interesting and useful rather than annoying and irrelevant.
  • As an advertiser you want only to show your ads against relevant search phrases. You want your ads to be the perfect solution to the search, and you want your landing pages to deliver visitors with what your ads promise. That way the right users click on your ads, visitors turn into leads, and you’re only paying when you have to.

Hyper-relevancy is achieved through well-crafted, granular campaigns. These campaigns break up all the possible relevant searches into ad groups of tightly clustered search phrases (keywords) that trigger ads that are specific to each group and link to landing pages that are exactly on topic.

One factor that most firms have in their favour is their geography, so use it to your advantage. If you are the only mergers and acquisitions solicitor in Chelmsford then ensure you focus on keywords such as “manda solicitor Chelmsford” rather than the generic keyword “manda solicitor”.

Another factor firms have in their favour is their specialism. If you have a limited PPC budget then you would want to avoid bidding on generic keywords and concentrate on your strengths.

Focus on buyers and avoid browsers! Use precise matching options to ensure that the clicks you buy will be lucrative new clients not students researching their next essay. There are searchers out there who have no intention of paying for legal services but are instead simply looking to research a particular topic; there’s little benefit to you in paying for their click. A searcher for “contract law” may find your content useful for their essay but they are far less likely to instruct you than one who searches for “contract law solicitors”.

Use negative keywords to counteract those people who aren’t actually interested in your services but whose search is loosely linked with your keywords. Broad match keywords such as “commercial solicitors” will trigger a wide range of search queries, including “commercial solicitors Cardiff jobs”, while the broad match keyword “will writing” will be triggered by DIYers running searches such as “free will writing template”. In these instances, adding the negative keywords “jobs”, “template” and “free” will solve the problem and save you money.

If you want to know exactly what users are typing into Google before clicking on your ads, then make the most of the Search Query Report. This helps identify keywords that you should add as negatives, as well as providing extra ideas for positive keywords that you might not have considered previously. It can be found by clicking the “Keywords” tab at the top of your Adwords account and then looking for the “Keyword details” menu under the line graph.

Ad text: stand out or lose out

If you Google “personal injury solicitor” you will not find much that distinguishes one advertiser from another. You need to write compelling ad copy that lets people know why they should choose to look at your site. What makes you different from everyone else promoting “No Win, No Fee 100% Compensation”?

It can be a challenge getting this across with just 70 characters but it is possible. Try using client testimonials, Chambers reviews and quotations, or unique benefits, offers and incentives. Keep trying and testing until you find a winning combination that attracts your customer.

Google also have lots of ad extensions to help make your ads bigger and more attractive so it will get clicked on more often (Google likes ads that get clicked on). Site link extensions are the simplest of these; they’re the blue links that show under each of the ads at the very top of the page.

Call extensions are a useful add-on that puts your phone number alongside your ad. This is good for people who have read your initial ad message and want to contact you straight away rather than having to navigate your website.

Perhaps the most effective ad extensions of all are Adwords Seller Reviews, which display star ratings against your ads and can boost your ad click through rates by 10 to 20 per cent. It takes a bit of legwork rolling through your contacts list to get the 30+ four- or five-star reviews needed to get these extensions to display, but it is well worth the effort. Most firms don’t bother setting these up, finding that getting reviews from live clients too painful to set up, so the benefit for those who do get them running is that much greater.

It’s not just Google

Many new advertisers tend to ignore advertising with the Bing and Yahoo Alliance as they feel they either have enough on their plates with Google or believe (falsely) that the best quality leads are to be found on Google. Since early 2012, all search ads on Yahoo and Bing have been managed jointly through the Bing Ads interface. We have found that, on average, Bing will deliver around 30 per cent of our leads at 65 per cent of Google’s cost per lead. Ask your PPC expert why they aren’t running Bing now. Don’t accept any excuses and get your account up and running!

Get mobile!

Many legal service providers are currently not using mobile search ads, instead favouring to just target PCs and tablets. It has been estimated that 26 per cent of UK searches are now made using a mobile phone. As a result, law firms targeting just PCs are only reaching, at most, about 74 per cent of the potential search market in the UK. You wouldn’t turn away every fourth person to walk in to your reception so why would you do this with your advertising?

Users on mobiles behave differently. Typically they don’t want as much information and want to be able to leave their details and move on quickly. As a result you need to ask your web developers to produce you a slimmed down version of your site that delivers a great mobile experience. There are also free mobile site builders such as Duda Mobile that are a cheap way to get started with mobile websites. If you want to take the future of search advertising seriously then decide on a mobile strategy now.

Beware the Display Network

Advertisers new to PPC can spend a large amount of money through the Google “Display Network”. This is a default opt-in when you start an Adwords campaign but unless you really know what you are doing, we strongly suggest you opt out. Incorrectly targeted display activity can spend money quickly and, while in the hands of experts it’s a powerful lead driver, it’s a money pit for novices.

However, “remarketing” is worth considering. This targets users who visited your site but left without contacting you. Remarketing is a great Display Network product that really works and delivers quality leads at a reasonable cost. If you’ve already spent £20 on a single click to get someone in, then what is another £3 to have them visit again and have them convert?


PPC is not cheap and there will be partners within the firm sceptical that the PPC ad budget wouldn’t have been better used paying for a corporate golf day. You need to track everything so you can prove that a budget of £x delivered y leads which converted into z lucrative clients. When you brief your web developers, ask that a successful form submission redirects users to a page saying something along the lines of “Thank you for your enquiry we’ll be in contact shortly”. You can then generate conversion tracking code within your Adwords/Bing Ads account that you add to the thank you page so that every time a user arrives at this page having originally come in from a PPC ad, the lead is registered in your keyword data. This way, you know which search queries are creating leads.

Budgets, results and cost per lead

In the legal market PPC budgets range from a few hundred pounds per month for small local firms up to £1m or more per month for the likes of National Accident Helpline. There is no minimum spend and no minimum campaign period. Start small and if the campaigns are delivering leads that become clients then keep going and expand your campaigns. If they don’t work initially then try to understand why and refine your campaigns.

We are often asked how long trial campaigns should be run for. Generally PPC campaigns establish themselves quickly and within a few weeks a campaign is either starting to deliver results or is failing. The results are seen far more swiftly in PPC than in SEO where results take time as organic rankings need to improve.

We are also asked what leads are likely to cost. Cost of leads are a function of cost per click and the likelihood of the click choosing to make contact. Click costs vary hugely across search type with local solicitor clicks costing less than personal injury clicks and the most expensive being those around brain and birth injury.

Similarly, site quality and conversion rate varies enormously. We have clients in similar legal sectors with sites that convert at 2 per cent and others at 10 per cent. The latter are the ones who are constantly releasing upgrades for their websites.

If pressed we’d give multiple caveats and then quote anywhere between £50 and £500 per lead depending upon whether it is for “family solicitors in Birmingham” or “cerebral palsy solicitors”. Leads typically convert to cases at anywhere between 15 per cent and 30 per cent.


PPC is a key lead generation channel that puts firms directly in contact with prospective clients, both commercial and private. However, the average cost-per-click within the legal search market is increasing with each new entrant. As a result websites and campaigns need to be top notch to deliver positive results.

If you have any doubt about the competence of your in house team or agency then consider asking a third party to review your campaign performance. Good agencies and consultants will typically offer these reviews for free. If they convincingly argue that your present resource is not maximising PPC’s opportunity then act on their advice and get the most out of PPC.

Dan Fallon is Managing Director of Search Star, a specialist PPC agency based in Bath who specialise in the legal lead generation market. They currently run PPC campaigns across Google, Yahoo, Bing, Facebook and LinkedIn. Search Star is one of the few Google AdWords Certified Partners in the UK.