Smith.ai, CallRail and Mockingbird sit down to talk legal conversion….

Yesterday, I got together with two long term Mockingbird partners, Smith.ai and CallRail to discuss the practice of maximizing conversions, the reporting infrastructure required to evaluate marketing mix like an MBA would and the importance of monitoring the quality of your intake approach. Intake conversion epitomizes the need for a perfect mix of agency, technology and humanity required to optimize the delicate balance of the art and science of conversion.  Have a listen…

 

The Chasm Between BLM and Lawyers: Part I

During this 50 minute conversation, I sit down virtually with two lawyers who are intimately involved in social justice in Minneapolis. Travis Kowitz is white man, shot by a pepper bullet while live streaming the first two nights of the protests after George Floyd’s murder. Emily Cooper is a black woman pushing the cause of entrepreneurship to Minneapolis’ black community as the path to financial and personal freedom. Both are gritty, ambitious, lightly profane, and deeply committed to the part lawyers can play in the movement for social justice. We spend time talking through the history of systemic racism, specifically in Minneapolis.

From a lawyer marketing perspective, get inspired with some of the tactical approaches these two have taken in getting deeply involved in the community. My hope is that by listening to this, you may be inspired to go beyond carefully worded statements and donations and get more involved.

“words are just words, but when I take notice its about what actions people take behind the words; because words are just pandering.  Is anyone actually doing anything?” – Emily Cooper

The focus of this series is exposing the huge gap between the Black Lives Matter movement and lawyers, many of whom went into the profession specifically to advance the cause of social justice. We talk with hands-on, driven lawyers who are actively involved, on the streets in their communities, far beyond making bail fund donations or publishing carefully worded statements of support. We challenge the trepidations felt by many lawyers, starting with “I don’t want to say the wrong thing.” This is a raw, uncomfortable, and oftentimes painful dialogue that needs to happen. You won’t agree with everything you hear; you’ll probably feel offended. All the more reason to listen.

Google Ads Policy Change has Legal Squarely in Mind?

Hot off the Google notifications press…Google is updating their Ads Policies policies specifically to move against Clickbait. This seems consistent with their overall messaging around quality content and user experience. Google describes the policy:

The ‘Clickbait Ads Policy’ will cover advertisements which demonstrate clickbait tactics or use sensationalist text or imagery to drive traffic. Additionally, this policy will prohibit ads which use negative life events or strong negative emotions to pressure the viewer to take immediate action.

Now – a lot of legal issues do involve strong negative emotions and do require immediate action.

Further, the specific language Google uses to describe these upcoming changes seems to be directly targeting the legal industry:

Ads that use negative life events such as death, accidents, illness, arrests or bankruptcy to induce fear, guilt or other strong negative emotions to pressure the viewer to take immediate action.

I’m not quite sure how a bankruptcy, injury, or criminal defense lawyer can not run afoul of these specifications.  This holds true for other facets of law as well…divorce, immigration, etc.

The gray area here is around the end user’s personal mindset…but the reality remains that if we really can’t advertise around these issues a lot of the legal marketplace goes back to…organic!  (Ok – perhaps that’s some wishful thinking on my part, but…).

Stay tuned, I’ve invited Google to join us to talk through these questions as part of our Google Premier Partnership. If you’d like notification of when that talk will be (literally – I’m getting this info out to you before I can set up a date)… sign up for our newsletter.

Lawyers and Cops and BLM and Branding

This started as my musings around police as a brand, but quickly begged the question: why is the lawyer brand so tarnished even in light of today’s social justice movement?

I’m not sure how the police, as a brand, evolve past this. Even making the fallacious assumptions that next week America unifies and completely solves social justice issues and 100% reforms the police force…how does the public see a blue uniform and a badge and not immediately associate those things with anything other than murdering black men, teargassing protestors, abandoning their offices, assaulting the elderly and shooting the homeless in wheelchairs? The word uniform serves two purposes here: the police uniform is part of the brand and it encourages us to apply the same perspective uniformly to all police officers. Whether you argue this is an issue of a “few bad apples” or believe it’s a result of the systemic militarization of the cops, public sentiment around all police will be applied uniformly. That is the function of brand: setting expectations of what you are going to get – i.e. you have a very clear and set expectation about what you are going to get when you order an Egg McMuffin or drive an Audi R8 or use tax services from H&R Block.  And right now, what America is getting across the country from the police brand is disgusting.  
 
And yes, I fully grok that my white male perspective on policing has evolved dramatically over the past 2 weeks, that many communities have always associated the police brand with fear and violence and that that evolution is a large part of the point of today’s movement.
 
I go back to the future of the police… If they were any other brand – a car, a fashion line, an airline, a power tool, they’d be shelved immediately because of what is now indelibly and universally linked to that brand. There would be no attempt to recover, evolve, and adjust the positioning and messaging.

Lawyers as a Brand

I spent the first two nights of the Minneapolis protests watching a livestream of attorney Travis Kowitz who was on the streets and watched by tens of thousands via Facebook.  Travis’ feed was through his law firm’s Facebook page – it was clear he was an attorney and as I texted back and forth with him I noted how many of the comments on his feed pushed an alarming and frequently violent anti-lawyer vitriol.  This was a man doing what I’ve been pushing lawyers to do in many circumstances – getting deeply and intimately involved in the community and tacking flack for being a lawyer.  Many of you went into this profession to make the world a better place and yet, lawyers are frequently seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution.  As a non-lawyer, working in legal for 15 years, I’ve been afforded a unique insider’s view into the good lawyers do.  We’ve codified this in our agency’s 10 Commandments – even presciently calling out police brutality.

  1. We Love Lawyers – Attorneys, especially those who represent individuals, are the primary counterbalance to corporate greed and the widespread abuse of police and political power and the abusive insurance industry. We are honored to play a small role in this system.
The lawyer brand is frequently unfairly painted with negative connotations – a cruel irony – and yes this is painting with unfairly broad brush strokes, which is what happens every time we generalize – police or lawyers. Here’s just a smattering of the anti-lawyer commentary on Travis’s feed those first three nights:
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I’d encourage you, at this moment to take the opportunity to get deeply involved in your community – well beyond a law firm donation to bail for protestors or a carefully worded statement on your law firm’s social media profiles. There’s a lot that can be done that goes beyond these gestures.

Inspiration for the Lawyer Brand…

To offer some new perspective and perhaps provide a small dose of inspiration, I’m hosting a webinar this Friday with two Minneapolis lawyers who are deeply and intimately involved in social justice – Travis Kowitz and Emily Cooper – in the first part of our series on the Chasm Between BLM and Lawyers. Register here to join us and listen. The conversation will be raw, uncomfortable and you probably won’t love everything you hear.

Cockroach is now Mockingbird (again)

We will get through this crisis stronger than we ever were, but first we have to get through it.

I’m glad to say that Cockroach has returned to Mockingbird.

It’s time to look towards our new normal of life after COVID-19. By now, most law firms have settled in to their new normal, with limited insight into how long this normal will last.  As the country prepares to “reopen” through a regional patchwork of varying approaches its important for Cockroach Mockingbird to help our clients emerge from this as well – ideally stronger than before.  I’ll leave the political squabbles about the wisdom of the reopening timing of reopening to the unqualified social media trolls. Now it’s time for us to focus on law firms not just surviving, but thriving after during COVID.

Lets be clear – this is not hitting all firms equally. The difference are marked by region and dramatically by practice area. Some are thriving, some are still struggling. Patent attorneys are swamped as idle minds spin at home coming up with newest new thing. Employment lawyers are flooded with eager, albeit baseless prospects. DUI lawyers have gone dark and are exploring temporarily pivoting to bankruptcy. Wills and estate planning attorneys are busy as the collective populace contemplates their mortality. Everyone we know has adjusted and altered their tactical outlook. I spoke with a client this weekend about cancelling their $12K/month linkbuilding retainer.  Smaller firms have updated their outdated sites with our free Frecho WoredPress website. Across our client list, as Google Ads costs have increased by 42% larger firms have reallocated their advertising budgets away from Personal Injury.  Oh yeah, and then Google decided to throw in a massive algo update to upset the entire apple cart in the middle of all of this.

We changed our brand temporarily from Mockingbird to Cockroach to focus on the survival of our clients during the CORONA Crisis. Cockroach – the adaptable, innovative, opportunistic, skittering, nauseating, and yes, disease-resistant arthropod that not only survives, but actually thrives in disaster. Whether you agree with it or not, the American economy is moving forward and its time for our clients to do the same.

Cockroach is now Mockingbird.

Avvo in SEO Traffic Free Fall

The legal directory, Avvo looks to be in complete SEO meltdown mode.  As the guy who architected Avvo’s SEO ascendancy, I take no level of schadenfreude in this… but four different data points over the past few months suggest to me that Avvo is suffering a complete SEO traffic meltdown.

Avvo was sold to Internet Brands (parent company of Nolo, Martindale and a panoply of other legal brands) about two years ago and quickly saw the abrupt departure of most of the C suite. Since the acquisition, we’ve seen little (if anything?) innovative coming out of the company and it looked Internet Brands’ plans was to simply focus on operating efficiencies and milk the cash cow.

It looks like the cow may be dying. Four data points corroborate to paint a story of a site in rapid decline.

1.  SEO Ranking Failings

According to rank tracking data, Avvo’s appearance in high value Organic Search results (think “car accident attorney Seattle”) has plummeted from a consistent 2% of market share to….. zero. In general, I eschew using SEO ranking as an indicator of success; however, it can be used when looking at competitors… which include legal directories when you are a law firm competing for keywords.

The chart below showcases a study of 4 short tail legal keywords across the country as tracked by legal marketing nerd, Gyi Tsakalakis. This past week, Avvo fell below .05% marketshare and simply doesn’t register at all.  Now, their longer tail, Answers product may still be bringing in traffic, as may name search queries (although that has become much more competitive since I left) but they seem to be no longer appearing for high volume, high converting, money keywords.

2. Ahrefs Traffic Value Data

I looked at Avvo on the Ahrefs Traffic Value graph, which shows a record low number for Avvo.  The traffic value graph is essentially a combination of keyword rankings cross referenced with the value (defined by PPC data) of those keywords. Like all of these third party tools, its horrendously inaccurate; however, directionally informative, but if you lend any credence to this type of data, the value of Avvo’s traffic has dropped by 90% from its zenith. Also note while Ahrefs does show a drop in traffic overall, the traffic value shows a much greater loss – again suggesting these changes are in Avvo’s performance in high value keywords instead of the more generic name or longer tail, informational searches.

3.  Ad hoc Comments by Lawyers

This drop in marketshare has been noted by lawyer advertisers. We’ve been hearing from individual lawyers noting a precipitous drop-off in leads coming from Avvo. I’d be curious if anyone has similar experience…. feel free to share in the comments.

4.  Layoffs

About 3 weeks ago, Avvo quietly laid off a portion of their sales staff. I don’t know how large those layoffs were, but from what I’ve been told, employees were informed jobs were safe and secure only to have the firm do an abrupt about face just weeks later. How do I know this? I’ve been interviewing ex Avvo people (yes Mockingbird is hiring during this uncertain time.) The timing of the layoffs coincides with what we’re seeing as an overall decline in ranking performance.

This may be temporary, it may be addressable, it may be related to COVID, it may be a strange shuffle in Google’s algo, but at this point, the present doesn’t look great for Avvo. Note – I did reach out to Avvo for comment last week, but they have not gotten back to me.

Study: Google Ads Costs Increase by 42% during COVID Crisis

The massive shifts in consumer behavior combined with attorneys carefully extending their cash flow window has created a seismic shift in the economics of Google’s already competitive PPC advertising market.  Mockingbird took a deep dive into the performance (carefully defined…. keep reading) of a random sample of 50 our our PPC clients to ascertain just how this has impacted the market.  The net result:

A 42% increase in average cost per inquiry; although this is heavily colored by practice area and geography and individual firm strategies.

Methodology

Given the massive flux in the market, it’s impossible to isolate any given variables for a truly scientific study – there are simple too many exogenous variables impacting any given campaign.  In addition, Mockingbird has been very hands on during the COVID Crisis, especially with our PPC campaigns – adjusting models to (try) to fit the changing dynamics of the market along with our lawyers’ individual business reality.  Some clients added campaigns to capture marketshare, others pulled back completely to preserve cash flow.  Taking into account all of these moving parts, the average overall cost per inquiry across the legal advertisers who stayed in the market between February and the end of April increased by 42%. Monthly campaign budgets ranged from $700 to over $100K. We looked at the first two weeks of February as a pre-COVID benchmark and compared it to the last 14 days (ending yesterday).  While we looked at a variety of different metrics the only one that really matters is cost per inquiry – and inquiries defined by a (first time) phone call, text, chat or form fill to an attorney.

Sidebar:  Branded Advertising and Devious Marketing Agencies

In addition, for a true analysis, we pulled out branded advertising – i.e. those campaigns that bidding on the firm’s name or the name of attorneys within the firm, because these clicks and inquiries aren’t truly incremental conversions.  Note this is one of the dirty tricks terrible agencies use to inflate their value…. i.e. counting an inquiry for “Attorney Bill Smith” as being as valuable as one for “truck accident lawyer Atlanta”.  In addition, these branded conversions are extremely cheap and are used as metrics filler by agencies to inflate their numbers.  In our study, branded campaigns generated inquiries at just over $10 per.

Oh – and if you don’t have access to your Google Ads account, you might ask yourself, “what does my agency not want me to see?  are they hiding their performance?  are they hiding my actual advertising spend?” You are a lawyer.  Be a smart marketer too. Smart lawyers don’t let their agency hide data.

Results, Conclusions and Anecdotes

While the average advertising campaign saw cost per client numbers rise by 42%, there was an extremely wide distribution of the results – with fully 17 of the study group actually seeing a decline in cost per client data.  4 of the top 5 savers in this study were mixed firms how dropped Personal Injury entirely and retained budgets with other practice areas – so again, not a purely scientific study, but my goal here is to help our clients survive, not publish studies.  Interestingly, of the top 9 advertisers who experienced the highest increase in cost per client, only two were PI – the others being in Tax, Immigration, Family and Social Security.

Surprisingly, CPC rates actually declined – prior to COVID, across all non-branded average CPCs were $15.55 and during the past two weeks, this number has actually declined to $12.80.  I suspect this is attributable to some degree to the changes in makeup of practice areas (attorneys dropping expensive PI clicks) but to some extent, is also due to competitors pulling out of the market.  So if CPC rates are dropping, why have costs actually increased?  The answer lies in a decrease in the inquiry rate, the percentage of people who contact a lawyer after clicking on the ad. People are simply contacting lawyers 14% less frequently than they were before – which means there are more tire kickers, researchers and those that frankly are concerned about the cost of hiring a lawyer in this very uncertain economic reality.

Other thoughts:

  • One PI client, flush with cash from a recent settlement aggressive expanded his spend by 6.2x – going from dabbling to a much more aggressive approach including branded display ads has a tenfold increase in inquiries at a 35% lower cost per inquiry.  His market conditions just favored this approach.
  • The practice area that was most likely to completely abandon the market post COVID were Criminal Defense attorneys – especially campaigns focused around DUI.
  • Four of the 50 advertisers actually entered the market during this period.
  • 60% of the study changed their budgets by more than 20%…. if you haven’t adjust your budgets to match the market, now might be a good time to do so. The graph below shows a very wide spectrum in the changes in budgets.

Learn More

If you’d like to dig even deeper into the data, we’re reviewing the raw data with our Mastermind group, held on Thursday afternoons.  Apply to join us here: CORONA Crisis Mastermind.

Or join me and Google’s Sherri Healy next Wednesday, May 6 at 10:00 PST for a webinar.  Register here: The Changing Economics of PPC in Legal.

Mockingbird Marketing is now Cockroach

Last Thursday, in between obsessing over a Coronavirus growth chart and a Crisis Strategy Session for a divorce attorney trying to keep her lights on, I caught a tweet from inveterate Seattle tech entrepreneur, Buzz Bruggerman:

Survival is what our clients (and in turn the agency) need. We are a Cockroach. The adaptable, innovative, opportunistic, skittering, nauseating, and yes, disease-resistant arthropod that not only survives, but actually thrives in disaster.

In the coming months, many lawyers will go bankrupt. Despite our best efforts, some of those lawyers may be our clients. It’s the agency’s responsibility to fight, innovate and do everything we can to help every single one of them survive. Over the past two weeks, I’ve adopted the cockroach analogy with clients during Crisis Strategy Sessions….. creatively coming up with anything and everything Mockingbird can do to help them not only survive, but possibly even thrive in this chaotic, mad, uncertain environment.

The second of our Ten Commandments states: “We are Responsible for our Clients’ Livelihoods – Our performance dictates if our clients can pay their mortgage, their staff and their kids’ college tuition.” Today, clients are responsible for our survival as well. Its corny as hell, but employees and clients are both part of my extended family. We all have to adapt, evolve and fight to survive this. Like Cockroaches.

The following bullets come from the rebranding presentation I gave to the team:

    • Keep being amazing for our clients – remember we are responsible for their livelihoods – and now they are responsible for ours. (even if they can’t pay us).
    • This is the time to work overtime, to over deliver, to over communicate and to give everything we have to keep our clients afloat.
    • This is the time to step in and help clients with whatever they may need.
    • We are effusively grateful for every single client who sends us a check.

The cockroach mindset has led to some creative tactics, unexpected adjustments and occasionally brutally honest realizations over the past ten days:

    • What I believe to be the most effective linkbuilding campaign undertaken by a law firm in 2020.
    • Dramatic shifting in practice areas for a firm that has seen restaurant, bar and court closures decimate their business.
    • Worked with a handful of clients to accept that they should completely shutter their PPC budgets to preserve precious cash flow.
    • Tactical and data driven responses to the seismic shift in search volumes.
    • Forecasted changes in search traffic by applying changes in leading markets (Seattle) to lagging markets (Florida).
    • Doubling down on a PPC budget as competitors in a highly fragmented market scrambled to respond to inbound inquiries

Not everything we’ve done has been successful and some of the early successes are going to disappear as this crisis evolves, wears on and firms burn through cash reserves. But the cockroach survives. It evolves, pivots, and does whatever it takes.

So starting now, we are temporarily  a Cockroach – doing everything and anything we can to help our clients survive the Corona disaster. The old Mockingbird logo has been transformed and if you look carefully, the Mockingbird M cameos as negative space in the cockroach logo.  The Mockingbird is still there… it’s just waiting to come back.

At some point, we’ll go back to being Mockingbird – liberating lawyers from ineffectual marketing, one sided contracts, proprietary website platforms and opportunistic agencies. But for now we are a Cockroach – with a singular focus on our clients’ survival.

We’re in it Together: Our COVID-19 Related Webinars

Things are changing almost faster than anyone can keep up with. This is why we have been organizing webinar after webinar on how to maintain your firm during COVID-19. Currently coming down the line are two that tackle the issue of finding and financing clients.

 


Converting Leads During Corona – How to Maintain Marketing Campaigns During a Crisis with Outsourced Intake

When: March 20, 2020  12.30-1.30 PM PST

A lot of law firms are seeing the impact of COVID-19 in the form of court closures and reduced web traffic. So how can we make sure we all stay afloat during the coming weeks or months of uncertainty? 

The goal of this webinar is to bring together some of the best legal and marketing minds and figure out the best next steps for law firms of all sizes. From the best software and tools for working at home to how to manage your current marketing campaigns, we will help you build a comprehensive plan for moving forward and keeping your business running.

We’re all in this together, which is why we’re working so hard to get you the information you need, not the information we want you to hear. This is a no-nonsense discussion about how to prepare your firm for the current and coming disruptions. If this sounds like something you need, register below and we’ll see you on Friday.

Register Now

 


Client Financing Informational Webinar

When: March 26, 2020  12.00-1.00 PM PST

During these times in which clients might have more limited income, it’s important to think about how they will afford legal help. This webinar will be focused on client financing options for legal matters. These are the ways clients pay for their legal help, as opposed to Litigation Financing, which is a percentage of the final judgment or settlement. Matthew Moore from Justice for Me will be leading this discussion.

Some of the topics we will be discussing include:

      • Common legal payment methods
      • Common legal payment alternatives
      • The ethics of legal financing
      • Legal lines of credit

Register Now