Google Ads Conversion Rate Benchmarking

Mockingbird manages millions of dollars in lawyer advertising across hundreds of law firms and while overall performance varies, firm to firm, I thought it might be useful to share our conversion rate data so my readers could benchmark their own performance. First – understand that conversion rate here does NOT mean converting into clients, but instead the percentage of people who contact the firm by phone, form fill, chat or even text message after clicking on the advertisement. One of the patterns we are aware of is that conversion rates vary greatly by Practice Area, so I’ve broken different practice areas out below. I’m hoping the numbers below are helpful in evaluating the performance of your own advertising…and if you agency obfuscates or doesn’t report on these numbers, I’d ask myself what they are hiding (read below the bullets for more…)

Also note that our campaigns’ strategy and tactics are driven primarily by business metrics instead of traditional PPC marketing metrics (such as impressions or click through rates), these benchmark numbers are likely to be very different from PPC campaigns that focus on optimizing more typical metrics like impressions, CTR, or position.

    • Personal Injury:  10.2%
    • Criminal Defense:  10.8%
    • Social Security Disability:  18.9%
    • Bankruptcy:  8.8%
    • Family:  20.2%
    • Immigration:  32.3%
    • Business:  1.6%
    • Estate Planning:  12.4%
    • Tax:  4.2%
    • Employment:  17.1%
    • Medical Malpractice:  31.0%

Tricks Agencies Use to Lie About Conversion Performance

Trick 1: Conflating Branded Results

Note that in our analysis above, we only did the analysis on non-branded search queries – i.e. “car accident lawyer” and not branded queries – i.e. “Smith and Jones Law Firm.” The reason for this is simple, branded queries already have high intent, and the marketing cost of those queries clearly doesn’t rest with the AdWords spend, but instead, TV, radio, billboards, and overall great customer service which drives referrals. In addition, clicks for branded queries are extremely uncompetitive relative to non branded queries and therefore cheaper, typically costing between 1% and 4% of typical PPC bids. One way online marketing agencies fool their clients is by including conversions from branded queries in their reporting – and taking credit for these very low costs clicks that drive business from marketing dollars spent on other marketing channels.

Trick 2: Hiding YOUR Data.

Agencies often literally hide conversion data from their clients by refusing access to either Google Ads or Google Analytics. If you can’t find your conversion data, perhaps it’s time to find a new agency that understands that it’s your data, not theirs.

Trick 3: Over-Counting Phone Calls

There are only 4 real “conversions” for legal marketing: phone calls, form fills, chat and text. One way agencies artificially inflate their “conversion” data is by counting every phone call (instead of first time callers only) to obfuscate the data behind poorly performing campaigns. Ensure your conversion reporting is set to only count first time callers, any moderately sophisticated dynamic call tracking service (like CallRail) has a simple setting to adjust for this.

It’s important to not only monitor the rate at which your advertising is converting into inquiries from potential clients, but also understand how this relates to industry standards. Benchmarking your conversion rate against competitors within your practice areas should allow you to identify strengths and weaknesses as well as shore up any deficiencies in bidding strategy, ad copy or landing pages that might be preventing you from maximizing your overall conversions.

Mockingbird Client Google Ads Disapproved…. temporarily

Over the weekend, the Google Ads algorithm updated resulting in a temporary suspension of all of our clients’ search advertising campaigns. The issue at heart was the tracking pixel associated with PPC Protect – an additional step we have in place to combat click fraud above and beyond what is already in place through Google.  PPC Protect is a third party platform we’ve implemented across the board and we’ve seen a solid improvement in our clients’ advertising spend.

Unfortunately, Google flagged PPC Protect yesterday. We worked with both Google and PPC Protect to resolve the issue, but the end result was a roughly two hour downtime for clients running ads over the weekend. Sorry for the inconvenience. Clients – you should have already heard from your AE via email and/or phone.  If you have any additional questions – give me a shout directly at 206 209 2125.

-Conrad

 

Announcing BEDLAM II

Earlier this year I joined a quintet of the top legal marketers in the country to put on The Best Damn Legal Marketing Conference (BEDLAM) in Nashville. Attendees were exposed to an irreverent, honest, expert, behind the scenes look into the tactics these agencies use to drive business to their clients as well as dirty agency tricks pulled on the legal community. The content was so good, we were threatened legally by another legal marketing agency. In order to be the best, we did things differently:

  • There was an application process and market exclusivity and we only shared tactics with two firms in any given market (practice area + geography). We also turned away a few firms with a history of abusing vendors and/or not paying their bills and ended up turning away about 10% of the prospective attendees.
  • No Vendors – no one likes going to a conference with thinly veiled pay-to-pitch sessions.
  • There were no sacred cows and we talked frankly about the many systemic technical ways other agencies take advantage of their clients by confusing lexicon, obfuscating reporting and denying access.
  • We didn’t distribute presentations and attendees couldn’t photograph or otherwise record the slides.

So back by popular demand, Mockingbird is joining AttorneySync, Juris Digital, GNGF, and Nifty Law to bring you BEDLAM II, held at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, April 1-3.  A few notes:

  • As I mentioned at the end of the conference in Nashville – if you’ve already been, I discourage you from attending this followup as much of the content will be very similar.
  • We’ve expanded this from 2 to 3 days so attendees have more time to digest the information.
  • We’ve added hands on workshops and 1:1 training.
  • No Vendors (kind of)…. we’ve invited a short list of market exclusive vendors who all five agencies universally endorse (think CallRail, WPEngine etc.) to attend as our guest…. and still no pay-for-pitching.

Use EARLYBIRD2020 for $200 off the registration fee through the end of December.  

Register

Competitor Ads in your Google My Business Profile…

Well, we seem to be moving closer and closer to an advertising driven world, as Google has introduced advertising directly on competitor Google My Business listings. To the right is an example from Greg Sterling, at Search Engine Land which shows an ad for a competing car dealership showing up directly within search results. Greg notes that the advertisement is located almost an hour away…which, at least in the example, flies against the highlighted importance of “local” to consumers.

One important note – according to Greg’s review, firms can’t pay for ad free listings – which means any business may have competitor advertising embedded directly within their localized results. This “ad free profile” business model has been widely utilized by directories in (Avvo) and out (Yelp) of the legal market. From my experience this generates nasty backlash from prospective customers and Google is clearly trying to avoid that, although I’m not certain that the prospect of having competitor ads showing up by default on branded queries is going to engender any goodwill either.

If you’ve got an example of one of these ads in legal…please send a screenshot over.

Google Ads Brand Attacks…Misspellings as a Workaround (i.e. Nagage)

While Google allows bidding on other firms’ brands (think Coke bidding on people looking for Pepsi), it doesn’t let Coke use Pepsi’s name in the text of the advertisement itself. So for example, while Mockingbird can bid on Scorpion, we couldn’t have an add that says, “Don’t get trapped by Scorpion’s proprietary website platform” or “Scorpion won’t give you access to Google Ads campaigns, but we do.” Part of Google’s position on this, I suspect, is to avoid the potential subjective call of Coke pretending it is Pepsi. While that may be an unlikely mistake for big well known brands, its much more of an issue for mostly unbranded industries, such as…legal.

One sneaky work around for this is misspellings of the patsy’s brand name. To whit…here’s Apex Chat advertising their superiority to…Nagage on a search query for “ngage chat.”

Note that Apex is bidding pretty aggressively as they are outbidding Ngage on their own brand and presumably have a much lower quality score for that term. Think this is just an innocent spelling mistake? Oh your naivety amuses me. Here’s another ad from Apex showcasing how they deliver more features and more leads than…Nagage.

As our Director of Advertising told me, it’s most likely against the rules, but could probably work for a while though…until it gets flagged. And Nagage Ngage, don’t send me a thank you note…you are on SEO Santa’s naughty list too. Just hope Scropion doesn’t notice our ads…

Hiring: NON COLLEGE GRAD For High Tech Marketing Apprenticeship

Mockingbird is opening up our Marketing Manger job to someone who hasn’t spent 4 years and a small fortune attending College. The Marketing Manger is an entry-level role designed to transform recently minted College graduates into highly effective tactical online marketers over a 12-36 month period.

I’ve become increasingly convinced that key to success for our clients and therefore my agency, is hiring the right people and providing them with a heavy focus on ongoing training and support combined with the real world, trial by fire reality that is impossible to experience among the vaunted ivory tower of higher education. It has nothing to do with my employee’s alma mater or even their degree. This perspective has been strengthened when I interview business school undergrads – 90% of which can’t calculate a simple ROI.

The reality is that a College degree is simply a marker, albeit a poor one, of the potential in a candidate. And that potential (at least for us) is much more determined by an individual’s analytical curiosity, innate professionalism, genuine nerdiness, and a proactive out-of-the box thinking.

At Mockingbird, our Mission is to “vastly improve the lives of our employees and clients (in that order) through exceptional marketing.” There is no reason that Mission shouldn’t embrace those without the luxury of a College degree. Special consideration for military veterans trying to enter the civilian workforce.

Screwing Lawyers: Calculate The True Cost of Your Agency’s Long Term Contract

I hear this story about once a day from a frustrated lawyer… “Our marketing isn’t working.” “My agency doesn’t tell me what they are doing.” “Our rankings haven’t improved.” “The vendor won’t let us into Google Analytics.” And so on and so on.

Being frustrated with your marketing isn’t uncommon or even unfair.  Sometimes best efforts belly flop (even at my own agency.)  But the lemon juice poured in the fresh cut is recognizing that you are contractually stuck with the ineffective, lazy, useless, opaque “efforts” of your marketing agency for the foreseeable future.

I received this email today from a frustrated firm:

“Just a quick update: we unfortunately found some fine print yesterday that we had previously missed. It looks like we are stuck with FindLaw until November of 2020.”

The true cost of your long term marketing contract isn’t the value of the contract to the agency ($8,200 a month for the next 36 months…) but actually the opportunity cost of all of that lost business your firm could be generating if your agency was actually effective. Using extremely rough math…that $8,200 monthly cost equates to roughly $300K over the life of the contract, but it really should be measured as three years of your firm struggling to find clients while your bottom line bleeds…drip drip drip…into your agency’s top line.

Using basic business metrics, if that investment returned just a pathetic 4x (i.e. cost of client at 25% of the value of the matter) that $300K expense is really $1.2 million dollars in revenue your firm isn’t capturing. And, your underperforming agency has NO incentive to turn this around – because their profitability is inversely related to how hard they work for you.

So let’s be clear: entering into a long term contract with a marketing vendor benefits them, not you. As soon as you are locked in, as this is a service industry, your agency’s profitability skyrockets by doing as little as possible for you. This is compounded by the deliberate obfuscation of performance data. Ask yourself why your long term agency contract precludes you from access to your site’s Google Analytics or Google Ad campaigns. What do they not want you to see? What are they not doing for you?

You are supposed to be sophisticated savvy lawyers. Imagine how you would act if you could be hired under the same terms that you hire agencies: long term, guaranteed retainers with no requirements to share what you are allegedly doing for your clients? Would you do client work or instead hire hordes of cold callers to assail the front desks of your next prospective victim?

Oh, and before you sign…read the fine print.

Law Firm WP SEO Problems: Google Stopped Supporting Pagination

Bubbling up from the depths of search nerdom (Hat tip to Adam Gent) over the past 48 hours…some overly observant search nerds have picked up on the fact that Google is no longer supporting pagination, yet had failed to mention this to anyone.

Today Google’s John Muller acknowledged that not only was Google disregarding rel next/prev, but had been doing so for years.

I’ve personally noticed this anomaly while doing “site: searches” and locating paginated results with that result set. Seemed odd.

Why This Matters to Law Firms

This is especially impactful (at least theoretically) to law firms utilizing WordPress based sites who have been heavy content publishers and/or grossly overusing Tag and Category pages. Both of these tactics can lead to the generation of multiple, paginated pages. The pagination code, simply put, helps google understand that a sequence of pages are a list of items all related to each other. The most obvious example is a site with hundreds of blog posts, which creates a series of useless sequential navigational pages in groups of 10 blog posts each. This also happens automagically with WordPress sites with the use of Tags pages and Categories. The pagination code simply instructs the search engines that all of those pages in the sequence really belong as the same page.

This is important because (at least in theory) these paginated navigational pages offer no unique content and really a very poor destination for users. Overall, they serve to dilute the quality of content and careful management of them can actually decrease page count while increasing traffic. The accompanying graphic shows how we reduced a law firm’s site page count by 149 tag pages which resulted in an immediate increase in traffic.

Now, apparently one of the tactics to manage these useless pages, not only no longer works, but hasn’t worked for a while.

Sigh.

Time to go revisit all of our client sites…

Backlink Explosion (How to Monitor the Quality of Your SEO “Experts” Link-building Work)

Wondering what your SEO company is doing to generate all those backlinks (despite the fact it’s not moving the needle AT ALL for inbound traffic, calls or business)? I just got off the phone with a firm questioning their current agency’s reports that were assuring the client they were generating hundreds of backlinks a month. This was delivered along with a thick slice of “SEO is a long term game, you just need to be patient” cake.

So we dug in a bit deeper to see just what was going on. Apparently, they’d gotten 93,000 new links over a roughly 6 months period.

Hmm…

From a total of 11 referring domains.

Double Hmm…

Here’s what the backlink profile looks like according to aHrefs (and btw, yes Google can algorithmically ID these patterns).

 

 

This is clearly spam (i.e. unnatural, non-editorial links that at best, won’t help your site perform). So you can do this type of monitoring yourself of the link-building efforts of your own SEO…here are the red flags I’m seeing:

  1. A massive influx of links at a certain time.
  2. 93,000 links coming from just 11 domains… which is not indicative of someone organically linking to interesting content.
  3. This is reflected in the DR (Domain Rank) score put out by the aHrefs tool. Note that these scores are always bad estimations of Google’s perspective of a site’s overall authority, but they are directionally useful. For context, for a client like this (criminal defense in a mid-sized city), Domain Rank scores should be in the 35-45 minimum range.

If you want to go even deeper – the aHrefs tool shows exactly which domains the links are coming from (in our example, 99.9% of the site’s 93,000 backlinks came from 2 of those domains… not coincidentally owned by the same company).

Note that this is an extreme example which I selected to illustrate the point.  Overall the reporting is going to be much more nuanced… but still worth watching especially when your agency tells you they are busy building backlinks but won’t show you the results.