Is the North Carolina Bar Killing Google’s Local Service Ads?

The North Carolina Bar has Google’s new ad unit – the Local Service Ad squarely in their sites, and frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long.  I’m not suggesting this is the right move, just that I was expecting a reaction earlier (and probably from Florida).

The Bar’s beef?  The routing and recording of the inbound phone calls to attorneys.  A quick overview – these ad units are monetized via a  pay per lead approach and deliver those leads via a  phone call to the law firm.  Google routes those calls through their own technology which records them, transcribes them and then analyzes them to ensure the inbound call was actually a lead instead of spam – a FindLaw SEO salesman for example. This ensures the quality of those leads for which the firm is pay each time remains high. In addition, law firms can dispute the quality of individual leads and apply for a refund. The recordings help Google with this one off refund requests.

Yes – Google is recording these calls and there is, of course, a notification to consumers buried somewhere within Google’s terms of service.  But, let’s be honest, most of you reading this didn’t know that and it is certain that the vast majority of consumers don’t either.  Enter the NC State Bar which in their opinion stated:

“A third party’s recording and retention of these conversations, as well as its access to and potential disclosure of conversations between consumer and lawyer, raise consumer protection concerns and heighten the need for clear and full communication.”

Now, I don’t really think Google has any interest in getting into the business of sharing these conversations with third parties (as posited by the issue-spotting NC Bar). Nor do I genuinely think most consumers would be aghast at Google’s practices here. Having said that, these notifications buried deep in a never-read terms of service is a very far cry from “this call is being recorded for quality and training purposes” that we’ve become oh so accustomed to. And it was only a matter of time before issue-spotting Bar regulators took this predictable step.  Gyi waxes poetic on the general overreaching approaches Bar’s have towards technology in Lunch Hour Legal Marketing’s July 14th Podcast.

Now, it’s important to note that Local Service Ads, are not a new phenomenon, just new to the legal industry.  They first rolled out to Locksmiths and Plumbers way back in 2016 and have been expanding industries ever since.  This means there’s years and years of recorded LSAs for hundreds of thousands of companies and they haven’t been shut down on these concerns before.  And yes, legal is different, but the law isn’t.  The peeps in Mountainview are pretty smart and they clearly spent a lot of time studying and engaging the legal market at the state regulatory level before launching LSAs. I find it unlikely they didn’t anticipate this obvious eventuality.  But, if the NC Bar persists (nevertheless)… how many lawyers really want to risk bar discipline to protect Google’s LSA pricing framework? (But if you do… find me; it’s a linkbuilding Bonanza and I love lawsuits for linkbuilding).

Hat Tip: Jason (you know who you are) and David Donovan from the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly.

How did you hear about us?

I just bought a Skylight… a digital calendar that syncs each of my family member’s calendars onto a simple, comprehensive touchscreen. It’s a startup led by a bunch of Harvard MBAs who clearly don’t know much about digital marketing – just like many lawyers.

Here’s one of the screens in their checkout sequence:

Ugg – the electronic version of “how did you hear about us?”, the inaccurate, invasive refrain from many law firm intake specialists. Additionally, most (but not all) “Intake Management Software” perpetuates this practice with a database field to be dutifully data entered by a law firm front desk person.  Except of course, most of the time the answer is; “the internet“.  Also – because that frequently underappreciated and undertrained front desk person hates doing data entry – he decides to skip data entry of those truly useless calls; which leads the firm to have a very incomplete picture of the true effectiveness of their marketing.  This is exacerbated by marketing agencies over-reporting on their “leads”.  So while the agency’s report says 86 leads last month, the front desk has only entered… 7.  This leads to debate and friction between agency and law firm about what really is a lead.  I’ve had that conversation hundreds of times over the past 15 years.

Of course, we landed a man on the moon in the 60, so we can accurately and comprehensively report on digital marketing activities today. The law firms that are taking your market share are absolutely doing that.  Because data is power. I’m tired of hearing marketing agencies talking about “data driven design”, yet they don’t have accurate and comprehensive data to make any decisions.  It’s just a nice sounding soundbite in a sales pitch.

Bringing this back to Skylight – I looked through my own personally tracked history and this is what I found: I know I initially saw a skylight ad on Facebook, clicked through, read some more and then forgot all about them. Until this morning when I had a calendar clash with one of my kids and decided to go back to Google and search for “online shared family calendars display”, which brought me back around to Skylight. So this is a long purchase cycle, with zero brand retention and multiple touch attribution modeling. Great data for our team of MBAs if they had the infrastructure to track it… instead they wanted me to tell them how their marketing was working with a checkbox. Boo.

A Skylight costs a solid $150 – lawyers, your clients are much more valuable – don’t you think it’s time to have real, accurate and automated reporting infrastructure?

Why You SHOULDN’T Start a Law Firm Podcast

82% of podcasts fail.

If you are thinking about starting a podcast to market your law practice, stop. Don’t do it. And stop listening to marketers who don’t know what it takes to not only produce but to start and grow a successful podcast.  Let’s face it – if you are reading this post, you also probably have no clue what it takes to really make a podcast successful.

I’m certainly not saying podcasts aren’t an effective marketing mechanism – along with co-host, Gyi Tskakalakis, I podcast bimonthly at Lunch Hour Legal Marketing. It gives me a great opportunity to talk to a dedicated, engaged, regular audience; showcase my deep understanding of digital marketing, and display my rough-around-the-edges, no-bullshit personality in a way that most standard marketing can’t. That’s a huge value. But I also know that Lunch Hour Legal Marketing’s success in podcasting has come at a large investment in time, consistency, money, audio expertise, and leveraged social media equity.  And it’s the latter elements of podcasting that are so easily glossed over by naively optimistic legal marketers who jump on the podcast bandwagon because they listen to Pod Save America on their commute. The same experts who jumped on “content is king”, multiple domains, .law TLDs, meerkat, and Clubhouse. The truth is, podcasting success is often pitched by marketers who don’t understand the Field of Dreams content marketing fallacy: build it and they will come. Write the blog and they will come. Shoot the video and they will come. Tik the Tok and they will come. And now… record the podcast and they will come.

If I haven’t dissuaded or insulted you yet, please read on to see some of the pitfalls of podcasting along with some recommendations of what it takes to make a podcast successful…

Podcasting is Very Very Crowded

The fundamental problem with podcasts is there are lots of them. Lots and lots. And the growth in podcasts has far outpaced the growth in ears listening to podcasts. This isn’t a new marketing phenomenon; way back in 2015 a prescient writer at Wired published this post: If Podcasts Are the New Blogs, Enjoy the Golden Age While It Lasts – the key element in this headline being “While It Lasts”.  Perhaps the entire perspective on my post is summed up in the Wired subheadline:

“Podcasts hold the promise of a great new democratized medium. But how many blogs do you read now?”

Indeed most people aren’t consuming more and more blog content, but does that hold true for each podcast episode (spoiler alert – it does).  While the number of podcast subscribers has steadily increased –  with more than 30% of the US population listening to podcasts monthly, there are now over 2 million podcasts with over 48 million episodes.  Supply went on a date with Demand and the result is not in your freshman personal injury blog podcast’s favor. ListenNotes (a podcast search engine) reports over 10K podcasts covering law – sure, some of them might be about “murphy’s law” or “laws of attraction” but there’s over 2,500 titled Lawyer. You really sure you want to be #2,501? So while the Field of Dreams theory worked for Kevin Costner, it doesn’t really work for content on the internet (and never has).

The practice of Content Marketing is really missing the point. Content Marketing should really be called Marketing Content – because the emphasis (of your time, money, effort, human capital) should be focused on the marketing side of it, yet almost all lawyers and most marketers focus exclusively on the tangible, fun Content part. (It’s especially convenient for lazy agencies who pass the effort on to their legal clients but fail to push their role – the Marketing part…. “yeah yeah yeah, just keep up with that content creation thing and eventually….”)  A very blunt and unscientific rule of thumb for Content Marketing is 20/80 – i.e. you should spend four times as much effort (time and/or money) on marketing the content as you spend on creating it. Now consider recording a half-hour podcast; you spend a bare minimum of 30 minutes on post production and distribution. Are you really up for putting in the additional 4 hours of hard work needed to market it?  Probably not.

Podcast Failures – by the Numbers

While there is much coverage about the explosion of podcasts and podcast listenership, very little has been written or analyzed about podcast failure.  In an interview with Amplifi Media, Blubrry (a podcasting tool) CEO, Todd Cochrane notes that just 18% of podcasts added new content in the past three months. Deeper analysis shows that more than half of all podcasts are abandoned within a year of launch. Put another way, your marriage is more likely to succeed than your podcast. How’s that for a downer on way too many levels?

Marketing a Podcast

So in order to avoid becoming a podcasting statistic…. don’t underestimate the effort required in building a regular listenership of subscribers eagerly anticipating your next audio wisdom drop on Apple Podcasts. Driving listeners requires much more than amazing, engaging content (yeah – you heard that from an SEO dude). It requires a turning of the marketing flywheel – essentially a lot of hard work to build to a level of self-sustaining audience growth where your listeners drive more listeners and your download success keeps you at the top of the podcast recommendation engines. Trending podcast anyone? (And yup…. here’s an entirely new algorithm optimization science to learn). Sure, if you have an existing, loyal, engaged social profile you can add podcasts to the panoply of content delivered to your audience.  But if you don’t, it’s time to start advertising, promoting, cross podcasting, writing, and rewriting titles and descriptions. Time to learn the vagaries of an entirely new marketing channel – how to optimize each episode across numerous podcasting platforms. Learn new KPI’s, master new software, and invest in new tools Veritronic, Podtrac, Chartable.

And don’t forget, while you are marketing that podcast…. that is resources and brain space you aren’t using to directly market your firm.

The Train Has Left The Station

Let’s go back to the Wired headline: “Enjoy the Golden Age While It Lasts”. Marketing your podcast today is MUCH more difficult than it was 5 years (or even 5 months) ago. Just like early adopter blogs, which had a unique advantage in building readership, early podcasts have established their audience and this gives them an unfair advantage of commanding the downloads and ears of your potential podcast audience. Read another way: switching loyal listeners from an established podcast to a new one is difficult and with over 2,000 new podcasts being introduced every week, the math is stacked against you. The first-mover advantage is very real in both blogs and podcasting. Remember that flywheel analogy earlier?  That flywheel is much much heavier today than it was historically.  If you are considering starting a podcast today, that first-mover advantage is so far in the rear-view mirror that you have an uphill battle to climb.

Your Legal Content Is (Probably) Boring

Sorry bloggers and now podcasters – most of your pertinent legal content is not the stuff of podcast success.  “10 Things to Do after you receive a traffic ticket in Minneapolis.” Bleh. I’d rather listen to 10th-grade trigonometry class over Zoom from a bored, underpaid, and under-appreciated teacher. This is further complicated by the temporal nature of podcasts colliding with the evergreen nature of the majority of high converting legal content – i.e. what’s the latest and greatest new information about probate? You may work in a practice area that is more newsworthy and coverable – changes in tax law for example (yawn), but by and large those high converting head terms “car accident lawyer San Diego” really aren’t podcast worthy.

So your dull law firm content must be malleable. The challenge becomes reframing your criminal defense law firm podcast into a more interesting, pertinent, timely, consumer-friendly focus – covering the budding marijuana industry in St. Louis, for example. Or your family law practice into a podcast on celebrity divorces. Or move away from law entirely and talk about your community – your PI law firm’s podcast talks about favorite restaurants in Rhode Island – the Providence Pizza Podcast. But ultimately, given the general nature of law firms, you almost certainly need to spin, shift, pivot, reframe, or otherwise do something to dress up your dull law firm content.

Podcasting and SEO

It seems like every latest marketing shiny object includes the promise of “improving your SEO”.  The push by marketers and agencies towards podcasts is almost comical… a recent marketing expert extolling the SEO virtues of podcasts for lawyers included this gem:

The potential for high SEO value is one of the added benefits of producing a podcast. Your law firm can advance its marketing goals with a podcast that is rich in relevant keywords and phrases, backlinks, social mentions and shareable content.

A podcast rich in relevant keywords…. rich in backlinks? Backlinks? Can someone please explain the HTML code one uses to insert a link into an audio file? And haven’t we put to bed the “social mentions as an SEO ranking factor” theory? It’s not that great podcasts can’t generate links – guest podcasting can drive links to bio pages, episodes that are featured (and marketed) on your own site may drive links, show notes with links, etc., just don’t forget that the vast majority of podcasts are syndicated and most podcasts earned links will go to those syndication sources instead of your law firm website.  For more on Podcasting and real Linkbuilding try: How to Use Podcasts for Linkbuilding, but my meta point remains – the “record a podcast and SEO will magically happen” is a far-fetched Field of Dreams. And yes, I’m still waiting for that link.

Recording Podcasts Well

Actually, recording and post-producing a podcast requires a special talent, background, and experience.  Read differently: while amateur video may lend an air of personality and accessibility to a lawyer, a poorly produced podcast is… just frankly hard to listen to. And this gets increasingly complicated when you include more than one person on a podcast; matching audio volumes and different recording software is far from straightforward.  Additionally, podcasts invariably require post-production from multiple takes due to verbal fumbles, missed talking points, and if you are like me, removing the occasional spontaneous f-bomb. Our Lunch Hour Legal Marketing podcast has an amazing professional recording and production crew who handles all of this, headaches we don’t have to worry about; but you do.

I’m not suggesting podcasts don’t work… just that most people who are mulling, “should I start a podcast” have very little insight into the time, effort, and money required to make them successful. So… if your agency is pushing you to podcast, ask them what the KPIs are, how they configure GarageBand, how to promote a loyal readership, what tools you need, how to generate appealing content, and exactly what it takes to get an episode trending. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying it’s much harder than the marketing experts you’ve been listening to realize.

82% of all podcasts fail – and most of them have more innate consumer-centric appeal than your Atlanta Criminal Defense Law Firm Podcast.  And if I still haven’t convinced you… tune in tomorrow for a post from the producer of my podcast, Lunch Hour Legal Marketing he showcases what it takes to generate an amazing podcast. (Don’t know what a plosive is?….  tune in tomorrow to find out.).

SharpSpring vs. Hubspot

Over the past two years, we’ve had the painful experience of switching CRM systems not once but twice.  In this video I talk about the true costs of a CRM system and why the “savings” from SharpSpring ended up costing my firm a ton of money – in both productivity and lost clients.

The one thing I didn’t mention in this video (as pointed out by the poor guy who had to handle this) was the immense pain in setting up SharpSpring.  While importing data from one CRM to another is always going to be complicated, this effort took my number 1 guy months of painstaking work to complete.  The upside?  Pulling stuff form Sharpspring into HubSpot, much smoother.

If you are looking for information specifically around HubSpot for the legal industry, you can learn more here in our post: Hubspot for Lawyers.

Advanced link building: “we are killing black men….”

This is a short clip from a tragically prescient link building presentation I gave at PILMMA way back in 2016.  It touches in a a very very difficult subject, challenges the legal community to get more involved locally and showcases the SEO benefits of doing so.  Yeah – it may seem tone-deaf callous and opportunistic, but really its a call for the legal community to get more involved in their communities at a very intimate level.

 

Beware the FOMO Legal Marketing Agency Ads

Your social feeds are probably crammed with ads from legal internet marketing “experts” that use FOMO to sell.  They are also full of empty promises.  But let me start with the punchline: legal marketing isn’t easy. Success requires hard work, significant investments, a touch of luck and a well oiled intake machine.

The formula for these ads is very simple:

    1. Promises of riches –  frequently uses “7 or 8-figure practice” verbiage.
    2. Missing Out – Your competitors are already winning at this game.
    3. “It’s Simple” Messaging – “follow these 4 steps”, “cut and paste”.
    4. Proprietary – the “it’s simple” often oblique references a Shiny Tech Object (SHITO?)  or a “secret”.

This type of adverting pulls on the base psychological premise: fear of missing out (FOMO).  “You are missing out on easy money your competitors enjoy because you don’t know my simple secrets.” And if you see these messages enough, subconsciously the messaging enters your brain and becomes part of your internal dialogue. Think this doesn’t work?  Just go back to the last election season to see the ease of manipulating reality through highly targeted, and scientifically optimized messaging.  Or read more on FOMO marketing here.  These ads are scientifically designed to get you to click through, perhaps submit your email address…turning you into another line item in a marketer’s database.

But the truth is, it’s hard. There aren’t simple steps, there’s no easy solution, and the competition is getting worse, not better. Since I got into the internet marketing game back in 2006, I’ve never seen the market so competitive – there are more lawyers chasing SEO, bidding on keywords, faking offices, pushing out engaging video content and building fans on TikTok (hi Kelly!). If you think its simple, boy do I have an email drip campaign for you to sign up for.

FOMO Examples

Want to learn when you are being FOMO’d?  I’ve pulled a few examples to help acquaint you with this genre of advertising so you recognize them when they cross your path on Facebook, Instagram, and even TV….

This one is classic – 1)secrets 2)7-figures, 3)it’s simple 4)others are doing it.

You too, can be like Eddie, quaffing oversized drinks with your girlfriend and traveling the world, if you just knew about New Technology (3D Legal Advertising!!!!) that generates more cases than SEO, PPC and Lead Gen combined! (Except of course, Eddie was never a lawyer, but don’t let those little details creep into your mind….).

And here’s a guy claiming that over 30% of his clients (that he landed with nothing more than powerpoint) have written a perfect, 5 star review.  Really?  Along with the ultimate sad lawyer FOMO imagery… 

In this instance, the “Big Bang” of the legal industry is just three simple steps followed by 164 other attorneys (did I mention you are missing out?)

Some more promises with an unmentioned new client AI technology that strangely didn’t even exist in 2020, but simultaneously was perfected over the past year.  Math anyone?

Here you go lawyers… copy and paste our secret and get on your way to an 8 figure law firm….

 

UPDATE: Just got this new one…. you too could be lounging on a boat with this simple, two step strategy!

Why We Didn’t Send Holiday Gifts

Like most Americans, I’m enjoying putting 2020 firmly in our rearview mirror.  Having said that, last year was particularly kind to Mockingbird – we developed capabilities significantly, (most) of our clients outperformed expectations, and Mockingbird staff upgraded significantly. We ended the year on very solid financial footing. The dissonance of economic calamity for millions of small business owners and their employees coinciding with a soaring stock market has hit me particularly hard this year.  Mockingbird has been among the fortunate.

So in December, instead of sending out a typical Seattle themed gift basket or schwag festooned with the (awesome) Mockingbird logo, we’ve made a donation to a food pantry near each of our largest clients. We did well enough last year that this isn’t just a token gesture and I’m deeply grateful that through our clients, we’re able to make a difference in the lives of many Americans who really need the help right now. Our contribution from snowflakes from Seattle to bubble up economics instead of the trickle down economics; which clearly hasn’t served those in greatest need.

-Conrad

Prediction: Google Screened as Ranking Factor for Google Local.

Google has traditionally and aggressively separated paid from organic.  The firewall between their departments ensures there’s not anti-competitive issues – i.e. spend more money on Google Ads and see your organic rankings skyrocket.  I’ve run into this over and over again with our awesome reps from the Google Premier Partnership program, who advise us and our clients on Google Ads.  These awesome peeps wouldn’t know the difference between an H1 and an Immigration Visa and think NAP is something their kids do after a particularly arduous virtual school day.

My prognostication:  Google’s separation between Search and Advertising may crumble in the near(ish) future.

Look what Erik Beatty spotted this morning in the support drop-down for LSAs: an  “Upgraded GMB Profile” option.

This is very valid useful data that, I would argue, should be used for showing up in the Local Results.  In fact, the prospect of improving what shows up in Local in the legal industry is what I thought the original intention of Google Screened …. removing the spammy crap that litters Local results – non law firms masquerading as law firms, out of state or out of market lawyers faking offices etc.

This would be a major adjustment for Google; breaching a very fine line between organic and paid.  While they’ve been reluctant to cross this rubicon in the past, lawyers should welcome this development as it will kick the bogus garbage out the Local, which filters real prospects through lead selling agencies, extracting a ton of value out of the legal profession with zero added value.

RBG and the Lawyer Mom Owner Conference

It’s 2:00am Saturday morning and I can’t sleep. The massive implications of RBG’s death on my mind. I have a daughter; time to watch On the Basis of Sex with her.

What to do?

This morning is the perfect time to make sure everyone I know is aware of Carolyn Elefant and  Jeena Belil’s Mom Owner Lawyer Summit, a conference dedicated to enterprising female lawyers.  I’ve first met Carolyn back in 2007 and have always referred to her as the Godmother of solo practitioners.  She’s inspirational, entrepreneurial, upfront and delightfully innately nerdy.  She started her law firm in 1993 and has made sharing her experiences to other enterprising lawyers a side gig primarily through her blog MyShingle.

When:  September 30-October 1
Where:  Online!

To me, Carolyn has always seen law firm ownership as the answer to both personal professional fulfillment.  If you have an inkling that there might be more to your profession and your life than the current status quo…. spend two days at this conference.  

This Summit has an entirely female speaker lineup and features some of the amazing women I’ve met during my sojourn in the legal marketing world.

I’ve bought tickets for all of my agency’s female clients and have a few left so if you’d like to attend the Lawyer Owner Mom Virtual Summit as my guest…. just add a comment (your email won’t be public) and I’ll delete it once I’ve sent you a ticket.  And please spread the word… there’s a target of 1,000 attendees and Jeena and Carolyn are not that far off their goal.

Oh, and to bring things back full circle to RBG… please vote. Early.

-Conrad