As online marketers for lawyers, the law firms we do work are always looking for the best bang for their advertising buck. Many of our clients ask us what they should do when they think they’re not getting enough leads from their website. Should they engage in PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising or should they focus on content marketing to drive inbound leads? In this article, I compare both forms of online marketing for attorneys and declare the winner!

Online Marketing for Lawyers – Outside In vs. Inside Out

Before we compare content marketing vs. PPC campaigns, it’s helpful to understand the fundamental difference that separates these two forms of online marketing. Essentially, content marketing is “inside out” while PPC is “outside in.” PPC is “outside in” marketing because you are creating marketing material on other platforms, such as Google Adwords, to drive traffic to your law firm’s website. Content marketing is “inside out” because you are encouraging traffic to your law firm website by developing marketing material directly on the site itself. 

Content Marketing for Lawyers 

The Pros of Content Marketing for Lawyers

Fuels Relationships – First, let’s take a look at the pro’s of content marketing for attorneys. The idea behind content marketing is to educate and inform your audience while addressing common questions and issues relevant to your law firm’s practice areas. For example, a criminal defense attorney could benefit from publishing an article about “what to do when you’re arrested.” The audience’s engagement with your content can fuel relationships so that website traffic inbound from that article turns into highly qualified leads.

SEO Boost – There is an added bonus to developing good content for your law firm’s website. When your content gets shared, these inbound links single to Google that your articles have a degree of authority. From a SEO standpoint, the more authority, the more your articles are likely to be visible in search engine results.

Evergreen Content – One last “pro” to add to the list is the evergreen nature of content. Aside from the time or the financial investment to create content and the cost of hosting your site, there is no ongoing investment. Once your content is out on the internet, it stays out indefinitely.

The Cons of Content Marketing for Lawyers

Although I use the term “con,” I like to think of it more as a “challenge” to content marketing. That being said, effective content marketing requires an investment of thought, time, and a distribution strategy.

Time & Effort – For starters, developing quality content takes time and effort (unless you are outsourcing your content writing). Before I write an article, I think about topics that may interest our site’s visitors. I wonder what questions or issues our audience may have such and I keep a running list of topics to blog about. As for time, I spent time researching this topic, writing the article, proofreading it (which I am not always good at), adding the meta title and description, choosing a relevant image, and posting it to JustLegal’s site. In all, I invested about an hour or so of my time. Afterwards, I may invest several more hours distributing the content as discussed next.

Plan for Distribution – Developing a good plan for content marketing includes the distribution of your content. For example, your distribution should include social sharing on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. However, simply sharing your content on social media isn’t enough. To encourage followers to share and to engage, you need to reciprocate by taking the time to engage with your followers by sharing similar content, commenting on their shares, and replying to those persons who comment on your posts.

Tracking Performance Takes Effort – Unlike PPC advertising, tracking the performance of your keyword and phrases, conversion rates, and ROI takes a bit more time, effort, and know-how. Essentially, tracking conversions and ROI requires some understanding of how to use a tool such as Google Analytics to analyze factors such as search traffic, direct traffic, referral traffic, bounce rates, site flow, and many other factors.

Lack of Immediacy – There is one other challenge worth mentioning. Essentially, the payoff for content marketing amy not be as immediate as running a PPC campaign. Depending on SEO factors, your website’s structure and optimization, and other factors, search engines such as Google may, or may not, show your content for search results.

Some of our clients believe that it takes Google weeks or months to rank content after it is posted. That’s simply not true. If you are following good SEO practices, your post can be indexed and showing up in searches within minutes. For example, yesterday I posted an article on a new video streaming service – blab. Within 10 minutes of posting the article and, using Google Webmaster Tools, requesting that Google index the post, it was showing up #1 in Google for searches such as “lawyers using blab,” and “why lawyers should use blab.”

The Takeaway of Content Marketing for Lawyers

  • Pros: Qualified leads, SEO boost, evergreen content
  • Cons: Time and labor intensive, requires distribution strategy, effort to track performance, gains take time

Pay-Per-Click Advertising for Lawyers

The Pros of PPC Advertising for Lawyers

Instant Gratification – The first thing that comes to mind as a “pro” for PPC ads is the instant gratification you’ll receive. If your ads are set up and maintained properly, you’ll get top placement immediately. What’s more, you’ll get leads more quickly than with content marketing. Additionally, PPC ads can be created and distributed rapidly.

Precise Targeting – With PPC ads, you can target your audience and the geographic locations of your ads with near pin-point precision. What that means for your law firm is that you can pre-qualify your site’s traffic based on your location or other factors to make sure you are driving the right people to your site.

Easy to Track Performance – With a PPC campaign, you can immediately track the performance of your keyword and phrases, which ads bring in the most traffic, conversion rates, and your ROI. Compare this to content marketing, where results can take months to determine and changes can take weeks to implement.

Levels the Playing Field – Lastly, PPC advertising can level the online marketing playing field for lawyers. Even if you’re a solo practioner, you can still compete online with the “big” firms.

The Cons of PPC Advertising for Lawyers

PPC Costs – Paid ads can seem very enticing for lawyers because you can control your budget and how much you spend per click. However, don’t let anyone fool you – PPC campaigns can be costly. Unlike searches for other products and searches, the term “attorney” is the 4th most expensive keyword in Google Adwords. Even for a well-optimized campaign, I commonly see attorneys paying anywhere from $40 to over $100 per click depending on their location and the practice areas they promote.

Not Evergreen – PPC is the marketing equivalent of crack cocaine. Once you’re on it, it’s really hard to get off of it. When PPC works, it’s hard to justify reducing your law firm’s PPC budget to fund new marketing approaches such as content marketing that may prove less effective in the short run but will drive ROI in the long run.

Set Up & Optimization – I’ve seen many examples of poorly run PPC ads for lawyers such as criminal lawyers showing up for family law attorney searches or lawyers’ ads showing up in geographic location searches that are well outside of their market area. Running a successful campaign is an art that requires knowledge about creating a relevant landing page for the ad, choosing the proper keywords and terms, proper use of Adwords extensions, use of negative keywords to filter out irrelevant searches, and many more factors. If you decide to run a PPC campaign, then consider doing what you do best – practicing law –  and hire a company that specializes in running ad word campaigns for lawyers.

The Takeaway of PPC Advertising for Attorneys

  • Pros: Immediate results, precise targeting, easy tracking of performance, levels the marketing playing field
  • Cons: Costs can be high for lawyers, not evergreen, challenging set-up and optimization

Which Wins? Content Marketing or PPC Advertising?

The answer is –  both are winners in their own right. Obviously each has it’s pros and cons, but those pros and cons are unique to each form of marketing. For example, you can focus solely on content marketing, but be prepared to be patient waiting for the results. The long-term payoff from content marketing is much greater than PPC, but it takes time. Likewise, you can focus solely on PPC ads, but be prepared for a long-term investment if you don’t plan to develop any content. In all, based on the difference between “inside out” vs. “outside in” marketing, I recommend a “one-two” combination of content and PPC to market your law firm online.

Final Thoughts – Good Marketing Makes Bad Sites Fail Faster

There’s an adage in advertising — good advertising makes bad products or services fail faster. When the product or service doesn’t live up to the hype, consumers quickly become disenchanted which drives negative word-of-mouth. The same principle holds true for any form of online marketing you do for your law firm. Essentially, no matter how good your marketing may be, a poorly designed website will discourage your site’s visitors from converting into clients. If your site’s visitors become lost and frustrated with your site, then they will decide your firm isn’t worth the effort when the competition is just a click away.