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Future Fridays: Should You Still Pay Per Click?

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It’s been nearly six years since the ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission green-lighted pay per click  (PPC) as an ethically compliant marketing tool and since then, it’s been a popular mainstay of many practices. But is pay per click still effective?

An article by Luke Ciciliano at SEO For Lawyers  suggests not. Although Ciciliano comes at this with a bias since he sells SEO services to lawyers, he raises some interesting points worth considering.  Ciciliano admits that he’s never been a fan of PPC because it puts lawyers at the mercy of the provider – stop paying for PPC, and you lose all value. By contrast, by investing in the time to build up content marketing, a lawyer creates a long-term cache of resources that can be re-published or re-posted.

That’s always been the inherent difference between PPC and content marketing. But Ciciliano predicts that the efficacy of PPC will drop even for markets such as DUI defense, criminal defense and personal injury which he says are drying up. For example, the advent of Uber and Lyft has cut down on DUI incidents (though it’s not clear why criminal defense work or personal injury would be drying up). In any event, as it becomes more competitive to target consumers in declining practice areas, the profit margin off of PPC shrinks even more.

On the other hand, I wonder if content marketing is as effective as PPC, particularly in the short-term. It can take a while to build up a content base, and that’s also increasingly more difficult as ghost-written lawyer blogs continue to populate the internet. Lawyers just starting out may have the time to generate content on their own, but it will take a while before there’s enough scale for that content to appear on Google. Plus, many people who visit blogs are merely in the process of thinking about hiring a lawyer, whereas those who hit the PPC sites are often ready to buy.

I was fortunate enough to have first-mover advantage with this blog, which still appears on the first page of Google for all things solo, even though I don’t write as much as I used to (hoping to change that). And I’m pretty sure that starting out, I’d have been too cheap to invest in PPC anyway. But the one point that Cilliano makes about PPC that is most powerful is that PPC is out of the lawyer’s control, whereas building your own content is not. And there’s always high risk when a firm bases revenues on a platform over which it has no control or understanding of how it work (though that may soon change with the recent pressure to require transparency in algorithms which may drive PPC selection).  So for that reason, I’m not inclined to endorse PPC. What’s your experience been?


  • Paul Spitz

    I used pay-per-click before with a picture framing business. One day, I’m reviewing the results, and I’m seeing an extraordinary number of clicks from eastern Europe and Asia, not exactly an area of interest for my local business. And none of these clicks actually converted into paying customers. That’s the inherent problem with pay-per-click: it is too easy to generate fraudulent clicks via robots, cheap labor in eastern Europe, etc. The advertising provider has a vested interest in looking the other way, since these fraudulent clicks generate revenue for them.

  • Thanks for the mention in your article Carolyn. DUI is drying up for the reasons you mentioned which means more and more DUI attorneys are piling into PPC as a way of trying to keep business up. That, in turn, drives the cost of those clicks up and drives law firm profits down.

    Criminal defense is drying up for multiple reasons. First, in 2012 there was a marijuana related arrest in the US every 42 seconds. Between 2012 and 2016 four states legalized marijuana and that number doubled in the last election. This trend is quickly hitting criminal attorneys (even in areas where the drug isn’t legal yet). Also, for reasons too long to list, arrests have dropped dramatically. In 1995 there were roughly 15 million people arrested in the US and by 2015, with a much larger population, that number was down to roughly 11 million. Again, less work for criminal attorneys means more attorney piling into PPC and driving costs up.

    On the PI front, advances in auto safety have hit the practice area hard. In 2005 there were 43,510 traffic fatalities in the US. By 2015 that number had dropped to 35,092 even though people drove roughly 25 million more miles. Some trends in the 2018 model year are going to GREATLY increase safety and driverless technology (which will be upon us by 2021 at the latest) is going to make cars essentially accident proof.

    All these things together mean more lawyers piling into PPC and driving those costs up.

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