Online keyword advertising has helped generate $1.6 million in new revenue since September for Crime Attorneys, a Los Angeles law office with practices nationwide.
Such pay-per-click search campaigns on Google and Overture also have produced 250,000 visits to the site at www.fightforme.com. Within 60 days of the effort's debut, the law office retained a $250,000 embezzlement case, followed by several others in the $50,000 range.
“We're talking about bringing an entity that didn't even exist until July of 2002 to near-ubiquity on all major search engines when anyone searches for absolutely anything related to criminal defense attorneys,” said Josh Barsch, president/CEO of StraightForward Media, the Peoria, AZ, ad agency on the account.
“This particular market is already brutally competitive online,” he said. “It's not like we introduced a fantastic new product that no one had ever heard of and can simply enter the market at the top of the class.”
The Crime Attorneys effort opened with 800 keywords and phrases, expanding to nearly 8,000 now. It is a premium advertiser with Google and a platinum advertiser with Overture, soon to become part of Yahoo for $1.6 billion.
StraightForward Media's plan included only these services because they cover the big four search engines — Google, AOL, Yahoo and MSN. They also account for the bulk of all online searches by U.S. users.
The campaigns include common legal search terms coupled with words related to individual crimes. These terms also are paired with various geographic names. Some words that seem to work for Crime Attorneys are “embezzlement lawyer,” “felony charges,” “New Bedford attorney” and “Schenectady lawyer.”
Combining a small city name with a lawyer is a good formula. It pulls up relevant results. And there are few bidders, so they are low-priced words.
“Generally speaking, what works are very specific ads targeted to each keyword that you buy,” Barsch said. “It's common practice for most advertisers or agencies to write one general, catch-all piece of ad copy and then assign it to hundreds, even thousands, of keywords. That's ineffective.
“If you're targeting people who want a podiatrist in Shreveport [LA],” he said, “your ad will be more effective if the copy references Shreveport, not 'nationwide podiatry' or even 'Louisiana foot doctors.'”
The list of what does not work for Crime Attorneys has a few surprises. “Criminal lawyer” is not geographically targeted and is quite expensive. The state name coupled with the attorney's, like “Kentucky lawyer” or “Ohio lawyer,” is expensive and not targeted enough.
Keywords range from 5 cents to $50. Google typically starts at 5 cents and Overture 10 cents. Crime Attorneys does not buy the more expensive ones. For example, “mesothelioma,” a type of lung cancer usually caused by asbestos, costs $50 a click on Overture because of the multiple bids by big law firms.
“No word is worth $50 to me,” Barsch said. “Even the best words are going to absorb many clicks before one converts. And $50 a click is going to eat up your profit margin pretty quickly regardless of what kind of case it is.
“We own some keywords up to $20 a click,” he said. “The words that are that expensive are specific to the L.A. market. But again, the more cost-effective keywords that we buy are in the 10 cents-to-$5 range. Those are where the undiscovered bargains are.”
Keyword links that StraightForward Media uses for its client rarely go to the home page of FightForMe.com. Instead, individual pages tailored to each ad have a dramatic effect on conversion rates.
Say, for instance, users search for something related to embezzlement. They type “embezzlement lawyer” on Google. The first sponsored link on the page is Crime Attorneys'. It lists the site address and telephone, adding “Our embezzlement defense attorneys can help.”
Clicking on that link takes visitors to http://www.fightforme.com/embezzlement.html. Copy on that page acknowledges the social stigma and legal consequences attached to embezzlement. It urges visitors to hand their case to a trusted lawyer at Crime Attorneys. The toll-free number is listed.
Prepared by StraightForward Media, the site lists matters defended by Crime Attorneys, team biographies, submission of case information and contact details.
Crime Attorneys' use of keyword buys is not unique. But it is hard to tap the psyches of search consumers and determine what words or phrases they are searching for that the entity's competition does not know.
“The strategy often taken by our larger competitors is to simply secure a large budget and 'outgun' the competition in bidding wars for popular yet high-priced keywords,” Barsch said. “This may generate a passable amount of traffic, but anyone can slog through a bidding war, and that isn't the proper stewardship of an advertiser's budget.”
Satisfied with the outcome of the keyword buys, Crime Attorneys' next step is to go international. The logic is that the law office can refer its retained cases to lawyers in other countries just as easily as it can in other states.
In addition, it will activate campaigns by fall across other pay-per-click services like Espotting/FindWhat, Search123, Sprinks and LookSmart.
Though no litmus test exists for who will succeed with pay-per-click ads, Barsch uses a common rule of thumb: the higher the profit margin per customer acquired, the more viable pay-per-click is for that business.
In essence, the higher the company's per-client profit, the higher the customer acquisition cost it can afford. This could not be truer in Crime Attorneys' case, as its lawyers deal with white-collar crime and not itinerant issues.
“If you're selling coffee beans online for a profit of $3 per bag, but it costs you an average of $10 in clicks and agency fees to acquire each customer, then pay-per-click will not work,” Barsch said.
“However,” he said, “if you're a personal injury attorney averaging $30,000 per case, then you can afford to swallow hundreds, even thousands, more in customer acquisition costs and still make a