How to Use PPC For Law Firm Lead Generation – SEM Lessons for Professional Services Firms

Max Trotter
How to use PPC to drive lead generation for law firms

Search engine advertising is a critical piece of the marketing puzzle for all businesses, but can be especially useful in an industry that is as competitive as Law or other professional services. This post looks at some of the specific opportunities and pitfalls for professional services firms, focusing on Law, but there are plenty of lessons to draw for any business that’s in a competitive space.

PPC marketing gives professional services firms, especially law firms an opportunity to get in front of potential customers at the exact right moment like no other channel can. You need to be highly visible at the precise moment that a need for your specific service arises. And because you’re ostensibly focusing your spending on only the critical moments, it’s possible to be successful with any type of budget.

A well-managed PPC account can be the difference between a growing law firm and just waiting around for the phone to ring.

Despite all the possible benefits, law firms face many unique challenges in PPC that make it more difficult to advertise profitably than in other industries. Keywords (the building blocks for user searches and ad targeting on Google) in the law industry rank amongst the most expensive, with “attorney” and “lawyer” costing over $40 per click!

There is also incredibly high competition by geography, by practice type, and by the event that has people looking in the first place, making it even more challenging to get your ads in front of the right audience at a cost that you can sustain.

These challenges could make PPC look intimidating or risky, but there are some tips and strategies that’ll help you run a successful PPC campaign for your law firm without breaking the bank.

1: Use Narrow Match Keywords

Let’s say you wanted your ad to show up for the search “defense attorney”.

Would you be willing pay $50 to show your ad to someone who just searched the phrase “the U.S. attorney general visited the defense department”? I doubt it.

But as obvious as this seems, that’s exactly what could and often does happen if you don’t use “narrow match” keywords.

When starting an account, the default option for keywords (picking the searches you’ll show up for) is called “broad match.” Broad match can be useful for huge volume, but it also allows any search that includes your keywords in any order to see the ad (see above example).

With keywords as expensive and competitive as you find in the law industry, using broad match is just asking to lose money. There’s simply too much out of your control, with costs per click that can tank your entire advertising budget before you catch the problem. Our goal is to get the ads in front of the people most likely to click, and to convert, and as a rule using broad match simply shows your ads in too many irrelevant places.

To improve the quality of traffic and use your budget at the right moments, you want to use narrow match keywords in general. This is so important for targeting in search engine marketing that Google gives you a couple of flavors: Phrase Match, and Exact Match. We’ll skim both.

Phrase Match only allows searches that have your keywords present in the specific order. “Yada Yada Defense Attorney Yada Yada.” Alternatively, “Seattle defense attorney” or “defense attorney Seattle”. You get the idea.
Exact Match targeting will tighten your criteria to the absolute max so that only exactly matching searches will see your ad (hence the name). Now “Yada Yada Defense Attorney” gives us nothing. It’s “defense attorney” only in this case.

By setting your target keywords to Phrase or Exact Match, you can narrow down to only the users who are searching for legal help, and for a practice like yours. This leads to more qualified clicks, and saves a bunch of money in the process.

2: Use Long Tail Keywords

So now that we’ve tightened up our targeting, we’re done, right? Not at all. Now we need to focus on potential clients that seem highly motivated from what they’re searching on Google.

If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, it’s not good enough to bid on keywords like “defense attorney”, even if that’s exactly what you are. By competing directly with every other defense attorney in the world, you’re still going to show up for irrelevant searches. More importantly, it’s going to cost you a lot of money.

The solution? Long-tail keywords.

Say you’re a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in workman’s compensation in the energy sector. Would you rather pay money to show your ad to two people who searched “workman’s compensation” or “attorney”, or one person who searched “workman’s compensation attorney seattle”?

Instead of targeting more general keywords, try thinking about what else someone could add to a search that would make your firm the best option.

Even something as simple as adding the location, like “Seattle workman’s comp attorney” can lead to much higher engagement from potential customers at a much more affordable price. When on a tight budget, long tail keywords are one of your greatest weapons to compete with bigger, less focused firms.

3: Negative Keywords

But again, long-tail or narrow match keywords alone are still not enough. Let’s stay with our workman’s compensation attorney. You want your ads in front of people who need a workman’s comp attorney, not people who want to become a workman’s comp attorney.

Even when using narrow match keywords such as “workman’s comp attorney”, your ads can still show for people searching things like “workman’s comp attorney salary”. Few things are more frustrating than seeing your advertising budget blown on searches that obviously aren’t relevant to your business or the right kind of intent. This happens to the best of us, and can be avoided by using negative keywords.

Workman’s comp attorney salary

For many of the firms that we work with, our negative keyword lists consist of other types of attorneys, searches that indicate low buying intent or even frivolous claims.

This often includes words such as “salary” or “Glassdoor”, city names that you do not serve, and other attorney’s names.

Bottom line you save your advertising budget for high-quality searches that have the best chance of becoming leads for your firm. You don’t have to add every city and competitor right away if you’re strapped for time, but make sure to check your search terms often to catch any irrelevant keywords that show up.

4: Specific Geotargeting

Say every click you receive on your ad costs $10. Now, what if you found out that people within ten miles of your business are twice as likely to turn into leads than people more than 20 miles away?

Would you still want to pay the same amount for those people? I didn’t think so. If you are a local business, and many law firms are just that, it’s incredibly valuable to set up specific geotargeting.

Not only will geotargeting allow you to bid less for searches outside of your market, but you can choose to bid more aggressively for searches in close proximity. Just one more opportunity to get your ads in front of the right people without spending more money overall.

Without geotargeting, you would be bidding the same amount to advertise your firm to someone searching 100 miles away as someone standing 100 feet away from your front door.

5: Utilize Bid Modifiers

I make this point further down the page, not because it’s less important, but because it’s the one tip that you can’t implement right out of the gate.

Like geotargeting, if you found out that people on their phone were twice as likely to convert as people on desktops, would you still pay the same price to show them an ad? For many workman’s comp or employee injury searches that happen quickly and away from home, this is exactly the behavior we see.

Under the settings tab in Google AdWords, there is a “Devices” page where you can see performance metrics for every device where your ad has shown in the past. This includes desktops, mobile with or without full browsers, and tablets with or without full browsers.

Use bid modifiers in PPC lead generation for law firms - Portent

Once you get enough data from running your PPC ads, you can look at this Devices page and see what device has the best performance metrics. Make sure that you can see which ads are turning into good leads, and not just clicks. If for instance your mobile site isn’t effective, or mobile searches just don’t convert for other reasons, there’s no reason to increase your budget or bids here until you know what’s going on with clear conversion tracking.

Just like geotargeting, you can bid depending on performance and get your ads in front of the most relevant people on the most relevant platform.

If you’d like to learn more about PPC bid modifiers in general we’ve written and spoken about this over the past few years.

6. Track Conversions Religiously – Call-Only Ads

Legal questions are complicated. People want to talk with someone that understands and can answer their questions. They also trust people more when they can talk.

If you’re “stealing leads” from your website by putting up your general phone number and not tracking how many people call that because of your PPC ads, you’ll never understand how your marketing spend was working to drive new business. That’s why we use Call-Only ads.

Call-Only ads look similar to regular AdWords ads, but they display your phone number instead of a standard headline.

Use Call-only ad extensions to convert prospects more effectively in PPC lead generation for law firms

Not my actual number, and not my actual job.

If a phone call is your primary conversion, Call-Only Ads gives you the simplest way of tracking them. In these ads, clicks don’t take the user to the website. Instead, a click calls your phone directly. This removes many steps of the conversions funnel, taking users right from Google to your phone line.

Naturally, this only works on mobile. But for firms that rely on phone calls, Call-Only ads make it far easier to track and generate leads.


In the law and professional services industry, PPC can be a game-changer when it comes to lead generation. But despite its appeal, there are many factors that can make it extremely easy to waste money if you’re not careful. Expensive keywords and high competition make it challenging to maximize effectiveness. But if you narrow down your keyword selections, target your location, optimize for the device and utilize Call-Only ads, you’ll be well on your way to driving traffic and leads for your business.

Max Trotter

Max Trotter

PPC Specialist
PPC Specialist

Max is a PPC strategist that works with Portent's Small Business Solutions team. He carries certification in Google Adwords and HubSpot Inbound, and has experience planning, implementing, and managing social media accounts and email campaigns for small business clients.

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    1. Hi Frank,
      Yes, CPC can be incredibly expensive in law and professional services. Relatively high CPC will almost always be present in such a competitive industry, but you can lower the CPC by targeting as specific a group as you possibly can (using the strategies laid out in the blog post).
      Hope this helps, thanks for reading the post!

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