(Last Updated: March 6, 2023)
If you’re a consumer-facing attorney, and you’re not familiar with Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords), you should be.
It’s a great way to reel in new clients. And in this guide, I’m going to show you how to do just that, step by step.
But first things, first…
A quick primer on Google Ads and how it works
The reality is, many of your prospective new clients, whether they’ve decided they want a divorce after two months, are worried about who’s going to inherit the grandad’s WWII uniform, or just got rear-ended and have a serious nagging pain in their neck, they are going open up their phone or laptop, navigate to Google and begin their research by trying to better understand their situation, options and who might be able to help them. And that’s where you come in.
It all starts here, the blank canvas of the Google search bar:
What happens next, is where the magic happens. And this is where your opportunity lies.
All advertising starts with the idea of targeting. This boils down to considering who you want to see your ad? Where and when do you want your ad to be seen? Showing your ad to the wrong people, no matter how wonderfully compelling it is, will yield poor results.
This is the beauty of Google. Since people tell Google, very specifically, what they are looking for. This allows you, the advertiser, to precisely target who is going to see your ads based on the words they type into the Google search box, known as keywords.
Let’s say you’re a divorce lawyer. It’s probably fair to say, you would like to meet with folks that are online searching for a divorce lawyer.
To do that, you can show an ad for your practice whenever someone in your area (more on location targeting later) includes the words divorce lawyer or divorce attorney in their search.
Now that’s targeting!
Notice, Google knows exactly where their bread is buttered. Because the lion’s share of Google’s $100B+ annual revenue comes from ads, surprise, ads appear above everything else on the page: local business and map listings, organic listings, images, etc… That means a Google user will often see multiple ads (and your ad) before they see anything else on the page.
In a nutshell, that’s Google Ads and how you can use it to connect with new prospective clients.
How Much Will It Cost? Understanding The Numbers.
Advertising is an investment (and tax deductible expense, by the way). Like any investment, there is an expectation that there will be a return. So before we dive into how to set up your Google Ad campaign, let’s start by understanding the metrics that are important in evaluating success.
One of the first questions I often get is “how much does it cost?” or “how much should I budget?”
But before we can answer those questions, we need to start by first understanding the value of a new client. This is often referred to as the Lifetime Value or LTV. To start I would recommend coming up with an average value for each practice area.
The idea here is that by understanding the value of a new client, you can then begin to calculate how much you would be willing to invest to acquire that new client or associated revenue.
For example, let’s say the average value of a new client to your firm is worth $4,500 in revenue. In that case, you might be willing to spend up to $1,000 to acquire that new client.
But we’re going to need to take a closer look at the math to be sure that you are profitable. You should be tracking how many new inquiries (or leads) you are receiving. How many consultations. How many clients and how much revenue they are generating. And you’re not going to believe this, but there’s a calculator that can help you manage all of that!
Fortunately I’ve created a calculator that can make figuring all of this out easy. You can download it for free by going to [URL].
[screenshot of calculator with relevant numbers]
Looking at this screenshot, we can see that an investment of $xxxx generates…
Now that we have a good idea of how much we can invest in Google Ads, let’s look at how to set up a campaign.
Setting Up Your Campaign
Google Ads has a specific account structure. Before we get into the steps of setting up a campaign, let’s first briefly take a look at what that looks like and what these common terms mean:
[graphic on account structure]
This is the easy part. Here you will add your business name, set country, time zone, currency, user access, and billing information.
This is where the important stuff starts. The campaign sets the overarching theme of what you want to do. You’ll be determining your campaign goals, selecting ad networks, location targeting, daily budget and bidding strategy.
While the campaign sets the broader theme of the campaign, your ad groups allow you to get very specific within your broader topic. Ad Groups contain more focused sets of keywords that you want to target and the associated ads that will run when people search for those keywords, and how much you are willing to pay for a click.
Keywords form the foundation of targeting in Google Ads. Here you will select the specific search terms that will trigger your ad to show when a user in your targeted location types them into the Google search box.
This is pretty self explanatory. Your ads exist within your Ad Groups alongside your keyword targets. Here you determine specific ads that will run when someone searches for a keyword that you are targeting.
As we get into the details of setting up a Google Ads campaign, it is worth noting that this section provides the fundamental principles of setting up a campaign, along with some tips and best practices. Additionally, I will make recommendations. However, oftentimes it may be worth testing the alternatives and evaluating the results. Afterall, this is a data-driven channel that provides the very information on what is working and what is not.
So let’s get started, by going to https://ads.google.com/
After you’ve completed setting up your account, it’s time to roll your sleeves up and start building your campaign.
The first thing you will be asked to do is set your goal. There will be a number of different options to select from, including Sales, Leads, Website traffic, Brand Awareness and more.
My recommendation is to select Leads. Because after all, prospective new clients leads are exactly what you’re trying to acquire.
As I mentioned earlier, you may want to experiment with an alternative option like Traffic to see what works best for you.
Lastly, the goal you select will also enable Google to tap into their “big data” and use machine learning to help automate parts of the campaign to better deliver on your specific goal setting.
Here you can choose where prospective clients will see you ads. There’s a number of different options here as well. However, you will want to choose Search, so that you can target using keywords and text ads.
This one can be easy to miss, but is super important. By default the Google Ads system will try to expand your campaign to include Google Search partners within the Search Network and Google Display Network with the Display Network. Make sure to uncheck or disable both of these options! You only want to advertise on the Google Search Network, only on Google Search.
Location targeting is a critical component of the campaign setup process. This is where you determine geographically where your ads will run. There’s a few different approaches here.
Ideally the objective here to set up location targeting based on where your prospective clients are located. For most attorneys this is in their local geographic area.
There’s some different strategies you can use for location targeting. And it is important to note that configure your location targeting will impact your ability to adjust your bidding for the location (that is, you can bid more or less aggressively in the locations that you have chosen).
The first is fairly straightforward. Simply targeting by location: city, region, or zip code. And this is generally the approach that I recommend. Make a list of all of the locations you would like to target. Prioritize the locations that are likely to have the best quality prospects.
For every location that you select, you will then have the option to add a radius. For example, if you are located in and targeting Huntington Beach, you can include a 15 mile radius to include surrounding areas including Newport Beach and Irvine, for example. While this is generally not my favored approach, it can be a quick and easy way of targeting a wide area.
Radius Targeting With a Strategy
There is, however, an approach to using radius targeting that I do like. In this instance, you would create multiple radius targets around your office or zip code, with each radius going a bit wider. But at the same time adjusting your bids downward for each larger radius. The goal here is to bid more aggressively for those closest to your office, and less aggressively the further away they are. This approach works best for more localized practices that tend of have prospects that are more sensitive to working with a firm close by, or that require more in-person meetings.
A word of warning. When starting out, keep the geographically targeting relatively narrow. Focus on your immediate area, where you are likely to have the most success. Fight the urge to go too far and wide. You can always expand your location targeting to reach a wider audience down the road once you’ve established a successful campaign.
By default your ads will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But that’s not really ideal, is it. After all, you’re not in the office 24/7. Fortunately Google Ads provides a tool that can allow you to set the days and times that your campaign is running.
Because the entire objective of the campaign is to generate new prospect leads, it is critical that you are able to receive those inquiries and follow up in a timely manner. After all, you’re probably not the only game in town. Those leads cost money. So you want to make the most of your opportunities.
So the question becomes, should you be running ads after hours and on weekends. What if that hot prospective new client calls at 2 AM on Saturday looking for a free consultation? Will someone answer the phone? If you have a call service, then you have a little more flexibility. If not, then ad scheduling will be very necessary.
So here’s my recommendation: run your ads 24/7! 24/7? Yes. But with an important caveat.
This is a great opportunity to use bid adjustments, so that you can indeed run your ads around that clock, but bid far less aggressively during off hours, and pay less per click during those times. That way, you decrease your bid by up to 90% and still maintain visibility for your ads to reach folks that keep different hours, but minimize what you are willing to pay.
When you set up your campaign, your ad groups allow you to set up your keyword sets and ads by topic. For example, if you were a criminal defense attorney you might have the following ad groups that break a practice area down into more specific topics that correspond to different things potential clients might search for. Then you create keywords and ads that are more closely tied to those topics:
- Criminal defense
- White collar
I like to use what are known as single keyword ad groups (SKAGs). You’ll see why below.
Keyword targeting is the foundation of Google’s advertising platform. It is what makes it so great. It is 100% intent driven. That is, you can advertise based on the user’s intent. And you determine the user’s intent by the search query they are using.
For example, if you are a personal injury attorney, and someone is searching for a car accident lawyer in your target location, you can show an ad. If that same person was searching for a divorce attorney, then certainly you would not want to waste money showing an ad to that person.
When building out a keyword list, I like to start with a simple formula:
[practice area or topic] + attorney
And then do the same for attorneys, lawyer, and lawyers.
Let’s say you’re a car accident lawyer. You end up with the following keywords:
- car accident lawyer
- car accident lawyers
- car accident attorney
- car accident attorneys
Then you might do the same for auto, so that you have the following:
- auto accident lawyer
- auto accident lawyers
- auto accident attorney
- auto accident attorneys
That way when someone in your targeted area types one of these keywords into Google search box, you will be eligible to show an ad. And the more specific the better, because it will more closely match what a user is looking for. That’s about as targeted as advertising gets. Again, show the right ad to the right person is what we’re after.
You can then take those base keywords and add additional qualifying keywords, like [your city] and near me.
So that might look like: santa monica car accident lawyer near me
Keyword Match Types
Once you have your keyword lists, you will need to decide on match types. Because a Google user may not type your exact keyword, match types allow some options to account for that. And you can be more or less restrictive.
You can find a more detailed article on keyword matching options, here: https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/7478529?hl=en
Essentially there are four matching options:
- Exact match – Most restrictive. Matches your keyword exactly.
- Phase match – A little less restrictive. Contains your keyword, but may include additional words.
- Broad match modifier – Even less restrictive. Includes words in your keyword, but in varying places.
- Broad match – Least restrictive. Frankly not restrictive at all. Could be pretty much anything.
First thing you should know about match types: don’t ever use Broad match!
From there you can use exact, phrase and broad modified matching. And this is where the SKAGs I mentioned earlier come in.
Let’s take the keyword car accident lawyer. You can then create versions of that keyword with exact, phrase, and broad modified matching, and put that into one Ad Group. If you want to be extra cautious, then use just exact and phrase matching. It will narrow the audience that you reach somewhat. But it can be a good place to start, and then add broad modified matching later to reach a larger (but slightly less target) audience.
Broad modified matching can also serve as a net to catch variations in the search query that you may not have thought of, or are used very infrequently. For example, super duper awesome car accident lawyer.
If you’re using any other match type than exact, you will need to use negative keywords.
Negative keywords are the opposite of keywords. Negative keywords allow you to avoid showing an ad if it includes a certain word. For example, free or cheap.
You will need to mine your Search Terms report, which will show you the exact search queries that were used when clicking your ads. That way you can discover any terms that might be included in any searches that you want to add to your negative keyword list. This helps refine the targeting and precision of keywords over time.
Ads and Ad Extensions
Time to put your copywriting hat on, and create your ads.
Because your ads will be appearing in the Google Search results, the ads will be entirely text.
The primary ad type is called an Expanded Text Ad. This ad format has several sections, each with character limits, in parenthesis:
- Headline 1 (30)
- Headline 2 (30)
- Headline 3 (30)
- Description 1 (90)
- Description 2 (90)
The goal of the ad is to attract a user’s attention, and ultimately get them to click it. So it needs to be compelling. And character limits mean you need to get creative to say what you want to say.
While you can be creative, and certainly test a variety of different ideas to see which gets the most engagement, as a best practice, I like to use some form of the keyword in Headline 1. And then focus on the help or benefits you provide in Headlines 2 and 3. Another good practice is to include a strong call to action, like Get a Free Consultation.
The Description text allows you to add additional information. And be sure to use a call to action here as well.
Again, it’s worth experimenting with some different variations of Headlines and Descriptions to see what performs the best.
Google Ads offers a tool called Responsive Search Ads that allows you to add up to 15 Headline and 4 Description options that will go into an automated rotation, allowing you to identify the best combinations.
In addition to your base ad copy, Google Ads offers a series of ad extensions, that allow you to add additional information to your ads in specific ways. It is important that you take full advantage of these. Not only do they add more information to each of your ads. They expand the size of your add, allowing increased visibility in the search results, and often produce higher levels of engagement. Be sure to complete the following ad extensions:
- Structured snippet
- Call extension
Bid Strategy and Bid Adjustments
Google Ads is an auction-based advertising network, and offers a variety of bidding options, including both manual and automated. These options include being charged per click, per impression, or per conversion.
Initially I would recommend focusing on clicks, and avoiding all of the automated options (as much as the platform encourages you otherwise). While this bidding strategy will require more work and attention on your part, you will retain maximum control over your campaigns. Eventually, after your campaign has accrued a good amount of data, you may want to experiment with the conversion-focused (this will require conversion tracking is properly set up) and automated bidding strategies that take advantage of Google’s “big data.”
You will need to determine how much you are willing to pay for a single click. Some keyword research, using the Keyword Planner tool, can give you a rough idea of the average cost per click for your target keywords in your market. Start by setting your maximum bid amount at the Ad Group level; and as you collect performance data over time, you can also be more granular and adjust your bids at the keyword level.
Bid adjustments are an extremely useful tool that enables you to take a very granular approach to managing your campaign, by location, device, time of day, and for prioritizing phone calls. Using bid adjustments, you can increase bids by up to 900% or decrease bids by up to 90%. However, note that these bid adjustments will stack. For example, say your are bidding $10 for a keyword, but have a 20% increase on a particular location and a 20% increase on mobile devices, that’s a 40% total increase, that can result in a $14 click.
Landing Pages and Conversion Optimization
Running ads and generating traffic to your website is only the first step.
Possibly the most important factor in determining the success of your campaign is going to be what happens after the click. That is how well your website or landing page turns those clicks into inquiries or leads from new prospects.
The fundamental objective of your campaign is to generate new leads, or inquires, for your services. So it is important that we evaluate how successfully your campaign is in meeting that objective.
Leads will typically come via phone call, web form submission, or a live chat. Each is an instance in which your campaign has achieved its goal. In short, those are called conversions.
You will want to be tracking your conversions both inside of Google Ads and outside of Google Ads.
Google Ads Conversion Tracking
Google Ads provides tools that allow you to track conversions within the system. This will require adding code to your website. I recommend using a tool like Google Tag Manager to manage and implement the necessary tracking code.
Conversion tracking within Google Ads allows you to not only track the number of conversions that the campaign is generating, but which keywords, ads, locations, etc… are responsible for generating those conversions. And that information is key. This allows you to optimize your campaign to focus more on the keywords and ads that are having the most success.
Additionally, to use automated bidding strategies that focus on conversions, conversion tracking will need to be set up correctly.
I also recommend linking your Google Ads campaign to your Google Analytics account so that information can be shared between the two systems.
In addition to tracking the conversion numbers within Google Ads, outside of Google Ads you will also need to carefully track the leads originating from the campaign. From the leads you then can track qualified leads, consultations, signed clients, and ultimately revenue. Without diligently tracking leads, you will never be able to truly evaluate the success of the campaign.
You can do this in a spreadsheet. Or there are software options of lead tracking and intake that you can use. But it must be done.
Many of the leads you receive are going to be phone calls. And it is essential to track these. Using call tracking numbers dedicated to the campaign enable you to do this. Fortunately there are a number of different call tracking providers that allow you to do this. CallRail and CallTrackingMetrics are just a couple. Both integrate with Google Ads and Google Analytics.
Evaluating Performance and Understanding Your Funnel
Understanding your funnel and how each step in the funnel affects overall performance is critical.
So what’s a funnel?
The funnel is a series of stages in your campaign, starting with the money you put into it, and ending with the money you get out of it. Naturally the goal of the campaign is to generate the most revenue and profit as possible.
So let’s take a closer look at the steps in your funnel, and how to analyze them, looking at both the total number and the associated costs for each. (Be sure to evaluate funnel metrics based on a specific timeframe: monthly, quarterly, annually.)
Budget – Very simply, how much you invested in your campaign during a given time period.
Clicks – How many clicks did your campaign generate; and what was the average cost per click.
Leads – How many new leads did you generate; and what was the average cost to generate a raw lead.
Qualified Leads – Of the total leads generated, how many were actually qualified potential new clients; and what was the average cost per new, qualified lead.
Consultations – How many consultations did the campaign generate
Signed Clients – How many new clients did you sign; and what was the average cost to acquire a new client. New client acquisition cost is a big one. By knowing the average value of a new client and looking at how much it is costing to acquire a new client, you can easily access if the campaign makes good business sense.
Revenue – How much revenue did the signed clients produce. Here it is good to determine the total for the given time period, but also determine the average revenue per client as well.
Profit – Finally, do all the math. Take your revenue, deduct what you spent, and how much is left over? What type of return on investment did you earn?
Remember that calculator from earlier we used to plot our campaign budget? Well, now is a great time to pull that back out, plug in your data, and actualize your campaign’s performance to determine if the financial objectives we were hoping to achieve were met.
The bottom line is this: your campaign should be earning you more money than you are investing in it. So it is important to regularly evaluate your campaign’s performance. Know how much you are spending to generate a lead, acquire a new client, and ultimately how much those clients are generating in revenue (and profit) for your firm.
Once you’ve determined your campaign is profitable, the next step is to scale it!