If you want to grow your law firm, there is no better place to start than search engine marketing (SEM). Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing offer ad platforms to get your law firm at the top of search engine results pages (SERP). Many attorneys and legal marketers find creating a new ad campaign daunting. You might have a limited budget, or are worried about making mistakes because of inexperience.
Don’t worry—even the most seasoned digital marketers need time to optimize new SEM campaigns. Below is a brief guide detailing some best practices and daily optimization tasks you should do during your campaign’s first week and beyond.
Before You Start
Before you get started there are some things you should know about this guide. First off, it assumes you already have a Google Ads campaign, complete with keywords, ad groups, and conversion tracking set up and ready to launch. If you don’t have that made, that’s okay, just know that this guide does not include information on campaign creation and structure and it assumes you have some familiarity with the basics of advertising on Google. Lastly, this guide assumes you are targeting a broad area with a lot of potential clients. If your campaign only targets a limited geographic area such as a city or a few counties, then it will probably take more time for your campaign to start generating enough traffic to make informed optimization decisions.
The Most Important Thing to Keep In Mind
It is important to understand that, during its first few weeks, your campaign will (probably) not be profitable. Creating a new Google Ads campaign is sort of like carving a marble sculpture. When making a new sculpture, a sculptor must first start with a block of unworked marble. The block is large, square, and rough. Through careful attention to detail, the sculptor chips away all the excess stone and smooths out the rough edges until an elegant sculpture is produced. Likewise, when making a new campaign, the digital marketer will start out with an overpriced and underperforming campaign. It is her job to chip away all the irrelevant keywords, unrelated search terms, and inefficient ads until all that remains a profitable and optimized Google Ads campaign.
Your First Week
During your campaign’s first week, you must check its performance daily. The first week is the most critical, expensive, and time-sensitive point in a campaign’s life. Usually during this time, the campaign eats through its budget quickly, so the more vigilant you are at nipping inefficiencies in the bud, the quicker your campaign will become profitable. It may also be useful to schedule campaigns only during weekdays to start, unless you are willing to check performance over the weekend.
In order to wrangle your new campaign into profitability, you should be performing SAP tasks every day during your first week. SAP stands for:
- Set Maximum CPC High and Adjust Daily,
- Add Negatives Often, and
- Pause Underperforming keywords.
SAP—Daily Optimization Tasks
Set Maximum CPC High, and Adjust Daily: When setting a max CPC for your keywords, it’s better to start high. If you already have existing campaigns for reference, look at your top performing keywords. You should set all your keywords’ starting maximum cost per click (max CPC) equal to the max CPCs of your other campaigns’ top performing keywords. If you don’t have any existing campaigns for reference, just set your starting max CPC equal to your break-even CPA divided by ten (this means at a 10% conversion rate, you will break even). Your campaign will be expensive to start, but setting bids high is recommended for two reasons.
The first reason you should initially set bids high is because you will get traffic quickly, and will be able to make optimization decisions faster. Though your budget will be spent quickly, you will know which keywords perform well and which perform poorly and can pause them quickly. The second reason you should set initial max CPCs high is a little more contentious, and you may find some disagreement depending on which digital marketer you ask. You should set your keywords’ max CPC high because they will have higher quality scores (QS).
You may be thinking “QS isn’t affected by bid.” That is true, but QS is affected by historical performance. If your bid is too low to start it means your ads will appear lower on the SERP. Poor ad position means fewer clicks per view, fewer clicks per view means a low click through rate (CTR), a low CTR means a low QS, and a low QS means expensive traffic. Even though it might seem like a frugal idea to bid low, and raise bids on high performance keywords, a low QS can hurt you in the long run. As your keywords generate traffic, you can lower max CPCs quickly (sometimes within the first day or two) and start to lower your costs.
Add Negatives Often: One of the most important things to do during your first week (and beyond) is to add negative keywords at least once a day. It takes some time to build a robust negative keyword list, so it is important to check your new campaign’s search terms report often for irrelevant traffic. During your first week, it is good to check your search terms report at the beginning and end of each day. Keeping an eye on this early on can save you hundreds as your campaign picks up steam. Lastly, don’t be afraid to add phrase match negatives if appropriate.
Pause Irrelevant Keywords: During your first week, you should be pausing irrelevant keywords frequently. There are several red flags that might indicate a keyword is irrelevant. The first red flag is very high spend/clicks without conversions. Some marketers recommend waiting until the keyword has spent at least three times its target CPA before pausing, others wait until the keyword has at least three-hundred clicks before pausing. For the legal industry, those strategies may be a little extreme since keywords are expensive. For instance, if you waited for three-hundred clicks on a $10.00 keyword, you’d be spending $3,000.00 before waiting to pause. Spending that much is probably not worth the risk.
The second red flag is extremely low CTR. An extremely low CTR is a good indicator whether people find your ad irrelevant to the keyword searched. If you feel your ads clearly represent the services your firm provides, then an extremely low CTR may indicate the keyword just isn’t the right fit and can be paused. It is important to note that below average is not the same as extremely low. If you have an average CTR of 3%, then a keyword with a 2% CTR should not raise any red flags. However, if the keyword has a CTR of <1%, it may be valuable to investigate further.
The last red flag is irrelevant search terms. If you have a keyword that you are on the fence about pausing, it is recommended to look and see what search terms triggered that keyword. If you find that the majority of the search terms are irrelevant to your law firm, it is probably a good idea to pause that keyword.
You should use your best judgment when determining which keywords to pause. If you pause too quickly you may lose out on valuable keywords, and if you pause too slowly you may waste your marketing budget on irrelevant traffic. The decision to pause keywords centers on how much of your budget you are willing to risk for future cases.
If you have a very tight budget, it may be a good idea to pause keywords quickly, whereas if you have a loose budget you may want to wait and see if a keyword will generate a conversion before pausing. Lastly, it’s important to recognize that the red flags listed intersect. By itself, a red flag may not indicate the keyword should be paused, but several red flags should worry you a little more. For instance, a keyword with high spend and irrelevant search terms should still probably be paused even if it has a high CTR, since it brings irrelevant traffic to your website. Likewise, a measly thirty-click keyword should still probably be paused if it has an extremely low CTR and irrelevant search terms.
Beyond Your First Week
Beyond the first week, you should still be checking your campaign frequently. During week two, you may still want to check the campaign every day. Eventually, you will get to the point where you make very few changes, if any, to your new campaign. Once you hit that point, you can start checking the campaign every other day, then every three days, etc. You can even schedule your campaign to run during the weekend if interested. After a few weeks (or even a few months depending on how widely you are targeting) you should see your campaign’s performance stabilize and maintain profitability.
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