With 96% of people using search engines when seeking legal advice, search ads (formerly AdWords) have become an extremely popular way for law firms to get in front of prospective clients searching for lawyers. Unlike SEO, it’s also a much easier and faster method to get listed on the first page of Google. Unlike SEO, search ads can be expensive for legal practices as it’s one of the most competitive industries in online advertising and marketing.
How much should lawyers budget for AdWords? Search Ad budgets for lawyers vary depending on the area of law. On average, firms can expect to start with $2,000 monthly. More competitive areas such as personal injury should start with $3,000 per month. Wills & Estates may start around $500 monthly.
At the end of the day, your firm’s budget will depend on variables such as the area of law and the competition you face in your local market. Because of this, we’ll look at the more popular areas of law and discuss the ranges for minimum starting budgets, suitable to the area and the market.
How much should Lawyers Spend on Google Search Ads
When it comes to Search Ads, not budgeting enough is arguably just as bad as, if not worse than, not running ads at all in Google Search.
The CPC (cost per click) varies by keyword. Keywords are what users type into the search bar. The amount you bid on keywords for personal injury search terms will likely be orders of magnitude greater than a keyword for wills or probate cases. Not each click will convert into a lead or phone call. In fact, only a fraction of paid clicks will. An even smaller amount will convert into qualified and paying clients.
Not to discourage you, Google Ads can work great. Just being realistic.
So, if you don’t budget accordingly for this, then it’s likely that your firm won’t see observable results from your search ads marketing efforts. In fact, by not budgeting enough, you may not see a return and you would have been better off not spending the money at all (a point we’ll discuss later).
Below, we’ll look at budgeting for specific areas of practice and markets.
Personal Injury & Criminal Law: High Competition
By far the two most competitive areas of practice to market for in Google Search is personal injury (and insurance claims) and criminal law. The costs per click on keywords associated with these areas of law are rich. As with all keywords, the cost will vary on a gamut of factors. However, the basics involves the specific keyword as well as the market competition (e.g. city or state advertising in).
Let’s compare the two areas of law in two markets to see these effects more clearly. Looking at the difference in prices between the two cities, there are two points of note.
- The price between keywords for criminal law and personal injury keywords. In both markets, personal injury and accident keywords are approximately twice the cost of criminal law keywords.
- The cost per click in New York is 2.5 – 3x more expensive than the same keywords in Toronto.
Search Ads Market Competition in Toronto
A budget of $3,000 would get a personal injury firm between 42 and 87 clicks on their ad for the keyword “car accident lawyer”. The equivalent budget for a criminal lawyer in Toronto would receive between 76 and 254 clicks on their ad for people searching “criminal defense lawyer”.
Search Ads Market Competition in New York
In New York, the personal injury and criminal lawyers would have to spend approximately 3 times as much to get the same number of clicks on their ads as a lawyer in Toronto.
Now a city like Toronto is still considered very competitive. To be fair, we compared it to a market where conditions for competition are among the most extreme you would see anywhere in North America. That being said, it illustrates the example that it really depends based on the keywords and the regions the firms are advertising in.
Generally speaking, personal injury and criminal law firms should consider a minimum monthly budget of between $2,000 and $4,500 per month on AdWords (Google Search Ads) spend. Smaller markets may tolerate a slightly lower budget, but it’s advised to be cautious going much lower than $2,000 with search ads. In a market such as New York City, criminal lawyers could see returns spending a minimum of $4,500 to $5,000 per month on ads, however personal injury lawyers should consider a significantly higher budget for such a competitive area.
Family Law, Employment & Immigration: Medium-High Competition
The next tier down in competition in Google AdWords include areas of law such as family & divorce, employment and immigration. The data below is taken for Toronto again, to give a fair comparison with injury and criminal law from above.
The competition column shows that these keywords are medium and high, but more important are the bid columns (e.g. cost per click).
While the average CPC (taken by the average between the two bid columns) is highest for family and divorce law, these tend to convert well there’s always a healthy market for family law and divorce related matters.
Immigration and employment law are not far behind, however take note that an effective AdWords strategy will take special care with these keywords as search and conversion intent will vary greatly depending on the search terms exercised by searches. Immigration law is especially unique as many searches may come from the target market, but are also likely to come from overseas.
Generally as a new Google AdWords advertiser, it’s recommended to start with a minimum budget of $1,000 to $2,000 per month. Family law, in particular, will do well in almost any market size. Therefore, for smaller cities and regions, family and divorce lawyers can sometimes get away starting around $500 or $750 monthly.
Corporate & Business Law Firms: Medium Competition
Business and corporate law firms will not face as much competition as the areas of practice listed above. The cost per clicks are much more reasonable. However, this is also in part due to the variety of services that business and corporate lawyers could do and the search intent of the users.
Generally larger, more established companies already have counsel retained. In rare cases, they’ll switch lawyers through a Google search. They’re more likely to be referred to a new firm either through word of mouth or other channels like LinkedIn rather than search.
Business law searches are best for smaller companies or individuals looking to incorporate, create contracts, NDAs or other smaller and low ticket services. While this could later translate into more business for the firm as their clients’ businesses grow, it is less likely to produce large sales on the first transaction.
Therefore, competition and the resultant CPC is lower for business and commercial law keywords. The data is compared with previously discussed keywords for cost reference. While competition and CPC is lower, Business and Corporate law firms should seek to budget a minimum of $1,000 – $2,000 per month to begin; which is the same as suggested for family law, employment and immigration. This is due to lower ticket items and potentially lower conversion rates. Therefore this should be counteracted with a larger budget in contrast to the CPC to build up more, smaller case work.
Property, Probate, Wills & Estates: Low to Medium Competition
The Ads budget for Wills & Estates is on the lowest end of competition for Google Search Ads. However, in some regions and markets this may be closer to $1,000 per month. As is the case with family law, real estate as well as wills & estates can see results with a minimum budget of $500 per month in small cities and areas.
While Google’s Keyword Planner states a high competition for the wills and estates keyword, it’s relative to the search volume (20) which is very low relative to other keywords shown above. Considering that there are many other keywords for law firms practicing property, will and probate law to go after, the competition is less steep than Google stipulates. Furthermore, the CPC is the lowest among the group of keywords reviewed.
Google AdWords can be costly, however keep in mind that these costs per click are high in large part because of the intent behind the click. These aren’t widely broadcasted like TV or Radio ads. These ads are only shown to people who search in Google with keywords that your firm specifies.
For quick reference, here is a breakdown of the general guidelines for minimum AdWords budgets that law firms in different areas of law should adhere to.
Why are Google Ads Expensive for Lawyers & Law Firms
We have finally gone through the most popular areas of practice with their associated keywords, cost per click ranges and have suggested minimum budgets to start with.
If you haven’t seen the data on law firm keyword CPC before, you’re probably a little surprised by the findings at this point. You’re likely wondering why a cost per click is so expensive and why Google charges so much for lawyers.
Google Search Ads works by putting your ad, keyword and budget tolerance into an automated, blind auction with every other advertiser bidding for the same keyword. Every time someone searches for a keyword you’re targeting ads to, you compete in this auction with other law firms advertising for that keyword. There are more intricacies to how the auction system works, however it’s very well thought out. The important part to realize is that the market (i.e. your competitors) and you, dictate the cost per click.
So in the case of personal injury and criminal defence lawyers, they are willing to pay a significantly higher CPC because they’re confident they can still make a profitable return at that price. The same applies for all other areas of practice.
How to Advertise If You Don’t Have the Budget
It isn’t recommended to use Google AdWords for your practice if you don’t have the budgets mentioned above. You may see conversions with lower budgets, but the chances of seeing new cases or even qualified leads and intakes at the least, are low.
There are other PPC alternatives to AdWords. You could use Bing Ads, which is significantly cheaper compared to Google Search Ads, while being the equivalent product for the Bing search engine. The drawback to Bing is a much lower search volume. Bing ads do work and can perform at a much lower cost per conversion and cost per client. However, if you’re seeking a higher velocity of leads and intakes, then AdWords is a better bet.
If you’re set on using the Google Ads ecosystem for one reason or another, but you don’t have the recommended budget for your area of law, consider using custom intent Display Ads for your practice.
What’s the difference between AdWords and Display Ads? AdWords (now relabeled as Google Search Ads) are ads that are displayed in the search results above local and organic listings and the bottom of the page, after a Google search is performed. Display ads are the banner ads displayed on third-party websites.
What are the best keywords for law firms to target in Google Search? Keywords that lawyers and firms should target will vary based on the area of law. However, in general, keywords should include a location specifier, the case type and a keyword such as attorney, law firm or lawyer.
If you’re looking for an in-depth look at discovering ad and SEO keywords for your law firm, check out this article.