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Competing law firms may be buying your firm’s name and encroaching into your brand’s space on Google. Want to better protect your law firm’s digital presence? Discover why your firm should consider a PPC branding campaign.
Your law firm always wants to put its best foot forward for potential clients. You work hard optimizing your core practice area search terms within your targeted locations. Then, a competitor “buys” your name on Google Ads and suddenly a competitor’s ad shows up before your firm’s organic results on the brand search engine results page (SERP). This issue has ethical, and perhaps legal, implications for your competitors and your practice.
However, by effectively optimizing your digital marketing efforts to focus on your law firm’s branded page of search results, you have better control of your firm’s online namespace and messaging while taking advantage of opportunities to better connect with an audience of high-value potential clients that have searched for your law firm specifically. Keep reading this post to learn more.
What Is the Brand Search Engine Results Page (SERP)?
The brand SERP is what appears in Google search results when a user searches directly for your brand name. This may be a search for just your firm name, e.g. “Wynne & Moore LLC,” or a search for your firm name within another context, e.g. “What is the phone number for Falle & Sioux?” An example of this brand SERP for the Powers Law Group is below:
A brand SERP looks much like any other Google SERP. There may be paid ads on the page. There will be organic search results that the Google algorithm has determined are relevant to the searcher’s query. There may be maps, “people also ask” questions, and even featured snippets about your firm, especially if the search query was a question such as “How do you contact Brown, White, & Silver LLP?” or “Is Bourne & Best a good law firm?”
With a strong SEO strategy, your law firm is more likely to command the various aspects of organic search results. However, even the best SEO strategy cannot help your firm appear in paid ads, which is why PPC advertising complements SEO efforts.
Who Views Your Brand SERP?
As you likely are aware, current clients frequently search for your firm by name, such as when they are looking for your phone number or double-checking your office address for a meeting. Perhaps more importantly, high-value potential clients are also searching for your firm by name. These are often people in need of a lawyer who have already developed some level of brand awareness with your firm, whether through your advertising efforts or a referral, and are looking for you specifically.
With both of these audiences, you want to ensure you remain their first choice of law firm by proactively managing your online reputation and minimizing the risk that these clients will be swayed by a competitor’s ad. This is where the brand SERP becomes important (and in turn the branded PPC campaign).
Watch this video for additional insights into Branding Campaigns.
Competitors Bidding on Your Firm Name for Google Ads
The brand SERP is often overlooked when firms are evaluating their digital marketing strategies and PPC plans. However, effectively managing your brand SERP is crucial to keeping your competitors from encroaching on your law firm’s online territory.
When searching for your law firm’s name on Google, you may see Google Ads appearing on this branded SERP, even above the maps and organic search results. If you aren’t running any Google Ads PPC campaigns, then these ads won’t be yours! Instead, they are often the result of your competition buying your law firm’s name.
Even if you don’t see a competitor’s ad on your brand SERP currently, you very well may see one appearing in the future if you do not take proactive steps to implement a strategy to better manage your brand SERP.
If this is the first time you have considered that competitors may be bidding on your law firm’s name in the Google Ads auction, you naturally have plenty of questions about how this works. Below, you can learn more about this advertising practice and how it may be impacting your firm.
Does Google Allow Law Firm’s to Bid on Their Competitors’ Names as Google Ads Keywords?
Yes, Google allows it. Even if a law firm trademarks its name, Google allows other firms to bid on it. For more information, see the Google Ads Trademark Policy.
Why Would a Law Firm Bid on Another Firm’s Name?
There are generally three primary reasons a law firm may bid on another firm’s name:
- They want to reach your audience. Searches for your firm’s name are often performed by potential clients that are part of the same audience base that is searching for more basic search terms, such as “injury lawyer.” This is especially true in the case of law firms that heavily advertise on television and radio and through billboards.
- They were advised this is a good practice. Google (and some legal marketers) are pushing law firms to buy into this new inventory of keywords, especially in the personal injury and criminal law arenas.
- PPC bidding for firm names is often economical. Typically, there is not much competition for bids on a law firm’s full name, so it is cost-effective for your competitors to bid on your firm’s name in an effort to reach even more potential clients.
What Stops a Law Firm From Buying Other Firms’ Names?
While bidding on another firm’s name may be appealing and budget-friendly, legal ethics in some states, such as North Carolina, prevent the practice (we discuss legal ethics issues more below). Even without an express ethical rule preventing the practice, personal ethics and social pressure from other lawyers may keep even the most opportunistic lawyers from bidding on another’s name. After all, if someone knows you are infringing on their digital namespace, it can make professional interactions uncomfortable and attending CLE and conferences awkward.
Can A Competitor Ad Appear On My Brand SERP, Even If They Do Not Bid on My Firm Name?
Yes, unfortunately, this is possible. Google Ads offers various match types that help marketers and advertisers better target ads to their intended audience. With broad match, a law firm’s ad may be served in connection with searches for terms or phrases that are related to the keyword upon which the firm has actually bid. As the Google Ads algorithm analyzes searchers and their behaviors, it will associate some law firm names with certain keywords. In turn, this may cause one of your competitor’s ads to appear on the SERP for your law firm’s name, even if they have not specifically bid on your firm’s name in their list of keywords.
For example, a lawyer based well outside of California was utilizing Google Ads’ broad match type for the term DWI defense attorney. This caused his ad to show up on the brand SERP when people searched for Michael Kraut, a Los Angeles DUI & criminal lawyer who is well-known on a national level through various television programs, including Dr. Phil.
Which Law Firms Are More Likely to Have Competitors Buying Their Names?
When a law firm does lots of offline advertising that builds awareness and familiarity with potential clients, such as television, radio, and billboard ads, that firm will tend to have more searches by name on Google and other search engines. These searches are mostly performed by individuals who do not have a relationship with the firm and saw the firm’s offline ad, which in turn allows competitors to capitalize off of another firm’s offline advertising efforts by bidding on that firm’s name to reach more clients.
Additionally, being a national or well-known law firm makes it more likely that others out of your typical market will bid on your firm name. For example, if you search the well-known Baltimore law firm Miller & Zois by name in the Silicon Valley, you might see local California firms advertising for this term. This can occur because bidding on an out of market name is less expensive for the competing firm and decreases the likelihood of social conflict with local law firms.
Finally, having a common name or common terms in your firm name can also increase the likelihood that competitor ads will appear on your branded SERP. For example, if your last name is very common, such as Smith or Jones, or your firm name includes a popular phrase, such as “injury attorneys”, you are more likely to experience competitors overlapping into your law firm’s digital namespace.
Specific Ethical and Legal Concerns When Competitors Bid on Your Law Firm’s Name
As a lawyer, you are likely wondering about ethical or legal recourse against firms bidding on your law firm’s name. Naturally, many wonder whether these advertising practices are even allowed by bar associations and legislators. While these answers may vary from state to state and we cannot substitute for formal legal advice, we can offer some basic insight into questions we commonly receive.
Can a Competitor Use My Law Firm Name in Their Ad Text?
If your law firm name is trademarked, the answer is no. If you have a trademark on your law firm name, then only your law firm can use the firm name in the Google Ads text for that trademark category. If someone is improperly using your trademarked name in their ad text, you can file a complaint with Google. However, for this rule to be enforceable, your law firm name needs to be trademarked with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as Google doesn’t typically protect common law trademarks.
Most states also have ethical rules that prohibit any deceptive or misleading advertising practices with a potential client. Thus, using another law firm’s name in the text of an ad could have legal ethics implications.
In our experience, we have not seen any law firms that attempt to be purposely misleading by using another law firm’s name in their ad text. However, we do see some law firms using keyword insertion options within their ads to import the search term of the user. This variable then pulls in the competing law firm’s name. Practically speaking, this is the same result and could present serious ethical red flags.
On a related note, these limitations mean that your law firm is often the only one that can ethically (and sometimes legally) use your law firm name in your Google Ads copy. Using your law firm name in your ad text and linking a website or landing page focused on your firm increases your expected clickthrough rates and, in turn, your Google Ads Quality Score, which can lower the cost per click for your firm when investing in a branded PPC campaign.
Can a Competitor Ethically Bid on My Name as a Targeted Keyword in Google Ads?
In true legal fashion, it depends. The rules vary across different jurisdictions.
For example, in South Carolina the answer is generally yes. However, in North Carolina lawyers are not permitted to bid on a competitor’s name at all. In some states, the law firm bidding on a competitor’s name must include its own name in the ad text. Sometimes state rules even require that the bidding law firm have its name be the first text in the ad.
This analysis is complicated by the broad match conundrum. As discussed above, broad match bidding methodologies make it possible for a competitor’s ad to be displayed on a search for your law firm’s name, even without actually adding your law firm’s name to its keyword list. The Google Ads algorithms are constantly evolving, so Google may change what keywords are associated with each other after your competitor starts running its ads. In this case, there may be a defense to claims of unethical behavior, even if bidding on a competitor’s name is forbidden by the local rules.
If you have concerns about what is permitted in your state, you should check your local ethical rules governing attorney conduct.
Taking Advantage of the PPC Branding Campaign
With so much uncertainty in this area of legal marketing, how does a firm protect its online reputation and control its messaging on the brand SERP? Enter, the PPC branding campaign.
In short, your firm needs a branded PPC campaign to better control the brand SERP and ensure you have given your firm the best chance of appearing as much as possible when potential clients are looking at search results and browsing for additional information about your practice.
A PPC branding campaign, especially when used in conjunction with an effective SEO strategy, is the best way to gain control of your name on the brand SERP. Additionally, while Google determines what information is displayed in the organic search results and may even trim or tweak texts in its effort to serve the information its algorithms think users are searching for, a branded PPC campaign allows you to control the messaging. Your firm is in the driver’s seat to determine what messaging is shown to your potential clients through your PPC campaigns.
And, of course, branded PPC campaigns help you keep competitors out of your territory. You decrease the likelihood of competitors appearing on your brand SERP when you bid on your own firm name and even if competitors have added your firm name to their keyword list, you are still likely to appear above their ads with your own branding campaign.
Finally, by utilizing a PPC branding campaign you can increase your conversions by leveraging targeted messages to encourage any high-value leads researching your practice to contact your firm. Once they reach out, you can do what you do best and seal the deal, turning a potential client into an actual client with the help of a branded PPC campaign!
Using a PPC Branding Campaign to Strengthen Your Position and Manage Your Messaging
As mentioned above, in addition to protecting your digital namespace from a competitor’s encroachment, branded PPC campaigns allow you to leverage Google Ads to control the messages seen by those searching for your law firm by name. While your exact ad text may vary depending on your practice area, your headline should be “Law Firm Name – Official Site” or, if the law firm name is long, “Law Firm Name (Official)”.
This text helps increase clickthrough rates when people search for your firm by name. This higher expected clickthrough rate, combined with your law firm’s website or optimized landing page for the campaign, helps increase your Google Ads Quality Score relative to competitors. This increased Google Ads Quality Score can even help you gain an even stronger position than your competitors in the keyword bidding arena for your practice while decreasing your costs. If you want to limit costs even further, you can limit the targeted localities for your ads to the city, metro, or state in which you are located.
Then, you can use the remaining ad text to gain further exposure for your firm’s core marketing messaging, such as whether you offer free consultations, have 24/7 availability, commit to aggressive representation, or take cases on a contingency basis. You could also highlight your experience, such as whether you are a former district attorney, or focus on your firm’s proven record of success.
Final Thoughts: Why Do You Care?
A PPC branding campaign helps you stay ahead of the competition and gives you more control over your online messaging on your brand SERP. These campaigns can also help you better connect with and convert high-value leads into new clients for your firm.
Ready to give a branded PPC campaign a try? Our Justia Amplify team is ready to help! We have PPC plans for every budget and leverage our years of legal marketing expertise to create effective campaigns for your firm that take advantage of the Google Ads nuances and trends that impact your specific practice areas and localities. Contact us today to learn more!Related Posts
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