What are Google Local Service ads for Lawyers?

A new and compelling Google advertising option has been appearing in limited markets around the country. This has not gone unnoticed by us here at The Modern Firm, nor by our clients in these test markets. So, what’s going on in the never-ending mad laboratory of advertising known as Google? How might this impact your client leads, marketing strategies and marketing costs? Let’s dig in and find out. 

What is highlighted above is an advertising format called Local Service Ads, LSA for short. This is the evolution of what started out in 2017 as Google Home Service ads. Home service ads were invented for local service providers such as plumbers, lawn care, electricians and cleaners. These ads were different than traditional Google Ads in that instead of charging per click, they charge per lead.

Here is an example of plumbers in the Ann Arbor, MI area.

The Home Service ads have proven to be a winning format with users and advertisers and Google is eager to expand the format, hence the rebranding to change “Home” to “Local.”

What’s Different About Local Service Ads?

Placement

LSAs show first, above ALL other search and advertising results. They contain rich information including reviews and contact information for 3 potential local companies with a link to even more.

Cost

LSA costs are driven by the market, but the charge is per lead, not per click.

Vetting

Google performs various background checks on businesses before their LSA ads can be active. For lawyers to use Local Service Ads, they must complete a business background check for previous litigation. Owners and employees undergo background checks for litigation, criminal and terrorist matters. Google will also verify proper licensing and insurance coverage. You can see a complete rundown of the checks here: https://support.google.com/localservices/answer/6230381

Google Guarantee

For many licensed providers, but not law firms, google is putting a “Google Guarantee” enhancement on the ad. Google guarantees satisfaction with services rendered, up to $2000. More about that here https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/7549288?hl=en

Reviews

LSA ads show client reviews directly in the ad. It is our hunch that reviews impact the ranking of LSA ads. Better reviews = higher placement.

Interaction

LSA ads are designed to facilitate direct connection between a service provider and a potential client/lead. A lead can reach out to the business directly through the ad via tracking phone numbers and web based email forms. When contact is made in the following ways, Google will charge the business for delivering a lead:

  • Receiving a text message or email form from the customer.
  • Receiving a voicemail from the customer.
  • Receiving a phone call and speaks with the customer.
  • Receiving a missed call (without a voicemail), and returning the customer’s message with a text message, email or call where the business either speaks with the customer or leaves a voicemail.

Detailed Business Profile

Clicking an LSA ad takes the user to a business profile page, which gives customers even more information about the company and encourages them to call or make contact. This is all done directly on Google and a charge to the business only occurs when there is contact between a potential client and the firm, not just when someone is looking and clicking around.

How do Law Firms Start Using Local Service Ads (LSAs)?

Much remains to be seen regarding Google’s roll out of LSAs for law firms. But, with legal service searches being one of Google’s most profitable areas, and with these ads being so effective, you can bet they’re trying to get it done.

Google is testing legal LSAs in limited markets and in limited practice areas. So far the practice areas are limited to estate planning and immigration law, and the test markets appear to be San Diego, CA and Houston, TX.

There are many hurdles for Google to overcome before this program rolls out nationwide. Every state has their own rules regarding online marketing, and there has been much discussion and litigation in legal marketing circles over the years about whether or not it’s okay to sell leads to lawyers in this way. Google also already has “Call Only” ads available on their traditional advertising platform that we’ve utilized to great effect with our clients. These ads only charge the advertiser when a call is placed, so the billing is similar to LSAs. This is all to say, the end result for how LSAs look for lawyers is still evolving and very much in the still figuring it out phase for Google.

Bummer. So What Can a Law Firm Do Now? 

Outside of law firms in the test markets, there are some positive steps law firms can take now that will improve their existing online presence and better prepare for utilizing LSAs when they do become widely available:

Consider what makes you stand out.

Beyond the background checks that Google is offering, there is also a spot for “Business Bio.” While the inclination will be to add something about your free consultations, dig a little deeper. When a client comes into your office, what can you confidently say that makes you the only choice? What do you offer in your area that no one else does (or can do)?

Reviews are going to mean even more.

Google is providing three law firms with the most prime real estate with LSAs. Those with the most and highest reviews are likely to get the most action. Generating more reviews also helps earn higher rankings on the local Maps listings. Learn more about how you can increase your reviews.

Further optimize your Google My Business listing.

The current LSAs are pulling business information, reviews, and photos from the firm’s Google My Business listing. This is a Google account (potentially attached to your Analytics and/or AdWords account) that has verified access to your business’s representation on Google Maps. If you’re a client of The Modern Firm, we set this up for you. If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen your Google My Business listing, go ahead and give yourself a google (you might have to include your city name if there are other firms with similar names).

Make sure that the photos are up-to-date, the business information is correct, and the business category is the best representation of your firm (since you can only select one for LSAs). The photos are going to be an exceptionally important part your LSA ads — they will make your ads stand out and are going to be the first impression of your firm for a potential lead.

If you need help accessing and verifying your Google My Business listing, just email marketing@themodernfirm.com and we’ll be happy to help. 

Consider what a lead is worth to your firm.

If Google sticks to their current plan, you will be able to determine exactly how much a lead costs for you to obtain. You can then engage in some basic business math to calculate your marketing return on investment (ROI). Gather the following information:

  • Sign-up rate: What percentage of new client calls result in paying clients? If you don’t know exactly, take a conservative guess over the last month. If you aren’t tracking your incoming calls, learn how to easily track calls here. This will give you an exact number that we can use to measure your sign-up rate.
  • Average case worth: In law, this number can be harder to obtain because cases and matters vary so widely. To get a general sense, take your revenue from last year and divide it by the total cases/matters you handled.

Take your cost per lead and multiply it by your signup rate to calculate what it costs to bring a paying client in the door. 

Make sure that this number is significantly lower than your average case worth in order to ensure positive ROI. The exact percentage will vary among law firms. In addition to the cost of bringing that client in you have to consider rent, your and your employees’ pay, and additional business costs. 

This is back of the envelope math — it doesn’t have to be perfect, but get an idea of what you’re willing to pay for a new client. 

Create an infallible intake process.

As we discussed above, your firm should be tracking all of your intake leads as closely as possible to both help you understand your clients' needs and help them understand why they should pick you. Selecting an attorney can be a nerve-wracking process, and having your process organized will reassure the client that you are the best choice.

Since you are paying for each lead that comes in, you will want to have 100% confidence that your phones will be answered by a person (promptly!). The person answering the phone should be empowered and educated to qualify the lead, schedule consultations, and discuss what the intake process is going to be like for the client. 

It can take a lot of effort and money to ensure that someone calls you — make sure you give them the best attention you can offer. Getting there involves planning now for what you want that call to look like. 

Make sure your office is in order — it will be the key to making this program successful for you. Since so many people will be vying for the same spots, Google is going to take the quality of customers' interactions with your firm into high consideration when deciding how many leads you get. 

How Much Are Leads Going To Cost?

So much about the LSA program is new, including what Google is going to charge per lead. It remains to be seen just exactly how it’s going to come to fruition in its final form.

Additionally, if Google follows practices they established with their traditional advertising platform, there will be quality controls that will help keep the cost-per-lead down such as obtaining great reviews, monitoring how quickly inquiries are responded to, etc.

Due to reduced spend and Google’s heavy focus on quality-control measures, we expect the cost of a lead to reduce by 25-50%, as compared to traditional pay-per-click ads.

What does this mean for PPC and legal marketing long-term?

There will be a competitive market almost instantaneously for these new LSA ads. The end goal for an attorney is to generate quality leads for the firm, and Google is offering a way to charge a flat fee for a call from an interested party. We think this is going to be a pretty big deal.

Over time, we should see a tremendous amount of interest in these ad services for attorneys. This could potentially reduce the cost-per-click for traditional ad forms as budgets move towards the new LSAs.

We can also imagine additional ways that Google will allow LSAs to stand out, such as offering a feature where you can include an explanatory video about your law firm in order to get clients to notice your listing. 

Stay tuned!

By organizing your business information, intake process, and client assistance, you can shore up your existing presence and be ready to take advantage of these new types of Google ads when they become available. We’ll be sure to notify existing clients when the markets open up. If you’d like help preparing now, or want to discuss these developments further, please email us at marketing@themodernfirm.com.

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