Google appears to be changing the way in which paid advertisements appear in search results. As this article discusses, these changes will make the paid results blend into the organic area a bit more. I don’t see this really changing the rate at which people click paid ads or providing an incentive for lawyers to do more pay-per-click advertising. The truth is that attorneys are better off focusing on organic search given that paid ads are expensive tools that only target a small portion of the searching population.
Attorneys should understand the differences between paid and organic search
I have spoken with quite a few attorneys who are surprised to find out how few people click on paid ads and that those doing so are a different group than those relying on organic search. Placing ads in paid search is extremely expensive and results in your site being exposed to a very limited group of potential clients. This is why we stress strong organic placement in all of our attorney website design and SEO packages. It’s important to look at the numbers that differentiate paid search engine ads from other search results.
Paid search engine ads, such as Google Adwords, are viewed by a low number of people which are generally within a certain demographic. A 2012 report showed that only about six percent of web searchers were clicking on paid ads while the remaining 94 percent bypassed the paid results completely[i]. This same study also showed that as age increases then the likelihood of someone clicking the ads also increases. Putting these statistics together shows that paid ads are only considered by a small number of older persons. Attorneys relying on these ads are simply fighting over a small piece of what is a very large pie.
Cost is a huge factor for attorneys who wish to advertise with paid search. Paid ads are based on a “bidding system” and it is not uncommon for attorneys to pay ten dollars or more each and every time someone clicks a paid link. For obvious reasons, paying a large amount of money to be exposed to a limited amount of the population does not make sense for lawyers from a business standpoint.
Google is likely changing the way that paid results appear in desktop search rankings
Google is currently testing a change to the way its paid results appear to people performing web searches on a traditional computer. Currently, these ads are “blocked off” from the remainder of the results by appearing in a dark yellow/gold area as shown here:
The search giant is currently testing a version of Adwords that will have the same appearance that is offered on mobile devices. This will remove some of the distinction between paid and organic results. A screenshot of this appearance, taken on my Nexus 7 tablet, is here:
This change can be considered imminent for two reasons. First, since Larry Page took over as CEO of the company in 2011 he has been wishing for the company to have a consistent look and feel to all of its products[ii]. The fact that the company has made a permanent change to mobile will now require a change to desktop search to maintain the desired consistency. Second, given Google’s traditions, a change such as this would not likely reach its current stage of public testing unless it was going to be enacted. There’s been quite a bit of speculation as to why Google is making this change. The reason, however, isn’t really as important as it is to decide how attorneys should deal with it.
What Google’s changing of paid search results means to attorney internet marketing
The change discussed above is going to provide the paid links in search results with an appearance more similar to the organic results. In the short term future, some people may be less likely to realize these are advertisements. This change, however, is unlikely to have any lasting impact on the effectiveness of paid search advertising.
People are still going to realize that the paid search results are advertisements. It is important to remember that when the Adwords program was first launched, in late 2000, that many people did not realize that the links were advertisements. They quickly learned the difference. This consumer adjustment is likely to happen even more quickly this time as searchers are already conditioned to avoid the advertisements placed at the top of the page. Also, the average consumer is quite good at understanding when they are being sold something. I expect that this change will have little meaningful impact in the rates at which people click on paid ads.
I’ve previously discussed why attorneys should focus on organic SEO efforts. In regards to paid search, it is important to remember that you can always be outbid for a keyword; you may lose your placement in paid search tomorrow if someone decides to spend more than you. With organic search, by contrast, your placement cannot easily be toppled as long as you are following the correct practices. By getting your site to the top of organic search you target the entire population rather than a small portion and keeping your firm at the top of search makes these types of changes with paid links a non-issue.
Update: As of November 29th, 2013 the new appearance for paid results is appearing in several desktop searches I performed. It appears this change is now being rolled out to the public.