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Paid search: Lessons from the last 10 years

Search engine optimisation is one of the cornerstones of professional services marketing. It has, says Andy Cullwick, Director of Marketing at First4Lawyers, changed in profound ways. Here he shares five lessons that continue to shape paid search.

Marketing is a different beast compared to when I first started at First4Lawyers 10 years ago.

It’s always been a difficult job to explain – particularly when my toddler asks ‘what does daddy do?’ – but even more so when the goalposts are moving all the time. Nowhere more so than paid search.

Navigating and optimising search engine advertising in order to drive traffic to your website can often feel like an uphill struggle.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned and try to live by to help First4Lawyers come out on top.

1. It’s a constant learning curve
A decade ago, advertising campaigns were built on a combination of gut feeling and guesswork. Now, the data and analytical tools available mean we are able to pick them apart and put them under the microscope to see what is working most effectively, often while campaigns are still live.

Google PPC is now used by around 80% of businesses globally and is evolving at pace. Adverts are no longer just in one place – at the top or sidebar of SERPs – but mixed in with organic results and ranked on their quality and relevancy. Unsurprisingly, competition for these coveted slots is fierce.

2. Content is key
Keywords are still central to PPC strategy, but their role has changed. It’s no longer just about what users are searching for but why, and capturing and analysing this ‘intent’ gives valuable insights to ensure that you’re creating the right type of content for your target audience.

The quality of your website is also as important as the adverts you create. You need to make sure that what you’re offering lives up to what you’re advertising if you want to turn consumers into customers / clients.

3. Trust your gut… not Google’s
There’s no denying that Google has been THE game-changer in digital marketing. It is also head of the pack for the support and infrastructure it provides to help capture and understand data, although it often feels like useful features and tools – such as average position – are removed for no good reason other than to help Google increase its own revenue.

AI has been instrumental in helping build adverts and automate certain parts of the process, but don’t believe everything it tells you. The more information we feed it, the better it gets, but it’s not quite sophisticated enough to do everything yet and conflicts and inaccuracies do creep in so don’t let it take over. Remember that you know your business, including any sensitivities and necessary nuances, better than AI-powered Google thinks it does.

4. Working together
We recognise that not all of our audience is on Google these days. People are increasingly using social media sites like TikTok as a search engine too.

A lot of marketers still treat the different channels in isolation, but you have got to have a more joined-up approach. Google has already cracked onto this, and we are starting to see the likes of Tik Tok and YouTube appearing in its own SERPs.

5. Give ‘em what they want
One thing that hasn’t changed over time is the unpredictable nature of consumers’ needs and wants and it’s critical to keep up with these if you want to keep their business.

Relevant adverts, good content that answers their questions and quickly in a mobile-friendly format is a given, but the look and feel may change – a move towards more visual content consumed via socials, for example. One to watch.

With so much change, there’s certainly no room for standing still. What trends will the next 10 years bring? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Email me at marketing@first4lawyers.com

Andy Cullwick has worked in marketing for more than 25 years, the last decade of which has been as Director of Marketing for First4Lawyers, the UK’s largest independent legal marketing collective matching potential claimants with specialist lawyers, and seven-time winner at the Personal Injury Awards is based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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