What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Eric Bersano
Eric Bersano has been deeply involved in online legal marketing since 2006. He is the VP of Business Development at Market My Market, a digital marketing agency that helps businesses generate new clients by implementing the right systems and strategies. Depending on a law firm’s goals, Eric ensures the best marketing channel and modalities are implemented, including search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, and TV and radio. His focus on the legal space gives Eric the network to utilize the most talented designers, programmers, and marketers in the country. His clients maintain very high rankings for competitive online searches at the city, state, and national levels.
The online marketing landscape is so competitive that it almost seems pointless to put much effort into SEO. Why try to compete with the firms that rank highest on Google? But according to Eric Bersano, Vice President of Business Development for Market My Market, that belief is misguided. Not only can the top law firms on Google get knocked off their number one spots, it happens quite often. Eric joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about the paid and organic campaign options available through Google; why you should think of your website like a book in a library; and when paid search and social media ads can pay off for your firm. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Eric Bersano, Vice President of Business Development for Market My Market. Eric has been in the legal marketing space since 2006 and has seen a lot of changes. Today, we’ll hear all about the evolution of legal marketing and its importance to the legal marketing community, as well as why law firms need a guide to navigate the proliferation of marketing venues. Eric, welcome to the program.
Eric: Thanks for having me, Sharon.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your career path. I’m sure you weren’t saying this is what you wanted to do when you were in kindergarten.
Eric: That’s a very good point. I actually made a shift in 2006. I was working with orthopedic surgeons. I had a friend who was working at a company called FindLaw, which really put search engine optimization and digital marketing on the map for lawyers. My mom didn’t raise a doctor or a lawyer, but I’ve worked with both. To be honest, I prefer the law field.
Sharon: We’ll talk more about it, but how did you get into this space, the online legal space?
Eric: So, a quick background. Coming over from the medical side, one thing I always tell people is I was never going to be as knowledgeable as a surgeon. I was selling orthopedic implants, and there was no way I would ever know more than they did. My nail for the femur was very similar to somebody else’s nail for the femur. When I came over to attorney marketing, I realized very quickly that this was a new animal. A lot of attorneys weren’t doing marketing or weren’t putting it into focus. To a lot of the old-school attorneys, marketing was hurtful, because they weren’t even legally allowed to market until, I think, the late 70s. Most attorneys that had a thriving practice were using either Yellow Pages or just referral sources, and they were doing extraordinarily well.
Once the internet started to become a place for people to find attorneys, it was this brand-new open ground that was really fertile. The thing I loved about it was that I could go into a law firm in January and six months later, they wanted to buy me lunch or dinner because they doubled in size or their profits had doubled. In the early days, search engine optimization was fairly easily, especially working for a big company, because it didn’t take much. But as you said, over the past 16, 17 years, there has been a ton of changes. I like to keep up with all those changes to make sure my clients are profiting from those.
Sharon: You’re bringing back so many memories of firms saying, “Oh, I don’t need any online stuff. We take care of it with referrals only. We don’t market. We just do referrals,” which to me is marketing, but O.K.
Sharon: What does Market My Market do, and what does that mean?
Eric: Good question. We get asked that a lot. When you’re choosing the name for a company, you throw a bunch of things against the wall, and you’re hoping for something that really defines what you do. We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into just legal marketing. There are a lot of companies that do that, but we do work with other professionals. That would be doctors and some accountants, and then lawyers are probably our biggest market. Market My Market is us marketing you in your market. Everybody’s got a geography they cover, and our true focus is to make sure they’re being as competitive as they possibly can when it comes to online.
The one big differentiator we bring is that one of the co-founders, Ryan Klein, worked in-house at two extremely competitive law firms in south Florida. One was a personal injury law firm and the other one was a criminal defense firm. Both were in south Florida, which is the home of John Morgan when it comes to personal injury plus a host of other really competitive law firms. One of the things he did was bring over his philosophy from working in-house, working side by side with attorneys and knowing exactly what they wanted to see. When some people get lost in the weeds as marketers, they say, “Hey, look, your traffic is up,” or “Look how many intakes or phone calls you got,” which are great indicators, but what a lawyer really wants is signed cases. They want more high-quality, signed cases. We want to work backwards into that with our approach to make sure we’re getting an increase in signed cases, not just pointing to some of the key indicators.
Sharon: I’m going to stop to ask you, is John Morgan a personal injury law firm or an attorney? I’ve never heard that before.
Eric: John Morgan of Morgan and Morgan has built kind of the Death Star of websites. He started out in south Florida as a big TV advertiser. You can’t drive more than 10 feet without seeing one of his billboards. Probably five, eight years ago, he started really branching out. He’s got practices in Boston and Arizona and Las Vegas. So, his one website they’ve grown is really competitive in a lot of markets. If you talk to any personal injury attorney in Florida they’ll know John Morgan, but more and more, they’re starting to know him in other parts of the country because he’s starting to encroach in everybody’s backyard.
Sharon: That’s interesting. When you said Morgan and Morgan, I’ve seen that, but I didn’t realize it was John Morgan.
This question comes up a lot: what’s the difference between SEM, search engine marketing, and SEO, which is search engine optimization? What’s the difference?
Eric: It’s a good question. SEM would be the umbrella term. Search engine marketing is all the different types of marketing you can do online with search engines. We always refer to Google because that’s the 800-pound gorilla, but there’s also Bing and Yahoo and some other ancillary search engines. Search engine marketing encompasses search engine optimization, but it also includes paid search. Those would be things like Google ads, or one thing that’s become very popular over the last two years is LSAs, or Local Services Ads.
Anybody listening to this who’s done a search for a car accident lawyer in “insert city here,” you’ll see three ads at the very top with a profile photo. Those are Local Services Ads. The key to those is you don’t pay when somebody clicks; you only pay when you get a lead. If somebody clicks on your ads, reads all your information, but doesn’t contact you, you’re never charged. But if they fill out a contact form or call that tracking number, it’s taken into account on your Google dashboard. You can even reject leads for a refund if they don’t qualify. For example, if you’re a criminal defense attorney and you get a family law lead, you can dispute that, and they’ll take it off your bill. So, search engine marketing is everything you can do with search engine advertising.
Search engine optimization is really the key we focus on for one main reason. Nobody goes to Google or any search engine because they have the best ads. They go to that search engine because they trust that the results that show up on the first page are the best information and resource for that subject matter. If I type in “DUI attorney Fresno,” the average person assumes that the law firm that shows up number one is the best DUI attorney in Fresno. It’s not always the case, but the big advantage to the optimization piece is people will trust you more when you show up on that first page.
The marketing costs are also generally fixed. What I mean by that is if I do a PPC ad and I’ve got a $10,000 a month budget—
Sharon: PPC is?
Eric: Pay-per-click. When I do a pay-per-click ad, I’m going to be charged every time someone clicks on my ad, whether they call me or not. Now, if I’m spending $10,000 in January and I spend none in February, that’s a sunk cost. I’ll never get that $10,000 back. But with search engine optimization, you’re paying for links, you’re paying for new website pages, blog articles. All of that stuff accumulates over time.
The biggest thing I hear with search engine optimization from attorneys is, “Oh, we tried it. It doesn’t work,” or “It doesn’t work for anybody.” I would challenge you to do a search for your most important keyword in your city and look at the firm who’s showing up number one. That person is fighting tooth and nail to stay there. The bigger the city, the harder they’re fighting, because if you’re showing up number one for “car accident lawyer Houston,” your business is exploding. You can guarantee that the people who are there want to stay there, and they’ll do anything they can to keep their number one spot.
Sharon: Does anybody still say, “Oh, we tried that and it doesn’t work,” when it comes to SEO?
Eric: Yeah, they do. To be honest, SEO is constantly changing. Companies like us, we don’t claim that we know exactly what Google wants. Google gives you best practices, but they don’t want to say, “Do, A, B, C and D and you’ll rank number one,” because not everybody can rank number one. The one thing they’ve always stayed true to is that they want original, relevant content and a great user experience. That’s what we’ve built our company principles on.
The people who say it doesn’t work have been burned, because no matter how great of an SEO company you are, it takes time to see results. Let’s say we’re talking about a competitive market like Chicago. That could take six months to a year. If you give an SEO company a year and you get nothing in that year, it’s going to be hard for you to invest in somebody else and give them a full year. What happens all the time is they don’t get somebody who focuses on legal. They don’t know which directories to go to. They don’t understand the practice areas, the keyword terms to optimize for. They might be a really good SEO company, but without understanding that legal niche, they might not be performing well enough to get them rankings. I talk to attorneys every day who are like, “Nope, I tried SEO before. It doesn’t work.” It’s just because it didn’t work for them with the particular program they had.
Sharon: When you say LSA, Local Services Ads, do you set up a separate phone number for that?
Eric: The Local Services Ads are through Google, and Google has its own tracking numbers for you because they want to be able to tell you exactly what somebody searched for and clicked on to serve that ad. That’s how they charge you. One of the things we do is manage those Local Services Ad campaigns, so that tracking number gets imported into our dashboard. We can actually say, “Hey, you got 10 Local Services Ad calls. You got 15 intakes. You got 20 calls from organic, and you got 15 calls from Google My Business.” We want to know which piece of the online marketing is working.
There are four places for you to get business on Google’s homepage: LSAs, PPC, Google Maps, and then there’s organic. We really like to focus on organic because that’s typically 60% or more of clicks. Not that LSAs and PPC aren’t a good substitute, but anybody who’s relying solely on PPC is really putting their client flow in jeopardy. It doesn’t take many bad months with PPC for you to spend your marketing dollars with no return.
Sharon: It used to be many, many years ago that you could say to somebody, “O.K., you don’t have the budget. I understand. Here are some things you can do.” It seems like today there’s not much you can do. With PPC, it seems like that’s the one thing you can still do and say, “O.K., you could just start with PPC. Put all your money into PPC and start that tomorrow,” but you’re saying they’re missing a lot still.
Eric: That’s a really good point. If I’m working with somebody in a really competitive market, let’s say New York City, and they have almost no web presence at all, that’s going to be a really tough pill for them to swallow, for them to hear, “I need you to pay me X dollars a month for a year before you can expect anything.” But that’s realistic if they don’t have any SEO working at all. That’s the case where I’d say, “All right, let’s put together a very competitive, focused, pay-per-click campaign to start getting some clients in the door,” because the big advantage with PPC is it’s instantaneous. You do the keyword research. You set up your landing pages, and you can start receiving phone calls and emails right away.
Now, the downside of PPC is it’s become extremely competitive. If you’ve ever done a search, the most expensive pay-per-click keywords, there’s a list of about 180 of them that are legal keywords, things like, “I’m a car accident lawyer.” Those could go anywhere from $50 to $150 per click with no guarantee that the person’s even going to reach out to you.
So, I think PPC can be used sparingly to make up for that valley of death before you start to get organic results or to hyper-target something that’s very timely. For example, if there’s a bridge collapse or food poisoning, sometimes there’s going to be a bunch of people that are injured in a very short window. Those types of cases come out all the time. You’re not going to have a “food poisoning for Tyson Chicken” campaign ready to go with SEO, so in those cases it would make sense. But the most efficient, lowest cost would be LSAs. Again, you’re only paying for leads. The big issue right now with LSAs is they’ve been around so long that if you’re in a major market, there are probably at least 50 people in those LSAs already, and there are only three spots that will show up on the homepage.
Sharon: And Google decides who those are.
Eric: Yes, Google decides. There’s some thought that having more reviews, getting consistent reviews, is going to help you show up there. You don’t want to get 10 reviews in a month and no more for six months. But the number one factor for showing up in those LSAs is how responsive you are to the leads that come in. Google will know if those go to voicemail. Google will know if you’re not interacting with their dashboard to say, “We have this lead” and move that through their funnel. They want to make sure that if you’re getting the leads, you’re treating their clients well. Remember, they’re Google’s client first. They went to Google for a search. If you mistreat them and don’t provide them a good service, Google’s not going to reward you with those rankings.
Sharon: Wow! With LSAs, it seems that they would go to voicemail sometimes, because nobody’s manning those phones all the time.
Eric: That’s another good point. The more sophisticated people become, the more efficient their front and back office are, the more profitable they’ll be. In the old days, let’s say 20 years ago, I don’t think the average person expected someone to pick up the phone at 7:00. But if you’re having a legal issue, you may not want to talk about that in the workplace. You may call on your way home or after you get home. So, if you don’t have 24/7 answering, you could be missing out, and this is actual data we have with our clients. We use call tracking for every single one of our clients. Just under 30% of contacts came in either before 9:00 or after 5:00. If 30% of your contacts are coming in during off hours and you’re not immediately responding, you are definitely losing out on clients.
Sharon: Wow! That’s a lot of person power, I should say.
Eric: Exactly. If you get a hundred leads in a month and 30 of those are going to voicemail, that’s not a good client experience.
Sharon: Is it still possible to become number one in Chicago or Los Angeles or New York, no matter how much money you’re putting out? Are those spots just long gone? Could somebody overtake somebody?
Eric: Yes, it happens all the time. There are two things that will typically happen. You’ll have somebody who gets really aggressive with an organic campaign. There are a lot of myths about organic. A lot of people will say they’ve got proprietary software; they’ve got a proprietary secret sauce or amazing links that nobody else knows about. The truth is search engine optimization comes down to doing a lot of things really well. It’s very detailed. I’s need to be dotted; T’s need to be crossed.
It’s keeping up with trends like user experience. One quick example would be on a mobile phone, you want the contact us and phone buttons to be towards the bottom of the page because that’s where people’s thumbs are at, whereas on a desktop, people are used to seeing them at the top. Extrapolate that times a thousand little, tiny things, they all add up to the people who show up in those top three to five spots, which is where you need to be to get any clicks.
The second thing that can jostle things up would be a Google algorithm change. Google admits that they change and update their algorithm hundreds of times a year, but each year there are usually two or three major ones, and you’ll see a big shakeup. Someone who has been in the number one spot for months and months and months all of a sudden drops down to the bottom of page one or even page two. Those are opportunities, because Google is testing out some of their new changes, and they want to see if that user experience is still good.
What that means is, let’s say you and I are both competing for the same keyword. Somebody goes to your website and the average time on your website is 90 seconds, and the average time on my website is 20 seconds. Well, Google knows that, and they’re just going to assume that your website is better; it’s more engaging; it has more relevant content. When the algorithm shakes up, that one factor could cause somebody to stay higher than the person who was previously number one.
I’ll just end by saying this. There’s no one factor or silver bullet that’s going to get you to number one. Time on site is really good, and it makes logical sense when you tell somebody, but just because your time on site is great doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be number one in that market. There are so many other things that need to be done correctly to keep those rankings.
Sharon: You mentioned organic. I know you said you’re going to finish up, but I have a lot more questions.
Sharon: When you say organic, what do you mean? What are you talking about?
Eric: Organic are Google’s results. They’re their most preferred result. Google needs to make money, and we all know that Google is one of the most profitable companies in history, and the reason they are is because they sell ads. They sell Local Services Ads and pay-per-click. Every time someone clicks on an ad, Google gets paid.
Well, underneath the ads are typically the Google Maps results first, although sometimes an organic search will show up above it. Then there are the organic links below that. If I’m looking for a pair of shoes and I type in “running shoes,” I’m probably going to see Nike or Dick’s Sporting Goods as number one because they’re such big, powerful websites. Organic refers to those things underneath the paid section. You basically have to walk through the paid section—a lot of people get stuck there and click on those ads. Google gets paid, but the vast, vast majority of people are going specifically to that organic section because they trust that those are the best, most relevant websites.
Sharon: How do you influence organic? You mentioned blogs. Do you write? Do you have other people writing? How does that work?
Eric: That’s a good question. I like to use the library analogy for how Google picks out a website. Instead of websites, let’s call them books. Google is our librarian in the largest library in the world, and I’m looking for a book on cookies. Not just cookies, but I want chocolate chip cookies. What’s a better resource, a hundred-page book on cooking that includes chicken and roast beef and baking, or a hundred-page book on just cookies, and specifically chocolate chip cookies? What Google is looking for is the best, most relevant information.
As a personal injury attorney, if I’ve got family law and criminal defense and estate planning and trusts and intellectual property and car accidents, I’m really diluting my message. My book is a catchall for everything. If I have a really focused book on just personal injury—and I’m talking about car accidents or brain injuries or spine injuries—now I’ve created a really powerful, relevant, niche source. If you do a search for Covid right now, you’re probably going to find something like WebMD. You’re not going to find some random website. You’ll find something from the CDC because those are powerful sites that have developed their niche.
So, the way to earn Google’s respect is, number one, the content has to be original. They don’t want to duplicate content. They’re literally tracking billions, if not trillions, of websites by now, so if your content isn’t original, why keep track of it? Then they want to make sure those user experience things are there: how much time on site, how quickly does the website load, how easy is it to get from one page to the next?
When you ask us specifically about content, we have our own in-house team. We think content is so important, so we look for really good writers and we train them on how to research for the purposes of showing up organically. So, how to research for a keyword and then how to write so search engines can pick up on those keywords. Content is such an important part. Instead of outsourcing it to a third party, we hired good writers. These are all US-based employees of Market My Market that write, edit and post their content to the website.
Sharon: With Google, I always imagined—and maybe you can shed some light on it—that there’s some person somewhere who’s watching all these screens and making decisions. Is this all done by a machine?
Eric: Yes. Google specifically calls this machine learning. That’s really where the user experience part comes into this. In the old days, back in 2006, all you really needed to do was have some good content and a couple of labels. If I was trying to rank for “medical malpractice attorney Los Angeles,” I would want to make sure that page was titled “medical malpractice attorney.” I’d want that to be the title of the first paragraph, and I’d want to use that term a couple of times in there.
Well, people got wise to that, and then they started keyword stuffing. They started putting keywords all over the place. They would even put black text on a black background so you couldn’t see it, but Google could read it. Well, Google is much smarter than any of us, and they can now pick up on those. They pick up on the user experience key indicators, which is how people interact with the website. They know if someone is clicking around and going to multiple pages.
One of the biggest SEO terms is bounce rate. A lot of people mistake bounce rate with how fast someone bounces from the website, meaning, “I went to the website, and I bounced in two seconds.” That’s not what bounce rate is. Bounce rate is only going to a single page. If I come to the homepage and I don’t click on an attorney profile or a client testimonial or the car accident page, Google is marking that against me because they’re saying, “People come to your website. You’ve got a hundred pages and they only go to one. That can’t be a good search experience.”
These algorithms are now taking all these learning experiences from millions and millions of searches, and they’re coming up with—and Google admits this—rankings that even the Google engineers don’t know exactly how they get to it. The benefit of AI is that it works while you’re sleeping. The downside of AI is you’re not exactly sure why the output is what it is until you dig into the weeds. That’s why we see so many changes in Google’s algorithm throughout the year.
Sharon: AI being artificial intelligence.
Eric: Correct, yeah. Google likes to use the term “machine learning.” I don’t know if they just want to coin their own term, but they always refer to it as machine learning. Their computers are learning based on how people interact with the Google searches they provide.
Sharon: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that was how they defined it.
What’s the difference between working with lawyers and working with financial professionals, doctors, other professional services?
Eric: The biggest difference from a marketing perspective is knowing which resources are best. Most of my clients are in the legal industry. People are going to get their links from Avvo and FindLaw, but if you haven’t dealt with lawyers before, you might not know the more obscure or random or even local searches. Most attorneys belong to at least one if not several bar associations. They could belong to their local city bar association. They could belong to their state bar association. All of those give them opportunities to list who they are and link back to their website.
When it comes to other professionals like financial, that’s not a market we dabble in. I wouldn’t have the confidence to tell somebody who was a financial planner or someone big in the finance world that I know exactly where to market them, because I don’t have the 17 years of experience there. When somebody can focus in on a niche, they can find all these nooks and crannies on the internet where they can market their clients to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward.
Sharon: Does social media play any part in this? Does that change things?
Eric: When it comes to social media, there are two different ways to use it. The first one is the most labor-intensive and hardest, but it can pay off. I strongly suggest anybody who wants to do organic social media, which means you’re posting about your law firm—that takes a lot of work. They say you should be posting one to three times a day, and that would be on things like TikTok and Instagram and Facebook. Now, I see your face. That seems like a lot of work, and it is. You’ve got to think about this, and you’ve got to be very inventive when you do your posts, because who is going to follow a criminal defense attorney for no reason? Who’s going to follow a family law attorney?
One way to use social media to your advantage organically is to take viral content that’s happening right now and put your spin on it. For example, we just got past the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial that was making worldwide news. Some of the most popular posts were attorneys who were giving their two cents on that day’s trial. That’s a great way to do something through social media. It still takes time because you’ve got to keep up on whatever that trial is, and then you’ve got to go in and give your unique take, but that could pay off in dividends. Some of those videos were getting millions of views, which is really raising their presence.
The other way to use social media is to do paid advertising. You can do paid advertising through TikTok. You can do it through Facebook and Instagram, and what you’re doing is targeting your most likely audience. If I’m a criminal defense attorney, I might be targeting males because more males are committing crimes. I might target certain areas of the county near jails or where courts are. I can geotarget those. I can put a circle around the court. Anybody who’s coming in and out of this building, I want to target them with an ad. Those would be paid ads. Budgets can range in the low thousands to the high thousands, depending on how competitive that market is and how many people you want to serve ads to.
Sharon: Do you take that into account? Does one hand influence the other in terms of things you’re doing to optimize everything? Does that come into play?
Eric: Social media doesn’t have a huge organic bump to it unless you get into the extremes. If I have a post that’s going viral, if I’m getting lots of mentions, if the firm name is being mentioned a lot on Twitter, that can have some effects, but that’s very rare. I would say if you have somebody in the office who loves social media and they’re going to post your holiday parties—for example, if somebody gives you a great review on Google, repost that review and say, “Thanks, Karen. We really love having you as a client.” Make it interactive. That’s probably not going to win you a case organically, but if someone finds your social media profile, sees how active you are, gets a feel for the personality of the firm, it could get you that first phone call as they’re doing their due diligence on who to hire.
Sharon: Do you see social media playing more of a role as you continue in this vein?
Eric: I see social media as a really good way to connect with people. I see it more as a tool for paid. There are very few attorneys that are going to spend enough time on social media, the time it needs. If you hire me to run your social media campaign, what do I know about the daily workings of the firm? That should be more of a personal thing.
What you could hire us to do is to create ads for you and to serve those ads to specific people. As a general rule of thumb, social media is not a great tool for single-event personal injuries like car accidents, because it’s really hard to target your audience. Where they do make a difference would be in mass torts, for example Roundup. Roundup has glyphosate in it. It was giving people non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There were links to this. Monsanto was sued. Bellwether trials went on to prove that they were at fault, and the verdicts were coming back in the tens of millions of dollars.
That is a great tool for social media because I know the type of person that used Roundup. I know the hotbeds. This wasn’t your weekend gardener; these were people in the flyover states that were using tons of this stuff, literally, on their crops. People who were working on farms or in agriculture were overly exposed to this stuff and were coming down with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a couple other types of cancer. That’s great for Facebook because you’re leveraging all the data they have on their users, all their attributes, their age, their income. I like social media for those kinds of campaigns, but for your typical family law attorney or criminal defense attorney, it’s probably dollars that could be spent better somewhere else.
Sharon: Eric, I could go on forever asking a million more questions. There’s so much to all of this. Thank you being here today.
Eric: Sharon, thanks for having me. I appreciate the conversation.
Sharon: Greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
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