Our Guide to PPC Keyword Research for the Legal and Medical Industries

Keyword research is the most important part of setting up quality pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns. The legal industry is probably the most competitive industry for PPC. That’s partially because of the hyper-competitive nature of attorneys, but it is because the legal industry fundamentally misunderstands how PPC works. According to research conducted by WebpageFX in conjunction with SEMrush, in 2015, 78 of the 100 most expensive PPC keywords in Google were related to the legal industry. Only one of the top 10 most expensive keywords wasn’t related to law!

Legal phrases dominate the pay-per-click keywords most in demand

Image Source: There is a typo in the chart above; “Accident attorney Riverside VA” should be “Accident attorney Riverside CA

Luckily, the medical industry doesn’t face the similar challenges. It can be a lot cheaper for doctors to bid on the most competitive keywords in their industry, but they need to be careful not to follow the same path as the legal industry.

Beware Mixing Do-It-Yourself and Pay-Per-Click

Many attorneys are do-it-yourselfers. That’s a great way for a business manager to keep tabs on where his advertising budget is going and to save money on hiring internal help or an external agency. However, too many DIY attorneys and lazy legal marketing companies have made PPC advertising a scary and expensive prospect. Invest in the wrong keywords, and you can blow through your annual marketing budget in a matter or days.

All is not lost though. There are still plenty of law firms who are able to show a strong return on investment with their PPC campaigns. We are going to discuss the most important part of making sure you are keeping your PPC advertising costs low by choosing the right keywords. The secret is using quality PPC research.

Before we explain how it is possible to make money on PPC it is important to understand that PPC advertising is NOT something you want to do yourself. That’s not to say that there aren’t attorneys out there who have run successful PPC campaigns themselves, but they are few and far between. It is just a lot like how some people decide to change their own oil and do their own car maintenance because they either enjoy it, or feel like they save enough money to make it worth it. These people put in the time and effort to acquire the necessary expertise. However, most people bring their cars to the mechanic for oil changes and regular maintenance, because it’s all too easy to destroy your car by not doing these things properly.

It may seem easy at first glance, but there is a lot to consider and we can’t cover it all in one blog post.

PPC Research and Management Best Practices

Years of poor PPC keyword research and lazy PPC management have led to incredibly high cost-per-clicks (CPC) in the legal industry. Doctors don’t have to worry about such high costs, but the much smaller profit margins make it incredibly important to avoid some of the most common mistakes made with PPC management. Some of these mistakes are due to fundamental misunderstanding about how Google AdWords works, but other mistakes are due to not following best practices or properly monitoring performance.

Using Google’s Keyword Planning Tool Properly

Google provides a Keyword Planning Tool. It’s a treasure chest of information to give website managers a better idea of what potential clients are searching for, but many managers don’t know how to use it properly so they choose the wrong keywords. For example, there are targeting options for each section of this tool that are crucial for finding the best keywords for your industry and location—but those options are often overlooked.

There are three main ways to use Google’s Keyword Planning Tool, but each will provide value in a different way during your PPC keyword discovery.

“Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category.”

This tool can be used when you are looking for ideas of what keywords to use that you may not think of immediately. You can either enter a keyword phrase (product or service), a landing page, or a product category. I would recommend trying all of these options out because you will find different opportunities with each option.

Google’s Keyword Planning tool provides multiple search options

For example, try entering “car accident lawyer” as a service; then provide a car accident PPC landing page; and finally, choose the category “accident and personal injury law.” You will get a lot of different ideas and results from these three options.

Don’t forget to use the targetting options. Choose your target location, whether that is a state, city, or country. You can also add negative keywords that you don’t want included in keyword suggestions. If you are searching for “personal injury” keyword ideas, but you don’t want “slip and fall” keywords to be suggested ,you can add “slip and fall” as a negative. You can also get much more closely related suggestions by selecting “only show ideas closely related to my search terms,” or not to display keywords already in your AdWords account in the keyword options targeting section.

“Get search volume data and trends”

This is probably the most commonly used section of Google’s Keyword Planning Tool. It is used for looking at search volume for keywords you know you want to target. Don’t forget about adding your target location because each country, state, and city is going to have different results. For example “car accident lawyer” is searched for 50 times a month in the entire state of Wisconsin on average, and it is very competitive with Google suggesting a $150.89 bid. Twenty-nine of those searches are in Milwaukee, eight in Madison, three in Wausau-Rhinelander, and about ten more in other areas of Wisconsin. In Milwaukee the suggested bid is even higher at $154.78.

Google will tell you how the demand for a keyword phrase varies by geographical location

However, if you searched for “car accident lawyer” in “All Locations” (the default target location), you would see very inflated numbers:

Choosing the wrong geographic locus will distort the demand picture for specific keywords

And if you searched for “Wisconsin car accident lawyer” in “All Locations” you would have very deflated numbers:

The wrong geographic basis for a keyword search can give artificially low results, too

Targeting keywords based on the wrong location information is probably the biggest mistake made during PPC keyword research. Use the tool correctly, though, and you will have much more accurate metrics to make decisions during the research stage.

“Multiply keyword lists to get new keywords”

This tool is great to use when you are trying to quickly get an idea of how much it is going to cost to bid on a certain group of keywords. It allows you to enter groups of related keywords to get keyword ideas and to save you time in creating larger keyword target lists. People search in different ways and use different phrases in different areas of the country, so there is always something to be learned from using this tool. This is especially useful for regional differences—like people using the word “wreck” a lot more in the South than in other areas of the country.

This tool allows you to appraise multiple keyword combinations at once

Once you enter these keywords, you will receive two AdGroup recommendations. One will comprise nine keywords based on the nine main keywords you can make from those three lists (3x3). The other AdGroup will contain 27 keywords—all the combinations of 3x3x3 search terms—which will provide you with a weath of ideas.

A Deeper Look at the Results You Get

Google can provide amazingly sophisticated reports.

Google can predict results based on data you provide

Here, I chose to create estimates for daily clicks, impressions, cost, click-through rate (CTR), average cost per click (CPC), and average position, all based on a $10 maximum cost per click. If you bid higher, all those metrics should improve (except average cost per click, which would obviously increase).

Estimated results change in real time as you alter parameters

Now, keep in mind that these are only estimates. Many more factors will go into your keyword decision process to affect your actual campaign’s performance, so use this as a guideline.

Grouping Keywords Properly

In Google AdWords, keywords and ads are broken out into AdGroups. Keywords in AdGroups are meant to be related to a single topic. There are tons of different ways you can group them together into different topics, and different search engine marketing experts will have different opinions on how to group them, but one thing is constant: each keyword and ad in an AdGroup must be related in some way.

Let’s say you are a car accident attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. You could have AdGroups for “law firms, attorneys, and lawyers,” or you could group them by “crashes, accidents, wrecks, and collisions,” or you could group them by target locations “Marietta, Cumberland, and Johns Creek.” It is possible for all of those different groupings to work well for different people. People think differently, so it is common for different PPC specialists to group these keywords in different ways, just as some people might organize their spice rack in alphabetical order and some might organize it by how often they use each spice.

While there isn’t necessarily a wrong or right way to group search terms, but you must take care to regularly apply whatever method you choose. As long as you are consistently grouping these keywords and using relevant ads and landing pages that use those similar phrases, then you should be able to have a highly performing campaign.

One thing to consider is a byproduct of Google’s increased sophistication. Because Google automatically detects a questioner’s location during search, people are using locations in their search queries less frequently today than they did just a couple years ago. Remember that Wisconsin car accident example? Today, Google will recognize when someone who searches for car accident lawyers is in Wisconsin, even if the searcher doesn’t explicitly add the state name to the query. That’s why we normally recommend that AdGroups be set up by topic or industry phrasing, rather than geographic location.

You can target different locations with different campaigns, so you can have location-specific ads and landing pages by campaign rather than by AdGroup. The more targeted and relevant your AdGroups are, the better your PPC performance and return on investment.

Choosing the Right Keyword Match Type

There are four types of keyword match types used in Google AdWords.

Broad match keyword type

If you enter a keyword into AdWords, this is the default match type. It also is the reason for most of the wasted money spends in PPC campaigns. A broad match keyword will trigger your ad to display for any broad variation of that keyword. Google can take a lot of liberty when “matching” these broad variations. For example, “personal injury attorney” could trigger any of the following queries to display your ad:

  • Personal attorney
  • Personal injury lawyer
  • Injury lawyer
  • Slip and fall injury law firm
  • Toe injury lawyer
  • Slipped on my bathroom floor want to sue tile company for my injuries need an attorney
  • Free injury lawyers
  • Worst personal injury lawyers near me

When you use broad match keywords, you are casting a very large net. You will catch the leads you are looking for, but you also have to filter through a lot of irrelevant leads that can waste your employee’s time and your paid advertising money. By adding negative keywords that you don’t want to trigger your ads or by using longer broad match phrases, you can make these keywords more relevant, but you are always going to get some traffic for queries that simply aren’t suitable for you.

Modified broad match keyword type

A few years ago Google added a new version of broad match keywords that helps narrow down the target keywords. Broad match modifier keywords work just like broad match keywords, but you can “lock in” keywords to make sure they are included in the matches. For example, +personal +injury +attorney will trigger ads only for queries that include all three of those keywords. Entering +personal +injury attorney (note the lack of a plus sign before the final word) will trigger ads for all queries that include “personal injury,” but would make it more likely to use variations of “attorney.”

Phrase match keyword type

If you know the order of a phrase you want to be visible for, but you want to also have other keywords added on, phrase match is for you. “Personal injury attorney” would trigger "personal injury attorney," “best personal injury attorney” and “personal injury attorney Atlanta GA,” but not “personal injury accident attorney” or "personal injury lawyer."

Exact match keyword type

Just as you would expect from the name, this match type is meant to only target a specific phrase. Google does display your ads for singular/plural variants and minor spelling differences, but this is the best way to specifically target a single keyword without having to display for everything else.

How Do Keyword Match Types Affect AdWords’ Performance?

Keyword match types have a huge impact on PPC advertising performance. If you are bidding on keywords that are too broad, you are going to waste a lot of money, but if you are too narrowly targeted you are going to miss a lot of opportunities and low-hanging fruit.

With phrase and broad match types, you gain the opportunity to display your ads for much cheaper phrases that are searched for as often, or have never been searched before. A strategic AdWords campaign will have a mix of all match types and use those to drive account updates.

Many business managers get fail to gain a deep understanding of AdWords performance reports. They concentrate only on how a particular target keyword performed, but they never look at the “search terms” section of AdWords, which identifies the terms that users typed in that triggered ads to display.

The search terms report reveals the organic searches that triggered your PPC ads

This section is also the best place to find negative keywords and new keyword ideas to add to your AdGroups and campaigns. If your AdWords account does not have any negative keywords, then you are not managing your campaigns properly.

Getting the Most From Your Pay-Per-Click Project

PPC campaigns are easy to get started, but hard to run well. Google makes it very easy to start campaigns, but that does not mean you should just get in the car and start driving around with no idea of where you are headed.

Start with your PPC keyword research, group those keywords into appropriate AdGroups, and create ads pointing to relevant landing pages related to those keyword groups. Monitor your performance over time and make adjustments based on what you are seeing in AdWords and Google Analytics.

If you need help with starting or managing your practice’s PPC campaign, we can help point you in the right direction. Call 888-886-0939 to discuss your campaign with one of our PPC management experts.

Hi Dave, Thanks for asking that question because there was a typo there that implied that a phrase match type wouldn't match for exactly what is in that phrase. Below is a better explanation, and I have updated the post to also reflect this updated language. “Personal injury attorney” would trigger "personal injury attorney," “best personal injury attorney” and “personal injury attorney Atlanta GA,” but not “personal injury accident attorney” or "personal injury lawyer."
by Zach Stone May 3, 2016 at 01:25 PM
Is this true: If you know the order of a phrase you want to be visible for, but you want to also have other keywords added on, phrase match is for you. “Personal injury attorney” would trigger “best personal injury attorney” and “personal injury attorney Atlanta GA,” but not “personal injury attorney.”
by dave May 3, 2016 at 12:58 PM
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