Evolution of Online Search

Garnisonen i Sør-Varanger binoculars by Wikipedia user Soldatnytt, licensed by Creative Commons.

What once was lost now is found

With the popularity of the Internet, more and more consumers are searching online for products, businesses, and lawyers. As such, a key skill in legal marketing success is understanding how to find new clients on the web. Today, search engines (such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo) dominate online marketing.

Let’s take a look at 4 main elements that have shaped the evolution of online search: Types of keywords, the paid search marketplace, location-based results, and new conversational search.

The Long & Short of Keywords

When you break it down, a search engine is nothing more than a machine. Like any other machine, a search engine must be operated properly in order to return a favorable result. Keywords, the query strings and phrases a searcher is trying to learn more about, are the main cogs in a search engine. Lawyer-related keywords can range from simple searches like “bankruptcy lawyer”, to the more complex queries, such as “chapter 7 exempt process”. Legal marketers now understand how search engines connect keywords to websites, so can optimize websites for the most lucrative keywords. Connecting the dots between keywords and search engines led to lawyers’ websites ranking highly on Page 1 of searches; the holy grail of all online marketing.

AdWords: Paying to Play

Once marketing experts understood how to optimize their websites for certain keywords, Google decided to take the next step. Google AdWords, a form of pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, launched on October 23, 2000, and rapidly changed both online marketing and legal marketing. Essentially, Google began to sell slots on every search result page specific to each keyword. This created an auction-based format, where advertisers willing to pay for new visitors to their website could crank up their budget and spend more advertising dollars to appear higher in Google searches. Currently, lawyer-related keywords are some of the most expensive phrases to purchase in Google AdWords. At one time, the keyword “mesothelioma settlement” was going for $142.67 per click! The legal vertical now accounts for 16% of all AdWords dollars in the U.S.

Magellan GPS Blazer12, by wikipedia user Nachoman-au , licensed by Creative Commons.

Yes, search engines know where you are. Although many people enjoy having Google know their every move, you can turn location-tracking off.

Location, Location, Location

Eventually, technology reached the point where the search engines could detect our geographic location. By detecting your desktop’s IP address, or by enabling the GPS feature on your smartphone, search engines now alter their results based on where you are. A searcher located in San Francisco will see different local results when searching for the word “divorce lawyer” than someone in another city or state. When searching for businesses or services, searchers are attempting to find someone close to their location. Improving search results on this local scale allows more people to get the information they are looking for by showing results in their neighborhood. It was a logical functionality for search engines, which had already begun to integrate Map-related results.

Siri, OK Google, and Cortana

Today, many people using a mobile device or tablet are on the go and find themselves searching for a product or business. Many people began to simply type questions into a search engine directly, and with that conversational search was born. The results provided were aimed at directly answering the searcher’s original question. This went a step further with voice-to-text functionality, such as Siri from Apple, the “Ok Google” function, and Microsoft’s Cortana. Branded as virtual assistants, these applications not only brought up search result pages to help answer a question or follow a command, but also responded to the searcher with an automated voice. Apple, Google, and Microsoft recognized that people were replacing query strings and keywords with actual questions. For example, if I pick up my phone and say “Ok Google, find me a list of criminal lawyers”, Google will respond by saying “Here is a list of criminal lawyers within 4 miles of you”, and include mapped results and pinpointed locations for criminal law firms in my neighborhood.

Margaretville Bowl by flickr user Watershed post, licensed by Creative Commons.

Bowling for new clients

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Now that you understand how searching online has evolved over the years, you can properly optimize your presence for search engines. Look at your current website and think to yourself; do I have pages featuring the same phrases that people are typing into a search engine? If you are ready to increase the amount of qualified searchers coming to your website, sign up for a Google AdWords account and start appearing higher in search results. Claim your local listing on all public directories, including Google My Business and Lawyer.com (give us a call and we can walk you through this process or update your listing). You should also try a voice-related search for yourself and see if you’re appearing when asking Siri a question, which primarily uses results from Bing. Having an online presence requires diligence and research. Search engine advances have clearly had a powerful impact on legal marketing and continue unabated. By staying in the loop, you may be able to discover the next emerging trend and increase traffic to your practice! If you’re interested in more insight like this, add us to your Circle on Google+ and stay up to date on the latest trends in legal marketing.

Kevin Maher
Lawyer.com Online Presence Manager

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