Wednesday, April 1, 2009

SEO: Free Traffic That Isn't Really Free

Most of the online legal marketing consultants that I read in the blogosphere seem to believe that Twitter, Social Media, Blogs and SEO are worthwhile endeavors and that SEM and online directories are a waste of money. The argument makes sense: invest in "free" marketing, like PR (who wouldn't want a puff piece in the NY Times?) rather than investing in paid advertising where they'll bleed you out at every opportunity.

Yes, the $400/hr's marketing consultants advice makes complete sense - save one tiny inconvenience: it's not true. PR isn't free (can't count how many times I've seen someone pay a PR firm's $10-20K/month retainer and receive practically nothing). And neither is Twitter, social media or SEO. Most people hire consultants or specialists to do these things. Even if you are a do-it-yourself'er, your time is valuable (as in, you could be billing someone $350/hr instead of downloading the latest twitter plug-in, right?).

I was trying to explain this concept to a law firm that we had done a lot of work for in the past. No matter what I said, they held a firm belief that 1) they had to maintain their first page organic search rankings no matter what and 2) if you weren't in the top spot on Google's paid listings, then it didn't make sense to do SEM at all. And oh yeah, he also thought I should give him a discount on the directory listing he had. So I produced the following chart for him:


  1. SEO is pretty expensive on a cost/lead basis. Also, it doesn't generate very many leads. Sure, the leads are pretty high quality, but since most firms get most of their organic search traffic from consumers searching for them by name, its hard to get a large volume of leads

  2. The only thing more expensive than SEO is Paid Search. While its possible that this law firm could do better through better bidding strategies and landing page optimization, they also need to add in the costs of paying someone to do this (which is not included in the astronomical $462 cost/lead.

  3. Directories can be an incredible deal (and when done right, will make your SEO much more effective). For this client, they received almost 80% of their leads from a directory purchase that accounted for 34% of their marketing budget.

Before you draw any conclusions about what work and what doesn't work, I highly recommend that you test various platforms and do the analysis for yourself. I've found that, in most cases, reality is far from perception - and those that follow the data do very well with online media.


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