By Catherine Iszard, associate business development and marketing coordinator at NERA Economic Consulting
The Capital Local Group of the LMA Mid-Atlantic Region hosted an Oct. 16 webinar with Mockingbird Marketing founder Conrad Saam to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the demand for legal services and how the economic shutdown has created a shift in consumer behavior. Saam used real-time data across various Google platforms to evaluate COVID-19’s impact and demonstrated how legal marketers can do the same with their own data.
Using Google Trends, Saam illustrated how COVID-19 has impacted the legal industry since April, noting a legal market rebound in June. While Google Trends can be useful in collecting data, its inherent bias toward consumer facing law can present challenges as most companies don’t use it as their first inquiry tool in finding a lawyer, he cautioned. To help combat this bias, he advised that you drill down to specific practice areas.
For example, one can search “bankruptcy,” and see slightly different numbers as compared to “legal industry” searches. When COVID-19 hit, there was a dip in bankruptcy searches, until interest returned to normal one month later.
So, what does this tell us? Based on Google Trends, while geographies and practice areas may differ, in general legal services saw a short-term decline in Google searches, but quickly recovered.
Shift in Demand
Another piece of data legal marketers can utilize to evaluate their marketing strategies is their own website data. Saam compiled website traffic and goals from multiple law firm websites to track the shift in demand, noting again that related data skews toward personal injury law. When comparing pre-COVID-19 website traffic with traffic during the pandemic, searches declined on average by six percent. However, some law firms saw large increases and others experienced a sharp decline. Regardless, Saam noted that what really matters isn’t necessarily the amount of traffic to your site, but that the right people come to your site and engage. This is what legal marketers call conversions, or goals.
Saam defined four main website goals or conversions for legal marketers to consider: 1) a phone call from a first-time caller, 2) a chat, 3) text, or 4) website form completed.
Viewing the change in website goals versus website traffic from pre-COVID-19 to during COVID-19, there was a much more significant decrease at an average of -14 percent. So why are we only seeing a six percent decrease in traffic yet more than double decrease in conversions/goals, which for most marketing strategies is a top priority? Saam highlighted an important anecdote from clients: during these hard times, a lot of consumers are at home wondering about their legalities, and they contact a lawyer, but they aren’t eager to hire.
On May 4, 2020, Google Algo updated, which led to a huge shuffling in SEO traffic, and created another variable in the datasets when comparing data from before and during COVID-19. Although there is no way to extract the data that was affected by the update, it’s important to note its potential impact.
Using pay per click data, Saam highlighted four case studies of law firms’ reactions to COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, law firms had one of four reactions: challenged, assessed, pivoted, or invested. A law firm that was largely “challenged” by the pandemic has most likely slashed its marketing budget, and is mining for new clients immediately, he said. Other law firms “assessed” business threats and may have pulled back from marketing, but are open to guidance. Some law firms “pivoted” their practices to create a competitive advantage or to broaden their services. Lastly, some law firms are eager to connect with their clients and are heavily “invested” in their marketing strategies.
In reviewing sample case studies, Saam noted that changes in supply and demand for legal services are having a fundamental impact on how effective cost per click advertising can be.
By using data from Google Trends, Google Analytics, and Google Ads, Saam showcased how the legal industry has been impacted by COVID-19, the range of responses we’ve seen across the industry, and how law firms can use their own data to make strategic moves looking forward.