There was a time, not so long ago, when we would advise law firm clients with a business-to-business emphasis to consider pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) as analogous to advertising (in the traditional sense) and public relations respectively. Under the former, you paid for your ads and they ran. Under the latter, you developed content for your web site, social media or blog and you hoped the forces (i.e., Google) that vetted your efforts were kind and ranked you high on the search engine directories.
Using that frame of reference, it was not uncommon for us to recommend to such B2B law firms that they refrain from PPC. After all, online ads were highlighted in their own column on the right side of the online page and were clearly seen as what they were – “paid for” bits of communication. A high organic page ranking, on the other hand, was a success story unto itself – Google had ordained your content as “relevant.” For the law firm reaching out to businesses, this was (and in some ways continues to be) a great means for enhancing one’s credibility as a “player” within the industry. After all, a more sophisticated buyer of legal services would probably rely on recommendations, references and credentials before keying in on a short (very short) advertising message.
But that is slowly changing. And it is doing so for two reasons. First, PPC ads now appear in the same column of listings as organic content. No great revelation there. However, what may have gone unnoticed is that the effect of this has been to blur the lines between where ads end and organic listings begin. Yes there is usually an icon that reads “Ad” for listings that have been purchased, but these are small non-descript notations which, after time, frankly fail to viscerally distinguish between the two types of communications. To underscore this, consider the last time you searched for a particular keyword or phrase. How aware were you of which listings were ads and which were not? More importantly, how much did it affect your decision to click on one listing versus another? Probably not a lot.