In order to prepare for the best marketing campaign for your firm, we need to reflect on how much consumer behavior has changed in the past year and a half and will continue to change moving into 2022.
Understanding Why Consumer Behavior is Changing
Mistrust of Big Tech
Consumer sentiment has fluctuated dramatically due to the trust and perception of Big Tech, which includes Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. With so much misinformation, as well as the possibility of Big Tech information manipulation, many consumers are wary of the results they get for their inquiries on different platforms.
Mobile Device Usage
It likely can go without saying, but mobile device usage is still growing. Such mobile device usage includes when a consumer is searching for professional services. Instant gratification is especially important to consumers on a mobile device, and the ability to find social validation quickly, in the form of reviews, is paramount.
Consumers are Ad-Averse
On social media, people commonly get inundated with irrelevant and intrusive ads, and consumers are aware that the ads are based on their mined data. On streaming services, people often view content that is uninterrupted by ads, which causes consumers to grow accustomed to not seeing advertisements at all. With more engagement than ever on social media and streaming services, consumers are likely more ad-averse than ever. Our research over the past year may support this trend.
Surveying Which Google Search Result is Preferred
Over the past year, we conducted surveys in January, June, and recently in September. In each survey that was conducted, we asked between 250-300 respondents the following question, in reference to the image you see up ahead:
- Imagine you are in need of professional legal services (in this case, a hypothetical criminal-related legal issue). Based on how the search results are laid out, what type of search result would you opt for?
The image used in the survey is below, and it contains four types of search results: Local Service Ads are 1; Google Ads are 2; Google My Business/Maps are 3; and the organic results start at 4. In this instance, Google Ads only has one result, as opposed to the usual two or three results. However, one result for Google Ads was enough to get the point across for this survey.
Local Service Ads
Local Service Ads (LSAs) continue to trend upwards as a preferred ad. Many people do not consider LSAs as ads at all. Local Service Ads appear to have earned such preferred placement through the social validation of reviews and years of business, showcased within the ads.
Though most consumers will acknowledge that a law firm is likely paying for this placement, they still commonly believe that not every law firm has access to these ads. However, all businesses do have access to such LSAs after going through the same approval process as everyone else.
Local Service Ads now top off at 30.38% for most preferred ads, and they sit at a low of 14.96% least preferred. It should be noted that this low was hovering around 17% least preferred for most of the year. Reasons why people stated they would go with LSAs include:
- People like to see the lawyer presented, which is something to keep in mind when selecting the lawyer(s) to represent your firm.
- More information was presented immediately.
- Simply, it is the first result.
On the other side of the paid advertisement spectrum, we have Google Ads. What was preferred by 16.75% of respondents in January is now down to 9.28%. In January, 40.25% of people said that Google Ads were their least preferred. As of September, that number has reached 52.99%.
This is not to say that Google Ads are on their way out. Every form of marketing should be attempted at least once with due diligence. If the return on investment is there, that form of marketing can be viable. In addition, there are many other variables that can make Google Ads work well, such as a branded campaign, a timely campaign, and complementing LSAs and other organic results. But for the reasons mentioned at the beginning of this article, it should come as no surprise that Google Ads is at an all time low for relevance.
Just the other day, I was speaking with a client about the long-term strategy of SEO, and they stated, “The good thing about Google Ads is I can take my money and know I’m going to get at least a case or two out of it.” However, there was still plenty of apprehension in that remark, as if it may not entirely be as true as it once was.
The point of this data is simply to state the data, not to bash Google Ads. There were no coherent reasons given by respondents for why they preferred Google Ads. The only reasons respondents did give concerning Google Ads were reasons why they did not prefer such ads. Respondents seemed to note that the Google Ads appeared outdated and were clearly advertisements.
Google My Business
These results contain ratings from reviews, but they do not have the typical advertisement appearance that LSAs and Google Ads have. With 40.08% of people claiming they preferred GMB results, the combination of no ads and social validation is the combo that works best.
Organic results were a bit lower with 20.25% of the results in this case. Still, combined together, Organic was preferred for 60.33%. 60% has been the extremely consistent number all year. For example, 60.5% fell into 59.54%, and now we have the 60.33%.
One thing to keep in mind is that the image presented to the respondents is a search result that would commonly be presented for short tail or vanity keywords. A result similar to the image would be shown if the typical consumer used search terms such as “criminal lawyer by me” or “(city) criminal defense lawyer.” This result would not be as common if the searches were asking questions, like “who is the best…” or “what do I do after…”, instead of short tail or vanity keywords.
These types of questions account for a vast number of the search queries people actually use when searching online. The search results for these questions have drastically less LSAs and Google Ads results. Often, Google Maps does not show up in these types of searches either. When a consumer searches using questions, the results are primarily dominated by pure Organic results and are showcased more prominently by structured data, such as schema and featured snippets. Even if Organic preference in this example is admittedly stagnant, Organic is the dominant result for a formidable share of search queries.
It is not too late for Local Service Ads, even if they have been rolled out for over a year. Though we can speculate that Google is likely losing money because of the shift from Google Ads to LSAs, Google is most likely taking in more revenue because it is monetizing its results more in general. The majority of interest that moves away from Google Ads goes towards LSAs, but not all of it does so. As long as Organic sustains 60% of the SERP preference and Google Paid is 40%, this ratio likely will not change too much.
You should heavily scrutinize your current Google Ads efforts to see if quality has diminished and cost per click has continued to escalate. Nevertheless, having Google My Business show up in the first three types of results for your business is a gamechanger, and Organic does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
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