Following a turbulent year, search engine marketing looks little like it did just a few months ago. Perhaps most notably, the COVID-19 pandemic transformed every aspect of user behavior. Additionally, top search engines released new tools emphasizing search intent, automation, and machine learning. 

These and other shifts suggest that the already rapid pace of SEM development will continue to pick up speed in 2021. Law firms that fail to keep up may struggle to attract much-needed traffic and conversions. Keep an eye out for these  trends in search engine marketing:

User Experience Will Play a Greater Role in Paid Search Results

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Content quality has dominated search engine algorithms in recent years to the extent that well-written, useful content could overcome a variety of issues. This will no longer be the case in 2021, as Google plans to update its algorithm to better reflect the growing importance of user experience (UX). 

While most marketing initiatives address algorithm changes in the context of search engine optimization, this also represents an essential consideration for paid campaigns. Pay-per-click (PPC) tends to focus on pre-click experiences in hopes of swiftly building brand awareness. In the future, however, the failure to consider post-click functioning could limit PPC return on investment. 

Users frustrated by websites that are slow to load or difficult to navigate are unlikely to stick around. Modern PPC, like SEO, should focus on converting specific types of leads over casting the broad net of brand awareness.

Additionally, it will become more important to develop campaigns and landing pages based on search intent, rather than simply stuffing them with relevant keywords. Search engines now offer a variety of automated, machine learning-based features that emphasize intent over classic keywords. These offerings will become even more important in 2021.

Performance Max Will Deliver Valuable Insights

During Google’s 2020 Advertising Week, the company announced the release of a new tool for generating insights. Known as Performance Max, this feature will deliver a level of versatility unseen in previous automated options. 

Under this approach, machine learning will deliver responsive ads across a wide array of channels, drawing on automated Smart Bidding strategies according to each advertiser’s preferences. This approach will run on Dynamic Search ads rather than keywords, further cementing the importance of optimizing based on search intent. 

Voice Search Will Continue to Dominate

Text searches are slowly on their way out. Today’s users increasingly prefer voice search. This shift coincides with a switch to longer, more complicated keywords. No longer limited by the desire to type or tap short phrases, voice search enthusiasts pose their queries as questions. 

Attorneys can make the most of the latest voice search trends in both organic optimization efforts and paid search campaigns. Both initiatives will benefit from developing pages that include long-tail, question-oriented keywords. This can be difficult to accomplish while maintaining readability, but FAQ pages help. 

The Internet of Things Will Reshape PPC

While smartphones remain the preferred option for conducting web searches, many will soon take place on other devices connected via the Internet of Things (IoT). Smart speakers, in particular, will play an increased role in voice searches. Many search engine users will also make queries with wearable devices, headphones, and digital home assistants.

While optimizing for voice will play the greatest role in promoting an IoT-friendly web presence, it will also be important to look beyond Google when developing both SEO and PPC strategies. As the IoT continues to take over, more searches will occur over alternate apps, which may feature dramatically different algorithms or paid strategies.

The takeover of the IoT holds huge implications for data analysis in search engine marketing. Linked devices such as wearables will produce a greater volume of data. While this may initially feel overwhelming for law firms already struggling with a rapid influx of information, it provides an opportunity to better understand what drives legal prospects to convert.

Conscious Consumers Will Seek Law Firms That Share Their Values

Branding was always important, but the pandemic, racial tensions, and the 2020 election have reshaped the role of brand perception in even the most basic purchasing decisions. 

While consumers continue to focus on factors such as pricing and product or service quality, many now also emphasize brand philosophy. With attorneys, this means that prospects will take a closer look at ethics and compassionate representation. To this end, search terms that include value-based signifiers will attract better results in 2021. 

This will have a major influence not only on organic content but also on paid advertising, where values-driven terms may influence searches. Meanwhile, the language and tone of paid results could determine whether prospects actually click. 

The American Bar Association references the need for “articulating and uniting on our common core values.” While law firms can draw on a variety of important qualities to build trust with prospects, the ABA highlights the following as especially vital to the profession: 

  • Diversity
  • Access to justice
  • Bar and judiciary independence
  • The rule of law

Attorneys may also benefit from emphasizing compassion and empathy, especially for practice areas such as criminal defense, personal injury, and estate planning. 

As SEM trends evolve, pay close intention to user experience, search intent, and values-driven marketing. Strategic changes in these areas could promote impressive law firm marketing ROI in 2021.