Charlie McIlroy - Senior PPC Analyst

Charlie McIlroy is senior PPC analyst at First4Lawyers and will celebrate his first anniversary with the business in August this year. Here, Charlie explains how pay-per-click fits into the mix and, with rapid advancements in AI technology, what the future holds.  

The best way to explain PPC – or pay-per-click – is as one of the most effective ways of driving traffic to your website. Everyone will have seen the paid ads that pop up when you search for just about anything online, and it’s my job to make sure that First4Lawyers’ ads appear but only in the right place – that is, in front of people who are looking for legal services.

Think of it as a giant auction hall, with search engines, especially Google, which has for a long time been the powerhouse, as the auctioneer. It’s about identifying what potential customers will be searching for and then bidding for those ‘keywords,’ which our competitors will also be bidding for too. It’s then up to the search engines to decide where we all rank in the results.

We want to be ranking highly for all the relevant search terms and so a typical day for me involves monitoring what those terms are and how we’re performing. We have the Google and Microsoft interface which shows how we’re doing plus a live data feed of all the leads coming into the business. We want the best possible return on investment so the money we’re spending on different search terms and different search engines may change on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. You can never be complacent. A lot of my time is spent analysing data and coming up with new ways to try and improve our results. 

I’ve been working in PPC for approaching five years now, but this is my first experience of the legal sector. I worked in the travel industry beforehand, but law was always an area I was interested in learning about. Working in marketing I’ve found that a lot of my skills are transferable and while I have had to learn about the legal industry, the support of my colleagues has been invaluable in helping me get up to speed.  

The most common misconception about PPC is that it is a quick results business. You have to invest time and money and it’s also important to have a long-term strategy, which is regularly evaluated to measure its success and change if needed.  It’s not just about how much you’re willing to spend. Google, for example, wants to give users the best possible experience so advertisers will be rewarded or penalised based on how relevant they are and how good their website content is. The reward or penalty can be both financial and visible, i.e your cost per click (CPC) will be above the industry average if your website isn’t as relevant or accessible as others in the market, or you will become less visible in the auctions, and vice versa.

Strong, organic content is expected to be even more important in the future as search engines value sentiment over keywords. Microsoft has started integrating ChatGPT into its search engine, for example, and is the first iteration of conversational AI in search engines we have seen. This is expected to be a huge landmark that will significantly change the way we interact with search engines in the future.

The other big shift I’ve noticed is the times at which people search for services. Prior to Covid it used to be before or after work but now, with more people working flexibly or from home, we’re seeing more activity throughout the day. I think convenience is also an increasingly important factor and that’s why search engines are doing so much to improve the user experience. People don’t want to spend their time scrolling, they’re looking for the easiest solution.

Data has become a very valuable commodity because of what it can tell us about the market and the changing needs of consumers. For anyone interested in what it can do, I would recommend watching Netflix film “The Great Hack” about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data is described as having overtaken oil as the most valuable asset on earth. The power of paid advertising and data together can be quite magnificent but also scary when it’s in the wrong hands!

Joining First4Lawyers has been a learning curve but I’m loving it. It’s a huge brand with lots of firepower but hasn’t lost its roots and has retained that close-knit feel that makes it such a great place to work.

My job involves a lot of screen time so when I’m not working, I try to get out and about playing golf or supporting Everton, although that has been a tough watch this season!


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