Should your firm engage in competitive keyword advertising?

by Teresa Shaw


Marketing Tips

CKAIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how important brand marketing and awareness is to online marketing success. And you know it takes a lot of work to get ranked high in search engine results pages. What you may not know is that a good bit of that work involves analyzing your competitors marketing tactics.

How It Works

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process that helps search engines find you on the web and return your website when a user searches for you or your offerings. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is the practice of using specific keywords in the ads that are displayed at the top inside of organic results.

Competitive keyword advertising (CKA) is when you use the name of your competitor for your own PPC ads so your firm is displayed whenever users search for your competition. Your ad is not displayed instead of your competitor’s, but rather alongside their ads.

The Skinny on CKA’s

Competitive keywords advertising can take a lot of hits. Some firms call it an unethical practice while others claim it doesn’t come close to crossing boundaries – ethical, moral, or legal. Though most bar associations have been mute on the subject of competitive keyword marketing, the Florida State Bar has ruled it fair game whereas North Carolina has barred the practice.

So should you use competitive keyword advertising? From a marketing standpoint, it’s well known that consumers like having choices. And like Josh King said in a recent Avvo blog post, competitive keywords advertising is “no different than traditional “proximity advertising” – buying a billboard across the street from your competitor, or a yellow pages ad on the opposite page.”

From an ethics standpoint, unless you work in North Carolina, competitive keyword advertising does not cross any ethical boundaries. Could your competitors think differently about it? Sure, and unless they do the same thing, they probably will.

Some firms feel the practice is comparable to riding on the coattails of their competitors. In other words, morally wrong. Even if you may not care how your peers feel about your morals, using competitive keyword advertising could set you up for frivolous lawsuits, grievances, and negative press.

Competitive Keyword Analysis – The Big Issue

Ethics, law, and morals aren’t the biggest issue when it comes to CKA. The biggest issue surrounding CKA is, or should be, efficacy. Just how many people do you think are:

  1. seeing competitive keywords ads
  2. clicking those ads
  3. connecting with the firm, and
  4. becoming a client

How about less than 2%.

With that type of click through rate (CTR), you have to weigh the efficacy of a key competitive keyword ad campaign against the costs and possible negative repercussions that could come from using this strategy.

There are no hard and fast rules about competitive keyword advertising unless you are in North Carolina, so the decision to use or not use this strategy is entirely up to you. Personally, I would recommend seeking the advice of a PPC expert who is familiar with the issues surrounding law firm advertising. They should be able to tell you how other firms that have tried this strategy faired and whether they believe it’s worth the effort.

Teresa Shaw is an SEO consultant with 10 years of experience helping attorneys and law firms across the country increase public awareness of their services.


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