Heeding the Wisdom of Socrates’ Words

If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid lawyers in your life, you may have had many occasions to use what Socrates Media LLC has to sell: do-it-yourself forms and kits for everyday legal transactions from leases to divorces. And thanks to an intensive paid-search marketing campaign, the Chicago company is doing its level best to make sure you can find their product when you need it.

That’s because when people need a legal form, they usually need it fast, says Michael Kahn, senior director for consumer marketing at Socrates. And while the company’s products are distributed through the major office-supply chains, research showed him that many people looking for legal forms went first to the Web search engines to locate them.

“So you have highly motivated buyers who are pressed for time gathered in that one spot,” Kahn says. “It only made sense that we wanted to reach them there, where the initial buying decisions were being made.”

And reach them Socrates does, with a paid-search campaign that occupies approximately 50% of the company’s marketing budget. Socrates sells its 400 legal forms and kits online as well as in stores, and is in the middle of a pack of competing providers, some larger and some smaller, and some with strong online presences and entrenched natural search placement. So SEM struck Kahn as an effective, cost-efficient way to make sure the brand was in front of their target audience as much as possible.

Kahn’s Internet credentials trace back to his stint with online art retailer Art.com, which once aimed to sell prints and photographs but eventually was broken up for its assets. When he joined Socrates, it had just done an asset purchase of an older legal-form company. So besides fending off competitors and maximizing the online channel, he had the task of establishing the new Socrates brand.

(One other factor in the decision to go to paid search marketing: When your company’s name is Socrates, search engine optimization of your Web site is going to produce an awful lot of traffic from students doing term papers but with no interest in legal forms at all.)

Having opted for paid search, Socrates also made it known that its objective was to earn a high return on their advertising spending. “Sheer sales growth is something that you could do on the Web five years ago,” Kahn says. “It’s much less doable today.” Instead, Socrates wanted the paid-search program to pay for itself as much as possible. The company makes a policy of tracking paid-search efforts all the way through to sales.

“We know what conversion is on a given term, how much we paid for those clicks and visitors, and what the cost of that sale was,” he says. “We were optimizing for return on investment from day one.”

A large part of the SEM effort is bidding on and tracking some 8,000 to 9,000 keyword search terms, which Socrates does with the help of agency Resolution Media, a Chicago-based search marketing firm recently acquired by Omnicom Group. That’s a lot of keywords, Kahn admits. But the large spread is intentional, and produces about 2 million total collective searches on those terms per month.

“Each search word tells us what that consumer wants to find,” he says. “And we can design our Web site so that 90% of those search terms go to the specific product page the customer is looking for. They don’t go through our home page, a family page or subfamily, but right to their target product.” That kind of specific linkage converts a large number of clicks into an almost equally large number of sales.

Because the keywords are very specific—“No-fault divorce forms,” for example, or even including a price quote—customers who click through are highly qualified. Pre-qualified customers plus a highly targeted landing page equals a cost-efficient paid search campaign.

“In essence, I’m paying just for the people who have clicked through and voted with their fingers to say, ‘I have an interest in your specific product,’” Kahn says. “That’s a real pay-for-performance model. That’s what we asked Resolution for, and that’s what it delivered.”

Socrates plans to introduce new product lines of forms that are state-specific, or in some cases, use-specific—bills of sale for selling a car, selling a boat, selling a horse, etc. And when that happens, the company intends to expand its roster of keywords and search terms beyond the large number it uses today.

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