How Lawyers Can Use Custom Intent Audiences for PPC

Google advertising for law firms is tricky — on one hand, you could spend absurd amounts of money per click on search ads, and on the other hand, you could spend pennies on cheap, poorly targeted display ads and hope for the best. Neither of these strategies is ideal on its own. So how do you beat the machine?

Fortunately, there’s an effective middle ground: Custom Intent Audiences for the Google display network. This post will cover the following:

  • The unique challenges lawyers face when advertising on Google
  • Why you should use custom intent audiences
  • How to build a custom intent audience campaign

The Unique Challenges Law Firms Face With Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Challenge #1:  Search Clicks Are Too Expensive

If you’ve invested in ppc for law firms in the past (especially Google search ads), you don’t need us to tell you that clicks are expensive. For instance, we’ve seen search clicks as expensive as $150 for car accident injury queries, and other personal injury and criminal defense keywords are not far behind.

There are reasons for this. Google’s bidding system drives the cost per click (CPC) up in situations where volume is scarce;  if your region only gets 15 “car accident injury lawyer” searches per day, and if you have 20 law firms bidding on those clicks, they will be expensive. This happens in small geographic regions — firms in cities with lower population density may actually spend more per click than firms in densely populated areas with lots of demand.

For more reading, see our guide: How to Get More Car Accident Clients from the Internet

Challenge #2: Law Firm Retargeting is (Usually) Banned

Google limits retargeting audiences for companies dealing with sensitive subject matter. For instance, if you deal with personal injury, negative financial status (bankruptcy law), or criminal defense, Google will most likely shut down your retargeting audiences due to privacy concerns. This can be extremely frustrating, especially if your law firm SEO strategy is delivering organic traffic ripe for remarketing.



Yes, you can try and sneak retargeting audiences past Google’s regulations, and you can even continue to re-upload the same retargeting audience every time it gets canceled, but this behavior can get your entire Google Ads account banned.

Challenge #3: Other Display Targeting isn’t Effective for Legal

Google’s display advertising features allow you target people based on a number of criteria:

  • Affinity Audiences: avid runners, wildlife enthusiasts, etc.
  • In-Market Audiences: people buying cars, baby clothes, etc
  • Demographics
  • Life events

The problem is, for law firms, these audiences simply don’t apply. It’s not like you’re not selling a product that appeals to everyone in a certain demographic who has specific interests (ex. automotive enthusiasts between the ages of 45-60). Traditional demand generation won’t work, because your audience qualifies only by getting arrested, forced into bankruptcy, seriously injured because of negligence, or a similar situation.

That leaves Google’s Custom Intent Audiences as the only good display advertising feature, and we will dive into it below.

Challenge #4: You Can’t Fully Erase Malicious Competitor Clicks

Can you know for sure that the law firm next door isn’t Googling “dui defense lawyer near me” and clicking on your advertisement? No, you cannot. You can buy software like Click Cease or PPC Protect to help, but unless your competitors establish a pattern of clicking on your ads multiple times from the same IP address or other obvious behavior, these tools won’t differentiate the fraudulent clicks from the good ones. One malicious click can cost you up to $150, so don’t take this phenomenon lightly.

Challenge #5: Conversion Rates aren’t Always in Your Favor

Let’s say you spend $1,000 in Google search ads, and you get an excellent click-through-rate (CTR) of 10%. We will also assume those clicks were an average of $100 apiece (maybe you specialize in truck accident injuries in a competitive market).

Next, imagine you achieved a 10% conversion rate from those clicks — another excellent number. That means you received one phone call from your $1,000 in advertising expenditure. You also don’t know that the phone call will become a case, so you could spend thousands of dollars on clicks without signing a client. Some cases are worth the money, others aren’t.

The Solution: Using Google Custom Intent Audiences for Your Law Firm

What are Custom Intent Audiences in Google Ads?

A custom intent audience is built when you upload a list of keywords and websites to Google that your target audience would have been searching for and visiting. Google recommends that you add 50 keywords and URLs minimum — Google Ads then takes this list and shows your display ads to a relevant audience online. You are essentially creating an audience that you want Google to show ads to, and Google matches people to your audience based on their search history.

Why Should You Use Them Instead of Search Ads?

With custom intent audiences, you get the benefits of search ads at the price of display advertising. In Google’s words, custom intent audiences target users “based on their recent purchase intent.” So if someone was searching for a “personal injury lawyer near me” in the last week or two, they would be included in this audience.

Remember — it often takes victims several months to decide on a law firm or even decide if they’re going to sue. That means that even if there’s a lag in Google’s user data, you’re still reaching these audiences while they’re warm. And better yet, you get to reach this targeted audience for roughly $1 per click (or significantly less!).

In short, custom intent audiences allow you to show ads to people who have self-qualified for your services through their internet search history, and you only have to pay $1 or less per click.

How To Build a Custom Intent Audience in Google Ads:

Building The Audience

First, navigate to “Tools & Settings” > “Shared Library” > “Audience Manager” in Google Ads. Once there, click on the “custom audiences” tab:

display advertising for lawyers


Next, click the plus sign and select “custom intent”:


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You’re now ready to start loading in relevant keywords and URLs. Google recommends fifty, but you don’t have to stop there. Just remember that they should all be closely related to one idea, similar to your keyword groupings in a search ad group:

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To get fifty keyword ideas, we recommend using Google’s keyword planner, the SEMRush “keyword magic” tool, and even the “people also ask” feature in the organic SERPs:

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Turn Off The Audience Expansion Setting

Custom Intent audiences will significantly narrow down your display targeting, but Google will still run your budget through the roof and target tons of extra web users if you’re not careful.

The first setting you need to edit is “targeting expansion.” You’ll encounter this section when building your display campaign:

SEO for Law Firms

When you first build the campaign, turn that meter all the way down to “off.” After you launch, if you aren’t getting any clicks or impressions in your campaign (and if you’ve tested raising your bids), revisit this setting and gradually turn it up bit by bit. The more reach you get from Google’s targeting expansion, the less targeted your audience becomes.

If you do choose to revisit this setting and increase your reach, you’ll have to find the settings via this path:

Campaign > Audiences > Edit Button (blue button with pencil) > Edit Ad Group Targeting > Targeting Expansion

Significantly Restrict Display Placements

It’s incredibly important that you exclude apps and YouTube placements from your display campaigns. If you don’t, all of your clicks will come from apps, and 97% of these will be children borrowing their parents’ mobile devices and accidentally clicking. Blocking apps and YouTube channels in Google Ads is its own project, so if it’s a new concept to you, read this.

Overlay Other Targeting Options In Your Campaign

You still have the option to include topical, demographic, and keyword targeting on top of your custom intent audience — the most important of these is the “Topics” option. Select topics from Google’s list that relate to your audience somehow — there is a “law and government” topic section, for instance, and that would be highly relevant. The goal is to select topics that only mature, intentional readers will be interested in, and as a result, you’ll cut down on spam clicks.

After you launch your campaign, we would advise running a few different custom intent audiences against each other — once you find the right combination of keywords and URLs that lead to phone calls, you’ll be paying a significantly lower cost per lead than your competitors.

Call Us – Get More Leads

We are among the industry leaders in SEO for personal injury lawyers, criminal defense lawyer marketing, and other disciplines, and we would be happy to discuss your goals with you on the phone. It’s always free to call – start making your phone ring today.

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