Since advertising his Central Islip law firm on the Web, personal injury attorney David Kaufman has received a significant uptick in phone calls.
But quantity doesn't mean quality, said Kaufman, who regards the vast majority of these calls as a waste of his time.
"I'd go out of business for every 'The police hurt my wrist' call I get," he said.
Kaufman, 55, is paid only when a case is decided in his client's favor, and then his fee is one-third of the award after litigation expenses. Last year, Kaufman's four-year-old practice generated more than $1 million in settlements.
Scoring qualified leads on the Internet is a common business challenge, experts said, but there are ways to minimize the problem.
After a career spanning more than 25 years, including serving as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County from 1988 to 1991 and as a founding partner in a law firm he left to start his current practice, Kaufman said his cases come mostly through referrals from past clients and other attorneys.
A year ago, after a fruitless experience with an Internet ad agency, Kaufman decided to give the Web another try. He signed up with Yodle, an Internet marketing firm, because his son had landed a job there and had sung its praises.
"I had business, but I wanted to increase it," Kaufman said.
Yodle listed his practice in more than 50 online business directories and designed a new website that, by manipulating images, words and pages, catapults his site to page one in Google's natural search results for searchers within 20 miles of his office, Kaufman said.
Yodle also manages Kaufman's pay-per-click campaign, an Internet advertising model that sends traffic to websites via ads featuring relevant keywords used in searches.
As part of the pay-per-click process, advertisers bid on keywords, with prices determined by such factors as the competitiveness of their targeted market. Advertisers then pay that amount each time someone clicks on their ad, said Jeremy Kagan, associate professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business and CEO of Pricing Engine Inc., a digital advertising company. For lawyers, a keyword can cost $20 to $30 but can go as high as $100, he said.
According to Wordstream, which manages search campaigns, "insurance," "law" and "attorney" are among the 10 most expensive Google ad words.
Thanks to Yodle's efforts, Kaufman now receives as many as three calls a week, but he has taken on only two of those cases in the past year. The Smithtown resident said the other leads weren't likely to end in settlements that were worth his energy.
Paul Bascobert of Yodle said his company assigns customers a phone number that records every call, as well as a login to a dashboard menu, where they can give Yodle feedback about each lead. Then, via its proprietary technology, Yodle "automatically adjusts the keywords for better and more relevant leads," he said.
Through his monthly discussions with Yodle, Kaufman said he has learned other ways to improve his leads, including tweaking his website with pertinent and updated content.
"It has helped by weeding out some calls that don't apply to me and focusing more on my business' strengths," he said.
While Kagan said the key to effective Internet ads "isn't clicks but good clicks," he suggested Kaufman monetize his rejected leads by referring them -- for a fee -- to other lawyers.
"The bad leads can cover his ongoing campaign," he said.
But Kaufman said he's not getting unrelated calls, just leads that don't justify the "costs of prosecution."
Joel R. Evans, professor of marketing at Hofstra University's Frank G. Zarb School of Business, recommended creating a short "screener" -- four or five questions for prospects to fill out on Kaufman's website -- to help reduce the amount of time he spends vetting callers.
Since December, Kaufman has also tried to score business with 30-second ads running on the large-screen TV at the state Department of Motor Vehicles in Hauppauge. Although the effort costs $500 a month and has yet to generate a single call, hope springs eternal.
"You never know where that one big case will come from," Kaufman said.