Google’s most expensive search keywords are for ambulance-chasing lawyers

He probably doesn’t need ads anymore.
He probably doesn’t need ads anymore.
Image: AP Images/John Shearer/Invision for AMC
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Chances are, if you’ve watched television in the US, you’ve seen myriad advertisements for local lawyers that want to save you money after an injury—no win, no fee. Perhaps you’ve even memorized their bizarre jingles, or seen a program based on their exploits. And it seems that the internet is no different than television: Accident lawyers dominate the most expensive keyword search terms on Google AdWords—the adverts that pop up next to search results on Google.

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The report, which was released last month, was created by WebpageFX, a digital marketing company, and SEMrush, a digital marketing analytics firm. They found that the vast majority of the most expensive keyword search terms were for legal issues, most of which were localized to certain US cities or states. The single most expensive paid search term so far in 2015 is: “San Antonio car wreck attorney,” which costs advertisers $670.44 every time a person searching on Google clicks on that term.

It seems that things haven’t really changed that much in the last decade or so of web searches, either. In 2004, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall) that the most expensive search term was “mesothelioma.” According to the report, the respiratory cancer—which has been linked to exposure to asbestos, the insulating material found in many old buildings—has been a lucrative field for personal injury lawyers as the link has been so undeniable.”Why is [mesothelioma] the highest paying keyword? Because there is nothing more valuable than one mesothelioma patient,” Chris Hahn, the executive director at the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, told the Journal.

In 2015, “mesothelioma claim” is only the eighteenth-most expensive search term, coming in at $390.03 per click, but the thinking remains unchanged. All but one of the top 10 most-expensive keywords were legal queries, and WebpageFX said 78% of the top 100 keywords were related to law practices. The agency added that many of these terms are so highly targeted that some phrases might only get searched for about 10 times a month, but the payoffs are lucrative enough to warrant the cost.

Danny Sullivan, the founder of Marketing Land and Search Engine Land magazines, told Quartz over email that while he’s uncertain how definitive the list is—it’s a best guess by a third party firm, rather than Google itself—lawyers likely dominate the keyword list as they can afford to pay. “Winning some of these cases can generate thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. So they clearly find it worthwhile to bid them up against each other,” he added.

Search advertising remains the largest part of Google’s business by far—last quarter, advertising was responsible for about 90% of the company’s revenue—and if the company can continue to command top dollar for randomly specific keywords from lawyers across the US, that’s not going to change anytime soon.