Exclusive: law firms push out CMCs as referral fee ban reshapes PI search market

Online searches: big brands dominate

The abolition of referral fees is “dramatically reshaping” the online personal injury (PI) market, with legal brands pushing out claims management companies (CMCs), according to major new research seen exclusively by Legal Futures.

The Online personal injury intelligence report, produced by digital marketing agency Stickyeyes, said competition within the market is set to intensify, as more legal brands are focusing on search marketing as a means of competing in the battle to generate leads.

The research looked at the top 100 keywords that were driving online consumer searches and assessed the search engine optimisation (SEO), pay per click (PPC), and social media strategies for the 100 leading online PI brands.

Just over half (52%) of all searches were for brands, with 10 names dominating: Irwin Mitchell, Pannone, Minster Law, Optima Legal, National Accident Helpline, Accident Advice Helpline, Fentons, InjuryLawyers4U, Claims Direct and Thompsons Law.

Irwin Mitchell was clear out front, accounting for a third of brand searches, although the figure includes its non-PI work; Optima Legal – which deals with property and recoveries work for businesses – is the only totally non-PI brand in the list. Taken together, 81% of brand searches featured one of these 10 names.

For the 48% of the search market that is not brand related, the report found that legal brands have usurped CMCs, particularly in organic search, where they now receive 64% of clicks, compared to 39% the year before. This high proportion of non-brand searches provides “niche operators with a strong online presence with an opportunity to compete directly with the larger brands”, it said.

Though Irwin Mitchell had by far the biggest ‘click-share’ for organic results, taken with PPC its overall top position was narrowly taken by National Accident Helpline. But their 18% shares were significantly higher than the next in the table, Claims Direct, at 11%. Fentons and new entrant Pannone (5% each) were the next law firms to feature. Bolt Burdon Kemp and Spencers Solicitors also featured in it for the first time (see top 15 table below).

Non-brand searches were dominated by just 10 generic search phrases, particularly ‘no win no fee’, ‘personal injury claims’, and ‘personal injury solicitors’. The report recorded a significant increase in search volumes for ‘medical negligence’.

Finding an adviser with local offices formed a key part of the decision-making process behind consumers who wished to make a PI claim, with London and Manchester accounting for around half of location-specific searches.

The report was critical of most operators’ use of social media, although National Accident Helpline led the way for “the cross-pollination and integration” of its ‘underdog’ TV brand campaign with social media channels. Pannone and Irwin Mitchell were next, although some way behind.

“Many personal injury brands have a poor deployment of their social media assets within their websites. In essence, content channels such as blogs, newsrooms, community threads, as well as Facebook and Twitter do not sit at the forefront of their customer journey,” it said. “Social media strategies are massively underdeveloped within the legal services sector.”

Phil McGuin, head of insight at Stickyeyes, said CMCs were being pushed out of the market and this opened “a short-term opportunity” for other legal brands to break into list of established players.

He added: “We can expect many of the larger law firms involved in PI to use the next year or so to invest in brand development and strive to increase consumer awareness of their brands. As the PI market consolidates, the sector will become a battleground amongst the high-volume players.”

To request a copy of the full report, register here

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