Yodle Challenge, Part 7: The Final Results Show


Free: 10 Things the Best Law-Firm Website Designs Have in Common

For seven years, Lawyerist has published an annual list of the best law firm websites. Now, you can find out what they have in common.

Back in June, Yodle agreed to give three months of free advertising to Brea Buettner, a solo bankruptcy lawyer, to prove its worth. We called it the Yodle Challenge. Here is my debrief of Brea, and after that, my own thoughts on whether Yodle triumphed in the Yodle Challenge.

Results by the numbers

Brea signed up five new clients, and another five to eight have said they will pay or are saving for Brea’s retainer fee. That means Yodle generated $6,000 in new business for Brea, and potentially another $9,600 if any of the others come through.

For that, she would have paid $1,000 per month, plus setup costs of $1,500-2,000, so about $5,000, total. Some of the setup costs are standard, I believe. The rest went primarily for a premium, Yodle-built website.

So Yodle cleared a profit, but not much. Not yet, at least. Going forward, however, I do think Brea would probably earn two or three times what she would spend on ad buys through Yodle, every month.

Yodle vs. DIY

I already know online advertising works. I get good results from my Google AdWords account, and the Yodle Challenge also shows good results. However, while I only use AdWords, Yodle buys ads more broadly. Sales & Marketing VP Mike DeLuca says Google actually accounts for less than 50% of most Yodle ad campaigns.

On the other hand, Yodle makes its money in the margins. When you spend $1,000 on ads through Yodle, some of that goes to Yodle, not advertising. Mike DeLuca will not disclose how much, but he says he thinks he can make up for the difference with Yodle’s broad network and ClickRank algorithm when compared to a professional AdWords advertiser.

Of course, you do get a few extras if you advertise with Yodle, like an answering service and detailed tracking capabilities. Taking those into account, Yodle starts looking like a pretty good deal.

The hard sell

My main objection to Yodle—the thing that got this started in the first place—was to their phone-based, hard-sell sales staff. I have not received a call from Yodle since then (I imagine my name is on a special DO NOT CALL list at Yodle by now), but Mike DeLuca assures me Yodle has taken steps to make sure you can opt out of calls, if you want to. He also says they have addressed some of my other concerns.

I still hate getting sales calls, but there are better ways to do them, and it sounds like Yodle is working to improve theirs.

Worth a try?

If you are not interested in creating and maintaining your own ad campaign, you should give Yodle a try. Obviously, we have not done a similar challenge with any other online advertising service—none has stepped up—but I suppose you may be able to find someone who can provide a similar service and get similar results. But I like Yodle for its detailed results tracking, and the answering service is a big plus, especially for the busy solo or small firm.

But even if you are willing and able to do your own advertising, you may want to give Yodle a try. It can take significant time to maintain your own advertising campaign on AdWords, not to mention all the other advertising venues Yodle uses. It may even be worth the risk of a slight dip in results to get your time back. And if you are not a professional, you may get better results with Yodle.

Online advertising works, and so does Yodle. The numbers speak for themselves.


Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • Sam,

    Let’s say all those potential clients pay Brea, so Yodle generates $15,600 in revenue. That cost her $5,000 in advertising expenses. 32% of the revenue went directly for advertising.

    I think we have to be cautious in saying that Yodle created a profit. Brea has other overhead that must be covered. So the $10,600 “profit” generated by Yodle must help pay for rent, utilities, insurance, etc.

    I’ve fallen prey to thinking that advertising is effective when it generates more revenue than it costs. I see many attorneys talking this way. But I don’t think it’s the way we should look at it.

    Instead, we should figure out what percentage of overall revenue we’re willing to spend on advertising. If a particular advertising campaign / program / method performs under that percentage, it’s good to use. Otherwise, it must be re-evaluated.

    I don’t know about Brea, but I can’t spend 32% of my revenue on advertising. Heck, I try to keep my total overhead lower than that.

    Maybe my analysis is flawed. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  • I agree that a successful marketing campaign must do more than simply generate positive income. If you spend $5,000, but make only $6,000, that is a lot of work for very little profit.

    Brea averaged somewhere between 1:2 cost-to-income and 1:5, depending on how many clients she ultimately signs up (I am only counting the ongoing cost, here). At the low end, I agree, that is not so great. But 1:5 is decent, especially when you consider that Yodle does all the work, and Brea would have to spend very little time writing ad copy, finding advertising outlets, etc.

    As for overhead, she will have to pay that overhead even if she makes nothing at all. And do not forget the time it takes to market yourself. While we often say that blogging, social networking, and other things are “free,” they are not. Not really. If you spend two hours per day, that is probably about $400 of your time per day or $8,000 per month that you are spending on advertising. What if you could spend less (say, $1,000 per month), and still get much of that business?

    In the end, though, you need to diversify. I get a lot of my clients from time-consuming person-to-person networking. I also spend a lot of money on those lunches, coffees, happy hours, and parking fees. I do not spend much money maintaining my blog, website, or social networks, but I do spend a lot of time on them. I spend very little time and only a bit of money (less than $200 per month) on my Google AdWords account.

    Put together, all those marketing efforts result in a pretty lively intake line (and inbox).

    I would not suggest that anyone use Yodle as their only marketing effort. But I do think Yodle can be a valuable part of any good marketing effort. And I think for a newer practice with some capital, Yodle could be a good way to jump-start a practice.

  • Steve M

    Respectfully, the numbers here don’t make sense. Sam fails to account for opportunity cost, or lack thereof. I would agree that if Brea is billing 1800+ hours per year that time spent on doing things herself becomes a net loss. But as we’ve established, Brea is just starting out; her alternative is not billable work but staring at the phone waiting for it to ring.

    As of right now, Brea paid $5000 for 5 clients. The math is easy, that’s a $1000 cost of acquisition. Huge.

    Brea could do a $500 dollar coupon on Adwords and come out ahead. She could cut her rates in half and be ahead. She could an infinite amount of things to get clients for less than $1000 a head.

    Even if we’re optimistic and assume she closes another 5 clients, that puts a cost of acquisition at $500 a head. This too seems like an exorbitant cost.

    When speaking about the business side of any field, don’t forget the metrics.

  • Don’t get me wrong here, Sam. I’m a huge fan of internet marketing. And I love trying new things. A 1:5 ratio is actually pretty good, especially since, as you pointed out, it’s hands off.

  • Sam,

    Thanks for allowing the Yodle Challenge to happen. I think it was a great learning experience for everyone. I just wanted to quickly touch on a few of the comments from your post and video:

    Was the campaign successful?
    IMO the campaign was very successful. Brea stated that in month 1 it was slow and she received about 20 phone calls. I would agree that 20 calls in relation to her subsequent months was slow but I don’t view 20 calls as unsuccessful at all. This works out to about $50 per call which is well below the $70-$80 cost per lead that is relatively standard in the BK space. In month 2, her calls increased “significantly” and in month 3 she received upwards of 60 calls of which half were not able to be answered. Whether she ends up earning at the low end $6000 or at the high end $15,600, I think you need to keep in mind that 50% of the calls went unanswered. Is it fair to say she would’ve doubled her return if she was able to get to all of the calls? I’m not sure but I think you’d agree there certainly was opportunity lost as a result.

    What did she pay for her results?
    We set up a monthly ad budget of $1,000. Between website and setup, she would have paid approximately $1,500. Her investment over the initial 3 month term would have been $4,500. It is important to note that she would only be billed for her ad budget moving forward as website and setup were onetime costs. At the low end estimate (4 clients), she will have realized a $1500 return and if she continued even assuming results stayed the same, her return in the next 3 months would increase to $3,000 given that website and setup had already been paid. At the high end (12 clients) using the same assumptions, her return would be $11,100 and $12,600 respectively.

    Why isn’t she going to continue?
    Brea believes that $1000/mo is too much for her at this point. Although I understand the stress of starting one’s own business, I respectfully think discontinuing is a mistake. She cites the need to pay for rent and utilities as a reason why she cannot continue advertising. My question is simply how is she going to pay for rent and utilities with no mechanism to generate new clients? There are certainly other ways to market herself but I think through the Yodle Challenge, we’ve showed that we can be a big help in generating new clients for our customers. I sincerely hope Brea will be able to succeed and I wish her nothing but the best.

    If you do it yourself, do you get more or less exposure?
    Most DIY users will use Google Adwords which is a great alternative for those who have the knowledge and the time to run their own campaigns. There are people like yourself who understand marketing and know the intricacies of writing good adcopy, having landing pages, SEO strategy, etc, but for the vast majority of clients who don’t have the time to learn what to bid on, how much, how to track, etc, Yodle provides a great opportunity to market effectively while focusing their time on their business. Although Google is a great partner of ours and we have significant presence there, what we are after are the lowest cost clicks available across the web that will deliver high quality phone calls and emails. By capturing qualified prospects for our clients through less expensive outlets (ie, CitySearch, Ingenio, etc), we can do more with our clients budgets therefore giving them more exposure. Additionally, ClickRank (our Algorithm) will monitor conversion rates across all of our distribution outlets and adjust position, bid prices, keywords, etc accordingly (this is why you saw Brea’s account performance improve month over month). So, we are able to get our clients significant exposure across many different outlets while managing to keep the lights on here!

    Overall, I am pleased with how the campaign went and I hope this experiment was interesting and helped your readers. Brea stated that “Yodle lived up to their promises” and that is the highest compliment we can receive. The bottom line is, we use best practices and our experiences over time to develop the best websites, ad campaigns and placements for our clients. Not everyone will succeed every time and that is what is so tricky about this type of marketing. Yodle does not control all the variables that make a search campaign successful. The client needs to be an active participant in insuring the phone is being answered, the staff is properly trained, their prices or fees in line with the market, they can adequately sell, etc. I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve listened to where a potential new customer is either treated poorly, hung up on or was simply turned off by the attitude of the business owner. It has to be a collaborative effort between the client and Yodle in order for us to succeed.

    Thanks again for giving Yodle this forum to prove our worth. I welcome the opportunity to do this again in the future!

    Mike DeLuca
    SVP Sales & Marketing

  • Dennis Yu

    Congratulations to Yodle.com for demonstrating the power of online lead gen! I’d love to see what the average costs per call are by vertical and geo, Mike, as you mentioned $70-80 per call in the BK space.

    It’s important to set client expectations– something that I believe is just as important as having the technical capabilities to generate traffic. That education component is built into the monthly management fee and help clients understand what a local online advertising company does and does not do.

  • Dennis,

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the expectation setting piece. It is probably the toughest part of this type of marketing. So much of the success of these campaigns is predicated on not only a good marketing execution but an involved client who is an active participant in; the content of the website, the urgency to get to the phone/ email, prompt replies to inquiries, ability to sell and create urgency, etc.

    Patience is also key. Just as in Brea’s case, these campaigns do improve over time. Many Practices get jittery if results arent immediate. It is the job of Yodle or the marketing firm to make sure the client understands all the variables that go into a successful campaign. Thanks

  • Anne M. Hansen

    I think the Yodle Challenge shows that their service is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

    You need a big chunk of capital upfront to invest in Yodle, something many new attorneys starting their own practice don’t have, and it’s money that must be paid upfront. Banks are not exactly jumping at the opportunity to provide small business loans, new lawyers don’t have retirement funds to borrow from, and credit cards can only stretch so far to take care of a new lawyer (and his/her family) while the practice is being built. This factor alone will keep many attorneys from using, or continuing to use, Yodle.

    You also need the ability to answer every (or nearly every) call. A solo practitioner without support staff simply cannot answer every call. Yesterday alone I met with potential clients for three straight hours and missed two calls. Granted, lawyers cannot generate clients if they don’t get back to potential clients. However, many people prefer to e-mail an attorney to get the ball rolling, and from what I understand Yodle doesn’t allow its clients to put an e-mail address (or any direct phone or fax number) on their Yodle-managed site. Roughly half of my potential clients initiate contact via e-mail. While Yodle provides a form on the web page for potential clients to submit, it’s not the same as having a real, personal e-mail address. I don’t fill out forms on websites, and I imagine many people don’t.

    Also, related to calls, Mr. DeLuca notes that he’s listened to many calls where a “potential new customer is either treated poorly, hung up on or was simply turned off by the attitude of the business owner.” That raises privacy concerns, which I believe have been mentioned in a previous Yodle Challenge article/comment, as I would not want any third party listening to my phone calls.

    Overall I think there are many online marketing outlets, and Yodle may be a great fit for people who have capital and support staff, i.e., established law firms. If a new practitioner doesn’t have those things, Yodle is not necessarily a good or cost-effective choice, and Yodle should be upfront about that. Mr. DeLuca said, “my question is simply how is (Brea) going to pay for rent and utilities with no mechanism to generate new clients?” Brea was marketing herself in other ways prior to the Yodle Challenge, and she will continue to explore other ways to market herself online. Technically Brea is my competition because we both do consumer law, but I look forward to seeing her succeed. Starting a law practice is a bumpy ride, but Brea is in the driver’s seat and she’s turned off Yodle Way. She didn’t park the car and walk away.

  • Hi Anne,

    Thanks for adding to the discussion. If I may, let me respond to your points:

    1. “You need a big chunk of capital upfront to invest in Yodle”. A big chunk is a relative term however, I would say you need a minimum of 1k to start. I could easily tell you one could do this type of marketing for less, however, I think you’d be setting yourself up for failure. If a lawyer cannot afford 1k start up comfortably, this probably isn’t the right service.

    2. Answering the phone is key to any service based business, no argument there. In Brea’s case, she didnt get to a lot of the calls yet she still generated between 6-15k in new clients. Not a bad deal. The web form can be linked to any email address you want. We use tracking phone numbers so we can track your leads in order to give our clients a true understanding of their ROI. If at any time you choose to stop advertising, that number can be changed to your personal line.

    3. Thanks for bringing up the privacy concern. I do not have the ability to listen to Attorney calls or any calls related to the Medical field. We have permissioning in place to protect people’s privacy. I was simply referring to calls from other types of customers; General Contractor’s, Limo’s, etc. where we do listen to calls in order to help the business owner convert those calls to customers.

    4. If you read through the entire Yodle Challenge, I think you’ll agree that I have been very fair and upfront about what works and doesn’t work. I simply do not understand how anyone could say Yodle was not “cost effective” in Brea’s case given her ROI and the fact we do all the work! I realize Yodle is only one piece of the puzzle and there are many other forms of marketing that can be effective and I didnt mean to suggest Yodle was her only alternative. All I’m saying is that if I put 4k into the stock market and 3 months later it was worth between 6-15k, I’d be pretty happy and unlike the stock market, those gains are locked in.

    Thanks again!

  • I tried yodle for 5 months… spent $5000 and received nothing but more sales calls from lead companies that found me from yodle. I did receive 4 promising leads, but for $5000 I would rather use word of mouth. I use other lead services that work great.. for me yodle did not… and for there hard sales tactics, I do not approve. They talked me into alot of spending without the results.

  • Sam,

    Thank you very much for posting this wonderful 7 part series. I learned a lot from it. First of full disclosure: I am the founder of an internet advertising and search engine marketing company and have a few data points that I’d like to share with respect to what we’ve established to be Yodle’s mark up within one vertical.

    We were approached by a hair salon chain, who were Yodle clients, to evaluate the cost per click (hits to website) that they were being billed by Yodle. To that end we created and ran geo targeted PPC ads on Google and found that our CPC ranged between $0.95 to $1.05 while Yodle was charging their client an average of $2.00 to $3.00 for the same traffic. This high profit spread can be attributed to the fact that Yodle is a click reseller and a very successful one at that. In order to make profits from Google Adwords, you need to collect data, analyze it, tweak your campaign and then repeat the data collection and tweaks. Data can only be collected by paying Google and if Yodle is allocating only 50% of your ad spend towards direct Google advertising, your campaigns (managed by Yodle) are not collecting data fast enough in order for them to make timely adjustments. I would encourage people to please read Borrell Associates report on this phenomenon of under spending on ad campaigns, which is done not only by Yodle, but also by other click resellers such as Web Visible, and Reach Local.

    It costs about $750 to $1,000 to set up a custom 7-9 page custom website. To get your Adwords account set up professionally (keyword research, ads etc), one should allocate about $400. After that most analytical people should be able to run their geo targeted PPC campaigns without much assistance.

  • I can’t comment on Yodle’s ability to produce results, only their high pressure sales tactics. Which would appear to be central to their business model. Three of my clients, after being hounded by Yodle, referred them to me (“talk to my agency”). In each case Yodle promptly vanished. I suggest a bit of common sense when approaching Yodel or any other service.

    What type of companies employ high pressure when selling? Google “Yodle, complaints” or any other company name and the word “complaints” to find out.

  • John

    I relied heavily on this review of Yodle before buying in this past month. $750.00 per month, three month commitment. Yodle brands itself on the slogan “Click are Great Calls are Better.” I’ve gotten two legitimate phone calls since I started with this company. That breaks down to $325.00 per lead! Any insinuations that this company will generate leads for you is bunk. I’d bet you that less than 5% of existing customers re-sign after 3 months.

    You’ve been warned.

  • Matt P

    I was a yodle customer for 3 months, I spent $3000. Out of that 3k I netted 1 legitmate client which I made 900 dollars off of and spent 8 hours of my time on that case. So I am out $2,100.00 and had to work 8 hours to make the 900 I did. It was an AWFUL decision to go with the company. They make ridiculous promises, their sales people promise the moon and are very good at lying. They told me that all their clients average 10 clients a month for spending 900 a month. This is clearly not the case. I think most people are upset with them. The webpage they made me looked like it was done by a 9 year old. I realize that after reading hundreds of posts like mine where people are out even more money that I was taken for a ride. I at least made back 30% of what I spent. Some people made nothing. Too little too late, beware of this company.

  • I got suckered into signing up with this company today. I immediately regretted the decision and called back to cancel. Of course all I got was a voicemail, so I left a voicemail, and then an email for the saleman. I haven’t signed anything. Anyone else had this experience? Are they going to hold me to the oral contract?

  • andrews

    The cold callers are out again today. The sales critter said he was going through the [state] bar to find potential customers. No idea whether these were people looking for yodle-type services, he was simply calling because he could.

    Their discernment is poor. A smarter sales critter would have understood the benefit of making cold calling a felony, and the particular benefit of having him in prison rather than bothering people on the phone.

    When yodle calls, just remember to google “Joseph Rakofsky”. Or maybe the phrase “Our commitment to you is to go the extra mile to win your case, and we take that pledge very seriously.” to see myraid bland and useless yodle websites.

  • well, interesting I must say. I didn’t have the money to commit so they are letting me pay it $100 at a time at my pace. That seems like a pretty flexible company (or a desperate salesman). My plan is to spend 500 per month and see. I already have a pretty active practice but could always use more clients. I don’t have a secretary, but I will answer the phone at all times, even if I have a client with me simply to tell them I will call them right back. Also, Brea seemed to go for the “come into the office before I can analyze your case” strategy. I have found it helpful to let the client give you the basics and you can tell them what you can do for them pretty easily subject to adjustment when they get to your office. I’m not saying bait and switch, just that you can get an idea in 15 minutes whether the person should be in a 7 or 13, whether they can pay up front, if there are tax liens et cetera. Plus I am not technical enough to adjust my ad campaign on the fly. The people above who say they paid 750 or 1k and got nothing surprise me. Of course I am sure all 300 employees were helping Brea and the rest of their customers aren’t going to get the same amount of service. I mean this is why resturant critics don’t tell the restsurant they are coming.

  • Gus S

    Mar 4, 2014. I have trying to cancel my account with Yodle for last 4 days ( Cancelled after signing in 15 minutes!). Still Got the charge on my credit card ( which I am disputing). The Sales person assured me that it had been cancelled and that the system is automated and might still generate some emails..So since my “cancellation” I have received a welcome email with password and then the following day another email dropping my account to only web service at $49/month for 73 months! I contacted the sales person by emailed and he again reassured me that is had been cancelled. Yet this afternoon I received a Voice-mail from another sales Person at Yodle saying that I must call him to CANCEL as emails are not sufficient! The saga or dance continues…