I said some pretty unfriendly things about Yodle’s online advertising staff recently, and Yodle took it pretty hard seriously. In response, Mike DeLuca, Yodle’s VP of sales and marketing, issued the Yodle challenge: Yodle would give away 3 months of free online marketing to prove Yodle can deliver real value.

Yodle Marketing Challenge Kick-off

We chose newbie lawyer Brea Buettner as our guinea pig, and met with Mike as well as sales and marketing specialists Matt and Marlo.

Brea and I were impressed with Yodle’s offerings and excited to see whether this does give her practice a boost.

Yodle Challenge Week 1

Yesterday, I sat down with Mike DeLuca, Yodle’s Senior VP of Sales & Marketing. Here is a summary of our conversation. We touched on four main topics: Yodle’s strategy for advertising itself, the breakdown of fees for Yodle’s services, how Yodle is different than other services, and what kind of results Brea can expect to see.

Yodle’s strategy for advertising itself

I hate to sound like I am harping on this, but I am still bothered by the way Yodle advertises its services, so I started out by asking Mike why Yodle resorts to cold calling for sales. He claims—and I suppose he should know—that cold calls are still the best way to generate clients. And, I also suppose, Yodle is just as interested in clients who are not web-savvy as those who are, so it is either cold calling or junk mail for those folks. A phone call probably is the more promising approach.

I also wanted to know why Yodle’s salespeople can be so aggressive, and why they often call the same person repeatedly. Mike claims both result from the exuberant sales staff, who are just as fired up about their service as he is. So in their excitement, the sales staff sometimes ignore the notes on file for a phone number.

Mike says they are working on this, but that getting a couple hundred salespeople to fall in line is not easy. I believe him. They have to know people are unlikely to relent and hire Yodle on the 10th phone call. More likely, they will get irritated and complain about Yodle’s tactics on a popular law practice blog, and then Mike will have to issue a challenge to try to reverse the damage. And here we are.

Breakdown of Yodle’s fees

Yodle, like many companies that try to sell things, does not really want you to know how much they charge until they deliver the sales pitch. I think this is probably because of sticker shock. They want to make you understand the value before they show you the price tag.

But since we are hopefully going to show you what value Yodle can deliver through the Yodle Challenge experiment, I browbeat Mike for some numbers. In particular, I wanted to know what we would be paying Yodle for.

The monthly ad budget ($1,000 per month, in Brea’s case) is mostly for ad buys, although Yodle does mark up the ad sales a touch. It also charges a setup fee and a monthly service fee of $57. The setup fee is variable, depending on whether you want a “pre-fab” website, a premium site, or a custom site, along with other options. Mike says Brea’s setup charge would be under $500.

What you pay Yodle for, in addition to ad buys on Google, Yahoo!, etc., are free placements, website optimization, and conversion tracking, together with the backend ClickRank algorithm that drives it all. Your ad campaign is supervised by Yodle staff, though, so that if you were a landscaper/snowplower, ClickRank would not keep running landscaping ads in November (assuming you are advertising in Minnesota).

The algorithm is pretty neat. Mike and I talked about it some yesterday. The best part is the A/B testing. A/B testing is kind of like using a girl scout to advertise your car wash for an hour, then a swimsuit model, and going with the more successful one. ClickRank does this constantly with your ad copy to find the most-effective ads, the most-effective keywords, and the most-effective bids for those ads that result in the most-effective positioning on search engine results.

How Yodle is different than the competition

FindLaw, Nolo, and other legal advertising services are already a very popular way for lawyers to get into online marketing. According to Mike, the main difference between these sites and Yodle is in what they advertise.

FindLaw, for example, mostly advertises FindLaw, and you pay to be a lawyer in its vast directory. Yodle, on the other hand, advertises your law firm, so when people click an ad, they go to your web site, not Yodle’s.

Results with Yodle

Mike especially wanted to point out that Yodle was not promising any particular results for Brea. Whether or not she gets clients from Yodle depends partly on how many leads they are able to generate for her, and partly on what she does with those leads. And this is advertising, after all, there are no guarantees. Also, Mike wanted to lower expectations, so we are more impressed, no matter the result.

I do not think anyone at Yodle made any promises, though. Still, I did promise Mike that we would ignore any promises and judge Yodle solely on the results we see. In the end, all we are interested in—and all I suspect all you are interested in—is how many quality leads Yodle can produce. In other words, is it worth the cost? Time will tell, and we will see.

Week 2 Update

Here is what Brea has to say so far:

So far my experience with Yodle has been quite positive…

Since the inception of my new websites a week and a half ago, I have received a total of 7 calls and e-mails. Yodle has provided me with an answering service so that if I am unable to answer my phone, the Yodle service will answer my phone calls.

Of those 7 contacts, two contacts were placed by e-mail and the other 5 contacts were phone calls. Out of the 5 phone calls, I received one telemarketer call, one call for services that I do not provide, and three phone calls where the caller did not leave a name and number to be reached. Two out of the three phone calls where the caller refused to leave a name and number were placed on a Saturday and Sunday. Of the two e-mail contacts I received, I was able to set up an appointment with one client for later this week. The other client never responded back to my e-mail.

So far I’m batting 1 out of 7…

Week 3 Update

In the 12 days since Brea’s< brand-new, Yodle-built website launched, she has gotten a few nibbles. Unfortunately, the only bite was someone interested in free advice. Yodle says results will improve with time, but I also wonder if bankruptcy, like landlord-tenant, is an area of law prone to bum leads.

Week 6 Update

The Yodle online marketing challenge started almost a month and a half ago. To date, Brea Buettner has gotten about 25 leads—people actually looking to talk to a Minnesota bankruptcy lawyer. But only one came into the office.

Check in with Yodle

We wanted to give Yodle the chance to respond to how they think things are going so far, so VP Mike DeLuca contributed the following thoughts:

So, if you are taking the time to read this, you’ve probably been keeping tabs on the Yodle Challenge. Here’s a quick refresher to bring you up to date; a couple months back, Lawyerist published a not so glamorous post detailing the efforts of one of Yodle’s sales people’s attempts to pitch our offering to the man behind Lawyerist, Sam Glover.

That’s a whole other story but I did immediately call Sam and after a couple more conversations, I offered to one of Sam’s colleagues a 3 month free trial of Yodle’s services. The reason I made the offer is because; I believe in what we do, I wanted to show Sam and his readers what we are all about and I thought it was a great avenue to engage and help educate a community that we have been serving pretty successfully.

I made a few things clear to Sam before we got started:

  • Whether the Yodle campaign was a huge success or a bust, 3 months is probably not a long enough period to make a conclusive call on its overall effectiveness
  • The Yodle campaign would be run exactly how our other campaigns are run
  • Sam was free to write whatever he wanted about Yodle (as if he needed my permission)
  • We can only bring in quality calls and emails and have to rely on the participant to convert them into clients

That brings us up to date. The Yodle campaign has been running now for about 6 weeks. It originally targeted Chapter 7 bankruptcy’s but since then we have added 13’s as well. I am happy to say Buettner Law Group snared it’s first client this week which is good news and I expect there will be more to follow. That being said, by this point I am surprised Brea has not generated more clients. We can recite all the stats in the world but at the end of the day we will be judged on how many new clients come walking through the door for our Attorney’s.

Based on listening to Sam and Brea’s latest webcast, I thought I’d touch on a few points that I think are worth some discussion:

Quality calls and e-mails

Brea has received 44 calls/emails in the past 6 weeks. She has weeded out “bad” leads and has arrived at a number of 24 quality leads where the prospect is targeted properly, knows what he/she is looking for and actually picks up the phone and dials (or emails). 24 quality leads is pretty darn good for 6 weeks and it works out to be about a $62 cost per lead. When we started this challenge, I expressed to both Sam and Brea that they should expect a CPL of anywhere between $70-$90 which is where we see the market.

“The calls are coming in . . . and they are the right people” – Brea Buettner

So if that’s the case, why don’t we have more new clients to date? Attorney-client privilege prevents me from listening to how the calls play out but I have some theories:

  • Brea is a one person shop. She can’t always get to the phone. Filing for Bankruptcy is an emotional event and when someone picks up the phone to make that call, they want to speak to someone. If they get an answering service, they aren’t going to want to wait for a return call. They’ll simply hit the “back” button and click on the next search result. Not sure if it is feasible but would it be possible for the calls to roll over to another Attorney on the floor if Brea is not available?
  • We are all sales people (whether you like it or notJ). Again, I don’t know how the calls are being handled but when you get that potential client on the phone, you need to emphasize the need and desire to help that person and urge them to come in asap to address the matter head on so they can move on with their life, etc. Create a sense of urgency with that person and give them a comfort level that you are going to effectively navigate them through this difficult time. In short, get them through that door!
  • We are considering adding to Brea’s site a pre-qualification form and possibly a “Top 10 Bankruptcy Myths” document to help weed out those who may be only fishing for information. Of course this will impact CPL but if it results in better quality calls then we’re all for it.
  • We have taken off of the site Brea’s date of graduation. Although I certainly do not doubt for a second her competency, I am concerned that prospects may be uncomfortable with her experience level.

Statistics to date

  • 178 Clicks
  • 44 Calls or Web Form Submissions
  • Landing Page Conversion- 22%! (Sam’s conversion by comparison is 3%)
  • 1.71% CTR on Chapter 7’s and 5.8% CTR on 13’s
  • Average Duration on site is just north of 5 minutes
  • Spend to date approximately $1500

Once again, the proof will ultimately be in the pudding but I have to say I feel pretty comfortable with what I am seeing from the Yodle campaign. I know we live in a world of instant gratification but patience is important. I am certain that some of the bad traffic is a result of the exposure this “challenge” has gotten across the internet but outside of that, we are driving a healthy amount of good quality leads, the campaigns are set up properly and the algorithm continues to learn and optimize. I am confident we’ll continue to deliver the calls and I expect there will be many new clients for Brea when all is said and done!

The final results of the Yodle Challenge

After three full months of our Yodle Challenge, here were our conclusions.

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.

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