Pat Lilja Interview

Pat Lilja Interview

Photo of Pat Lilja

Pat Lilja’s Biography

Patrick Lilja has a depth of experience developed over the past two decades of digital marketing. Pat is Chief Marketing Officer at the law firm Pritzker Hageman, P.A., specializing in foodborne illness, Legionnaires’ disease, explosion injuries, and liability cases.

Pat has a career of successes in identifying, analyzing and rethinking the strategic landscape that will bring a client’s digital presence in alignment with its goals. Patrick has a long record providing clients such as Target Corp., Ingersoll Rand, and Minnesota Public Radio with the strategic digital marketing tools they need to reach key audiences amidst the high volume of conversations that people now filter through. He fuses his extensive knowledge of social communications and online media relations with his expertise in data analytics and modeling to ensure clients receive the most effective strategic communications return.

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Legal Digital Marketing Expert


David Erickson: Welcome to Episode number 345 of the Beyond Social Media Show, the podcast for all of you marketing, advertising and public relations professionals. You can find us by searching for “beyond social media show.” We are recording on April 10, 2021.

Pat Lilja

David Erickson: This week I’m delighted to have with me Pat Lilja, who is a dear friend and longtime digital marketing guru…expert. He is the Chief Marketing Officer at Pritzker Hageman. Is that how you pronounce it?

Pat Lilja: That’s exactly right.

Pritizker Hageman P.A.

David Erickson: Right. Pritzker Hageman law firm, which is in Minneapolis, specializing in foodborne illness, Legionnaires disease, explosion injuries and liability cases. Pat has a long career identifying, analyzing and rethinking the strategic landscape to help clients’ digital presence get in alignment with their goals. He has a long record of helping clients like Target, Ingersoll Rand and Minnesota Public Radio with their digital marketing tools to reach their key audiences and break through the noise.

Digital Marketing Expert

David Erickson: He has extensive knowledge. I know this firsthand. He has extensive knowledge of a lot of things. He is the kind of guy…Pat knows everything. One of the things that people say about Pat is that Pat knows everything. And he he does. But he could also just be bullshitting me. And I wouldn’t know it because I just assum that he knows everything. And what he’s telling me is true. So he does have that extensive, wide body of knowledge about a bunch of different things–which is one thing that makes him such a great digital marketer–but also about social communications, online media relations. He has an expertise in data analytics and modeling so that he can provide a positive communications return. He graduated magna cum laude…Is it laude or laud? I never know.

Pat Lilja: Yeah, I think you can take your pick. Whatever is best for your journey to the end of…

College Education

David Erickson: Graduated magna cum laude from Gustavus Adolphus College, with a BA in political science and psychology. And then also went to the University of Minnesota, with majors in computer science and chemistry. So let’s start there, Pat. How does your your schooling, your college education…How does that apply to your your career? And was it worth it?

Pat Lilja: Oh, I definitely think it was worth it. Certainly, as you say, I do have a multitude of interests. And I think some of that comes out in the wide range of majors that I participated in.

Political Science & Psychology

Pat Lilja: I did psychology and political science at Gustavus, which is a liberal arts college in Minnesota. Graduated there and then…when I I started in those majors, I was kind of thinking law school. And by the time I finished with college at Gustavus, I was thinking medical school. Which is why I said, oh, I need some additional prerequisites. I got the chemistry major.

Computer Science

Pat Lilja: And while I was at the University getting that done, I started working at a defense contractor, Hughes Aircraft, and was doing computer work there. So, I started with the computer science major.

Broad-Based Knowledge

Pat Lilja: And I think all of those put together, I mean, I think it’s never bad to have a lot of disparate knowledge that you can bring together and synthesize. I think that’s where new ideas come from.

Critical Thinking

Pat Lilja: I also think that–at least with the professors I had and the classes I took–some some key things that I ended up picking up where I think critical thinking and skeptical thinking. You know, the impetus to test things and to not take what might be considered conventional wisdom at face value.


Pat Lilja: I think that certainly the psychology–while much of what I learned in college and psychology has probably been supplanted–It did give me certainly an interest in that area and psychological principles, especially principles of influence. Certainly some of the new ideas that are coming out in neural marketing fields, in predictive processing, kind of how the brain works. I think that’s both important in specific terms in applying and testing marketing ideas. But also, I think it’s going to be very important in the future.

Machine Learning

Pat Lilja: And so I think it’s helped me along a path, both to apply psychological principles in marketing in my past life, and also be thinking about how things might change in the future, as maybe more machine learning models, more large language models–I don’t know if you’ve heard of something like GPT3?, but like large language models that might be doing writing for us, for us marketers in the future; that might be generating text on the fly based on particular customer or lead personas, that is specific to them, how some of these things might be applied. And while some of that is a little bit in the future, I don’t think it’s as far in the future as you might think. So I got a little bit far afield there.

Consumer Behavior

David Erickson: No, that’s all good. I was…the political science and psychology focus betrays an interest in human behavior, which is, you know, fundamental to your marketing career. So can you talk about political science in particular–I mean, we will get to our time together at Tunheim–but Tunheim is an agency that did a lot of public affairs work, and still does. So how–can you talk about how that applied or if not?

Social Science

Pat Lilja: Absolutely. So, I mean, political science is social science. I mean, it is certainly an element of social science that takes a lot of what I would say, are non-scientific ideas to understand politics, and then tries to overlay various scientific, social scientific principles to the test them. And I think, back when I took it, it provided a good framework for me to understand how politics worked.

Public Affairs

Pat Lilja: And more recently, I think it has–as like Daniel Kahneman–and some of the ideas of more rigorous kind of scientific principles have been applied to how people actually think about and interact with politics. I think it has let me understand that a little better. And that’ll certainly led into a lot of the work that we did at Tunheim, as you mentioned, in terms of public affairs work, understanding the drivers and motivators that influenced people’s opinions.

Political Persuasion

Pat Lilja: So, as you well know, and many of your listeners I’m sure know, public affairs is really about introducing an idea to people that you’d like them to think about and take action on. And I think without a grounding in drivers and motivators that came from the psychology and political science, I think I might be a might have been content to just put an idea out there and say, this is a good idea, people will see it. And of course, they’ll understand it. And, you know, because I’ve given them good information, they’ll take action on it. When in actual fact, those aren’t the things that are necessarily going to drive anyone who wasn’t already a true believer. And so having an understanding of political science and psychology also provides an understanding of how to bring people along with you. I wish more politicians–politicians that I agree with–understood that.

The Ideal Digital Marketer

David Erickson: So I’m fascinated by–you got a degree in computer science because you were working at a defense contractor. But the combination of all the above–the political science, psychology interest and degrees, coupled with computer science at a time when those fields converge to make it, make you, the ideal digital marketer, basically. Having the technology, understanding of how technology works, understanding programming and so forth, plus the communications background and consumer behavior background kind of positioned you perfectly for the career you have now. Is that…am I accurate in that or no?

HperText Markup Language

Pat Lilja: No, I think that’s very accurate. In fact, while I was at the defense contractor, Hughes, that was the first time I actually saw a web page. So I had not read about or seen a web page in the wild. But because we were working with various universities–this would have been, I’m going to guess 1993 or so–I got to start working with HTML right away, very basic HTML. And understanding the power of linking between different pages and bringing information together.

Human Factors

Pat Lilja: Also, the interesting thing about where I worked; you know, we weren’t like, you know, producing weapon systems or anything. It was a human factors and training and user interface design group. So we were working on mainly on Silicon Graphics machines for the user interface and human factors stuff. And then and then max for all of the writing. And I would say the majority of people there were actually psychologists, and instructional designers, and some, some graphics people. And so it was an interesting group to work with. And so that really also helped me combine all of my areas of interest in kind of pushed me into digital marketing.

David Erickson: Yeah, so I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that was the area of work you focused on. That was perfectly positioned. I was thinking more like programming, you know, but yeah, interesting.

Pat Lilja: Well, there was programming, too. It was the interface and all of that, so, yeah.

Early Digital Content Marketing

David Erickson: But actual, you know, human factors design. Perfect. You went from Hughes, to where?

Pat Lilja: I to a company called Integrated Strategies, briefly, when we did the CD ROM training stuff and worked on some early content on Microsoft Network, which was kind of a competitor to AOL.

David Erickson: Right.

Pat Lilja: Yeah. The web still wasn’t a thing at that point; you know, as a public thing. Yeah.

Tunheim Partners

David Erickson: Okay, interesting. So then you went to Tunheim. How did you end up at Tunheim?

Pat Lilja: Oh, gosh, um, I was actually applying for…it’s kind of a weird thing…I was applying for a different job at a local university, St. Catharines. And originally Tunheim mainly was looking for someone to help with networks. And their digital infrastructure, network administration. Again, this was kind of pre-web. But, you know, certainly they also needed someone to set up their website and interconnect email and that sort of thing. And so the person who actually got the job at the college I was applying for had been at Tunheim briefly, and I don’t remember exactly how it was, but either she or some of the people at the college said, Oh, you should go apply at Tunheim. So it was just a kind of a happenstance thing. But I went over there and I was there for almost twenty-three years.

The Rise Of Digital Marketing

Pat Lilja: And as digital marketing became a thing and became more and more important, that became more and more my focus until that’s all I was doing at the very end. Yeah.

Public Relations & Public Affairs Agency

David Erickson: So um, I should say for the audience’s benefit that Tunheim is a public relations, major public relations/public affairs agency in Minnesota started by a woman named Kathy Tunheim, who is kind of a legend in Twin Cities here. She started it in 1990. So you came in, like, what, five years maybe after she started

Pat Lilja: Four years? Yeah, five years after? Yeah, yeah.

David Erickson: And so you went from–

Pat Lilja: That’s where I met you.

Evolution Of Digital Marketing

David Erickson: It is. We’ll get to that. You went from helping them with their technical infrastructure to, as the firm grew and the website and everything…so can you kind of explain how your role changed? From beginning till?

The Early Web

Pat Lilja: Yeah, and I think is a story that many people might identify with who’ve been in the industry a long time. Digital Marketing, you know, wasn’t a thing to begin with. And so I guess I kind of fell into it by default, initially. When you needed to do something on the internet, when you needed to publish a web page, when you needed to do an email campaign, when you needed to lay email out using HTML, you needed someone with some technical expertise. And when you’re working with a lot of different clients, like we were at Tunheim, and very diverse clients, you needed someone who could be close to their needs and understand their needs. And so you needed someone to be on the internal team that was working on it. You couldn’t just have some outside person who may or may not be there doing it. So I was that internal person, because I had the technical expertise.

Technological Expertise

Pat Lilja: I had a background in programming, which is still important but it was both important and rare at the time. And then I also had a background in to some degree in writing and an interest in the things that our clients were doing and an interest in developing my skill set over time. And because of that, my time and expertise was needed more and more within the agency. And also, agencies themselves need to do digital marketing for themselves. And so there was always plenty to do with that. That also provided a good opportunity for testing and experimentation. And so it was an interest of mine. It was an interest of Tunheim’s to have me do it. And so that’s where I ended up.

Insatiable Curiosity

David Erickson: Yeah, yeah. Well, you also have an insatiable curiosity. And you’re a quick learner, too. I mean, you kind of know how to learn. So you can pick things up really quickly, which is really important in an agency environment, too.

Pat Lilja: Yeah, yeah.

The Gentleman

David Erickson: So we met in–I will tell the story about how we met. In 2008, Tunheim acquired New School Communications. It was my friend Blois Olson’s agency. And I had been working with Blois for a long time; we were basically sister companies. His was PR and I did digital and so I kind of came with the merger. And I was kind of freaked out as we were going into that merger because Pat was director of e-Strategy and I, my company was e-Strategy. So I’m like, ah, how is this guy going to react to me coming in? And I was really worried about that.

David Erickson: And somewhere…I actually some movie there was a definition of what a gentleman and a lady were–and the movie was Blast From the Past, of all movies. But in that movie they define the definition of a gentleman or lady as somebody who at all times makes it their mission to ensure that those that are around them are comfortable. And that is about the best definition I can think of for gentlemen. And that’s exactly what Pat did. He just absolutely made me at ease, welcomed me, made sure that I mean, it was, it was all that freaking out was for naught because Pat was there. And he was there to make sure that I was at home. So that was my first introduction to Pat. And then we started working together. And, yeah, I’ll let you comment on that.

Pat Lilja: You’re very kind. You’re very kind. I tell you, I was so glad to have a kindred spirit to collaborate with, to conspire with, and it has been my great pleasure to be your friend since then. I was very happy to be able to work with you. And someday, maybe we’ll do it again. But I’m just happy to be able to hang out with you. Thank you. Thank you for coming.

Virtual Worlds

David Erickson: Well, when I arrived at Tunheim, at that time–what was the name of the virtual online world that was all the rage at that time?

Pat Lilja: Oh, Second Life.

David Erickson: Second Life? That’s right. Yeah.

Pat Lilja: Yeah, that was gonna be it. Everyone was going to be doing everything on Second Life.

David Erickson: So I was investigating Second Life at that time and becoming fascinated with it. And, Pat, I think you were working on some Second Life Project at the time or–

Pat Lilja: Apparently, Second Life still exists. I went back at one point to try and log in again using my username from like, I don’t know, 15 years ago and they said they could recover my account. I just needed to give them the credit card number I use to set it up.

David Erickson: From twenty years ago.

Pat Lilja: I guess that’s never going to happen. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

An Early Podcast

David Erickson: So we worked together on internal marketing projects, work together with client marketing projects, but we also did a podcast together.

Pat Lilja: We did.

David Erickson: Yeah, yeah.

Pat Lilja: I was looking through old pictures in a picture book kind of before I left a couple years ago and I saw some pictures of us doing the podcast. We had a regular, like, it looked like a radio desk that we sat at, you know, with, like, big microphones–

David Erickson: A mixing board.

Pat Lilja: –and we’re gonna do that every day. Yeah, we’re gonna do an episode every single day.

David Erickson: Yeah, that’s The Daily Numbers.

Pat Lilja: That was hard. Yes. Which you still do. You’ve kept it up.

David Erickson: But no, that was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work.

Pat Lilja: It was.

David Erickson: And it was hard to show any return on it because there weren’t the analytics on, you know, what our reach was, right? None of the data that we have now. But, yeah, we had a bunch of audio equipment. You did the editing. You did a lot. You did a lot of work on that, too. But what what did that involve? Because we’ve have never had a conversation about that. What did that involve from your end? Because I just showed up and talked.

Pat Lilja: So it involved a lot of learning Audacity. At the time. And I’m trying to think back. One of the things that I remember about it was about the editing process is that it took a long time to remove the ums and the pauses and–

David Erickson: God, you did that?

Pat Lilja: –you know, I did it first. No, I did that for like, the first few times. And then I said, this is not happening. But it was a sweet setup. We had a multi-channel mixer and so we’d record separate tracks and, you know, add in the music. And yeah, I mean, if nothing else, it was a good way to learn more about audio editing. And to learn that I wouldn’t want to do a full scale editing of long-form content. And how to post a podcast, how to set up the RSS feeds, that sort of thing. So it was a good introduction. But yeah, podcasts when we did it were very niche. They were they were definitely for the nerds.

David Erickson: Which we were.

Pat Lilja: Which we were and still are.

David Erickson: That’s true. So I left Tunheim in 2012. You left in 2018 to join Pritzker.

Pat Lilja: Yeah, 2018.

Legal Digital Marketing

David Erickson: So let’s talk legal marketing. Tell me about Pritzker Hageman and tell me what you do there.

Liability Law

Pat Lilja: Sure. Well, I should say that it was a big transition. So Pritzker is a personal injury firm. But it’s not necessarily the sort of personal injury firm that you would see advertising on television. We do liability law. So I mean, accidents and wrongful death. But we mainly concentrate on complex liability cases. So we don’t do things like slip-and-fall or something like that. We’re well-versed in all types of complex personal injury liability cases but we have some niche focuses, like you mentioned upfront, fire and explosion injuries. So this would be where a faulty gas line leaks gas into a house, a faulty appliance hook-up leaks gas into a house, that sort of thing.

Pathogenic Injury

Pat Lilja: And then we do pathogenic injury. So that is where a bacteria or virus causes someone injury and there is someone at fault for giving them that disease. And mainly that’s food poisoning. And I’m not talking about like you’re sick to your stomach because of something you ate a couple hours ago. I’m talking about very serious disease that can lead to days, weeks, months of hospitalization, permanent serious injury or death. So certain types of E. coli, listeria.

Legionnaires Disease

Pat Lilja: And then Legionnaires disease, which is a disease where you inhale a particular type of bacteria. And it’s very dangerous and can also cause long lasting injury, very serious injuries. So those are the types of cases that we have specific boutique practice areas in. And then we do practice in the broader areas as well but that’s not our focus.

David Erickson: Okay, how–

Pat Lilja: –and it was a big transition. Oh, go ahead.

David Erickson: I was just gonna ask how does one contract Legionnaires disease? I mean, inhaling the bacteria, but where does that happen?

Pat Lilja: Yeah, so the primary source of Legionnaires is aerosolized water. So incorrectly sanitized hot tubs and pools is certainly a source, you’ll find outbreaks at resorts, hotels. Another place is if it exists in a water system. And a shower, or even a sink water faucet can aerosolize it. So hospitals, you’ve got older patients, patients who are sick already, they’re even more susceptible to it. So you’ll find outbreaks in hospitals. And then the cooling towers on top of large industrial buildings that use water for cooling for like air conditioning systems, they can actually grow Legionnaires in those cooling towers, and then it can spread out in the cloud.

David Erickson: Oh no!

Pat Lilja: And, yeah, yeah. You can get it from potting soil, too. But–

Transition From PR To Legal Marketing

David Erickson: Wow. So, thank you for that. I apologize for interrupting but you made the transition…

Pat Lilja: Yeah, it was a big transition. So Tunheim, I’m working with a lot of marketers, and working on a lot of different projects for a lot of different companies. We’re doing public affairs. We’re doing, of course, a lot of public relations work. I mean, it is a PR/PA communications firm. And honestly the specific marketing there was mostly digital. And then the whole company is designed around communications. So lots of different projects, lots of different people.

Legal Content Marketing

Pat Lilja: Coming to a law firm and kind of a boutique law firm, where I’m doing very specific marketing to a very specific kind of transient personas; transients, as in, they become personas when they’re made sick and otherwise, they may not share a lot of other characteristics. And working with a small team but because I don’t have an outside client who’s hired lots of different people outside of Tunheim to do lots of different things in marketing, sales, and PR, I’m doing everything and I can manage everything. That means that I can test to a much greater degree, I can apply resources to a much greater degree. And so while while that diversity of work isn’t there, the ability to really try things out and to dig deep into things and to be able to actually have the resources to execute on that is there. They both have definitely positive qualities working in marketing but this was a new thing for me and something that I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to do.

David Erickson: Yeah, that’s really cool. I mean, one of the major–as much as I love agency life and the diversity in the day-to-day a bunch of different things that are happening–one of the major frustrations is the lack of control over you know that you can design a digital campaign to get people to the landing page of a huge corporation and you’re never ever going to be able to touch that landing page. And you know it’s designed wrong. Or there’s nothing you can do about it so all of your work gets to that landing page and then stops and there’s a trickle of conversions that come through because the landing page’s wrong. Yeah, I get what you’re saying. That’s awesome.

Pat Lilja: That is a perfect example. Perfect example, yes.

David Erickson: So you have a bunch, I mean, you’re doing it all. What is all?

Pat Lilja: Well, I do have a team. So I shouldn’t say I’m doing it all. I luckily can twist the dials and move the levers on everything. But we do have a couple of writers. And we have a really excellent director of social media: Laura McNee. So that’s critical.

Pat Lilja: When you’re writing about complex things like Legionnaires disease and various types of food poisoning, outbreaks, epidemiology, you need people who also understand those things. And so having that team of people that are writers–Laura’s been there longer than me, our writers have been there far longer than me. And so having that level of knowledge that they bring with them and that they can turn into content is really important.

Pat Lilja: But the things that we’re doing…so personal injury legal marketing is different from broader legal marketing in that we are not building up relationships over time or brand building to nearly the extent that a service law firm, someone who’s doing, you know, who’s charging by the hour, would do. We are finding people in their hour of need or at some point after their hour of need but before the statute of limitations runs out on their injury?

David Erickson: That’s a needle in a haystack situation, right?

Pat Lilja: It is. it is. So while we do rely, in some cases, for instance, if there’s an outbreak, we might rely on more traditional media relations activities, you know, get the media to talk about us in relationship to a case.

Legal Search Engine Marketing

Pat Lilja: Much of what we do is both…well, search engine marketing. So I mean, we do SEO, paid search, we do very targeted Facebook, or retargeted Facebook, and some other geo-targeted display advertising and then content. So you know, providing people the information they need, the proof points that they need to understand that we’re the right attorney for them, and the conversion opportunities.

External Proof

Pat Lilja: And then providing external proof points. So law journals, our social presence, showing that we–weirdly enough, in legal marketing you can’t say that anyone’s an expert. So I will say…I misspoke when I said expertise, I meant to experience. A lot of interesting nuances with legal marketing. And so providing those proof points, though our social channels, through how other people talk about us through good reviews, good Google reviews, that sort of thing. So it’s–because we’re a national practice, I can’t say it’s like local marketing but besides doing the traditional local marketing things, it’s a lot of local marketing type stuff. So, you know, differentiation, proof points, and then really, the things that keep me up at night are SEO and SEM.

Regulatory Issues

David Erickson: Yeah, yeah. So what are…are there any regulatory issues you need to deal with in legal marketing?

Pat Lilja: So many. So every state has their own laws and codes of ethics. So there are laws written into statute. And then there are codes of ethics by local bar associations. And you want to make sure that you are meeting those standards for whatever states that you’re operating in. And so you have to be careful about how you talk about yourself in your advertising, how you label your advertising. But one kind of interesting example, is that because of the diversity of codes of ethics and because of Google’s interest in making sure that lawyers remain responsible, you can’t do remarketing on Google, for instance; they will not allow law firms to do that.

David Erickson: Wow.

Pat Lilja: Facebook, you can. But there are some imposed limitations and there are some regulations that you have to be aware of. So like, for instance, you’re not saying that you’re an expert. You can’t directly solicit anyone. So certain types of targeting wouldn’t be allowed, you wouldn’t be able to…you know, an interaction on Facebook couldn’t take place without someone indicating their intent to contact an attorney. Yeah, so there are things to be aware of. Yeah. It’s not as not as selling, uh, you know, if you’re a drug manufacturer; it’s not as bad as that, but…

Consumer Privacy

David Erickson: So let’s talk…What are your major obsession these days? What are you obessed about? What’s on your mind?

Pat Lilja: Yeah, yeah. So, I can go into lots of things but the thing that is the biggest obsession of mine and the most, and the biggest frustration of mine are some changes that are going on related to consumer privacy. You know, all of these are certainly, at least, I should say extensively to the benefit of the consumer. In some cases, I think they really are. And in some cases, I think there may be an additional agenda; I shouldn’t say a hidden agenda or something nefarious, but there are some benefits to Google, especially, for implementing these privacy changes.

Facebook Advertising

Pat Lilja: So let me start with Facebook. I’m sure you remember when we first started doing advertising on Facebook, the ability to target people was so good.

David Erickson: Yeah.

Pat Lilja: I mean, you could target an individual person almost with advertising. You could target….so Facebook used to integrate a lot of additional consumer data: income, what you’ve purchased, you know, do you own a house, a car, a dog? Do you buy pizza? Because they combined all of these external surveys in and then they allowed super granularity in everything that they knew about you. And that was probably too much from a consumer standpoint; from a marketing standpoint, it was wonderful. And that has been slowly restricted, and restricted, and restricted until you can’t target that narrowly anymore. That is to the disadvantage of the marketers, probably at least to the advantage, or the perceived advantage, to the consumer. But definitely to the advantage of Facebook because you have to spend more money.

Pat Lilja: Certainly, all of that happened at the same time that they were reducing the organic placement of posts. So if you followed the company, they started reducing the likelihood that your posts would show up in someone’s feed. At the same time, they were reducing targeting opportunities. So they’ve certainly made a lot of money on it, too. I mean, I guess it’s two wins and a loss there. I just don’t like to be on the losing end.

David Erickson: Right.

Google Ads

Pat Lilja: Google has started to do that more and more now too. So certainly in legal marketing, it is very important to have a paid presence on Google. It is the most expensive area to advertise on the SERP. There are keywords right now for things luckily that we’re not interested in like mesothelioma that are over $1,000 a click, although I’ve seen some things that we’ve been in at $200 a click. And Google, again, under the kind of umbrella of privacy has been changing the way you do search advertising. So they, for a long time, have provided the search terms that people use when they click on an ad of yours. And when they convert, so that, you know, a bunch of people are using this term; I should add it in as a search term.

Pat Lilja: But more importantly, you were able to see, oh, you know, people are using these 37 different terms that are still getting picked up by my key words. And I don’t like those, those are not good. You know, they’re typing in McDonald’s food poisoning, in our case. Well, we don’t necessarily…I mean, people think they have food poisoning because they ate McDonald’s and don’t feel good but they don’t convert, they don’t turn into good clients. Well, Google has stopped showing the search terms for anything other than very large numbers of searches. So I recently had a campaign with $1,000 of spend in a certain period of time and they showed me the search terms used for I think it was like $90 of it. And the rest? I don’t know.

David Erickson: Yeah.

Pat Lilja: So in and of itself, that’s bad for a marketer but in conjunction with that, they started more broadly determining synonyms. So, I can have a specific term in brackets. I mean, it is a specific search term. And Google will match on synonyms that in my opinion, have nothing to do with what I’m talking about. I have seen them match on a name of someone that has on the web been associated with a particular, this case, pathogens. But that name is a somewhat generic name. So when people are typing in that name that is matching on a specific term that I want and I don’t care about that name. Luckily, so many people were doing it that it actually did show up in the search terms. But if not, there could be dozens of examples of that where I am getting charged.

First-Party Data

Pat Lilja: The biggest disadvantage of this is for new marketers or people entering a new field that have not been collecting data over a long period of time. Because those search terms were exposed in the past. People who have been doing marketing for a long time in Google Ads have a list of those terms that they can now apply as negative keywords. And but new marketers, I mean, this is, it’s a serious problem. And unfortunately what it means is that you’re spending more than you should to get the people that you want. So

David Erickson: Arrrg!

Pat Lilja: Anyway, it’s not as big a problem for big companies because Google can use machine learning at that point to actually learn about what’s a good conversion and what isn’t. But when you’re a niche marketer who might only have 50 leads, you know, 50 good leads a year, you’re not getting that opportunity to train a machine learning model.

David Erickson: Yeah.

Pat Lilja: So that’s what’s frustrating me now.

David Erickson: For good reason.

Pat Lilja: I’ll get over it. We’ll find solutions. It’s the latest thing that’s got me up at night.

Digital Marketing Pro Tip

David Erickson: Do you have a legal marketing pro tip or just a general pro tip that you can share with our audience?

Pat Lilja: Yeah. Lots of negative keywords. No. That’s a general one. Keywords…negative keywords are your friend. Yeah, I do. I would say one thing that is kind of a combo thing that I think people don’t do nearly enough of and that is use more headlines in their content. So this might be a cascading tip. You know, while Google claims not to necessarily discriminate against short content, long content does have a better opportunity to explain to Google about what a page is about. But lots of headlines breaking up specific content points provides an even better opportunity to tell Google what a page is about. So lots of headlines. Use schema markup if you’re doing FAQs, if you’re doing how tos, you schema on that page. Lots of headlines.

Google Passage Ranking

Pat Lilja: And Google has implemented just recently something called Passage Ranking. Prior to this year, Google was looking at pages as a whole and using those headlines to determine content that’s on that page and then deciding if it’s going to give the whole page to somebody. But this Passage Ranking update to their algorithm is now grouping pages or page content, rather. So it is looking at passages as their own specific thing as if they were a page and determining whether they are going to show.

David Erickson: So you’re talking about chunks of content on a page as a passage of content. Is that what you’re saying?

Pat Lilja: Yes, yes. And I have seen estimates that right now it’s, I don’t know, somewhere between six and nine percent of search results are now Passage Ranking results. I will say this, I have noticed over the last four months, result placement–you know, where you ranked on a search engine results–is bouncing all over the place. And so I think some of that has to do with Passage Ranking and then learning or then attempting to learn by sending people to various pages based on Passage Ranking if they liked that page or not. I think that’s some of the reason for the volatility. I don’t know that for sure.

David Erickson: So is this passage ranking tied in with the Rich Snippets where they will give you one, the answer to the question that you expressed in your search on the search results page but then also deep linking to directly that passage?

Pat Lilja: Yeah.

David Erickson: Without the webmaster having to do anything to create that link?

Zero Click Results

Pat Lilja: Yeah, it’s interesting. Yeah. Sometimes called zero click results. Yeah, disparagingly by a lot of people who don’t like the loss of traffic because Google’s just pulling the stuff and sticking it in Google; you don’t get a click to your site. Probably. So Rich Snippets, or Featured Snippets. There was this mysterious drop in Featured Snippets a few months ago. For like, three weeks, the Featured Snippets almost stopped showing up for some reason. And it was right around when Passage Ranking started. So there could be some tie-in there; could be that they were just experimenting sending more people on page, you know, to get more on page results.

Pat Lilja: It could be, who knows? I mean, who knows what they’re trying? But the Featured Snippets came back. And the Feature Snippets are definitely example of zero click. For something like someone whose intent is to hire an attorney, it’s not as big a deal for us. Because someone’s going to click in if they’re trying to hire an attorney. For people who are using good, well-written rich content to demonstrate expertise, you know, to build their brand, these real quick results…I mean, I’d be irritated by it. They’re using your content to answer people’s questions. They’re doing low friction for the searcher. But for the marketer, not only do you not get the customer or the potential lead on site but you’re not even getting data.

David Erickson: Right. Right.

Pat Lilja: You know, what they’re doing. So they may be linked; that may be linked. I don’t know for sure, though, certainly.


David Erickson: Well, this has been fantastic, Pat. Thank you so much for speaking with us today. And let me…I want to ask you how people can get in touch with you if they want to tap into your vast body of knowledge and…

Pat Lilja: Sure, well, people can reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter–I think you’re putting those links in the show notes. People can email me directly if they want. It’s just pat– Happy to hear from anyone or talk or whatever. So thank you, David. This has been absolutely wonderful. I I’ve enjoyed it very much as I always do when we talk. And I’m just thanks for the opportunity.

David Erickson: My pleasure. And again, thank you. Thanks. This has been episode number 345 of the Beyond Social Media Show. You can find links to Pat and the video and the audio and everything else related to this episode at and next week we’ll be back with our regularly-scheduled formatting and we’ll see you next week.

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