If you’re serious about marketing on the web, you need a blog. If you’ve been reading these posts, you know I don’t push social media use for attorneys, unless they want to do it. But I don’t feel that way about blogs. I believe that every firm that puts up a website should put up a blog with the specific intent of building their customer base. In 2012, Kevin O’Keefe of Lexblog noted that lawyers without blogs are at a disadvantage when it comes to marketing and business development:
“Clients and potential clients look to blogs for information that shapes hiring decisions, according to multiple industry surveys; clearly, firms with blogs are the norm, rather than the exception. Blogging is quickly becoming an expected part of any firm’s marketing arsenal. Those who do not use blogs are behind, it is that simple.”
In this post (part 1 of a 2-part series), I’m covering blogging basics like set-up, coming up with topics to write about, and even a little about the writing process. In part 2, I’ll cover some of the real issues attorneys face when they decide to blog.
Stand-alone blogs vs. website blogs
How you publish your blog will depend on how you intend to use it. If you plan on working with content writers to post relevant news and court cases to your blog and will have a selling blurb at the end of your post encouraging readers to contact you for representation, then it may be advantageous to publish your blog on your website where commercialization is legally expected.
Here’s a recent post for The Schmidt Firm, PLLC. As you can see, the recent posts are incorporated into the website, in fact, the firm doesn’t even include a blog link in their navigation, it simply updates a section of their homepage with the posts. Their posts include marketing language that, if used in a blog, could violate bar requirements in some states.
If you’re planning on writing content that reflects your knowledge, interest, and even passion for the law and you don’t plan on having marketing blurbs at the end of your posts, you may want to consider maximizing your reach with a stand-alone blog.
Sullivan & Worcester’s Nicholas O’Donnell runs the ArtLawReport.com, a standalone blog dedicated to museum and visual art legal issues.
When you read posts on the Art Law Report, you’ll notice that there are no marketing blurbs included in the posts. O’Donnell treats the blog like a journalist reporting his beat. There are a few links from the Art Law Report to the Sullivan & Worcester website, including in O’Donnell’s biography, but where the firm really makes itself known is the Published By section on the left side. The swirls of color attract the eye and draw the visitor to the firm’s logo. The content of the blog definitely reflects O’Donnell’s knowledge and interest in the area, and readers will find it interesting even if they aren’t necessarily interested in the law.
In another example of a stand-alone blog, Charles Sartain of Gray Reed & McGraw, P.C. writes Energyandthelaw.com crafting deft news and opinion pieces concerning the energy industry (primarily reporting on Texas developments, regulations, and litigation).
Sartain covers his beat thoroughly and writes with skill and passion. Again, there are no selling blurbs at the end of his posts because Sartain makes the blog about all things energy. His style and knowledge makes the blog an interesting and informative read.
This is not to say that website blogs don’t attract a readership or that stand-alone blogs are better. There are pros and cons to each.
Like the Art Law Report blog, stand-alone blogs allow you to focus on a specific niche within your practice area. Other benefits of having this type of blog include:
- Having a keyword rich domain name, which is a key element of search engine optimization
- WordPress and other blogging platforms make it so easy to write, post, and maintain a blog, and you can have WordPress blog with your keyword rich domain name
- Blogging platforms make it easy to have multiple blogs dedicated to different niches
- Stand-alone blogs let you cover any beat you find interesting, including your hobbies and interests
- The possibility of more media attention as a journalistic blog may mean more use as a (cited) resource than a website blog
The cons of having a stand-alone blog include:
- Cost of designing a blog, if you don’t use predesigned themes
- Cost of hosting a stand-alone blog
- Comment spam if your posts are open to comments (and they should be)
- Platform upgrades that can sometimes be complex
While having your blog as a subdomain on your website may limit your domain name creativity, it will eliminate the extra costs of hosting and design, as those would be incorporated with your website. Also, website blogs are generally more commercial in nature and usually cover all areas offered by the firm, instead of focusing on one specific niche.
Blogs and SEO
The school of thought used to be to publish your blog on your website because the increased activity of regular blog posts would increase search engine rankings and bring more eyes to your website. While this theory is correct, today it takes backlinks, referrals, social media attention, and quality, authoritative content to rise in search engine ranks.
Websites are generally static “billboards” that get a facelift or content refresh every once in a while. Your website is your place-holder on the Internet, and is where potential clients can learn more about you and the services you offer. Your blog on the other hand, is a dynamic site that gets (or should get) updates on a regular basis. You should take comments, use guest posts, images, videos, and link out to quality, relevant, and authoritative content of your peers. Your blog is where your potential client gets to know you a little bit, and hopefully, starts to build trust in you as a skilled attorney. You can, and should, let your personality and knowledge shine through in your posts to help you stand out from the crowd.
Where ideas come from
One of the most difficult challenges any blogger faces is continuously coming up with interesting topic ideas. My advice is to check out your competition. View the blogs of other local attorneys for ideas, and check out blogs from noted attorneys in similar practices from across the country. Use these blogs to develop a list of topics that you can cover in your blog, including relevant laws, cases, and media reports.
More ideas will come from your social media networks, where you can listen to real-time discussions for topic ideas. Pay attention to what’s being shared and write a post on the most popular, relevant topics. News media reports are often shared across the web, collect them for quick posts that explain the news topic with additional history, information, or opinion.
For those of you who are not using social media, creating alerts in Google, Yahoo, and Bing for topic keywords can bring a wealth of ideas right to your email on a daily basis. Grab the RSS feeds for sites and sources that are relevant to your area of the law for even more ideas.
Writing blog posts
Some firms know from the onset that they’ll hire a legal blogger to create and/or manage the content for their blog. Other make that decision if the time commitment becomes too much. In either case, the attorney/firm usually provides the publishing guidelines of how the blog should be legally handled per the rules of the national and state bar associations. The attorney generally provides the writer with a list of topic ideas that the writer will use for content creation. All content is approved by the attorney before it’s posted to the web, and often the attorney will add comments or opinions to the piece.
For your blog to be successful, it needs to be updated regularly. Some firms update their blogs daily with shorter (250 to 500 words) posts and others post weekly with longer pieces (up to 2,000 plus words), while anything in between will work just as well, because consistency is the most important thing. Don’t disappoint your readers by posting regularly for weeks or months and then stopping for any length of time.
The low down on blogging
Having an outdated blog is worse than not having one at all. A lot worse. Imagine a potential client doing a search on a legal issue that leads them to your blog. They read the post and want to read more of your work so they start clicking around and see that your blog hasn’t been updated in over a year. Though you might have been too busy to post, your potential client doesn’t know that and may be left wondering if you are still in practice. Odds are, they aren’t going to perform another search to see if you’re still alive, they’ll simply move on to a different firm.