Monday, January 30, 2012

The Stagnant Blog -- Worse Than No Blog At All

Here's a little legal blog writing secret that you often don't hear:

It is better to have no blog at all, then a blog that is never updated.


Because a stagnant blog not only does nothing for a firm's marketing but it actually hampers the firm's online perception.

Our legal content writers have often written on this space about the various benefits that persistent blog writing offers:

1) An important part of an effective SEO strategy to improve search engine rankings via linking.
2) A separate stand-alone site that build credibility by essentially having a second online presence for searchers to find (particularly when the blog is a not at the same URL as the firm's main website).
3) Helps induce actual contact from those landing one the page by presenting the firm in a positive light.
4) Allows firms (particularly solo and small firms) to carve out a niche in their corner of the world, drawing the direct attention of local community members.

An empty blog does nothing to advance these goals.  In fact, it actually has the opposite effect.  Obviously the search engine optimization benefits of a blog only come with consistent, well-tailored content creation.  Keywords cannot do their work if they do not exist. Similarly, a stand-alone blog site will be invisible if content is not added to the site on a consistent basis.  Instead, the blog itself will never be found by searches directly and it will do nothing to help the ranking of the firm's main website.

But it gets worse.

Many firm's create blogs, link them to their main website, and then never update them.  This is a huge mistake.


Because it suggests to web browsers that the firm may not be active.  If a searcher ends up on the blog and finds that nothing has been added in a few months (or years!) then the searcher often wonders whether the firm is even still in business.  With so many other alternatives, there is no reason for a potential client in need of legal services to waste time on a firm that seems stagnant online.  This is especially true where there are ten competitors in the same area who have blogs with content, commentary, and news added on a daily basis.

We completely understand the time constraints faced by attorneys.  For many lawyers it is simply impossible to add good posts on a consistent basis.  Helping with that problem is what each legal content writer at our firm specializes in.

However, if at the end of the day you decide not to pursue outside help AND do not have the time to write yourself, it is often best to simply ax the blog effort altogether.  At the very least, do not publicize the stagnant blog on your main website.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lawyer Blogs and Law Firm Blogs Are Two Different Things

There is not one type of blog.  When answering questions like...

"What do blogs do?"  

"What benefits can I get from a blog?"

"What do I write on my blog?"

..there are not a single set of right answers.

Sometimes those of us who spend too much time thinking about law firm blogs make it seem like there are very simple finite answer to these (and a thousand other) questions about legal blogging.  We often assume that we know the best answers to these answers, and so we give clear answers as if they were absolute.

Here's a secret...there are not absolute answers.  

A lawyer who is thinking about blogging must realize that there are MANY different types of blogs.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is pigeon-holing the medium.  In general, the basic idea of a blog is not complicated--it is an online space where constant, time-stamped content can be added and shared with the public in a running, easy to read way.  It is a diary, journal, newsletter, thought-stream, article database, and many other things.

From the legal perspective our law firm blog writers often find it helpful to identify the difference between "Lawyer Blogs" and "Law Firm Blogs."  These are two different ideas, and provide different potential benefits.  It is important to consider the distinction when planning how to best use these online spaces in your own practice.  Some legal marketing gurus even forget to distinguish between these two.  Instead, they often write of one type of legal blog, claiming that anything else is not following best practices.

We disagree.  Lawyer Blogs and Law Firm Blogs can often complement each other.

So what is the difference?

Lawyer Blogs are focused much more on the personality of the individual attorney whose name is stamped all over the blog.  These types of blogs are often less effective to have law blog ghostwriters, because no matter how good the ghostwriter, they can never fully mimic the style/interests/flair/personality of the attorney.  Lawyer Blogs are much more focused on the personal quirks of an individual attorney, showcasing their likes, dislikes, opinions, and role within the legal community.  

Law Firm Blogs are different.  They are better thought of as a public resource provided by the firm itself.  They are more often directed at the general public, whereas Lawyer Blogs are often geared toward other attorneys or opinion leaders in a particular field.  Law Firm Blogs are about a community and the sharing/curating of information.  While a Lawyer Blog might analyze the legal issues of a new Supreme Court case in depth, a Law Firm blog would mention the case and explain to community members whether the case has any real implications for regular situations or if it is mostly intricate legal details.  Legal ghostwriters are often quite helpful with Law Firm Blogs because they involve more basic concepts of identifying issues in a community, sharing basic legal knowledge, and acting as a general legal resource (not a reservoir of an individual attorney's personality).

Both Lawyer Blogs and Law Firm Blogs can be immensely useful for attorneys and their firms.  Lawyer Blogs are best to engage with opinion leaders, get news media attention, and perhaps build up strong referral systems.  Law Firm Blogs are better at engaging directly with the public, helping in certain search engine optimization efforts, and becoming a go-to stop for local community members in need of legal help.

Many firms can benefit from both types of blogs.  Posts can be mixed OR two different actual blogs can be used.  

Anyone who sells you on ONE type over the other is being short-sighted.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The New Google "Search Plus Your World" And What it Means for Law Firm Blogs

The SEO world has been abuzz over the last 48 hours over the release of a new search option in Google known as "Search Plus Your World."  Many of you may have noticed this if you've paid close attention at Google's home page over the last day and noticed a little link underneath the search bar.

Essentially, the feature acts as an alternative search option that will include more information from social media sites as part of the search results.  The feature applies one's own social media connections (not necessarily the entire social media universe).  It is perhaps best to read about it directly from the Googlers themselves.  Here's a snippet from their blog post yesterday morning discussing the new feature...
Search is pretty amazing at finding that one needle in a haystack of billions of webpages, images, videos, news and much more. But clearly, that isn’t enough. You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they’ve shared with you, as well as the people you don’t know but might want to... all from one search box.
Another way our legal content writers are understanding the change is that Google is seeking to take personal relationships into account when including search results.  Most Google changes in the past have been about better understanding exactly what the searcher is hoping to find when including certain terms.  This change essentially works on the premise that many searchers actually want to find information included not only on a webpage but posted on a social networking site (i.e. Google +).

So what does it means for law firm blog writers?  Perhaps most importantly, it is becoming more and more necessary to be on Google +.  If you are not familiar with it, Google+ is Google's attempt at Facebook.

The new search option means that certain Google+ pages will pop up in search when they otherwise wouldn't.  For example, when those looking for assistance keeping new content on their legal blog are searching for "Law Blog Writers" not only will they come across our main firm website, they will also likely see the Google+ page for Law Blog Writers, LLC.  The same is obviously true for those looking for divorce lawyers in Waterbury, car accident attorneys in Cleveland, and any number of other combinations.

From the legal blogging/online legal marketing perspective there are two points to reiterate:

1) If you don't have a Google+ account yet, get one.

2) Leverage your legal content on all your social networks: Facebook, Twitter, and, now more than ever, Google+   For one thing you should obviously  link back to your new blog posts on those social  media sites.  In addition, use those blog posts more aggressively to engage with friends and followers.  Do you have a post up about a nursing home abuse fines levied by your state?  Mention the blog post on your Google+ page and ask what your followers think.  In many ways debate is more  interesting as comments on social media sites than on blogs themselves.  This trend toward increased social media integration in search results might make that more relevant now than ever.

Monday, January 9, 2012

All Business Are Embracing Blogs--Because They Work

It's a bit cliche for legal content writers to claim that, gasp!, blogs are going to be embraced by more and more firms in the new year.  We are expected to say that.  It would be silly for us to say otherwise.

But, really, don't take our word for it.  Instead, take the word of about every online marketing-esque story that has been written in the last week about "What to Expect in 2012."  Content marketing is booming for a variety of reasons, but mostly for a simple one: it works.  It is simply no longer acceptable to throw up static pages with your name, profession, and contact information and expect to win in the, often vicious, world of business competition.  Things are no different in legal marketing.  But content writing works, because it is ACTIVE, not passive.  

No longer can attorneys afford to sit on the sidelines, but instead they must be engaged in active marketing.  Content marketing works because it is not advertising (which no one trusts), but, in the legal context, is essentially the providing of a free service which engages potentially clients.  That free service is the disbursement of information.  Law firm blogs are just that--a way to engage with consumers and provide them with information.  They can benefit from the information.  In the process that may learn a bit about the firm, come to trust it, and perhaps contact the firm when a time comes that they are in need of legal aid.

Of course, these principles are not all limited to the law--businesses of all stripes of trending toward the world of content marketing.  Kevin O'Keefe posted a story last week on an interview he conducted earlier for a "Businesses Embrace Blogs" story.  While reading the story we found ourselves silently nodding in agreement.  For example, in part of his answer regarding keys to effective business blog, he notes...

...understanding how to measure the ROI on blogging. Traffic and analytics are not necessarily they way to measure success. Ask: 1) Is our reputation being enhanced? 2) Is our network of relationships growing? 3) Are we establishing ourselves as trusted subject matter experts in the industry or consumer group we sell into? And 4) Are we getting not just customers or clients, but high quality customers and clients?
...don't make a blog part of your website. Your website, though important, is an advertisement. Your blog needs to be a stand alone presence in order to build trust and influence.

 We agree. When talking about legal blog writing, we often find attorneys struggling more with the evaluation process of the blog than the overall merit of it.  Obvious increased traffic is a key for all online marketing schemes.  But blogging (and all content writing) is best thought of as reputation-building and, essentially, pro bono service.  Providing information to your specific community about a specific subject is the key...not necessarily always moving up in keyword searches.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hiring Law Firm Blog Writers is Perfectly Acceptable

Lawyers are used to defending their profession.  There isn't a medical malpractice lawyer alive who hasn't had to deal at one time or another with some angry citizen blaming the downfall of the entire nation on the sleazy work of attorneys attacking innocent doctors.  Everyone has heard the joke about lawyers chained to the bottom of the ocean.  But, hey, that's alright.  We're attorneys.  Our livelihood is rooted in potential conflict.  We can take criticism.

While lawyers  might get more public abuse than others, every professional takes their fair share of attacks.  We know, because we've seen criticisms lobbed at us even after we stopped actually practicing law and moved into the legal marketing side of things.  As legal content writers, there is a select minority of marketing-types  who can't resist making jabs at the work of copywriters.  Their  complaint always take some form of this argument:  An attorney should always write every single word on their website and blog themselves.  Anything less is disingenuous.  

We strongly beg to differ.  A few points on that issue...

1. Hiring legal content writers does not magically make it impossible for members of the firm or a solo to also  write content.  In fact, in our experience, hiring writers for help actually makes attorneys write even MORE than they usually would on their own. Why?  Because there is something about the Momentum of having quality, consistent content updated frequently that inspires firms to give their all to the online marketing effort.  When doing it alone it often seems overwhelming, and so nothing gets done.

2. Writers often take the ideas, perspective, and interests of the practicing attorneys and turn them into blog posts.  In this way, the writer is a conduit which allows an otherwise busy attorney to share a perspective online that he wouldn't have time for without the help.

3. Good law content writers do not produce bland copy that has no relation to the firm.  There may be some bad content producers out there, but anyone of quality incorporates the perspective of the firm.  Throwing up content with little connection to a firm merely for linking purposes may be questionable, but writing specifically for a firm's audience by another is not. 

4. Even if outside writers take total control of a blog, since when is it inappropriate for businesses to outsource an area of their practice that they have less expertise with or lack time for?  Attorneys frequently get outside help for actual legal work, so why on earth would it suddenly not make sense to do the same for marketing help.  This miffs us especially because in our case all of our writers are also attorneys.  It makes no sense that we could be hired to help work on a case for a client but not to help share legal information on the firm's behalf in online content pieces.

Whew.  After that rant we feel better.  We should probably stop at 4 points, because our critics are not all that persuasive or numerous anyway.  By responding too forcefully we may actually be giving them more weight than they deserve.

Suffice to say....our writers are very proud of our work and will defend it against anyone.

10: The Top Ten Rules of Legal Blogging

We wanted to let all our clients, friends, and supporters know that on our main website, you can now download a free copy of a new guide called, "10: The Top Ten Rules of Legal Blogging."  It was written by  our managing legal content writer, Paul Richardson, and is a incredibly handy reference for all new legal blog writers (as well as old pros).

Please take a moment to jot over there and get a copy for yourself.

Happy Blogging!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Solo Law Firms Can Thrive in 2012 (and Law Firm Blogs Can Help)

Over at Solo Practice University, Susan Cartier Liebel penned an interesting (and inspiring) post yesterday on 2012 being the "Year of the Legal Entrepreneur."  One one hand, lawyers have always maintained a strong entrepreneurial streak, with some estimating that at many as 50% of all lawyers get by without a boss.

Nationwide, the trend toward self-employment is sky rocketing.  The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that as many as 40% of ALL American in EVERY sector will be self employment a mere seven years from now.  If that same bump is applied to lawyers, the legally self-employed could rise to as much as 60 or 70% of the entire attorney universe.  Those are some shocking numbers when you think about it.

Actually, our legal content writers aren't too shocked by these statistics.  Most of our clients are solo practitioners or leading small firms.  Each and every day we see many not only providing top notch legal services, but thinking outside of the box when it comes to ways to solidify their business and grow it.  Our clients are thriving, and we expect other young attorneys to follow their lead down the road.

Anyway, back to the idea of the Year of the Entrepreneur.  Liebel shared  information on "Success Intelligence," which is essential a rough principle developed by some psychologist to try to pinpoint  qualities that make some entrepreneurs thrive and others fizzle.  She summarizes some of those attributes which she finds exhibited in many solo practitioners (as do we):

They are disinterested in over analyzing and more committed to getting started.  While they may do an informal calculus regarding possibilities, it is just that, informal.  It is not meant to be a deterrent.  It is simply an assessment of potential hurdles they must clear. 

Coming solely from the perspective of legal blog writing, the above description perfectly matches what we've seen from solos, small, and mid-size attorneys that are doing well.  Obviously we believe that law firm blogs are absolutely essential these days.  But, we are not so ridiculous as to believe that the blog work is the end all, be all of law firm marketing and management.  Yet, it is the firms who most need to dive into the blogging world who are quickest to come up with excuses as to why it isn't the right time.  The same pessimism and over-analysis likely throttles their other marketing and business management effects as well --placing the firm in tough straits.

At the end  of the day, solo and small law firm lawyers must hone their entrepreneurial instincts.  The volatile business world of today demands it.  This is scary but somewhat exciting.  The solo and small firms that cultivate this side of their mentality (a creativity so often suppressed in the legal world) have the opportunity to make this year their best yet.